I’m More Excited For My Marriage Than My Wedding

I’m More Excited For My Marriage Than My Wedding

I have been engaged for a little over two months now and wedding planning has been in full swing. With less than 4 months to go before the ‘big day’, there are still quite a few details to hash-out. Now that I’m on the planning side of things, I’ve noticed something: The modern wedding has taken the focus completely off the marriage. Instead of focusing on celebrating the union of two people who love each other, the merging of two families, and the starting of a new one, the modern wedding celebrates the quality of your centerpieces, the creativity of your wedding favors, and the price tag of your wedding dress. Have we forgotten what we’re celebrating?

After signing up for The Knot (a wedding website that helps with planning, ideas, forums, etc.), my inbox suddenly started getting a lot more e-mails: “50 Wedding Photos you NEED at your wedding”, “Look 10 Pounds Thinner”, “How to make your first dance perfect!”. The wedding industry thrives off comparison, encouraging you in whatever way they can to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. The wedding you’ve wanted since you were two is no longer good enough, big enough, or glamorous enough. There are rules to be followed in regards to programming, timing of events, and the color of the mother-in-law’s dress. Expectations are so high, no wonder women turn into Bridezillas. They are consumed with wanting a movie-worthy celebration. Women strive to compete in a make-believe contest for “Best Wedding” until they drive themselves crazy.

“In 1959, Bride’s magazine recommended that couples set aside two months to prepare for their wedding and published a checklist with 22 tasks for them to complete. By the 1990s, the magazine recommended 12 months of wedding preparation and published a checklist with 44 tasks to complete.”

“What The Cost Of Your Engagement Ring May Say About Your Marriage”Huffington Post

Back in the day, weddings were not an elaborate affair. They consisted of small family gatherings at the home of the bride or groom’s parents.  The dress wasn’t shopped for or even white, it was simply the best dress the bride owned. It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that weddings started to get fancy. The upper class started to throw parties similar to weddings we see today. In the 1900’s, brides began ordering a dress specifically for their wedding day. Wedding registries, as we know them, didn’t exist until the 1920’s. Before that, the only wedding gifts were in the bride’s dowry: a collection of items her parents presented to the groom along with their daughter. This turned into guests giving essential items to the newlywed couple so they could start their life together with life’s basic needs met. Today, not only are guests expected to give a gift, they are expected to bring another gift to any and every shower they attend for the couple. The engagement ring has changed a lot as well. Though most of us have never lived in a world where diamonds weren’t “forever”, the classic diamond engagement ring didn’t exist until 1947. It was part of a marketing campaign by DeBeers, a diamond cartel, trying desperately to fight the collapse of diamond prices due to the Depression. They created a campaign that dramatically changed the wedding industry and consequently, the diamond is the primary stone used for engagement rings.

“In 2012, total expenditures on diamond rings were roughly $7 billion in the United States alone.”

“What The Cost Of Your Engagement Ring May Say About Your Marriage” – Huffington Post

It has always cost money to throw a party and in the 20’s and 30’s, the average wedding cost $5,000 (adjusted for inflation). According to The Knot, the average cost for a wedding in 2013 was $29,858.  That is almost a 500% increase. Couples now spend more than the U.S. median income on their nuptials. What was once a religious covenant has become an example of extreme consumerism and the ultimate form of self-expression.

Weddings were once a simpler ceremony. An intimate celebration between families to celebrate the unity of their children. For religious peoples, a wedding celebrates the union of a couple as they become one before God. A covenant. A promise of fidelity and love for a lifetime. Have we lost sight of this? What if we were more excited about our marriage than our wedding? What if we put more effort in our relationship with our fiance’ than the design of the cake or the color of the flowers? I firmly believe that if we put more emphasis on the marriage than the party, marriages would look a lot different than they do today. Now, is it intrinsically wrong to spend a lot of money on your wedding? Not necessarily. However, I would argue that one’s heart can be in the wrong place. I’ve had to stop myself a few times in the midst of wedding planning from falling into the comparison trap, comparing my wedding ideas to those of my peers and to those in magazines. There is nothing wrong with wanting your “Happily Ever After” wedding. But when we lose sight of the purpose of the wedding and the meaning of marriage, we lose sight of everything.

“[The wedding is] just the beginning of your life together, not the climax.” – Dr. Steve Orma

That’s why so many men and women become depressed after their wedding day. Post-wedding depression is an actual diagnosis. Once you’ve walked down the aisle, the cake’s been eaten, and the attention has gone, reality sets in. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. Your marriage just started. You’ve just embarked on the hardest and most rewarding journey of your life and it’s not always a party. And that’s ok.

I pray my wedding day isn’t the happiest day of my life. I hope it’s the next day, and the next, and the next. I hope for a lifetime of happy days amid tough times. I pray that we use our wedding day to glorify God, to love on those who have supported us and will continue to do so, to eat good food,  to have good conversations, and to dance until our feet fall off. I pray we wake up the next morning, with our hearts even more determined to love each other the way God loves us (1 John 4:19). At the end of the day the flowers will fade, the food will be thrown out, and the dress will sit in your closet, but the covenant made will last a lifetime.

I’ve never kissed my boyfriend.

I’ve never kissed my boyfriend.

“How will you know if you’re compatible if you guys have never kissed?”

258325_10102726882657174_305337452_oThis question is the very reason why my boyfriend and I haven’t made a big deal about the fact that we haven’t kissed yet. We haven’t lied about it or hidden it and, if you asked us, we’d tell you without shame. But there is definitely a stigma around choosing to save your first kiss until marriage.

I grew up in a Christian home and always knew I wanted to save myself for my wedding night. But when my boyfriend asked that we not kiss until the wedding, I admit I was a little upset. No kissing? I remember the first thought that popped into my mind was, “He doesn’t want to kiss me. That is why he is putting this boundary in place.” I felt insecure. Something must be wrong, right? My twisted mind was putting all of this importance on the physical and not on the most important aspect of a relationship: companionship. He wasn’t setting the boundary because he didn’t want to kiss me, he was setting it because he knew that sexuality, no matter how innocent, can cause relationships to get sidetracked, and in some cases, it can confuse what is actually there. He liked me so much that he wanted to put steps in place that would insure that our relationship wouldn’t be focused on the physical, but on Christ.

Like no other before us, our generation has placed a significant emphasis on sexuality and it’s role in dating. Sex is no longer reserved for marriage. Heck, it’s not even reserved for someone you know. It has been cheapened to a recreational activity between strangers. No commitment and no longer special, it has become the entire focus of most relationships. This “try before you buy” mentality is corrupting the beauty of real relationships.

“If the sex isn’t good, the relationship isn’t good.”

“You need to make sure he is a good kisser.”

“How do you know if you want to marry him/her if you haven’t lived together/slept together/kissed?”

With the divorce rate increasing every year and millennials waiting until much later in life to marry, we need to start re-evaluating what we look for in a spouse and what we believe about love.  Despite what culture and the media will tell you, love is not a feeling. Sure, feelings can be a side effect of love but it should never be what your relationship is based on. Feelings come and go and, as hard as you try, you can’t control them. So why would you want to base your relationship on something that is ultimately fleeting? Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”.  Our hearts are fickle things that tend to change their minds based on uncontrollable factors. I know if I trusted my feelings, I would be the most flighty, anxious, over-dramatic female out there. True love is a choice and sometimes, focusing so much on the physical aspect of your relationship can create feelings that aren’t based on constants, but based on how you feel in the moment.

Now hear me when I say that sex and romance play a vital role in marriage and God is for it! He created it! It binds two people together in the most intimate way possible. But it is not the only important component in a marriage and it should never be your deciding factor when looking for a spouse. 

Now you’re probably thinking, yeah yeah, I agree with the sex part, but don’t you think not kissing each other is taking it a little too far? Maybe for some people. It is definitely a personal choice and by no means do we condemn people for kissing their significant

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others. Heck, I know we both want to. After dating for almost a year and a half, it’s really hard! And in our defense, we do allow kisses on the cheek. But we both realized that, in our pasts, we put more importance on the physical aspects of relationships, which shifted our focus off the important things. Though it was Joe who led us in creating that boundary, I came to the realization that not kissing would give me the opportunity to evaluate whether or not I wanted to marry him without being distracted. It hasn’t been easy but it has taught us both a ton, like self-control for starters. And instead of spending our time together having make-out sessions (we are both super jealous of you who do), we talk about life, cook together, take silly Instagram photos, and just enjoy our friendship.

As I mentioned, our physical boundaries are a personal choice that Joe and I made together and will look different in every relationship.  If you are or were in a relationship where you’ve pushed the physical boundaries, there is no shame. God is a god of mercy, love, and grace. We are not defined by our pasts and have been fully redeemed in the eyes of God. Though God calls us to live lives of purity, we will always fall short,  which is what makes Christ’s gift so amazing!

So has not kissing Joe harmed our relationship? Has it prevented us from discovering if we are truly ‘compatible’? Not one bit. In fact, it has made me respect him more than anyone else I know. And when we finally do have our first kiss, I have no doubt in my mind that it will be well worth the wait.

Millennials and the Church

Millennials and the Church

Over the past year I have seen many articles on Millennials leaving the church and why. All these articles pretty much say the same thing, that evangelical churches now-a-days are too exclusive, too un-accepting of the LBGTQ community, don’t give enough to the poor,are too political, etc etc. So I just thought I’d address some issues in their arguments, from a Millennial evangelical’s perspective:

1. Churches don’t focus enough on the poor

Christ didn’t die for a building. He died for people. And when he created his ‘church’, he didn’t build some elaborate building with a massive cross and stained glass windows. He charged his people with a creed to love others, spread the Gospel, and follow Him. He also commands us to give to the poor (Luke 12:33). If you want your church to focus more on the poor, than start volunteering with the poor. Give to the poor. Bring some friends along. Make it fun. Just do something. We millennials are the most connected generation there has ever been, we have so many resources at our finger tips. The Church is what you make it. If there isn’t a ministry that focuses on your interest, use your resources and creativity and make it.

2. Too political.

Yes, the crazy people you see on TV are crazy (and they exist on both sides of the political spectrum) but those are the minority. Regardless of what party you side on, if a church can’t or won’t take a stand on a political issue, I would be concerned about the leadership of the church. Yes, there are some issues which the church doesn’t necessarily need to make a statement on (i.e. Trayvon Martin, Obama’s birth certificate, etc.). However, the Bible clearly states some seriously political stuff and to say that Jesus and His disciples didn’t shake up the political sphere back in their day would be ignorant. In Mark 12:17, Christ tells the people to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. And in Romans 13, He commands us to respect governing authorities and to even pray for them. I totally understand not wanting to be a member of the Westboro Baptist Church and their hateful antics, but to think that the church should just sit and be quiet is taking things a little far. We Millennials love to be activists. To stand for something, which makes this complaint confusing to me. Why separate your spiritual life from your political life? Those two go hand in hand for a majority of the issues.

3.The LBGTQ (and questioning youth)

The Church has definitely dropped the ball on this issue but not in the way many people think. They have dropped the ball by sending a hateful message of eternal hell and damnation instead AND, on the other side of the spectrum, sending a message of acceptance and ‘love’. They have dropped the ball by being split. There is a big difference between tolerance and acceptance. To be ‘tolerant’ means to show willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with. Tolerance is loving those who you don’t agree with or who don’t agree with you. Tolerance does not mean changing your doctrine to make others happy. God loves everyone. He created everyone. However, he did make some rules to help us live holy lives (as holy as we humans, who are prone to wander and sin, can ever be). And, as convenient as it would be to just pick and choose what we want to believe, Jesus doesn’t give us that option. The Bible is very clear on this matter. People may say it’s cultural irrelevant, however the LBGTQ community existed back then too and is arguably just as prevalent today as it was in Jesus’ Rome. And I get wanting to be supportive of this community. I have many loving and dear friends who are proud members of the LBGTQ community and I want them to live happy and fulfilling lives. I, however, cannot argue with Christ’s word. The Church needs to preach a message of tolerance while standing firm on Christian doctrine. A message of honest love. No sin is different than any other and no person any better than another. And in the end, sanctification is between you and God, no one else.

Call Me Eustace

Call Me Eustace

“The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I was smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been in Re:Generation, Watermark’s recovery ministry, since September. Re:Gen is a ministry for anyone with hurts, habits, and hang-ups. When I introduce myself at group, I say the following: “Hi, my name is Ali and I have a new life in Christ and I am recovering from control which manifests as stress, anxiety, and people pleasing”.  I never really realized how bad my anxiety was until I started the inventory process, where we basically make an excel spreadsheet of our lives, things that have left scars, poor choices, and sinful patterns and behaviors. And ironically, my inventory has sent me into a massive anxiety attack. The worse I have ever known. It is scary to see your patterns of destruction. Through this attack (that I’m currently still in), I have realized (1) I have a serious issue trusting God with my life and (2) I try to fix myself, taking the safe, easy, and familiar road that has always led to pain and suffering (I have an excel spreadsheet to prove it!).  This realization has truly been a breakthrough. I now know that I cannot trust my sinful self and, as we say in Re:Gen, my life has become unmanageable. I need to let go and depend solely on Christ. I’ve admitted I’m powerless over my compulsive behaviors. (“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” – Romans 7:18 ). I have chosen to allow God to move in my life and to trust him, taking the path I’ve never traveled. And I had no idea how truly exhausting and scary that would be. Today, I feel like Eustace. God is cleansing me of my sinful behaviors and patterns and it hurts more than I could have imagined. It’s painful! He is tearing off my dragon scales and I feel so vulnerable and hopeless. BUT God is faithful. I find myself reminded daily by the tiniest moments of peace and smallest reminders of hope to trust in Him.

Hebrews 12:3-17

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no“root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

So today, I feel horrible. Tapes keep playing in my head that I’m not strong enough, I’m broken beyond repair, and redemption is impossible. And the temptation to quit and go back to my old ways are tempting. But these are lies. God never said that change would be easy or fun, but he did promise that we WILL be redeemed. Christ died in spite of ourselves and nothing I do in the past, present, or future can separate me from the love of Christ. I just have to let him cleanse me.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

An Issue of the Heart

An Issue of the Heart

“Fewer guns means fewer murders” – Bloomberg

I do not condone violence in any shape or form, but I think it is ignorant to assume violence will stop if a weapon is banned. People determined to kill will kill by any means necessary. This isn’t a gun issue. It’s a heart issue. The problem lies in the current moral state of this country and if we don’t change the way we raise our children, these acts of evil will only get worse. We need to drastically change the morals and fundamentals we teach future generations. We don’t teach them to face the consequences of their actions. Instead, we teach them to disrespect authority by eliminating punishment and coddling them. We teach them that they can do whatever makes them happy even at the expense of others, which engenders a mentality of “I can do whatever I want. You can’t touch me”. We teach them to value wealth and status achieved through power, manipulation, and greed instead of teaching them the value of education, service to others, and temperance. We let them have it all and wonder why they can’t practice self-control. We encourage experimentation with sex, drugs, and alcohol at an early age and are surprised at the teen birth rate and the commonness of alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses. We teach our children easy fixes to their problems instead of showing them how to persevere through trials, watching in wonder as the abortion rate rises, graduation rates fall, and the number of divorces increase. Guns are not our problem. It is much deeper than that. A little band-aid of a gun control policy will just make the wound messier. We need to take a good look at ourselves and at this country. The United States isn’t the greatest country anymore. But it can be. This next generation has the choice to continue on a path of destruction or to make a change and, in my humble opinion that change starts with the church. We need a revival. We need to start walking the walk and no longer simply practicing what we preach, but LIVING it. No more hatred and legalism, but loving rebuke. We need to not compromise our beliefs but share them with other in love and with purpose. This world is not our home. As believers, we need to start living out our faith, and proving it. A faith without works is a dead faith (James 2:17). The world today is a scary place with evil around every corner. But we have hope. We have a God who loves us to the point of committing his son to die on a cross so that the evil among us and within us won’t separate us from eternity with Him. God will have His justice and Evil will not win.

 “For the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” Proverbs 24:20 

“If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still.” Ecclesiastes 5:8

All The Single Ladies!

All The Single Ladies!

I think the worst part about being single is the pity looks you get from the committed or married population of the world. Like there is something wrong with you. Because, obviously, that is the only reason why you don’t have a date this weekend or a boyfriend or a husband. And that, my dear single friends, is just SILLY. But as silly as it sounds, I’ve been hearing this a lot from my single friends. Things like “Is there something wrong with me?”, “Why don’t guys like me?”, or “What am I doing wrong?”. As I watch my single friends struggle in singleness with me, my heart goes out to them. The self-deprecating tapes they play in their heads are vicious and cut deep to the soul. Who said you aren’t good enough? Who said you had to earn love? Who said you are anything less than spectacular? Whoever did, they’re wrong and I will punch them in the face. You’ve been lied to and I’m here to set the record straight. You have nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. You are a diamond in the rough (or maybe a diamond in plain sight). And I’m telling you something right now: he will be worth your wait. Because let’s be honest, the best things in life are the ones you wait for. Just because no one is asking you out doesn’t mean that you’ll never be asked. It also doesn’t mean that people don’t think you are awesome, beautiful, and valuable. All it means is that God has a better plan for you than you could ever imagine and He is saving you from unnecessary heartache and wasted time. So hang in there. I’ll keep you company in the Singles Club until God calls you or me out of it. In the meantine, set yours eyes on the other relationships in your life. Community is so important for your spiritual and emotional growth. When the dates finally come, your friends will be the ones helping you process them in a godly way. And most importantly, cling to God. He is the only thing that will bring you fulfillment and eternal happiness. With a husband, it’s “’til death do you part” but Christ has beaten death and will never leave you.  Find delight in HIM (Psalm 37:4) and don’t define your worth by the world’s idea of dating. Set your eyes on Christ for He is directing your path (Proverbs 3:5-6).  So yes, it sucks being reminded everyday of yet another engagement via Facebook and seeing a plethora of your friends’ wedding dress preferences and cake recipes on Pinterest. But your time will come. God has perfect timing.