By: Shauna Niequist
People refer to your wedding day as the best day of your life. I understand why entirely. I remember my wedding day so absolutely clearly. I remember putting on the veil, seeing Aaron’s face for the first time, the heaviness of my dress as I walked down the aisle with my dad. I remember the taste of the champagne and the sound of the band. I remember dancing with Aaron as though it was last night, and it was nearly eight years ago.
This is the thing, though: When people tell you that your wedding day is the best day of your life, what it sort of sounds like they’re saying is that it’s all downhill after the wedding is over. So many pastors make it a point to tell you, right during the ceremony, that it’s all fun and games while you’re wearing the dress and holding the flowers, but that serious business starts when the dancing stops. That’s true, in some ways. Marriage is a serious business, and there’s a lot to marriage that you can’t see from where you’re standing in the front of a church, bridesmaids surrounding you.
Your wedding day will, of course, be an extraordinary day. But on that day, you cannot imagine the beautiful, life-altering, soul-shaping things ahead of you. This is just the beginning. I know you believe that you could not possibly love him more than you do right now. I understand that. I felt that. I was wrong. I’m not an expert on anything, and certainly not on marriage, but I’m here to tell you that what you feel on your wedding day is like dipping your toe in an ocean, and with every passing year, you swim farther and farther from the shore, unable, at a certain point, to see anything but water. This is just the beginning, and you can’t imagine the love that will bloom between you over time.
You will cry together, laugh together, pray and dance and move furniture together. You will learn and unlearn things, make a home together, hurt each other’s feelings without meaning to, and sometimes very much on purpose. You will learn over time that the heart of marriage is forgiveness. You will learn in the first six months how much forgiveness he requires, and then you will realize, in the six months after that, just how much forgiveness you yourself need.
A piece of practical advice: you will not sleep well the night before your wedding. It’s pretty much a fact. Your mind will rattle and shake, full of bizarre fears. You fear that your dress will fall off. It will not. You fear that you did not, in fact, secure a caterer. You did. You will fear, with each passing hour of the night, that your face is puffing up like a sausage and the area under your eyes is becoming blacker than an eight ball. This is not true. You are young, and a good makeup artist can cover a multitude of sins. Wake up a bridesmaid or your mother, make some tea, and let them remind you about the important things: the florist will indeed show up, your crazy uncle probably will hit on your bridesmaids, but they’ll play it off graciously, and most important, you are indeed ready to be a wife.
Part of being a married couple means that you create a new identity together, woven from your experiences and histories and lives. Work hard to become your own family, with your own values and traditions, things you always do, things you never do, things that bring you back to why you fell in love in the first place. Dance to your song in the backyard, wear your wedding shoes every anniversary. Carve out your own history together, little by little, month by month, year by year. Because there will be seasons that are as dry as deserts, and the history of your love for one another will be the water you need to bring new life and growth, turning that season from dust to garden once again.
Today is about the promise of the future and all the great moments of the past and, indeed, this beautiful present where you stand together, surrounded by people who love you and who are praying that your marriage is one of the great ones. It could be, you know, if you work hard and forgive often, and get over yourself and your selfishness over and over again. It could be one of the stories people tell, when they want to believe in love’s power and life’s richness. It could be one that your children and grandchildren tell each other, praying that someday they’ll have a love like yours.
My grandparents celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary this year. They are one of those couples that are living a love story every day, even after sixty years. They went to third grade together, and then Grandma’s family moved away. And when they met again at seventeen, Grandpa swears he remembered that beautiful face from the third grade. They were married at the Justice of the Peace, just before Grandpa left for the Navy. They moved to Hawaii a few years after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Life took them to California for a few years, and then back home to Michigan. At their house in Kalamazoo, Grandpa worked in his shop while Grandma tended her roses, all along the white fence. We watched them slow dance in the kitchen and loved to look through their pictures from Hawaii and their sailing trips. They love to ride bikes together, and for their seventy-fifth birthdays, they took their tandem recumbent bike to Washington, DC, to ride along the Potomac.
On the night of their anniversary party, we had dinner and cake and when we toasted them, essentially, we all said the same thing. We each said our own versions of thank you for having a marriage that gives us something extraordinary to aspire to. Thank you for all the times we caught you kissing in the kitchen and all the times you showed us pictures of your wedding and your years in Hawaii and your sailing trips and bike rides. Thank you for giving us a picture of how we could be, if we work really hard and are very good to one another. Thank you for living with so much love and tenderness and laughter that we have in you a real life picture of how good it can be.
You, my dear friend, will be a bride for one day, but you will, with God’s grace and your own very hard work, be a wife to this man every day for the rest of your life. Being a bride is super-fun, but it pales in comparison to the thrill and beauty of being a part of one of the truly great partnerships, like my grandparents. Make your love story one worth telling. Make it one worth living, every day, as long as you both shall live.
*An excerpt taken with permission from Bittersweet, Zondervan 2010
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UPDATE: Congratulations to Alyssa B. for winning the giveaway of a pair of TOMS classic shoes for him, and 31Bits jewelry for her! The winner has been emailed and the randomly selected winning comment was:
i did not have a brides wedding either time. it was my second ceremony and his fourth. BUT and this is key, after 6 years of marriage, i got saved,( he already was saved) and so this is the first REAL marriage for both of us. sure sure sure you stand before the rabbi and make vows but until you know Christ they are just words. as Followers of Christ marriage became a true commitment. i think that makes all the difference between a life long commitment and a wishy washy one, God. we put HIM first and we honor HIM in our marriage and HE faithfully keeps us focused, eyes to eyes. yes i love my husband more today than i did ten years ago. we have settled into one another like an over stuffed chair and we are comfortable together. but it is the knowing, the knowing that no matter how much we love one week and yes, hate the next, we are in it till death do we part. but the greatest part of all is knowing that death will not part us. we are in this for an eternity.
Featured Guest: Shauna Niequist
Shauna Niequist grew up in Barrington, Illinois and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. After graduation, she worked with high school students at Willow Creek in Barrington for five years. On her first day there, she met Aaron Niequist, and three years later they were married. They moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to work at Mars Hill. They made great friends, walked to the Real Food Café twice a week for breakfast, and learned the hard way that they are not home repair people. Their son Henry was born there, and will be four this fall. After six years in Grand Rapids, they moved back to the Chicago area. Shauna is the author of Cold Tangerines (Zondervan, 2007) and Bittersweet (Zondervan, 2010), and you can visit her at www.shaunaniequist.com.