Why I Proposed to My Girlfriend At the Foot of the Cross

wasn’t sure how to sneak a diamond ring into Israel without my girlfriend noticing. If I put it in my backpack, she might stumble upon it as we traveled. But if I carried it on me, would it set off the airport metal detector? The last thing I wanted was to have to show the ring to the TSA. If they saw it, my girlfriend would, too. What then? Would I drop to a knee and propose in airport security? I didn’t want to think about it.

Sarah and I praying at the foot of the Cross

Sarah and I praying at the foot of the Cross, where we got engaged

In the end, I carried the ring in a money belt, which I wore inside my pants, around my waist. (Yes, I thought that upon popping the question, my girlfriend would say “yes” despite the fashion statement that wearing a money belt makes. Guess I thought she really loved me.)

The only time I took that money belt off was to quickly send it through airport scanners. Otherwise, I kept it glued to me. And what with the Israeli heat, I don’t use “glued” lightly.

The Backstory

The year was 2006. My then girlfriend (Sarah), her brother, my family, and some friends were on a large group pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

When strangers in our group learned that Sarah and I had been dating a while, they wondered if I might propose on the trip.

Their wonder peaked at Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle: turning water into wine at a wedding feast. If I was going to propose, surely I would do so there, right? In Cana, I felt like I couldn’t reach into my pocket for a Kleenex without an old lady or two gasping at the possibility I was reaching for a ring instead.

But Cana came and went. Everyone seemed to give up hope that I would propose. But I had other plans.

The Proposal

On the second to the last day of the trip, our group visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The church is built on the site of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

With my brother’s help, I managed to get Sarah and me at the back of our tour group as we entered the church. Each member of our group prayed at the spot where Jesus was crucified.

Sarah and I were the last two to pray at the foot of the Cross. As we stood up to leave, I proposed. She said yes.

Why Propose at the Foot of the Cross?

Weeks later, I told a priest friend of mine about the proposal. In his British accent he asked, “You proposed at the foot of the Cross? Don’t you think that’s a bit morbid?”

“Well, that’s where Jesus laid down His life for His bride, the church,” I replied. “And I want to do the same for Sarah.”

“Oh, brilliant. Capital idea!,” he exclaimed, his 180-degree change in attitude revealing that he evidently no longer thought me a complete weirdo.

Why am I telling you this?

I’m telling you this because we have to be prepared to suffer for what matters most to us. Christians believe that Jesus suffered and died for you and me—because we matter most to Him.

By proposing at the foot of the Cross, I wanted to acknowledge that reality and prepare for it in my life with Sarah. Maybe marriage would be a piece of cake. Certainly there would be countless joy-filled hours and wonderful moments.

But what if there were tough times? How would we respond? Would we be prepared to endure suffering for each other, for our marriage, for our family?

As it turns out, we had to face that question in a very real way right after getting married. We wanted kids yet struggled to conceive for four years. We suffered through surgeries, tears, insensitive comments, and more tears.

My children -- John, Elizabeth, and Michael

Sarah’s and my children: John, Elizabeth, and Michael; Easter Sunday, 2016

Suffering is an Opportunity to Express our Love for What Matters Most

That we’ve been blessed with three amazing kids since then is spectacular. But the gift they are is not the first gift we received. The first gift was the opportunity to suffer for them before they even arrived. Because what is greater in life than giving all you have—your very self—for those you love?

Sarah’s and my suffering for our kids was very imperfect. It is very imperfect still. And probably a heck of a lot more suffering will be required as time goes on. All I can hope is that when it is, I’m able to see the opportunity it presents for reconfirming in the most concrete of ways what matters most to me.

But here’s the thing. It’s not just in grandiose acts like proposals or struggling with infertility that we can express our love for what matters most in life. In fact, it’s not primarily in such acts.

Rather, it’s primarily in little, day-to-day acts. Perhaps you forgo something you’d like to buy in order to save a little money for your family. Or perhaps you set your busy schedule aside to spend time with a friend in need.

We—Christians and non-Christians alike, of course—are presented with countless opportunities each day to live for what matters most. Many such opportunities are easy and fun. Some, however, make hard demands on us.

The question for you and for me is: when suffering is required of us to live for what matters most, can we take one step toward receiving it as an opportunity to express, in a profound way, our love?

In what ways have you been invited to express your love through suffering? 


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Brian McAdam
Through his blog, www.brianmcadam.com, Brian helps others have more time and money for what matters most. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America. He serves as the Director of Formation at FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. He and his wife, Sarah, live in Colorado and are blessed with a daughter and fraternal twin boys.