Back-to-back weddings provide a time to reflect: are you who you expected expected to be?

It’s really not unusual that I find myself flying down the freeway on nothing but goodwill, gas tank fumes and the hope that my smoking tire will make it all the way to my destination. I seem to attract that kind of misadventure.

However, on this particular weekend, I found myself in this predicament on both Saturday and Sunday, and on both occasions I was on my way to a wedding.

I take this opportunity both to confess that I definitely flirted with the speed limit and to reflect on who I am as a person in my late twenties. After a decade of failures and successes, life changes, terrible haircuts, not-so terrible decisions and – yes – speeding tickets, I am stepping back to ask: did I turn out the way I hoped I would when I envisioned myself here at seventeen?

To answer, we must first consider who I hoped I’d be when I was seventeen.

Composed, I think is the word that best describes the woman I hoped I would become. A lady. Fluent in French, muscially gifted, in a steady job like accounting or some kind of secretarial work – and certainly by this point married with a least one kid.

Flash forward a decade and you have a 27-year-old, still in school, who walked a mile to class and sat through an hour of lecture before realizing that her button-up collared shirt was on inside-out.

The first wedding I went to was a bit of a surprise. A friend I have both mentored and been encouraged by got married on Saturday evening. The wedding was small – about 25 people –and I had not initally been invited. But someone could not come last minute, so at noon I got a text from the bride asking if I had plans for my evening.

And that’s how I found myself skidding up the I-15 the first time.

The bride is young. She’s 19 years old. But to see her and her equally young groom, you would never think it. They glowed with maturity and grace. I have always respected her perspective and gentle approach to difficult subjects.

As one of the six guests who was not an immediate family member, I felt mildly conspicuous for most of the evening.

Not until they needed someone to get things cooking on the dance floor was I able to prove I had a purpose.

And then, around 10 p.m., I got in my car to drive home.

That’s when I got the flat tire and ended up spending the night in Temecula.

Although the story about getting a new tire (and still making it to church on time!) is a fascinating one, it’s too long for this column and not relevant to the introspective part of the story.

Let’s skip to me cruising back down the I-15 (but within the posted speed limit this time because I was pretty nervous about the used tire on the rear-right of my car).

Despite already being in wedding clothes, I got home and changed into different wedding clothes, did my make-up while driving in the car on the way to the venue (for the second time in two days) and bounced inside just in time to come face to face with my past.

If Saturday’s bride is a relatively new friend, Sunday’s bridal party are the Original Gangstas. These were kids I have known since middle school. They are all a few years younger than I, but we grew up together. I coached most of them as an alumna of our debate club. One of them married my sister.

This here was family – the kind you only get to see every few years but it seems like no time has passed between you at all.

I’d like to say the wedding was perfect, but it wasn’t.

Somewhere between cocktails and the salad, a groomsman I did not previously know claimed some pretty unpleasant things about me and I spent the rest of the night defending myself from pernicious rumors.

Eventually, my friends encouraged me to ignore the slander but the damage had been done.

I sat at our table stewing in embarrassment and watching these six people I used to know as children, now all grown up and married.

Each one of them seemed to have successfully moved from one life stage to another, and here I was still getting caught up in petty drama like a high schooler.

It took most of the evening – and a little time on the dance floor – to put the mess behind me. And it might have taken longer if not for the dozen people from my past who came to the defense of my character or simply offered comfort through understanding and the contents of a flask that definitely wasn’t iced tea.

At the end of the night, one of those friends (who officiated the wedding) came up and said, “I will always been on your team – you were our debate mom, after all.”

Odd, that I never considered kindness as one of the things I hoped to be when I grew up, that loyalty and goodness were nowhere on my mind.

I have come to realize that we respect people in our lives for the quality of their character more than for their successes in life. Marriage and kids and a good job are all good things, but being a person above reproach is the ideal, if impossible, goal.

I recently polled my friends and acquaintances (about 100 people responded) to ask if they expected to turn into the people they did. About 60 percent said no.

Frankly, I find myself more surprised by the 40 percent who find themselves exactly where they hoped they would be.

Looking back on the road that led me where I am today – “today” generally referring to driving the length of the I-15 on empty and walking a mile uphill with my shirt inside out – I can see where every twist and turn has edged me further away from the lady of dignity and grace I imagined when I was a teen who didn’t have to pay for gas yet.

I have seen disappointment. I have suffered loss. I have been humbled and broken and loved. And it has changed me.

I am friends with the bride of wedding No. 1 because we bonded over some shared struggles. It was an honor to be a guest at a wedding where only a few were invited and I don’t think 17 year old Mary would have made the list.

My friends at wedding two were supportive and loyal because I was once supportive in kind to them – how special that, as adults, we get to support each other now.

Perhaps we spend too much time weighing ourselves against our expectations, running life through a series of checklists, hoping to find value or meaning in the outcome. But value and meaning is hard to quantify and it is harder to find in ledgers and checklists.

My humbling wedding experiences this weekend were a reminder to me that I would rather sow goodness and reap friendship. I want to plant grace and hope and faith and watch it bloom into tiny miracles, like the honor of sharing in someone’s special moment or a friend in a time of need.