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

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

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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

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Daniel Swanson Photography

When the Wedding Day Is Over

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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.

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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

Why I Am my History

My mom meets me at Starbucks to watch old home videos.

She has recently taken a step into the 21st century by converting them to DVD, so we share earbuds and play them on her laptop, laughing so loudly that the other coffee drinkers stare at us.

They’ll get over it.

Viewing scenes from my past – many of which I don’t remember – a strange feeling swells in my chest.

I see my smaller self curl on the lap of my grandpa, who passed away a few years ago. A pacifier protrudes from my mouth; I’m wearing pajamas with feet in bright primary colors.

Suddenly it’s Christmas, and I hold an armful of plastic animals, surrounded by wrapping paper. A giraffe drops from the couch, so I turn to the camera with round eyes to pronounce, “Uh-oh!” Auntie Ann crouches next to me so we can play zoo together. My grandma comments off-screen.

A few moments later and many years older, I stand in a crowd of children singing the soundtrack to Mulan. A taller kid partially obscures my pale, nervous face. My little sister twirls nearby in a floral dress, oblivious to the performance. After the final song, I approach the camera to hear my mom’s praise, concern melting into a smile.

Jump to a wedding. The camera sways wildly before focusing on my fat baby brother. He’s unsteady on his feet, dressed in a little blue suit. He approaches a pair of skinny legs – mine – and lifts his arms, wanting to be held. I heft him onto my hip and wave his chubby fist, instructing him to smile at the camera.

The DVD ends in a few moments of visual fuzz. I allow the sounds of the coffeeshop to wash over me, considering the feeling that has been expanding inside of me since we hit play. It’s as if the little knots in my stomach have loosened. The tasks ahead; the conversations behind; these small cares that I carry with me have momentarily evaporated.

I am so loved.

In every home video, family surrounds me. As the first grandchild, my babyhood constitutes the sole focus of a large group of devoted adults. As the oldest sister, my childhood fills with firsts: the first student; the first performer; the first friend to my two sweet siblings. At the time I took it all very seriously. Observing the scenes years later, I notice something new.

There has never been anything to worry about.

All the events that consume my thoughts become nothing more than memories captured in film. One day, this moment will slip away, too. The fear will fade. In its place will linger the deep affection that marks me like a thousand fingerprints tattooed on my skin. I am precious. I am noticed. I am loved.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

There’s a word for this feeling: perspective. When I witness my life from a distance, I recognize the consistent theme woven into every season. I am still the small child curled in my grandfather’s lap. I am still the nervous singer onstage. I am still the bossy sister ordering a baby to smile. Above all, I am the beloved daughter with a camera pointed at my face because I matter.

I leave the coffeeshop refreshed, alive to the details of this day. If I am my history, then I am something warm, safe, and happy. Therefore I may enter adulthood fortified by a past rich with tenderness.

Thank you, Mama, for reminding me.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

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)

Adulthood for Beginners, Part 2

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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.

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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.

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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

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Daniel Swanson Photography

5 Reasons I Love Wedding Photos

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Daniel Swanson Photography

I will seriously be your friend on Facebook just so I can look at your wedding photos.

Part of the reason I started this blog was so that I’d have an excuse to share my wedding photos, and I have thoroughly enjoyed doing so. (On a side note, I highly recommend Daniel Swanson Photography for anyone living in the Denver area.) I have spent long periods of time clicking through photos of people I hardly know and have probably come across as creepy due to hitting “like” so many times. Because I know nothing about photography, I am simply going to explore my emotions surrounding wedding photos and hopefully discover why, exactly, I love them so much.

With permission, I have chosen a few photos from the weddings of friends to illustrate what I love about wedding photos in general. If I didn’t choose yours, it’s not because I don’t love them. These were simply the first ones I thought of.

1. Light

Brides standing in front of windows, light streaming through their veils and the fabric of their dresses. Bridal parties standing under trees, light filtering through the leaves. Couples leaving receptions, their faces lit by a hundred sparklers. It seems to me that each wedding album has its own mood, and that mood comes across in the lighting.

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Anna Lee Photography

2. Personalities

In my experience, people tend to be happy at weddings, and I really like photos of happy people. I love photos of dads getting choked up, bridesmaids dancing like dorks, or couples being totally adorable. Weddings are about people, and some of the best photos capture simple moments between people who love each other.

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Andrew Burns Photography

3. Details

Some brides are so doggone creative. I love the little touches that make a wedding unique. I have personally attended weddings that should dominate Pintrest.

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Anna Perevertaylo Photography

4. Colors

Every once in a while I’ll see a wedding photo that pops, and it’s usually because of a bright color or contrast between colors. Again, I’m neither a photographer nor an artist; I just happen to love bright colors. Plus, I know that people tend to choose the colors they love most when they plan a wedding. Maybe displaying those colors in a photo helps show a piece of who they are.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

5. Romance

I’m a little obsessed with kissing photos, as my photographer quickly discovered when I requested about ten different poses involving a kiss. I come from a long line of couples who love each other, as does my husband, and it makes me all gushy to see people who are genuinely in love.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

In short, I love wedding photos because I love pretty things, and I love the feeling of joy accompanying this occasion. If you want to make me really happy, comment on this post by sharing a favorite wedding photo, and then tell me what you love about it. It can be from your own wedding or from a friend’s. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who walks down magazine aisles flipping through page after page of white dresses. Help me add to my list of reasons wedding photos are wonderful.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography
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Anna Perevertaylo Photography
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Andrew Burns Photography
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Daniel Swanson Photography