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A Wedding for the Ages

by on June 12, 2018 5:00 AM

I bet some of you expected an article about the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle, right? Forget the royals. That wedding was all pomp and circumstance and television ratings.  OK, I will admit it was kind of a big deal, but if you want to hear a tale of a good old-fashioned love story, read on.

I am talking authentic, “love-is-in-the-air” and a “match-made-in-heaven” type of wedding. Well that wedding took place at Calvary Harvest Fields in Boalsburg between two real life heroes this past Saturday. Shelby Caraway and my good friend Matt Seybert had the kind of storybook romance and wedding we all hope for our children. Shelby is a hero because of her servant-leader and “service-before-self” philosophy of helping those who need it the most and are quite often ignored by society.  Matt is my hero because he puts service to others before himself as well, but also because he has survived cancer, twice.

If there was one word I would use to describe their wedding, and for that matter, their relationship, it would be “joyful.”  Everyone that knows Shelby and Matt walks away a better person from knowing them. They just exude joy and inspire others by their actions. Everything about their wedding was about being happy and sharing that happiness with others with a subtle, but always present, and tasteful theme of providing service toward others.

I first met Matt when he was 10 years old and had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Over the next six years we became close and he would be a big part of the success of the Penn State Icers hockey team.  

He went on to graduate from Lock Haven University where he was an RA. Matt and I have remained good friends for our shared passion for hockey and our faith, and because we have inspired each other, especially during some tough times.

Along his own journey, Matt struggled with his faith, often questioning how God could let such a terrible disease affect him and so many others. He met a young man named Kaleb Cook who helped Matt to see things through a completely different lens. Kaleb worked to get Matt to attend a small group Bible study and ultimately helped him answer all the hard questions he had about God.

 Learning about Shelby’s background and her many selfless acts is mind-blowing. Known as an “MK” for Missionary Kid, some of her closest friendships were spawned in some of the toughest environments you can imagine across the globe. Her parents, Mike and Lynn, have spent a lifetime in service of the Lord and in helping others around the world and the country.  

Shelby’s own service record is impressive. She has organized a “Christmas in Jail” program for inmates at the Centre County Correctional Facility for the past four years. She volunteers time and helps raise awareness and funds for the homeless shelters “Out of the Cold” and “Hearts for the Homeless,” and she works in outreach at Calvary Church.  Shelby has a tie-dyed car with the name “#Joyfulwheels” on the rear bumper, that’s hard to miss driving around town. In fact it was the car she and Matt drove away from the wedding in with the most joyful smiles you could imagine.

Matt and Shelby walked into the rehearsal dinner Friday night and again at the reception on Saturday with tie-dyed outfits. His suit was purchased at Wal-Mart, while her white dress was found on eBay and she and some friends painted it to match Matt’s suit. They stuck with a more traditional look for the actual ceremony.

For the groomsmen the festivities began with a laid back bachelor party on Thursday that started at the lawn of the PA Military Museum in Boalsburg with everyone eating Matt’s favorite, chicken cheesesteaks. After a little time playing ultimate Frisbee, we headed over to Escape Artist Centre County to do some team-building while trying to locate a missing Sherlock Holmes. We worked together and solved the mystery with 2:58 to spare. I had never been to an escape room and must say it was a blast. We finished the night with a bonfire, a couple of beers, and some great stories. Matt and I did manage to sneak into the house to watch the final minutes of the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup.

The Friday rehearsal dinner was held right at Calvary and the testimonials during the dinner were so authentic, emotional and moving. My good friends Ron and Jill Seybert were gracious hosts and they made it a fun evening for everyone. We took turns telling funny, but more often, inspirational stories about Shelby and Matt. The messages came from the heart from true friends and loved ones who traveled in from Tanzania, New Zealand, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Grand Rapids, Mich., Portland Ore., Minneapolis, Fort Myers, Fla. and Lancaster, Pa., for Shelby and Matt.   

On Saturday, the bridesmaids and groomsmen all arrived before 6 a.m. and enjoyed a spectacular view of the sunrise over Happy Valley. Calvary Harvest Fields is one of the hidden gems of State College with spectacular views of Mount Nittany, the campus and the valley. Everyone pitched in to help prepare for the wedding -- family, friends and volunteers from the church. Calvary is much more than a place of worship and fellowship. It was a welcoming and joyful place where you just felt at peace. The table settings were color-coordinated and matched the bridesmaids flowers and the bow ties (made from authentic Tanzanian cloth) worn by the groomsmen. The centerpieces had glasses filled with Lego pieces (Matt was obsessed with Legos as a kid). You could get Matt and Shelby to kiss at the reception by building something out of the Legos, singing them a song, telling a story about them or demonstrating a kiss with your significant other.  So clever!

The wedding program card included interesting and humorous descriptions of the wedding party.  A few samples:

Sarah – sister of the groom – big brother influencer – Christmas PJ-matching expert

Russ – brother of the groom since 2016 – Vikings fan (but still accepted)

Erica- New Zealand roomie – 5K enforcer – dance party starter – van dweller

Kate - Tanzanian tutor – American employer – Taiwanese teacher

Luka – little brother of the bride – taekwondo red stripe – music man

Joe – Coach of the Penn State Hockey team – adopter of young Matthew - Mentor

Amanda – friend in all places (literally…all of them)- walker of nations

The 9 a.m. ceremony was held under a spectacular old oak tree and began with Shelby’s adopted brother Luka playing the guitar and brother-in-law Steven playing the keyboard with a tremendous rendition of “From Now On” from The Greatest Showman, and a contemporary Christian song “You are Good.” Pastor Bill Rigg from Grand Rapids, Mich., officiated the service and was equal parts funny and profound. He and his wife Nancy (who were also celebrating their 58th wedding anniversary) are Shelby’s honorary grandparents. Friend Eric Ian Farmer sang, “Show Me the Way” which he wrote and is Matt and Shelby’s favorite song.  

When it was time to announce the bridal party at the reception Matt and Shelby changed into their tie-dyed outfits and moved across the dance floor to the thunderous applause of the guests. It was quite the moment. Before Pastor Bill said grace he snuck in a funny line, “God bless this bunch who are about to crunch this lunch.”  Shelby’s sister Casey sang during the reception a parody that she wrote of the Hamilton song “Satisfied.” The song for the first dance was a rousing version of “Tightrope” from The Greatest Showman soundtrack, sung by friend Leah Mueller. There were plenty of games for the guest including ladder toss, corn-hole board, croquet, giant Jenga, and Frisbee toss. I got to catch up with former Icer Paul Crooker, his wife, Allison, and their kids, Cadence and Brady, at the reception as well.  Paul spent significant time with Matt during his battle with cancer and is a great friend of the Seybert family to this day.

So despite a forecast of rain it was a spectacular day and an amazing wedding. Rarely do you find two such selfless and caring souls who you just know were meant to be together. Theirs may just be a match made in heaven.

It was a celebration of love, Joy, family, friends and faith.  It truly was a wedding for the ages.



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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