On Four Years of Marriage

On Four Years of Marriage

Today is our fourth wedding anniversary.

I know, four years is just a baby in marriage terms. But it’s worth reflecting on, I think. Especially since so few of my fellow millennials¬†seem to be interested in marriage these days.

If you know me in real life, or if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that my life isn’t perfect. But there is one thing that has stood out above all else:

These four years¬†have been, hands down, the best of my life.¬†God blessed James and I with the most beautiful marriage, and it’s only getting better with time.

I’m aware that not everyone has this experience. God gave me a tremendous blessing that I don’t deserve. I won’t pretend to speak for anyone else’s experience here. I simply want to share a little bit about what this blessing has been for me, especially since the majority of this blog is primarily focused on the lack of one particular blessing (namely, a womb).

So, without further ado and caveats, here we go:

Four years ago, we entered into this life with the expectation that we would continue to grow and to change. We imagined that our lives wouldn’t be easy, but that we would grow together, love and support each other, come what may.

We knew from the get-go that this was beyond human ability. But we also trusted that, from that day forward, God would give us all the grace we needed to make it work. “Christ abundantly blesses this love.”

What we didn’t know yet, on that day, was how far above and beyond God would take us.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, four years of marriage is nothing. We’re basically newlyweds, right? Speaking of being newlyweds…

People said that newlywed feeling would wear off. I’m still waiting for that to happen.

People said I would wake up one day and wonder who the heck I married and why. I’m still waiting for that to happen.

People said that the first year would be the hardest. Or that marriage, in general, would be extremely hard.

What I’ve seen is this ‚Äď LIFE is hard. Marriage is a vehicle that makes life better. And like any vehicle, it occasionally needs tune-ups and repairs. Maybe it gets a few dings and scrapes. Maybe it gets in a wreck at some point. But you spend those hours in the garage applying enough sweat and elbow grease, and you get that baby shining.

And you remember that you can’t do it alone. It’s not a one-person job. It’s not even a two-person job. It’s a you + me + God-person job. God’s in charge, and you two just do your best to listen to his direction.

You’re always going to change. I’m not the same person I was four years ago, and neither is James. And we’re certainly not the same two college students who met on a dating site nine years ago. And that is wonderful, because with God’s help, we’re growing together into a life that our 20 and 22-year-old selves would be thrilled to catch a glimpse of ‚Äď which brings me to my next point.

People, especially pious people, like to say that marriage is about “self-donation”, “service”, “life-giving love”‚Ķ all of those things are true, of course. But I’m going to channel my inner Flannery O’Connor and tell you, in practical terms, what this really means:

Marriage is a life-long activity of continually helping another person get their sh*t together.

You do this for each other, on both spiritual, emotional and literal(physical) levels. And maybe you spend a little too much time in the weeds, helping your spouse find their wallet for the umpteenth night in a row, and you get a little frustrated. But in a moment of grace, God calls you out of this and gives you a glimpse of the big picture.

Maybe he lets you see the love in your husband’s eyes when you came home from work late, again, and he took it upon himself to make your lunch for the next day. Or maybe you see it when you’re in confession, and you realize that everything you feel guilty about stems purely from wanting to love him more, and better, and the only reason you’re crying is because you just love him so darn much and you need Jesus to help you do better, because “the spirit is willing…” And then you realize…

It’s ok. It’s all ok. All of the mess. All of the suffering. All of the crazy. Because He’s doing great things for you, and even if you don’t see it all here, that’s ok, because it’s not about here. It’s about heaven. He’s making you saints, in and through your struggles.

Marriage was never meant to be a destination ‚Äď marriage was and is always about the journey. “Happily ever after” is the way all the good stories begin.

Happy Anniversary, James. I love you. I love our life together, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And we’ve only just begun.

Love,

Connie

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The Miracle of the Flowers: A Wedding Story

The Miracle of the Flowers: A Wedding Story

The wedding industry is a bully. It pressures¬†cash-strapped brides to have a Pinterest-perfect wedding no matter what the sacrifice. Add in a deeply entrenched Italian-American culture that says¬†parents must¬†provide for their daughter’s big day (or face eternal embarrassment), compounded with the fact that our Catholic families equaled over 250 people (not including friends), and you’ll start to get a picture of the impossible situation we found ourselves in when my darling James got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife.

I didn’t think I could¬†have one of those dream weddings. My parents had just sold our¬†home at short sale and we were living with my grandmother. James¬†hadn’t found¬†a full-time job yet. A traditional Italian wedding seemed impossible.

Impossible, but here’s the catch. God is Love. And with Love, all things are possible.

love

One day, during lunch, I went to a nearby church and prayed. I was doing that famous novena for James to get a job so we could get married. Yes, I wanted a nice wedding, but what I really wanted was to start a marriage with the man I love. I opened the hymnal to a random page, and it happened to be a song about marriage and the miracle at the wedding at Cana. That’s when it hit me:

Jesus would take care of it. His first miracle was making wine at a wedding to keep the party going. Not only would he find James a job so we could get married, but he would make sure we had a nice wedding, too.

cana

My parents are the ultimate fighting team when it comes to art projects. One Artist + One Engineer= Two brilliant, imaginative people who turn visions into reality. There’s really nothing that these two can’t do. And they channeled¬†their genius into my wedding.

My mom single-handedly made all of the favors. The programs were printed (by my dad!) on gorgeous parchment-style paper and bound in scrapbook paper and ribbons assembled by an in-house team of relatives and friends. My mom and sister made all the boutonnieres, bouquets and corsages out of gorgeous silk flowers a year in advance. We basically kept the glue-gun manufactures in business throughout the whole of 2012.

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One of our gorgeous DIY programs. We had an assortment of paper and ribbons so each one was unique.

Then came the unexpected gifts. My dress alterations and veil were all FREE¬†from a friend of my mother. My gorgeous and unique centerpieces were also done by another friend of my mother. The beautifully engraved cake-serving set and the elegant toasting flutes were gifts from my dear friends. That delicious¬†dessert buffet was a community effort on the part of our friends and family¬†who volunteered to bake their favorite sweets for our big day. And our dream honeymoon was a gift from James’s parents.

Jesus did it. He provided for our big day. Yes, he cares more about the marriage than the wedding, but he cares about the wedding too! There were so many examples of how his love poured through our friends and family and made our day amazing. And family was everywhere. The priest who married us was family. The altar boys were family. Even our wedding coordinator was family. We were completely overwhelmed by love.

And to top it all off…

Out of all these gifts and blessings, there was one little miracle, one gift that stood out as a reminder that ALL the gifts, big and small, were signs that Jesus was taking care of this wedding.

In an effort to curtail expenses, we had decided to forgo altar flowers. Those big, gorgeous arrangements¬†are very¬†expensive, and we just didn’t have the money. We decided that someone would run to Home Depot in the morning and get potted flowers to place around the altar.

In the rush of that morning, no one remembered to purchase our¬†little potted flowers. Oh well. Except when we arrived at the church…

There¬†were flowers on the altar!¬†Three huge, gorgeous, professional arrangements¬†that were the PERFECT colors for our wedding were on either side of¬†the tabernacle and in front of the altar. They’re in all of our pictures and they were incredible.

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See those GORGEOUS flowers on either side of the tabernacle? Those were the anonymous gift! There was a third arrangement in front of the altar. And of course, our wonderful priests (an uncle and a friend), and the bouquet my mom and sister made.

We have no idea where they came from. We’ve guessed that maybe one of our friends or relatives did this for us, but we will never know. Working through loving human beings, God made a miracle happen, and showed us his overwhelming, gratuitous love. As the Rite of Marriage says, “Christ abundantly blesses this love.” And he did. Like making wine out of water, the way our wedding came together was a beautiful, mysterious example of the overflowing love of God.

Radiating Fruitfulness: Hospitality

Radiating Fruitfulness: Hospitality

In this series, we’ve been exploring what it means when the Catechism states that all marriages can “radiate a fruitfulness of charity, hospitality, and sacrifice.” If you missed the beginning, check out part 1, Radiating Charity.

I have to admit, writing part 2 has been a real challenge. What exactly is “fruitfulness of¬†hospitality”? Honestly, I had to do¬†a lot of background reading and thinking to even have an outline for this post. I’ve wondered about this question for an entire decade.¬†Why did I expect to have this figured out in a week?¬†Am I¬†in over my head? Oh but I have to write this. Ok. Here we go:

 

Part 2: Radiating Hospitality

What does hospitality mean, anyways? Let’s start with the Google definition.

hos·pi·tal·i·ty
ňĆh√§sp…ôňątal…ôdńď/
noun
  1. the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.

The Old Testament includes a number of stories that illustrate the sacred nature of hospitality. Angels disguised as house-guests are a recurring theme, and God continually rewards the generous heart.

These stories reflect a culture in which hospitality was held as a sacred virtue. We see this lived out in the life of Jesus. There are many stories of him visiting people and having dinner at their homes. We know he ate with¬†Levi, Zacchaeus, Peter’s in-laws, Mary and Martha, a Pharisee, and many others. Much of his teaching was delivered over a dinner table. His first miracle was supplying¬†wine to a wedding feast. Another miracle involved feeding¬†5,000 people. He made breakfast for his friends after his Resurrection. The night before he died was spent breaking bread with the apostles, giving his own flesh as bread for the life of the world, and commanding them to “Do this in memory of me.” Jesus invites us to his table, where he¬†gives himself to us in the form of bread.

At our wedding homily, the priest¬†talked about how heaven is described as a wedding feast. It’s everyone together, happy, celebrating and full of love. Only minutes old, our marriage was already fruitful in that it was bringing all those people there together. This continues, not only in the parties we host or the dinners we share, but in our desire to let our home be a safe harbor for others. I really do believe that “radiating a fruitfulness of hospitality” means that the love you share spreads¬†to create a welcoming environment for those around you. Just like the dinner scenes in the New Testament, your new family (even if it’s a family of two) can be a place where others can experience the warmth and healing comfort of God’s love.

When two people marry, their home becomes each other and the love that is shared between them. Marriage brings forth a new life, one that is designed to be open and welcoming. The grace of the sacrament fosters an environment for sharing, visiting, and loving one another. This is how marriage radiates a fruitfulness of hospitality.

RadiatingFruitfulness

Check out Part 3: Radiating Sacrifice

Previous: Part 1: Radiating Charity

The Beginning

The Beginning

Once Upon a Time on June 1, 2013, I married my true love, James. We had a beautiful wedding with 200 of our closest family and friends. Even though we had so many people, to us it felt small and intimate. Having¬†James’s uncle, a priest, as the¬†celebrant¬†made it all the more moving. James’s cousins were the altar servers, and our siblings, cousins, niece and nephew¬†were the attendants. For our dedication to the¬†Blessed Virgin, we used a rose from¬†James’s grandfather’s¬†funeral. My sister sang “The Servant Song” after Communion. We were surrounded by our family. It was perfect.

The Bells of St. Patrick's
The Bells of St. Patrick’s

We were so unbelievably happy on that day and we’ve been glowing ever since.

We honeymooned¬†on St. Thomas, USVI. It was Amazing. Capital “A”.¬†Neither of us had ever been to the Caribbean. We were more than impressed. When we weren’t lounging at the Marriott resort, we were exploring the 17th century Danish sights and hunting down postcard beaches. The day we spend on St. John was my favorite.

Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI
Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI

One more place crossed off the bucket list! I suppose I’ll have to do a travel post soon.

A few weeks after we came home, we went to Avalon, NJ with all of¬†our aunts, uncles, and cousins on James’s side.

Our Family in Avalon, NJ
Our Family in Avalon, NJ

It was probably the best beach vacation I’ve ever had, excluding our honeymoon, of course. I love our family so much and it was such a wonderful experience to spend so much time with them.

I know we’re not even 3 months in yet, but I have to say that I feel so blessed. I have a wonderful husband and the best family in the whole wide world. ūüôā

Three Blessings of a Long Engagement

Our wedding is finally upon us! I don’t know which is more exciting: our wedding (in 17 days!!), our honeymoon (St. Thomas!!!), or finally getting to live in our¬†beautiful home¬†together.

Looking back over our 2 year engagement, there is¬†so much to be thankful for. At the onset, I was not¬†excited about having to wait 2 more years after having been¬†dating for over 3 already. Now that all this time is behind us, I’ve seen how God has really worked in our lives over the last few years.

First,¬†we were able to buy a house. True, we do not live together, and 10 months of owning a home and letting my fianc√© live there¬†without me¬†has not been the most “fun” thing in the world. But, it gave us something to look forward to. It gave us security knowing where we are going to live after the wedding. And it gave us experience in sharing the duties and expenses of running a household. It was definitely an adjustment. The first few months were the most difficult, getting used to all of this. But now that it’s been almost a year, we’ve gotten the hang of things, and we’re happy.

Second, we were able to focus on preparing for our marriage, not just the wedding. We took our time with our Pre-Cana (marriage prep that Catholic couples go through). We met with a lovely couple on Sunday mornings after church. They would make us breakfast, and then we would take our coffee into their sunroom to discuss the big issues: marriage commitment, loving one another, faith, money, children, in-laws, and anything else we could think of. It was a wonderful, positive experience that we will cherish forever.

Finally, over the course of the last 2 years, our relationship with both sets of parents has developed. Not only did we adjust to our newly established permanence, but our parents had the time they needed to adjust to their children growing up and being married.

I still do not recommend 2 year engagements for everyone. In our case, I still don’t think we even needed it. But seeing the blessings that have come thanks to the added time, I am glad that things worked out the way they did.

“Emotionally Engaged”

“Emotionally Engaged”

I recently finished reading a brilliant and¬†life-altering book by Allison Moir-Smith, entitled Emotionally Engaged: A Bride’s Guide to Surviving the “Happiest” Time of Her Life.

I stumbled upon the book in the wedding planning section of my local library. Yes, I’ll admit, I was trolling titles such as 1001 Creative Ideas for¬†A Wedding and How to Have Your Dream Wedding on a Budget in an attempt to¬†find a way to enjoy being engaged,¬†when I came across a book that actually had an answer for what I was feeling.

Allison Moir-Smith is¬†a hero. She has done what millions of women have been too chicken¬†to do: admit that being engaged is not, by any stretch, the happiest time of your life. It’s exciting, yes. It’s a dream come true to marry your true love. But it’s also stressful.¬†And you can feel sadness, hurt, anxiety, depression, and excitement all at the same time. Your life is changing, and no matter how much you love your husband-to-be,¬†change is difficult. It’s confusing. And to top it all off,¬†you’re simultaneously planning the biggest and most important¬†party of your life.

In a world inundated with voices like TheKnot.com and Martha Stewart Weddings, Allison Moir-Smith is one of the few¬†people acknowledging the fact that only 12% of brides feel nothing but happiness and rainbows during engagement. That’s a huge deal!¬†Every single relationship in your life is changing. Your relationship with your parents is changing, as your primary family loyalty is shifting from them to your fianc√©. Your relationship with your fianc√© is changing as you go from girlfriend to wife. Your relationships with your girlfriends change. Your relationship to yourself changes most of all.¬†You’re¬†undergoing the biggest transformation of your life to date, but¬†everyone from your best friend to¬†your¬†bridal magazine¬†expects you to be giddy with happiness 100% of the time.¬†It’s no wonder the majority of brides are stressed!!

Reading this book, I realized that it is ok for me to feel sad about my changing identity. It’s ok to feel torn inside as I have Sunday dinner with my husband-to-be instead of my mom and dad. Not only is it ok to have these feelings, but it is extremely important that I let myself feel them. Just like grief, the only way to get through it is to feel it. Better to process your feelings as an engaged woman than to bottle it all up and unleash a “rain” of terror on your newlywed husband (pun intended; I’m a historian after all).

I’m so¬†grateful that I found this book. Already I feel much happier.¬†Now I know¬†that yes, I can be sad about losing my primary identity as “daughter” and happy about becoming James’s wife, all at the same time. I’ve only just finished reading, but I feel much more hopeful about the remainder of my engagement. The next 8 months leading up to my wedding day will, hopefully, have more meaning for me as I work to form my new identity. And of course, I’ll always be Connie Ann.

For more information about Allison Moir-Smith and her book, please click here.

How to Know He’s Perfect For You, Part 23

This weekend I was in desperate need of some retail therapy. Engagement is an emotional adjustment because every single relationship in your life is changing. Even your relationship with yourself is changing as you take on a new identity.

Like most women, I tend to drown my sorrows at the mall. What’s better than new shoes and the choice between Starbucks, Auntie Anne’s,¬†Cinnabon, and Chick Fil A? Having just lost all my fun money (see my previous post), this isn’t an option anymore. And window shopping isn’t as much fun when you know you can’t buy the stuff. So, what is Nature’s remedy for an emotionally distressed engaged woman with no more spending money?

THE REGISTRY.

Maybe it’s a good thing that I lost my disposable income during my engagement. God’s timing is usually en pointe. Thursday evening we went to a “Sip and Scan” event at Macy’s, and registered for a few things, but it wasn’t so great, only because there wasn’t a lot of stuff that I wanted. I almost cried at one point, and James had to pull me back from the brink of a bridal meltdown (blame it on the sleep deprivation).¬†SATURDAY, though, I wised up and went to my favorite wish-I-could-buy-everything store: WILLIAMS-SONOMA.

James came with me, which was a very brave¬†move considering my¬†almost-tear fest 2¬†days before.¬†Poor guy, I don’t think he was expecting what was about to happen. I literally registered for almost everything. It was a frenzied display of “Ooo¬†click that one! Did you get this one? We need 6 of these! I want this pan! And this pan! And don’t forget the ocean blue Le Creuset¬†Dutch oven!” I was so excited. Sure, there were moments of stress: “Connie, why do we need a Paella pan?” “James, I’ve been dreaming of this day my whole life, and I¬†would love¬†a Paella pan.” But there were also moments of sheer glee, like when I found the French onion soup bowls. And the Ruffoni hammered copper au gratin pan.

At the end of a few hours, we handed the scanner back to the employee and ate a few samples of pumpkin thingies.¬†That was the moment James turned to me and asked if I would like to split an Auntie Anne’s pretzel on our way back to the car. I do. Happily Ever After, Amen.

Wedding Website Adventures

We finally picked a date! June 1, 2013. I can’t really even describe what¬†a relief that is, and how happy it makes me. Next step, wedding website.

Actually, we already have one. I made something about 7 months ago when we first got engaged using WeddingChannel.com. To be honest, none of the pre-fab backgrounds and formats were really working for me. It’s a great and¬†easy tool, especially¬†if you have zero experience blogging or website building, but I just wasn’t happy with the appearance. None of the options were really us.

Finally, it dawned on me to make my own site using WordPress. Why did it take me 7 months to figure that one out? The great thing about putting your wedding website on WordPress is that you have way more control over the formatting, the background, and the title. Also, we can keep it going long after the big day as a blog about our life.

Recent Web Development Activities

Going along with all that, this week I’ve been crazy into site building. Right now I’m still working on a site for my mom’s painting, www.ConniesArtGallery.com. I know I need to learn a lot more about upgrading appearances, but I’m getting somewhere. I’d like to have a job writing web content soon, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the technical aspects of web development. I worked for a year in SEO, so I know a little, but I need to learn more. So that’s what I’ll be doing this week during my down-time. Does anyone know of any free online tutorials that are¬†especially helpful?

Why does everyone spend so much on weddings?

Flipping through bridal magazines trying to get some cute ideas for our upcoming big day, I started getting a little sick to my stomach. No, not cold feet. I was a little sickened by some of the extravagance, to be honest. It seems like so many people spend so much time and energy on the wedding without putting much effort at all into preparing for a life together.

I grew up in a Catholic family, and so did James. We were taught that marriage is a Sacrament. This means that marriage is much more than¬†just a civil contract, it’s sacred. In it, two people are joined forever¬†by God, who¬†gives them the grace and strength to live out their vows.¬†This puts it on a level way beyond our secular view of marriage. Take a look at the Catholic marriage vows:

“I, (name), take you, (name), to be my (wife/husband). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you, all the days of my life.”

That’s some serious business.

I want our wedding to be about our¬†enormous family and the life we’re beginning together. I don’t¬†want the Plaza in June,¬†the $15,000¬†gown, or¬†the $5,000 carriage ride in Disney World. Just my James and our family and close friends (which adds up to¬†over 300¬†people so we really have to scale it back! We’d like to keep it 200 MAX, preferably less). Now it’s true, having a party for 200 people that involves food and dancing is very expensive. But that doesn’t mean it has to be extravagant.

Look at the difference, for example, between Kim Kardashian and Kate Middleton. Two very expensive televised events, but that’s where the similarities end. Kim married a guy she hadn’t dated for very long in a Hollywood glam ceremony where everything was the absolute most expensive it could possibly be. It was extravagance for the sake of extravagance. Will and Kate had been dating for YEARS. They showed the utmost dignity throughout the engagement and wedding, and didn’t make a show out of their love. It was expensive because it was the royal family, but it was tasteful. You could tell that they truly loved each other and had been waiting for that moment for a long time. Will and Kate’s wedding displayed true love. Kim and Kris’s wedding displayed extravagance.

I also don’t like all this emphasis on the wedding being all about the bride. It’s not just my day, it’s¬†his day too! It’s OUR day. I’m sure I’ll have some crazy stressed out moments along the way, but I want to always remember that the bridesmaid’s earrings have absolutely ZERO consequence. What matters is that James and I are¬†being joined together in¬†a lifelong commitment to love and honor each other for the rest of our lives. That is what we are celebrating. And that is priceless.

Wedding Brain

Lately I’ve been having a terrible time trying to concentrate on things. Whenever I go to dinner with people, my brain is in another place and I feel flighty and uncool. This Saturday, I thought my car was stolen in Silver Spring, until I realized that I was in the completely wrong section of the parking lot. My friend who was with me smiled and said, “You have wedding brain!”

Is that what they call it? We’ve been engaged for almost 6 months, and the planning is driving me crazy, probably because we don’t have a date yet and I’m starting to feel very scared and nervous. It was our choice not to set a date until James got a job, and it’s a good choice for us in this economy, but¬†the waiting is¬†driving me crazy. Everyone’s been suggesting that I go ahead and plan as much as possible without a date so that¬†when we’re ready, all we have to do is book everything and go.

So, how much of a wedding can you plan before you have a date?

A lot, actually. You just can’t finalize anything. For example, you can pick your bridal party, but it might be smart not to ask anyone until after you have a date, that way they can decide if they can commit or not. You can design your ceremony (as Catholics, this means we get to pick the readings we want, the music,¬†and the blessings). You can decide what sort of favor you want. You can design centerpieces and table settings. You can even pick your dress. It’s still nerve-racking though.¬†I wonder how many other¬†engaged couples¬†got shafted by the economy?

We’re praying really hard that something works out soon. Hopefully it won’t take too much longer. We’re praying my dad’s miracle St. Jude/Sacred Heart novena, which has never failed. Recently we got¬†the family on board, asking around to see if anyone knows of any openings in our area. And I do think that this experience will be worth it in the end. I can already¬†see how we’ve become stronger because of it. Maybe dealing with snags during engagement helps people prepare for better marriages in the long run. I’ll¬†keep trusting that¬†God knows what he’s doing, and everything happens for a reason.