I had never bought condoms before.
I didn't know someone could be this nervous walking into Walgreens. I didn't even want to make eye contact with the employee that greeted me as I entered. In MY mind, I was sure some all-knowing spy agent had called the store associates ahead of time and told them what I was there to buy. They knew I needed condoms and they knew it was the morning of my wedding day and they knew that I was nervous. Heck, they probably even knew that I was a virgin! I was as paranoid as could be.
"Just act normal," I thought to myself.
I decided it would make me less conspicuous if I browsed other aisles even though I had nothing else to buy. So I went to the deodorant aisle...then checked out some breakfast cereal prices before comparing the active ingredients in allergy medicines. My plan was working. I was calming down and I even started to think that I was successfully tricking the cashiers. "There's no WAY they'd believe that I was here to by condoms NOW. They probably think I'm just a regular customer; not someone who's about to have sex for the first time."
Fairly certain that the cashiers weren't hawking me anymore, I was free to start secretly spying on the family planning aisle. I wasn't ready to actually step foot INTO the aisle. No way!!! It was WAY too soon for that. I needed to lurk. I needed to pretend-shop for items from the adjacent aisles so I could get a good vantage point. I needed to make sure that no one else would be sharing the aisle with me while I was condom browsing.
When the coast was clear, my plan was to slowly stroll down the length of the family planning aisle without actually stopping in front of the condom shelf itself. Sort of like a fly-by. That way I could use my periphery vision to start gathering information without re-raising the suspicions of the cashiers. It was a good plan, I thought. A GREAT plan, actually. I felt confident and, since I didn't see any customers moving in my direction, I decided to take the plunge.
I strolled into the aisle and 3 terrible things happened.
- I didn't get as much product info as I thought I would get out of the corner of my eye during the condom fly by.
- As I nonchalantly flew past the condoms my cheeks turned as red and pink and purple as the packaging of the products NEXT to the condoms: TAMPONS & MENSTRUAL PADS. "Yikes! I didn't know those were in the same aisle!" At that point my stroll got a LOT faster.
- Number 3. And this is the most terrible of the lot. Yes. There she was, at the far end of the aisle towards the front of the store: my church treasurer's wife!
I am NOT making this up. I WISH I was making it up. I WISHED, at that moment, that Frodo Baggins was with me and I could put on his ring of power to disappear into thin air.
The good news was that she didn't spot me. The other piece of good news was that, just a few steps ahead (beyond the rest of the products that Tampax, Always and Kotex had to offer), was a center aisle that I could use for an escape. If I was fast enough, I could make it out of her aisle and avoid eye contact. Eye contact would be DISASTEROUS because if she saw me, then I'd have to say hello. And, with the paranoia that I was feeling, I couldn't say, "hello." And if she asked me what I was doing in the feminine products aisle, what would I say? "Oh nothing. Just had to...ummm... pick up some pads for my....umm...mom!? NO! ummm...no...for my grandma!? AHH! neighbor?"
No. There was only ONE thing to do. Book it! Make a run for it! Put the pedal to the metal! Turn it up to hyper-speed! Make like GEESE and get the FLOCK out of there!
What happened next HAD to fit in the category of the miraculous because...I MADE IT! She didn't see me! It had to be God. I'm not sure which miracle duplication he performed, but it must have been one of the following two:
- Elijah's speed. (1 Kings 18:46 "The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab['s horse and chariot] all the way to Jezreel.")
- Incognito on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24:15. "Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.")
I spent the next 5-10 minutes hiding in a corner of the store; peaking out every once in a while to see if she had checked out yet. (Ahh! Where was Frodo!? And WHERE was his ring!!?) Once she was gone, I re-emerged and decided that it was now or never. I had to muster up the courage to finish what I came here for.
Only 3 things left to do:
1- Go back and stand in front of that shelf again. It was horrible. Which is worse: to stand there or to stand at the podium in polka-dotted undies in front of your graduating class? Well, I did it. I chose my item quickly and moved on to the next awkward thing:
2- Then, I had to walk through a public store holding a box with the word SENSATIONS on it! Horrifying!!! And I couldn't hide the box under my shirt! That was too awkward. I couldn't carry it like a normal item, because then everyone would stare and smirk and chuckle under their breath as I walked by. I decided to make my hand as big as possible to cover as much of the labeling as I could. It would've been nice if I could've borrowed this guys hands:
3- Finally I proceeded to check out. "Don't look up, Caleb. Don't let the cashier see your eyes. Maybe she won't even realize what she's scanning." In the end, I didn't say anything to her (not even a greeting) and all she said to me was the price. Very awkward.
I left the store, got in my car, took a deep breath and kicked myself for not sending my best man to run that errand!
Two hours later I was in tears.
I was sitting back stage, right before the start of the ceremony, listening to my brother lead the arriving guests in some worship songs. I wasn't crying out of sadness. I wasn't necessarily crying because I was happy either. I don't think the tears had to do with emotions that I was feeling (although I was feeling a lot of emotions throughout those days!). Crying is often what I do when I feel God's nearness. And I think my tears came because I was feeling God very close in those pre-ceremony moments.
I kept crying as I walked out to the altar to the sound of my friends playing the piano and violin. One of my pastors read a section from the Bible. The verses were so meaningful to me because they talk about how marriage is a small picture of something indescribable that God has planned for my future and the future of other followers of Jesus:
“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (From Revelation 19, NIV)
"I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (From Revelation 21, NIV)
I was thankful for those words and for the tears. My prayer, for my wedding day, was that God would make his nearness obvious to Sarah and I and even to our guests. Through the verses, songs and tears, that's exactly what He was doing. Why did I want to feel His nearness? It started around the time that my dad told me, "wedding vows aren't the same thing as a business contract. A contract is a binding agreement between two people. A covenant is a binding agreement between two people IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD." For me, that means that marriage vows are even more serious. It also means that God is involved, which is something that I desperately needed for my marriage! How could I stay true to my marriage vows if all I have is my own willpower? In order to be faithful and to be the husband that God wants me to be, I knew I was going to need a God sized dose of help and strength. His obvious nearness, on my wedding day, gave me hope that He would help Sarah and I do, in our marriage, what we could NEVER do without Him.
During the wedding ceremony, something happened to my shoulders.
This might sound a tiny bit weird, but it's something that I really felt and will never forget. It happened during the part when the minister says, "who gives this woman to be married to this man?" I wasn't expecting anything significant to happen at that moment. I always figured it was included in the ceremony for only sentimental reasons; just a step you had to take to get to the more important part of the ceremony. However, when Sarah's dad placed her hand in mine and said, "her mother and I," I felt something happen. It's hard to describe. I had never felt it before. It felt like a weight and, at the same time, it felt like a transfer. Like something moved from being over Sarah's dad to being over me. It wasn't something that I could feel or see with my eyes. But it still felt real. It didn't feel like a crushing, or heavy, weight. It was a weight that felt more like a responsibility, but like a physical weight at the same time. And I sort of felt it on my shoulders but also like hovering over me.
A little bit weird, huh? But here's what I think about it, and (to me) it makes a lot of sense!
When a baby is born, in God's mind, someone is responsible for that baby. They are responsible for everything. (i.e. physical, emotional and spiritual well being) In God's design, it's the parents that have that responsibility. When the mom and dad, at the wedding ceremony say, "We give this woman to be married to this man," that responsibility, in God's eyes, is transferred. The husband is now the primary person charged with being responsible for her protection and well being. (Side note: I love that thought AND I think the way it plays out in my marriage with Sarah is SOOO beautiful.)
Weird or not, that's what happened and it's NOT something I was expecting to experience on my wedding day.
I now pronounce you "man and wife."
I felt another something at this point of the wedding. It was subtle, but significant enough that I noticed it. I don't remember all the details but I do remember that I felt like a part of me changed when the minister said, "I now pronounce you man and wife.
It wouldn't make much sense for me to "feel" something UNTIL you call to mind some of the things Jesus teaches in Mark 10:
“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (New International Version)
I'm not smart enough to tell you everything about what those verses mean, but it IS plain enough to see that (from God's perspective) BEFORE a couple is married they are ONE way and AFTER a couple is married they are DIFFERENT than they were before. I think what I felt during this part of the wedding ceremony was God's way of giving me a little glimpse into this reality.
"Holy cow! I wasn't expecting all THIS to happen!"
I didn't know all of these things were going to be a part of my wedding day experience. And, (except for the condom shopping experience!), I'm glad that I experienced them. It makes me think that a wedding ceremony is more significant than I had imagined.
Some people say things like, "why spend the money on getting married? Why not just start living together? It saves money, right? Don't most people get divorced anyway?"
Wow! Well, after what I experienced on my wedding day, I would answer questions like those by saying, "getting married is more than a tradition-honoring ceremony. It's more than getting dressed up and taking family pictures. It's more than just a set of promises that many people end up breaking. It's:
- a covenant, in God's presence, between two people.
- a shifting of God-ordained responsibility from a woman's parents to her husband.
- a change from TWO becoming ONE.
- protection from emotional vulnerability. (Read my wife's post (entitled Why Marriage?) for more details.)
- an act of God. (See Mark 10:9 - "What God has brought together...")
- protection from things that would want to destroy the marriage. (See Mark 10:9 - "...let no one separate.")
- and more.
Why get married? Well, those are some REALLY GOOD reasons.
For couples considering marriage versus cohabitation, resist the urge to just do what your friends might be doing because they think it's "in-style" to just start living together. Resist the urge to avoid marriage because you're afraid it will end up like so many other marriages: in divorce. And DEFINITELY resist the urge to take the road that saves some money or avoids wedding planning.
It's not easy. And it definitely takes energetic preparation and a willingness to constantly be asking for help. However, if you are willing to do marriage the way God has designed it will be a bigger GIFT than you would've ever imagined. Not only will it be a gift for you, but it will be a gift for the world. (More on "gift to the world" in future posts.)