Why I’m Thankful for Mood Swings

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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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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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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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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

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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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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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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How to Handle Happiness

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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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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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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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