The Beautiful Truth that Picture Perfect Hides

The following short story was recently selected as ”Story of the Week” in an online writing community I am part of.  I thought it would be a good one to share here on the blog as we celebrate 23 years of marriage today! 

June 12, 1999 was an unusually hot day on our island.  Sweat tickled my back under layers of long-sleeved ivory satin and thick lace.  I stood barefoot in the sand as we tried to decide which would be the better backdrop — waves or lighthouse.  A warm wind, the kind that blows ceaselessly near the shore, rustled my curls, and I feared for the integrity of my up-do.  We may have been taking wedding photos, but the wedding was yet to take place.  This wasn’t the traditional unfolding of matrimonial events, but we had always disliked attending weddings with a long wait between the ceremony and the reception.  Our guests would be spared the inconvenience.  Later that afternoon, the seaweed picked carefully out of the hem of my gown and my curls pinned back in place, no one would have known as I came through the back doors of the church, that John had already seen me in my bridal glory.  Apparently, before the dawn of social media, even before Y2K, we were concerned with something called image.  

Keeping up appearances, fitting an assumed mould, and upholding the expected norm was normal for us from the very beginning.  We had an audience even before our life together officially began.  Serving as student missionaries on a creative arts team the summer we met, John and I spent all day, every day performing in parks for crowds of complete strangers.  Our literal song and dance started early.  Our romance blossomed under the watchful eye of the congregation we served, and that proverbial glass house became the only home we would ever know. 

We had our wedding reception at a new resort high on a hill overlooking a beautiful bay.  The dining room, with its wall of windows, afforded our guests an idyllic Island view.  To the right of the head table was the cake table.  And the cake?  It was an elaborate fraud, icing-slathered styrofoam tiers gorgeously decorated with grapes and trailing vines.  We had chosen cheesecake for our wedding dessert, and cheesecakes are much too heavy to arrange like that.  But something traditional was needed for the iconic “cutting of the cake” photo.

After the reception, we drove off in a borrowed navy blue Saturn sedan, a much better, more stylish and compact choice for two young newlyweds than our own faded 1980 Chev Bel Air would have been.  Our decades old huge jalopy was missing the vinyl covering on half its roof, leaving nothing but red rust exposed on that side.  It would not have fit the occasion at all, although it probably would have fit our entire wedding party, along with a few guests to boot.  John’s jokester uncle had attached streamers and baby booties to the back of our getaway car, and we drove off, our humorous adornments flapping to a sea of waving guests.  Then came the awkward moment when we had to decide which way to turn out of the parking lot.  We had nowhere to actually go.  This was all a stunt.  Somehow it hadn’t seemed appropriate to just disappear upstairs after the reception.  We needed a send off of some sort, even if it was staged.  We drove aimlessly for an hour before making our way back to the resort where we would spend our wedding night. 

Is it telling that we started our marriage under so many illusions?  Would it not have been acceptable to wander the beach with my betrothed the morning of our wedding day?  Why did I want to memorialize a fake cake?  We could have put the decorated cheesecakes on pretty platters of different heights.  We could have put some effort into making what was real, beautiful . . . even if it were different.  Why drive away to fool our guests into thinking we had reservations somewhere else?  What would have been wrong with giving hugs all around and then slipping upstairs to leave our guests to disperse at their leisure?  Why did we feel the need to manufacture something more than what was true?  Because we hadn’t yet learned that what is true is much more beautiful than what pretends to be perfect.  In those days, perfect was still my aim, and there were so many miles yet to go before I would understand the dangers of such a deceptive and destructive target.

It’s our 23rd wedding anniversary today, and I am sitting here overcome with gratitude.  Jesus has done more to grow our love in the last few years than we ever could have in a lifetime of struggle and striving.  The marriage we have today is nothing like the one we shared for the first two decades.  In some ways, we are only a few years in to building the marriage we have always wanted.  Not many people know how close we came to the point of no return.  Years of glass house living had taken their toll.  Behind the masks we wore, we had been disfigured beyond recognition.  But not beyond redemption! We have learned that God knows how to use the undoing of our own hands.  We will forever marvel at the gracious way He redeemed our selfishness and used it to expose the root of our pain and pave a new way forward.  He used our pain to prime us for a truer intimacy with Him and a deeper connection with one another than we have ever known.  

So, I write these words today to encourage anyone living disconnected, anybody who feels lonely in their silo of shame, anyone trapped in the lie that they can never change, anyone stuck in a performance-driven perfectionistic death trap.  We are living proof that there is HOPE.  There is always hope!  

I love the words of “the Amen” to the Church in Laodicea in Revelation chapter 3.  Their masks were so convincing they even had themselves fooled, but Jesus saw deeper.  He could see past all their pretty pretending, and what He saw was wretched — poverty, nakedness, blindness.  In these verses Jesus is given a unique name — the “Amen” — the faithful and true witness.  Yes!  We can trust His testimony.  Only He can truthfully tell us the reality of our lives.

When we listen to His truth, we discover that He is the real treasure our hearts have been longing for.  As we believe the truth, Jesus deals with our wretchedness and shame, transfiguring its ugliness into garments that show off His grace and mercy and goodness.  Accepting the true testimony of the Amen heals our blindness.  His love makes us brave enough to finally open our eyes and behold things as they really are.  And through each of these faltering steps of faith we take toward Him and His truth, we discover that He is paving a new way beneath our feet — His way, the Amen’s way.

Jesus can turn any mess into an “amen.”  If you are reading this today and struggling in silence, reach out.  If there is no one in your immediate vicinity that you feel safe talking to, please contact me through the “contact” tab at the top of the page, here on the blog.  I would be honoured to listen and to pray with you.

For you say, “I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,” and you don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be zealous and repent. See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me…Let anyone who has ears to hear listen to what the Spirit says…

Revelation 3:17-22

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