This was one of the biggest days of our lives—our wedding day. For months my fiancée Kim had gone over with precision all the details of the ceremony. My role for those months had been to go with her to pick out chinaware, dresses, tuxes, and continually repeat phrases like, “I love that silverware,” or “Mauve is one of my favorite colors,” or most often, “Whatever you would like, Babe.”
At the time I worked in the banking industry and had developed a friendship there with a man named Delmuth, who worked in the mailroom. He was in his early sixties and had been a senator in Ethiopia until he’d had to flee for his life when the Communists took over. Since we’d never socialized outside of the bank, Kim had never met him.
I had tacked a wedding invitation to the bulletin board in the bank’s break room, inviting anyone who’d like to attend. Delmuth was eager to see an American wedding. I later learned that the custom in his country was for guests to take pictures of the bride and groom, go out to the street and sell them to passersby, and then to give the money to the newlyweds as a gift.
On the day of our wedding, the church’s platform glistened with greenery and candles as the ceremony began. Everything was going as planned. All the attendants and groomsmen were on time and now stood in their places, handsomely attired and wearing their best wedding smiles, as Kim and I stood solemnly.
The pastor opened his mouth to greet friends and family, but then his eyes cut sharply to my right and we heard the unmistakable sounds of a Polaroid One Step in action. The pastor whispered, “There is a man taking pictures. Is he supposed to be here?”Trying to be discreet, I glanced slightly to my right to see Delmuth standing about fifteen feet from us with the One Step around his neck clicking away.
I whispered back, “Oh, that’s Delmuth. He’s an Ethiopian senator.”
With her eyes squinted, and speaking through clinched teeth like Dirty Harry, Kim responded in a slow whisper, “You arranged for an Ethiopian senator to take pictures at our wedding with a Polaroid camera?”
Before I could respond by taking a knee or faking a heart attack, the pastor’s eyes grew large as they had suddenly cut from my right and settled in a fixed gaze directly behind us. By the crackling sound and smell, it became obvious that something was on fire. Kim, the ever-valiant bride, did not even budge. Instead she asked quietly in a steady voice, “Is my train on fire?”
“No” said the pastor. “But your unity candle is ablaze.”
Some of the hot wax had dripped down onto the silk flowers and had caught the whole thing on fire. My dad, trying to put out the fire (and not being a physicist), blew into the flames, causing it to blaze higher. While my mom was trying to figure out where my dad’s eyebrows had gone, Delmuth ran up to the fire and began putting it out by clapping it between his hands. He would clap the fire, then blow on his hands, while jumping from foot to foot. All the while, Kim and I stood looking straight ahead, wondering what was becoming of our wedding day.
With the fire extinguished and Delmuth’s hands too tender to continue taking pictures, we were now free to begin the ceremony.
Through months of planning and painstaking attention to every detail, never in a million years would we have imagined that the pastor’s opening words to the congregation at our wedding ceremony would be, “It’s okay! The Ethiopian senator has put out the fire.”
It has been said that the Love Boat always springs a leak, sometimes even on the wedding day. When thinking back twenty-two years to that day, I can’t help but think of those wise words of Solomon:
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purposes that prevail” (Prov. 19:21).
Occasionally I enjoy looking through our wedding pictures, and I smile at Delmuth standing there, Polaroid in hand. Then my mind’s eye reruns twenty-two years of triumphs and tears, failures and forgiveness, plans that worked, others that didn’t, all lovingly sustained in this marriage of two imperfect people graced by His perfect purposes.