07/18/2014 05:08 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2014

The Wedding That Broke My Heart

While my childhood friends thumbed through comic books and bartered for trading cards, I poured over photo albums. The magic of my father and stepmother's wedding pictures captivated me. Each page told the fairytale story of a statuesque woman with crimson lips on the arm of a dignified man dapperly attired in a suit and tie. As I turned the pages I witnessed them profess their love, walk down the aisle as man and wife and celebrate with a champagne toast. I could almost taste their wedding cake and hear the mellow notes of "Unchained Melody" playing under hushed voices as they rose for their first dance.

I perused their wedding album countless times, but on one occasion I paused and flipped back through the pages, eagerly looking for my myself in their pictures, any picture. Why can't I remember what I wore that day? Was I a flower girl? As I reached the first page of the album, I realized I had not been at their wedding. It was all in my imagination.

The sting of rejection drove deep. I knew what a wedding was -- an unmissable milestone in a person's life. I spent hours studying my stepmom's copy of Weddings by Martha Stewart. At six years old I had carefully selected the Martha-approved bouquet and cake I wanted for my own wedding. I bottled up the pain of being left out and tucked it away. Still a question beat into the back of my mind: If marriage is the joining of two families, why wasn't I there?

2014-07-18-img.pngTo their credit, not long after the wedding my stepmom and dad presented me with a pendant, three linked circles in silver joined by a small golden orb at the middle. They held what they called a family medallion ceremony to symbolize our joining as a family. My stepmom bought a flowery dress for me and together with some friends and family we stood with a pastor at the front of our church while I accepted the necklace. I knew the event was special, but did not grasp what it represented.

Years later I pulled my dad aside to ask why I had not been invited to their wedding. He heaved a heavy sigh as if he knew I might pose this question one day. "You were young and prone to outbursts and tantrums. We thought it would be easier to have a separate celebration as a family. If I could do it over, I would have you at our wedding."

I felt my resentment and heartache melt away. Forgiveness and love go hand-in-hand, and at that moment I forgave them both and let go of my hurt feelings. I cannot imagine the difficulty they faced in negotiating a new life together with a child from a previous marriage. I have compassion for the difficulty they faced in negotiating stepfamily life from the very beginning, all on their own. I know they made the decision with the best of intentions, and I cannot fault them for that.

Now I understand the meaning behind the pendant, and I wear it to remember that we are all linked as a family. I appreciate how they included me in their union with the medallion ceremony. I do not feel forgotten anymore. While I may not be in their wedding photos, I feel incredibly blessed to have them in mine.

Chara Michele Photography

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