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

Have Something to Look Forward to

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Daniel Swanson Photography

Everything’s more fun when you’re planning something.

My husband and I are flying to Florida for a few days, partially to visit family and partially to go to Universal Studios. I’m noticing that my daily routines are more enjoyable simply because I’m completing them in anticipation of something else.

For instance: shopping. My new swimsuit, which I’ve been wanting for a while anyway, is for Florida. I’m getting my hair and nails done for Florida. This umbrella is for Florida.

Also, chores. I’m keeping up with the dishes so we won’t leave behind a full sink. I’m vacuuming so we’ll come home to a clean carpet (unless the cats keep throwing up while we’re gone). I’m doing laundry so we’ll have clean clothes to pack.

Work becomes more fun, too. Completing these tasks now will help my coworkers handle these shows in my absence.  Scheduling these social media posts will keep the momentum going while I’m gone. Writing this ad today will prepare me to produce it as soon as I get back.

I’m fully in favor of looking forward to something, even if it’s not something as big as a vacation. When I’m engrossed in a novel, I can’t wait to take my lunch break so I can read the next chapter. When we find a thrilling new show on Amazon Prime, I’m eager to get home so we can watch the next episode. Normal activities take on a fresh glow when there’s something happy ahead.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

Normal activities take on a fresh glow when there’s something happy ahead.

I’m one of those people who gets excited easily, and that’s something I like about myself. I’ve been told that birthdays are more fun with me because I tend to exclaim delightedly over every gift — even when they’re not for me. When my grandparents meet me for lunch at work or my parents offer to buy coffee for me over the weekend, I smile more often throughout the day and feel more relaxed. Something about an out-of-the-ordinary treat — even if it’s actually something ordinary — lifts my spirits.

I’m guessing that there are actually a lot more things to look forward to, and most of the time I just don’t notice them. Even when some things are going very wrong, there’s almost always something to get excited about. And when there isn’t — why not try creating one?

For instance: today is exhausting, but tonight I’ll take a bath with a glittery bath bomb. Now I can look forward to that when my eyes start to get tired staring at my computer screen. Another example: my husband is working late tonight, so the thing I was excited about won’t happen after all. I’m disappointed, but instead of moping, I’ll head to a coffee shop and work on my blog. Now I can look forward to that instead!

There’s probably more to say, but I’m too busy getting ready for Florida.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

The Danger of Needing to Be Right

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Daniel Swanson Photography

Last night two young women knocked on my door to talk about Jesus Christ.

They introduced themselves with the word “sister” in front of their names. They seemed earnest and polite, so I didn’t mind speaking with them initially. I assured them that I already had a close, personal relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They wanted to know if I was active in my church, and I said yes. Then they asked which church I attended. The conversation became significantly more awkward from there.

Clearly, I wasn’t the right kind of Christian.

Clearly, I wasn’t the right kind of Christian.

They eventually presented me with the Book of Mormon, along with a tract that probably originated in 1990, judging by the clothes of the people featured in the photos. They insisted that the Book of Mormon was the Word of God, equal in value to the Old and New Testaments, and they informed me that Joseph Smith was God’s prophet to America.

I told them that I thought they were very brave to knock on strangers’ doors and talk openly about their faith, and after they left, I read the tract in its entirety.

Those girls didn’t make me angry, but that tract certainly did.

How dare Joseph Smith claim that he has the corner on the gospel. How dare the Church of Latter-Day Saints dismiss most of church history as “apostasy.” Most importantly, where did the followers of Jesus Christ get the idea that we need to be right?

I had a lot of issues with that tract, but the question that bothered me most pertains to all Christians. Does it really matter if people believe the “right” things?

Does it really matter if people believe the “right” things?

No.

We seek truth; we debate; we discuss; we learn; and above all we love. We try to discern the character of God in order to offer Him the Worship He deserves. We ask humbly for Him to align our characters with His. We serve; we encourage; we struggle; we pray. We share the gospel with other people because we want the best for them. We cry with the psalmist: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8, NIV). We have seen His transformative work in our own lives, so we want to spread that joy to others.

Why did those girls talk to me? What did they want? Only God knows their true intentions, but at the heart of Joseph Smith’s message seems to lie one nefarious assertion: I am right. May all Christians examine our motivations immediately, trembling lest we discover in our own hearts the urgent desire to be right. All day I have been asking myself, “Why do I want to share my faith with others?” If I’m honest, I’m not sure that I like the answer.

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

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

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)