“Getting married is one of the most unnatural things two people can do.” Those were my dad’s words on the day of my wedding.
I laughed because this is so my dad. He and my mom never sugar-coated marriage. It never looked easy in my house growing up. It looked hard, and bumpy, and frustrating, and maddening, and also worth it.
I was at a party with my boyfriend the night I met Joel. He knew instantly that he wanted to marry me. And if you know Joel at all, you know that it is nearly impossible for him to make a decision. (He had to feel the weight of the silverware in his hand before we could register for it.) But with me, he just knew.
Our story starts with Joel pursuing me — and me rejecting him. Again. And again. And again. But when we finally starting dating, it was only five short months before I had a ring on my finger. And before I could blink, we were married with two kids, a house, and a cancer diagnosis.
Joel says every time he looks at our garage ceiling, his stomach sinks. He was hanging installation in the garage the day we got the call that my biopsy revealed invasive ductile carcinoma.
I’ll never forget the way we clung to each other and sobbed. How could this be our story?
Joel went out and bought a pink leather journal. He brought it to each of my doctor appointments and wrote down everything the doctors said. He underlined the hopeful statements and read them back to me when I felt like I might not make it.
Joel fed the boys and tucked them in, and got them up and dressed them, and put a smile on his face as he zipped their backpacks and drove them to school. He folded the laundry, and shaved my head, and made me tea.
In sickness and in health.
Our marriage isn’t always neat around the edges. It is not seamless and shiny. We don’t always agree or walk the same way. Sometimes I roll my eyes, or flick him off behind his back (sorry honey, never in front of the kids), or scream and stomp up the stairs. Sometimes one of us feels underappreciated or unheard. Sometimes we have to dig up all of the messy stuff and study the pieces.
And it’s not like the movies. We aren’t riding around in a convertible with the wind blowing in our hair. There aren’t rose petals on our bed.
No, it is not like the movies.
It is noticing that Joel never starts eating until I am sitting at the table. He always says “bless you” when I sneeze (even when we are fighting). He puts toothpaste on my toothbrush in the mornings when I am running late. He makes me smoothies with organic fruit (even though he thinks it costs too much). He washes my car, and holds my hand when we run errands, and scrapes the pieces of spinach out of my teeth. He tickles our boys until they can’t breathe with laughter. He picks up trash when he sees it on the sidewalk. He shovels other people’s driveways. He sings along to Dave Matthews when he makes pancakes on Saturday mornings. He makes the bed every morning. He speaks highly of other people and he designs beautiful spaces.
And he loves me. Not just the pretty parts of me, but the broken parts, too.
And he sees me. Not just the stuff on the surface, but all the hidden parts, too.
And this feels like magic. Like moonlight on the ocean. Like snowflakes in the wind. Like sunlight on my face.
When I was at one of the lowest parts of my cancer battle, I remember telling him, “I would rather be sick with you, then healthy without you.” And that is true.
Last month, we went on an early anniversary trip. On the last day, we got up early and hiked up to a lake in Rocky Mountain National Forest to watch the sun rise. We found the perfect spot to sit. I set up the camera behind us to capture this shot.
This is us. Backs to the camera, knees touching, me leaning into him. This is us. Together watching the darkness fade. Together witnessing the promise that light always comes back.
And we were so ready for that light.
Ten Septembers ago, I made the single best decision that I will ever make in my lifetime. I married Joel. He helps me be the best version of myself. And I pray that I do the same for him.
Marriage is not about the wind blowing your hair as you glide across the sea. It is more like holding hands while the storm rages around you. It’s like getting drenched in life and waiting patiently for the sun to dry you. It is about choosing, again and again, to reach out — to reach out, and to keep reaching out. It is about promising to be all parts of you, even the ugly, crazy parts. It is about keeping eye contact with each other no matter what.
It is hard, and messy, and beautiful, and real.
And so, so worth it.