The Trouble with Stress (Why I’m Not a Newlywed)

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  1. Stress makes you grind and clench your teeth while you sleep.
  2. Stress makes you buy expensive mouth guards from the dentist.
  3. Stress gives you migraines.
  4. Stress makes your eyes cross so that you can’t read your emails at work.
  5. Stress makes you stop drinking coffee.
  6. Stress brings you back to your Bible.
  7. Stress helps you open up to friends and family.
  8. Stress, like everything else, comes from God to teach you something.
  9. Stress allows you to recognize that you’re handling it better this time.
  10. Stress propels you from one phase of life to another.

I’m not a newlywed any more.

I acknowledged this fact sitting on the couch with my husband, holding his hand. We clearly loved each other — and even liked each other — but it felt different because we chose to feel and act that way. Let me explain.

For large portions of our early marriage, we rode the wave of our fickle emotions. Since my husband and I are very, very emotional people, that was a pretty wild ride. Sometimes we were giddily in love, and sometimes we were desperately miserable. Sometimes those two emotions occurred within the span of a few hours.

For reasons outside of our control, June had been a hard, heavy month. We felt the heaviness on the night of our transition from newlyweds to regular married people. No amount of conversation could lighten the burden, so we were silent together. Then we watched the World Cup and held hands on the couch because we were married.

No matter what.

And I felt proud of us because being sad together, with no obvious solution or end to the sadness, requires courage and a portion of maturity — and when did that happen?

Being sad together requires courage.

It’s funny because, back when I was making up my mind about marrying him, I kept telling myself that marriage would be so hard because everyone said it was so hard. I kept envisioning a future full of angst and fights and stomach aches. Now I’m living in that part of marriage, I guess, but “those people” weren’t exactly correct.

I think what frustrates me the most about statements like marriage is hard is that they’re such sweeping generalizations; they don’t give you an accurate or compelling picture of what so hard actually feels like . . . because you know this person so well and love his soft lips and stubbly face and want him to hug you tightly even when you’re deeply sad.

To say that marriage is so hard misses the point of marriage, which is your spouse. It also ignores the forward trajectory of marriage, which never stays in the same place for long. My newlywed phase only lasted two and half years, and that’s not a bad thing. Just because I’m stressed out right now doesn’t mean that I can’t be happy, too.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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My Sleep Challenge (Abundant Life)

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I envision a well-rested future for myself.

If I put my mind to it, I truly believe that I could go to bed earlier, sleep longer, and eliminate the exhaustion that fogs my days. Naysayers, I have a song to sing for you.

May this blog post be my challenge to live a more balanced life. I am determined to get more sleep. Feel free to act as my accountability partner.

So many problems lie outside of our control, but I choose my own bedtime.

So many problems lie outside of our control, but for the most part I choose my own bedtime. You may have small children or homework keeping you awake, but I do not. If I want to get more sleep, I can! Starting today, I want to set aside the vague complaints about sleepiness that often slip from my lips because I am not a victim of circumstance. I have the power to choose how many hours of sleep I get each night.

Every decision comes with sacrifice. I may not have as much time to watch The Office with my husband on the couch before bed, scroll through Instagram, or sing along to audition videos on YouTube. Change requires discipline, a quality I need to develop.

Instead of staring groggily at my computer screen at work, I long to look with fresh eyes at the world around me and the tasks before me. Recently the Holy Spirit has been whispering the phrase “abundant life,” and whenever He repeats the same message from multiple sources, I try to listen. Perhaps He plans to reveal a new layer of abundance.

I want to be awake for that!

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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An Object in Motion

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One healthy habit encourages another.

I decided to try cutting desserts out of my diet for a time, and initially the idea seemed daunting. Honestly, I doubted my own self-control. Once I had determined to begin, however, my coworkers’ treats in the breakroom no longer held any allure. I didn’t agonize over the question of whether or not I should grab a donut at church because I had already made up my mind to refuse.

In her study on the book of Daniel, Beth Moore says this about the word loyalty: “It’s something we already were that surfaces in the test.” The original Hebrew word involves a certain amount of “initial preparation or formation,” meaning that an act of loyalty stems from previous resolve, not a spontaneous decision. In other words, what we set out to do affects the end results.

Loyalty is something we already were that surfaces in the test. – Beth Moore

For a few weeks, desserts held no power of distraction or temptation for me. The simple mindset, “I’m not doing that right now,” protected me emotionally and mentally. For someone who does not typically exhibit much self-control around sugar, the power of prior determination came as a surprise. Best of all, I began to find other small acts of discipline easier to accomplish.

Not only did I successfully eliminate ice cream, cookies, cake, and candy from my diet for a number of weeks, but I also began to run the dishwasher more regularly and keep dirty clothes inside the laundry basket instead of tossing them onto the floor. Astonishingly, I even considered continuing the habit of avoiding desserts after my period of abstinence had ended. Instead of feeling burdened by the challenge, I felt motivated to reach for higher goals.

I didn’t make it all the way to Easter without desserts, but I’m delighted by the discovery that a little self-discipline generates a little more. Hopefully some of the practices I have developed over the past few weeks will continue long-term. Even if they don’t, I feel empowered to know that the Lord Jesus has designed my spirit to want more of something good.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life. . . .For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control. . . .For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2nd Peter 1:3-8 (emphasis mine)

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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5 Simple Pleasures I’m Loving Right Now

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1. Coffee

I’m not a coffee drinker by nature. In the past I’d wander down the coffee isle at the grocery store to inhale the smell of the beans, but I did not enjoy the bitter taste. Then my in-laws introduced me to New Mexico Pinion Coffee — specifically the Morning Blend — and I joined the ranks of the caffeinated with enthusiasm. Now I’m thoroughly enjoying the morning routine of brewing dark liquid to pour into my travel mug.

2. Professional Manicures

I feel a tad guilty about this one because I’ve never had enough disposable income to indulge in luxuries like fancy nails before. When I worked at the Starbucks drive-through window, I spent a lot of time noticing customers’ hands, and I marveled at the number of women with gorgeous, colorful fingers. How do they afford the upkeep? I never want to become dependent on non-essentials, but I’ll admit that purple glitter on my fingernails brings me inordinate amounts of pleasure throughout the day.

3. Morning Cuddles

This may be my current favorite aspect of married life. My husband and I set multiple alarms in the mornings, and when they go off for the first time, we immediately drape our limbs over each other and go back to sleep. He’s so warm and muscly, and I still relish the experience of feeling small by comparison to his hulking manliness. (At 5 feet 11 inches, I’ve never been considered petite.) Love is so fun sometimes.

4. Commuter Calls

Since my drive home takes me about 40 minutes during the week, I have gotten into the habit of calling various members of my family as soon as I get in the car. My mom answers her phone most consistently, but lately my sister’s lunch break has also corresponded briefly with my evening commute as she works swing shift in California. It’s nice to feel connected from a distance.

5. Board Games

I’m one of those extroverted introverts who needs a healthy balance of social interaction and alone-time, and lately I’ve had enough energy to plan a few game nights. To my surprise and delight, many of my college friends have stayed in the Denver area after graduation, so I never lack willing participants. Board games perfectly accomplish the two primary goals of any friendly get-together: conversation and entertainment. Right now we’re unanimously loving Code Names and King of Tokyo.

I remain convinced that God fills every life with precious, personal gifts waiting to be noticed and enjoyed.  Let’s start thinking of life like a giant Easter Egg hunt, searching for the joy hidden in the ordinary. Next time you open your mouth to complain, pause to take note of one small pleasure. You may find that you suddenly have nothing to say.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

3 Reasons I Feel More Stable Today

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Daniel Swanson Photography

The ground feels steady under my shoes today.

I had been in survival mode for months, barely breaking the surface long enough to breathe before stress and exhaustion dragged me into darkness again. I had stopped enjoying my job, my stomach tightening every time I approached the parking garage at my office building. My talented, ambitious, hardworking husband filled evenings and weekends with homework, live gigs, and recording, so loneliness often tainted my hours at home. As for the state of my house, when I could no longer see an inch of clear space on tables or countertops, I sent a pathetic text message to my grandma, asking her to help me clean (which, of course, she immediately did). I lost touch with friends, stopped blogging, skipped church, and rarely read the Bible.

Today feels better — and not just today, but the past many days and weeks. I see a definite trend toward personal and professional improvement and significantly higher levels of emotional stability. I’d like to pinpoint the exact cause that led to this highly desirable effect, but I think the truth involves multiple variables.

1. A toxic person dropped suddenly and permanently out of my life.

I find it disturbing that a single negative influence can wield such destructive power; I didn’t realize how much I had been affected by regular contact with this individual until our interactions ceased and the sun resumed shining.

2. I started exercising regularly again.

For six consecutive weeks I completed three cardio workouts and one yoga workout per week. Sometimes they only lasted ten minutes, but I never missed a day. Thanks to a little discipline, I bid headaches goodbye at long last.

3. My spirit (finally) adjusted to a full-time work schedule.

Took me a little longer than I anticipated, but after a year and a half of 40-hour work weeks, I no longer feel constantly overwhelmed by my daily life. For the first time in recent memory, I have actually begun to experience boredom again!

Sometimes the process of transitioning seems unbearably long.

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Sometimes the process of transitioning seems unbearably long and my small improvements so unimpressive. I still don’t go to bed early enough; dirty laundry lies in heaps on my bedroom floor; and my attempts at meal prep are far from consistent. More than anything else, the past two years have clearly revealed to me my own weakness. Hopefully I’ve learned a little humility. With the assistance of the Holy Spirit, I pray that I would also develop compassion for others struggling to develop healthy habits.

Since our good God offers grace to us, the least we can do is extend it to one another.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. – 1st Thessalonians 5:11

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. – 2nd Corinthians 12:9

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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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My Never-Ending Migraine: A Summer of Grace

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