It was a beautiful, blue-skied, May day. We sat in the historic church surrounded by gilded marble, a painted cathedral ceiling, and stunning artwork all around. Fresh flowers adorned the alter and a row of handsome young men stood at the front. One by one the bridesmaids made their way down the aisle and then the doors opened and the stunning bride appeared. I saw the huge grin spread across her groom’s face as he saw her for the first time. I saw the sheer joy radiating from her entire being as she made her way past family and friends to say “yes” to the one she loved; to say “yes” to forever.
As I stood witness to this new beginning for my cousin and his bride I got teary-eyed thinking about a similar day 15 years ago when I was the glowing young bride, walking down the aisle to my handsome, grinning groom. I thought about all of the joy and hope, the love and excitement. I thought about what it felt like to be at the beginning and starting on that journey and what it feels like to be here, 15 years down the road to forever.
And then, I thought about my daughters. I pictured them as young brides, dressed in white, getting ready to start their own journey to forever. And there is so much I want them to know about marriage. So much I have learned along the way that I want to tell them; to help them prepare their hearts and fortify their spirits for what they cannot see or understand while still at the beginning.
Fifteen years…in many ways it seems like a lifetime, yet I know in the big picture, we are only a quarter of the way through this journey. Still… a lot of lessons learned in the last 15 years; a lot of discoveries made, and the realization that I was completely, totally unaware of what truly lie ahead of me when I walked down that aisle.
If someone had told me, would I have listened? Would it have changed anything? If I tell my daughters, will they hear my words? Will I be able to prepare them for the journey that awaits? I don’t know. But, like any determined mother bear, I’m going to try anyway.
So here it is, a letter to my daughters on their wedding day:
My dear girls,
Today, your daddy and I are celebrating fifteen years of marriage. Of course, by the time you read this letter we will have been married for at least 25 years (because you are NOT allowed to marry until you have a college degree!) and by then this letter might have gone through a few revisions. But in the last 15 years we’ve learned a thing or two, your daddy and I, and I want to share a few bits of advice with you. Please humor your old mom and read to the end.
Next to raising kids, marriage will be hardest thing you will ever do in life. Period. But it will also be the most glorious, exceptionally audacious adventure you will ever experience. Don’t let the hard negate the wonderful. When you are in the midst of acrimony and hurt feelings, knee-deep in anger and frustration, it will be easy to forget all that is good and beautiful about this man and this marriage. That is the enemy talking. Do not give him a seat at the marriage table.
Speaking of the marriage table and who is or is not invited, I hope you will remember to invite God into your marriage every day. But beyond Him, you and your spouse are the ones showing up and doing the hard work. Nobody else. So be careful whose opinions and counsel you seek. You have grown up in a very public world where every detail of life is shared in 150 characters or less. Please remember that whatever you say publicly can not be taken back — whether posted on social media, said among a group of girlfriends, or even vented over the phone to me. It’s OK not to share every argument or decision in your marriage with us. I will be here to listen when you need me, but I will also respect the boundaries you put into place. In either case, I will always be praying for you and that boy waiting at the alter.
Remember that you are a strong, independent woman. Embrace that part of yourself. It’s probably one of the things that boy of yours loves about you. But don’t mistake pride for strength, or selfishness for independence. There is a quiet strength in being able to put aside your ego and realize you don’t have to be — you can’t possibly be — right about everything. To remember that winning an argument is not nearly as important as demonstrating love and forgiveness. And believe me when I tell you that leaning on your husband for strength and trusting him to lead by example does not take away your independence. Instead it highlights your courage and indomitable spirit.
Remember that when you think and speak highly of someone, you allow them to stand taller and rise up to their full, God-given potential. However, when you speak poorly of them, you are setting the bar low and people will often stoop to that level. If you want an exceptional husband, speak of him in exceptional ways. Regard him with admiration and respect.
Also, just one thing about intimacy. I know you don’t want to hear about this from your mother, but just trust me when I say that it’s important to the growth and health of a marriage. Don’t underestimate the healing power of alone time with your spouse. But just as important, don’t underrate the damage that can be done when too much time has passed without that physical connection.
Lastly, you need to know that love is not enough, but God is. No matter how much two people love each other, sometimes it is just not enough to keep a marriage together. But if you look to God to be your guide and your anchor; if you invite Him into your marriage and you both trust Him as your mighty counselor, there is nothing too big for Him.
Now, take a look at that man getting ready to walk you down the aisle. The one with the graying hair who sung you to sleep, helped you with your math homework, and taught you how to fish. He is the bar by which you should measure any man who thinks he is equal to the task of being your partner for life. He is the best living example I can offer you…not because he is perfect and has all of the answers. But precisely because he is not. Because he has made mistakes and asked for forgiveness. Because he has fallen short and sought God’s guidance to do better. Because he has loved me when I have been unlovable, cherished me when I have been unworthy of praise, and prayed for me in all matters. Because he has never given up. You deserve a man just like him.
I know you are young and in love, and caught up in the planning of the big day. But I hope you will keep this letter and remember my words when you need them. In the meantime, your father and I will be praying for you and that boy down at the alter, with the big grin on his face.
P.S. – Happy anniversary to my handsome, smiling groom.