Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chapter Thirty-Seven: The End of the Beginning.

Looking back on all the events that took place in getting us to that special, appointed time in our lives is so amazing to me. Our story is so uniquely ours and to see how far we came from the day we met to the day we married is just incredible. I love how the Lord always sees the “big picture”, and though we only get bits and pieces of it at a time, we ultimately know that if we are following Him, He will create the most gorgeous masterpiece. And that’s what He did with us.

I was always taught to treat my dating relationships as if they would someday end in a marriage and that piece of advice was vital in keeping my convictions close and my purity guarded. Now, as a mother, I see the importance of instilling those core values into my children as the world around us changes rapidly. Keeping Christ at the center of your thoughts and life is the only way to find true love, and I pray every day that my babies will find a love unique to them, but exactly in line with what the Lord brought to their Daddy and me.

The story of how my husband and I met and fell in love is just the beginning. The stories, life lessons and circumstances we have been through since the “I do” is what is shaping and defining our marriage today. Our history is our firm foundation, and we continue to grow and build on that year after year. I cannot begin to tell you what a blessing it has been!

Our love story is the thing I hold nearest to my heart. I love that I was able to put it into words to share with others and to reflect back on myself. Every couple’s love story is special, because it is yours. Treasure it, nurture it, and continue “writing” it – even after the “I do”.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chapter Thirty-Six: I DO (Part 2)

The ceremony was beautiful. Darin’s father performed it and we each had a friend perform songs that are special to us. We had a time of praise and worship where the guests were encouraged to sing hymns as a call to worship, and it was all around the perfect ceremony to represent us. We wanted the entire thing to represent our Father – the reason we were even there that day - and I totally felt the Lord there with us. His presence was evident!

When we were pronounced “Husband and Wife” and kissed, we turned to the crowd with huge smiles and for the first time, we faced the world together – hand in hand. It was the best feeling in the entire world.

After all of our pictures were taken, all of our guests were already across town at the reception. We had a dinner party, and we told everyone to begin eating when they got there so they wouldn’t have to wait on us. And if they had waited on us, they would have been waiting a long time. Everyone ran off without us, and Darin and I were stuck at the Church by ourselves! The only two people left were us and the two ladies who delivered my dress and helped with timing the ceremony. They so sweetly offered to take us to our reception, and of course we took them up on it. We had no other way of getting there! They were in a tiny little truck, and Darin helped shove my huge dress into the cab and we made our way over there, holding hands and laughing all the while. We joked that everyone got us married and then forgot about us!

When we entered our reception room, I felt like true royalty stepping into a fairy tale. That image is forever burned into my mind – it was hands down the most beautiful room I had ever seen. We were surrounded by thirty-five gorgeous centerpieces overflowing onto each table that were filled with fine China and all the people that were there to celebrate my new husband and me. It was perfect. My breath was literally taken away. My Mom and Dad did an incredible job in superseding my dreams for how I wanted our wedding to look. We were blown away.

The food tables were filled to the brim with delicious fare, there was an ice sculpture, a gorgeous white cake filled with roses, a chocolate fountain flowing with endless goodness, and a lively band playing upbeat songs on the stage. It was the most fantastical party I had ever been to. And it was ours!

Darin and I made our way to the head table with our bridesmaids and groomsmen and watched a beautiful video our videographer created for us. We made the rounds, trying to greet every guest who came, and I got one bite of mashed potatoes and of course, one bite of cake. There were too many people to see and things to do than sit and eat, though everything looked absolutely divine.

When things began to wind down a few hours later, it was beginning to get late and we still had an hour trip ahead of us to reach our honeymoon suite. A sweet lady friend pulled us aside and said they had a room ready for us to change into our “getaway” clothes, and so we escaped back there to get ready.

When we walked into the room, I realized that it was just one room. Um. I needed some privacy, here. I peeked my head out and said, “we’re BOTH supposed to change in here?!” The ladies died laughing and reminded me that I was now married. Um, yes, I know. But the first time my husband sees me getting undressed was NOT going to be in florescent lighting, thank you very much.

There was no way I could get out of my wedding dress by myself and Darin kept offering to help.

“NO! You’re not going to see me for the first time in a tiny little florescent lit room, so don’t even THINK about it!” I said.

I am a bit dramatic. I do admit.

I made my Mom come in the room and help me get undressed. That was much more comfortable and made much more sense! I could hear the ladies still snickering. Darin was just shaking his head like “what have I gotten myself into?”

I wore an emerald green short gown to “get away” in, and our guests lined the outside with lit sparklers, appropriate for a July wedding. We stood at the doorway, gave each other a kiss for the crowd, and then took off running through the sparklers and into our car, ready to head off to our new life together. It was such a perfect way to cap off the perfect day with my perfect husband. We were headed off into marital bliss the two happiest people on earth. There was no better feeling in this world.

The days, the months, the years leading up to this moment was the best journey of my life. They were moments that I would not trade for anything in this world. As we pulled away from a banquet hall full of every influential person in our lives, I couldn't help but see the years of our past flash before my very eyes. I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love that I felt, as the people who spent time praying for, encouraging and lifting us up throughout the years waved goodbye as we began our new life together. Our families, who stepped in to this day separate support systems, were now one. His friends were mine, and mine were his. His goals were now mine, my dreams were now his ... our lives now meshed together in every single way imaginable, and I was no longer just me. I was one. One with my true love.

And finally. Finally we were together.

Together forever.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chapter Thirty-Five: I DO! (Part 1)

When you dream of your wedding day, you envision being woken up softly to a beautiful breakfast in bed with birds chirping and the sun shining as it creeps it’s way into your window.

Not to your Dad flipping on your light and saying, “Whitney! Darin’s been bit by a spider! ON HIS EYE! His whole face is swollen! I’m going down to the pharmacy to get him medicine!”

WHAT?!?!?!

Yes, that was my reaction.

I ran into my parents’ bedroom and Mom calmly explained that Darin and his groomsman had gone to the lake that morning to JUMP OFF CLIFFS and that Darin got bit on the eye by a spider. Perfect. I’m dreaming of rainbows and daffodils and my soon-to-be husband is jumping off cliffs with a half swollen face? Oh, what a way to wake up.

Mom told me to crawl in her bed and go back to sleep, that all my bridesmaids were down at the Church getting prepped and pampered. She brought me a donut and I choked it down and slipped back into sleepy town. I was exhausted from the rehearsal dinner and catching up with friends into the late hours the night before.

The wedding was at 7pm, so we had the entire day ahead of us. I woke back up around noon and took my time showering and getting down to the Church for last minute details. My girls had been at the Church all morning and by the time I got there they were all decked out in false eyelashes, fantastic makeup and glorious hairdos. They looked amazing!

I got a couple updates on Darin throughout the day and my Dad came to the rescue in getting his eye back to semi-normal. The way everyone was talking, I had him made out to look like the redheaded guy in that 80’s movie The Mask. I was beyond relieved when one of my bridesmaids told me she saw him and he looked normal. Only Darin. This is the same guy who broke his nose a week before prom our senior year. His timing is impeccable.

The day went smoothly and beautifully. That room was filled with so much laughter, makeup, hugs, hairspray, stories, jewels, tears and joy. All of the women that represented me and who I am were all in one room – together, preparing to witness and celebrate with me on the biggest day of my life. I was overcome with emotion seeing all of these strong, unique, wonderful women surround and support me. They made me laugh, they smothered me with love and they covered me in prayer the entire day. I felt beyond blessed to have them – ALL of them – from my bridesmaids to my candle lighters to my guest book attendant and all of my women family members. They were all there. They were all at my side. And they were all such a beautiful representation of sweet, life long friendship.

Most of the preparation that day is a blur, but I do remember the moments.

When it came time to slide into my wedding gown, I finally began to get the butterflies. I had been calm as a cucumber the entire weeks, days and even hours before the ceremony. But as soon as they buttoned the last button, clasped the last jewel and slid on the last slipper, my stomach started to churn. It was time. It was finally time. In just a few minutes I would walk down that aisle and become one with the man of my dreams.

My girls surrounded me in a circle and my Mom led a beautiful prayer. I choked back the tears, and gave everyone hugs as they took their place in the hallway – preparing to go out. My Dad took my arm and told me I looked beautiful and then he tried to fix my hair. I told him to leave it alone, it was fine, but he kept trying to do something to it! We stood in the back, watching my bridesmaids step out one by one, and I just looked at Dad and laughed. We were actually doing this.

After my matron of honor made her descent, I took a deep breath and clasped on to my Dad. The trumpets blared “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, and my Dad and I took our first steps onto our embroidered runner and into the Sanctuary. I could only see my beloved’s body at the end of the aisle, but not his face. The place was filled with flowers and wall to wall with guests – but all I saw was him. As I drew nearer, I saw the tears streaming down his cheeks and then they made their way down mine. All anxiety and nerves fled my body and I was in perfect peace. This man. This man that I have waited for my entire life and prayed for my entire life was here – and he was mine.

My Dad gave me away with a kiss on the cheek and as he passed me on to my beloved, Darin softly squeezed my hand and he whispered softly in my ear as he wiped away his tears….

“Whitney, you look awesome.”

Perfect. The Lord gave me that perfect, silly little gift that I always dreamed of right then and there as we were entering into Covenant together. Wow. I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped.

I squeezed his hand, gave him a smile and started up the steps toward the pastor.

The best was yet to come.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chapter Thirty-Four: Treasures Unburied.

A couple nights leading up to the wedding stands out as one of the most special ones in my little memory box. The time capsule that he and I had made years before and vowed to only unbury if we were destined to be together and married, was finally calling to be uncovered. I could not WAIT to see what he had written. We scouted out the spot where we laid the capsule and began digging. My heart was racing when we finally hit the box. We hurridly opened it up and then slowly browsed through the pictures and memorabilia that represented “us” at that point in our lives.

As we sat amongst the dirt in the crisp evening air, we read each other’s letters. It was such a special moment and we both discovered that we had told one another “I love you” – and this was a year before we actually ever voiced it. Darin’s words were so sweet. So romantic, just like him. Tears slid down my cheeks as I read the words he had written years before and I leaned over to give him a kiss. I could not wait to make this man my husband.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chapter Thirty-Three: Awesome.

Do you have little obscure moments in life that for whatever reason stick out in your mind? Situations and happenings that have no real significance or meaning – just pieces of time that are forever tucked away in your memory?

I was fourteen years old and in my cousin’s truck going from her hometown to mine. She was driving and I rode in the passenger seat, with country music blaring and the windows rolled down. Her truck smelled like hairspray and strawberries and her blonde hair shined like gold in the summer sun. I couldn’t wait to be her age and drive with such freedom.

“Who is this?” I asked as I picked up one of her CD’s.

“Clay Walker.”

“Oh.”

“He looks awesome,” she said.

I died laughing and asked, “how can a guy look awesome – I mean, I can understand cute, good looking or hot or whatever, but awesome?”

“Yes,” she said. “He’s awesome looking.”

I continued giggling.

I had never before heard anyone describe someone as “awesome looking”, but in my mind at that time, it seemed like the highest level of physical attractiveness that you could label someone.

Awesome.

I wondered if anyone would ever think I looked awesome.


****

Darin was the best about throwing compliments my way. He was always telling me how pretty I looked, or how beautiful he thought I was. He had a way of growing my already big head. Not that I was high on myself … I literally have a really big head.

He wrote me letters and poems and always reminded me of the beauty he saw in me. I’m pretty sure he used every word in the book, but in the back of my mind, I secretly hoped that one day he would tell me I looked awesome. Of course, I never told anyone of this strange little hope I had, because it was silly. After all, who would prefer to be called “awesome" looking when you were called gorgeous, beautiful, cute, adorable, etc. by the man you love most?

Um, apparently me.

I don’t think I ever heard any other person use that word to describe someone else’s physical appearance after that day with my cousin, but for whatever reason, I never forgot it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chapter Thirty-Two: The Final Farewell

After an eternally long year, Spring finally rolled around and with the sun and fresh flowers, came bridal showers and sheer excitement about the day around the corner. We were given three beautiful bridal showers from my friends, family and Church family. I beamed wherever I went because at the front of my mind I knew that I was soon to be Mrs. Darin Gatsby. I thought constantly about becoming his bride and could not wait for July to come.

My parents and I took a trip to Houston, Texas on one of my breaks during college and found my wedding gown. Mom and I were in Saks Fifth Avenue and went to look at their dresses “just for fun” while we passed through. The bridal boutique was just perfect and when I laid eyes on my gown, I was in love. I tried it on first and it was like magic. I knew this was the dress I would be married in. It was gorgeous and everything I had envisioned.

I look back on that trip with my parents so fondly because it was the last time I took a trip in their care. The next trip I would take would be my honeymoon and I would be someone else’s. I would have a husband! I would be a real live grown up with a real live husband! It all just seemed too surreal.

Everything was falling perfectly into place with the wedding and wrapping up school. Things, for the most part, were pretty stress free and I was truly enjoying this chaotic, wonderful time in my life.

Graduation finally arrived, Darin’s first and mine a couple weeks after. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to the places and people that helped shape and mold us into who we were that day. College is such a refining period. A time of finding out who you are away from your family, stepping out of your comfort zone, making your own choices, and truly growing as a human being. By yourself. It is the most terrifying, exciting, humbling and absolutely necessary thing for a person transitioning into adulthood.

Walking away from that place that held so many emotions and memories for me over the past four years wasn’t difficult, because I knew it was time. I was eager to grow even more – this time, into a wife – a calling I knew I was meant for and now, that I was ready for. Those four years of college seemed like a couple of steppingstones in order to get there. They were steppingstones that I couldn’t have skipped because they were vital and crucial in shaping me. Had I missed those years, or skipped those steps, I know I would have splashed face first into the crazy waters of life and floundered around seeking help. But I had these years of refinement under me, and I truly felt ready to tackle the world with a husband at my side.

Though those years apart were difficult in every sense of the word, those years were huge for us. We grew a dependence on the Lord that neither of us had ever had. He was our constant Rock in the midst of all the emotions – from the sheer elation to the desperate frustration those years held. We perfected our communication skills in relying totally on each other to keep our part of our relationship alive. We didn’t have the technology that teens have today, so we had to be creative with how we showed each other we cared – we wrote letters, we e-mailed, we sent care packages, we used phone cards and cherished each moment that we got to hear the other one’s voice! We learned the meaning and value of trust. We learned so much about one another from being apart. We were forced to learn and grow in ways that most couples aren’t challenged to do so, simply from the ease of being together.

These years weren’t always fun, but they were crucial. And they were a huge part of shaping our relationship into the sweet, precious gift that the Lord blessed us with. And as we walked across our separate stages, received our different diplomas and drove away from our own Alma Maters, we knew we did it all exactly as God had planned for us. And we wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chapter Thirty-One: Nearing the End.

I busted the doors down when we arrived to my house, eager to show my parents “THE RING”. As I tore through the entry hall, I was greeted not only by my parents, but also Darin’s parents, his sister and some of my very best friends. There was lots of crying, lots of laughing, lots of celebrating and when I finally looked up from my sparkly new ring, I looked over at my Mom and I could already see the wheels turning in her head.

It was time to plan a wedding!

We knew that we wanted a summer wedding, sometime after college graduation and after a few weeks we finally settled on July 1. Having a date was even more surreal than having the ring. Having a date on the calendar meant that there was something to count down to. Having a date on the calendar meant that on that very day, I would become Mrs. Darin Gatsby. Having a date on the calendar meant we had to get busy!

From the day we settled on our date, we had eleven months before the big day. That may seem like an eternity for most, but we had a whole other year of college before us. Planning a wedding amidst tests, finals, friends, homework, graduation, and everything else that comes along with your last year of college is not exactly the easiest thing to do. We had plenty of time, but the majority of those months we were going to be apart.

The end of August quickly rolled around, as it did the years before. I never understood how three months at school took an eternity to creep by and when we were home for the summer, I could blink and it was gone. Oh well, we had only one more year to be apart before we were together forever. What was two more semesters when we had already survived six?

We decided early on to come home as much as possible during our senior year of college. We were tired of being apart, had a wedding to plan, and for crying out loud, we were engaged! We were finished with games, finished with doubts and questions … we were each other’s. Our guards were finally down.

Now that “kissing” was a part of our relationship, we knew we had to take extra precautions with our level of comfort with each other. Simply knowing that we were going to be married soon could have easily made it difficult to keep a God-glorifying relationship if we weren’t careful. A few days into our engagement, we set some ground rules in our physical relationship so that we could go through this period of betrothment with no regrets. The Lord had blessed us so much in our relationship, and we wanted to continue honoring Him. I thanked God time and again for a man who guarded my purity above his own flesh. I didn’t know any other guy who would wait three years to kiss the one he loved, and then set boundaries once we did. I was beyond blessed.

Saying goodbye that summer was kind of anticlimactic compared to the previous years. This time, we were used to it and we knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel. We knew this year was bound to be the easiest. But in reality, it was one of the hardest.

“Sick of it” does not even begin to describe how we felt about this final year apart. We were both busy balancing so many things: trying to finish our classes with excellence, spending time with our friends, checking in with each other as much as we could, and planning events that revolved around the biggest day of our lives. We had so much on our plates. Our nightly phone calls to each other went from being the highlight of our days to just flat out frustrating. We were sick of being together but apart. There were engaged couples all around us living out this exciting time together and there we were – hours and miles away. It didn’t seem fair.

There was nothing we could do about it, so we tried keeping the best attitudes and made it a priority to be together as often as we could. That meant many roads traveled for both of us, and giving up several events at our schools for the sake of our relationship. We were set on doing whatever it took to lighten the loads of frustration we were both feeling and the tension that it sometimes created, and honestly, it was a struggle doing so. This had been a long four years, and knowing that this was the last one didn’t make it go any quicker.

We went home nearly every weekend to be together and my Mom and I spent every moment we could in the depths of wedding planning. Every break and vacation I got from school, we spent immersed in plans and it was so much fun. We made runs to Tulsa what seemed like daily and lived out some of the best times in our lives creating this special day. Darin had input here and there – mostly concerning the ceremony, but my Mom and I had full reign over the d├ęcor and the details. He just kind of sat back and watched it unfold. I don’t know how I could have made it through that year without my Mom. She took care of every single thing while I finished my last year of schooling. She took the brunt of the worry and stress of the wedding plans, and worked hard to make everything easy on me.

I did my best to take things one at a time: wedding plans, finals, bridal showers, graduation, wedding.

Phew. What a time I had ahead of me.