"You gave me a forever within the
and I'm grateful."
- John Green
It was a balmy June evening, five years ago today. Great fans blew air-light dresses into puffs and plumes as a roomful of girls nibbled strawberries, put the finishing touches on our makeup and dabbed at the perspiration on our foreheads. I slipped into yards of ivory chiffon, fastened chandelier earrings, shed tears over the last letter from my fiancé-about-to-turn-husband. My breath caught as I peeped out an upstairs window and glimpsed him in his tux, taking pictures with his best guys. He was handsome, more than ever, and at long last about to be mine. Then came my bouquet, and hurried clicks of bridal portraits in the late-day sun, and train-gathering and the descent down creaky old stairs and out onto the expectant lawn. My favorite music played; my sisters and best friends sailed one by one down the aisle while Nathan's smile got bigger and bigger. My hand nestled in the crook of Dad's arm. My heart swelled with pent-up fulfillment so close I could taste it. The moment hung heavy with complete, thrilling silence...then the words, our words:
"So close to reaching, that famous happy end
Almost believing, this is not pretend
And now you're beside me, and look how far we've come
So far, we are...so close"
The melody soared, we rounded the corner, and suddenly the moment I had imagined countless times was overwhelmingly real. I was spellbound by the love in Nathan's gaze, at long last taking those final steps to close the distance before our lifelong union. The moment that felt at once like an eternity and a fraction of a second ended with the strains of the song I'd planned to surprise him, and - let's be honest - to jerk some tears out of those eyes brimming with love and joy. He took my hands in his, barely able to contain his excitement, and to my dismay I was the one who utterly dissolved into tears of sheer relief. This was it - the moment we'd awaited for four long years.
The subsequent hymn and pastor's message gave me time to collect myself. Nate wiped my tears and squeezed my hands and gazed at me so adoringly I had no idea how I'd make it through the whole ceremony. We'd written our vows to each other in a tiny leather notebook, and while I read mine he held my wrist and bit his lip with the most beautiful look of love and pride. I will never forget his eyes that day. His vows to me were simple, eloquent, and lived out every day of our marriage:
I, Nathan, take you, Jen, to be my lawfully wedded wife;
to love you unconditionally, to protect and provide for
you. I promise to be a strong spiritual leader and strive
to fulfill your dreams and desires. I will be your husband,
your best friend, your brother in Christ, and your
kindred spirit, always pointing you to Christ who has
mercifully sustained us thus far and will sustain us in the
future. By God's grace, I will love you as Christ loves the
Church. I will honor and cherish you, for better or for
worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in
joy and in sorrow, in failure and in triumph. Now, in the
presence of our families and close friends, I give you my
life, all that I am and possess, from this moment forward
until God by death shall separate us.
When the pastor, at long last, pronounced us husband and wife, Nate kissed me for an unholy length of time and we booked it back down the aisle, accompanied by whistles and cheers. While the bridal party and guests milled around us we laughed and cried and held each other as tight as we could, lost in the exhilaration of finally - finally! - belonging to one another. I personally was miffed that there was still an entire reception to attend to. We'd gotten the most important part taken care of, and I was more than ready to get the heck out of there and start living the married dream.
That said, our reception was a party like none other. We barely got to eat a bite because of all the clinking glasses and ringing bells and kissing, and then there were dances to be danced and toasts to be given. I danced with my dad, he danced with his mom and then he spun me out on the floor to a rather overt song on the first country CD he ever gave me, all those years ago:
"I want to be the wind that fills your sails
And be the hand that lifts your veil
Be the moon that moves your tide
The sun coming up in your eyes
Be the wheels that never rust
And be the spark that lights you up
All that you've been dreaming of and more,
So much more,
I want to be your everything"
Our wedding was magical in every sense of the word. Every year on our anniversary we'd snuggle in bed and talk about our favorite memories from June 20, 2010. Five years later, I remember it like it was yesterday. The setting, music, food, laughter, dancing and fellowship were all better than I could have imagined. But what I will cherish until the day I die is the way Nate loved and rejoiced over me - exuberantly, unabashedly. His whole heart was in his eyes that day, for all our friends and family to witness. None of the "calm and collected groom" act going on - he was all in, for better or for worse, forever.
Our photographer, Kristen, perfectly captured my favorite moment of the evening:
"As a photographer who has been a part of hundreds of weddings I often get asked the question 'Do you have a favorite wedding?' I always reply the same way: 'Favorite wedding what? Favorite wedding venue? Favorite couple? Favorite all-around wedding? Favorite wedding to photograph? Favorite wedding moment? [Etc.]' Depending on what they respond with, I usually get to tell them a few top winners in the various 'wedding categories.' And my favorite moment of any wedding, and the answer I always give to that question, happened at your wedding.
"During the reception when you both stood up to thank your friends and family, Nate was talking on the microphone and said 'Jen and I...' and while he did, he glanced over to you. I'll never forget how he completely stopped speaking and stared straight into your eyes. You two were so lost with each other, far away from us all. A few seconds later he laughed and said 'I'm so in love with you.' It was the most sincere distraction I'd ever seen. I remember wanting to have 'that.' I know there are many happy couples who really are compatible and good together. But you two had more. And I will always remember being able to stand witness to what you had. It was rare, and lives on. You had more in your eight years together than groups of people have in their lifetimes...your love was glowing, moved me, and will never die."
On June 20, 2010, Nathan and I vowed to love one another until God, by death, separated us. We knew our days together were numbered...but we expected them to run into the tens of thousands. Never could we have imagined that God would see fit to separate us less than five years after we embarked on the great adventure we'd spent our lives dreaming of. Four years and four months after Nate and I met, we were married. Four years and four months after we pledged our lives to one another, he went on ahead to wait for me on eternity's shore.
Nate, those eight years and eight months were the best days of my life. Knowing now how our story on earth ends I would still choose you, over and over again, for eternity. You are so infinitely worth every painful memory, every tear I now shed alone. You gave me a forever in our numbered days. For the rest of my life I will love and long for you.