Whilst in Canada, my soul-sister sent me this beautiful blog by Hilary Sherratt: ‘Love on a Sunday afternoon’. I internally ‘yes!’-ed throughout as she writes so beautifully on the well-worn truth that the most significant relationship moments are those in which nothing extraordinary happens – and yet you are both deeply changed.
I was so glad to have read it shortly before I would need to call it to mind, when an ordinary-romance moment was in order for me. He had taken me headlong into a fairytale, to snow-covered log cabins, muffled in by snow-covered Christmas trees and capped off by snow-covered mountains. The icicles were strident in their own perfection, the fire flickered in smugness at its own good fortune at complementing this very scene. A unicorn may well have wandered into view (snow-covered) and serenaded us.
And I got sick. I’ve never been very good at romance, and I think perhaps it was an involuntary reaction to it. That or I am a weak English girl ill-equipped to deal with the minus-Celsius temperatures and snow-covered everything which Canadians insist on calling ‘fall’.
I spent the majority of our only full day, in which skiing, hot springs, unicorn rides and forever-photographs were on the agenda – in bed, coughing up phlegm and moaning (because I am living proof of why the term man-flu is a gross misrepresentation).
And while part of me was aware that there are far worse places to be sick and have to spend a day in bed, grateful for such a beautiful view from the window, for the warmth of a fire, a good book (Bob Goff: Love Does) I became increasingly frustrated at the timing of it all.
He struck a good balance of leaving me to it and doing his thing, and making sure I was well looked after. But that didn’t stop a nagging sense of regret that I couldn’t complete the snow-covered perfection picture. This was supposed to be the time where we created memories – memories which would keep us going when the long-slow obedience days happen.
As we drove away early, to get me back home and into a more permanent bed, I nasally voiced my sadness that it had turned out this way. And he said to me: ‘It doesn’t matter what we do. I just loved it’. Such simple words: so cheesy, and I knew them to be true. (I told him a saccharine blogpost would probably arise out of this conversation – and I guess I stuck to my word…)
We had made memories. We had written a card and posted it under the door of the honeymooners in the next room. We had signed it from both of us. I’d never seen our names side by side before. We got dinner at a petrol station and watched some elk do their thing at dusk.
The thing is, I think sometimes I forget that being washed clean in the blood of Jesus is actually a messy thing. We aren’t cleansed in milk and honey, we are cleansed through the blood of Jesus Christ. This is a visceral, a physical thing. There is nothing picture-perfect about what has enabled us to be washed clean daily. And yet somehow this deep red, costly spilled blood washes us whiter than the snow which I could see all around me.
In the same way, perhaps the real-life stuff isn’t wrought through snow-covered pictures and unicorn song. Perhaps real-life is borne of the less-than-perfect, through the piles of snotty tissues which he picked up and threw away without a word. Through the sentences like ‘it doesn’t matter what we do’. In the end, we aren’t defined by picture-perfect experiences, we create and find who we are through our response to the real, often snotty life which we find ourselves in.
So I’ll enjoy the picture perfect photographs of snow-covered loveliness. But I’ll know the real pictures from the time in the mountains are ones which I could never take with a camera. They are the grace of a man who picked up my snotty tissues, kissed me though I could barely breathe through my nose, and spoke ordinary-extraordinary truths as we drove home.
Oh Lord, may the pictures which I take home with me and show you one day as I meet you face to face be the ones where I allowed you to wash me – inconveniently and magnificently – whiter than snow through the less-than-perfect moments. Where I was given:
A crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
May we increasingly be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61