Nine years ago, I walked the aisle toward you, a bright-eyed bride with a heart full of hope. Is this not the way of most brides on their wedding day? I knew not what the future would bring, but I knew you were my future.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about that day. I know the cake almost toppled, and we still laugh about how long it took us to light the unity candle. I’ll try not to read too much into that. It was a swirl of nervousness and joy and expectation, surrounded by the people we loved most. It is still the best party I’ve ever been to.
We don’t have a lot of pictures to remember the day, so maybe we’ll have to break out the wedding video to jog our memories. Or not. There is part of me that doesn’t want to see the girl immersed in the dream, unaware of what would come. Would I stop her if I could? It’s a question I try not to dwell on.
Maybe I thought the worst was already behind us. We had faced a yearlong separation with your deployment to Iraq, and both of us had suffered minor illnesses that tested our “sickness and health” vow, so I thought. I knew that I loved you before you knew you loved me, and I was sure that God had brought us together and that He would be the glue that held us. Surely for all our ups and downs in our three years prior, it was bound to only get better, right?
I wonder if the long-ago-brides in the pews that day smiled knowingly at our vows. Marriage is a mixture, a both-and experience. Better AND worse. Sickness AND health. Richer AND poorer. Life AND death. These are not the kinds of things you think about on your wedding day. Only the better, the health, the richer, the life.
But the other things met us not long into our journey. Worse and sickness and poorer and a death of sorts, and I will admit, at times I have felt cheated by the promises of marriage, the promises of God. This wasn’t what I asked for. This wasn’t my dream. In the depths of the valleys, I have wondered if I’ve been duped, tricked into something that will only make me miserable for life.
Yet misery is not what I feel when I look at our nine years of marriage. There are times when I thought I would not make it through, times when I was sure we would not make it through. And there other times I can’t believe how lucky I am to be a part of your life, and to have you in mine. I watch these two kids we created with all their expressive uniqueness, and we smile over their heads as if we’re sharing a secret. And we are.
I remember the first time you caught my eye this way. We sat together as two of our friends took tentative steps toward a relationship, a pairing that seemed as unlikely to happen as ours did. We made eye contact. We smiled. We tried to hold in our laughter. You told me we had to stop doing that because we were likely to burst out laughing in front of our friends, and you didn’t want to stop looking at me. I remember a look of intensity in your eyes. I wanted to explain it away as friendship because I was sure I would be let down.
Even weeks, or maybe it was months, later, when you put your arm around me during the movie, I stayed awake that night wondering if it had only been a dream. If when I woke in the morning, you would have changed your mind.
You hadn’t changed your mind then, and every day for the last nine years, you haven’t changed your mind yet. I admit this is still a fear I have sometimes. When the house is a mess and the kids are out of control and I’m crying over nothing and everything. Will I wake up one day to discover it was all only a dream?
No bride imagines on the day of her wedding that her groom might change his mind, does she?
This is more a reflection of my insecurity than your actions. This is the child inside of me who was rejected and fears rejection and still sometimes thinks she isn’t good enough for anyone to like, much less love. These are things I will talk about in therapy because they are not yours to fix or alter. I have been afraid to show you my wounds and scars, afraid they would scare you away. I am not perfect, but sometimes I still want to be perfect, unflawed. You love me through these things, and even though it’s not always easy, I know my pain is safe with you. You understand me like no other.
I read this in a book the other day, and I thought of us:
I remember … feeling such a connection to his brokenness that I wondered if the two of us, together, could become one perfect whole. Is this, then, what draws people to each other? Not the combination of perfect selves, but the mirrored fragments we see reflected?
I once thought I was attracted to your strength. To your presence. To the life you brought to every gathering. Those are still the things that draw me, but it’s deeper than that now. I almost cannot explain you, but every day, even the bad ones, I find I’d rather choose you than not.
Maybe these are not the most romantic words I can write on an anniversary, but real is all I have. I can’t sugarcoat our union or set up false expectations for anyone else. I no longer feel the need to stand up and object to any marriage I attend, nor do I feel like I must fully open the eyes of the soon-to-be wed. We all find out soon enough that marriage is hard. And good. Both-and.
If anything these last nine years have shown me that marriage is a vessel for holy work.
It is the worse that has made us better.
It is the sickness that drives us to health.
It is the poorer that has shown us true riches.
It is the death that has brought us life.
Nine years still seems like such a short time. And maybe I thought, all those years ago, that by now we’d have it all figured out. That our marriage would hit its stride right about now and we’d be coasting for the next 40 years.
Maybe we’ll coast, but maybe marriage is more like a roller coaster. Ups, downs, twists, turns. Sometimes we’ll be dizzy with the thrill and other times want to puke over the side of the car. Maybe we’ll rest at the top of a peak before hurtling toward the earth. Maybe those are the moments we’ll hold on tight to each other, screaming to whomever can hear.
And maybe every now and then we’ll pull into the platform. The ride will end, for now, and we’ll have a chance to rest. We’ll laugh at the crazy ride we just experienced and pray to God nothing like that ever happens again.
Except that it might. And we’ll do it all again.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I got married, but I know that if I tried to tell that hopeful bride all the things I know now, she wouldn’t be able to hear it. Maybe that’s the way it should be.
Brad Paisley says if love was a plane, nobody’d get on.
Maybe no one needs to know all the things they’re going to face together when they get married. Maybe they just need to know that others have been there, it’s normal to feel like that, and they will get through it.
That’s what I hope the look on my face will convey to the soon-to-be wed, to the young brides walking the aisle to meet their grooms.
It’s what I hope our every-day marriage life speaks.
Not happily ever after.
More like gradually getting better.
I know, it’s a Hallmark card in the making.
I guess there’s no way to end except to say, “Happy anniversary, my love.”