I have little experience writing toasts, but blog posts are a different matter. Writing it in this context was effortless. Please join me now as I share the toast I delivered last night at the wedding reception for our beautiful daughter, Alicia, and her wonderful husband, and now our son-in-law, Nils. Others referred to by name here include my incredibly loving and tireless wife, Sarah, and Nils' mom and dad, Liz and Eric. I can't say enough about Nils' warmhearted and generous parents and the entire Janson family. It is truly a joy for all of us to now be part of it.

Sarah's cookie art adorns each place setting

Sarah and I arrived in San Francisco last Wednesday from the East Coast. I'm an early riser, so the time difference has extended my quiet, uninterrupted morning writing time here. That's a good thing, since weeks ago, I responded with an enthusiastic "Yes!" to Alicia's request that I give a toast to the bride and groom. So Thursday morning found me pondering, predawn, in the kitchen of our rental, beckoning words to appear on my blank screen. Wedding chores and a packed schedule back home consumed every spare moment for the weeks leading up to this evening and... well... ok, nobody's going to buy that. So I'll just admit I procrastinated. Liz claimed the same affliction for part of her preparatory chores, so we have that in common. I love Liz! But truly, I knew I would get inspired and something would germinate and grow once I planted my feet in California soil.

I said I was beckoning words. In truth, I beckon thoughts. Words flow easily for me once thoughts take up residence. To help that along, I strolled down memory lane with the beautiful slideshow Liz assembled for this reception. Opening her slideshow gallery on my Mac, picture after picture painted itself on my screen. Over two hundred in all. Over the years, our Godlove family's combined library of photographs has mushroomed to well over a hundred thousand pictures, many on film. Sarah sorted through hundreds to capture the moments telling Alicia's story here. Liz went through a similar process for Nils before she poured them all into her mental mixing bowl and lovingly blended them into the batter of memories on display tonight.

And that's when it struck me  - what each and every picture whispered, as its image passed by me and the conjured memories passed through me. I found myself reacting differently, but predictably, depending on the nature of the captured moment. The common thread? In a word, "Belonging."

Every childhood photo of Alicia and our family whisked me back, transporting me to a time and place that feels as familiar now as then. Moments that belong to me and to each of our family members. But not just moments. These are frames. Frames from movies that begin to play the instant they come forward from the picture. Movies that come to life with a flood of sights and sounds and nostalgia and emotion. Movies that play these scenes over and over again with each view.

Progressing through Liz's slideshow play, the act featuring Nils and his family took the stage. Every picture made me wonder, "Where was that taken?" "Who's that?" "Which one is Nils?" "I didn't know they made double breasted suits that small!" Every childhood picture portrayed the loving connection to and among Nils and his family. They clearly belonged to each other. But these experiences didn't belong to me. And they didn't belong to Alicia any more than hers belonged to Nils. No movie played in my mind. No surrounding sights or sounds. No context beyond the image before me. Only the curiosity and musing and transferred emotion from scenes I could relate from my own life.

Then came the college era and more recent pictures that aren't part of my experience but are clearly part of Alicia's and Nils'. I could relate to many of these photos through stories Alicia had shared over the years. They evoked curiosity and warm emotion, but not belonging. These moments belong to Alicia and Nils and their friends, many here tonight. No doubt, rich scenes begin to play for them, filling their minds and hearts with memories as they pore over the images flashing before them.

Which brings me to this evening and events leading up to it. Alicia and Nils have been together for nearly a decade, building a life of belonging to one another. But tonight, something has profoundly shifted. Something has permanently moved in the lives of not only Alicia and Nils, but in the lives of all the Jansons and Godloves. The act of loving commitment Alicia and Nils entered into has bound our families in ways I couldn't have possibly imagined. Their commitment to one another brought us together last Christmas with Liz and Eric, and again this week, even more fully with all the siblings and the loves of their lives. Pictures of and among us are no longer stills, but frames. Frames from the movie we are co-creating as a family. A family centered on, and bound, by the love and commitment of the belonging, that Alicia and Nils have for one another and all of us. 

So please, lift your glasses and let's make a memory. Let's close this scene with an act we'll all be able to conjure years from now as we look back, with warm recollection and love for this couple and the families they've joined together; and the belonging they've created for themselves, their families, and for generations of Godloves and Jansons to come.