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While my journey through engagement has ended (and a whole new adventure begins) I invite you to stay connected by following my fortnightly column titled Foolish Wisdom. Foolish Wisdom takes an alternative look at various issues around news and culture. Hope to see you there. God Bless! Bernard.

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The Wedding Day!!

photo exitWell after 33 years of waiting and seven months of being engaged Jane and I finally married on 29 December 2012. What a wonderful day it was and I cannot even begin to describe it here in such a short space.

One of the first amazing parts of the day was at the church when the guests began arriving. Never before have I had everyone I know, all my family, friends and acquaintances in one place. There were friends from the parish I grew up in who have known me my whole life, school friends from high school that I first met 20 years ago, colleagues (but really friends) from work, people from so many different activities and areas of life and then all of my extended family plus all Jane’s family and friends. I don’t expect to see all those people together again but it was such a blessing to know that so many people gave up their afternoon to come to the church and witness Jane and I celebrate our marriage.

And then the clock struck one, the organ began and the clergy processed in. It was a particularly eye-catching procession with both the Latin and the Melkite Bishops walking in side by side and a mix of priests in vestments from East and West. Next came the bridesmaids and then…there she was…my Jane…walking down the aisle on the arm of her father. She looked radiant with her hair and makeup especially done, but she still looked like Jane. She had a lovely smile and it was me who was shedding some tears as she approached. I shook hands with her father and then with the sign of the Cross the Mass began and I realised that I should take in the amazing moment before me. After all this time and all this planning here I was at the altar of God to be joined in matrimony to the woman I love.

The Liturgy was absolutely amazing. It was an act of worship truly fitting of the occasion and it incorporated both the Eastern and Western elements of the marriage rite in a way that impressed upon me and rich diversity of the Christian tradition. Following a powerful homily by the Bishop we reached the vows and joined so many men and women who have stood not just in that church but in all churches across the ages and vowed to be true to one another in good times and in bad. As we processed out of the church at the end I glanced at the time and was very surprised that the Nuptial Mass had taken close to two hours…although it really didn’t feel that long.

We paused for a photo with everybody on the steps of the church before crossing the road into the afternoon tea. Because the liturgy took a bit longer than planned our time in the afternoon tea was unfortunately less than an hour. We tried to greet as many people as possible and I gave a speech and we handed out specially made cup cakes for the occasion. Before we knew it, we had to announce to our guests that the time had come for us to leave and thank them one last time for the great honour of their presence.

After some photos with the bridal party our limousine arrived at the Liverpool Catholic Club for the second reception of the day. Here were gathered all our family and a small group of friends. We all enjoyed a delicious meal and yet again, before I knew it, we were reaching the end. Some moving speeches were given, including my own of course! Jane and I cut the cake and drank the champagne before we surprised everyone with our bridal waltz, which was the Laendler as seen in the Sound of Music. And that was it! The day we had planned for seven months had passed before our eyes. While I hope that we will enjoy many wonderful days in the years to come our wedding day was a day I will be able to reflect upon with a smile for a long, long time.

My friends, thus comes to an end this chapter of my life and these reflections. I wanted to write these memories down to have something to look back upon in years to come but it has been a joy to share the journey of Jane and I with you. Thank you for your prayers and your messages of support. To those who are married, thank you for your witness, to those who are considering marriage may you be blessed in your journey. Warm Regards, Bernard Toutounji.

Weddding Rehearsal

photoOne of the last items to tick off our preparation list was the wedding rehearsal and I can now report that it is has been ticked. Jane and I gathered at the church last week to run through the ceremony with the main celebrant Bishop Porteous, Archdeacon Anthony from the Melkite Church, the Master of Ceremonies (a very good friend), the altar servers (more friends), our parents and of course the bridal party.

Before we began the actual practice there were some logistics to sort in regards where the furniture in the sanctuary would best fit. On the day, along with Bishop Porteous, there will also be in the sanctuary, the Melkite Eparch Bishop Rabbat, a few clergy friends and the bride and groom. Thankfully the church has a good sized sanctuary so there will be enough space. Being the Christmas season there is also a large Christmas tree in the sanctuary to work around.

Once these issues were decided upon, my bride-to-be took her first practice steps down the aisle, arm in arm with her father. As they arrive at the foot of the altar there is a brief but very significant moment when Jane’s dad takes her hand and places that hand into mine. Jane has grown up and lived all her life in her family home under the watchful care of the significant man in her life, her father. On the day of our wedding Jane will leave that home for the last time escorted by her father who will lead her up the aisle, and before the altar of God he will entrust Jane to my care. Now some might consider this notion either very old fashioned or very sweet but I do not think either is completely correct. All fathers take their fatherhood from the heavenly father. Men are called to watch over their wives and children with a love and solicitude that echoes (as much as is possible) the love of God. I think the fact that the notion of the woman being under the protection of the man raises eyebrows shows how poorly some men across the ages have responded to their vocation to authentic self-giving love. I am certainly not thinking I am greater than any of the married men that have gone ahead of me. Knowing my own weaknesses though I realise the need to put myself continually under the mantle of Christ, and it is only from under that mantle that I can take Jane’s hand from her father and make a promise to both him and her to love, honour and protect.

As previously mentioned Jane and I have also been able to include elements from the Byzantine rite of marriage. When we got to these parts in the practice Archdeacon Anthony took over to run us through the ritual that Bishop Rabbat will lead. The pinnacle of the wedding ritual in the Eastern Churches is the crowning of the couple (indeed the entire wedding ceremony is referred to as the Mystery of Holy Crowning). The crowns are signs of the glory and honour with which God crowns the man and woman during this sacrament. The groom and bride are crowned as the king and queen of their own kingdom, their family, which they are entrusted to rule with wisdom, justice and integrity. Once the Bishop has crowned Jane and I, we will drink a cup of blessed wine to symbolise the mutual sharing of both joys and sorrows, before we are led around the ceremonial table three times by the Bishop who will be holding the book of the Gospels signifying that we should always be led by the Gospel.

It was pretty exciting to rehearse the wedding ceremony and finally see the actual reason for all our preparations these past months (which have become increasingly frantic). Most especially it was an honour to have all these people come together to help make our Nuptial Mass truly beautiful. Between the Bishop and the Archdeacon and the MC and servers I know our ceremony is in good hands and that it will fit the nature of this occasion when Jane and I will vow to love one another after the model of Christ for the rest of our days.

And that is about it…next week’s final column will be a report on our wedding day…keep Jane and I in your prayers!

Last Minute Preparations

wedding-countdownWell I can now count on my two hands the number of days until Jane and I walk down the aisle! I cannot believe that after 33 years of life and 15 years of seriously looking to find my vocation, I am about to embrace that vocation in Jane. If I sit and think about it I am probably still not completely sure that it is all real. To desire and pray for so long to meet someone and then for that to actually happen is an awesome reality. I think back to all the conversations I had with people about wanting to get married and now I am on the threshold of that reality…praise God!

A few people have asked if I have cold feet and I think my feet are just fine. If I had any worries those were all at the start of being engaged and getting used to that. I am looking forward to everything, although knowing that I am not a huge fan of change there will no doubt be some adjusting to married life in the beginning. At this stage it is the excitement of the reality of being married that is present. 

But before getting to marriage, the wedding day is the imminent reality. While of course all those big items are now done there seems to be more and more small and time consuming tasks that must be completed. 

Although I was hopeful to have the wedding booklet printed some weeks ago, that was perhaps too hopeful. The document is 99% completed but it is the final 1% that is taking time, but that will be wrapped up in the coming days before being printed and then I don’t think I will want to look at it again lest I spot any errors. The booklet contains all the prayers and parts of the liturgy and probably shows my innate desire to use every moment in life as an opportunity for education and evangelisation.

Apart from the booklet we were keen to have a prayer card designed that could be distributed to all present at the end of the Mass. We found some prayers for marriage and meshed those together with our own words to create what I think is a very touching prayer. On the front is the image of an icon of the Holy Family which Jane and I have sort of taken as our own, especially as we will be marrying on the vigil of the feast of the Holy Family. My hope is that those who receive the card will see it as more than a souvenir of the day and pray the prayer from time to time for us, and indeed for all married couples, that they become more faithful icons to the world of the gift of marriage and family life.   

Jane has been working very hard in the last few days putting together bonbonnieres which have turned out really well. And of course this has involved much work with colours and papers and wording. She had all her sisters working in an assembly line this week to get the job done. The actual bonbonniere is a small gift but let me just say it has the potential to be rather large!  

Also on the to-do list is seating arrangements which I am told can be a messy operation. There are so many different ways to work it out. We are deciding if we completely mix it up and arrange seats so our guests can meet new people or go with the safer option of placing family and friends next to those they know really well.

Then of course there is music for the reception. Thankfully I am marrying someone who has some idea about various songs that would work for dinner and dancing, although we still need to finalise what we would like we would like to accompany us as we enter the reception venue, cut the cake and say our goodbyes at the end of the night.

And with just these few days left, both Jane and I am trying to keep some focus on the fact that Christmas is upon us so that we are able to give it the full weight it needs as a time to drawer closer to Christ and to family. Of course next Christmas Jane and I will be starting our own little family traditions as well so that will be something else to look forward to!

Gifts and Gift Registries

wedding gifts by cwmgaryOne of the nice things about getting married is partaking in the generosity of family and friends in regards to gifts. As we near the wedding some people have begun delivering early gifts which we will excitedly open upon the return from our honeymoon. However one of the ongoing questions we have had is about our gift registry…the reason being because we do not have a gift registry. Why not you may ask?

Well apart from writing this column, I also write a separate fortnightly column called ‘Foolish Wisdom’ which looks at issues in news and culture, and earlier in the year (before being engaged) I wrote an article on the subject of gift registries and why I thought that they were utilitarian in nature. Instead of paraphrasing, allow me to include some sections from the article that explain my thoughts.

I admit I am not a fan of gift registries; I do not like them, I rarely follow them and I would never use them. In my mind an invitation to a wedding is (or at least should be) an invitation to witness and share in the joy-filled marriage of a particular couple with whom I share some degree of friendship. When a registry card is inserted the invitation has a clause attached which is, “We like gifts, we would like you to bring a gift, and here is a list of gifts you can choose from”. 

It is not that I think any less of those who opt for the registry and I understand that it makes a lot of practical sense (obviously no one wants to receive five toasters or seven dinner sets) but when a person expresses the expectation of a gift and then proceeds to put conditions on the gift to be given, the very idea of a gift is undermined! 

Of its very nature a gift can only be a gift when it is freely chosen and given. One cannot ask for a gift because then it ceases to be a gift, it becomes simply an item purchased under some form of mild duress, such as possible social exclusion. A gift is something that has to be decided upon and given out of love for another, out of a desire to express to the other an affection for them.

One would hope that those whom one invites to their wedding, knows the couple to some degree so as to be able to thoughtfully choose a gift (if they are going to give one). If an invitee is so completely lost for an idea, then they could simply take the novel approach of asking the couple what sort of gift they would appreciate. That is very different to the couple issuing their wish list before the invitee has even responded to the invitation.

What would a parent say to a six year old who wanted to include with each invitation to his birthday party a list of the toys he wanted the other children to give him? My guess is that the parent would talk to the child about the nature of friendship and why a party is a time to celebrate with good friends, not an opportunity to build up one’s toy cupboard.

What is logical for a six year old should also be logical for two young adults. Practicality aside, friendship is too precious a commodity to be infiltrated by something as base and utilitarian as the gift registry.

I know that Jane would have found life much easier if we had a gift registry and admittedly there were some times in the past weeks where I certainly understood the benefit of having such a registry but I am still glad we went without one. The invitations to our wedding have been just that, invitations, not expectations of specific gifts. What we did do instead was think about the sort of items we might need and provide a little list to our parents in case guests asked them when giving their RSVP. Of course it may indeed turn out that we end up with five toasters and seven dinner sets but I am sure that will not be the case. Whatever it is we receive, all the gifts will be gratefully received because they are signs of the love and support of those who in some way have walked with us on our journey.

What’s in a Name? By Jane

changing namesIt’s impossible to ever forget about the life-changing event (aka wedding) taking place for me very soon (especially when I am asked almost daily how the preparations are going). But every now and then, I have a sudden ‘Oh My Gosh!’ moment where it really hits me just how close and how real it all is. An example was the other day when a friend greeted me as ‘Miss Brotherton’ before playfully adding ‘but not for long’. Realising that she was right (yes, I will be changing my name once married), I suddenly felt as though I should be making the most of the short amount of time I have left to use my surname… like taking the opportunity to announce my full name each time I answer the phone at work or somehow savouring those moments when I have to write my signature.

I read somewhere that 82% of newlyweds change their name and that 20% of brides admit to feeling nervous about the name-changing process. I would have to say that I can relate. One reason is for the simple fact that I hate paperwork. Unfortunately, the numerous forms of identification and membership cards in my wallet don’t automatically change the instant that I become Mrs Toutounji. It seems that the list of people to inform of my new name and address might be considerable. There are of course the bigger ones like my drivers licence, passport, Medicare, ATO, bank accounts, health insurance, phone company, electoral roll, etc. but there are also many others like email addresses, business cards, club memberships and magazine subscriptions, not to mention my discount card at the local coffee shop! And then I won’t even begin to tell you how ridiculously unnatural and clumsy I have felt in my few attempts to practice my new signature. With all that effort, it’s no wonder some women decide not to change their name!

However, the main cause of any uneasiness ties in with the sense of personal identity and familiarity I have with the name ‘Jane Brotherton’. While my name is merely a grouping of letters arranged in a particular order, it is something that is very personal. It is what I use to represent myself to the world and it connects me to my family and my past. The idea of deviating from something which has served me well for my entire existence is a bit daunting. Even though the event leading to the changing of my name will be surrounded by so much excitement and joy, I won’t deny that I do feel a tinge of sadness knowing that the event will also mark the end of an era.

I cannot help but recall the moment in the film Father of the Bride when the father realises that his little girl has grown up and how things will be different from now on. No longer will he see her sitting at the breakfast table in her dressing gown and slippers. No longer will he see her each night when she comes home from work. And no longer will he be the man in her life who is her sole provider and protector. Ahhh bring out the tissues!

I am (perhaps overly) aware that when I walk out my front door on December 29, it will be for the last time as Jane Brotherton. And when I walk down the aisle and let go of my father’s arm, it will indicate the end of one era and the start of another. However, despite my attachment to my own surname, I believe that by taking on Bernard’s name, I am embracing the role that he will play in my life from now on. Furthermore, sharing a surname is a symbol of the new family that Bernard and I will form when we become husband and wife. This is indeed worth all the effort and something to be thankful for.

At the end of the day, I choose to look at change as an inevitable part of life – something which usually carries a certain element of discomfort, but which is always brimming with potential. I love the quote ‘if there was no change in the world, there would be no butterflies’. I see preparing for marriage as the period in my life where I am emerging from my cocoon. Without going through the uncomfortable process of moving out of home and changing my address, marital status and name, I would miss out on the opportunity to spread my wings and experience all the beautiful things that starting a new life with Bernard will undoubtedly bring.

Searching for a place to call Home

first-home-buyersThis week’s installment is about an adventure that took Jane and I across Sydney and to a final place that we didn’t expect to find ourselves…and this adventure was looking for a place to live. We had already decided to rent initially, so we were not looking for a family home for the next fifty years, but rather a reasonable place for a shorter period of time. We both work in the city so our criteria included close proximity to a train station and a price that would allow us to save a good amount for a future home purchase.

I live in the Inner West of Sydney while Jane has spent her whole life in Southern Sydney so we planned to look at some units between those areas. We compiled our list of destinations and inspection times the day before and were ready at the first place 10am Saturday armed with pen, paper and camera. This first unit was a modern one bedroom but we only had to be there a minute before knowing it wasn’t for us. We had toyed with the idea of a one bedroom unit and we probably could fit everything into a unit that size but we wanted to leave ourselves some space to move about. Also this particular place was more expensive than some other two bedroom units we had listed so we got back into the car and Jane navigated us to our next destination.

We inspected a couple of units in the inner south west suburb of Belmore and found some better value there. We looked at a very well priced unit which was not too bad. It had the two bedrooms as well as an internal laundry which is a must for me. (I have lived in places with external or shared laundries and it makes washing a lot less fun. Instead of being able to do the washing in my pajamas – at any time – one first must look somewhat presentable before going out to see if the machines are empty and then make sure ones clothes are in and out before the neighbour comes along and pulls out the clean items onto a dirty bench to make room for their own washing…no thank you). But I digress. We took an application form for that place before heading up the road to a unit which cost a bit more but really was very nice. It was clean with plenty of light and air, and on the ground floor of a well maintained small apartment block. This one also had an internal laundry and was a pleasant 800 metre walk from the station. Although we looked at a few others across the course of the day this one became the winner for the day.

So the next day Jane and I sat down to fill in the application forms for that second place we visited in Belmore. We also wrote a very gracious cover letter to soften up the agent and get him subliminally thinking that we were the best couple for that unit. And it worked surprisingly fast because by Tuesday afternoon we got an email to inform us that our application had been approved.

Now usually such news would be greeted with great joy but for a few reasons, including that we would need to be renting the unit for almost six weeks before we would be even moving into it, we began to wonder if we should sign up for the property. Part of the reason for us looking so early is that I am about to going away to run a work related course for young adults for a month so we have been trying to wrap up most of the planning and related decisions. All of a sudden what should have been very exciting became very stressful for both of us. We did not want to lose what was an excellent unit but nor did we want to make a hasty decision. In the end we added up the cost of holding the unit until we actually needed it and decided to let the place go and on top of that stop looking for places until we returned from our honeymoon in January. Both our parents are very happy to accommodate us for a few weeks, so in an instant a definite peace descended upon us both.

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