On 3 Years of Marriage

We were married three years ago today.

It’s a nice number, if a little awkward. I no longer feel like a newlywed, and yet to be the one giving marriage advice seems a bit presumptuous.

manningweb-573

If you’re curious about our wedding day, you can read all about that here.

I look back at our first anniversary and am reminded that I will forever be growing up. We’ve lived at four addresses now, and I’m still learning that home is so much more complex than any structure with siding and a fenced-in backyard. I’m still discovering what it means to be my husband’s advocate. I’d like to think I’m less offendable and more flexible than I was before wifehood, but the original lessons will ever be in process, unfolding and stretching into new forms.

This year, we’ve given each other permission to be stressed. We’ve been mad at and on behalf of the other. We’ve been on very different planes of joy, trying to authentically reconcile what we feel with what is true. Sometimes the loving is hard.

But sometimes, friends, loving comes easy. You cheer because this year you’ve genuinely enjoyed each other, made unexpected friends, and actually liked your jobs (which is no small thing). And you celebrate by taking vacation seriously and eating at good restaurants and watching 20-minute episodes of network comedies just for the shared laughter before bedtime.

I anticipate every year of marriage will take a slightly different shape, but here are three reminders for myself as we enter the fourth:

Remember to say, “I’m in a bad mood right now, but not because of you.” Your husband is wearing himself out trying to determine what he did to make you so irritable. Diffuse the fruitless arguments, and let him off the hook. But only say it if you’re being honest.

Give your desires a voice. Your longings – to write, to rest, to have fun, to learn something new – are worth putting on the table. Those casual, recurring conversations about France may actually turn into you planning a trip. Your desires may be more parallel than you think.

Trust what Jesus says about abiding in Him. Willing yourself to be patient, kind or attentive? It sometimes works. For about ten minutes. Then you’ll be frustrated that you fail all the time and wonder why isn’t he trying to be patient, kind or attentive to ME? Put all of your cards in your relationship with Christ in order to love well. Experience deep joy as you become more acquainted with God, and watch two glorious things happen. One: you won’t rely on Thomas to give you that joy, so you won’t be as inclined to keep score of all the ways he cannot complete you. Two: deep roots nurtured in right soil results in good, organic fruit. Patience, kindness, attentiveness (and the like) are not elusive little buggers to pin down, but rather the natural overflow of grace you receive from God as a generous gift. Don’t try to turn it into a formula. Invest in Jesus. Your marriage will be fine.

I’ll love you always, Thom.

Advertisements

Chicago

Last month, Thomas and I went into Chicago.

It was our first time going into the city together – a place that was very unfamiliar. We dared to navigate the Shedd Aquarium line, not to mention the beast that is the public transit system. I prepped and planned the day before, finding a cheap place to park and creating the most efficient routes via trains to our desired destinations.

Eating breakfast before we left, I confessed I was nervous about all the plans and attention to detail the day required. Because I know how I get when I’m nervous; I’m grumpy and impatient. And this day date I was anticipating, it felt weighty and pressured, like I really wanted it to be worth it.

IMG_4737

Long story short, we had a fine day. We saw sea creatures and people-watched and ate delicious (I mean delicious) pizza. But it wasn’t without its moments of tension, like when I wanted to wring the neck of the guy who didn’t plan for restrooms at train stations. We had a fine day. But we were tired, minds aloof, just trying to get where we needed to go all afternoon.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Thomas asks me this question:

“What would be your ideal day that we’d spend together?”

The question caught me off-guard, and I fumbled over my thoughts for an answer. At a loss for a response, I told him to go first.

He said he would spend most of the day at home. And I agreed.

This felt significant. I’ve always considered myself a homebody, content folding laundry, pleased to take my time with dinner and read on the couch afterwards. But I’ve never really considered that home could be his most sacred place, too. This revelation did a couple things.

It affirmed my desire to be at home and invest in home. To eat in and decorate (even simply) and wipe the counters down because we both thrive in comforting, peaceful environments. These things are not menial to two people who feel most full at home with each other and are their best selves when they don’t have to navigate new highways. Dinners out can be fun, and getaways have their purpose, but we’re also fine to stay in. Creating a home together has been one of my favorite parts of marriage. 

It gave us a hint of vision for the future. We both grew up in families that valued vacation and travel, so we already knew that a healthy combination of rest and exploration will be important when we have a family of our own. But contentment in being home, carving out time amidst the busyness to stay in, we value that, too.

I was so thankful he asked me that question.

No offense to you, Chicago. You’re a nice city, but the best gift we can give each other is ourselves. And our best selves are right at home.

The Best We Have

“Start where you’re at, be all the way where you are. Sink into where God has you…accept the lessons and the gifts.”

These warm words came from a blogger in my Instagram feed yesterday morning. And on that particular Monday – with a negative wind chill and a dog as my all-day company – those words felt important.

We’re in the throes of a fresh start. The year, naturally, but also the beginning of a new job for Thomas and a new, though undetermined, course for me. We’re one week moved into a rental house a few hours from home. The adjustment’s been slightly achey, but our eyes are wide open to how God’s provision spans wider than our apprehensions.

IMG_3345

Back in July, Thomas started a 5-month police academy that required us to spend weekdays apart. We’re still celebrating with the wine friends keep bringing over and repeat trips to Target – a small luxury, much like the half tiramisu/half biscotti gelato we split the other night.

We talked a lot about how we changed in 2014. How he learned resiliency and grew to lead others. He’s paying attention to his purpose (even if that purpose puts me on edge when I watch the news). And I’m different, too.

A few years ago when we traveled to Cape Town, a staff worker gave me a compliment I didn’t even know I craved when she said, “I think you’re brave.” I like to think that 2014 forced me to lean into courage. In the big things, but also in the small things. You know, like waking up on a Tuesday. The truth that God is the source of hope – I believe that’s the truth that enables our bravery.

One of the most daunting parts of this new start is that I’m not sure what’s next in our story. Sustaining our marriage on 15-minute phone calls and recounting the training to our family and friends gave us something to say. We had a goal to work toward, a barrier to overcome, and it molded, strengthened, sensitized and built us up.

Now that things are “normal,” what is our story? What are we working toward that will keep us from apathy and stagnation? Not just in our marriage, but in our lives as a whole?

My first step is admitting that I don’t know, but I want to find out. And today I have a little peace that even the smallest movement despite fear, on any level, is one of the best gifts we can offer God, and ourselves.

Upon One Year

Just over one year ago, I was working a fundraising event for an internship, so, naturally, it was an occasion for mingling (awkward) and meeting new people. A staff member introduced me, saying, “This is Mallory. She’s got a wedding coming up in just a few weeks!”

The lady smiled a big smile – a squinty-eyed smile – tilted her head slightly and exclaimed in a squeaky tone, “You’re so young!”

I didn’t know how to respond.

People have a lot of opinions about marriage and the first year, in particular. Some messages are foreboding, like: You just need to make it through the first year. We also talked to people who said the first year is a dream; it’s year 10 when things get rough. What I’ve concluded is that everyone’s experience is a bit different.

As of today, Thomas and I are one year in.

manningweb-184

This past year, we’ve called two places home (and, seeing that the move was around Christmas, we set our tree up twice). We adopted a spunky dog, maintained distant friendships, experienced job acceptance and rejection. We’ve developed deeper bonds with siblings, ate a ton of beer pretzels and discovered the impact of a man’s desire to financially provide. We’ve argued over small things, like whether mangoes belong in a salad (more on that one later), and big things, like not feeling appreciated.

And I, myself, am learning. I’ve learned to cut T’s hair and almost make the lines on his neck symmetrical. I’ve learned to like some red wine (the sweeter stuff), navigate Kroger like a champ and cook breakfast for dinner in a pinch. I now understand that dogs love to chew jute rugs and recycling only works if you take it to Goodwill instead of letting it pile up in the laundry room. I’ve cracked two phone screens and, therefore, learned I can’t have nice things. I’ve also learned weddings are way more fun when you’re married.

Through it all, I’ve made a definitely incomplete, non-exhaustive list of some revelations. They’re not new concepts, but new for me in this present context. And, as we know from grade school, context is everything.

manningweb-170

I am painfully aware of my own flaws. Marriage gave me an excuse to have someone to gripe at no matter the time of day. I see his messes on the dining table and get frustrated, yet can completely ignore the wreck that is my side table. Interesting how that works.

The grass is green where you water it. Not on the other side of the fence (I didn’t coin this analogy, but I wish I did). Covenant means appreciating him for who he is, rather than being dismayed over who he isn’t. It means choosing to not talk bad about him, even in jest. If I’m not an advocate for him, who will be?

Togetherness matters. There is a time for day jobs, for evening commitments and separate directions. But at some point, you have to start talking. And listening. In dating life, this was easier. We were apart some days and together some evenings. The division of time made sense. When we got married, we had to figure that out again.

Be ready to dole out the grace.  In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes that Jesus is the only reason we can continue to forgive our spouses and demonstrate grace without feeling entirely empty after we do so. His grace for us gives us the security and power to give it to others. I try to remember this when I see dirty dishes sit in the sink, rather than the dishwasher.

Do I practice these ideals every day? No. The last thing I want you to think is that we’ve figured this out. That would be pretty unbelievable.

But in this last year, we’ve made little steps towards realizing these things.

Maybe it’s true – years 5, 10 or 40 could turn out to be really hard. We’ll take them as they come, but today, I’m grateful for the milestone.

I’ll be sure to take good notes on what I learn this next year.

A Quiet Moment

I haven’t been here in a little while.

I could tell you that school has me zapped. Or that we tend to be busy 4+ evenings a week and I haven’t had the time to sit down and write.

Those things are true, only to an extent. But there’s been an overarching theme of my life recently and I think Hayley over at The Tiny Twig says it best on her blog. She writes:

I can’t do everything well, not at the same time anyway…When faced with many good things…choose to do the one thing only you can do. If there is something someone else can do, then be willing to let it go for the things made just for you…I need to love the people right in front of me well, because that’s the thing only I can do.

I have been pulled to focus on what is in front of me. School and work, absolutely, but also giving due attention as I go into my fifth month of being a wife. Lately we’ve been tossed around by job prospects and the reality that marriage is actually work and grace is a necessity.

So that’s where we are. Sometimes living our everyday, ordinary moments isn’t always as exciting as the prospect of what “could” be, but that’s ok. We’re finding meaning in the small things.

We’ve been trusting God the best we can when we don’t know what the heck we’re doing half the time. It’s caused me to be more present where I am, both physically and mentally. I’ve been concentrating on that.

That’s the thing only I can do.

chloejennings-88

Wedding Rewind

Before I got married, one of my favorite ways to find inspiration and procrastinate on homework was to look at blog posts about weddings. Country weddings, modern weddings, super quirky and traditional – I’d absorb them all. I appreciated the play-by-play commentary about the vendors, what went well and what was weird.

I made a mental note to do the same with my own wedding, once I got our official photos in my hands. Guess what? I do now! So, you brides-to-be and brides-who-were, maybe this will be helpful,or just a really great time-killer. Either way, I’m eager to share. And at the bottom: 5 Things I Learned While Planning My Wedding. You might need to read this in a few sittings, or get a really comfortable chair. We’ll be here a while.

I woke up early the morning of the wedding, as I had the past few days. My friends Sandy and Danae were at the house with me, and we headed to the church around ten to start hair and makeup. It was drizzly and grey, and the whole week prior called for scattered thunderstorms. A little unnerving when the reception was planned to be outside in a tent held up by metal poles…

Being around my best friends helped calm my jitters, and I was excited to get the day rolling with their company and some green tea. And the Pitch Perfect soundtrack on Spotify.

manningweb-31

As for my attire, I got my dress in Terre Haute. It’s an Allure gown, and I felt lovely, though I never cried and knew it was “the one.” The shoes were ModCloth, as were my earrings. The necklace, headpiece and garter came from Etsy, bracelet from bridesmaid Emma (saw it that morning and decided it would be my “something borrowed”) and the handkerchief was my great-grandmother’s.

Accessories

manningweb-151

Around three in the afternoon, we were ready to start pictures with our amazing photographer, Chloe Jennings. The skies weren’t exactly blue, but the rain had stopped, and I was thrilled. Thomas and I decided to do a first look for a number of reasons. First, having an evening ceremony, it made sense to not make our guests wait for us afterwards. Also, we liked the idea of talking about the day and being able to spend more of it together. My nerves were immediately settled when I saw him.

manningweb-159 manningweb-173 manningweb-175

I really liked the wildflower look, and tended to pick flowers that were technically weeds. So we rolled with it.

manningweb-261

I thought my bridesmaids looked gorgeous. Their dresses came from ModCloth, and I suggested nude/neutral shoes. I also wanted them to personalize their own look through jewelry, belts and cardigans and LOVED the result.

manningcolor-162 manningweb-333

There were two things that Thomas really cared about: the music and what the groomsmen would wear. We chose to purchase grey suits from The Men’s Wearhouse while they had a Buy 1 Get 1 Free sale. Oh yeah we did. It was practically the same price as renting! The shoes came from one of the department stores, as did Thom’s tie. Suspenders were cheap at H&M.

manningweb-383 manningweb-431

We wrote letters to each other that we read a few hours before the ceremony. I’ve kept all the letters we’ve written over the last five years, so these will be fun to look back on.

letters

Our ceremony was held at 7pm in the church that we grew up in and still attend. It just made sense. We had our current pastor officiate, along with the pastor who confirmed us into the church in 7th grade. It was so special to have them both there.

For the pre-ceremony music, we had a playlist of some of our favorite worship songs. Bridesmaids walked down to a instrumental version of “Give Me Love” by Ed Sheeran that I found on YouTube. I walked down to “Come On” by Rend Collective Experiment. Now I get shivers whenever I hear it.

manningweb-719

manningweb-707

Instead of having my dad “give me away,” we decided to do a family blessing, where both sets of parents stood up with us and accepted the combining of families. We also decided to write and recite our own vows. While we drafted them separately, we came together and refined them a bit, repeating certain phrases and being sure to include a few common promises. It was my favorite part of the ceremony and an easy way to personalize it. I really tried to focus on the ceremony, not wanting the memory to fade away too soon.

manningcolor-364 manningcolor-368 manningcolor-381

The only time we got teary was when we were leaving the sanctuary. In many ways, things felt the same. But there was still the knowledge that life would be different, and seeing my older brother get emotional when I saw him after reinforced that.

Our reception took place in a giant, circus-looking tent right outside the church. I liked the idea of hosting a relaxed evening, so having it outside was nice and casual. We opted for dessert and a coffee bar, staffed by Coffee Grounds – a result influenced by our shared sweet tooth and, frankly, how many people would be attending.

manningcolor-436

Emma designed beautiful chalkboards for us, as well as the “M” in our logo. She’s so talented.

manningcolor-429 manningcolor-389

Don Morris acted as our DJ and musician. Don is the dad of one of Thom’s high school friends, and we love listening to him play. He learned renditions of The Avett Brothers’ song “Laundry Room” for our first dance, “My Girl” for the father-daughter dance and “Your Song” by Garth Brooks for the mother-son dance.

manningcolor-430

The tent was a big, blank canvas and took a load of work, especially for our dads. Though the tent was put up for us, the dads set the dance floor into the ground and strung up rows of gorgeous lights as a ceiling. Mom also potted some plants to mark the entrance of the tent. I am so appreciative of how hard they worked because I didn’t have to worry about a single thing. Trust is a great thing, and I’m so fortunate that I was able to let go in the process (eventually) and hand over responsibilities to someone else. Because of it, I enjoyed the entire weekend.

The rest of the decor was helped by our wedding planner. For the centerpieces, we had a collection of jars, bottles and votives on a navy runner and two dollar store frames with engagement photos in them.  Also, some of the flowers that lined the aisle in the church were doubled as centerpieces. The lesson? Resourcefulness is a good thing.

manningcolor-428 manningcolor-431 manningcolor-448 manningcolor-464

A note on wedding planners: they are extremely helpful the day of the wedding. I did not have to coordinate all the vendors or worry about timing at all because she took care of that for me.  You pay her to take the stress off you.

After most of the crowd had gone, and just our family and bridal party remained, we had a little musical surprise. A few nights before, we decided to perform “Boat Song” by JJ Heller just for kicks. No one knew it was coming, which was most fun of all.

manningcolor-501

Thom’s friend Ross David finished off the reception music. For my 18th birthday, Thomas arranged a private concert on a dock for me, with Ross being the main performer. It was so fun to have him there and hear the love songs that took us back to high school.

manningcolor-502

It was an amazing day. Yes, it had its quirks (like the spotlight that went out in the ceremony whenever Coffee Grounds plugged in their latte machine and blew a fuse). But I absorbed the entire day, willing myself to remember my emotions, my joy. That morning, before I even left home, I listened to some Hillsong and prayed that I would be able to see God that day.

And I did. I saw Him when the line of storms headed towards Terre Haute broke and circled around the city, making it a rainless evening. I saw Him in the ceremony as I hung onto every word Thomas promised to me. And I saw Him while dancing with my friends and family and realizing how much support we had.

manningcolor-484

So what did I learn through all this? Many, many things. Some small, and some that changed my whole experience of wedding planning. Here are my top:

1. The number of guests determines EVERYTHING. Venue, number of tables/chairs, amount of food, number of invites to print plus postage, etc., which means a higher cost to you. Be aware, and weigh the pros and cons. Something really appealed to us about having the intimacy of a small wedding. But you know what? By the time the evening ended, it really felt as if we got the best of both.

2. Pick your battles. I had to have many conversations (and, embarrassingly, a few tears) with my mom to gain the courage to stand up for what I wanted, even if it wasn’t the traditional way of operating like the wedding planner was used to. Our styles were a little different, but it was worth speaking up for.  An understated cake and no sparkly runners? That mattered to me. The exact shape of tea-light holders on tables? Not that important.

manningcolor-468

3. Don’t let pride get in the way of reality. Reality for us was that a big wedding is never cheap, unless you serve guests pretzels and water. Which we didn’t. For some reason, all my research on budget weddings got me thinking “I can have an awesome wedding for under X amount of dollars. Just watch me.” But those weddings had 50 people, not 300. I needed a reality check, pronto.

4. All those weddings you see on Pinterest – they just look like the neatest weddings on the planet. All the little chalkboard food identifiers and floral wreaths make us think our wedding won’t live up to those beautiful pictures. But what I found is that photographers do a really good job, and everything looks fancier and cooler and more creative in a great photograph. Your wedding will be beautiful too. And everyone will gush over your photos.

5. It’s all icing on the cake – a big, delicious cake that you get when you spend a year+ planning for a 30-minute ceremony and 3-hour party that lands you a husband. The details don’t mean anything in comparison to the act of being married to your best friend, which everyone will tell you. At least, that’s what everyone told me. But I believe it. So keep your perspective. And don’t talk about the wedding all the time with your fiancé. He really just wants to marry you and not worry about color schemes, and you can respect that. After all, he’s your other half – that big cake of yours.

manningcolor-108

We made it. This even took me three sittings to write. I hope that it served some purpose to you, whether you’re planning a wedding currently (with or without a ring) or find yourself nowhere near the process. Planning anything and entering a new stage of life has its difficulties. But the journey has prompted so many ponderings out of me, and I’ve been challenged because of it.

May you, too, keep perspective, respect the challenges, and enjoy your cake.

A Shoe and a Lung

I owe this post to my good friend Elizabeth, who has been married for just over a year now. Thanks, girl.

On a weeknight this past spring, I sat down on an over-sat-on couch with some lovely ladies from my college bible study. Reaping all the marriage advice and wisdom I could, I asked Elizabeth how things were going in her own marriage, and how her relationship with her hubby had changed. This is my best memory of the response she gave:

“Well, when we were dating, Tony was kind of like a shoe. I could kick him off whenever I wanted to. But now, he’s kind of like a lung; he’s just a part of me. And I don’t really want to get rid of him.”

chloejennings-10

Though I doubt she realized it, this comment stuck.

Last week was the first time that I stayed at our house alone overnight. Thomas left earlier that morning to visit some friends up school, and being by myself was definitely different. Though I spent some of the evening with my parents, I watched the skies darken behind windows by myself, and I felt something was missing. I’ve gotten used to someone occupying the living room desk and leaving a stray coffee mug on the table. It was the first time I got a taste of what the whole shoe vs. lung thing meant.

Absolutely, we still need our space. That’s for certain. But I’m learning what it looks like to function as a unit and make him a lung.

Any more quirky marriage metaphors out there?

You’re Not Weird

I’m not quite sure how to begin this post.

The last few weeks have been exciting, busy, love-filled weeks. I married an awesome man 16 days ago, and since then, it’s been a process of allowing my mind to catch up with the monumental action I performed when I signed a few papers on that day.

I will go into way too extreme details of the wedding hopefully within the next month once I get the pictures back. Until then, I’ll simply say that it was the best day of my life. A cliche, no doubt, but it was. And, remarkably, it wasn’t a blur! Yet. I had so much fun and couldn’t ask for anything else. Truly.

IMG_1076

The few weeks leading up to the wedding, I was extra emotional. It wasn’t out of extreme stress because things weren’t done, and it wasn’t because I was caught up in the romance of it all (no offense, husband). My tears were the result of fear. I became noticeably more fragile and attached to my house. I irrationally thought that because I would be married, I’d no longer be in touch with my family. I’d live in a strange place and my life would change. Heaven forbid, my life would change.

And while these thoughts were not on my radar the day of the wedding, my normally lively nature felt paralyzed the first half of the honeymoon. I felt a heaviness – a darkness – that’s hard to explain, but I know it was fear. Perhaps most distressing, I felt bad for feeling bad. I felt like a freak; what bride mourns her past while on her honeymoon at the beach? Weirdo brides, that’s who. Or so I thought. Until I began wondering if many other new brides actually experienced the same type of disorienting fear.

That’s why I want to be honest about how my honeymoon included random bouts of tears and a patient husband who gently reassured me that the world wasn’t ending, I’d still see my family, and he couldn’t be the only one with a positive attitude in our marriage.

I want to assure you – women, girls, newly married brides and future wives, that your deepest emotions do not make you weird. We are deep feelers – some more than others – and that’s a beautiful thing. I don’t believe that all of you will react as I did. But some of you might, and please know that it’s ok to be scared. But the fear must not and cannot rule. It just can’t.

I’m sitting on the floor in my new home, which has cute throw pillows on the couch and a man working on the other side of the room. It’s only been a few days, but it’s becoming my new normal, and I’m comfortable here. Sometimes all we need are those small moments of peace.

photo

Finishing Touches

This is the wedding week.

Where the final countdown is on (cue the music), and I can now see the weather predictions for Saturday.

photo

And while the phrase “finishing touches” usually implies a job mostly completed and all that’s left is the primping, that’s hardly the scenario. Our poor church grounds will demonstrate much disarray before looking presentable enough for this shindig. Once the tent goes up, tables and chairs will be placed like puzzle pieces…and hopefully it all fits.

Surprisingly, I’m not worried, or stressed really. At this point, that is my dad’s job. And knowing him, it will all get done beautifully.

photo

In the meantime, I’ve been doing my part with the girly things. This past weekend, I recruited my sis and matron-of-honor to help put together welcome bags for guests staying in hotels. We had a great afternoon of shopping for the stuff, enjoying pedicures and getting our craft on with some handmade tags.

photo

Beyond that, we have pictures in frames for the tables ready to go, and the vows are complete. Now is the time to enjoy. To confirm and affirm, yes, but definitely to enjoy. I am so excited.

photo

Last minute advice for a soon-to-be bride?

For The Love of Bodies

I had my second fitting for my wedding dress this week.

I love it. It fits me well, and even though I sometimes jokingly lament that I can’t “fill it out” enough, I feel great in it. Furthermore, I can’t wait for Thomas to see it.

It’s interesting, though, to think about what a bride (or any other woman, for that matter)  is “supposed” to look like. No one directly tells us that we must be a size two and have those nice lines on our abs, and we all know that the magazine models are airbrushed. WE KNOW IT. But it still hasn’t stopped me from occasionally comparing myself to this cultural ideal.

So looking at myself in the mirror, it’s easy to think silly thoughts like “If only my hips were just a tad narrower” or “Dang, I really need a push-up.” Really?

This is who I am. 

Not to say that making improvements is bad. Eating right and exercising muscles are awesome habits that make our bodies happier. But when the focus is on becoming like People Magazine’s “Most Beautiful Woman In The World” (by what power does People have, anyway?), we need a fresh perspective.

God made our bodies to carry us through 70+ years of living. We can and should nurture them, but because I know He made me, I’m free to look in the mirror without all the images of other women in the back of my mind.

For the love of bodies, let’s change some things.

182160_10151138329877392_823529299_n