This summer, Thomas and I somehow found our way into a group of wonderful people in Waco for a supper-and-book club on The Meaning of Marriage. We break bread together, share life, and discuss the concept of marriage, romance, faithfulness and the Gospel. Keller talks about how the promise made in marriage—to stay and serve and sacrifice—enhances romantic love. It provides a sanctuary of trust and stability that allows love to become what it was intended to be. It transforms the ego-driven attraction of liking the way someone makes you feel to a love that is characterized by a humble, amazed reception and appreciation of another person. You have never before been known, Keller says, in the intimate, beautiful, vulnerable way that your spouse will grow to know you.
“When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
I remember telling my friends on the night of our engagement that, before he proposed, I thought I had loved Thomas then as much as I could love someone. I thought I’d hit my max capacity for love with the way I felt about him after two years of facing life with him. But then, when he got down on one knee, I felt some deeper than I ever had before and my definition of love grew. On our wedding day, after six months of a long-distance engagement and all the perils that come along with it, it seemed like we had come so far. What I felt for Thomas when he tapped so quietly on my hotel room door at 5 a.m. that morning was unlike any love I’d known so far. We stood there in the dark hallway, briefly discussing the superstition that we shouldn’t see each other on our wedding day and agreed that it should only really apply once I was in my wedding day finery. We decided it was a safe bet since, right then, I was running on four hours of sleep with no makeup and tangled hair. We went for coffee in the sweet silence of early morning. I jumped in the passenger’s seat and thought that there was no where better to be on the morning of my wedding. At the coffee shop, there were a handful of other people who were too excited to sleep: his dad, who would marry us later that day, his best friend and groomsman and his wife. It was such a strange space, at 5:30 in the morning, in an empty Starbucks beside the interstate. The light was gold and pink, like it would be after the ceremony was finished that night and we were finally man and wife. I felt impatient, thinking of the 12 hours and curling irons and makeup brushes that stood between being with him forever. We sipped our hot drinks and laughed quietly in the morning light until I thought my sister might start to stir and wonder if I’d fled during the night. That morning, we had our last single kiss and said goodbye until the altar. Most wedding days seems to flash by in a blur of anxiety and hairspray, but not ours. We got to the salon early: a little white house on Samford with an orange door and matching flowers on the front. I spent all morning with my dearest and weirdest friends, joking and talking and trying to get the wings of our eyeliner even (a seemingly impossible task). At three, we wandered out to the garden, took some photos, and headed to the venue. I rode there with my two best friends from high school and we dealt with the nerves the only way we knew how: by screaming at the top of our lungs while speeding down the road to my future. My groom and his men were ushered into the warehouse next door so I could take a look at the finished venue and even though I’d spent months mapping it out in my head and on paper, I was still floored. It had been raining all week but the thunderstorms had cleared and left sunshine and a cold front in their place. Like an apology for my weather-related anxiety, our outdoor ceremony would be a bright and crisp 76 degrees instead of the 90+ temperatures expected of an Alabama summer. Then, incredibly, it was almost time. My bridesmaids and parents and I waited in the distillery, a flurry of bouquets and white dresses. At 4:50, we whisper-screamed to subdue the nerves again. Then April lined us up. I waited with my dad at my side, watching pairs of the most important people in our lives walk toward where Thomas was waiting. And then my dad and I were the last pair and we began to walk. On cello and piano, a song that Thomas had composed began to play. My dad and I walked through the white picket fence, my hand on his arm and my eyes fixed ahead. When I caught my first sight of Thomas, craning his neck to see me and grinning like a fool all the while, the tears threatened. Seeing him there, I felt more at home than I had all day. We reached the altar and he took my hand from my father. We prayed with our parents. We promised our lives to each other, exchanged our rings, kissed, and nearly collapsed into one another with joy and emotional exhaustion as we walked back down the aisle. We took photos with our perfectly ridiculous best friends and family. Then Thomas and I snuck away, with our photographer, to climb the rooftop we’d gotten engaged on. We reached the top of the spiral staircase and rose above the rest of the town right at golden hour. The spot seemed like it exactly where we needed to be in our first hour as husband and wife. After the shoot wrapped, we had what seemed like our first moment alone together since the hotel hallway at 5 that morning. We got quesadillas from our favorite food truck (chicken with pineapple, the bride-and-groom special), downed iced brown sugar lattes, licked frosting off each other’s noses and feasted at a table dripping with white flowers and greenery hovering overhead. We danced for hours without stopping under string lights on a miraculously beautiful evening in May. Then, at the stroke of 10, I changed into a short dress and leather jacket and hopped on the back of a flower-laden motorcycle with my husband. Leaving a trail of sparklers in our wake, we took a leisurely ride down the dark country roads that Auburn is rife with. In the middle of one of these dark country roads, our motorcycle sputtered to a stop: out of gas. Thomas and I just burst into a fit of laughter, stepped out in the road and waved down at pick-up truck (another thing Auburn is rife with) and coasted to the nearest gas station. It was, unequivocally, the best night of my life. All this to say, what I felt for Thomas on that day was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. But it’s nothing compared to how I feel for him now, just six weeks into the promise we made on May 17th. It’s been a month and a half of barefaced rejoicing. What I called love on that sunny Saturday in May was real, but it doesn’t compare to the richness and depth that six weeks of laughter, grace, and profound joy that comes from being fully loved and fully known. I know I will look back on our first month of marriage one year from now and say the same thing. And to me, that’s the most exciting part.