When we found out I was pregnant a few months after we started dating, we hadn't planned to hide it. We were adults--him 23 and me 20. We still had maturity to gain, but we made adult choices in our relationship and we were ready to take ownership of the adult choices to follow. We loved each other and seriously talked marriage before--this simply meant it'd happen sooner than planned.
After a week of telling our families and a couple close friends and processing the news ourselves, we scheduled our first premarital counseling session with our Christian college's counselor. As we talked about the various intricacies of our upcoming wedding, our newly growing family, and juggling finishing college, we also mentioned wanting to be open with our college deans.
Both of our parents lived on opposite coasts and we knew we'd need some positive influence from our older, wiser "mentors" to make it through these big life changes. He agreed, but seemed hesitant as he asked us to hold off on talking to them until he could find out for us anonymously how that news might be taken.
When we met back the next week, he confirmed his suspicions. He suggested we not spread the news just yet. If they found we were expecting while still unmarried, we could likely be asked to leave the college.
I wasn't exactly planning on keeping this to ourselves and it bothered me. Shame forced it's way in and I wasn't liking how it was sitting. But graduating was important to us, so we played our part and kept quiet.
I also met shame in the face at the bridal shop. Asking for a pregnancy pillow to try on wedding dresses was a tad humiliating. It didn't help that nothing looked right over that pillow, and nothing about this experience was going how I had always imagined. I realized shame came in many forms and was likely here to stay.
A few of us RAs got engaged around the same time. The deans joked (or honestly guessed) that with all of these engagements and weddings following shortly, one of them had to be pregnancy-related. I found myself nervously laughing and wishing I could say something. By that point shame started getting comfy in me, silencing me from the truth I desperately wanted to speak.
And the truth was that little fetus that we didn't yet know was a "she" was always a miracle to celebrate, never a mistake to be ashamed of. And our relationship was always rooted in love. That shame that I started owning wasn't really mine, but was given to me from others. And that made me sad for the start of our marriage and for the beginning of our baby's life.
One evening, Daniel met me with a handful of my favorite flowers and took me to the places of some important firsts. First piggie-back-ride on front campus, first kiss under a giant full moon at Holmes Lake, becoming an official couple outside Barnes and Noble.
At the final stop, Pioneers Park where we had said would be a cool place to get married, he got on one knee and said something sweet (that I can't remember) and proposed.
Daniel is my constant. I knew he would be early in our friendship, even while we got to know each other on MSN. Even when I told him we'd never date because his sister was marrying my brother. Even when hugging him at our siblings' wedding or on campus that fall felt like a little piece of home. The cheesiest words I say about our relationship are also the truest: He's my magnet.
Sometime after spring semester and before our late July wedding, we went out to California to visit my parents. I had terrible morning sickness and it was nice to have a little refuge where we didn't have to pretend. Evenings were the worst, and one particularly hard evening, Daniel pointed me into the bathroom which he had prepared with lit candles, a perfect-temperature bath (seriously, he has a gift), a calming iTunes mix, and iced lemonade.
While I relaxed, the lyrics to Book of Love took me over: "The book of love is long and boring... but I love it when you read to me." I knew we were diving straight in to the long and boring--morning sickness and pregnancy exhaustion and depression and anything else we had already endured made sure of that. And somehow I was ready simply because we were diving together.
Over the years, I've struggled wondering at what point was our precious baby a miracle and not a mistake and at what point were our actions finally based in love and not sin?
My answer these several years has been quiet but persistent and countered the shame imposed on me. Our actions were always based on love and our baby was always a miracle. The shame others threw in said I was wrong. It said that such bold statements would only permit others to "live in sin" and excuse "mistakes."
But let me ask shame's promoters this--Was it marriage that fixed everything? Is that when our actions were finally justified and forgiven and when our baby could finally be considered a wanted blessing?
People sure acted like it did. We returned to college that fall married and my belly noticeably inhabited with a tiny being. I'm sure people talked, but overall the attitude seemed to be "well, at least they're married."
It's not our simple wedding and resulting marriage that "fixed" everything.
It was Who we turned to from the beginning. All along the way we took our love and our miracle before God. We asked forgiveness for not waiting on His ideal for us. We asked His blessing, because we knew His history of hijacking people's detours and leading His people somewhere good in spite of ourselves.
Marriage didn't do that. Our college's mandatory counseling when we returned to school didn't do that. A set amount of time or a birth after a wedding or one magical date didn't do that. It was all Jesus.
Life in Jesus has a way of bringing our choices back around to love and miracles if we'll let Him. In that truth I shed the shame so graciously given me now eight years ago. I proudly tell our whole story.
Pointing out there was a 20-week fetus kicking my insides behind that ivory bridesmaid dress as we exchanged vows--and the next week we were excited to find we were having a girl.
Noting that when our officiant (a friend who shame told us not to tell we were expecting) talked about one day sharing our cup with a little one, we smiled at each other knowingly because we were short months away from "one day."
And by being honest about those little joyous additions to our story, shame can't quiet me from also sharing that skipping the honeymoon phase of our marriage, and skipping an actual honeymoon, sucked. That trying on wedding dresses with a pillow strapped to my belly sucked. That hiding my excitement about our news sucked. That so many parts of embracing that love and that miracle, because of our choices to veer from God's plan, sucked.
Yet, our choices aren't enough to erase God's miracles or diminish His love. And by being honest about all of it, we get to celebrate one, while still being honest about the other. We get to celebrate our love for each other while telling the stress of rushing things. We get to celebrate our beautiful now-7-year-old miracle while sharing the juggling act of being college parents. Because it's all our story. And leaving out the hard or vulnerable only dilutes the good.
It took me eight years to formulate words for this stifled peace I've had since the beginning. I'll say now what I wish I was brave enough to say then: Keep your judgments and shame. We've got freedom and forgiveness and life in Jesus.
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