"You need to write this down. Use your gift."
I've been hearing those words for weeks, from both friends and from the noise inside my head.
But I hadn't. Couldn't. Didn't want to.
Let me backtrack: the bullet that shot my life into a new country was fired by a marriage breakdown. I'm still navigating the murky waters of how to really share that story, but we'll summarize it by saying that I went from a comfortable world to a totally broken one. A world of ambition to a world of sleeping on air mattresses and moving from place to place. A world where trust was a foreign word. My heart began to show cracks.
Homelessness describes it best: not just because I lost my house but because my soul itself was footloose. I didn't belong to myself. Didn't know my own mind. But somehow, it was easy to allow God into my grief. And in doing that, a part of me stayed whole: the part that still believed in love– in marriage– despite it all.
Fast forward: I move to England. Fall in love with a boy. Feel compelled beyond reason to make that relationship work despite long-distance and four visa applications (and thousands of pounds) to date. And the cracks in my heart remained, but marriage was still the beauty to fight for.
Some deep part of my soul has always believed that a wedding is a glimpse of the Divine: a moment where God shows us the beauty of how deeply He loves His bride. It's why I'm a wedding photographer. I adore shedding light on a moment of togetherness, where love is the order of the day. A spacious place where worship looks like song and dance and praising God for the deep, deep good that He lavishes on us. A day to celebrate the Covenant here on earth.
I held onto that. Dreamed of it. Lifted my hands to worship in church and saw myself, every time, dressed in ivory. An eternal bride. Pure and called by name and deeply loved. Call me a romantic. To my very core, you'd be right.
We waited patiently for God to say "It's time." For our moment to claim that kind of joy. And when it came and we ventured into planning a wedding, all I could do was close my eyes and feel my body dancing, hear the sound of worship, taste the words in my mouth of covenant vows. And though I've always known that God is not a vending machine for blessings, I truly believed that our faithfulness would be blessed in this– this one moment of erupting in His goodness.
At first, everything lined up to prove me right– my dress, the venue, my wedding ring, the food were all found within weeks with total ease. I remember walking through the sunny streets of York, feeling so utterly blessed and protected and cherished. It felt like doors were opening. Like every moment was affirming a protection over this sweet, sweet time.
After so much waiting, I let myself indulge in those deep desires of my heart. In spite of losing everything in the breakdown of one marriage, I saw in this season a full circle of restoration. The reshaping of my heart. The cracks being mended...
Like many, I thought nothing of the Coronavirus outbreak when it first hit the news in winter. In my arrogance, I assumed that no such horror could touch me. But I've seen enough horrors in my life, and I should have known better.
I see the countdown number on our wedding planner: "133 days to go."
I see the infection rate in the headlines – the number is much, much higher.
I've both cried and laughed in the hysteria of it.
We have just finished delivering invitations, knowing that the date within them might be wrong. We've halted all planning, knowing that to plan further is foolish, yet also knowing that if, by some miracle, our wedding can still happen in four months, we will be rushed to finish and find supplies. The uncertainty is painful and the waiting is worse.
This season, whatever it turns out to be, has been stripped of its sweetness. Dress fittings have been cancelled. The registry office won't take our final payment. We can't look at suits or visit our venue or even grieve in the presence of friends.
And I've cried out to God. I've screamed at Him. I've ignored Him. I've wept and refused to let Him comfort me.
Even knowing that He never promised an easy life, I let myself hope for it.
Even knowing that He is not a vending machine for blessings, I let myself believe that our wedding season would be protected.
Even knowing that a life with God is not a life of comfort, I let myself long for comfort above all else.
Unabashedly, I asked for a moment of sweetness. But instead, during a season that I've thought about for ten years, I find myself in the most unprecedented time of pain, not just for me but for the world.
And I've been angry. Angry with God for failing to deliver on something that He never promised. But dammit, I still wanted Him to. Through so much loss and pain and uncertainty, I wanted one sweet season. A simple time of joy to celebrate victory.
I have felt much less like a cherished daughter and more like a cog in the wheel of the Kingdom: asked only to serve and submit and trust that He is still good.
That is suffering, friends. When you feel that God does not see you. When your head knows what the Scriptures say but your heart says "screw it all." When your whole body screams out to God and all you hear Him say back is "Wait." When you don't even know how to be still, and your wrists feel bound in chains. When your soul recalls every broken promise, every man who has turned their back on you, every day of offering it all to God only to feel as though your peace has still been robbed in the end.
Friends say that no matter what happens, our wedding will still be beautiful; I don't care.
They say that God's plans are promised to be greater than mine; I feel betrayed.
They say that there is worse happening in the world right now than cancelled weddings; I feel guilt and self-loathing.
That is suffering. When you can't find a safe space to lie down and rest. When there is no "off switch" to the noise inside your mind.
I say this all, even now, feeling guilt in the transparency. Shame in the anger. Because God never promised an easy life.
But we're kidding ourselves if we pretend that an easy life isn't still what we want. We all have expectations, and when every ounce of your body feels like God has failed you, where does faith fit in?
I'll acknowledge full well that my losses could be worse. I thank God more than I ever have before that my family is alive and healthy– losing any of them would truly see both my legs knocked out from under me. But the loss of this sweet season is still something I grieve because for me, a wedding was never a party. A wedding was a moment of triumph. A day to shout for joy with every cell in my body. A day to sing a victory song in front of every person I love. A celebration after a decade of struggles. One that says: "This is the gift of Jesus, and it is so, so good."
And with the happiness of this time taken away, I truly have to ask myself whether that part of me that longs to sing can STILL sing inside my walls of suffering. Can I STILL say "This is the gift of Jesus, and it is so, so good"?
Never have I felt more angry with God. In all other chapters of grief, I came to Him for comfort. I laid my pain at His feet. But in this chapter, I've done the opposite: I've huddled over my suffering and protected it like something precious. Something that only belongs to me. Something that can keep me distinct and separate from God so that I'm not just a cog in His wheel. If I couldn't feel cherished by Him, I could at least feel autonomy.
I did this knowing full well that I was operating on falsehoods. But I didn't care. Can I just stress this? I have been a woman of deep faith since the age of five, but I still made choices based on indulging selfish lies and I did. not. care.
So why am I sharing this? Because this is what faith looks like. I may shout of God's goodness and blessing, but if you ever hear praise come from my lips, know that I do it from a place of sobriety. I know full well the deep desire to shun God. To call His bluff. To turn my back. To claim my own grief as a medal for my sufferings.
But even so, I still ask the question: can I STILL sing in victory? If faith is messy, what fruit can it produce in suffering? What does it mean to have joy in spite of grief?
I write this at 12 o'clock in the afternoon after crying myself to sleep last night. I don't have a lot of answers. But I do know this:
"I want to know Christ– yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me."
- Philippians 3:10-12
If I want to sing the same victory of which Christ sings, I cannot act as though my suffering is my own. Suffering was literally the one thing that humanity created without God's help: He made all things good, but sin tainted it. We could rightly claim suffering as our own because God wanted no part in it.
But even so, Jesus.
To believe truly– as I do– that the God of the heavens chose to come down and experience the only fruits of the evil that He did not create JUST so He could still sit in intimacy with His creation? Well, that's to believe something which may, in fact, be where faith prevails and joy sits in suffering.
Because to believe that is to believe this: no matter how much I wrap myself in isolation and claim that no one understands my pain, the cross says otherwise. To suffer is not to ask God to understand you; to suffer is to accept the invitation to understand Him.
He did it ten fold– the only man on earth who was blameless of the penalty– and He did it so that in all things, we could relate to the Maker of the universe.
Let that sink in, if you can. Truly. To suffer is to understand God better. For He suffered the deepest torture. And He did it for a reason.
The deepest, purest, most selfless love. The kind of love that erupts in dance and celebration in God's marriage to His bride.
So if, like Paul, we want to sing a victory song, then we suffer "to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of us."
If my romantic heart longs to celebrate the triumph of love's victory, then this current suffering can only bring me closer. For if Christ is the goal, and He suffered to take hold of us, then I can only take hold of Him in deeper intimacy as I endure the same.
Is it a comfort? Yes. Would I prefer it otherwise? One thousand times yes.
Every wedding post that pops up in my feed stings something fierce. Every time I remember that we should have been planning our wedding with happiness makes me feel suffocated in my surroundings.
But perhaps that's what joy in suffering is. Perhaps that's what faith looks like. A choice to believe that eternity presents a more beautiful celebration that no pandemic can take away. A choice to believe that no glimpse of the Divine on earth will ever match what God has planned. A choice to believe that in spite of it all, He does know us in our suffering, and it is, somehow, still good.
To all of you 2020 brides, my deepest, truest love goes out to you. I pray that this time will see the bearing of good fruit and that you can, as Christ did, believe for the joy that is yet to come.
"I consider that these present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us."
- Romans 8:18