You are so excited this morning! It’s all a bit like a dream come true. Ever the morning person, you’re about to jump right out of bed and into your very big day. Your plan is to meet your friend Lori at the hair salon. Lori went to high school with you. She watched this tumultuous relationship when you and Mike first started dating/breaking up/doing-something-that-wasn’t-dating-but-wasn’t-breaking-up. She’s excited for you and she’s glad she gets you first today, to make sure she gets those curls just right and to talk you into a little bit of makeup. Let her do it. You’ll be glad you did.
When you get home, you’ll eat strawberries and cream for breakfast and then head downstairs to get dressed. You mother will want to help you. She’ll also want to mess with your hair, the hair Lori just finished. It’s ok. She just needs something to do with her hands in order to dispel nervous energy. And, by the way, she’s right; there’s a little piece out of place. If you let her fix it, you won’t notice it in pictures 28 years later.
After pictures at home, your dad is going to get into the car with you. You’ve saved money on a limo by having your friend Sean drives his father’s Cadillac. That was a good move. Sean is dear and familiar and a bit of comic relief. Your dad is going to want to tell you every single wise thing he’s ever heard. Let him. Many, many years from now, when you see that saying the right thing at the right time has become a bit of a struggle, you are going to appreciate how many nuggets he’s tucked away over time and you are going to respect and bless him for over-thinking everything. You are also going to recognize that you do the same thing. Grant grace.
At the church, surrounded by your girlfriends, you are so ready! Still, when you peek through side windows and see Mike walk out to the altar, you audibly catch your breath and you struggle not to cry. Don’t cry. Lori and the mascara and all. Walk down that aisle and into your future. But know it’s not going to be exactly as you think it will.
People will tell you later that they have never seen a bride and groom so relaxed and so completely at ease with each other and with the Mass. You are going to pray the whole thing together, two hearts wholly united. It definitely will be a living, breathing sacrament—in the moment and in the decades to come. And you will laugh. You will look at each other throughout and smile at each other the smiles of just knowing what the other was thinking. That twinkling laughter, that knowing, that’s a huge blessing. Don’t ever take it for granted.
You think that this is a fairytale. You think you’ve just walked into your perfect happily ever after. You think that this young man can make you perfectly happy. He can’t. Very soon, your life will be clouded by cancer. There will be a fight for hope and a future. There will be a challenge to faith (though it will be nothing like the challenge that will come many, many years later at the hands of the church). He’s not Prince Charming.
You're both about to learn that love is work. For a lifetime. And when in doubt, always remember that our best example of love on earth is the cross. If ever you wonder what the next move is, ask yourself how you can die to self for the person you love. It's going to be Mike's turn first. He'll teach you how.
He’s the guy who will drive you to every single chemotherapy appointment. He will hold your hair while you throw up afterwards, until one day you have no more hair to hold. Then he will tell you that he really thinks that you are beautiful when you’re bald. And you will believe him. He will also tell you that you are beautiful when the Prednisone makes you gain 20 pounds. You will not believe him, then. It's too bad, really, because those pounds are going to come and going with babies over the next two decades and then, late in the third decade, they will return again. He'll still think you're beautiful. I have no idea what it will take for you to finally believe that about yourself. As you fight cancer, the doctors will tell you will never have another baby beyond the one you had the first year you were married. You will not believe them. Good for you!
His bedside manner so honed before you were 25, Mike will be at his best in labor and delivery rooms. He will tenderly coach those babies into the world. He will look at you in your moments of doubt and fear and he will speak with all the love and respect in the world. The rare gift of this man? He values your motherhood more than words can speak. That means that every time you are tired, every time you feel like a hamster on a wheel in a household of chaos and noise, every time you toss the alumni magazine in disgust and wonder if you’ve missed the mark on this whole vocation thing, you can rest in his abiding assurance: this is your calling and it becomes you. The vision he has for the wife you will be and the life the two of you will create is what will animate that that prayerful smile before the altar on your wedding day.
That vision will animate you for a lifetime. You think it’s all going to be a cross between The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. You have absolutely no idea what it is to raise a large family; you just know you hear God calling you to do it. You know there will be struggles, but you figure they can be solved in about an hour every time. You think that now—now that you are a 21-year-old grown up --- there will be no dysfunction; everything should function perfectly.
Here’s the thing, sweet, idealistic girl: you bring a lot of baggage to this fairytale. The greatest lesson of your life thus far has been that you are responsible for everything that goes wrong. It’s going to take a long time to unlearn that. Your husband-to-be? The most patient teacher of that unlearning. He will blow a fuse on that count occasionally, though. And when he blows a fuse, no matter what the cause, there’s one very important thing to remember. Just stop talking. Quit. Just quit trying to explain and repair. It really makes him nuts. If you’re quiet, it’s much better. If only you would learn this today…
Even if you don’t know it, because you honestly do think that there’s no doubt you’re marrying Mike forever, your greatest fear today is the fear of being left. It’s a well-founded fear. You have a good reason to believe that people who love you can walk out on you and leave you in the midst of crisis. You learned it well in your growing years. Sometimes, especially early on, this fear will overwhelm you. But after cancer, you’ll know that you don’t need to fear abandonment any more. You’ll spend many, many years living free from that fear. After cancer you'll know; he's in it for better or worse, bald or fat. Warning: The fear, though, is not dead. It’s just sleeping. There will come a time when life is really hard and people you love will hurt you. Every memory and every chilling sorrow related to abandonment will come rushing back. Stay steady. Lean in to your good man. You’ll survive. This living a life of faith is not for the faint of heart. But you are a good mom, a really, really good mom. Try so hard not to forget that. Try not to get caught up in the inevitable mistakes and failures and so to overgeneralize and think that you are a mistake and a failure. And your husband will never leave you. He will not forsake you. He will be both Father and Son to you as much as it is humanly possible for a man to be to his wife.
Put your feet on the floor, girl. Rush headlong into this glorious late summer day. Make all the promises. Dream all the dreams. Tonight, curl up together and know that this is where you will find true peace and rest for years and years to come. Gather the grace of this day. Take strength from it. And know it’s not going to be a fairytale. It’s going to be better.
It’s going to be a faith tale.