I Do.

There’s something about a wedding—something so hopeful as the wide-eyed bride and groom stand face to face, hand in hand, and declare, “Until death do us part.”

Recently my family attended just such a wedding, as one of my dearest friends watched the first of four children get married. The bride and groom were fresh with youth, beaming with love, and eager to take their vows.

The groom’s father, one of the ministers, explained how marriage is the genesis of a new family. Something that has never existed comes to exist in that sacred moment. Two individuals enter the candlelit sanctuary; yet, one couple, now united in a covenant, leaves. It is a stunning thought: with the pledge of love and fidelity, a family is born. Those of us honored to witness it are seeing divine magic knit two souls together before our very eyes.

As I listened I was transported back in time to my own nuptials. Two decades ago my husband and I stood before his grandfather to say our wedding vows. We, too, were wide-eyed, expectant, and eager to begin our life together. At the time we did not grasp that these were no mere words, but they had the power to weave us into one. In them, we entered more than a marriage; we became a family.

A precious part of this recent wedding was watching three generations of the family celebrate: the bride and groom, the groom’s parents, and his maternal grandparents. These three couples captured my gaze and my heart throughout the weekend. Watching them was like witnessing three sets of travelers at different points of the same journey.

On the night before the wedding I had the great honor of chatting with the grandparents. The grandfather is a retired Captain in the United States Navy, and during the Vietnam War he spent more than six years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. During those horrific years, his wife was at home in Virginia raising their three young children and keeping hope alive. She embodied 1 Corinthians 13:7: “[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Now 43 years since his return, they sat side-by-side recalling the experience. During the conversation, she turned to him to have her memory kindled, and he patiently prompted her storytelling. He continually praised her as the hero of those six years. After his release, he came home to a family that kept the faith, thanks to his wife. Their tenderness with one another captivated me just as much as the story itself: the passing back and forth of a glass of wine, a pat on the knee, attentive listening, the tilt of the head and a grin.

During the wedding reception, as my husband and I danced to Etta James’ “At Last,” we looked up to see this tested-and-true couple dancing nearby. We paused to watch this holy moment. Their weathered hands held fast as their bodies moved with the harmony of sixty years’ love. Across the dance floor their grandson embraced his new bride, and they danced to the same lyrics: “You smiled, and then the spell was cast, and here we are in heaven for you are mine…at last.” A story well told, and a story just beginning.

Close by, the parents of the groom stood welcoming friends and family. Earlier I had watched my friend’s radiant face as she sat on the front row during the ceremony. More than 26 years ago her husband and she declared, “I do,” and now the legacy of their pledge stood flanking the bride and groom on the right and the left—two other sons and one daughter. When her husband finished leading his part of the wedding ceremony, he took the seat to her right. Her hand automatically lifted to his shoulder, where it tenderly and familiarly rested.

My friend is a gypsy soul who loves adventure, spontaneity, and solitude. She is a free spirit who invites others into spiritual freedom and life. Her husband is the ultimate people person—generous, enthusiastic, and engaging. They hold deep mutual respect for one another, and through the years, they have blessed each other’s individuality. As a result, they have become true, transparent, warm, and wise, and they have created a family that reflects the same qualities. The most beautiful thing about them: to be in their presence is to be a part of their family.

This stunning spirit of hospitality, mutuality, perseverance, and faithfulness is the legacy passed on to the bride and groom. Yet, it also inspires my husband and me as we walk the well-worn path of our own 22-year marriage. Perhaps unlike the fresh-faced bride and groom, we understand only too well the battles that all marriages face. Staying on course can be difficult, so the examples provided by these couples illuminate the way.

In a beautifully honest song, singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson accurately observes, “We went dancing in the minefields; we went sailing in the storm. It was harder than we dreamed, but I believe that’s what the promise is for.” The promise unites us in a covenant. It forms us into a family. It binds us into a force that can withstand the battle. And, in the end, it shapes our story, which lights the way for others.

Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.