When the Wedding Day Is Over

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Fifteen months into our marriage, we’ve left the honeymoon phase behind us.

Like any normal human beings, we get grouchy. We nurse hurt feelings, pouting on the drive to the gym. We get confused, conveying rejection unintentionally. He retreats to the basement to edit songs; I jog to the park to cry.

Most recently we sat on opposite ends of the bed, Evan facing the wall while I clutched my knees to my chin. I’d been praying for a breakthrough, but this didn’t feel like an improvement. I couldn’t stand another angry night. Tugging open the drawer in my bedside table, I started tossing books onto the floor until I found the one with the teal cover, a marriage book we’d purchased during engagement but never finished.

“Put your phone down.”

“Why?”

“Because I asked you to.”

I started to read out loud, my voice tight with emotion. This author — a Christian marriage counselor — would certainly set my husband straight, illuminating his mistakes while solving my frustration. A few sentences into the chapter, however, I experienced the uncomfortable prickle in my throat that accompanies conviction.

The author addressed wives directly, using words like laziness that felt unpleasantly pertinent. Tears trembled in my voice while I finished the final paragraph because, according to this wise man, my husband’s “unreasonable” responses over the past few days stemmed from a legitimate grievance. After wrestling with my pride for a moment, I mumbled an apology.

The next morning, we discovered that God had sent a breakthrough after all: a little humility had softened my heart enough to erase the sting of previous conversations. We spent the weekend gobbling donuts on the couch while binge-watching Parks and Recreation, totally in love.

Maybe as the newness fades, the real growth begins.

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Daniel Swanson Photography
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Daniel Swanson Photography

Maybe as the newness fades, the real growth begins.

The trees outside my office flowered on Friday. Breathtaking white and pink blossoms coated every branch. I strolled beneath the trees on my lunch break, brushing pollen with my fingertips, leaning close to inhale — but the flowers only lasted for the day. When I returned on Monday, petals carpeted the ground. In their place peeked fresh green leaves.

Fifteen months ago, we filled my parent’s small mountain church with flowers — yellow roses, baby’s breath, deep purple carnations — so many we couldn’t find enough vases to hold them. White lights twinkled through yards of fluffy tulle. A lace train trailed behind me wherever I walked. We initiated our marriage extravagantly because love is worth celebrating, but we haven’t lost anything now that our wedding day lives only in photos. Instead, we’ve gained a smidgen of experience.

Hopefully we love each other a little better because of it.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! – 1st John 3:1

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How to Handle Happiness

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Daniel Swanson Photography

These days there aren’t any life-altering decisions looming in my future.

I’m not grappling with fear, doubt, or uncertainty. God hasn’t thrown any major trials my way recently. Instead, my days overflow with interesting conversations, pleasant people, manageable tasks, and the ordinary weariness of a forty-hour work week. Weekends are even better: late mornings cuddling with my husband; snowy mountain excursions with our parents;  trips to the movies; restaurant dinner dates; hours of making music in church.

In short, I’m happy — and I’m not sure how to deal with it.

I’m not sure how to deal with happiness.

During a recent sermon, my pastor opened the altar for prayer. “Whatever you’re facing, no matter how big it seems, God can handle it. Trust him.” I saw people kneel, weeping as they poured out their pain before the Lord. I remembered the tears that dripped from my own eyes not so long ago when I felt like God had abandoned me. I recalled the desperate prayers and the hours spent searching the scriptures for answers. I pictured the 4×6 index cards that I once carried in my purse in the event of panic attacks: “Do not be anxious in anything . . . . How great is the love the father has lavished on us . . . . There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

There was a time when a pastor’s prayer drew me to the altar, needy and hurting. Now, when I examine my heart during quiet moments of contemplation, I find it whole. During such moments my happiness sometimes worries me.

As I see it, there are two problems with happiness:

  1. God doesn’t tend to reveal himself clearly during the good times.
  2. Happy times lead to sad ones.

As for the first problem, any Christ follower will acknowledge that they have experienced God’s presence most potently during their worst trials. Looking back on the milestones of my spiritual journey, I inevitably glimpsed glory through pain. As my sense of urgency  faded, however, my connection with the Spirit seems to have dwindled as well.

The second problem saps some of the sweetness from my days by whispering, “This too shall pass. You won’t always feel cheerful and confident. Someday, you’ll endure troubles again.” Since no season lasts forever, this one must eventually end.

What I seem to be forgetting is that the same God who carried me through suffering also orchestrates my pleasure. Just as he brought pain into my life because he loved me, so now he offers me joy because – you guessed it – he still loves me!

The same God who carried me through suffering now orchestrates my pleasure.

I don’t need to feel guilty about my lax in spirituality as if I somehow control my relationship with God. Of course I should continue to seek him through prayer and scripture, but I don’t need to carry the burden of measuring my spiritual progress. Neither do I need to fear trials in my future because as James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (1:17, NIV).

In other words, this season comes to me straight from the hands of a good God who loves me lavishly. If he has given me a job that I like, a husband who showers me with affection, and a family that supports me, I’d better doggone well enjoy it. And when this season trails into another, that will be alright, too, because the same God will be there.

My prayer for this year is that my soul will remain alive to the movement of the Spirit even while my heart rests from the troubles of yesterday. Above all, I want to overflow with gratitude for the good things that fill my days because there are so many of them.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap . . . . – Luke 6:38 (NIV)

12 Months of Marriage in Movie Reviews

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For my husband and me, Christmas means more movie gift cards, which means Part Two of my earlier movie review blog post.

We’ve had some goodies in 2016.

Hacksaw Ridge

I’m not sure if I’ve ever cried so hard in a movie theater. The first half of this film weaves a love story that would make the coldest of hearts smile, and the second half blows your souls to pieces – much like the soldiers themselves. So. Much. Gore. I kept crying all the way home, awed by the sacrifice of those who fought in WWII and shaken by the horror they endured.

Doctor Strange

Super cool. Benedict Cumberbatch triumphs once again. Furthermore, his literal out-of-body experience in the hospital made me laugh out loud. Definitely watch this one if you like super heroes or sci-fi or visual effects … or movies.

Arrival

Fascinating premise, high-caliber acting, mind-bending conclusion. This is not your typical alien movie: there’s only one explosion, and hardly anyone dies. Instead, this movie leaves me contemplating the purpose of suffering. As Louise teaches us, we cheat ourselves when we try to skip the painful stuff. Two thumbs up.

Moana

I love how the ocean becomes a character in this movie. Moana’s signature song sounds terrific. Demigod Maui is lots of fun – and as a bonus, we get to hear Dwayne the Rock sing! Still, I’m a little disappointed that Moana’s song remains the only good one. I find myself missing the creative “wow” of music from The Lion King or Aladdin.

Rogue One

What a treat to watch a film driven by a compelling plot! I tend to get caught up in the emotional lives of the characters to the extent that the story takes a background role. Watching this movie, however, I genuinely wanted those rebels to steal the plans to the Death Star – whether or not they survived the endeavor. I would watch this one many times.

Passengers

We technically saw this one at the beginning of 2017 – the day of our first wedding anniversary, in fact! Evan accurately described it as a chick flick disguised as sci-fi. I happen to enjoy chick flicks, and the lead actors carried the story with charm (and plenty of sex appeal). As for the premise, I found the idea of living alone on a spaceship for years slightly stressful but intriguing.

Reflecting on one year of marriage, I can’t help but feel extravagantly fortunate to live in my own house with a kind husband, a fat kitty, and enough extra cash to indulge in  the world of cinema. Whatever the next year holds, this one has been delightful.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Adulthood for Beginners, Part 2

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Daniel Swanson Photography

I do not set lofty goals for myself.

My aspirations are simple ones:

  • Eat three balanced meals per day.
  • Get a reasonable amount of sleep each night.
  • Keep my house moderately tidy.

It frustrates me that these undeniably attainable intentions often prove to be way too hard, so I try to celebrate the small victories. Last week, for instance, there were two whole days in a row during which I did not leave a single dirty dish in the sink. I also ran loads of laundry three work nights in succession. I even – get this – folded the clean clothes instead of leaving them heaped in my hamper. (Applause seems appropriate.)

So far my husband and I have lived in this house together for eleven months. Our two attempts at home improvement have been 1) painting a wall in the living room and 2) purchasing a beautiful dark-wood dining room table. Remnants of the original color still haunt the edges of our wall, although we did our best with painter’s tape. We’re immensely proud of our table.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

Oh – we also recently bought a brand-new water heater, but that one happened against our will.

In order to prove to myself that I have made some progress over the past year (almost) of marriage, I’d like to record a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

1 – Call Your Mom (A Lot)

I tend to process verbally, and between a new job, new living arrangements, and a new relationship status, I’ve had a lot to process this year.  My mother is the one person I can always trust to be totally interested in the details of my life. Grandmothers also serve this function exceptionally well.

2 – Do 1 Small Chore Each Night

I find that I have the most energy right when I get home from work, and even tiny amounts of effort make a big difference in the way I feel about my home. One simple task like taking out the trash, sweeping the cat food that inevitably ends up scattered across the floor – why, kitty? – or unloading the dishwasher doesn’t take much time. That way I can go to bed with a small sense accomplishment.

3 – Watch Netflix During Workouts

This isn’t really a new lesson, and I probably don’t “bring it” the way my DVD instructor would like, but at least I’m moving my body. In order to watch two programs simultaneously (workout + show), I mute my laptop and play Netflix through my husband’s Xbox. Most of my workout videos are familiar, anyway, so I don’t need to hear the instructor yelling at me to “get lower!”

To summarize, my improvements in the realm of homemaking have been minimal at best. I have a long way to go before I achieve the basic skills necessary for managing a household. My marriage, on the other hand, makes me so happy.

Perhaps when I review this year, instead of measuring my success according to the standards of functioning adulthood, I should remind myself that I didn’t get married because I wanted to run my own home. Homemaking didn’t even enter into the equation. I got married because of Evan. We say hello every morning and goodnight every night. We have wedding pictures hanging all over our house, and every time I look at them, I feel the same warm delight creep over me that I felt eleven months ago when I wore my beautiful lace dress.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

I am living in the victory, right now, because we married each other. Those of you who know my story well understand that we walked through a scary, dark valley before entering this light. When I remember that, I look around myself and marvel at the happiness that shines on us now. We’re not angry or afraid because we love each other forever. We have our whole lives to work on things like vacuuming and scrubbing the bathtub. While we practice, we can go ahead and relish the joy that greets us every day.

Yes, I will sing to the LORD because he has been good to me.

– Psalm 13:6

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Daniel Swanson Photography

10 Months of Marriage in Movie Reviews

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Since we got married in January of 2016, my husband and I have been to the movies 19 times.

Before you start judging our financial priorities, we received a LOT of gift cards this year. (It’s like our friends and families know what we love.) Still, I’ll be the first to admit we’re a little obsessed. Movies are just so dang fun.

Because movies have played such a prominent role in our newlywed life, it seems only right that I review them here. Furthermore, as I tend to get emotionally involved in the films I watch, many of these stories have become intertwined with mine — for better and for worse.

13 Hours

My husband and I couldn’t talk on the drive home from this one because it hit us so hard. The men portrayed in this movie are true heroes. I’d recommend it highly, but I wouldn’t watch it again.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

This is probably my favorite movie — not just my favorite out of this list, but my favorite, period. We saw it in theaters three times and promptly bought the DVD when it came out. It’s the perfect blend of comedy, romance, and gore. Jane Austen’s social commentary doubles in irony when the Bennet girls are busy battling the undead … while still trying desperately to acquire rich husbands.

10 Cloverfield Lane

On the one hand, this story of three people trapped in a bunker gripped me and stuck with me long after. The characters felt real, and the scenario was loaded with suspense. On the other hand, the scenes that stayed with me were disturbing; I still feel slightly queasy remembering them. I have a low tolerance for horror, and this film crossed the line for me.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

I left this movie annoyed that I wasted some of our gift card money on it. What was with all those bewildering dream sequences? Why did Lois and Clark have zero chemistry? Why would Batman … never mind. The only reason I’d watch this again is to make a list of everything wrong with it and rant on social media.

Captain America: Civil War

Obviously these are great movies. This one did a good job of giving every character a piece of the spotlight — which I’d imagine was pretty difficult since there are so many Avengers now.

The Jungle Book

I didn’t really like this movie, but since I wrote my Senior thesis on fairy tales, I enjoyed analyzing it. I decided it portrays childhood as seen by a child: everything is terrifying, but you never really believe the monsters will eat you. [SPOILER ALERT] In the end, you get to do whatever the heck you want because you’re the hero. Duh. (This is how I explained the fact that Mowgli never went back to the Man Village and instead became Supreme Ruler of the jungle.)

Florence Foster Jenkins

This movie surprised me because it showed characters’ flaws without making judgements. It made me question the distinction between a good person and a bad one. Also, I both laughed and cried during the movie. Also, it’s a true story starring Meryl Streep. So … yeah, I liked it.

X-Men Apocalypse

My husband loved this movie. Personally, I’m getting tired of movies in which godlike villains threaten to destroy the world. I would have been content to watch a group of unusual kids grow up in Professor X’s pretty house.

Alice Through the Looking Glass

This wasn’t nearly as good as the first one, which was a bummer because I liked the first one. It was visually impressive, but the story was just … boring.

Finding Dory

Totally heartwarming. (I may have cried a little.) I’m a sucker for animated films partly because of the stories and partly because the animation can be so beautiful.  This one satisfied in both areas.

Independence Day: Resurgance

Entertaining and unoriginal.

Star Trek Beyond

I appreciated how this movie didn’t take itself too seriously but still offered the epic battle sequences we’ve come to expect. [SPOILER ALERT] Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to observe that Jim and the alien woman, by all appearances, didn’t fall in love!  Instead, Mr. Spock was the one with relationship drama.

Jason Bourne

I liked it; my husband thought it was boring and lifted the plot scene for scene from other Bourne movies. [SPOILER ALERT] Scene one: woman Jason loves is killed. Scene two: injured Bourne limps at top speed though a crowded street. Scene three: bewildering car chase. Etc.

Suicide Squad

We both enjoyed this movie, probably because we were comparing it to Batman vs. Superman. I get excited about animation, and I really liked the neon pink-and-blue graffiti art. Additionally, the voodoo ghost woman looked amazing. Good job, CGI artists.

Sully

This is a really inspiring true story. The movie makes you live the experience.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

This film was so fun that we bought the book. We were delighted to discover that the book is even better — and its plot varied so much from the screenplay that it felt like a new story.

The Accountant

SO. GOOD. As soon as the credits started rolling, I was ready for a sequel. Ben Affleck made a terrible Batman, but he pulled off “autistic Jason Bourne” with flying colors. I laughed out loud multiple times. The hero himself was a fascinating puzzle, and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen as I waited to find out who he was, what he’d done, and whether or not they’d catch him (all the while hoping they would not).

Based on the films we’re still planning to see, our count will total 23 before the year is out. Writing these reviews ended up being really fun for me — I stayed up way past my bedtime on a work night — so I’ll probably be adding Part Two in December. Thanks for joining in my indulgence with me. Feel free to post your own opinions about any of these movies.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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When Your Spouse Goes Back to School

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Daniel Swanson Photography

I figured out the source of my blues from last month, and once again the blame lies with my least favorite word: transition.

This time, though, the transition wasn’t mine.

A few months ago, my husband quit his full-time job and went back to school to study computer science. We both knew – or at least trusted – that it was a good move for our future. Thanks to God’s provision and the generous support  of family, we were (fairly) confident we’d be able to pay our bills. Still, it was a big leap of faith for my husband. I don’t think I realized how big.

I’ve always been the worried one in our relationship. I over-think small decisions. I am swift to consider potential problems, to the point that I sometimes squelch happy dreams. Any transition, even the positive ones, tend to leave me trembling with anxiety. This particular change, however, didn’t bother me.

I knew my husband was nervous about his first week of classes, and I was vaguely sympathetic, but I was far more interested in my own career. I had a good job; he would be fine. In fact, my main worry was that his homework might interfere with our hang-out time in the evenings.

A few weeks into his classes, I started to notice a change in our home life. We began quarreling far more frequently. It bewildered me. I’d come home from a great day at work, and we’d end the night with tears and angry silences. The fights were silly ones, but the mood between us had noticeably shifted.

I remember thinking, Maybe this is the hard part everyone warned us about.

I remember thinking, Maybe this is the hard part everyone kept warning us about when we got married. Maybe we just don’t like each other as much. The thought had barely formulated before I rejected it. We were still crazy about each other. We always would be. There must be a reason for the sudden tension.

The fact that I took so long to trace the source proves how clueless I was about my husband’s emotional life. Ever since graduating from college, he has tackled adulthood head-on. I’ve never known him to hold fewer than three jobs. Even now that he’s back in school, he works part-time for our church and  runs his own business from our basement. Financial independence is hugely important to him, as is his vision of “success.” He frequently worries that he hasn’t achieved enough — that he’s progressing too slowly.

I don’t remember how the conversation started, but I finally got around to asking him how he felt about quitting his job. I quickly discovered that he felt he had taken a step backward — even though he knew this degree would benefit his future. In one clarifying moment I realized the tension I had sensed wasn’t about me. My husband was understandably stressed by a major life change. Perhaps if I had taken a more active look outside my own emotions, I would have recognized it sooner.

As I write this, my husband is totally rocking his classes. We’re paying our bills every month, and we still really like each other. The change continues to carry its stressors, but next time I feel the strain, I’ll look for practical explanations instead of assuming the worst.

I still hate transitions. I’m learning, however, that identifying the source of my blues can sometimes help cure them.  Hopefully I’m learning a little something about empathy, too. Most importantly, this blip on our marital radar has reminded me that I’m not the only one facing uncomfortable adjustments. It’s nice to feel like a team again.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

In Search of Joy

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The last few weeks have felt a little heavy, and I’m not sure why.

The weird thing is, a lot of wonderful stuff happened recently. A friend of mine accepted Christ and was baptized. I got to be part of her decision. My husband played a gig in Vail, so we stayed for free. We spent an entire Saturday wandering in and out of shops, surrounded by mountains. I successfully produced a few live radio shows at work. During one show, I got to shake the hand of a WWII veteran who just finished an incredible sculpture — at the age of 94.

Seems like life would be feeling pretty good right now. For some reason, though, I’m having trouble shaking these depressive feelings.

The other night I got into bed feeling sorry for myself. My husband was up late with homework, so I was going to bed alone. Instead of turning the lights out and moping, I opened my dresser drawer and pulled out a book I’ve never read, one that I got for free. The first chapter was about reading God’s Word and applying it to my life.

It’s been a while since I spent regular time in the Word. Last year, when everything was so difficult, I read the Bible and prayed obsessively, begging God for answers. I think I wore myself out a little. This year I’ve backed off, trying to give my heart a break. I may have missed the happy medium.

Placing the book back in my nightstand, I opened Numbers and took a stab at application: reading a passage and then asking myself, “How can I obey these words?” It was one of those chapters about sacrifices, in which God told the Jews exactly how many goats they needed to slaughter every month. I had to use my imagination, but I decided my version of a daily “sacrifice” could be reading a brief Bible passage every morning and evening. I went to sleep feeling surprisingly refreshed.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

– Psalm 51:12, NIV

I believe God uses every piece of our lives to teach us about Himself. He’s using my job and the time I spend in church and the numbers in my bank account . . . all of it. I can still grow in the Lord when I’m not studying the Bible every day. Still, staying in touch with the Holy Spirit makes a difference.

I’m needing refreshment right now. A day off might help — and I was thankful for the three-day Labor Day weekend — but more than that, I need some refreshment of the soul. Reading a few Bible verses twice a day may not cure my blues, but it could help shift my focus. After all, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography