Five years later

Five years ago last Saturday, my husband and I got married.

In many ways, that night was the apex of our worldly life: our wedding took place in a rented theater, I wore a dark purple dress, we wrote our own vows, our officiant came in second in a stripping contest at a gay club the night before, and the afterparty lasted until eleven o’clock the next morning. Shoot, we weren’t even technically married at our wedding. The piece of paper from the state meant little to us, so we just got that out of the way the day before.

Here’s a picture from the reception. We had the most fantastic DJ in the world who had a talent for keeping everyone energized and on the dancefloor:

wedding2 Five years later
Here’s a picture of us leaving the reception where you can see my wedding dress:

wedding1 Five years later
Here’s a shot from the afterparty on the 25th-floor roof of the building where we lived, taken around three o’clock in the morning:

wedding3 Five years later
Here’s the view from our building, taken at the afterparty:

wedding4 Five years later

That night felt like the beginning of something big.

Earlier in life I was never even sure I would get married, thinking that my career was the only thing that really mattered, so it was a stunning coup to marry such a good catch. My husband had grown up poor in a single-parent home, and through some combination of brilliance, hard work, and a mother who is a force of nature, he ended up graduating with honors from Yale, then going on to Columbia Law School and Stanford Business School. He was one of those people who could do anything he set his mind to. Everyone told us we had the world at our feet, that that October night was the beginning of a blazing bright future.

If you would have asked me that night what we’d be doing on our five year anniversary, I would have guessed that we’d be living in some gorgeous house, perhaps a renovated bungalow is the choicest part of town; maybe we’d have one kid; and for the evening of our anniversary perhaps we’d travel to Paris, or maybe to Mendoza, Argentina, one of our favorite destinations.

Instead, on Saturday we found ourselves driving our messy, beat-up minivan full of kids to vigil Mass (where our children dedicated themselves to acting as much like untamed monkeys as possible), then going home to eat rice and beans for dinner. Five years ago, it would have been outside the realm of reasonable thought to even consider that over the next few years we would both convert to orthodox Catholicism; make the decision for my husband to switch to a more modest (and far less glamorous or lucrative) career path that allowed him to have a stable job with pleasant workdays; move way outside of town to an anonymous suburb; and have three kids with one on the way. What we wanted was a life of adventure and excitement and learning, not some suburban existence of diapers and budgets and church.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the high life: when we threw ourselves into seeking true adventure and excitement, energetically searching for the best that life had to offer, we discovered that the travel and the parties and the downtown lofts weren’t cutting it anymore. We found that there just might be something more to life out there, something more thrilling than anything you can find on the other end of a first-class flight.

On Saturday, as I bounced my squirming baby on my lap, a little tired from the new pregnancy, watching my husband chase our precious (if annoying at the moment) children back to their seats in the sanctuary’s cry room, I thought about that night five years before. On October 4, 2003 my husband and I promised each other that our wedding was just the beginning of a great adventure, that together we would seek to find the height of the human experience, to figure out what it meant to live the very best life possible — and whatever that was, we’d dive in head first. And as the mellifluous tones of a hymn floated through the air and he and I stepped forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, a tear stung my eye when I realized that that’s exactly what we did.

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Enter the Conversation...

68 Responses to “Five years later”
  1. JAS says:

    Thank you.

  2. Tienne says:

    Happy Anniversary!!!!

  3. SixValentes says:

    Oh Jen, this was beautiful! Happy anniversary lady!

  4. Sara says:

    Happy Anniversary! I think it’s interesting to note that you got married on the feast of St. Francis—and he chose poverty, too. ;-) You’ve come a long way in just 5 years.

  5. SuburbanCorrespondent says:

    It is amazing how our perspectives change, isn’t it? And sometimes so hard to convey to those we’ve left behind.

  6. reprehriestless warillever says:

    Congratulations (on several counts).

  7. Margie says:

    This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. Fascinating and wonderful. Thank you! And Happy Anniversary, too.

  8. Multiple Mom T says:

    Congratulations! Happy 5th Anniversary! Thank you for sharing just how much God has changed your lives. Amazing how He does that, isn’t it? :-D

    Our 13th is this week and I’ll be posting Our Story on it.

  9. Ouiz says:

    Happy anniversary! What an amazing post… and I’m sure that all of Heaven is smiling at what you thought you’d get, and the much better life you have now!

  10. Shelly W says:

    I always get so much out of your posts. Congratulations to you and your husband for taking hold of the “life that is truly life.”

  11. SteveG says:

    Happy Anniversary!!

  12. Big Mama says:

    Happy Anniversary, Jen! Y’all have been blessed.

  13. elizabeth says:

    Man, how I hate that term “bonsai child.” I know who and what you’re talking about, but what about those of us who might never have more than one child, and not through lack of trying or lack of desire? So what would those with large Catholic families have me do … not enroll my daughter in ballet class? Because if I had five or more children, I wouldn’t have the time nor the money to do so. Same with Chinese class, or that new dress (that I bought on sale, but no matter, everyone just assumes I’m happy to pay retail for my only child). I see the stares at church, and I’d love nothing more than to set them straight.

    As you can see, you’ve unwittingly hit a nerve here. And I really apologize for hijacking your most beautiful post. I should take it over to my own blog (which is in development! As we speak!) and instead just say, “Happy, happy anniversary!”

    • Tara says:

      Elizabeth,
      I am so sorry for the wrong assumptions that people make of you. As the mother of a big family, I also am victim of wrong assumptions and rude comments. Hold your head high knowing that you are doing God’s Will and that you are suffering persecutions on His behalf.

      It is a valuable lesson that you teach in instructing others of the truth. I once made a mistake when commenting to a mom of two and she corrected me by sharing that she desired more, but God had other plans. Her courage and honesty forced me to think deeper and realize that I could not “judge a book by its cover.”

      Thank you.

  14. Jennifer F. says:

    Man, how I hate that term “bonsai child.”

    Thanks for pointing out how that came across. I went ahead and deleted it. I wasn’t referring to the concept of just having one child, but I can see how it might have come across that way. Sorry!

  15. Kevin says:

    Bless you.

    And congratulations.

  16. Amblin says:

    I just found your blog through Signs of Faith. What a lovely testimony you share here in these pages!

  17. Maggie says:

    Congrats and blessings to you and your family!! What a beautiful witness of what really matters!

  18. Teri says:

    Congratulations on 5 years – and that sounds far too trite after reading your post – but it is backed up with a full heart and joy from your story.

  19. elizabeth says:

    I had a pang of regret after hitting “publish your comment.” This is your blog and have every right to express yourself as you see fit. I’m sure no one else minded the bonsai child phrase. And I did know what you were getting at. The point is, that was a great blog post. I can so relate to your journey, because in many ways it’s my own.

    We had a “Catholic” wedding, however, though it was in no way truly Catholic. We were able to persuade a monsignor at a parish we did not belong to to marry us. We finangled an exemption from Pre-Cana classes. We were living together at the time and were of course using birth control. Why I was hell bent on having a Catholic ceremony is beyond me. In no way were we living the Christian life.

    My valid-but-not-sacramental-marriage was the first thing I confessed when I came back to the Church last year. I wanted to expound on it so much, but I had read quite a bit about confession, about how you need to identify your sins by name omit all the extraneous blather. What I was really confessing were all those years we spent in worship of false idols, valuing my career, money, success, whatever I felt was worthy of my time.

    So, the fact that I have only one child is quite an irony. It’s what I thought I wanted for so long.

  20. Michelle says:

    Congratulations on 5 years! My husband and I are only going on 2 but I’m always amazed at how different things are for us then they were when we got married. God blesses our lives in ways that we could never fathom.

  21. Teresa says:

    My anniversary was Saturday also! 28 years, I can’t believe it has gone by so fast. We have 2 grown up children but I remember where you are like it was yesterday. I love your blog, thanks for sharing.

  22. nicole says:

    Happy Anniversary! On our fifth anniversary we had the fourth child already, so I can relate to how different the reality is from the prediction. What a great blessing to your marriage that you and your husband are on this faith journey together.

  23. Kerry says:

    winderful wonderful post, Jen. Your journey is so amazing and interesting. Congrats on 5 years!!

  24. Christine says:

    You are blessed blessed and blessed! I have many Aunts who’s grown children are not interested in getting married (living together) and especially not interested in children. My Aunts would love love and love some more to have grandchildren right now.

    I have also celebrated many anniv. the same way.

    My youngest is in school now. Those babies do grow up. Remember that. They do eventually sit in the pews. Enjoy them. Sometimes it is so so hard but enjoy them. My daughter is 7 and I would love to have her be 2 again. I am enjoying 7 though because I know she is growing so fast.

    God Bless your journey. Love your blog!

  25. Melanie B says:

    Happy Anniversary, Jen. May you guys have many, many more blessed years together.

    I loved the ending to this post. It brought a tear to my eye as well.

  26. Jenny says:

    Happy Anniversary and thank you for another beautiful post.

  27. Lucia Rosa says:

    Love, prayers and congratulations to you and your husband! You say the civil marriage didn’t mean much to you, but I suspect that your vows really did. I wonder if God, in his pleasure in people who really understood the beauty of marriage–to seek perfection together, even if you didn’t know then what perfection was–used this occasion to send forth a lot of the graces leading to your conversion.

  28. Abigail says:

    Such a beautiful post for such a beautiful anniversary. Can I tell you again that I’m SOOOO pleased that God graced you both with yet another baby!

  29. Diana says:

    Congratulations! We will be celebrating our five year anniversary next month.

  30. Jess says:

    Happy Anniversary.

  31. lyrl says:

    I agree with Lucia Rosa that it sounds like your vows meant a lot more to you than the marriage license. I’m a firm believer that it’s the public commitment that makes a couple married, not the legal arrangement they make. To the point that I’d be thrilled if the government stopped calling it a marriage license.

    What a beautiful post. Happy anniversary!

  32. Michelle says:

    I forgot to mention in my earlier post that you can get your marriage blessed (also referred to as convalidation) by the church if you want. My husband and I were not married in the church because at the time he was a protestant (it was a something I thought I was okay with at the time especially since he agreed any children we had could be baptized and raised Catholic). After my son was born my husband decided to go to RCIA after sitting through the baptism class. He decided to convert shortly afterward. We were able to get our marriage blessed by the church so that we now have a sacramental marriage. While I loved our wedding, I did wish we had been married in the church, so we were very happy to have our marriage blessed. It was totally worth it. Happy Anniversary again!

  33. Jennifer F. says:

    Michelle -

    I forgot to mention in my earlier post that you can get your marriage blessed (also referred to as convalidation) by the church if you want.

    Thanks for the tip! Actually, we had to since we didn’t have any kind of Christian wedding. We re-exchanged rings and everything (one day I’ll share the amusing story about my husband forgetting his wedding ring for that). :)

  34. Maria says:

    Happy Anniversary! What an adventurous – and truly miraculous – five years you’ve had!

    (BTW, a mutual friend told me about the purple wedding dress the other day, and I was sooo excited to get to see it!)

  35. Tales From the Eurovan says:

    Happy Anniversary!

    I’m new to your blog and loved this post. Boy, life sometimes can take us on twists and turns we never saw coming.

    Here’s to many more, “who knows what in the world they may hold” anniversaries!

    Take care,
    Julie

  36. Marie says:

    Happy Anniversary! I also began married life 18 years ago similar to the way you did; a very materialistic woman. I was going to earn about $60,000 a year, and have 3 kids, a beautiful house, and lots of traveling.

    After my first baby was born, I quit work, stopped traveling, and had 5 more children, whom I homeschool. My parents suspect that I’m crazy.

  37. La gallina says:

    I cannot wait to read your book! Someday. No rush:) Looks like you’re a little busy these days. How has THIS pregnancy been treating you?

  38. Red Cardigan says:

    Happy Anniversary, Jen! What a great post!

  39. fairmaiden says:

    that’s beautiful…even my sixteen yr. old daughter was saying “ah, thats so cute”. Continue to find excitement in the simple life of loving one another. God gives us far more happiness than we could have ever imagined or planned for ourselves, doesn’t He?

  40. Sara says:

    Jennifer, I hope you don’t mind if I tag you for a game at my place. You don’t often post photos, so I thought it would interesting.

  41. planty says:

    Happy Anniversary!

    We just celebrated our 10th (see photos on my blog that I posted on Friday!) along with a further life changing event that happened exactly five years later!!!

  42. Hip Mom's Guide says:

    Absolutely beautiful. This is one of the best crafted essays I’ve read in quite awhile. You did a wonderful job of taking us to where you were, and are. Thank you. It’s amazing, really.

    And, of course, Happy Anniversary!

  43. Sheri says:

    Happy Anniversary! It is funny how everything can change.

  44. Renee says:

    Happy Anniversary!

  45. Agnes Regina says:

    Congrats, Jen… wow, what a trip it’s been from there, hasn’t it? And the best part, I’m sure, was converting! God bless you both!

  46. Anonymous says:

    Great post, Jen! Happy Anniversary to you and your husband!

    –Elizabeth B.

  47. daffy-maiden says:

    You had the wedding I dreamed of when I was fourteen! :D I’ve tweaked that dream a little since then, lol. Congratulations on your ever after.

  48. Erika Ahern says:

    So beautiful! What a grand adventure this “orthodoxy” thing is… Nothing like it on earth.

  49. theophilus says:

    Jen, you have “chosen the better part.”

    Congratulations on hitting five years. It keeps getting better.

  50. Diane L. Harris says:

    Jennifer,

    When I was an atheistic college student, I used to tell my friends I’d like a Halloween wedding with guests in costumes. I don’t know that I grew out of that idea before marrying my late first husband, I think my plans only changed because I married someone older who didn’t find the idea amusing.

    Your post on the contrast between the hedonistic atheist you were on your wedding day and the committed Christian wife and humble mom who celebrates five years later brought a flush of recognition to my face.

    What an awesome and not entirely appreciated journey it is from worship of self to worship of God. How humbling to have even understood the invitation.

    God bless us.

    Diane L. Harris
    http://www.steppingintothelight.net

  51. Chris says:

    You might say I had something of a bipolar experience. My parents weren’t terribly religious; indeed, my father is atheist / agnostic to this day. But my Grandmother was a dedicated Protestant Christian. When I was young and we lived close to my Grandmother, she would teach us, so I can remember learning about Bible stories and asking questions about God and going to church, but really only in the context of spending weekends at my Grandmother’s house.

    At home, it was quite different. We went to a Church service on very rare occasions and rarely talked about religion or prayer — though interestingly enough we would occasionally comment on Bible stories. Both my grandfathers were ordained Protestant ministers, so both my parents knew the Bible cold. Nevertheless, from the time I was eleven until my own conversion to the Catholic Church around the age of thirty-two, religion was mostly an abstract experience. My most prominent memories of prayer as a teenager are silent prayers uttered at the end of basketball practices, begging God to help me get through the next round of wind sprints (my high school basketball coach put us through some very, shall we say, challenging workouts). It seems almost quaint in retrospect, but there was God, even back then, answering my prayers, and I really had no clue.

    Still, in college as my wife and I were preparing to marry, one of my most vivid recollections is that of calculating on paper the long-term implications of saving $500 per month. This was in Mexico, and my only goal at the time was to save enough money to return to Mexico as soon as I could. I never seriously contemplated children until my wife insisted that we have our first child. Shortly thereafter, it was two and “that’s it.”

    Now, of course, we have four with one on the way.

    What is most ironic is that if I were to tell my tale without reference to the agnosticism / atheism, it might actually look like a “good Catholic” story: silent prayer during basketball practice, married at twenty-two, five kids, et cetera, et cetera. But such a telling would be false in the extreme.

    Indeed, in many respects your story mirrors my own, except that growing up I learned all that Bible stuff rather well (from my Grandmother). But I still thought it was nutty, until Jesus chased me down, first to take my legs away (as my basketball coach was fond of saying), and then to take my heart away.

  52. Emily says:

    Jen,

    What a wonderful post. I think that you’ve been gifted with some of Solomon’s wisdom! Thanks for sharing it.

    Happy Anniversary!

  53. (Keri) Auburn Gal Always says:

    Popping over after BooMama commanded it. This was beautiful. Happy belated anniversary. God bless your adventure!

  54. Cindy- My Life HIS Story says:

    I, too, popped over from BooMama. I am so thrilled that you’ve joined the ‘great adventure’. May you and your husband have many, many more blessed years!

    Blessings – Cindy

    http://mylifehisstory.blogspot.com/

  55. Marla Taviano says:

    This is just the coolest thing ever. You are so amazing. God in you is so amazing. Wow.

  56. Megan @ Hold it Up to the Light says:

    Just about the most incredible story of authenticity that I have heard in a LONG time! Awesome…

  57. Debbie says:

    May God continue to bless you and your growing family! I loved reading this post recommended by the BooMama.

    Love and Blessings, Debbie in Tennessee

  58. willblogforshoes says:

    I’m new here, but I absolutely LOVED this post!

  59. jenny says:

    I have no idea why I clicked on this post on your blog….and on October 4th, 2009. Happy Anniversary!

  60. Calah says:

    I'm new to your blog and just stumbled across this post, but I was struck by how much your story reminds me of Jacques and Raissa Maritain (French philosopher and his poet/philosopher wife). They got married and swore that within a year they would discover the meaning to life or commit suicide together…a year later they had both converted to orthodox Catholicism. They ended up committing themselves to a Josephine marriage and left behind a beautiful collection of philosophy and poetry. So you're part of a grand tradition! Congratulations.

  61. Rachel says:

    This is such a beautiful post! It really brought a tear to my eye! I’m 18 and I can’t wait until the day when I can share a story like yours. :)
    Rachel recently posted..Look Into Yourself- and Think About What You Find There

  62. What a blessing! And it is so wonderful that you converted together- we did it as a family (mom, dad, 5 kids) when I was twelve- it is such a blessing when the couple does it together
    priest’s wife recently posted..Being Byzantine Catholic 7 Quick Takes

  63. Mark says:

    Such a stirring and emotional post. Bravo!
    Mark recently posted..7 Quick Takes Friday Monday

  64. Leila says:

    I’m just now reading this. Oh, I love this!
    Leila recently posted..My correspondence with a sex educator- Part III

  65. Allan says:

    I know you wrote this post years ago, but I just stumbled into it now, and I just want to say thank you.

  66. Amy says:

    Beautiful. My husband and I recently celebrated our 5th anniversary. Our wedding was secular as well. I was determined to have no prayers, no mention of God, no Bible verses, no church officiant on our wedding day. In the past few months we have begun going to our local Catholic church regularly, him again, me for the first time. It has been surprisingly wonderful. Just today I spoke to the person at the church in charge of RCIA to look into taking the classes so I can determine if I want to be baptized Catholic (I’ve never been baptized at all). It’s all so strange and yet fulfilling. I really loved reading this post. Thanks.
    Amy recently posted..Art from Nature. With Glitter.

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