My husband & I were given three years of calm waters before the toughest of trials began. While they did have their bumps & hiccups, for the most part we sailed through our days joyously together. Then three years ago we entered the desert. We knew we the road that lay ahead would be rough, but it would be worth it in the end. With our eyes set on the years beyond the journey, we marched forward so unaware of what was to come. This season was entered with glamorous dreams of how it should be, covered under a blanket of picture perfect pintrest dreams. Our son was born just before my husband moved 2 hours away from home to attend college for 18 months. My all to short two months of maternity leave were filled with a baby who never slept, postpartum depression & living as a single parent during the weeks while he studied for hours, far away. The seasons became more than we ever were prepared for. A chronically ill child, endless doctor visits, multiple ER trips, so many days off of work to care for him, prayers begging for his life, sleep that never ever seemed to come & joy that seemed to be lost in the fog. That connection that once felt so blissful became smothered under the fog of the season. Like so many other first time parents, we began operating in survival mode; a mode that seem to last far beyond it should have. Into the weeks, months and years. So many days I just remember staring into his weary eyes with deep dark circles under my own thinking “it’s not supposed to be like this…why is this so hard…when will it end?!?”. Yet through it all God was with us. Giving us what we needed to make it through the day, we clutched on to each other and the promises he whispered to our hearts years before.
Every season has an end. Spring will always come after a winter. God will always carry you through your storms. My husband graduated & got a job at a local hospital, which came with incredible (and much needed) insurance for our son. The postpartum slowly disappeared yet has left it’s mark of anxiety, forever a part of my motherhood journey. Our son grew older, stronger, slightly more stable. God brought incredible people into our lives who helped us find answers about his health, bringing us to a journey towards healing. The sun had not risen, but it is surely was on the horizon beckoning our hearts to breath again. Our joy began to return.
So one day, as we stood in the kitchen after only 6 years of marriage we spoke of the coming season of hope. That morning during a week of prayer & fasting God had very clearly spoken to my heart. Declaring this was our sabbath year, where we would learn to rest in him & rest in each other. My husband sat on a little stool on the floor & I leaned up against the counter as tallied up all we have walked through, overcome, battled in. We were planning our first ever family vacation when I joked about a vow renewal only to mention we couldn’t because it hasn’t really been ten years yet. I’ll never forget the moment he looked up at me & asked “Why wait? Why do we need to wait until a certain amount of years have passed? Haven’t we just come out of the hardest trial of our marriage? We should do it”
And so the planning began.
There is something wonderful about planning a public renewal, but there is also something so breathtakingly intimate about keeping it private. Early on we decided that this was for us & us alone. Yet it almost became more about the renewal instead of the hearts baring their souls. And while I thought it was all crashing down, God was delicately protecting what he had promised. After one failed dress ordered online, another was to be custom made. Again & again the online designer who had a strong portfolio assured me it would be perfect. Only 12 days before we were to leave for Canada & she emailed me a photo of the most cheaply made dress that literally looked nothing like what I had paid for. After an onslaught of outrageous verbal attacks towards me, I was left without my promised refund, no dress & an ocean of tears. My dreams of renewing my vows in the elegant dress I never had seemed to be disappearing by the dat. So the night before we left I drove 2 hours to the city to a bridal store. I told the sweet clerk that I literally had to leave with something, anything. My criteria for an elaborate elegant dress was gone, as I just needed a dress. After a few that didn’t work she was able to find a wrap dress in the back. The last one, hidden for weeks behind a bunch of inventory that no one even knew they still had. It looked nothing like a wedding dress, nothing like what I dreamed & nothing that I would have picked out. Yet it fit like a glove, while a smile spread across my face.
So I breathed…Thank you Jesus.
Then it was off to Canada we drove. The day before the renewal I texted my close friend & incredible photographer just before she entered the country. Nothing. An hour later. Still nothing. Two hours later I still couldn’t reach her…she had only been 30 minutes away when we last spoke. My heart sank as anxiety began to kick in. After three hours she called me to say she was stopped at the border. Her car searched, her equipment detained & was told she would be denied entry while he was typing the letter…but at the last moment they let her in.
So I breathed…Thank you Jesus.
The plan had always been to get wildflowers from the farmers market around the corner. Yet that morning we realized that due to the season, there were no wildflowers being sold. Not even a local florist had a stand. The only alternative was a little flower shop that carried nothing but plants and roses. Yet one little bouquet waited for us, perfectly matching my dress. All of the flowers I would have never wanted, but it was the only one that would work. So we wrapped it up & our photographer grabbed some tulle for the bottom.
So I breathed…Thank you Jesus.
On the day of the renewal with my friend by my side, we made it out of the house already running late to hair & makeup. My makeup on point, but my hair nothing like the photo I showed her. “…it’s ok, it’s still pretty” I kept telling myself. We ran back to the house, got our families changed at top speed as anxiety began to overtake me. Almost an hour behind schedule I could feel the wave as I tried to breathe above it all. Reality became so far from what I envisioned in that tiny kitchen months ago. We were planning on renewing our vows at The Top of The World at Whistler. Our way of speaking love symbolically at the peak of our journey. We drove towards our destination while my eyes searched the sky for sunlight, for blue sky. For any color other than dark grey. Anxiety rose as my love silently grabbed my hand. No one spoke; we all just kept telling ourselves it would be fine. Yet the moment we stepped in to buy our lift tickets, we could no longer deny the weather. The entire top half of the mountain was fogged in. The sweetest sales woman searched every weather camera she could, trying to find a ray of sun, yet each one displayed the darkest thickest fog. So much so that you could barely see the end of the camera. If it had not been for the makeup I would have cried the ugly cry right there in the middle of the ticketing office. I didn’t know how to say thank you. I didn’t understand.
So I breathed…I need you Jesus.
God is good to the very end. Always. It just so happened that we were being helped by a woman who had a familiar story. Her heart was filled with compassionate. Only a year ago she was a bride with lavish dreams of being wed in a stone circle by the lake. They had planned for it for months, every detail perfect. Yet on the day of her wedding it poured so hard, they were forced to wed in a friend’s backyard under canopies as her dreams became drenched. With eyes filled of sympathy she showed me photos of the location promising it was beautiful even though my heart was still set on my mountain. I stood there feeling as though I was still in the desert with nothing but wasted money. So with a forced smile & eyes welled with tears, I agreed. Without a word I simply nodded for fear that I would break.
This will always be one of my favorite photos of us. It was the moment we knew that all we had planned was gone, taken from us by various circumstances. We were left with nothing but each other and our love. Too blindsided to realize that that was more than enough for the day. In that silent, heartbroken moment he calmly took my hand. Then along with the gust of wind God spoke so loudly I almost jumped. “It was never about the stuff.”
So I breathed…help me to see as you do Jesus.
Never was it about a wedding dress, an epic location, magazine worthy flowers, perfect hair or photos (seriously thank you God for letting me keep that). I had made this renewal about everything that that would disappear as soon as the moment was gone. Tangible things will not carry a marriage through the hardest of season. So one by one, the “stuff” that had all of my focus was stripped away. The dress (repeatedly), the flowers, the location. All of it was gone. There was a moment I sat there with my husband on a bench in the very crowded city park waiting for our photos to be taken after our friends. All it took to physically shift my heart was his embrace, his hand, his kiss. This. This is what the renewal was about. For the last 3 years we have fought for marriage through tear stained weary eyes. For 6 years we have made a choice every day. To stay. To commit. To love. Never have I been so grateful that all of my plans were stripped away, wrecked by the Lord. There is such a beauty that comes from the breaking of oneself so our eyes can be fixated on the ones standing before us. The ones that hold our hearts.
So finally we stood. In dress number three that I never would have wanted, with flowers that weren’t what I pictured, hair styled far from what I dreamed, in a location that was miles from where I’d hoped. There we stood with nothing left but each other. My eyes raised to meet his, my voice cracked, tears fell, my heart poured out open & bare. Our vows were not filled of the innocent unweathered promises of years before. They were deep, filled with wisdom, challenging to abide by & carved from every day that we chose each other. They resonated in places that had been torn open by the years before, healing the broken cracks, mending our souls. It was the life that we needed breathed back into us. It was the new beginning we had waited for. It was the place that marriage won.
Even though it fell so terribly apart, I wouldn’t change a thing. When everything was stripped away our photographer was able to capture our hearts in their most raw form. Our smiles wide as we laughed all afternoon with the joy of love that has endured, love that has won. These images, the most cherished tangible gift. Every day my eyes fall upon them I breath…
Thank you Jesus.
This song is deeply important to us. The lyrics I believe are not only a battle cry for love, but a victory song for marriage. It has become a song that we find ourselves drawing strength from in the day to day as well as dancing to in our kitchen. Love struck once again in the still of the night.
Photo Credit: Amanda Photographic
A special thank you to her. This day would have not gone off as smoothly as it did, had it not been for her calm heart pouring peace over the day. In all of the chaos, she grounded us & carried on. I am beyond grateful to not only call her our photographer, but also our friend.