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10 Things I Learned From 30 Summer Weddings

I had the honor of helping 30 couples celebrate their big day -- from barns to ballrooms, from the intimacy of just the couple to a wedding streamed live on Facebook. And I loved every celebration.
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It's the first week of autumn -- Halloween decorations are in the stores soon to be followed with garland and mistletoe! Before plunging into all sorts of holiday cheer, I thought I'd take a moment to look back on the weddings I officiated this summer.

I had the honor of helping 30 couples celebrate their big day -- from barns to ballrooms, from the intimacy of just the couple to a wedding streamed live on Facebook. And I loved every celebration.

In looking back on the summer, there are now ten things I'd urge every couple to do so as to protect your sanity, your money and your joy!

1. Cry.
Please, just go ahead and cry! Offering vows to your partner is the biggest, boldest thing you may ever do in your life. Exchanging vows is an act of generosity and courage. Therefore, if you cry, no one will think you're being melodramatic and make-up can always be reapplied! I had one bride who, as her partner was reading his personal vows, looked like she was trying to prevent herself from upchucking. I seldom have prayed so hard because I knew if this bride threw-up she'd be in therapy the rest of her life. She didn't and later, when I asked how she was feeling, she said "fine" -- she just had been trying to stop herself from crying. Think about it -- in your ceremony photos, do you really want to look like you're about to throw-up?!

2. Ignore your veil.
As a guy, I know that no matter how many weddings I do, I'll never get the whole veil "thing." BUT, I've witnessed far too many brides focus more on their billowing veil than on their partner. You've planned weeks, months (years?!) for this moment and you're going to fuss with trying to keep your veil from blowing around? My new hero is the bride who, in the middle of the ceremony (on a beach), grabbed her wind-swept veil, bunched it up and stuck it under her armpit. She exclaimed, "there!" We all laughed and she then enjoyed the rest of the ceremony focused on her partner.

3. Don't ask a seven-month pregnant friend to be your day-of coordinator.
I know there's a huge debate over whether it's necessary to hire an event planner or even a day-of coordinator. I'm convinced the best money you'll spend is on your planner/coordinator. That said, if you choose not to hire a person then you MUST recruit a trusted friend or relative who is willing to take on the job of day-of person. You need someone capable who can run interference and shepherd your guests. It can't be you and it shouldn't be your mother! A couple took my advice and asked a friend who's very organized. Only problem, she was seven months pregnant and had swollen ankles and could barely walk. She sat in some shade and busily ordered around her hapless husband, who was fairly clueless. Yes, an on-site coordinator can help but if you're at a venue where there's no coordinator then you MUST find a trusted, organized person who can guide everyone through the celebration.

4. Don't torture your guests.
I live in Los Angeles. Say what you will about climate change BUT this summer was brutally hot. When couples marry in the winter they're told to have a "Plan B" in case it rains. What I realized this summer is that no one ever has a Plan B if the temperature soars above 100 degrees. I officiated weddings in sweltering heat where there was no shade, no umbrellas, no fans, and no sunscreen. Everyone was so uncomfortable BUT because we were outdoors, somehow it was supposed to be beautiful. If you're getting married where temperatures can be unpredictably hot, have back-up plans. Make sure there are umbrellas (standing or hand-held paper), fans, and bottled water. When you book a venue, find out where and when the sun sets, so people are not squinting, trying to see you or the setting.

5. Say "no" to your mother-in-law.
This deserves a post of it's own, but for now. . .the couple had been together almost five years. The bride had two young boys from a previous marriage and they were going to be the ring bearers. At the rehearsal the mother of the groom informed the couple that if the boys had a prominent role in the ceremony, she wouldn't attend! The bride caved; the boys were no longer ring bearers and she placed them in the third row, out of the mother-in-law's view. An extreme case? Sure. Uncommon? Sadly, no. Don't let anyone hijack your celebration, especially when you're in countdown mode.

6. Put the d*%n cell phone down.
No, I'm not being cranky and I really don't want to sound like my mother! It's just that I look out during the procession (and ceremony) and I see half the guests looking at the wedding party and the couple through the lens of a smart phone or tablet. There's something odd about not "seeing" an intimate moment with your own eyes, in a non-mediated way. I had one couple request that guests not take photos during the ceremony and I think it was a qualitatively different experience. People were present in the moment and could focus on the couple, not their phones. And then there was the couple that had taken their "first look" photos and was relaxing in the bridal suite prior to the ceremony. They were sitting side-by-side and each was on their phone texting or posting. Maybe it was a way of dealing with jitters, BUT this moment only comes round once, so why not be "in" it?

7. Beware of peacocks.
The couple was having an intimate ceremony at the botanical gardens. It was a DIY affair. I arrived early to the designated spot and there, to my surprise, found a peacock standing close to where the couple and I were going to be. I don't think I ever really knew how magnificent the bird is -- and how loud. Do you know how loud a peacock squawks? OMG! And the bird decided it wasn't going to move. So, yes, the peacock stayed for the ceremony -- and with uncanny insight managed to squawk at all the important moments. Yes, it was funny AND, yes, the bird was a major distraction. The couple hadn't done their research when they picked that spot, a fav for the garden's peacocks. Ya just never know -- and you just never can be over-prepared in your research.

8. Decide where to put your money.
You have a wedding budget and unless you're a member of the 1 percent, you have to live within a budget. If you're budget is "tight" then you're not going to be able to have everything you want. And that's okay. This summer, though, I officiated weddings for couples that decided they would have everything, BUT the saying, "you get what you pay for" is a cliché for a reason. I'm thinking of one wedding where the videographer refused to mic the groom or me, and the photographer literally couldn't keep his pants up. I doubt the couple will be happy with either the photos or video. Make the hard choices and decide what is most important to you.

9. Remember your name.
The groom, Eric, was so nervous that when he went to repeat his vows after me, he said "I, Erica, take you-." It was a very cute moment, BUT it came about in part because he was buzzed. I really do "get" that you're nervous but why get a buzz on before the ceremony? What is it about getting married that scares you? There's plenty of time for the buzz -- 20 minutes before the ceremony is not that time!

10. Have fun.
I know -- this is the most commonsense of all advice that could ever be given to you. Yet, I come across too many couples that are so worried about what people are thinking that they have a hard time just letting go and riding the wave of joy. Focus on the magic -- not the perfection -- that's how you create a lifetime of smiling memories.

Author Robert Fulghum maintains, "We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love."

Well said! So maybe the best advice I can give you is to celebrate your "weirdness" and have the wedding of lifetime!

JP Reynolds, M.Div. has officiated more than one thousand weddings and has coached hundreds of people in how to create and deliver heartfelt, personalized ceremonies. If you've been invited by a friend or relative to celebrate their wedding ceremony and are wondering what to do, visit JP's website:

In addition, JP co-hosts with Rev. Clint Huftt, the weekly podcast, Wedding Ceremony Podcast, where they cover all things ceremony!