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.

4235511_0051
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.

4235511_0180
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.

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.

2013: The Best is Yet to Come

2012 began with a morning stroll down a quiet Duke of Gloucester Street with James. It was unseasonably warm, and the blue sky and warm sun filled us with hope and excitement. After 12 months of various ups and downs, and learning to adjust to my new identity, the year ended with a crackling fire in the cozy basement of our darling new house.

The holiday season was very good to us this year. We decked our newly purchased halls and had a merry time doing it. We hosted our first holiday party (2 in fact) and hung our first outdoor lights. We each had a birthday, and it seemed the whole month was one long feast of merriment. Most importantly, this Christmas season gave us an opportunity to step away from all the stress and think about all the wonderful things that we have done this year.

Strangely, the night before my 25th birthday, I found myself in a state of panic. “I’ll never be 24 again,” I said to myself. “How is it that my 20s are slipping by? What have I to show for it?” Silly, I know. I’m engaged, I have degree, and I own a single family home. Not to mention the numerous bucket list items I have fulfilled already. Still, that night I felt so much anxiety, like none of that had mattered at all and that I wasn’t good enough. I had spent so much of 2012 worrying about jobs and money that I hadn’t spent near enough time enjoying my life.

So, I have resolved to spend the New Year of 2013 being happy. Actually, I have 3 resolutions this year. First, to enjoy my house more, as that is the only reason I trudge through my job each day. Second, to grow deeper in my Catholic faith and read more spiritual literature, both alone and with James. Third, I’ll be keeping to Jorge Cruise’s eating method the entire year. My dad lost 40 lbs in 2012 by eating like Jorge, so I’ve decided to do the same. My plan is that these three small resolutions will feed off of each other and grow into a better-adjusted, happier me.

So much good is set to happen this year. In less than 5 months, I will finally marry the love of my life, and I will finally get to live in the home we are building together. Following the teachings of our Faith and living apart has not been easy by any stretch, but engagement is almost over now, and we know our sacrifice will make things all the more wonderful when our marriage finally begins. I’m so happy that 2013 is finally here, and that the best is yet to come. I’ll be seeing you.

“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.

Cheesesteaks + Football = Love

Cheesesteaks + Football = Love

This weekend, James and I took a mini-vacation to Philadelphia. It’s one of our favorite places to visit. James is a huge fan of the Philadelphia Soul arena football team, I am a huge fan of Philadelphia’s colonial history, and neither one of us believes in setting a limit on cheesesteak consumption.

Surprisingly, for all the times we’ve gone to Philly and checked out historic sites and football games,¬†we’ve never really spent much time in City Center. Even more surprising is that for having lived 26 years in the Megalopolis, James had never seen a skyscraper up close. I had a feeling it would be a new thing for him. I knew he has never been to New York City, even though it’s only 4 hours from where we live. So while we were driving through the middle of Philly, I pointed through the sunroof and said, “Hey, Look up!” He peeks up through the roof and says “Holy Shit!!!” It was his first close encounter with a structure that was nearly 1,000 feet high. This was his first view:

Comcast Center, Philadelphia's tallest building

2012, the year of engagement. That was almost the title of my Facebook¬†album for the pictures from this weekend. After years of dating and worrying that things will never¬†fall into place for you to finally get married and¬†start a life together, it happens.¬†Suddenly,¬†you have people¬†running around worrying about caterers¬†and guest lists, and 800,000,000 details and decisions that threaten to take the focus away from what’s most important, the relationship that is¬†on its way¬†to becoming¬†indissoluble. I¬†love the commitment and the promise of a future together that comes with engagement.¬†I love knowing that a wedding is just a number of months¬†away. But I do miss that, before we were engaged, every date was purely about getting to know each other. I want more of that. I’m really glad that the Catholic Church requires some marriage preparation sessions. I’m looking forward to spending more time focussing on each other, and not so much on wedding details.

So, during this year of engagement, James and I will be doing everything we can to keep our focus on us, and not our wedding. We’ll be making memories, seeing new things, and learning as much about each other as possible. Sure, we have a lot of business to attend to, with finding a place to live and picking¬†out a cake. But I’m trying hard not to stress about wedding decisions. The most important thing we’ll be doing this year is beginning to form our new identity as a family.

This is why we have our Faith.

So many things in life are completely out of our control. I don’t know about you, but right now I feel like I’m at the breaking point. There’s way too much stress and not enough things that I can actually enjoy. Today I made a list of all the things that are bringing me down that I can’t do much about. Then, I made a list of what I can do to make my life better.

Trying to cheer myself up in the midst of all the turmoil in the world and upheaval in my life, I decided to start spending more time doing something I’ve always loved. I’ve decided to read more. I’ve decided to learn more of the skills I need to get the job I really want. As for my living situation, I can’t afford to improve it in the traditional sense, and I can’t move in with James since we’re not married yet, but I can make a plan to make myself a home. I can stay out of the house as long as possible. I can stay at libraries and Panera’s and Starbuck’s writing on my laptop (that I have yet to buy). I know it sounds ridiculous, but I need to do something. I really want a home. No, I’m not “homeless” in the traditional sense, but we had to leave our house in the mortgage crisis and move in with my grandmother, and I’ve felt “without a home” since December 2010. Isn’t there a psychological term for that? I need to do something.

I will not be “homeless” forever. James has been the one constant in the last year, and every time I’m with him, I feel at home. No,¬†we still don’t have a wedding date. But as soon as he gets a job we’ll set one, and then I’ll have a light at the end of the tunnel. Right now I’m still in an “S” curve. His uncle (a priest) encouraged us to pray 1,000 Memorare’s to the Blessed Virgin. We’re coming close to 500 this week. I’ve always believed in the power of prayer. It has never failed me in the past. I know God doesn’t always answer things in the way you’d like him to, and he always has his reasons. Still though, this has been a serious test of faith. Praying for a job is starting to feel like praying for a pony.

My mom says that her father always told her that times like these are why we have our faith. I have to constantly remind myself that God has a plan and that this isn’t as stupid and meaningless and hopeless as it seems. Maybe there’s an answer I haven’t found yet. I hope it’s coming soon.

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.

Engagement Stress = Blessing in Disguise?

Like most girls, I love the movie Bride Wars with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. One of the major themes of the movie is how engagement stress can either drive couples apart or bring them closer together.

James and I have had our share of engagement stress. Thankfully, we’ve been able to recognize that with every road-block comes a chance to work together. We’ve never put it in those words, but it’s true.¬†Every issue that has¬†popped up in our path has made us turn to each other for help.¬†Everything that’s happened to us has been another chance to hold hands and walk forward.

Recently I was telling a priest some of the struggles we’ve gone through, and he pointed out that perhaps it truly¬†is a blessing in disguise. People that have fantasy engagements do not always get the chance to prepare for what marriage really involves: sharing and sacrifice. I pray every day for a happy marriage. Maybe this is God’s way of answering my prayers. If we learn what to expect now, we will have an easier time adjusting later. Maybe if we can be happy together in bad times, we can be happy in good times.

I know I’m very young and often na√Įve, but I have a good feeling about this.