I am living the days I used to dream about.
There were the afternoons lying on dorm room beds with my friends, imagining marriage and husbands and and lives full with family and romance and joyful chaos. There were the hours spent crying in the chapel after my heart was broken for the first time, and again after it was broken for the second time, wondering where the man might be whom the Father had chosen for me to love and sanctify from outside of time. There was the physical ache the first time I saw my now-husband hold his newborn nephew, pierced by the image of his arms one day cradling our own children.
And now, as the dust has settled on our newlywed days, as my wedding gown hangs in storage, all those dreamy idylls I’d prayed were my future have suddenly become my present. Thanks entirely to grace, dreams do come true. But just because they’re fulfilled, so prized I’d never trade them, doesn’t mean they’re without trial. Arguments happen, chores mount, babies wake you up multiple times a night.
For months before your wedding day, you have a project, a goal, an identity. You, a bride. If, in the aftermath of the celebration and honeymoon you find yourself grasping at a purpose or identity to cling to, you’re not alone.
It might be rooted in the sudden lack of projects and deadlines, in coming down from a period of intense emotion, in experiencing the transition and reality of living with your spouse, and perhaps even in relocation or pregnancy. We approach the altar at our wedding liturgies knowing we also approach the cross--unremitting sacrifice and the fruit of relentless love. Yet even in that knowledge, even with material matters aside and for those of us who shy from the spotlight, there comes a time in the days that follow where you’ve become a wife. The transition is so interior and personal that it’s not often talked about. And on the exterior, the adjustment to daily life together can be enough of a minefield to bring even the most transcendent wedding-day memories a little closer back to earth.
The first time I attended a wedding after we'd started our family, my son was six months old. I came with my husband, who was a groomsman, to the rehearsal at the gorgeous basilica where the Mass would be held.
At first tears came at the beauty of it all as I watched our beloved friends practicing their vows. A few minutes, later, they flowed even freer when I started feeling the sense that I was so far removed from being a bride myself. Simply put, I didn't feel like one anymore.
Months had passed since my own wedding, and as an overwhelmed first-time mama, that old feeling of newness and possibility seemed foreign to me.
It wasn't that celebrating with this couple made me jealous. I don't want all the attention surrounding me again or another wedding day for myself. It’s that the purifications of newlywed transitions, life’s demands, and new parenthood were, for me, such a sea change. It’s a change that sometimes reveals such an entirely different version of me that who I was when I first married can feel like a lost part of who I am.
Of course, life doesn't stop and become complete with marriage; it continues to grow and change as your family does, and that's good. But I felt torn. I want this life, this way of living my vocation, that's before me right now. Yet I also felt such a bittersweet sense that part of my old identity as a bride--and not just the sexy, carefree trappings of early marriage, but the actual essence of it--was gone. Even when a change is welcome and good and sanctifying, it’s hard feeling like it came at the cost of a part of yourself.
It's amazing, the graces that pour down during a nuptial Mass. The new husband and wife receive them to the full. And in their receiving, I'm convinced that just being in the presence of such tremendous grace works on the hearts of everyone in attendance, too. On our friends' wedding day the burden I'd been carrying seemed to lift. As I prayed before the Mass, I started feeling like bride and mother, newlywed and just regular wed, aren't either-ors.
I once visited a Theology of the Body ministry at their offices. One staffer and I started talking about his family, and when I asked if I could see a photo of his five kids, he told me he didn't have one in his office, "but here's a picture of my bride." Those words were imbued with such love and pride. How beautiful, how full of gratitude and praise, for a man so fully immersed in the trenches of his vocation to still see his wife in that way, not as the exact same woman he married, but as the woman he's grown more in love with as each new change has taken place in their lives.
Know this: married dreams brought down to earth are good; your calling specifically heralded at this moment in time. It’s okay to feel like your wedding is a lot to come down from, and that you walked into a new, unfamiliar version of yourself as you walked out the church doors. Imagining married life in broad strokes is easy and it’s dreamy, but it’s the subtleties life layers on that pave most of our road to holiness.
I used to imagine someday. Someday is now, and it doesn’t always mirror the ideals I once longed for, my younger self leaving the messier details out. Messiness is our humanity, and the Father sings the song of his love back to us, his children when it fades to the background: And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy (Hosea 2:19).
You are daughter, sister, friend, spouse. Pursued, adored, and longed for by God and by your husband. Quite simply, you are a bride, always.