Even before we were engaged, Andrew and I talked about what kind of wedding we wanted to have. I envisioned something very small and private — an elopement, perhaps — and Andrew calmly agreed, understanding that a big wedding event would be too much added stress. We were both content with that — we knew we wanted to marry each other, and that was all we needed.
Andrew proposed in late May 2018, and right away, it seemed like everyone had the same questions: “Did you set a date? Did you pick a venue? Did you get a dress?”
I felt like Carrie in the first Sex & the City movie. All of the sudden, my tiny wedding plan turned into something much bigger. We wrote a guest list, planned our bridal party, and looked at venues. Andrew and my parents were cautiously excited — yes, they wanted to celebrate, but they also know me really, really well. When I started bawling at the kitchen table with my mom one summer afternoon, nobody was surprised when I informed them we would be going back to the original plan.
This happened a lot that summer: I’d make a decision, overthink, and ultimately change my mind. I never doubted that I wanted to marry Andrew, but I did doubt pretty much everything else, from who was invited to where the ceremony would be. There was one week in August that I didn’t talk to my parents for a full five days (this is unheard of for me). Finally, Andrew and I called a truce. We met my dad for drinks and French bread at Mon Ami Gabi in Oak Brook. Right then and there, we booked six rooms at the Four Seasons Palm Beach for the weekend of December 8th. The guest list included my parents and brothers, Andrew’s parents and grandmother, and lastly, Courtney, my best friend since elementary school. My dad would be the one to marry us.
We clinked our glasses together. It was official. We had a plan!
September, October, and November flew by. Those three months were sweet and special for me. I stayed at home during the week with my family, and on the weekends, Andrew and I kept busy decorating our new Lincoln Park condo. Toward the end of our engagement, I started planning for Melanie Everett & Company (here’s that story, ICYMI).
Constantly, people would ask how I was feeling about my “big day.” I’d laugh, then blithely say a little something about how the wedding was more of a family elopement. I didn’t feel nervous as the date drew nearer. I truly felt the peace of God enveloping me.
This was incredibly un-Melanie-like. Something had to give.
The first of December arrived in all its glory. With a week to go before the trip, I began to unravel. Andrew and I were seeing each other less and less — it seemed as if we were ships in the night. I’d be downtown during the day, and then as soon as my appointments wrapped up, I went back home to my family. Meanwhile, Andrew was commuting back and forth to his suburban office, meaning he arrived home long after I left. We talked on the phone all the time, but as Andrew would tell you, I became more and more anxious with each call.
Andrew drove out to my parent’s house the night before our trip. After I packed my suitcase, the two of us cuddled up on the old cream-colored couch in the basement.
“Melanie,” he whispered. “We’re in this together. I love you. I want to marry you. Please try to relax and enjoy this weekend.”
A long black stretch-limo arrived at 6:30am the next morning. The seven of us (mom, dad, Andrew, Sam, Jack, Courtney, me) rolled our bags outside and hopped in, giggling and taking pictures.
This is fun, I thought to myself, peering out the foggy window.
The flight was impossibly smooth. I sat in the middle seat, sandwiched between my BFF and my soon-to-be-husband. We laughed, listened to music, talked, and drank coffee. Truthfully, I think Andrew was relieved to see that I actually got on the plane.
Once we landed, Andrew and I split off from the group and Ubered to the Palm Beach County Courthouse. Getting a marriage license, I learned, is not the most romantic thing in the world. We went through an intensive security search, schlepped our bags up to the fourth floor, and stood in line. I was restless, shifting my weight from leg to leg and sighing loudly. Andrew elbowed me.
We signed a few documents and leafed through a pamplet, and then finally, we were released with our certificate to marry.
The rest of Friday flew by. We had lunch by the pool, relaxed in our rooms, and got dressed for dinner at Buccan, a bustling tappas restaurant on the island. There was just a few hours left until December 7th would turn into December 8th — our wedding day. I felt nervous.
By 3:00 on Saturday afternoon, I was finishing up my eye makeup — subtle, black, gold accents. Courtney kept me company.
“I can’t believe you’re about to get married,” she smiled.
“I know. We made it,” I replied, swiping the liner across my lid. “Did you think I would?”
Courtney laughed and shrugged. She knows me so well. We have more than fifteen years of best-friend-ship under our belts, and as such, Courtney has seen me through a lot of life. (She is also a wedding photographer and videographer by trade, which means she has seen a lot of brides behind-the-scenes.) Courtney calmed me down, helped me edit my vows, ate room service (we wore the thick, plush robes and sat on the bed) with me, and I’m very certain she prayed for Andrew and I the entire day.
Finally, I was ready to get dressed. My mom joined Courtney and I, and she held back tears as she pulled the beaded overlay over my head. I had decided to wear a skirt, rather than a dress. We picked out the top at BHLDN and found the tulle skirt on sale at Nordstrom for a little more than $100. I loved how unique my bridal look was — and affordable, too!
Courtney checked her phone — the time was inching past 3:30, when I was supposed to go see my groom. We did one final perfume twirl, and with that, Courtney led me down the hallway toward Andrew’s room.
“Wait here,” she whispered. “I’m going to tell Andrew where to stand. I’ll come out and get you when it’s your turn to come in.”
I had never imagined our “first look” in my head. But now, as I hyperventilated outside Andrew’s door, my heart pounded in my chest. I waited for only a minute or two, but those seconds seemed like an eternity.
The door opened and Courtney ushered me in. I picked up my skirt. One step, two steps, three steps. There was Andrew, standing in the middle of the suite, his back to me. I exhaled. On Courtney’s count, he turned around.
From that moment on, my wedding day was perfect — not my version of perfect, but God’s version. As soon as Andrew and I were together (me in white, him in a chic black suit), my entire body relaxed.
We spent the next hour taking photos with Courtney. The weather that afternoon was brooding. With the wind picking up, our beach photos were a little chaotic, but we managed to take a few before the storm clouds rolled in.
After we reunited with our families for some more pictures, it was time for the ceremony. This was something I had been worrying about for months. I do not like attention, and despite the small group, I dreaded having all eyes on me during such an intimate event. My biggest fear was that I would spiral into a panic attack — right in the middle of our vows. I prayed and prayed. (And had a small glass of champagne.)
My mom flew around the suite’s living room, lighting dozens of baby candles. I watched Andrew adjust his tie. We locked eyes. It was if he was saying, Okay, Melanie. We’re here. Trust God. He will bring you through this.
Andrew and I turned to face one another. My dad stood in-between us, Bible and notes in hand. The rest of our guests — my brothers, our moms, Andrew’s dad, Andrew’s grandmother, Courtney — surrounded us in semicircle.
I wish I could write more about that ceremony. Here are the bits and pieces I do remember:
I cried. Andrew cried. Everyone cried. It was the most touching, Holy-Spirit-filled, special, and incomparable twenty minutes of my life. There wasn’t a hint of anxiety in my entire being — not even when I sobbed through the first few sentences of the vows I wrote for Andrew. Each of our family members read Scripture, and my dad explained to Andrew and I what it meant to become one in Christ. I have never felt closer to Andrew or to my family.
My prayer is that our marriage will forever glorify God. For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. For richer or for poorer (hopefully for richer). And death will never do us part, because we both are safe and secure, clean and close, Heaven-ready and Heaven-bound. Jesus Christ lives in you and He lives in me. This I know for sure.
An excerpt from my vows to Andrew.
I promise to keep our eyes as a couple and later, as a perhaps slightly larger family, always fixed on Christ.
Because Christ in us, is the relationship from which all others can flourish
I promise to build you up with reminders of your righteousness, salvation, and sainthood
Because our new life in Christ is what provides us true rest and relaxation in the tough times
I promise to always encourage your creativity
Because Christ has given you this talent to minister on His behalf
An excerpt from Andrew’s vows to me.
At the end, we slipped rings onto each other’s shaking fingers, and my dad instructed Andrew to kiss the bride. Everyone cheered and clapped. The Four Seasons had brought up a few charcuterie plates beforehand, so we munched on sliced meats and spiced nuts, giddily clinking glasses of champagne together.
We piled into cars and drove to Worth Avenue for dinner. My parents had picked one of their favorite restaurants, Renato’s, an upscale Italian cucina with a courtyard. The rainclouds had miraculously passed, so our group of ten sat at another round table beneath the twinkle lights and stars.
My hair curled up from the humidity, but I could not have cared less. I ordered a crisp and cold vodka martini, dined on the best crab claws I’ve ever tasted, and held Andrew’s hand under the table while Courtney gave a toast that brought us all to tears. It was a dreamy night full of thanksgiving and joy.
On Sunday morning, Andrew and I hugged our families goodbye. As my side flew back to Illinois and Andrew’s side drove up to Georgia, the two of us headed to The Breakers, a fabulous and historic Palm Beach resort. We had just a few days before we had to return to Chicago, so we made the most of our vacation: cocktails and small plates at HMF, a day of shopping in the glorious 65-degree weather, lots of champagne and a dirty vodka martini every night, the fluffiest rolls at Palm Beach Grill, room service cookies in bed, hot-tubbing, and so much more. I even put a contract together while we were walking along the beach on our last day — the icing on my imaginary wedding cake!
We were safe and sound in our Lincoln Park home by Tuesday night — finally, as husband and wife.
It took me a very long time to sit down and write this blog post. My experience didn’t feel like it stacked up to every other wedding I saw on Instagram. I put it off for two months.
As I sit here with my coffee cup, re-reading what I’ve typed, I am coming to a few conclusions.
First, a marriage is so much more than just a wedding. It’s not about the dress or the hotel or the weather. It’s about becoming one. Even when we were engaged, I found myself stuck in the trap of “but she did this for her wedding” and “they took this honeymoon.” Our wedding was unlike the traditional ceremony and reception, but looking back, I would not have done it any other way. Marrying Andrew really was the best day of my life — not because we had the perfect-on-paper wedding, but because he became my husband.
Second, anxiety is the thief of joy. This is a topic I have written about over and over again (you will notice a major trend in past blog posts). Anxiety convinces me that it’s all about Melanie. Instead of focusing on honoring my groom or looking forward to sweet time with family, I spent a lot of time thinking about what wasn’t going well. The cure to these strong emotions is fixing my eyes on Jesus and asking Him to renew my mind. Eventually, I surrendered, but it is never easy.
And last of all, I love being married to Andrew. It is the safest, most encouraging, Christ-centered relationship I have ever been a part of. In the two months since December 8th, we’ve encountered plenty of good days and a handful of bad days. I am learning that Andrew is there for me through it all, reflecting the wondrous picture of Jesus Christ and His church.
Photos:Courtney Cimo Photo + Film