I watched it with tears streaming down my face. The woman is blind, and her husband is nearly deaf, but they can still communicate their love beautifully.
"You're my sweetheart," she says.
"I was your best lover..." he replies.
"Oh, I know it," she agrees.
When he starts singing, she murmurs, "Behave yourself."
After their granddaughter repeats her words, he laughs heartily. "I'm always good."
As I reflected on this example of the truest romance, I thought of my own grandparents, Verna and Paul. Now if Grandpa ever serenaded Grandma, no one ever told me about it, but their love was apparent in other ways. Example: When Grandpa had to go into the nursing home for care around the clock, Grandma visited him every day. Although he could no longer speak, his face lit up each time he saw his true love, and I'm told that on those rare days when she could not come, he was downcast.
My cousin Jolinda captured these beautiful pictures a few years back:
I love that last one of their aged, tender hands, their golden rings sparkling with the promise they kept to one another for over 70 years. I know from transcribing their autobiography that their marriage took them through times for "the worse" as well as for "the better." Through it all, their commitment held strong.
All of these reflections probably inspired the conversation I had with Jesus a few minutes later, as I enjoyed my first solo walk in many, many weeks. The sun had already sunk below the horizon, and the heavy clouds were rosy against a backdrop of gray. The cool breeze lifting wisps of my hair made the mugginess from the day's earlier storms bearable.
I guess I'd been saving up my chatter. I prattled nonstop for a good 15 minutes, pausing now and then to admire a sweet family or a cute dog.
I thought of that couple in the video, and of my dear grandparents, now together in heaven. I prayed, then, for my children's future marriages, and for my friends' and family's current marriages, and for marriage in general.
"Please help us to figure out what's important," I prayed. "Help our families to learn what real love looks like."
As I thanked God for allowing me to see such a beautiful example of faithfulness and love, I smiled widely at the realization that my appreciation for the beauty of marriage was no longer tempered by wistfulness over my own failed marriages. I thanked God for designing marriage, and for the joy that so many others have found as they've weathered life's struggles together.
I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but God spoke to me then, interrupting my prayer with words that flowed out of my heart and through my mouth. "I know that I will be richly loved until the day I die," I said. My eyes swam with tears, the same kind of tears I'd shed over that sweet video just a few minutes earlier.
As I feasted my eyes on the lush foliage I'd been missing all these weeks, I voiced the thoughts that filled my heart. "I know that you will be with me always, Beloved. You will never leave me, never forsake me.
"I don't have to be married to be loved all my life. You've surrounded me with so many people who love me now: my dear friends, my children, my family. I'm sure that I will be well loved always, because of the choices I'm making now about how to spend my time and who to spend it with. Thank you for teaching me that people are always more important than things, and more important than chores.
"But even if I outlive all of my loved ones, I trust that you will send caregivers to love me and take care of me."
I stopped on the sidewalk, falling quiet as I watched a flock of birds cross the sky, their wings moving in perfect synchrony. When I resumed my walk, a new thought came to me. "Maybe I will die young," I said. "Please, whenever I die, however I die, I want to be brave. I want to go in peace."
I pictured the blind woman murmuring to her husband in the video, and I imagined myself whispering endearments to my Beloved. I imagined crossing the veil with joy and anticipation at seeing Him face to face for the first time.
I felt so, so loved. Loved with a forever love. Words of gratitude spilled over as I thought of the newest love growing in my heart, for scores of middle schoolers and high schoolers on my substitute teaching days.
In the middle of my praises, I felt God gently shushing me. "Just be," He said. I smiled and closed my mouth.
On the last few minutes of that walk, I felt more alive than I can ever remember feeling. All my senses were heightened. Every few steps, I'd stop and turn to the right or the left, or gaze up at the sky. The familiar park was full of delights:
- A preschool girl ran, arms outstretched and flowered dress billowing, to the arms of her mother as her father trailed behind. Her laughter echoed across the field.
- A woman flashed me a dazzling smile as she passed by with her impeccably behaved dog.
- After climbing a steep hill just to admire my favorite garden, I was rewarded with some new flowers I'd never before seen anywhere. Their beauty seemed almost otherworldly. with purple petals nearly obscured by a profusion of curly purple filaments. I think they may have been passion flowers, similar to these.
- As I turned away from the impeccably cultivated garden, I caught a glimpse of the lushly wooded creek bank below me. I couldn't decide which sight was more beautiful. "Both!" I concluded.
- In the deepening darkness, the crickets took up their nightly song. Meanwhile, the ghost of a melody floated on the breeze across the common area. "Thank you for giving us music," I breathed.
God had saved the best for last. When I was nearly back home, the massive clouds overhead flickered with faraway lightning. I'd never seen lightning like that, outside of a Halloween decoration. One entire bank of clouds lit up, glowing from within with a soft, white light. Then that light turned off and another bank of clouds lit up with a soft, orange light, reflecting the last vestige of the sunset. Those clouds seemed to alternate--on, off, on, off, as if a child were playing with a light switch.
"Wow! Wow!" I exclaimed.
And then I became aware of several pinpricks of golden light flitting right next to me on the sidewalk. "Oh!" I said, surprised to see the fireflies away from their usual shelter in the woods next to the creek.
I laughed out loud. I had the distinct impression that God was showing off.
It was hard to go home, but I knew Allyson would soon be returning from dinner with a friend. Standing outside my house, I sighed deeply as I gazed at the black limbs of my own trees against the deep blue sky.
Back inside, I sat down to tell you all about my walk, but I got hung up on looking for pictures of Grandma and Grandpa and lost all of my energy. Instead of writing, I stared and stared at the picture of their hands, transfixed by one more example of beauty.
A Ring of Solid Gold
At church the next morning, God took my breath away with a different sort of sacred echo. For the first time I can remember, the echo was of an image rather than of words. To be exact, it was words echoing an image, and the message behind the words was an echo of the revelation God had given me in the park about being loved forever.
The very first song began like this:
Your love is devoted, like a ring of solid gold.
Like a vow that is tested, like a covenant of old.
Your love is enduring...
Faithful you have been, and faithful you will be.
You pledge yourself to me.
And that's why I sing, Your praise will ever be on my lips
The image of my grandparents' hands flashed in my mind, and goosebumps arose on my arms. Tears of wonder gathered in my eyes as my Beloved serenaded me with a love song.
Although I'd heard the song (Ever Be) before, I'd never been so captivated by the references to marriage. This part made my lips tremble with a gratitude I could not adequately express:
Now you're making me like you,
Clothing me in white.
Bringing beauty from ashes,
For you will have your bride,
Free of all her guilt, rid of all her shame,
And known by her true name.
This song was telling my story! Right down to the part about my true name. I don't know if I ever told you this, but shortly after my marriage ended, a Bible study assignment changed me forever. Beth Moore asked us to pray about what name the enemy had tried to give us, and to ask God to reveal our true name. The enemy's name sprang to my lips immediately: Forsaken. The new name came a day or two later, when I least expected it. Standing in the shower, I laughed with joy as I spoke my true name: Beloved.
I have been Beloved ever since. And I will be until the day I die.