Friday, June 6, 2014

Dear Bride to Be {Series} The Tornado That Hit My Wedding

Mom and I started buying supplies for my wedding around the time I was 20. We steadily added to the stock as Mr. Right drug his feet on entering the picture. Seven years later when I finally got engaged, we had a massive supply. But one of our favorite past times long before I had a ring on the finger was talking about the wedding we would one day create. One that was perfect.

Except that few things in this life are. And weddings are no exception, as we painfully discovered. It took a tornado hit to educate me, but I learned an unforgettable lesson preparing for that dream day.

Mr. Right finally made his debut minutes before I hit Old Maid status. When he proposed we set the date for just four months away. Mom and I had been planning that wedding long before Nathan was in the picture. We didn't need much time to prepare, just the groom to fit neatly into our extensive arrangements. That highly anticipated day was just within reach...

It was my last Friday at work before the wedding. Nathan and I were set to leave Fort Worth and drive to Hartford on Sunday. I was eager to spend the week enjoying bridal showers, last minute arrangements, and a blissful week centered around us. I floated down the hallway to my co-workers office to say goodbye. Dear Melanie had endured listening to me talk about the wedding every day for months. She hugged  my neck that afternoon to send me off, and I'll never forget the exchange that occurred.

"Beth, I hope everything about the wedding is just PERFECT," she said sweetly.

In a rare moment of spiritual clarity something broke through to my heart. I realized I no longer cared if it was perfect. I was marrying a man who feared the Lord and I didn't need a flawless wedding to become his wife. The importance of an ideal event had diminished, and the excitement over the marriage it represented became my satisfaction. I remember responding,

"Melanie, whether that day is perfect or not I'm okay with it. Even if a tornado rips through the church the week before and nothing is as we planned, I pray it is Well With My Soul."

Listen readers, it was the Lord himself who gave me that insight. He alone knew what we were to face 48 hours after the words crossed my lips. In an act of divine mercy, He prepared me for what was to come.

We left Fort Worth after Nathan taught the Young Married's class on Sunday morning. Kinda funny since we weren't even married yet. We had driven the long trip to Hartford multiple times together, always traveling by way of I-20. But for some reason (?!) we decided to try dipping down to I-10. We went merrily on our way, scheduled to get to Hartford around midnight.

My cousin Justin was taking that same road home. Getting a quick break after taking a job on an off-shore rig in Louisiana, he was headed to see his mama for just a few hours. (Did I mention it was Mother's Day?) Justin and his sisters grew up across the street from me and my brothers. More like one big family than two, we shared clothes and vacations and everything in between. His sisters were my bridesmaids and Justin was to be an usher until his new job wouldn't give that weekend off. I remember remarking to Nathan as we passed through Louisiana that I couldn't remember the name of the place Justin was working from and how it had been too long since I got to see my grin-big cousin.

Realizing the drive was taking longer than originally predicted, I decided to courtesy call the parents and let them know the new ETA.  Dad answered. That's weird. He's usually snoozing in the recliner trying to fake awake by this point in the night. Can't believe he even acknowledged the phone. I reported that we were an hour away while we rolled on ignorantly toward the biggest devastation of my life.

Leaving the luggage in the car when we finally reached my childhood home, I walked in and met Dad in the kitchen, noticing that Mom hadn't met us at the door as usual and was nowhere to be seen.

I don't remember much after that. Not the words of greeting. Or how Dad began those first difficult sentences. Or  how he said the unthinkable that shattered my heart. But I do remember everything going black and collapsing into his arms.

Justin was dead.

Killed in an accident on very road we had traveled just minutes before. On Mother's Day.

The week I had dreamed about for years had just become a nightmare.

Gentle readers. The week of my wedding was the worst week of my life. Lingerie Showers and pedicures and last minute shopping with mom were all dismissed. Nothing mattered. Not any of it. The pain and grief over losing Justin, the heart wrenching devastation of my aunt and cousins, the horror of burying a 21 year old light up your life kind of guy who was like a brother, those were my realities that week.

And heaped onto the heartache of losing him was the way well-meaning friends and family continued to tell me how sorry they were that this happened the week of my wedding. I wanted to cover my ears and scream every time I heard it. I know the spirit in which they offered those words, and I love them for hurting for me. But my loss of a perfect wedding was NOTHING compared to the loss of Justin.

The pain of his death shed incredible clarity on what was important.

I begged Nathan to take me to the courthouse that week. I didn't care about the money that had been spent or the invitations sent or any other aspect. I simply wanted to spare us all the drudgery of faking a happy day. In the end the only reason we didn't elope to the Geneva County Courthouse was because my mother insisted that it would send her over the edge if I did. I realized then the depth of what mom had been doing for me all those months. Working her fingers to the bone to honor and bless me with a glorious wedding day. And I wouldn't steal any more of that from her.

So we did it. Like people walking through a fog, we did it. Because Christ carried us. Wednesday was Justin's visitation. On Thursday we endured his funeral and graveside service. And that night we solemnly went to the church and began arranging flowers where his casket had been just hours before.

I won't lie to you. It was sad and tragic and we couldn't pretend we were okay. Although for my sake (and my mother's) I know many people tried. Decorating the church was a strained affair. The rehearsal quiet and the dinner following less than jovial. We all attempted to make the best of it. But you don't shake off that kind of grief.

At this point you darlings who have a wedding upcoming are terrified. I in no way want to squash the celebration and joy you are experiencing. But this true and tragic story holds a key to putting your wedding in perspective. The work God did in my heart concerning the Wedding Day turned Idol many of us bow to begs to be shared. Before you give up on this less than a fairy tale and pick up a no trauma guaranteed Bride magazine, let me shine a little ray of hope.

God's mercies are new every single morning. And by a miracle of His making, I woke up the morning of the wedding with joy in my heart. The grief was no less diminished. But that day he allowed me to also enjoy the enormity of what the ceremony represented. A husband. A mysterious and divine union. And the honor of being a wife. I was at peace despite the circumstances. Learning to be content no matter the situation.

Despite the grief, we celebrated the beginning of a God granted relationship. Along with the horror there was holiness. We worshiped the One who gives and takes away.

And we got married. Even though it was far from perfect.

The wedding was beautiful and reverent and full of tears. Grief mingled with joy on the faces of my family.  A tornado had hit my wedding. But through it all God was faithful.

And It Was Well With My Soul. Because He made it so.

No matter what goes right and what goes wrong with your own wedding, may it be well with yours too.

Aunt Laura and Me
I have no words to describe her courage other than to say
she was at my wedding 48 hours after burying her son.
Just a few of the saints who carried us through that week. They went from manning the sympathy guest book and organizing food that was brought to ironing tablecloths and decorating the church in a matter of minutes.
They were the hands and feet of Jesus. 

*Check back soon for thoughts on how to keep your Wedding Day idol free.

1 comment:

  1. In reading this post, my heart broke and it also smiled. We never know the plan that God has laid out in our path as we travel. The planning of Kelsie and Eugene's wedding are in the beginning stages for us. It's hard for me to even begin to comprehend what you and your family went through during that season of your life(lives). I can comprehend the fact that God carried you and your family through it. Your story is a reminder for me to stop and put our "what we've got to do" list aside and rethink the perspective. The planning will continue but not as the main focus... the main focus is the union of two becoming one in the holiness of matrimony. Something that needs to be on the top of any list we have. The union of marriage will be listed first and foremost, underlined and hi-lighted at the top of any list. I will be reminded anything can happen between now, then and beyond. We will not expect perfection but know that the love of God is always present to carry us through anything. Beth, I thank you for your precious heart. My heart smiles that I have the honor of knowing you and able to read your gift of writing. You truly have a gift of sharing God's word, His love, His message through your words.