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The Thanksgiving Dinner That Showed Me The Meaning Of Marriage

11/22/2012 01:33 pm ET | Updated Jan 22, 2013

Thanksgiving. I'm sitting at a long table, filled with deep-down good people. Anthony and Melissa have gathered us into their home. Across from me is a beautiful woman. She has a disarming smile and a hearty laugh. She turns those clichés into something real.

She asks me what I do and when I say that I'm a wedding officiant, she becomes excited and asks: "What do you think is needed to make a marriage a success?"

So, I tell her: "Listening." It's both a true and safe answer. Although I believe this is the key communication skill, somehow, when I give her this answer, it doesn't seem adequate.

I glance at Anthony and Melissa. I look around at other couples who nourish me and I wonder -- what makes each of their marriages a "success?" These couples constantly support each other, but that, too, seems like a worn-out answer.

And then I flash on a moment Anthony and Melissa shared earlier. They'd just finished setting up this Tuscany-style family table. I came into the garden and glimpsed them in a warm, hugging embrace.

Exhausted from the preparations, they simply fell into each other's arms -- and smiled. It was not so much a sexual embrace as it was intimately confirming: We did it.

My grandmother once told me that real love is not those champagne moments filled with fireworks. Rather, real love is a reassuring whisper in the dark of night. And that is what I witnessed in the garden -- the intimacy of a reassuring whisper. "This is our feast. In our home. Built on all the moments I wanted to kill you. Built on all your surprises that both delighted me and puzzled me. This night is our gift to these wonderful and wacky people, who, for better or for worse, are a part of our home."

As I looked down the table, with all its mismatched chairs and mismatched guests, I thought: if we can't give thanks for this moment, what can we give thanks for?

And then, the woman again asked me, "Is that all that's needed for a successful marriage -- listening to the other?"

I looked around the garden and thought -- no, listening is not enough. Rather, here, this table, this is what makes for a "successful marriage." This table is the gift of two people dedicated to creating a life that rises above their individual pasts. Pasts filled with dysfunctions and secrets and questions. A dedication that lets this day swirl with good, hearty questions: "Do you have enough? Do you need more? Eat up. Don't be shy. Are you sure you've had enough?" Questions asked while serving and laughing.

What makes for a successful marriage? In that moment, as I look at my family of couples, I'm reminded that it is generosity. Generosity is what makes marriages strong.

Your "I Do" celebrates your commitment to being a generous person.

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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: http://ceremonymadesimple.com