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

Evan and Marie - HQ-7474
Daniel Swanson Photography
  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

Evan and Marie - HQ-7675
Daniel Swanson Photography

5 Simple Pleasures I’m Loving Right Now

Evan and Marie - HQ-3947.jpg

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

Evan and Marie - HQ-5301

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

Evan and Marie - HQ-4884
Daniel Swanson Photography

When the Wedding Day Is Over

Evan and Marie - HQ-8760
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.

Evan and Marie - HQ-8658
Daniel Swanson Photography
Evan and Marie - HQ-8394
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

Evan and Marie - HQ-5646
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

How to Handle Happiness

Evan and Marie - HQ-7728
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

Evan and Marie - HQ-8660
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

Arrival
Image Source

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

Arrival2
Image Source

Adulthood for Beginners, Part 2

Evan and Marie - HQ-7745
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.

Evan and Marie - HQ-7837
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.

Evan and Marie - HQ-8700
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

Evan and Marie - HQ-7981
Daniel Swanson Photography