Here comes the bride (a tribute to Tasha)

IMG_7340“My beloved speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.'” Song of Solomon 2:10

Every now and then, my heart begins to beat in my chest. And there is certainty. I know I have to sit at this computer and unleash the thoughts pent up within. Thoughts that have been rolling around for well over three weeks now…

All centered on the bride.

Yes, this is where I’ve been sitting. Stewing and musing. Reflecting. And I thought it had everything to do with me and Jason. That’s because our 20th anniversary is right around the corner. And I wanted to write something in tribute to him. My beloved.

But today, I comprehend God’s been preparing me for something else altogether. He had another task in mind…

Seems all these bridal thoughts of the past month were simply paving the way to what just happened. But it wasn’t a celebration. Nor an anniversary. Instead, it was a tragic event.

Something so horrifying and sad. But also, and incomprehensibly, so beautiful. Because today I know there was in deed a wedding ceremony. Only, we couldn’t see it here on earth. Because it happened over yonder. In the Spirit realm.

And so now I know. The message that’s been playing in my heart for days and days has more to do with that bride. The one who is no longer here. The one who’s gone on before others, and paves the way. For it seems her time had come.

And surely an eternal rendition of “Here comes the bride” played while she went away from here. When He called. When her Beloved said to her, “Come away with me.”

And he will go before the Lord… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17

Here’s what I know about being a bride. There’s a lot of prep work. I don’t care if the wedding is simple or elaborate, there’s loads of preparing either way.

Me and Jason? We opted for the simple route. Small church wedding. Finger foods. I tied up the bird seed while Jason’s mom sewed my dress. And twenty years ago, all this consumed me.

All the wedding preparations.

I confess, I was a little worried about the dress, though. My mother-in-law, Susan, had me try it on multiple times for fittings. Cinching and pinning and clipping and cutting. And at one point, I just couldn’t see how it was going to come together. I didn’t think it was going to come out looking the way I wanted. Of course, I didn’t tell her that. I just kept my worry to myself.

In the end, though, the dress was beautiful. Creamy and satiny smooth, adorned by hundreds of teeny, tiny pearls. I loved it but more, I loved how I felt wearing it.

For I was a bride.

And when my time came, I walked down the aisle while the Wedding March filled my ears…

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If anyone therefore purges himself from these, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, and suitable for the master’s use, prepared for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:21

In my recent musings, here’s what I’ve come to understand. I’m not just a wife to Jason. The truth is I am still a bride. But this time, I am the bride of Christ, too. His betrothed. Because I am a Christian. And God refers to His church as the bride of Christ.

And just like with any approaching wedding, there are preparations. There’s one major difference though. While one ceremony calls for outward preparations, the other, well, it’s all inward.

All my focus twenty years ago was on the outward. Appearance only. Tanning and shaving and makeup and hair and shoes and flowers and on and on. I wanted everything on the outside to be perfect. As to my inside, not a thought was given.

And so I walked down that aisle and Jason took my hand and we both said, “I do.” And I thank God for that day. He is truly my soul mate. My other half. My looking glass. God’s choice for me. And I cannot imagine life here without him.

And so, for my husband’s sake, I’m so very grateful God calls me to be His Son’s bride. Because that requires some inward prep. Okay, lots of inward prep. And just like my wedding dress, there’s cinching and pinning and clipping and cutting. But these cuts aren’t made to satin. No, these are the cuts made to my innermost being…

Oh God, how He’s been preparing me. And He has a sharp set of scissors. But His aren’t pinking shears. No, they’re of the pruning variety. And He’s been cutting away the excess material of my heart. A snip of a bad habit here… the removal of an old grudge there. Piece by piece He’s been altering me. Well over twenty years now. Such a lengthy process.

Funny thing, though, there are times I feel just as I did in 1998. I feel about me as I did about the dress. I just can’t see how I’m going to come together in time. Because there’s a wrinkle or a puckering in the fabric of my soul. I see it and worry. Will I ever change? When my time comes, will I be prepared to be His bride?

But I have hope. For every day, God snips away.  And with each clip, I become more and more useful to Him. Over time, I am made into a vessel for honor. I am prepared for every good work He sets before me…

Like the task He placed before me this morning. The task to tell of the bride who’s gone before me. The woman who walked an eternal aisle. Can you picture it? Perhaps the heavenly host were the onlookers while “Here Come the Bride” filled the skies…

Let us rejoice and exult
and give him glory,
because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints).

Revelation 19:7-8

Looking back on my wedding day, I have to chuckle. I was so naive and young. Oh so hopeful. I had no idea how much work marriage really is. And it is work. There’s blood, sweat and tears involved.

Being a Christian is the same way. It’s not a piece of wedding cake. The deeper you go with God, the harder the road becomes. Because Scripture is sharp. It cuts and divides. And this is what He uses to prune me. The blade of His word. It’s the tool that reveals my insides. It shows me how much dirt I store in the recesses of my heart. All the gunk I carried with me into my marriage.

And as I look at my choice of gown, I think how fitting it was that I chose off-white. Cream. Because in all my outward focus, I totally neglected my inside. I ignored the state of my heart. And truly, I just didn’t realize how dirty I was.

But over time, everything came out. The inner darkness eventually stained my countenance. I wore my bruised heart on my sleeve. And honestly, at times, I just couldn’t see how I would ever be clean. Not utterly. Not purely.

Like a bride should be.

But then I found something so wonderful tucked away in the 15th chapter of John. Such a familiar passage about Jesus being the vine and His followers the branches. And in the midst of Jesus’ words about pruning and cuts, He brings comfort through verse 3. He says, “You are already clean because of the word which I have given you…”

We are already clean. I am already clean. Because of Him. Yes, I am washed because of my faith in Him. It’s been given to me to wear the finest of pure white linen.

For I am part of the redeemed. His church.

Permitted to wear white…

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Which brings me to that other bride. The woman who went away too soon. I went to school with her so long ago. I didn’t know her because we were in a different grade. We ran in different circles. But a very good friend of mine knew her so well. Most of her life, I’d say. And because my friend knew her, the tragedy was brought near to me. And when my friend cried, so did I.

What happened to this woman was tragic. It was untimely. So out of the blue. And it’s the kind of thing that may cause some to wonder why. Why her? Because the comments I see on Facebook exemplify the most beautiful of women. Oh, she was a beauty, no doubt. But what I read is a testament to her insides…

It was her inner beauty that really shone.

I’m told she had a heart and soul of gold. She was happy and sweet and a force to be reckoned with. She always had a smile to share. Kind and caring. She was lovely to look at, but that loveliness went to her core.

And so to the question, why? Why her? Why now? No one can say for certain. And God’s ways our higher than ours. Thus, I don’t dare presume to know why.

I can muse, though. I can ponder and reflect. And the best answer I come up with is that perhaps she was completed. She had come together the way He intended. All her pruning accomplished. All her tasks done.

Maybe she accomplished all that God had for her to do here…

She was a vessel for honor. Conformed to the image of His Son. Useful to the Master having spread kindness and cheer. And so, her time came. Her groom came calling. He called her away.

And she must have been the most beautiful bride.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away. Song of Solomon 2:10-13

 

A bride’s tale

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About four months ago, I stayed with my in-laws over the Thanksgiving holiday. And for the first time, we used my husband’s grandmother’s room. Her name is Alice. We used her bedroom because Alice needed more medical care than normal, and had been staying at a rehabilitation facility since October. And so, while sleeping in Alice’s bed and using Alice’s bathroom, I was struck by what surrounded me. It was all of her stuff. Loads of it. Bottles and tubes and compacts and sprays. And in November, my realization was that no matter what age a woman is, she wants to feel pretty. Whether she’s 9 or 90, a woman cares about how she looks.

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I snapped lots of photos thinking I would use them one day in a blog. And so, I find today is that day for Alice passed on last night. And despite my having a list of a thousand things to do, I pause for just a moment to remember this woman. See, she was 89 years old and I’ve known her close to 18 of those years. At the very least, she deserves a moment of my time. And so, I consider Alice. Honestly, one of the first things that comes to mind is painted nails. Her fingernails were always presentable. And always colored. And not a demure, faded pink, either. No, Alice went for bold colors. When I saw her this past Monday, she had purple nails adorned with flowers. The nails gave testimony to her personality, for in earlier days, she was a force.

And when I say earlier days, I mean up to about a month ago. Oh, she may have been in a nursing facility, but that doesn’t mean that she was a sinking ship. No, not Alice. She clung to life. And it was just a month ago that she was made Queen at the Valentine’s banquet where she was staying. I saw her picture displayed in the foyer when we went to collect her things… bright dress, crown and flowers. She looked completely different than the woman I saw on Monday. And what tales I heard. She danced at that banquet. A lot. And I heard that she was an inspiration to everyone at that facility, for she breathed fresh life into the place. The nurse who came to visit Alice yesterday shared the tales of Alice. And before leaving, she deposited no less than 20 kisses on Alice’s cheek. So many had sent by her, “Kiss Alice for me…”

Yes, Alice loved colorful nails. She loved life, and dancing, and laughing. And really, she just loved being the center of attention. For she had no fear of crowds and enjoyed interacting with people. Anyone would do. She just wanted to be a part of what was happening. Like many moons ago when she came to visit us. We were at church one Sunday, and when the question was posed, “Do we have any visitors today,” Alice stood right up to boldly proclaim her name. As I said, no fear. Not an ounce of shyness resided in those bones.

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Alice, who had bold nails and a zest for life, also had another love. Baubles and gems. Necklaces and rings of every color, shape and size. If Alice had an errand, she went out in style, her clothes coordinating with her jewelry. Always. Well, at least till the end. For this woman named Alice was nearing 90, her birthday just two months away. And ever since her big night when she was not just the queen, but the life of the party, pieces of Alice have been stripped away. And yesterday morning, well, she just didn’t look like herself. For her hair was undone and her nails bare. Legs that once moved with rhythm laid still. Rather than a watch, her arm was adorned with a hospital bracelet. And rather than chains of gold, tubes fell along her chest. A body that once displayed brilliant pinks, was draped instead with a drab hospital gown. Yes, 89 years had taken their toll, and her body finally gave way as the glow of life within her faded. What remained of Alice was a shell. Her sparkle was gone.

You know, in recent days, I’ve heard the church being referred to as the bride of Christ. It stuck out because honestly, that’s a hard concept for me to comprehend. But today, in light of Alice’s passing, I find it beautiful to behold. Because Alice, being part of the church, is also His bride. And I wonder if that’s why she held so tight to this life at the end. I wonder if she just didn’t feel ready. Because she was stripped of all that she so loved in this world. Where were her scents and polishes and baubles? The glitzy necklaces and sparkly rings were no where to be found. And truly, what bride wants to meet her Groom undone? What bride wants to walk down the aisle minus all the things that make her feel lovely? What woman doesn’t want to feel pretty on her special day?

And so, at this I smile. Because today I know that what Alice adored so in this life is now a part of her ever after. And I see that she didn’t need a strand of pearls or a shade on her lips, for indeed, she is adorned by heaven itself today. And graced with the colors of eternity, what woman could be more beautiful? No, she had no need of pearls, for the gates of heaven become her pearls. And what need of golden chains had she, for the very street she travels is gold. No, Alice didn’t need bold polish on her nails as she exited this life, for at this moment, she is surrounded by such brilliant color. Alice, who loved bright nails and dancing and laughter and colorful gems, is now encompassed by the very things that brought her such joy in life. For she’s a bride. And she’s dancing and laughing in glorious color. Yes, Alice colored herself here. But there, color is so much more than she could ever have imagined.

The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald,  the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. Revelation 21:19-21

Yes, Alice has passed on to the other side. I feel sure of it. For it was Tuesday late afternoon when she roused a bit. She twitched and jerked for a moment, then looked to the right. Her eyes opened wide and she smiled. And twice she said it… “Peter.” We all wondered who Peter was. And then we smiled. We thought, it’s true! Peter is at the pearly gates. Perhaps it was he that walked her down the aisle.