Today marks 10 years of marriage to a wonderful wife and father to two great young boys. Our wedding was marked with the undeserved gift of much persecution. Everyone was against these two people who met on the internet from tying the knot.
We met on a Christian dating website in April of 2009. After just two weeks of knowing one another, we agreed over the phone to get married. I visited, she visited here, and 6 months later we got married in my local Church.
Her parents, not being keen on both of us coming together, never attended the wedding. There were very few people in attendance, but that didn’t matter much to us. The priest would often ask if Audrey was a Muslim (because she wore a head covering in Church) and me also because he got the impression I was a strict fundamentalist. He knew we both were not from an Islamic background he was just insulting us.
My wife said to me she didn’t want him to do the wedding. I told her “no…no he’s perfect because, through him, God is glorified by his continuous verbal blows upon us. He’s not testing us either as some priests do, he’s just being vulgar, but that’s a good thing. If the marriage were not meant to be, and all was going well, there’d be every reason to worry.”
Not being satisfied, he demanded we get a letter of approval from her Mother. We both looked at one another, and would have preferred he asked us to climb Mount Everest. We don’t know how this happened, but after much work and persuasion, the letter of approval came. He was stunned because he knew about their opposition beforehand.
In the Church, the gospel reading we chose was the beatitudes. The irony here was, following the passage he indulged in persecution by giving us a homily we’d never forget, at least not in part. He said, “I can’t help the feeling that I’m attending some sort of strange arranged marriage”.
To most that was a mean thing to say and it was, but the priest had got it right…it was arranged. The marriage was arranged by God Himself, and the priest will only ever realize that when he’s dead. To the priest, it was strange, and it was because God is strange and otherness. His insult was necessary because the Christian life is not about being accepted.
The Christian life is about being rejected and not emotionally flinching… even a little bit. Being accepted is excellent, but being rejected on account of Christ who brought you together, not allowing it to disrupt your happiness, is even better. The opposition also brought us closer together, but then more trouble came.
Three years after our marriage, Audrey was 6 months pregnant with my second son when she fell ill with stage four Hodgkins Lymphoma. The doctor months earlier had misdiagnosed it as a benign cyst that, “we will deal with after the pregnancy”. It was odd because his own wife had the same illness, and sadly to his own regret, he missed the warning signs.
I’m not going to lie and pretend that we all took it well. It was undoubtedly a painful blow to us all. The storm was raging, and we called upon the Lord, but it seemed like he was asleep and the stern this time and not getting up. We were not prepared for this, especially me. I admit it, having to look after two children and a newborn on my own was literally the scariest thing I’d ever done.
It was hard that during her entire cancer ordeal when she was at her lowest, her own father never regularly called her or visited her once in the hospital. Years later, when I met the CEO of the company and property developer, we spoke about it.
He had the same disease. I was the first employee he’d ever taken to lunch because nobody in the history of his business had ever got a big contract in their first month of working at the company. He was exactly like my wife’s father. CEO, Entrepreneur, and property developer.
He asked me if her father visited her, I said no. Not during her stay at the hospital, but when it was over. He attended the baptism of my son under much pressure from my parents. Trying to impress him, I said, “You know how it is, all these entrepreneurs have no time on their hands.” He replied, “No, he’s an asshole. What kind of man doesn’t visit his daughter on her death bed? Because basically, that’s what it was. I know, I was there. No, Stephen, some people are just dickheads.”
I was really taken back by his shock, but then not surprised given he had traversed a similar emotional mountain having had the illness himself.
A GIFT THAT BORE FRUIT
In the summer of 2014, after a successful last resort stem cell transplant, and some radiation, the aggressive cancer was gone. During the ordeal, my wife had bought me a camera the Christmas before she entered the hospital.
I went out and took pictures of the landscape and my children. I soon gathered a following on facebook and, winning a photography competition gained nearly 10,000 followers on Gurushots. The winning picture? My son chasing my camera, smiling with my wife in the background. Furthermore, my image of a hermit gained the attention of the National Geographic and was published in their Daily Dozen.
Following the cancer, I took up some sales jobs, but this year decided to apply for college in the fun, creative media section. I don’t really want to, but everyone’s saying I’m meant to do it. I guess I’ll just have to follow the dream in the hopes I wake up to see it become a reality. My wife really wants me to do it, so that’s all that matters.
It wasn’t all marked with sadness for us. There were moments of great joy in our suffering, and we laughed more than we cried. I’m pretty sure it was the laughter that was one key component that kept us alive and chased the devil down the road. In the end, ultimately, Gods grace saw us through. By the prayers of others, he’d finally woken up, heard our cries and calmed the storm.
FINAL ADVICE FOR THE NEWLYWEDS
We are now doing great, still suffer the disapproval of everyone around us, but that continues to shape our character. What I’ve learned from being a salesman is that rejection is a powerful tool. Our attitude to the NO is always more important than the one we show towards the YES in our lives. Why? Because one day, should we die in a state of grace, the only YES that will mean anything will be the one of God.
I will leave you with a quote by one of my favourite saints John Chrysostom on what husbands should say to their wives. I repeat it to my wife every year.
I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us. . . . I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you. (CCC 2365)