Until that point, we had not promised forever. We had not created that official triune of me and him and God that was to be fused together by a lifetime of joy and warmth and trouble and pain.
There I stood before God and everyone, dressed in white and obscured by a veil, vowing things like “for better or for worse,” and I meant every word, I honestly did, but how could I have possibly known what “for worse” had in store?
Until that point, I had only loved him with love songs and Hallmark cards and romantic dinners and changing my last name and picking out dishes.
I had no way of knowing “for worse” would find us battling soul-crushing disappointments, heartbreaking loneliness, and humiliating defeats in this journey called life. How could I have known as I stood there beaming from ear to ear that some of our most painful “for worse” would be the stuff we inflicted on each other?
I stood there looking into his eyes, vowing to love him “in sickness and in health,” and it was easy to repeat those words boldly because sickness was for other people or older people, but certainly not for me in my white dress and him in his rented tux with our whole lives stretched out before us as far as we could see like the horizon over the ocean that never gets any closer, no matter how far you go.
After all, I had loved him when he had a headache and when he threw up and when his allergies acted up, and I thought I was prepared to keep my vows with the best of them.
Little did I know “in sickness” would mean weeks spent lying in bed, job changes that would redefine normal and change the course of our lives, and an introduction to fear so gritty and profound it could not be chased away, no matter how hard we tried.
I was so very young.
I promised “for poorer,” but I could not comprehend the gravity of medical bills I couldn’t pay and car repairs I couldn’t afford and wearing pants with holes that weren’t there when I bought them.
Knowing those things as I stood there in my white dress would have terrified me. But God was gentle, and he led me tenderly by the hand through hundreds of victories and thousands of defeats, through layers upon layers of two lives being forged into one.
But when I stood there holding his hands and repeating these vows last Sunday, it felt completely different from that sunny September day almost three decades ago.
At that point, I completely understood what I couldn’t begin to fathom back then.
I held his hands, and I felt the struggles and joys of so many years come together in one single moment that separated that day from this day by almost three decades, and I realized that one great truth those sweet young kids couldn’t imagine and would never have believed.
You have to walk through “for worse” to reach “for better.”
You have to wade through “in sickness” to enjoy “in health.”
You have to weave through “for poorer” to experience “for richer.”
Then, and only then, will you feel the full weight of the promises you made. Because those promises weren’t for that day, or the next year, or even the next decade. They were an investment for years down the road when life has knocked you down but you have gotten back up and you are still here and still fighting and still hanging on
as long as you both shall live.