“I Caroline, take you, Paul, to be my wedded husband, I believe you are a gift from God to me and I am confident that His will is being fulfilled today.”
These are the words I said as part of our wedding vows on 30th March 2013.
Paul and I chose that date for practical reasons – school holidays, time off work for people to travel etc. But there was underlying significance to being married on Easter Saturday that I didn’t see until afterwards.
At the first Easter there was death, there was pain and suffering but as a new life began there was joy, disbelief, doubt, resurrection and transformation. And so it is with our lives. The reality is that we live with aspects of death and resurrection every day. They rarely come in the neat packaged order that we assign to them in our traditional remembrance services over the Easter weekend. (I’m writing this glorious story of hope and love surrounded by the tissues I needed just a few hours ago when I wept long, painful, wracking sobs over the past abuse which has left me unable to sleep.)
Just as the disciples struggled to understand what was happening over that first Easter, I argued a lot with God over His plan for Easter 2013. I’d always been told that to go out with (let alone marry) someone with little experience of church life was to be ‘unequally yoked’. But when did God ever look at outward religious behaviour before he looked at the heart? I don’t think that if a man is in church every week it necessarily provides any indication of how near his heart is to God. Nor do I think that limited experience of church community discounts a man from hearing God’s voice.
Since an extremely painful divorce a few years ago, exile has been a great theme for me. I felt like I lost everything almost overnight; I had to leave the place I called home and the friends that I loved so much and live in a different town where I really didn’t want to be.
Over time, I dared to believe that God would restore what was lost and bring it back in ways far better than I could imagine. And over the last few years I’ve watched God restore to me a purposeful career, a stronger sense of my own identity, a beautiful home to live in, some friends nearby and then a new totally incomparable husband! I wouldn’t have dared write the story that culminated in our wedding on Easter Saturday but I am really glad it was written by a better author than me.
You see, I believe God had worked out a plan for my return from exile. I believe God gave me my very own Cyrus of Persia (I just call him Paul of Derbyshire!) “I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes – one from the rising sun who calls on my name.” Isaiah 41:25
God brought Cyrus from the north to conquer the Babylonians, and to lead the Jews in their return from exile (Ezra 1). Cyrus was appointed by God for this job but he was not part of the Jewish nation when he was called to the task. Maybe if Cyrus was around today we could say he was a ‘non-churchgoer’ when he was called into action by God.
And my amazing husband Paul is from the North (well the East Midlands – but to this Essex girl it’s all North once you’re past the Watford gap!) And I believe Paul was appointed by God to be a key stage in my return from exile. (I daren’t call it the final stage for the process of working through the pain of my past feels far from finished at the moment.)
I doubt it’s coincidence that we decided to hold our wedding reception at Santo’s hotel. In the owner’s native Italian, his name means holy and as we celebrated the joining of our lives and our families ‘Santo’s’ definitely felt like holy ground.
Paul is God’s gift to me. Paul loves me like I’ve never felt loved before. Paul doesn’t love me for what he can gain from me. He doesn’t love me for what I do. He loves me for who I am. Paul makes me believe I’m beautiful. And Paul shows me how God loves me.
The Easter story is often termed the Passion and just recently I have discovered a God who loves me passionately, who calls me by my name and who sees me even when I can’t see him. God loves me —so he gave me the gift of Paul. And I am stretching out and daring to believe that God loves me more than Paul will ever be able to show me. Right now, that thought just blows my mind!
And if you would like it, I will also give you a gift. I will gift to you my story. I will share with you how life hurts sometimes but still we’re seen. I will share with you that when we can’t see God, He still sees us.
Last week I felt a bit guilty because I thought I’d let Easter pass me by in a haze of romantic dreams. This year, I didn’t send a single Easter card or buy a single Easter egg (apart from the 24 Creme Eggs I bought for myself from January 1st onwards!) The only church service I attended was our wedding. But now I realise, we didn’t miss the resurrection this year; we lived it!