Of Things Expected and Unexpected

Oh, how great the planning and how difficult the doing. In my mind I had planned to memorize and recite these words to my bride as she walked down the aisle;

“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.

Flowers appear on the earth;

the season of singing has come,

the cooing of doves is heard in our land.

The fig tree forms its early fruit;

the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.

Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me” (Song 2:10-13).

But time had been given to many other details as I printed, greeted, and prepared for the day. Then, there I was standing in the middle of a room full of people with the expectation of every heart turned towards my face waiting to see my expression. No words came from my mouth. Instead, I simply thought to myself, “Arise my darling…” and knew that I was calling my bride forth. And then, there she was.

That was the moment I had hoped and longed for all these years. It had been the subject of so much musing, so many writings, and so many conversations. The delay had been so long that I had nearly become a hopeful skeptic—sneering at the very dreams my heart nurtured. But there I was and there she was walking towards me.

I had always expected to cry, always expected to see my bride and to be so overwhelmed by the moment that the tears would flow. This had always seemed to me the greatest sign of my love and gratefulness—but I did not cry. It is not that the beauty of my bride did not impress me. I could have easily cried out…

“How beautiful you are, my darling!

Oh, how beautiful!

Your eyes behind your veil are doves” (Song 4:1).

She was very beautiful and the moment was grand, but I did not cry. I can only think it is because—quite simply—I was enjoying the moment. I was not so overwhelmed that emotion overtook me. No, I was sober and aware of both the gravity and wonder of the moment—but I did not cry. I saw her walking towards me and thought;

“How beautiful you are, my darling!

Oh, how beautiful!

Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon;

your mouth is lovely” (Song 4:1, 3).

I saw her coming and my heart melted. I felt eyes staring at me as I had always stared and wondered what the groom must be thinking being on the threshold of a dream fulfilled. Now I stood there on the threshold of a dream fulfilled thinking;

“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart” (Song 4:9).

She walked towards me in the way morning approaches a deep dark night—slowly, soothingly, but with surety and promise. Each step conjured the closing of a distance between the two of us till her last step beside me was the last we would walk alone. That was the juncture of our joining; two hearts, two souls, two lives as one.

There we were hand in hand with the grandeur of the wood rafters rising to cover our words as we shared our vows. I began, “Rachel, I believe you are a gift of grace from God to me and the wait has been well worth it.” Now I feel like crying because the waiting has been well worth it. I feel like crying because there is a sense in which, given my particular longing, I had been holding my breath and could finally breathe.

I think that up until that very moment my heart continued to harbor fears that someone might appear to tell me it was all a TV spoof and that we were all actors. We were indeed actors but the play was bigger than our small stage and the story grander than our small room, our small scene. We were involved in the fulfillment of not only our prayers but also the assembled prayers and expectations of all who loved us. This is why I continued my vow by saying to my bride,

“I praise the Lord for making you the woman you are

and promise to find my human solace in you,

all my feminine comfort in you,

and to hold you as my nearest

and most intimate friend on earth.

Before God and these witnesses,

I take you to be my wife,

and vow to cherish your uniqueness,

encourage your creativity,

support your visions,

and by Godly example,

lead you into greater Christlikeness.

I promise to respect you,

to protect you,

to listen to you,

to hold you and cry with you,

to laugh and rejoice with you.

Whether we are rich or poor,

whether we are sick or healthy,

I will love and cherish you

until we are parted by death

—so help me God.”

All I had expected along the way was that all that was to come would be unexpected. I knew that the best thing we could do was prepare ourselves to be surprised by the emotions, the events, and the future we looked to forge together. And I knew that our vows and the day was simply posturing, arrogant poetry, childish bantering if it were not rooted in the confidence that we would keep our vows as He KEPT US.

I made it through the whole ceremony and to my surprise—did not cry. I suspect it was because I had not lived my life in desperation, because the longing had not eaten away at my soul. I was still able to enjoy the moment because I had pursued this very quality in singleness—contentment—without expecting it to lead to marriage. In this case marriage did not suddenly “complete me,” did not suddenly transform me. Marriage gave me the gift I had longed for but I was the same person in all my goodness and failings. My emotion was one of satiety—satisfaction—I was at peace—content and (for the moment) satisfied.

What had been dream and mere speculation was at that point reality and joy. We held each other’s hand as though a waking thought might try to separate us, or reality intrude. But this was a new reality and we were indeed awake.

There is a danger in wanting something very badly; it can become, in our minds, more than reality could ever provide. What we want can become pure fantasy in which real people have no place. Our own fantasies and dreams can conjure for us what is impossible to hold in flesh and blood—what is impossible to find in a person. Life punishes such frivolity through disappointment.

What I expected I received—and more. But I am glad that I did not have a list of “expectations” for marriage as it has allowed me to be surprised, pleasantly surprised and excited by “discoveries.” I had not scripted for myself the details. I had not visualized how all things would be and so I was not disappointed. We had a wedding day that both met and exceeded our “expectations.”

It is not that we cannot expect certain things but that our list or “expectations” should be short indeed, lest it become a script for failure. Me, I expect that tomorrow will yet exceed my wildest expectations and look forward to it with joy.


This article first published on Crosswalk.com Thursday, December 31, 2009

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