A few weeks ago, my fiance Amanda and I got our wedding license. We’re getting married on October 18. Of all the surprises in that process, though, the biggest was me breaking down crying in the middle of this Chester County Courthouse office while signing papers. It took me a little bit to figure out why I was so emotional, and what was going on inside of me. But here it is.
First and foremost, I love this woman. I’ve known this. But (especially if you know some of my story) it was so powerful and surreal to see another human being willingly and joyfully sign on the dotted line to actually spend their life with me.
I know I talk and walk with swagger and overconfidence, but inside I hold deep wells of fear and shame, unable to believe that others can both truly see me and still want me–and here she was, having seen me and yet still wanting to tangibly, officially move forward with me.
Second, I was overcome by seeing our marriage reflected in black and white ink of a page. Though we primarily experience love and romance at a subjective, emotional level, here was our marriage represented by an objective, material object. Once we mail this in, the Civil Authorities and the Law will declare us married. No matter what fights or emotions or situations arise there is still this objective reality existing outside of us and our immediate circumstances. No subjective experience with Amanda will in and of itself change the truth that paper represents.
It reminded me that marriage is not a fragile, hazy, subjective thing that we just sort of “do”, but a reality that exists outside of us that we inhabit. That truth–that in this moment our marriage was becoming more real than even my feelings for her–hit me hard.
Lastly, we were not signing these papers because it’s just what you do when you get married, nor to make things feel more “official”; but because we have a Christian belief that marriage is both a civil and spiritual reality. It is a place where God’s law and human law meet, a sacrament where the human and divine coexist.
I really did feel something transcendent was happening, that this moment that was greater than the sum of its parts.
On one end, it is us taking this human institution and offering it to God to make it his own and mold it into his image and vision. On the other, it is us bringing God’s vision for human relationships and love into the civil secular sphere, on mission to love and serve this world with our marriage. To both present this world to God better than we have found it, and to hopefully represent God to the world better than others may have thought of him.
It’s enough to bring a man to tears.
So that’s what was happening in the minutes before this photo was taken, and why this picture will always mean so much to me: because all at once I felt the collision of shame overcome, God made known, duty fulfilled, and love affirmed.