You can imagine a thousand times how it might feel to witness your best friend’s wedding day, but you will always fail. Nothing can you prepare you for it. On my own wedding day, I was blissfully happy, and so excited to be celebrating in such a massive way with all my beloved friends and family. I felt no grief about leaving my family and creating a new one, but watching my little sister Kelly do the same in June wrenched my heart in a way I didn’t expect.
Kelly and I are three years and almost two months apart, but since the summer of 1999, when we were ‘exiled’ to the state of Pennsylvania, we became inseparable. As I shared before, we were the regular kind of sisters before that – I was the bossy firstborn, and she was my reluctant sidekick in whatever adventure I had dreamed up. But that summer, we had to start building new lives from scratch, and only had each other to hold onto. So we made the most of it, and what was one of the most difficult seasons in our lives turned into one of the greatest blessings. There is no one in this world that understands me better than she does. Maybe it’s because we lost our birth father Daddy Will so early, or maybe all sisters feel this way, but I am passionately protective of her, one of her biggest fans, and love her with a fierceness that is unparalleled.
We spent the morning of Kelly’s wedding day together in a Dean family friend’s house On Sunny Slope Farm, listening to fun “getting ready” tunes and sharing bathroom mirrors as the bridesmaids fixed their hair and makeup. The morning’s heavy rain clouds parted, and gorgeous light began to pour through the windows as “Here Comes The Sun” played in perfect timing. As I did Kelly’s makeup, we laughed and goofed off even as I tried my hardest to be as painstakingly detailed with my application as possible.
My emotions welled up earlier than I expected, a little while later as I helped Kelly into her wedding dress. My internal dialog began questioning the reality of the situation even as it was happening. Is this actually my little sister wearing a white dress? My little sister as a bride? How did that happen? She looked beautiful and bridal, and yet exactly like herself. Carrie Jo, a dear friend of mine and amazing photographer for the day, invited us to pray for Kelly as the preparation process ended and the whirlwind of the wedding was about to begin. I was so grateful to have a few minutes of peace and perspective set aside to focus on the Orchestrator of the day.
We spent some sister time together as we waited for Matt’s getting ready photos to be finished. I asked her how she was feeling and we chatted about the things to come. Wedding days can feel surreal after so much planning and expectation – it was a blessing to have a few minutes after the hustle and bustle to just be. I accompanied Kelly to her first look as she greeted her groom, and sat at a distance in the back row of chairs set up for the ceremony. The moment when Matt turned around to see her for the first time was incredibly sweet and intimate. I felt, at the same time, both honored to be there and as if I shouldn’t be watching.
I struggled to keep it together from the ceremony’s start when I heard my brother, my uncle, and Matt’s sister Janelle sing Kelly down the aisle to Jon Foreman’s “Your Love is Strong.” My tears flowed freely as I listened to Matt pledge his love and commitment to Kelly in his own words. He promised to love my sister well in so many ways, from long walks after dinner and quality time, practicing patience and forgiveness, to seeking God’s guidance before his own. Matt promised to love Kelly in ways I have for years, and in new ways all his own. I realized, in the midst of the vows, that I had felt responsible to be so many of those things for Kelly, and on this day, I was handing them over.
My favorite thing about their self-written vows was that they both promised to love each other and be present with each other “in the here and the now, in the middle of the now.” Many might have missed it, but including that phrase was both perfect and ridiculous, having been lifted from a YouTube video Matt and Kelly often quote. To know each other so well you are able to write the same obscure joke into your vows? Man, if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is!
Sidebar: I, in fact, cried so much and had to keep dabbing my eyes so many times that my one of my false eyelashes came unglued . Note to other sisters and future Maids of Honor: superglue those suckers on or don’t wear them at all. You will look and feel like an utter fool as you try to inconspicuously dislodge your runaway falsie from your eyelid without causing a scene! (Photo proof below)
Later in the evening, the incredibly amusing and thoughtful speeches from the loved ones in Kelly and Matt’s lives shed more light on their relationship than I could have gleaned from firsthand stories from the couple themselves. The way you view your own relationship is important, but how the people that surround you interpret it matters too. The MC for the night, a mutual friend of the couple’s named Sarah, told the story of how she first knew Kelly and Matt would be a great match.
It was 2010, and Kelly and Matt had just started officially dating after a semester’s worth of hanging out. Kelly had recently told Sarah she and Matt were in a relationship, and Sarah was curious to learn about the boy who had so captured Kelly’s attention. Matt and Sarah were leaving for a semester-long Middle East Cross-cultural experience, and as fate would have it, they ended up seated next to each other on the plane. Sarah seized the opportunity to get to know Matt, and as he talked about his relationship with Kelly, Sarah knew there and then they had something special.
As I listened to Sarah’s story, I found myself jealous that it wasn’t me on the plane that day. I wish I had been able to get to know Matt from the start of their relationship. I wish I could have observed the blossoming of “Matt and Kelly” in person. I wish I wasn’t a long-distance sister, but the reality is I live 350 miles away because I committed my life to Nick, and therefore Hoboken. What I saw over the course of her wedding day is that my little sister has built an entire life and community for herself nestled in the Shenandoah Valley. Matt and Kelly were never building their relationship alone. I mean, I knew this – of course I knew this. But hearing about it on the phone versus experiencing it firsthand and seeing the faces of those that love them changes everything.
I ask Kelly to move closer all the time. I’m half kidding… but half serious. If I had things my way, I wouldn’t dare to raise my future kids without her, or even go about my week without seeing her at least once. Life with my sister by my side is richer and sweeter, but knowing she has Matt and an entire incredible local support network helps to ease the ache. The places we live and the people we surround ourselves with shape so much of our lives. My sister is in good hands. She is well-loved, and that is everything I could ask for.
How did you feel at your best friend or sibling’s wedding? Did you get choked up or were you completely excited? What is the memory from those weddings that stands out to you the most?