Our wedding on 6.12.20 has been postponed in light of COVID-19.
For the past year, Michaela has been cutting my hair and to her credit, she’s gotten better with practice. However, there was one thing that Michaela and I agreed on as soon as we got engaged; she would not cut my hair before the wedding. Well, life is funny that way. Last week, I called up the only barber I was able to find during the coronavirus quarantine and yes, it was Michaela. She did a great job.
To be transparent, postponing the wedding was one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve been apart of and I’ve experienced the full spectrum of emotions. In the past month, you name it and I’ve felt (disappointed, calm, frustrated, grateful, confused, anxious, excited, conflicted, etc.). However, on this day (5.2.20) I couldn’t be happier and I have never been so sure. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, today is the day that I married my best friend, Michaela Horst (Rinaldi?). I want to use this next few minutes to tell you the best story that I’ve ever written. It’s the story of how I got to this day. It’s filled with ups and downs, struggle and darkness, strength and faith. And well, I didn’t write it, I just lived it.
Today is the best day of my life.
To be thorough, this story starts back in the fall of 2015.
I was a senior in college and I was interviewing for graduate school. The search for a compatible program brought me to Delaware where the interview went well but something else, rather someone else, caught my eye. I first saw Michaela back in the fall of 2015 and she had no idea (she’s now told me that she doesn’t remember seeing me there, ouch). But that’s besides the point. I saw her and I remember thinking that she was the most beautiful girl that I’d ever seen (I’m not making this up). I couldn’t build up the courage to talk to her that day, and I regretted it. I left that interview and all I could think about was her. Throughout the coming months, she would pop into my stream of thought and I would wonder if I would ever see her again. Well, in spring of 2016, I decided to attend Drexel University in Philadelphia to pursue a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. When I made that decision, I thought about “that girl” from the Delaware interview and I wondered if I would ever see her again. Soon after deciding on Drexel, I joined the Facebook group for incoming students and there she was.
I saw her picture and I couldn’t believe it.
This was her.
I felt like God was giving me a second chance to get to know her and I was so excited. I felt impatient as I waited over the summer months for our program to start in September of 2016. The summer passed and it was now just a few weeks before I was set to start graduate school. I was sitting on a beach in one of the most beautiful places in the world and my heart sank deep into my chest as fought the grim realization that I was slowly losing my eyesight.
I had an active bleed behind my retina.
There was growing blackspot that began to consume my world. I was anxious, I was uncomfortable and I was scared. Throughout the following weeks, I had second thoughts about going to graduate school, however, I chose to go for it anyway. I won’t get into the details, but if you’d like, you can read all about that experience here.
In addition to the support and encouragement that I received from my parents to pursue school despite the “what ifs” that surround my sight, I felt that God guided me to Drexel.
I had grown up believing in God but I never felt like I knew who He was. The weeks before starting graduate school felt so hopeless that I was torn between doubt and dependancy. I didn’t know whether God was with me or if I needed to trust Him with everything that I was. I chose the latter and I decided that I would continue to seek out God in an effort to know Him better and grow closer to Him.
That plan fell apart fast as I got to school.
From the outside, it must have looked as if I had it all together. I graduate at the top of my class at Rutgers and was now pursuing my Doctorate in a field that I loved. I was healthy and was physically strong enough to do anything that I wished. I had a supportive and loving family who cared about me so much and who would do anything for me. I had it all going for me.
I had every reason to be the happiest and most confident person in the world. But I wasn’t.
For the first year of graduate school I walked around the streets of Philadelphia with my head hung low and my eyes on the ground. I felt empty on the inside and I didn’t understand why life seemed to be sapping me of the strength and confidence that I wanted so badly to show to the world around me. I spent an entire year of my life feeling as if I was at the mercy of the world around me; being thrown around in the waves of life, doing my best to keep my head above water. I wished that time would pass faster so that I didn’t have to feel sad for as long as I did. I hoped that something would change for me; that something would just click inside of me and make me feel better. There were times where I thought that nothing would ever brighten the world around me that felt so dark.
I felt alone.
That first year of graduate school was the hardest year of my life. Despite what felt like my best efforts, I couldn’t escape the darkness that seemed to surround me. I felt alone and each day seemed harder than the last. It felt like there was no use in searching for something that clearly didn’t make an effort to be with me. One day at a time, I forgot about the prospect of God and I focused more and more on the tangible world around me. When the circumstances were right, I decided to start chasing that girl that I had first seen back in the fall of 2015. I asked Michaela to spend time with me and she did.
In that first year of school, I stopped chasing God.
I still remember texting her (8.10.17).
I can still feel my hands sweat and my fingers tremble as I hit “send.” I can still remember the my stomach turn when I felt my phone vibrate minutes later. I still smile when I think about opening her message and setting up plans to go mini-golfing with her the next night on what we both now acknowledge to be our “first date” (8.11.17). I still remember how much fun I had with her and how I didn’t want that night to end. For the record, she beat me in min-golf and no, I didn’t let her win.
This is the best part of the story.
I spent the next few weeks thinking about Michaela every waking minute. We spent more and more time together and the more that I got to know her, the more I fell for her. She made me smile more than anything else and she soon became the most important thing to me. I even built up the courage to state the obvious. We went on a hike (9.18.17) and I told her that I liked her (something that she had known for a while). It was a few days after that when she invited me to church. Up until that point, for the past year, I had forgotten about God. I stopped thinking about Him because I felt like He stopped thinking about me. Instead of chasing Him, I chased Michaela and it was in the moment that I’ll describe next that I realized what had happened.
I stopped looking for God, but He never stopped looking for me.
It was 9.24.17 and I stood in an unfamiliar church, next to Michaela, as everyone sang, and I felt God’s presence. There aren’t words that I can use to describe what I felt, but I’ll do the best that I can. The song was “Good Good Father” by Chris Tomlin and I remember listening to the words and being unable to hold back tears. Each note and every word resonated with me on a level deeper than comprehension. I felt as if the band was singing to me and as if God had His hand on my shoulder. He was telling me that I was never alone and that He was there with me the whole time. I had stopped looking for God, but He never stopped looking for me. It couldn’t be more clear to me that God brought me to Michaela, in part, to bring me closer to Him, in part, so that I could love her like He loves us.
God brought me to Michaela, in part, to bring me closer to Him.
That was the day that I knew God was with me with all doubt removed. Since then, I have grown closer to Him and more in love with Michaela with each passing day. Looking back, I see with clear eyes how God redeemed me. He brought me through darkness to get to the light and He was with me the entire time even when I didn’t want Him to be. He has walked me through seasons of struggle to help me find strength in Him.
He has blessed me with the most beautiful woman, inside and out, in part, so that we can use our relationship to show the world who He is and how much He loves us. He has instilled a faith in me that cannot and will not be shaken in the face of difficulties. It is a faith that now defines me. His love is so strong in me that I have no choice but to give that same love to those around me. I have found strength in weakness that has transformed who I am and for that, I am forever grateful.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10.
In the week following that church experience, we shared our first kiss (9.29.17) and it was one that I’ll never forget. We continued to grow closer to each other and before I knew it, it was time for our first clinical rotations. I would be on the east coast, while Michaela was preparing to spend six weeks on the west coast. I still remember, and will never forget, the day that we parted ways (11.3.17) because it was the day that I knew without a doubt that Michaela was the person that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
It was a crisp fall day and we went for a hike where we always do and I remember walking as slow as I could because with each step, I was one step closer to being apart from her. When our hike ended, she dropped me off at a bus that would take me back to the city, where I lived. I remember hugging her, kissing her and watching her drive out of sight. I remember feeling my heart sink down into my stomach and tears rolling down my face. I felt nauseous. It was the same feeling that I got when my parents dropped me off at college for the first time. I felt homesick and I knew that she was the person who I needed and who I wanted to never leave again.
I never wanted her to leave again.
Those six weeks apart were some of the hardest that I’ve experienced. I woke up each morning with an ache in my chest. I missed her so much that my heart hurt and I wanted nothing more than for her to come back and for that pain to stop. However, it was also in those six weeks that I leaned into God more than I ever had before. I had no other choice. Without Michaela I felt alone, but with God, it was bearable. I made an effort to grow closer to Him as I eagerly waited for Michaela to come back.
The waiting felt like months, not weeks, but eventually it was over. Michaela came back to Philadelphia and we spent a beautiful day together (12.21.17) at the end of which, we made our relationship official. To date, that was one of the best days of my life. Getting to spend time with Michaela after six weeks apart was better than any gift that I could have ever asked for.
From there, the rest feels like a blur.
We met each other’s families. We navigated through the initial social awkwardness of being in a relationship around our classmates. We studied together in the library (she distracted me while I studied). We took a road trip down to Nashville and made a video about it. We expressed our feelings of love for the first time (Michaela said it first because I’m a wimp). We went on a service trip together to Guatemala. We encouraged each other through our clinical rotations and Michaela listened me practice my graduation speech about half a thousand times. Following graduation, I proposed to Michaela (4.18.19) at the same place where I first told her that I liked her. We spent the summer working and studying for our board exams (we passed). I moved to Philadelphia and we spent the fall and winter months planning our wedding just how we wanted. The fourteen month wait between proposal and wedding was coming to a close and…
Then COVID-19 happened.
In the beginning, I thought that it was something that I would hear about for a few weeks and then never again. However, as the weeks went on, it began to consume the world and it got to the point where we couldn’t ignore it anymore. Businesses were forced to close, people were asked to avoid other people and life changed in a big way. There was a “new normal” being established and that normal didn’t include mass gatherings, even for the happiest and most important events, like weddings.
I made an effort to ignore the implications that the circumstances had on our wedding. Countless hours had gone into planning, substantial funds had been invested and expectations were high. The decision to postpone the wedding hurt my heart because it had been our plan. However, in this season of life, like all the others, God’s plan is perfect and it’s bigger than us. Through tears, frustration and submission, I realized that this was an incredible opportunity to surrender control and trust Him with all that I am.
I can’t tell you what purpose these circumstances serve, but I do know that there is good that will come of this. If nothing else, it’s a chance to lean into God and learn to praise Him in the midst of struggle.
I married Michaela today.
Over one whole month before our original wedding date, I married the love of my life and there is nothing better than that. In the presence of our immediate families, in the church that fostered my faith, I made the biggest commitment to another person that I can ever and will ever make.
I have never been so sure.
Michaela and I will have our wedding reception at some point in the future (5.2.21), but for now, I’m floating. In the midst of darkness I feel like light. In the middle of a time where the world needs hope, I feel full of it. In a season marked by struggle, I have the ultimate strength. It’s all thanks to the God who sent His only son, Jesus, to die for the sins of this world.
This story is written by Him and it’s perfect.
Michaela, I’m talking to you now and anyone else who might read these words can listen in. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that God brought me to you and you to me. I believe with all of my heart that this is part of His perfect plan. You have changed my life for the better more than you will ever know. Whenever I feel like God is far away, I think about you and I feel close to Him. That’s because there is no way that I could feel a love for you that is so real and so deep without His love pouring into me. I think about how God brought you into my life and how you have brightened my life more than I ever thought possible. You are all the proof that I need to know that God is real, that God is with me and that God loves me and wants me to love you.
I have never been so sure.
I love you more than words could ever express Michaela Jo Horst and I am beyond excited to be your husband. You mean more to me than you will ever know and I commit to living out that love every single day that I have on this earth and then some. This is the beginning of the rest of our life together and I can’t wait to live out the rest of God’s plan with you.
It might not have been the way that we planned it, but then again, my life has not been the way that I planned it. I am learning more and more to trust God’s plans because He is good. Even though it doesn’t always make sense, His plans are always on purpose for a purpose.
It’s not how I pictured it, but this is the best day of my life.
I love you and God loves you.
If there is anything that I can do for you, please reach out. I would be so happy to hear from you and I am always here for you.
Joe Rinaldi, PT, DPT
All pictures are by Joanne Brynnae (@j.brynnae.photography)