At the top of my closet is an accordion style folder busting at the seams with paperwork detailing bridesmaid dresses, brunch options and bouquet designs. The great binder of wedding planning that at one time went everywhere with me. Scrawled across the cover in Sharpie marker reads “If lost I will pay you cold hard cash to return. I’m so not kidding.”
Even 10 years later I can’t part with it – way too many hours spent pouring over wedding magazines, scouring on line shopping, tasting scrumptious food and visiting beautiful locations in creating a most perfect day.
What escaped my attention were the verses we would be saying to one another, prompted by our pastor friend line by line. In fact that seemed the easiest part of it all – like roles in a play. How I like life. Predictable, well scripted and did I already say predictable???
However marriage, unlike a “perfect” wedding day, is anything but predictable.
Or for that matter, perfect.
Abuzz with the big day planning counting down T minus zero to the day of “performance” I was like a Broadway producer bringing to life my vision. And dragging my fiancé behind who really only cared about the honeymoon.
What I didn’t see as a bride to be was anything that told it like it was. None of the long married folks in our audience, um I mean our wedding guests, didn’t indicate that it would be anything other than idyllic. But can you blame them?
Nowadays on the other side of the marital aisle as a guest I’m aware how the couple has a challenging road ahead of them. No way do I offer up that piece of advice on their wedding signature collage. No, I sit there and tear up during the ceremony, eat yummy cake and dance to the sound of dollars ticking away with each glorious minute of celebration.
Yet truth be told, on any given day a wedding is breathtaking, however some days marriage can suck the life right out of you.
“I, so and so, take you, so and so, for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”
From saying these words as a child with a white pillow case on my head playing wedding or as an actual bride I didn’t have a clue how marriage worked.
Yes I absolutely got how a wedding worked and gave attention to what ultimately was a few hours of our lifetime together. If that much planning had gone into how we wanted to grow our marriage we would have been light years ahead.
Truly I never understood my aunt who said on her 40th wedding anniversary “It has been the best 32 years of my life.”
But y’all almost 10 years in myself, I so get it.
Frankly if every other marriage in America is doomed to end, we are doing something wrong folks. So as my contribution to sharing wisdom to my kids – who one day may or may not listen – I’m writing a letter to my younger self shooting straight about what those simple looking vows are all about.
What I wish I had known in the meaning of our vows on that picture perfect day . . .
I, your overly tired exhausted from planning this shin dig bride, take you, clueless to all I’ve poured into this wedding and possibly not at all aware how many bills are going to hit in the next 30 days so I’m warning you now brace yourself, husband to be. Brace yourself.
For better, for worse:
Never again will any other day be more about you than now. This is the “for better” part on paper. When your first anniversary is in Grand Cayman but your 7th anniversary is forgotten surviving in the trenches raising three kids ages 3 and under, think back on this magical wedding day. In fact some times after arguments or seasons where you just aren’t in tune with one another you’ll catch a framed wedding picture on the wall and sigh that it all seemed so simple back then. You both looked so young, so well rested, so giddy.
But naivety doesn’t mean better. It doesn’t mean where we are is worse.
It means that one day when we said our vows it was just that – one day.
One day where there wasn’t a care in the world, three little mouths to feed, a home to run and jobs to do. Being in love and gleeful in photos is marvelous, but it’s like a hollow Easter bunny. Seems fun, not filling.
If I had been given a glimpse of my future where the laundry never ends, library books are always missing under unmade beds and putting kids in and out of time is a hobby I would have declined. How mundane. How ordinary. That must be the worse part of the vows, right?
But where I was better on the outside with less wrinkles and smaller hips (thank you child bearing years), I was actually worse on the inside. My selfishness to win a fight or get my way was epic. My empathy for others was fleeting and I thought dinners at the current hot spot meant you made it.
My “for worse” me was on display in my “for better” body.
But God wasn’t finished with my journey of self-awareness and it took the child who didn’t behave like the parenting book promised, a health crisis of a baby and two cross country moves leaving all I knew behind to get the me back then to the me I am today.
And I’m no where near my best self yet, thank the good Lord.
For richer, for poorer:
Even though one of the biggest markers to determine if a marriage will fail is how often a couple fights about money this one really isn’t about cash. Granted, everyone thinks life will be easier when the bank account is bigger, but the same problems are still there.
Nope, instead I’d say this is the richness of your world.
The friends you have to support your union.
The older couples who you look up to and want your marriage to mimic one day.
The couples going through your same life situations – newlyweds, job challenges, infertility, family dynamics, personal growth.
The community who shows up with new meals for a newborn, or a death in the family.
The familiar faces at church.
The neighbors you are delighted to see when you pull up after a long day.
The lifelong friends you don’t speak to often but boy when you get back together there isn’t a moment without chatter or laughter.
That is richness. That is a full life. That is being blessed beyond your wildest dreams – to do life with others standing alongside you whether all peachy keen or in the storm of your life.
And if you are poor of friends right now, consider what kind of friend you are. Great news is that there’s still time to change that chapter in your life. It took years for me to see that having genuine friends who love you no matter what during every season in life is actually making it. Bless them.
In sickness and health:
Another one we shrug off as a given. But truly, have you seen your husband to be down with a severe case of man flu? Or as we like to call it when it hits a woman – a cold? Kidding! Not really.
But I think this is more than germs: It’s the health of your marriage.
Be very aware that there is poison others spew to destroy your union, be it a divisive mother-in-law intent on driving a wedge between the two of you or an overly attentive co-worker of the opposite sex trying to chip away at your defensiveness or a neighbor offering up garbage about her marriage trying to pull you into her muck.
Cancerous, rotten, disastrous relationships are all around us. So don’t consider it unnecessary or a chore to “check in” on your state of your union. Constantly assess the health of your marriage just like going in for a check up. And addressing the potential illnesses now instead of letting problems fester.
Until death do us part:
Somehow I don’t believe this is about the last breath as a senior citizen. Although I hope it’s God’s will we pass when we are very very old, there’s another death couples can experience nobody ever sees coming.
Mark the date when you stop holding hands driving in the car or when sitting side by side watching TV. Shoot one day you look up and you are both watching TV in different rooms! Any newlywed will promise to remain googly eyed and obnoxiously in love. They shun the notion they could one day be the old couple in the restaurant eating in silence.
But if the marriage isn’t attended to or encouraged to grow, the one who hung the moon can quickly become the one whose anger you easily let the sun set on.
And it’s not all flowers brought home or sweet messages posted on Facebook about “the best husband ever” but moreso the excitement waning when you used to be thrilled to see his car in the driveway. Or he’s not the person you go to first with exciting news. Or perhaps making plans with your girlfriends out sounds a lot more fun than staying in with your hubby.
The death that parts us is sometimes the silence, hurt feelings, old scabs picked at in each new fight or words that should never have been said. A relationship is an actual living thing which we somehow think can grow on its own without attention, time or devotion – then we are surprised to realize it withered away with neglect.
This is supposed to be your best friend that you get the privilege to do life with! Forever. That shouldn’t illicit just a shoulder shrug because girl that day is coming when you’ll catch his horrified eye as they help change you postpartum into some faux fishnet mommy just birthed a whale ginormous panties and you’ll know that you got the right person to make the best most awful life memories with! And if he sticks around after that awkward visual and can get the lie past his lips that he’s never seen you more beautiful, then you know you two are gonna be better than just OK.