As a 30something woman, wife, mother, I look at my wedding picture and know that miracles do happen. We happened, and we are still happening.
That 15-year-old picture captures a different me, two weeks past my 20th birthday and all smiles, face still round with adolescence. If I could travel back and find myself, in that little Sunday school classroom in the basement of that Methodist church, I would have some things to say.
I would tell myself to stop thinking about how good the wedding pictures would be and whether my college friends were having a good time. I would tell myself to pay attention—to really pay attention—when I repeated my vows, because it would be the only time in my entire life when I would stand up before God and make promises. I would tell myself that even though it would seem like I was making promises to my future husband, I would be actually making promises to God, vowing with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength to be really in this marriage.
I would tell myself to brace myself, because months 18 to 36 were going to be hell. Of course, the bride-me would be in disbelief, and I would know what she'd be thinking. So I would tell her that no, actually, it would not be Dave who would make that time hell. It would be me. I would tell her that nothing like marriage brings you face-to-face with the ugliest parts of yourself. Then my bride-me would be stunned and, maybe rightfully, a little scared to go down the aisle. And I would hold my bride-me's hand and whisper to her the real truth about marriage, the secrets she would discover over the next season of her life:
"You think you have something to give this man, and that you're worthy of his love. But you will never feel more worthy of his love than when you truly aren't worthy. You will treat him terribly, and you will scream and say cutting words and leave this relationship emotionally. You will break up with him in your heart again and again, but he won't break up with you. When you realize he's loved you at your worst, you will be on your way to discovering what true love really is.
"You think he's perfect for you. And he's not. He's all wrong. He'll want you to vacuum and he'll forget to be romantic and he'll ignore you when you cry. He'll avoid confrontations and give your friends the cold shoulder, and he'll forget to step up. You'll want to think you're better than him, but in reality, you and he are better together. So listen. Compromise, and if you can leave the scale just slightly tipped toward yes over no, toward laughter over arguments, toward peace over chaos—then you will have succeeded.
"You will see him cry, but only three times. And the first time you see him it will be because you'll make him cry. You'll make him cry in month 20 when you want to give up and get out. You'll catch a glisten in his eye under the streetlight as you drive over a bridge, and with a passion you almost never see, he'll tell you that when you said those vows, you became a team, and you can't get off that team.
"His frustration and passion and those tears will knit your heart to his, another time you'll tie the knot. This will be one of hundreds of knots that will tie your hearts together, in laughter and labor, in birthday parties and dinner parties, in beach vacations and first days of school and years of exhaustion and tired smiles and silly laughter and the regular patterns that develop when two people brush their teeth and close their eyes and listen to each other's breathing slow in sleep for 5,475 nights in a row. That bridge you crossed was an important one, because in month 20 you will move from "me" to "we" and you will need to remember that again in year 6, year 7, year 12 …
"What you'll learn through those years of hell, and subsequent times, the moments of boredom, the minutes of screaming, the hours of frustration, the weeks of avoidance … what you'll learn is that the pain of those times can never overcome the joy of having every inch of your soul loved. That the pain and the joy are just like life. It's hard, but it's worth it."
Then I would squeeze my bride-me's hand and kiss her barely-adult cheek, and I would tell her to remember that she just made the best decision of her life. And to never forget whose team she's on.
Nicole Unice is a writer and speaker and the author of She's Got Issues (Tyndale). She serves in family and student ministry at Hope Church in Richmond, Virginia.