T hree years ago, I said the best “yes” of my entire life. Tomorrow marks Bobby’s and my anniversary and my thankfulness for the gift of marriage – the way it refines you and strengthens you and gives courage – grows each year.

Tonight, we’ll go spend our anniversary-eve at our favorite bed and breakfast in all of Vermont (The Grist Mill House, run by the most wonderful couple. Peter and Carole, we’re your biggest fans!). Tomorrow, we’ll soak in the day with each other and turn the pages of our wedding album – remembering all the beautiful moments of that South Dakota day, all the things that went so very right as well as the things that went hilariously wrong.

Just for a second, let’s pretend that you’re sitting on the couch with us, looking through the album. The more the merrier! (Shout out to our talented photographers, whom also happened to be my youth group leaders during high school – Annie and Jacques, thank you for taking so many precious shots.)

Here’s something that went right! My “something blue.”

When I met Bobby, I was on this big kick of wearing feathers in my hair. I’ll probably go back to that at some point, actually…At any rate, the very first time we met, I was wearing these exact blue feathers in my hair. He asked about them, I told him they were basically magical feathers, and everything went on from there. Guess what? They WERE magical feathers because they sparked the interest of my future husband. They obviously had to be incorporated into my wedding hair.

Here’s a picture of Bobby getting ready that morning, with a knit tie we bought on Etsy. I loved being able to see these morning photos after the fact.

Here’s a photo of my little brother, William, who was even littler at the time of our wedding. Naturally, he was our ring bearer. And naturally, this was his attempt at getting ready that morning:

William wrestled with the groomsmen and generally acted just how a 7 year-old should act.

That same morning, my dad and bridesmaids were saving the day in the floral department.

(This is one of my favorite pictures of Dad. Calm and in his element, doing one of the many things he does so well – arranging flowers.)

Here’s the scoop on our flower drama: I love peonies. They are my absolute favorite. When Bobby and I got engaged and were tossing around wedding dates, peony season was the primary thing we planned around. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d had these visions of having a reception in my parent’s amazing garden. I thought that it would be beyond perfect if the flowers in our bouquets and boutonnieres could be grown by my dad – and he was excited to accommodate that idea. He said that we should be safe going with June 23rd. He planted 50 extra peony bushes in order to get ready for our big day the following summer. I had visions of overflowing bouquets of nothing but peonies. I pictured the yard having flowering peonies everywhere you turned. It was going to be AMAZING.

And the peonies were amazing, they just happened to be amazing 3 weeks too late that summer. So we were scrambling at the end. Without any home-grown flowers to work with, my dad was able to order in a number of various flowers from Safeway (yes, the grocery store). I had given up the vision of peonies (we could have ordered them in but the cost would have been astronomical – and honestly, aren’t fresh flowers gorgeous regardless of what specific kind they are?) and gave dad free reign to just buy a smattering of beautiful flowers, whatever he thought would be best.

They were beautiful, but here’s the thing: those flowers were sitting in big black buckets in our living room with crinkly plastic still wrapped around them the NIGHT BEFORE OUR WEDDING. All of us had been scrambling around all week, attending to a million last-minute, crafty details. The goal was to have the flowers arranged and fastened in bouquets and boutonnieres a couple days in advance and resting in the fridge. That had been squeezed out by lots of other tasks, though, and, around 10 pm, I found myself starting to freak out just a little bit.

I stood there with a few of my bridesmaids and my Auntie Kathleen (who graciously acted as our wedding coordinator – all the way from Canada!), staring at the flowers. I tried to stay calm and avoid any Bridezilla moments. “So, what’s the plan with the flowers?” I asked. Auntie Kathleen started to explain that everyone was doing their best but there were just so many details to attend to…my dad (who’s an early-to bed, early-to-rise type guy) was already in bed but Auntie said she was sure he would try to get up early and start on the bouquets. In her chipper, Canadian voice she said, “Grace, if worse comes to worse, everyone can just walk down the aisle holding the flowers like they are!”

I was WORRIED. That did not sound like a good plan to me. Naturally, I was a little exhausted and overwhelmed from the stress of the week (weddings are AWESOME but can be taxing when you’re trying to do so much of them in-house)…so I started to tear up.

I gave myself an internal pep talk about how the flowers ultimately didn’t matter and I still had this awesome dad who loved me and tried to plant 50 peonies for me. The important pieces of the day would still happen, even if the bouquets had been ripped out of their plastic an hour before the ceremony. I tried to stop thinking about it.

Then, the following morning, this is what I came home to after getting my hair and makeup done:

Dad even snuck in a few peony buds that had made an appearance JUST in time.

All my lovely bridesmaids pitched in to help my dad, and the bouquets and boutonnieres were ultimately all made in the knick of time – all except for our flower girl’s bouquet, which hadn’t been accounted for in the last minute scrambling. That’s right. THE FLOWER GIRL DIDN’T HAVE ANY FLOWERS. We only realized this at the church, about 30 minutes before the ceremony. Ha! So my bridesmaids each made a donation from their bouquets and we pulled together some blooms for Charlotte to hold – tied not with a ribbon and some classy pins but with a leaf. My friends are scrappy and ingenious in all the right ways. You can see that Charlotte probably had a different vision of what her bouquet would look like and is likely thinking “What kind of rinky-dink affair did I get myself into?!?”…

Other close friends were also enlisted to help with last-minute details that morning and we will be forever grateful for their cheerful willingness to pitch in. I’m telling you, it takes a village to put on a DIY wedding.

(Amazing chalk signs by Leah.)

While our friends and family were hustling around, making things happen, I put on my gown in my parent’s bedroom. On their wall, they have this amazing portrait from when I was four years old and my mom was pregnant with my brother Stephen. William was still a far away twinkle in their eyes at this point…

Bobby and I had written each other letters the night before and wanted to exchange them before the wedding. We wanted to do a “first look without looking” where we could exchange the letters and take some photos – but we wanted Bobby’s first sight of me to happen when I came down the aisle. We found the perfect tree in front of our house to act as a barrier between us. Bobby put on a blindfold and his groomsman, Dana, took extra good care of him as he made his way to the tree (I’ve heard it’s a major bummer to suffer a broken leg on your wedding day).

Once Bobby and I were properly positioned, the blindfold was able to come off. He passed the first trust test and didn’t peek once or change positions. (I was able to see him – I know, I know double standard.)

We exchanged our letters and both teared up. I tried to freeze that moment in my mind as well as I could.

Next, we made our way down to the church where I grew up. The handmade pew decorations were up (team effort between my mom who cut out the hearts and my sister Leah who did the lettering). The incredible programs were also laid out, ready to go (designed completely in-house by my brother, Stephen and cover illustrated by Leah – with a folk-art cartoon in the middle drawn by yours truly).

I waited with my bridesmaids in a hidden hallway by the stained glass windows, breathing deeply and praying about this momentous event that was about to happen.

The church was starting to fill up with guests when our vocalist came back through the doors and calmly said, “Grace, do you have any idea where the string quartet might be?” UHHHHH, WHAT?!? I had just assumed that they were out there already, working their magic in the half hour preceding the ceremony. We had a vocalist and pianist for the various parts of the ceremony that were singing- oriented, but the string quartet was supposed to play in the moments leading up to the ceremony as well as when the bridal party walked in. I had also begged and pleaded months before as to whether they could find an arrangement of the song I wanted to walk down the aisle to: Gabriel’s Oboe. It was the luckiest day when the quartet leader DID find an arrangement and I couldn’t wait to walk towards Bobby with that gorgeous song playing. It was unique and so very moving.

Here is what happened instead: the quartet was unreachable. I had been emailing with them just two nights before but now, 20 minutes before the ceremony, they were nowhere to be found. Mike, our wonderful vocalist, was like, “I’ll talk to your Mom and see if she can call their cell phones. I don’t want you to worry about this at all. I’ll have the pianist start to play some songs as the guests keep coming in and we’ll figure this out.”

Fifteen minutes, then ten minutes to the ceremony and the quartet STILL hadn’t shown up. Phone calls went unanswered. It was kind of nuts. I started to worry that they had been in an awful car accident.

FIVE MINUTES before I was supposed to walk down the aisle, the pianist came back to see me. She was this sweet older woman who has played a million weddings. She knows her stuff, which was lucky for us since she was able to improvise and play while the guests had arrived. “Grace, I don’t think we can count on the quartet. I can play a classical piece as the bridal party comes in – but do you know what song they were going to play when you walked in?” “ONLY THE BEST SONG ON EARTH AND THE ONE I’VE BEEN DREAMING ABOUT FOR MONTHS!” I thought. I told her that, sadly, I doubted she had the music for Gabriel’s Oboe. She didn’t. She asked me what I would like her to play for me and I said brightly, “Surprise me!”

Since this woman had played so many weddings, I just assumed that this would be freeing to her. I imagined her thinking, “Finally, a bride who is giving me the freedom to play this wonderful, beautiful, obscure piece! I’ve been WANTING to play this at a wedding for ages!” I felt strangely calm about the musical side of things not going remotely as planned. Again, so long as Bobby was standing up at that altar with me, it really didn’t matter what melody accompanied my parents and me down the aisle.

Well. I should have been just a little less free-spirited when I gave our pianist the go-ahead to play whatever came to her mind. Our entire wedding party walked in to some nice piece that I can’t remember. Then, as the big doors opened to the chapel, the guests all stand up, and the song “Here Comes the Bride” is plunked out on the piano. I glanced at my parents and bust out laughing.

That is the ONLY SONG IN THE UNIVERSE that I have ever put on my list of “Songs I Will Never, Ever, Ever Have Played At My Wedding.” It was pretty much the polar opposite of having Gabriel’s Oboe played in this hauntingly beautiful manner by strings. It was cliche, and a melody I loathed, and has lyrics that you know are running through everyone’s head: “Here comes the bride, all fat and wide!” I was certainly surprised, so I guess the pianist really was following my directions. Lesson learned: it pays to be maybe just a little specific sometimes, especially when talking to your wedding pianist if you have black-listed songs.

In short, it was hilarious.

(Ultimately, we were able to reach the quartet after the wedding had ended. They had mistakenly put the wrong date in their calendar. They were ready to show up to the church the following Saturday, which wasn’t very helpful. They were mortified and I got a chance to be a gracious and forgiving bride.)

Thankfully, the truly important parts of the wedding all went without a hitch – which, in turn, meant that we got hitched!

It was prayerful and meaningful and had moments that still have me tearing up three years later.

I also learned that vintage red lipstick looks great in photos and is the perfect tool for marking your man.

I’m forever grateful for the chance to say “yes” that day and for the gift of friends and family who helped save the day.

Most of all, I’m thankful for this husband of mine who shows me what it looks like to be astoundingly generous, relentlessly positive, and continues to help me grow more and more into the person I was meant to be. It’s an absolute treasure to do life with you, Bobby.

And now, friends, I’m off to pack for our little bed and breakfast excursion! I’ll be back on Wednesday, though, to share some pictures of our wedding reception that was everything I had envisioned and more (along with one more moment of “wow, that was SO not what I’d planned…”). Love to you!