The Wedding Julia Yvonne Oweis and William Todd Ruff
The Wedding Julia Yvonne Oweis and William Todd Ruff
July 4, 2006 at Oheka Castle, Huntington, New York
It's not everyday a pastor gets to give orders to his doctor, I can attest from a lifetime of prescriptions. But on this past Independence Day I relished the opportunity to subject my physician to some good advice. Not that the good doctor in question was ever anything but considerate and gentle with her septuagenarian patient. Julia Yvonne Oweis, "Julie" to her pastor, family, and friends, if not to her groom, is a member of Grace Church, Valley Stream NY, where a few years ago I taught her and her sister, Joanne, their confirmation lessons. Before that their Dad, the late Dr. Elias Oweis, was a stalwart member of my Sunday morning Bible Class, giving us a perspective on the Good Book from his experience as a doctor and a native Jordanian. Elias took leave of us much too young, just 55. His oldest child, daughter Julia, did not so much take over his practice as to reestablish it, at the same residence/office on Fletcher Avenue, where the second Dr. Oweis, swiftly competent and immensely popular, now attends to half the citizens of the Village... or so it sometimes seems.
The year I retired Julie teasingly complained that I couldn't (retire, that is) because I had to officiate at her wedding. In 2002 Todd Ruff hadn't come into view. A native of Ohio, a graduate engineer, whose career in plant management has taken him around the US, Todd met his Julia through the Internet. It was, I suspect, love at first connecting. Their mutual admiration can be gleaned from the wedding sermon below.
The Fourth of July and a castle would seem to be an unpatriotic pairing. But a busy doctor has to pick her days off very carefully, and Oheka Castle would provide the splendid venue she and her beloved envisioned to celebrate their union among family and friends. As it was, Julie found herself in mid-reception tending to a couple of celebrants who brought their miseries with them to the wedding (I understand: at most wedding receptions I've attended some other guest insists on plying me with religious questions, mostly out of misplaced cordiality, but sometimes for real.)
The wedding began a few minutes before the appointed hour of 5:30 PM. Clouds threatened, a few raindrops fell, and a wind blew up ominously. But just when we thought the service would have to be moved into the cramped quarters of the nearby sitting room, the sun broke through. The bridal party marched, not strolled, to the edge of gardens and pool, over which a statue of Pan presided. Such was the scene where the pastor delivered his three pill prescription to the physician and her beloved Todd.
A Pastor’s Prescription
OK, Julie and Todd, now it’s my turn. You’re the doctor, Julie. I’ve benefited from your medical wisdom. I’ve complied with your orders. I’ve taken your prescribed medicine. In fact, I’ve boasted many times to my colleagues in the ordained ministry that “my doctor was once one of my confirmands,” that fourteen year old who (and I’ve told this story several times too) on a trip to Shelter Island with the youth group, on a weekend when we decided the snacks would be apples, oranges, and bananas, not potato chips and cookies. An hour or two after supper one night, Julie threw open the refrigerator door, took stock of its contents, and complained, “Don’t we have anything bad to eat?”
Doctor Oweis, Julie, and Todd, I want to prescribe some pills for you.
First, some memory pills. No, not what you might prescribe for me for memory lapses and senior moments. Pills that will bring you back instantaneously to this moment and the days leading to it, the romance that brings us to the joining of your lives. Cherish the thought I heard you express, Julie; put it in your memory bank close at hand for immediate retrieval: that estimate of your beloved, how kind he is, how smart, and how handsome. Snow White’s dream of Prince Charming come true.
And you, Todd, your wrote me, at my request, of your hopes and dreams for your life together, marveling at how accommodating your bride is, as you seek to manage two very busy careers, and start a family.
Some memory pills from Dr. Howard, to remember when the inevitable disagreements arise, as they do even among saints, when each of you is pushed to the limit by your work, when things don’t go as you had planned; then remember this moment and the love which drew you together.
I would also prescribe some heart pills. I’m not thinking of congestive heart failure, but its emotional counterpart, when affection fades in the heat of an argument; when the novelty of your relationship gives way to the sameness of routine; when you tend to forget the small civilities that facilitate a happy marriage, like a “Thank you” for ordinary kindnesses provided, like anniversary and birthday flowers. When the temperature of your marriage drops, take a couple of heart pills and don’t call the pastor. Just say - out of the blue is best - to each other, “I love you.”
Which brings me to my favorite pill, the Gospel. I can hear your Dad, Julie, my friend in Bible study, Elias, saying quietly, “It’s about time, pastor.” He knew his Bible. And I remember his Samaritan deed for a family across the street on Fletcher Avenue, that terrible morning one of the twins was found lifeless in the basement. Romans 12, the passage just read, the Gospel in miniature, is something to live by. Dad did. Hold fast to what is good. Let love be genuine… toward each other, certainly, but toward the whole wide world, full of patients and company subordinates and bosses.
This marriage service closes with a prayer over the two of you. It contains a line I would like to underscore, the one that goes: “Grant that their love for each other may reflect the love of Christ for us and grow from strength to strength as they faithfully serve you in the world.” Do you want a happy marriage? Of course you do. The Gospel claims that it, a happy marriage, a satisfying life, a worthwhile journey on this earth, is to be found in service, the giving of ourselves to others for God’s sake. That goes for marriage, for your work, for your family.
Take the Gospel moment by moment. There’s no such thing as an overdose of it.
God bless you, Todd and Julie. We bless you too.
The vows were taken and the rings exchanged, all sealed with a kiss. Before you could say "Nor'easter," the entire wedding party and the two hundred guests repaired to the castle's reception rooms. You name your delicacy; it was there for the taking at the cocktail hour. I found my way, of course, to the Italian station, Barbara to the seafood. We sat at a table with a father and son, once of Egypt, now of Sunnyside, Queens, and New Jersey. When I asked, Dad, the dentist told me he was 74. And I thought I was the oldest person present at the wedding! Solomon is much older, two months, to be exact. With Coca-Cola and salami pleasing my stomach, I made my way with the crowd to the festive hall for the dinner, dance, and traditional wedding customs. Samer Oweis, Julie's younger brother, carried with him a CD of Arab (his word) music. The band played and the soloists belted at such a volume guests either had to dance or escape to the castle's north terrace. One circle of men enjoyed big cigars. We watched the fireworks from, we think, Huntington Harbor.
As indicated already, the traditional wedding reception rituals were observed: cake, bouquet, garter, and parent-child dance. And the bandleader became a DJ and played Samer's CD, much to the delight of everyone, but especially those whose ancestry is traced to Palestine and Jordan and other points Mideast.
The filet mignon was cooked to perfection; but the piece de resistance for everyone but me was the dessert buffet with flowing chocolate and real whipped cream.
Before midnight the guests dispersed, but not before hugging the doctor and the plant manager, wishing them only the best in their life together in their new home in New Jersey from which she will commute to Long Island and he to his new job in the Garden State.