Mike and Sarah, two friends of mine, celebrated their wedding anniversary last week. Ten years and going strong. They’re the type of couple who seem to belong with one another. More than partners and lovers and best friends, they’re as deeply in love with one another as they were those many years ago.
Their time together hasn’t always been wonderful. There have been bumps in the road. Mike lost his job eight years ago and struggled to find new work. What he eventually found paid far less than what they were used to. Three years ago, Sarah miscarried their first child. They’re still trying (and succeeding) to put that behind them. In between were bills that went unpaid, the deaths of Sarah’s mother and Mike’s sister, and a flooded home.
Like I said, not wonderful.
If you talked to them, you might just be led to think otherwise. Mike and Sarah shrug off their troubles. No big deal, they say. Stuff happens to everyone. And while that’s true, it could easily be said that the sort of stuff that happens to them doesn’t really happen to everyone, at least not so clumped together. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say all that bad would put a strain on even the strongest relationship. But Mike and Sarah have not only endured, they’ve grown closer in the process.
Ask them why, and their answer might surprise you. It isn’t their shared faith, though that’s certainly a major factor in their marital success. It isn’t some fostered hope of a better future that’s waiting just around the bend, either.
No, the answer is a much simpler one. One that was learned ten years ago on their wedding day.
Sarah began planning her wedding when she was eight years old. That’s not an exaggeration. Every girl wants to be a princess on her big day, and every girl deserves to be. Sarah was no exception. So when Mike proposed, the wheels of fate and twenty years worth of dreams became a freight train that couldn’t be stopped.
There were literally hundreds of flowers. Ten bridesmaids. An orchestra. A choir. Wine. Dancing. Enough candles to turn evening into noon.
It was the sort of affair that demanded remembrance. That part worked. Because there is no doubt everyone will remember Mike and Sarah’s wedding.
It began innocently enough. There was music, then the groom and his party, then the bridesmaids, and then Sarah, making that walk down the aisle with her father that she’d always dreamed.
Little did she or anyone know that at that very moment, Mike burped. And it wasn’t the normal sort of excuse-me burp. It was the serious kind. The kind that serves as a prelude to something much more serious.
Mike thought the sweating and shaking he woke up with that morning was nothing more than a case of pre-wedding nerves. No big deal, he thought. But as Sarah took her place beside him, Mike suddenly thought it was a very big deal. Very big.
Because it was there at that moment, in front of Sarah and God and a few hundred onlookers, that Mike could no longer contain what was bubbling up inside of him.
He threw up on his wife-to-be. On her dress, on her hands. And yes, on her face.
Chaos ensued. There were gasps and cries and at least one fit of laughter from the audience. Several of the bridesmaids had to make a quick escape before doing an uncontrollable impression of the groom.
Poor Mike was numb. Not only had he just gotten sick in front of family and friends alike, he’d just yarked on the one woman he loved most in this world, and on the day she’d spent her whole life planning. He was sorry and scared and sick at the same time.
All the attention was focused on the bride. On poor, poor Sarah. Standing there with her arms outstretched and a bit of digested Cheerios dangling from her veil.
She had every right to be upset. Every right to stomp and scream, “NOT FAIR!”
But she didn’t. What she did do was comfort the man she had pledged herself to. She grabbed him before he could stumble, wiped the mess from her eyes, and said, “It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay.”
The service was postponed while everyone changed and gathered themselves. When the bride and groom walked back down the aisle, it was more of a crawl. She propped him up the whole way.
That was their first lesson in marriage. And it was maybe the most important one.
Because it isn’t all about the fairy tale. There’s a lot of mess involved.