Thirteen years ago I stood up on a mountain in the presence of a host of friends and family and promised to care for my husband in sickness and in health. At age 25, this promise did not feel like much of a sacrifice. Some of the other promises I made to him that day felt like a leap of faith but health was something I didn’t think much about or really question. We were young; we were athletes; we were ready to “adventure through life together” as we pledged in our vows we had written ourselves.
Much about that day is still vivid in my memory. I can smell the tropical orchids I carried in my bouquet. I can see my dearest friends from around the country all lined up in their ruby-red dresses to support me. I can hear the bag pipes announcing our grand march down the aisle. I can taste the French cream puffs and the Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream we served up for dessert. I remember how we danced and danced and danced the night away.
I also remember that some parts of that day were unexpected. I had always dreamed of getting married in Yosemite National Park. We couldn’t find a venue big enough to marry inside the park so we decided on the beautiful Tenaya Lodge just outside the South Gate. We had rented a limo for the wedding party and planned to take everyone inside the park to the famous Half Dome lookout for pictures. The morning of the wedding it stormed. The sky was swirling with dark clouds, and the streets were low visibility. We had to settle with indoor pictures in the hotel lobby.
The unexpected gift from this winter storm came during our ceremony. Just as we were saying our vows, glittering snow began to fall – a glorious backdrop for all to see through the giant picture window behind us. I never imagined my perfect spring wedding with that tropical flair including snow but it felt like God’s way of smiling down on us after the unexpected storm.
Little did I know the real storm would come 11 years later when my beloved was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer. This would be the real test of the vow I made that day to care for him through sickness and health.
And this is how marriage is – less about the fairy-tale stuff and more about the unexpected, the challenges and how two people might choose to face them. Ericlee and I were fortunate because we had mentors and friends who helped us on our marriage journey. These were people who preached to us about not allowing the small stuff to become big stuff. These were friends who prayed over us and held us accountable even when we faced trouble with finances and stressful career decisions.
Looking back, I can honestly say I have no regrets. Don’t get me wrong: we did not have a perfect marriage. We argued plenty and there were times I did not submit to my husband’s leadership as I had vowed on that wedding day. Yet God covered this all with grace. And when we were together there was synergy. The combination of our passions and efforts always yielded a greater result than when we acted solo. We had many grand adventures together – from traveling to Spain to see cousins to running a non-profit in Haiti, from running marathons together to birthing three baby girls, from caring for my elderly grandpa to attending grad school in Virginia, from teaching to coaching to serving together in a myriad of ways.
I stand here today without regret, without shame, without guilt for the past. I live in freedom, knowing my marriage vows were complete on September 9, 2014 when Ericlee graduated to Heaven. I know this is a peace only God could give me in spite of our own shortcomings. My challenge to my married friends today is this question: what do you need to do in your marriage so that you have no regrets when death parts you? My challenge to my single friends is to ask yourself: how can I learn from past mistakes and invest deeply in my present relationships?
On January 16, 2016, I stood at the altar with a man God sent to be my husband and the father of my three daughters in this new season. I met Shawn on the very same trip to Haiti 15 years ago when I met Ericlee. He stood up in our wedding as a groomsman. He has been a faithful friend and supporter of our non-profit for years. I never dreamed I’d get the chance to marry again or to speak new vows. As I enter into this new marriage covenant, my perspective is so different from when I was that 25-year-old girl. I’m starting today with the end in mind.
Dorina Gilmore-Young is mama to 3 girls and thrilled to be a wife to her new hubby, Shawn. She is a published author and the Coordinator of the Bridge MOPS group.