This post was started on Saturday, July 5th. It has taken me this long to finish it. Apologies to all (especially my sister).
In six hours and twenty-five minutes my little sister will be getting married. She will put on a long ivory gown with an intricate lace overlay, hold white and peach roses wrapped in a soft satin ribbon and walk a-little-too-quickly down the carpeted aisle of our childhood church.
I have known that this day would come. Officially since last September when her boyfriend proposed to her on the one-year anniversary of their first date. But I suppose I’ve always known that this day would come eventually. Ever since we were little girls giggling together beneath the walls of a bed-sheet tent.
The story of my sister’s relationship with her fiance is not a whirlwind romance or a climactic tale of overcoming great obstacles in order to be together. It is not the longing and aching that I have known love to be. Their love was born out of patience and mutual affection. It is gentle and soft, much like my sister herself.
Last weekend my sister and my dad were dancing in my parents’ mustard-colored living room, practicing a waltz to Heartland’s I Loved Her First while I rinsed off the dinner dishes and my mom watched from the kitchen. I went through a country phase back in high school (blame it on growing up in NE), but I’d never really connected with this particular song. Not until I was stacking up the plates, tears pooling in my eyes and spilling slowly down my cheeks as I slid the dishes into the cabinet. Something about the lyrics and the moment, about the bond between the two of them and the knowledge that in less than a week they’d be out on a real dance floor, my dad in a tux and my sister in a wedding gown. I couldn’t help myself, and I guess I didn’t want to.
I am not a crier by nature, or at least I didn’t used to be. But weddings have always been the exception to this rule–no matter how many I attend and regardless of how well I know the couple. Weddings make me all kinds of sentimental. Nostalgic. Reflective.
I was eight years old when I attended my first wedding. My second cousin was getting married and my older brother had been asked to be a candle lighter. He wore a black tux with a green vest and danced with me at the reception. I’d never been to a wedding before. I didn’t understand the ceremony of seating the grandparents. I wondered why the mother of the bride seemed so wistful and serious. The bride’s gown was big and white and covered in shiny bead work. As she walked down the aisle, I saw a handful of women dabbing their eyes with tissues. They were smiling. But they were crying. Which didn’t really make sense.
It was nearly a decade before my next wedding. It was early-January in a big church with two massive Christmas trees and my cousin James (who has always been more of a brother than a cousin) was marrying his red-haired finacee Allison. My brother was a groomsmen. I was in charge of the guest book. As the bride walked down the aisle, maybe even before she walked down the aisle, James got glassy-eyed. Unlike me, James has always been a crier. The kind of guy who tears up over comic strips and YouTube videos. But this was something different. This emotion was substantial. Maybe it was the fact that my grandmother (who was more of a mother than a grandmother to my cousin) had suffered a stroke and was still in the hospital. Maybe it was the thought of being woven into another family. Maybe it was the memory of the struggle–of finding out they were pregnant, of making ends meet while she finished school and he worked long hours, of holding their new baby, of buying their first house. Maybe it was the sight of their two-year-old daughter dropping petals down the aisle in her latte-colored dress. Maybe it was love. Whatever it was, it got to me too. And as I pulled out my purse-pack of Kleenex and listened as James’ voice cracked all the way through his vows, I began to understand what it means to be so happy you cry.
I’ve been to quite a few weddings since then. A few were for family members, but mostly they were for friends. Sometimes very close friends. I’ve been a personal attendant and a bridesmaid, a maid of honor and a regular old guest. I have found reasons to cry, and each of them has changed me.
My friend Jim married his wife Violet in a white country church in small town Nebraska. I was a sophomore in college, only 20 years old. In the middle of the ceremony I began thinking about marriage. About the symbolism behind it and the parallel that it serves for the relationship between Christ and the church. I took to heart the concept of two becoming one, of Jim and Violet entering the building as two individual entities and leaving as something else entirely, something united, something other, something sort of miraculous. I began to wonder at what that meant about the strength of God’s love for me, about the strength of any man’s love for his bride, and I questioned if I really deserved that sort of commitment. I cried because that thought was beautiful. I cried because it was true. I cried because that is what happens when my heart is filled to overflowing.
Sometimes I cry because I am thinking of the couple. Because her face is so pretty. Because his smile is so wide. Because I know the details of their story–the heartache, the longing, the brokenness, the forgiveness. I remember the day that he came into my dorm room and told me he wanted to be with her, but she was still hung up on this other guy and it was tearing him apart. I remember the night that she said she thought he was something special and it was driving her crazy that he wouldn’t ask her out. I cry because I, like they, had hoped this day would come, but I, like they, was not always sure that they would make it. I cry because God is good and because I truly believe that it is His goodness that sustains those who choose to love each other. I have learned love is a choice. A scary wonderful difficult choice.
When my brother was married, I cried new sorts of tears. I cried because our family was changing and change can be difficult. I cried in the recognition of how quickly time passes, how dramatically we change, how precious life is. I cried at the sight of my parents watching their little boy leave their home (for good this time) in order to establish a family of his own. And I cried because that’s just how much I love my family, so much that it makes me cry.
There have been times that I cry selfish tears. I cry because the longing within me is so deep and so real that it hurts to admit how much I want to be married. How much I want to know a man who will love me despite my many faults. Who will celebrate my strengths and encourage me in my weakness. Who will welcome me to do the same now that I am finally strong and soft and humble enough to offer it. I cry not because love is impossible, but because I sometimes fear that I am. There are days I delight in my own quirks and eccentricities and then there are days I wish I were easy. I wish it was a sure thing. I wish I could do more than wish.
But mostly now when I cry, I cry because marriage is a wonder I know I don’t understand. Because the way of a man with a woman is one of the four great mysteries of life, and it seems so deep and so hard and so true and so real that I can’t help but cry at the thought of it. I can cry because a wedding is pretty. I can cry because it is a watershed moment. I can cry because things are changing and change does strange things to our emotions. Or I can not cry at all. Because sometimes I don’t.
When my friend Ellen got married I laughed. Uncontrollably. I laughed because Ellen is effervescent. Because joy and peace effuse from her pores, and in the presence of so much joy one can’t help but fill up on it. The laughter filled the church like bubbles in a playroom. And that seemed appropriate for a bride who does cartwheels. Crying, it turns out, is not the only way to express emotion. And this too is a lesson I have only recently learned.
My sister’s wedding has crept up like the first day of school. I’ve known it was coming, but hardly believe it is here. I do not feel quite prepared, do not know how to react. And so as I sit in the black cushioned chair of Tranquility salon, watching the woman in the mirror sweep up my hair and waiting for the coral nail polish on my toe nails to dry, I wonder if I will cry. I wonder what it will mean. And I wonder how it will change me and way I view life.