You’re Doing a Good Job

I’m going to say this again because you need to hear it:

You’re doing a good job.

Keep going. Don’t get discouraged; don’t give up. Right now, you can’t see the progress because you’re too close to the situation. I promise you’re becoming something beautiful.

Recently my husband and I have been working on communicating better about a few hot-button topics, and it’s been rough. After three years of marriage, I noticed that we tended to repeat the same arguments, and every time those issues came up, things got a little more heated. It had finally gotten to the point where we weren’t talking about those subjects any more. We were only fighting about them. Something had to give.

We started trying to develop some healthier habits, but the process was extremely emotional. I came close to quitting because I didn’t see any difference. (Just to clarify, I considered giving up on the habits, not the marriage. We love each other a lot and are committed for life. Didn’t want you to worry.) Then, over the holidays, my sister made a passing comment about how happy and connected we seemed. It took me by surprise.

Really? We seem happy and connected?

Since then I’ve noticed it myself, but at the time my family’s encouragement gave me the boost I needed to keep trying. That’s what I’m praying this blog post does for you.

Now, because we’re sinful human beings in need of a Savior, I do need to acknowledge the possibility that you’re not doing a good job. Maybe you’re giving in to your fears. Maybe you’re harboring unresolved bitterness.

Believe me, I’ve been there. Back when I resisted marrying my husband, I knew perfectly well that I was allowing fear to rule me … but recognizing my failure didn’t help. After all, I didn’t want to give in to anxiety. At the time, I honestly didn’t feel like I had control. In that scenario, there’s only one thing to remember:

You may not be doing a good job, but Jesus is.

You may not be doing a good job, but Jesus is.

Looking back at my worst moments, God inevitably used them for my benefit. In that dark, dark season when I thought God had abandoned me, He was working toward a display of His glory that would leave me stunned. So if you’re not at your best currently, don’t sweat it. Trust God to be better. In the meantime, I’m here to reassure you that yes, you will get there eventually. Don’t lose heart.

I sincerely believe that right now, today, you are doing a good job. More importantly, however, your heavenly Father always does a good job — and He loves you so, so much.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

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Daniel Swanson Photography

Your Life Isn’t Boring

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I did not want to come home from Christmas vacation this year.

As my husband will attest, I grumped my way through long stretches of the thirteen-and-a-half hour drive through the snow from Deming, New Mexico to Littleton, Colorado. Going home meant returning to responsibility, which felt overwhelming. Dishes, laundry, cat litter, weary days at work, grocery shopping, lonely nights when my husband had to work late, and much-needed home repairs stretched before me with depressing certainty. I preferred to stay at his parents’ house, sleeping the mornings away and watching Christmas movies endlessly.

Then I actually got home.

Turns out, I missed my sweet kitties. It felt really good to exercise again. My stomach thanked me for a break from the rich food. I enjoyed my first days back at my job, and I discovered a fresh wave of motivation to get started on my goals for 2019. My husband even surprised me with Wicked tickets as an early anniversary gift, and then we watched a movie on the couch together.

So … what was I dreading, exactly?

Instead of boring, mundane, or difficult, my ordinary life turned out to be full of delightful moments. I loved my routines — even getting back to my own toothpaste made me smile. How had I forgotten so quickly? Feeling foolish, I found myself thanking God for this lovely life that I live.

My ordinary life turned out to be full of delightful moments.

Your life might not look anything like mine, but I’m guessing that you have plenty of reasons to appreciate your daily routines, too. Instead of complaining about tomorrow, maybe you could learn from my mistake and make up your mind to notice the little blessings. As I’m discovering, the day ahead is rarely as difficult as I imagine.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Why I’m Thankful for Mood Swings

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Daniel Swanson Photography

I haven’t been my best self lately, and I’m searching for the silver lining.

As usual, my husband has borne the brunt of my instability. I’ve had extreme mood swings for weeks — no, I’m not pregnant — and a few embarrassing low moments that shone an unwanted spotlight on my ugly side. A couple of counseling sessions later, I’m learning to remind myself in those dark places that my emotions are not my husband’s fault. My heart is my own responsibility.

Then, driving home from work the other day, I saw a house decorated with rainbow Christmas lights.

This probably sounds silly, but my whole body relaxed into happy enjoyment. I really, really like Christmas lights. When I got married on January 2nd, my mom asked the church to leave up the lights after Christmas so I’d have them for my wedding. Seeing those lights from my car the other day pulled me out of a spiritual stupor long enough to appreciate my surroundings.

Sometimes I hate my own feelings because they have the power to paralyze me, but I believe that God gave us emotions to reflect part of His character. He has big feelings, too. Maybe when I experience emotions more intensely, I can also love Him more deeply. Certain Bible verses mean more. Some church services hit harder. Everything makes me cry, so I might as well cry about Jesus.

Everything makes me cry, so I might as well cry about Jesus.

I never want to put too much stock in my emotions because they often lie to me. Sometimes I need to remind myself that I’m only grumpy because I’m hormonal; my boss isn’t actually being unreasonable; my husband doesn’t actually hate me; I shouldn’t completely unravel. Still, big emotions have their place in the Christian walk. Don’t they?

Thankfully, all of this craziness on my part hasn’t made my husband bitter against me. He’s so willing to forgive. I will continue to try not to blame him for my feelings. At the same time, I did allow myself to feel big emotions at a Christmas concert tonight. After all, as the singer reminded me, the same Jesus who held babies in his lap will also descend from heaven with a sword coming out of his mouth. That’s worth being thrilled about!

Lord, use my weakness to clear the cobwebs from my heart so that You may take up residence there. Put my unstable, fickle feelings to use for Your kingdom. Thank you for Christmas lights.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line — mature, complete, and wanting nothing. – James 1:2-4 (The Voice Bible)

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Daniel Swanson Photography

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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Daniel Swanson Photography

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

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

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