Seven Years Ago—a Love Story

This post is a love story that ends with me and Thom’s wedding, but it isn’t about me and Thomas…not really, anyway. Tomorrow is our seventh wedding anniversary, and there’s some stuff I need to say.

Thom and I got engaged in an airport, in between bites of Chick-fil-A. My father-in-law made jokes on Facebook, people gasped and exclaimed over the ring, my mother brought home a bunch of magazines to tear pictures out of for reception ideas and I debated who should perform the ceremony, since I’d been living in Waco less than a year and didn’t really have a home church, plus I wanted my father and my uncle (both pastors) to be able to enjoy the ceremony without working. All of these things were very important, as was my finding out what I would be teaching in the fall and Thomas finding a job—we planned to be married in seven months. It would be a summer wedding, and we would have it at my grandparents’ church in East Texas. My brother began planning one last trip we could all take to Florida before I got married. People at my school started planning a fun bridal shower for me…all the usual cool stuff that happens when you get engaged—I lived in a cloud of excitement, and I got to use grown-up adult words like “fiancée”; also, my ring made everything I wore look better. 

And then in May we found out my dad had cancer. And the whole thing crashed.

When you find out you’re sick, the machine starts—appointments and doctors and code words and prescriptions take over your life, and it took over our house. My dad was quietly trusting, but I know he was scared. My little brother’s trip to Florida was canceled—Daddy would be deep into treatments by then. The wedding date would be placed strategically between one treatment ending and the other beginning.

I told Thom that my father was sick, and that I wasn’t sure if there would BE a wedding—I floated the idea of canceling the whole thing and doing a short ceremony at the courthouse for family. I thought about us eloping. I wasn’t sure my father would be able to get out of bed and make it to the ceremony at all, or if he’d be able to stand up once he got there. I went back to school the next morning and was close to tears all the time I held up phonics cards and colored math pictures with my kids. 

Then one night I got a text that said, “Hey, your aunts are planning your wedding. Meet us tomorrow for lunch.” My mom was too involved in my dad’s treatments, which were leaving him sick and tired. So her three sisters met me at a local Chinese place, pulled out their planners, and started divvying up the responsibilities.

And that’s how it came to pass that my aunts took me to test cake flavors, pick out bouquets, and have my dress fitted. We needed to save money, so they called their connections here and there. My mom’s youngest sister took the wedding photographs (the best pictures of me that have ever been taken), and my grandmother (a consummate party-planner and the picture of Southern class) told me I could wear her dress.

In the end, it was a “destination wedding” , although the destination was this one town in East Texas that is kind of hard to find. But it’s the place that was my favorite destination as a kid—my grandparents’ church and my grandparents’ house, where we had the reception. The ceremony had to be at 9:45, so the 110-degree heat wouldn’t wipe everybody out, and if we’d had it at night there would’ve been mosquitoes (and people would’ve gotten lost in the woods on the way home). Thom’s family and his groomsmen made their way from Massachusetts to East Texas like troopers. My grandmother was so scared somebody was going to faint—it was humid as a jungle.

I’d felt funny inviting people from my school, knowing it would be a really hard trip, but my teaching partner and her daughter came, along with friends from my old church up in Massachusetts who I hadn’t seen in years. My high-school principal and her husband came from Cape Cod. Somehow these people all found their way to my grandparents’ house to see us get married.

My bridesmaids were my sister and cousins, the youngest being in middle school. My mom had spotted the perfect bridesmaid’s dresses on a rack at Dillard’s, and there just happened to be one in every size we needed (and they were actually cute, unlike the bridesmaid’s dresses you hear jokes about). The dressing room was filled with a cloud of hairspray and chatter, as my mom did my eye makeup because, sorry, I still didn’t know how to do it. But then, so much of my girlhood had been spent in bathrooms filled with hairspray while my mom and my aunts talked, putting makeup on and combing hair. It made sense.

I wore grandmother’s 1950’s movie star wedding dress and my aunt Suzy’s veil. I liked the idea of wearing things that my relatives had worn—those couples have stayed together for years, so it boded well, I thought. My best friend was at the guest book with my cousin, right before the doors opened, and I got to tell her, “I’m so glad you’re here, Chelsea”. It gave me confidence to see her. She’s always been there for me.

My father felt fine—he made it through the ceremony without having to sit down, despite being exhausted from chemo; he looked like James Bond in his tuxedo, you wouldn’t have known he was sick. 

I only panicked for a second as I started walking down the aisle, but I looked up and saw my teaching partner’s seven-year-old daughter who’d come all that way to see me, who’d gotten in that car at 4 in the morning. I locked eyes with her and I smiled—I might’ve winked. I thought, “ok, don’t act like an idiot in front of your kid.” And then I stood up straighter and walked, kicking the dress in front of me. I nearly tripped on the full, glamorous skirt, but I managed not to. And when the ceremony was over, I sat in a chair in my grandparents’ formal dining room and my mom spread the train out on the floor (that’s right, it had a train), and I realized that it was over, I was the bride, and all I had to do now was take pictures and eat breakfast.

Thom and I sat down at the table with his family, ate biscuits, drank coffee, then got in the car and left, husband and wife. But this isn’t really about me and Thom. This is a love story about me and all the people who got me there.

Tomorrow is our seventh anniversary, and we both forgot. Look, we have a toddler. School is starting up again. Stuff’s going on. Plus, it’s been seven years—dates and anniversaries are more a chance to eat cookies than to reminisce (to us, anyway.) But this post isn’t about all the myriad things that make up an anniversary, or a marriage, or a partnership of two people who are made in the image of God and symbolize Christ and His church. I’m not sure I could pull that off, honestly—somebody else write that post. This is a thank you to all those people that surrounded and upheld me while I got ready to get married. It was a hard, scary, uncertain time. It wasn’t the carefree planning period that some girls get. But it was a time where I got to see how loyal and loving all the people around me were. 

Our family friend Gary gave the message on that day, but my Dad had to do the vows (you have to be licensed, it turns out. Who knew.) He stood the whole time. And when he was done and he pronounced us husband and wife (“Thom, with my unreserved blessing, you may kiss the bride”), he suddenly recited a Hebrew blessing— I remember his voice ringing out in that old Southern church. And I think I started crying. My wedding wasn’t a performance—it was the giving of an unreserved blessing, from all these people who’d brought me up, all over the country.

So thank you guys for all that, if I haven’t ever told you. Seven years it’s been, and I love to remember it. 

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