(A weekly portion of a book I am slowly writing entitled “Preferring Paralyzation,” which I hope to publish in some form in 2012!)
Re-telling the winding story of my engagement to Maxie this past week to a close friend, I found myself marveling at this thought: Which came first, the reality that I was about to ask a South African woman to marry me, a seven-year journey culminating in the turn of a doorknob, or the story that initiated this action to the point that I found myself standing in front of said door?
Seven months prior to getting engaged I scribbled this feeble thought in my journal, the first peek into a reality I have come to know fully this past week: I want to be married by the end of 2011 to Sarah Magdalene Van Der Merwe. Next to this bold declaration lays a classic qualification of my fearful mind, in which I comment to myself that “I want to feel what it is like to risk and to step out in the largest thing that I want.” Below this declaration and the back-pedaling that quickly followed it was a series of phrases that sketched out our wedding day: Bulb lights hanging from wires, a spontaneous dance party filled with laughter and the voices of children singing, Chris Brown’s catchy lyric (“I gotta feelin’…that tonight’s gonna be a good night…” ) floating through the deepening night sky as if magic were all around us. As I imagined this fantasy playing out with my wife and I spinning over a dance floor, tears flooded my eyes and I knew in my heart of hearts that marriage to Maxie was what I most deeply wanted.
Yet I was so far away from that moment. How does a story flickering through my mind’s eye become reality? I remember at that moment purposing to pursue Maxie in small ways as I never before had, deciding to give her 11 images that depicted our relational journey as our 11-month anniversary approached.
Donald Miller couldn’t be more accurate when he writes “A general rule in creating stories is that characters don’t want to change. They must be forced to change” (A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, p. 100). I forced myself towards change that evening by simply penning the words “I want to be married by the end of 2011 to Sarah Magdalene Van Der Merwe.” As I stared at those words in my journal, it’s as if they suddenly came to life. My question then shifted from a doubt-filled, fear-ridden fantasy of “Do I have what it takes to marry the woman I love?” to “How do I move forward with small steps towards marrying the woman I love?” A subtle difference, no doubt, but in reality, the entire ball game turned as I began to walk forward in momentum towards the change I wanted to see become the reality of my life.
A few days later I gave Maxie her anniversary present, filling her room with images from our relationship. Strangely enough, they told a far different story than the one that often remained stuck in my head. Scenes of laughter, intimacy, silliness, romance, shared adventure…in short, the stuff that fleshes out the sort of marriage we all deeply desire to find with our spouse. Flipping through the photos with a sense of nostalgia, reminiscing about different moments in our relationship, reality was undeniable: We loved each other deeply, and were walking together in a shared story that wasn’t supposed to end!
People are “afraid to choose a better story, because though their current situation might be bad, at least it’s a bad story they are familiar with. So they stay” (Donald Miller, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, p. 101). Standing in front of Maxie’s bedroom door early one Saturday morning, moments before I was going to kneel before her, asking for her hand in marriage, I felt that old sense of fear try and rise once more in my soul. What if the reality I am choosing, that I so deeply want, is actually a fantasy I am creating? What if I am meant to linger in the familiarity of a bad story, remaining comfortable in the presence of such long-term ‘thought friends,’ albeit terrible ones at that? Fear and paralyzation have proven to be safer than the risk inherent in actually living one’s life in reality, stopping me from creating the small scenes that coalesce into the life I so deeply desire to live.
Gazing over Maxie’s living room once more, a sea of warm candlelight flickering over the petals of fresh flowers, I chuckled to myself at how completely a story I had created was becoming real. Reality was merging with fantasy, and I was no longer content in the safe confines of my mind. I turned the door knob to Maxie’s bedroom door, walked inside, and gave her my storyboard.
It was time to choose life.