San Diego: Our Marriage in Microcosm

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Once upon a time we sat with our toes against red plastic, gripping paddles with cloudy water beneath us. We hadn’t paid extra for wetsuits because the gray skies still held San Diego warmth; we’d been receiving heat wave warnings on our phones the way people in Colorado receive flash flood notifications: loudly and involuntarily. Ahead we saw a fat sea lion cub asleep on a rock. Our group’s many bright vessels didn’t bother him at all.

When the guide invited us to splash over the side of our tandem kayak to swim for a few minutes in the ocean, we didn’t mind the initial gasp of cold. I’d been bothering Evan with my paddling instructions, anyway, because he couldn’t hear me above the sound of the choppy water. Not to mention our bladders were desperately full. We share the same juvenile glee about urinating in the ocean. The guide called us out on it, too, in his typically entertaining announcer’s voice: “We all know what the swimmers were doing. . .”

He told us that harmless leopard sharks swam these waters, and we wished we could have seen them. Wriggling across the unforgiving rim of our kayak to return to shore, we bruised our ribs. The blisters on my toes gathered little circles of sand. Our guide had recounted the oddest query posed by a previous novice: “What’s the elevation here?” I chuckled a second time as we carried wet, rank life vests back to their bins.

Our vacation in San Diego provided an interesting glimpse into the differences between my husband and myself. My ideal vacation involved sleeping late, exploring the innumerable brunch restaurants lining the streets of Point Loma, and watching movies in our beautiful guest house. My husband’s itinerary of choice included swimming in the ocean, upright paddle-boarding, and kayaking through caves. The contrast between these two viewpoints took me by surprise. Apparently I had forgotten about our childhoods.

In my husband’s family, a vacation meant a series of back-to-back activities, whereas in my youth, trips involves long stretches of unscheduled hangout time with family. On this vacation — our first as a couple since our honeymoon — we had to reconcile those two approaches. We therefore slept late, ate brunch, and then filled our remaining hours with ocean excursions. I could have spent a lot more time resting after an exhausting summer of migraines, and Evan probably wished that he could have seen more of San Diego, but I think we struck a fairly reasonable compromise.

I’m not sure how we made it a year and a half into our marriage before encountering such an obvious manifestation of our different upbringings. In retrospect, some of our past disagreements make more sense now. Hopefully we’ll use that knowledge to strike a better balance in the future. After all, there’s nothing wrong with resting . . . but it’s nice to have a few adventures, too.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

My Never-Ending Migraine: A Summer of Grace

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Daniel Swanson Photography

This has been the summer of doctors for two reasons:

  1. I’ve been mooching off my dad my entire adult life, and since I’m about to turn 26 and lose his excellent insurance, I’m trying to fit as many appointments as possible into the next few months.
  2. The first week of May I got a migraine that never went away.

Every year I get a couple of migraines that begin with vision loss in my left eye. If I lie down quickly in a dark place and take ibuprofen, I typically escape the terrible pain that other people describe. This time, though, the visual aura lasted way longer than usual.

After about a month of shadows across my vision, I visited my family practitioner. (I had already seen an ophthalmologist prior to the migraine, so I knew my eyes weren’t the issue.) She sent me to get an MRI. When the MRI came back normal, my mom made an appointment with an OBGYN in case my symptoms related to a hormonal imbalance. The OBGYN referred me to a neurologist. At this point I had spent a fair amount of money to discover that I am, overall, an extremely healthy person. Go, me.

Just when I started to wonder, “How much do I really need my left eye, anyway?” the Neurologist, an adorable Asian woman, informed me calmly that I have been experiencing a continuous migraine for more than three full months. Now I’m on a daily regimen of natural supplements, and she asked that I up my cardio workouts to three times per week. Supposedly it will take 4-6 weeks to get my brain un-stuck.

I think God weakens our bodies sometimes because he wants to take care of our hearts.

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Daniel Swanson Photography
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I think God weakens our bodies because he wants to take care of our hearts.

My entire life, the Lord has treated me with such tenderness, but I don’t notice until my physical capacities fail. The most vivid illustration occurred during my semester in Oxford, England, when I nearly collapsed beneath a burden of crippling anxiety.

I remember sitting with my back against the door of the shared bathroom on my dormitory hall with my knees drawn to my chest, trembling with sobs. The strain of an incredibly difficult academic semester had kept me from sleeping; I had lost so much weight that my clothes had started to fall off; and an ocean separated me from the people who normally calmed me down. I had reached the end of my ability to “push through.”

Suddenly, just moments after whispering a desperate prayer, a physical tingling sensation washed over me from scalp to toe. I had never felt palpable peace like that before, and about a minute later I realized that I had stopped crying. The light buzzed above my head while I rested my chin on my knees, completely calm.

He’s so gentle, friends. When my emotional turmoil reaches the breaking point, and my body buckles beneath the weight, He cradles me. This summer His hands have appeared in the form of bosses who remain lenient with hours missed due to doctors’ appointments, family members who sit with me in waiting rooms, kitties who purr on my chest, and paid sick days that give me time to sleep.

Maybe I needed this migraine to remember how much Jesus cares for me.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.
 – Psalm 31:8

Known

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Daniel Swanson Photography

For Memorial Day weekend I bump along a dirt road to my parents’ mountain home where my mom and I sort bookshelves, stacking piles for me to take home.

Among them we discover journals stretching back to my seven-year-old self. Much to my embarrassment, my mother begins to read passages aloud — but before long we’re both laughing in delight at the memories. We even call my aunt on the phone to relay our favorite segments from our trip to Scotland, funny encounters with natives I had forgotten. To think I nearly told my mother to throw these books away!

It’s a steady, secure feeling, being known. Almost every time my mother and I survey the past together, whether through photo albums or scrawled notes from my younger years, I reconnect with this person named Marie — the girl captured in ink and graphite — and remember that she is someone worth being. Breathing the air of today, riding the current of daily events, trapped in the thoughts of the moment, I tend to forget. [. . .]

I’m honored to be featured on Greer Ohara’s lovely blog, Stories Toward Wholeness as she explores the concept of identity. Please visit her page to read the rest!

Something to Remember when You’re Sleepy

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Daniel Swanson Photography

I’m tired almost all the time.

Depending on the day it ranges from bleary-eyed mornings kind of tired to tripping over nothing, stumbling into walls, blurting nonsensical phrases kind of tired. So, so sleepy . . . and I have absolutely no excuse.

My husband makes fun of me for prioritizing sleep so highly. Rarely do I get less than seven hours, usually more. I’m not raising small children who keep me up all night; I’m not working three jobs to pay my way through school. Every morning I wake up at the same time, drive 40 minutes to work, stay nine hours if I take a lunch break, and drive 40 minutes home. My weekends feel restful, rejuvenating, and relaxing.

Nevertheless, there are many evenings I feel like I could lie down the moment I walk in the door and not wake up until morning. I’ve actually done this a time or two, and whenever I visit my parents’ house, I nap for hours. My body craves sleep like — I don’t know — like a cat craves tuna.

Sadly, I have a hunch I’m not alone. I see your posts on Facebook. I hear the yawns trembling in your voices. We’re all walking around with eyelids drooping and brains buzzing, wishing we were still in bed.

In high school I had a few friends who gave the same answer every time I voiced the perfunctory greeting, “How are you?”

“Tired,” they’d say, until the regularity started to bug me. How can you always be tired? I’d wonder in annoyance. Why don’t you try getting more sleep? Even in college I never pulled all-nighters like some of my classmates. Now, however, I appear to have joined the ranks of the sleep-deprived.

I don’t have an answer for this weariness that seems inherent to adulthood. Instead of wasting screen space searching for a cure, I’ll share one simple lesson that carries me through sleepy days on those occasions when I stop to remember.

You can be thankful and tired at the same time.

You can be thankful and tired at the same time.

When I’m sighing sadly on my bumper-to-bumper commute to the office, my mind wanders to the words of Ann Voskamp in her beautiful book A Thousand Gifts: “All is grace.”

Thank you for trees, God. Thank you for shadows. Thank you for branches waving. Thank you for cool air blowing from my vents. Thank you for diamonds sparkling on my hand.

This is a lesson I must repeat often to myself. I’ll admit that historically, sleepy equates with grumpy for me. When I pause to thank Him, though, I’m surprised to discover that I can experience happiness and sleepiness simultaneously. Feeling tired doesn’t need to defeat me. Instead, my simple refrain of gratitude lifts my eyes from the grogginess of my physical body to the sweetness of each moment that meets me in this day.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. – Psalm 103:2

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

“Give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.”
– Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

When the Wedding Day Is Over

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Daniel Swanson Photography

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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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

Why I Am my History

My mom meets me at Starbucks to watch old home videos.

She has recently taken a step into the 21st century by converting them to DVD, so we share earbuds and play them on her laptop, laughing so loudly that the other coffee drinkers stare at us.

They’ll get over it.

Viewing scenes from my past – many of which I don’t remember – a strange feeling swells in my chest.

I see my smaller self curl on the lap of my grandpa, who passed away a few years ago. A pacifier protrudes from my mouth; I’m wearing pajamas with feet in bright primary colors.

Suddenly it’s Christmas, and I hold an armful of plastic animals, surrounded by wrapping paper. A giraffe drops from the couch, so I turn to the camera with round eyes to pronounce, “Uh-oh!” Auntie Ann crouches next to me so we can play zoo together. My grandma comments off-screen.

A few moments later and many years older, I stand in a crowd of children singing the soundtrack to Mulan. A taller kid partially obscures my pale, nervous face. My little sister twirls nearby in a floral dress, oblivious to the performance. After the final song, I approach the camera to hear my mom’s praise, concern melting into a smile.

Jump to a wedding. The camera sways wildly before focusing on my fat baby brother. He’s unsteady on his feet, dressed in a little blue suit. He approaches a pair of skinny legs – mine – and lifts his arms, wanting to be held. I heft him onto my hip and wave his chubby fist, instructing him to smile at the camera.

The DVD ends in a few moments of visual fuzz. I allow the sounds of the coffeeshop to wash over me, considering the feeling that has been expanding inside of me since we hit play. It’s as if the little knots in my stomach have loosened. The tasks ahead; the conversations behind; these small cares that I carry with me have momentarily evaporated.

I am so loved.

In every home video, family surrounds me. As the first grandchild, my babyhood constitutes the sole focus of a large group of devoted adults. As the oldest sister, my childhood fills with firsts: the first student; the first performer; the first friend to my two sweet siblings. At the time I took it all very seriously. Observing the scenes years later, I notice something new.

There has never been anything to worry about.

All the events that consume my thoughts become nothing more than memories captured in film. One day, this moment will slip away, too. The fear will fade. In its place will linger the deep affection that marks me like a thousand fingerprints tattooed on my skin. I am precious. I am noticed. I am loved.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

There’s a word for this feeling: perspective. When I witness my life from a distance, I recognize the consistent theme woven into every season. I am still the small child curled in my grandfather’s lap. I am still the nervous singer onstage. I am still the bossy sister ordering a baby to smile. Above all, I am the beloved daughter with a camera pointed at my face because I matter.

I leave the coffeeshop refreshed, alive to the details of this day. If I am my history, then I am something warm, safe, and happy. Therefore I may enter adulthood fortified by a past rich with tenderness.

Thank you, Mama, for reminding me.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

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)