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

Adulthood for Beginners, Part 2

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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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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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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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Adulthood for Beginners

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I consider myself a beginner adult.

As such, there is a limited number of responsible activities I can (usually) handle on a daily basis. This list includes:

  1. Eating
  2. Going to work
  3. Spending time with my husband
  4. Sleeping
  5. Exercising a little
  6. Brushing and flossing my teeth

Not included on this list are:

  1. Dishes
  2. Weeding
  3. Picking up prescriptions from Walgreens
  4. Returning library books
  5. DMV appointments
  6. Daily showers

I would be interested to see what items make it onto your list of can-do activities. I would probably gain insight into both your personality and your priorities. In my case, the above list reflects the current scope of my emotional stamina.

Being a beginner adult means that I generally know what I’m supposed to be doing but don’t feel much hope that I will do it. I read emails reminding me that my book was overdue last Tuesday and that, if I don’t pick up my prescription today, I’ll have to re-order. I watch the prickly green monsters in my yard approach knee-height and wonder how long it will be until the neighbors complain. I build precarious towers of bowls in the sink, and I braid my hair in the mornings hoping no one can tell that it’s a little greasy.

A dear friend of mine once received mockery for keeping her Christmas tree months beyond December. She did not want to keep it. Its needles had long ago died – although they somehow remained attached to their branches – and she had packed away all the lights and ornaments. Still the tree sat, bare and faded, in her living room.

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At the time I laughed at her a little over the phone, but I totally got it. Like me, this friend was adjusting to married life for the first time. Her brand-new job was physically and emotionally exhausting. She was fresh out of college and unused to home ownership. It was just . . . a lot to handle.

I’m sure those of you who have been adulting for decades will back me up on this: the little stuff can be tough. Sometimes I observe people like my mother who continuously accomplish feats such as grocery shopping, putting dinner in the crock pot, taking children to dentist appointments, and scheduling emissions tests, and I feel slightly panicked. It looks so easy for them, I think.

Chances are good, however, that it was a learning curve for them, too.

My hope is that adulthood will be like driving on the freeway: it will take practice. I remember a time when merging onto I25 terrified me. Now I change lanes without thinking. (Except in downtown Denver. Please don’t ask me to drive downtown.) One day cooking dinner for a family of four won’t seem like a big deal, and neither will driving to the pharmacy.

For now, I’ll try not to get too frustrated about the dishes and focus on what I am accomplishing. I love my husband, and we spend lots of time watching The Office in bed. We usually have clean laundry (even if it stays piled in the hamper instead of going in the drawers). We cuddle with our kitty and, when we can, prioritize time with parents and grandparents. I’m learning a lot at work. We’re growing and stretching, and I will get better at this stuff.

Until then, I’ll take adulthood one step at a time.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

The Ring

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On September 28th, 2015 Jon Foreman held a concert in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Anyone who has been to Grand Junction will tell you that it’s hours from anywhere else, one tiny metropolis surrounded by countryside. Few stores stay open past six o’clock. The drive is beautiful, especially in the fall.

In the car, I decorated a poster. Jon Foreman had informed his fans via Facebook that this would be a “by request” concert. If you wanted him to play a song, simply write the title on a piece of paper and place it on the stage. I figured I should make mine stand out, so I bought the largest piece of paper I could find and drew each letter six inches long. I decorated the border with Sharpie hearts and colored them in with highlighters.

The previous day, my boyfriend had driven to my parent’s house after missing a night of sleep. He had worked until six o’clock in the morning, swung by his house to take a shower, thrown some clothes in a suitcase, and hit the road again. The plan was for us to spend the night at my parent’s house and leave for the concert in the morning. There were a few other Plans we didn’t know about.

On his way up, he got a call – from me. I wanted to get engaged. He wasn’t sure he had heard me correctly. I had spent the past year and a half resisting engagement as hard as I could while he tried with all his might to marry me. When he arrived, we talked. He wanted to know if I was sure. I was. Should he ask my dad for permission? He didn’t have to, I told him. He did anyway.

Driving toward Grand Junction, all I could think about was our distinct lack of ring. Now that I had (finally) made up my mind, I wanted it to be real. In fact, I wanted it to be now. The problem was that I was leaving for California in a couple of days, and I doubted Grand Junction had much of a diamond selection.

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It was my fault, really, that we didn’t have a ring. You see, back in May of the previous year, I had seen one in a glass box at the mall. The sign above it read, “70% off, Closing Sale.” I thought it looked like something a princess would wear, sparkly but not overpowering. It was this ring that sparked the marriage conversation, and it was in the mall hallway that I experienced my first symptoms of panic. The store eventually closed, and a season of darkness ensued. A year and a half later, we arrived at this sudden and inexplicable juncture in our relationship unprepared.

While I decorated a poster in the car, my boyfriend frantically attempted to form some sort of plan. Didn’t most men write speeches and orchestrate romantic settings? But here was this woman desperate to seal the deal. He wasn’t about to let me change my mind.

We arrived in Grand Junction late and hungry. About a block from the theater we found the only restaurant open past seven, ordered our burgers to go, and stuffed them in our faces while we walked. Outside the theater, Evan got on one knee.

He doesn’t have a ring. In the time it took to think this, I was aware of the row of yellow bulbs above us, the cobblestone street, the rolled-up paper in my hand, and the box he was pulling from his pocket. I recognized the name of the store immediately, written in silver lettering across the lid.

I’m not one to cry during big moments – I’m more likely to break down during a sappy commercial – but I was floored by this. I tried to understand what it meant: that he had bought the ring all those long months ago; that he’d kept it through the days of uncertainty; that he’d waited so long and stayed so sure. To this day I can’t get over how much he wanted to marry me.

As I started to cry, one thought surfaced above the emotions: God was there. What seemed like such a big mistake at the time (and probably was) didn’t surprise Him.

My mistake wasn’t too big for Him.

You see, the ring had been my mistake. I had taken Evan shopping before I was ready and then effectively changed my mind. The rejection had been unintentional but no less painful. I had been wracked with guilt and paralyzed by fear for so long, and God had remained so silent. Seeing the ring now did not explain the past year and a half, but it did flood me with certainty that God had seen me. When I was sad and confused and scared, He wasn’t. My mistake wasn’t too big for Him.

The thing is, we can’t ruin everything. It’s not that God determines our futures, exactly – I believe He gave me a choice – but my blunders don’t blindside Him. I still haven’t figured this one out completely, but I think it means we don’t need to be so afraid of making terrible mistakes.

Now, back to that poster.

To Be Continued . . .

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Learning Loneliness

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Daniel Swanson Photography

Loneliness is new for me.

During college, I had an average of five roommates. If I needed a study buddy or someone to accompany me grocery shopping (that King Sooper’s parking lot got creepy at night), I never needed to look farther than the adjacent bedroom. After graduation, I moved back to a home where the household count rarely fell below seven. There was always someone to wish me “good morning” or “good night.” I could always find a willing audience to hear about my day.

Now I live in a household of two, and the other member works 60+ hours a week, plays in a band, and regularly records musicians in his basement studio. I am often alone.

I find it difficult not to blame my spouse for my loneliness. I am needy; therefore, he must change his habits to fit my needs. I lash out in frustration when he adds something to his schedule because “I hardly ever see you!” Before long, tasks he once enjoyed become shadowed by my sour mood.

I find it difficult not to blame my spouse for my loneliness.

My gratitude for friendship, on the other hand, has increased exponentially over the past months. During a particularly lonely week, one girlfriend dropped by to watch a movie and create chocolate-peanut-butter cookies; another invited me to meet her for coffee and go for a jog; a third drove a considerable distance just to chat.

I am learning the hard way to set my spouse free to pursue his passions. His whole demeanor lightens when he plays the drums, and he’s never more excited to tell me about his day than after a recording session. I want him for myself, but my bitterness only erects barriers between my husband and the activities that bring him life. He wants to be there for me, but he can’t possibly satiate my craving for company.

I am learning the hard way to set my spouse free to pursue his passions.

Neither can my friends entirely fill my void. Although my mood buoys in their presence, they eventually return to their own husbands or their own jobs. I am reminded how critical are the daily tasks assigned to us. A job does so much more than pay bills, and chores accomplish greater purposes than  removing dust or creating suds in the sink: seemingly menial tasks occupy our minds and alter our attitudes. I am never less happy than when my focus remains on myself.

I do not know the cure for my loneliness. Time, probably, or the acquisition of a full-time job might fill the bill. Either way, I am gradually noticing a change in my stability levels from out-of-control to slightly-more-normalized. I am thankful for the patient people who are (slowly) getting me there.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Mercy is not getting what you do deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

– Quoted in a sermon by Pastor Mickey Lohr.