I couldn’t tell if it was the nerves, the corset, or the box of Sour Patch kids I consumed the night before, but my stomach was in shambles. I tried to breathe. The dressing room mirror ricocheted my feelings like a boomerang and I busied myself with my hair.
Today is the day.
My sisters and bridesmaids were getting ready beside me, our wonderful wedding planner, Carol, was orchestrating details, and my mother was still setting up the reception. The ceremony was hours away, and I was a bundle of jumpiness. I even snapped at my sister all because my bangs would simply NOT cooperate on the most important day of my life.
Bangs have no respect for anyone.
Our photographer came in the room. “I just saw the groom,” She smiled. “He seemed very nervous!” That made me laugh – thinking of Josh as nervous. The most steady, fearless, level man I know – nervous! I fidgeted with my bangs again and touched up my makeup. Only a few more hours.
They told me it would fly by, and it did. It was there and gone in the blink of an eye, one day in the span of two lifetimes. But oh, what a wonderful day! The moments are ingrained in my memory: the late night trip downtown with my girls, singing along to a local artist in a restaurant full of cold Michiganians; all of us getting ready in my sisters’ bedroom with icicles as big as floor lamps hanging outside the window; the candles and pine boughs and plaid runners at the reception, the loud meals around the table with my family – my last meals sharing a last name with them. All of it so memorable.
Because we have.
And I walked down the aisle to my lifesong, into the arms of my lifelong love.
Some of the people present have known me from when I was a baby. Others were with me through my formative years. Many have seen me grow and learn, awkwardly and bumpily as young people do – perhaps not even realizing that they had a part in where Josh and I stood that day. They had a word or a hand in where we are. They were God’s voice, His hands, and His feet to us.
Josh and I wrote our own vows, and we didn’t share them with each other before the ceremony. Because we’re just that OCD, we decided on a font and font size and gave a limit for how much page we could use for the text, so our vows would be about the same length. The first time we heard them was the moment they were read to each other.
Josh’s gray eyes were misty as he read from his side of the paper:
The first time I heard your voice, it was just a loud laugh blaring from my roommate’s phone. But, once I met you, it was that laugh which drew me closer to you. Laughing together, or at each other, was something we never had to learn to do. Our relationship was built on our laughter, my teasing, and your sass. But most of all, it was built on our love for Christ Jesus.
In the period that I met you I was searching for a woman who supported and encouraged me in my belief as a Christian. So when our paths crossed, I saw something different in you. I saw that you had that desire to follow the Lord and one to be with someone who shared in and even led you with a same desire.
You and I both know that when we first met, we weren’t each others’ ‘type’ when it came to looks. But, as I saw your godly desire and the beauty of your heart shining from the inside out, I began to see you transformed into the woman I always dreamed of marrying. The woman my heart sought to spend my future with was one of Proverbs 31 character. And as this transformation occurred, I saw the attributes of a virtuous woman come out of the woodwork.
You are a woman who opens her hand to the poor, dresses herself with strength and dignity (especially in those pointed-toe heels). One who makes my name known in the gates, takes care of her household, and is definitely not afraid of snow. I long to, and in moments will be your husband who calls you blessed. And I cannot wait to have children who call you blessed as well.
Before I asked you to be my girlfriend, I gave the disclaimer that I was dating with intention of marrying, essentially I was courting you and the title ‘girlfriend’ was more of a…bragging right. But really, I was courting you from the day I first met you. When I became a friend you could talk to, and someone to hold onto during the hard times.
When I said ‘I love you’ for the first time, I told you that I wanted to love you not out of infatuation but out of a love described in 1 Corinthians 13; a love that is selfless and sacrificial, kind and caring, long-suffering and never-ending. The truth is I’ve loved you from the very beginning.
I will never cease in striving to be sacrificial, selfless, long-suffering, bearing all things, whether you are sick or well, whether you are jubilant or cantankerous, young or old. I will love and cherish you always and, Phylicia, I will never, ever leave you.
I tried to see the words on my side of the page through the tears in my eyes. I was so flustered by the sweetness of his words I turned my vows backwards and upside down! Mr. M turned them back, the audience laughed, and I cleared my throat.
Before we ever told each other ‘I love you’ we promised we would not say those words unless we meant them in the 1 Corinthians 13 way. When we did say those words, they were not just an expression of feeling, but our commitment to be patient, kind, gentle, polite, righteous, and all the things that a godly love is supposed to be. So today as I make this commitment to you, I promise that my love will not be limited to feeling and to word, but that it will be the foundation upon which every action I take is based. Whether it is the giving of my time, how I speak to you, or honoring the plans and priorities you establish for our family, I promise to love you how God defines love.
And because you have chosen to love me unconditionally – even in the moments when I am most unlovable – I promise to respect you unconditionally. I promise to show you that respect by being a woman of virtue, building a reputation that will crown you with the honor you deserve. I promise to respect you with how I handle your provision for our family, managing your home with wisdom and discernment. I promise never to usurp your role as the head of our home and spiritual leader of our family, so that through my submission our children will every day be reminded of my love for you, their father.
I promise to be a disciple of Jesus Christ daily, that I may in turn disciple our children in His truth. I will laugh so they will laugh, I will choose joy so they will be joyful, and I will serve you, that they may learn how to give. My name, Phylicia, means ‘happy’, and yours, Joshua, means ‘God is my salvation’. Our children will be raised in a home that ‘takes joy in the salvation of our God’, for it is by His Grace that we stand here today.
So here, surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, I enter into a covenant of love with you. This covenant is more than just a promise. In Scripture, covenant was never complete without a sacrifice. So it is with my covenant to you. In the course of our marriage, in times of difficulty or disagreement, my covenant requires I sacrifice my desires, my way, and my self to maintain unity of love with you. And I promise to do so. There may be times we don’t feel happy, but we are being made holy, and this sanctification is God’s goal and our glory.
In a letter to me in December of 2012, you wrote:
“Walk with me, darling, into the light of His glory, and stand by me as we persevere in order to achieve his ultimate and perfect plan for us.”
I promise to walk with you and stand by you until we stand again together on the other side of heaven.
I handed the vows to our pastor and looked into the eyes of my soon-to-be husband. They were glassy behind his long eyelashes, and I could tell he was trying not to cry. He squeezed my hands and mouthed, I love you.
Soon it was, “With this ring…”
And then the words we’d been waiting on for 18 months… “…you may now kiss your bride.”
Husband and wife.
Today I pulled a book off my shelf called Satisfy My Thirsty Soul. As I flipped through the pages, a small paper fell onto my desk. It had no date, but I recognized my own handwriting from six years prior.
“As strange as it may sound, the voice of my husband could never be more dear to me than if he asked, “Will you pray with me?” My answer of ‘yes’ would resound with more love and admiration than that same word would have when he proposed. That question – ‘would you pray with me?’ – is the question I long to answer even more than his marriage proposal.”
God has answered that desire, hidden as it was in the pages of a book, in the character of my husband. One of the marks of his godliness has always been his leadership in prayer. Every meal guarantees his hand open to mine; each time the pastor leads us in prayer in church, I feel Josh’s arm gather me in and I know he is listening to every word. The times we’ve fought and argued I’ve heard the quiet whisper of his prayer on our behalf. He not only battles for me – for us – he battles with me, inviting me in, asking: Will you pray with me?
He has not only made my dreams come true, he is my dream come true.
Dreams don’t just happen. They begin in our hearts and are worked out in our lives, hard-won in time and tears. My journey through discontent, anxiety, failure, anger, frustration and fear (a journey on which I often dragged parents, siblings, and friends) has landed me here, married to this godly man who is so much more than I deserve. That, my friends, is the grace of God. If you looked at the transcript of my words, thoughts, and actions, it would be full of peaks and valleys: moments of intimacy and dependence upon God followed by independence and disbelief. I’ve done nothing to deserve this. The day I walked down the aisle on my father’s arm, I walked in my Father’s favor.
It is His grace that has blessed me so.