On My Thirtieth Birthday

My thirtieth birthday was less than a month after our wedding and a few days after we “fell back” for Daylight Savings. I’d had a pretty good day at work and was looking forward to going out to dinner that night with Tyler and a few friends, including a couple of my bridesmaids. About 4:00, however, I noticed it was getting really, really dark outside. Like night. Surely it hadn’t been that dark at 4:00 the day before? I checked the weather radar and saw a huge red-cell thunderstorm growing as it approached us. I left work exactly at 5:00 and arrived at our apartment complex just before the bottom fell out. I texted, then called by friends and canceled our dinner plans. The storm was just too rough. Then Tyler called me.

He works at the next town over, usually a 35-45 minute drive. That day, he’d left work on time but was still far from home when the storm hit. He was unable to see more than a couple of feet in front of him. Other cars were stopping in the middle of the road. He was scared, afraid of cars and downed trees he couldn’t see. When a tornado warning came over the radio, he called me and told me his plan to make it to the parking lot of the place he used to work so that he’d have somewhere safe to wait it out, and to get inside if he needed to. The wind howled and the rain pounded the side of our apartment building. It was so loud, I couldn’t tell whether the wailing I could sometimes hear between the thunder was just the wind or a tornado siren. Tyler told me about the tornado warning on the radio, and a friend texted that she could hear a tornado siren, so I took a candle and a lighter and locked myself in the bathroom, the innermost windowless room in our apartment.

I grew up on the Atlantic coast, so I’m more familiar with hurricanes than tornados, and I’m glad for it. Tornados come fast, erratically, missing one house and hitting the one next door. And most of the time you have no idea they’re on their way until they’re right on top of you. I loathe them. I’m afraid of them. I know the second floor isn’t a good place to be if one hits.

Tyler talked to me until he got to the parking lot he had in mind. We told each other “I love you” and hung up to wait it out. It was my thirtieth birthday and all I wanted was for my brand new husband to get home safely. No gifts, no dinner, no big trip or special dessert. I just wanted him home.

I called my mom, told her the situation, and asked her to talk with me to keep me calm. As the storm lightened, I hear the tornado siren more clearly. I lit the candle. Soon after, Tyler texted that he was getting back on the road, but he planned to avoid the interstate so it’d take a long while for him to get home. Mom and I stayed on the phone together until he walked through the front door, half-soaked and shaken but safe.

That night, we watched a movie, ate a frozen pizza, and cut two generous slices of the ice cream cake we’d intended for our friends. I couldn’t have been happier.

That night, as Tyler and I lay in bed, we talked about what we’d felt during the storm, how we’d worried more about the other person than ourselves, and then we prayed together, thanking God for protecting us and asking help and comfort for the people whose night had gotten worse when ours had gotten better.

Happy Thanksgiving! May you experience the joy of sharing food with others and may you find rest.

Our Love Story – Q&A

A couple months before our wedding, which was yesterday, our officiant Blake Jenkins emailed us a list of questions to answer, which he planned to use to tell our love story to our wedding guests. Below are my full responses.

Thank you to everyone who helped us celebrate yesterday, in person and in spirit.

When was the first time you met your future spouse?
I first saw Tyler across the worship room in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) house on Georgia Southern’s campus a couple weeks into my freshman year. He and my roommate Allison had been talking and a mutual friend pointed him out as he passed by the stage. I met Tyler a few days or maybe a week later when he and Allison wanted to watch a movie at our dorm room. I had the biggest movie collection of my roommates, tucked into rows in a big black footlocker under my bed.

Please describe your first impression of him.
Tyler’s curly hair bloomed from beneath his worn, blue Atlanta Braves hat. He was clean-shaven and wiry. As my friend pointed him out to me, safe behind dozens of people and the din of their conversations, I thought, “Remember this. This is important.” I thought it was because he and Allison would start dating. I wanted to be able to recognize him on campus and seem in-the-know when I did finally meet him. I also felt a shot of jealousy. He was cute and nice and the first time I met him, he picked out one of my favorite movies, The Count of Monte Cristo, to watch. (I’ve since read the unabridged book and it lowered my opinion of both the book and the movie considerably.)

Please describe in detail your first date and what you thought afterwards.
We’ve had two first dates and a Looney Tunes almost-date that Tyler probably wishes I hadn’t brought up. First came Looney Tunes. At some point in college—Tyler could better tell you when but I’m guessing my second year/his third—we got to talking at the BCM and realized we both loved Looney Tunes. I boasted that I had the Looney Tunes: Golden Collection on DVD, and he suggested I bring it over to his apartment so we could watch Looney Tunes together. I didn’t know if it was supposed to be a date, or if he liked me, or if this was just Looney Tunes. I was nervous. I gave more thought than I probably should have as to what Allison would think if Tyler and I started dating, even though Tyler and Allison had never actually dated; I decided I’d tell her only if something came of it. I arrived at his apartment and there were entirely too many places to sit. In my memory, the room was full of couches. Full. With a huge sectional that wrapped around the back of the room and bean bag chairs taking up everything that would normally pass as walking space. Tyler assures me there were only two couches, no sectional, and a reasonable number of bean bag chairs. Still, there were too many options and I didn’t know where to sit so I panicked and sat in the corner. I figured if he sat by me he liked me. If he didn’t, he didn’t. My choice to sit in the corner was weird to Tyler because it was not the sofa directly opposite the TV, obviously the best choice in seating. He didn’t want to crowd me, and figured if I didn’t want to sit by him then I definitely didn’t like him, so he sat opposite the TV on the other couch and neither of us spoke for the next three hours. I left after the DVD finished with a headache and the conviction that we would never date. I still have that DVD collection, and no, we have not watched it since.

Our first actual date was at the Starbucks on Forsyth around Thanksgiving in 2012. I remember what I wore (black turtleneck with buttons down the sleeves, skinny jeans, back flats, and peacock earrings), where we sat (at the second hightop from the trash can with my back to the window). I don’t remember much about the date itself, though. Prior to moving to Macon to work as a ministry intern at Mercer’s BCM, I knew Macon as that interstate exit with the Five Guys, the place my Dad’s cousins lived, and Tyler Cummings’s hometown. I’d been living and working in Macon for about 4 months when Tyler, getting ready to graduate from Georgia Tech and move back home, ran into a former roommate of mine (not Allison) on campus and looked me up on Facebook to see where I was. We dated for a few months after that first date, though at the time I wasn’t sure if it was a date or just coffee, until my internship ended and I moved back home to SC for a few months.

We both had really rough autumns in 2016, gratefully got through Christmas, and found each other at church the first Sunday of the new year. Finding him sitting a seat over from my roommate (and bridesmaid) Morgan that Sunday felt like such relief. By that point, we’d known each other for over 9 years. We’d once dated. We’d both traveled and grown and worked on our careers while keeping in touch. I knew him. And I trusted him. He’s always treated me incredibly well. Morgan would like me to point out that she suggested Tyler and I try dating again after that Sunday. Our first date was on his birthday that week. His sister Rachel had been ill that day, and Tyler told me about it when I texted him to wish him a happy birthday. I figured any plans he’d made with his family for his birthday had probably been postponed. That night, he went to the first night of a Bible study series at church, taught by (our officiant) Blake. I offered to meet him afterward, in case he wanted a “buddy” (yes, I used that word) to have dinner with. I’d heard he was dating someone (from my bridesmaid Nicole), so I figured he’d have made alternate dinner plans with her. But Tyler said he’d like to have dinner with me, if I didn’t mind waiting. While he was in Bible study, I made break-and-bake cookies—the only kind of sweet I had in the house—and hid them in my purse. We met up in the Ingleside parking lot, and he drove us to Metropolis on Riverside for dinner, where we stayed until we noticed the staff closing the blinds and putting up the chairs for the night. I could tell by the way he treated me and listened to me that he wasn’t dating anyone else. I was pretty sure he was interested in spending more time with me, too. When he dropped me back off at my car, just before I got out of his truck, I gave Tyler the tupperware container full of cookies, feeling badly that he wouldn’t have actual cake on his birthday. He just sat and looked at them for a minute, but I could tell it was a good kind of silence. Wednesdays after he got out of Bible study became out regular date night.

When did you know you were falling in love?
Not long after we started dating in 2017, I asked Tyler to take me to his favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, we arrived at Medi’s on Bass Road right at closing time. We offered to come back another day, but DJ and Darshawna insisted on serving us. So we insisted on taking our dinner to go. Tyler’s apartment was closer than mine. He hadn’t had time to clean or tidy, and I could tell he was a little embarrassed about the dishes in the sink and his unmade bed and the piles of books and receipts on the table. He had exactly one candle, for emergencies if the power went out, and lit it for us. After dinner, he gave me a tour, and we sat on the floor of his spare room as he showed me coins he’d collected from all over the world and his Lego sets, some of which were the same ones my brother David and I had played with as kids. He had a home I felt comfortable in. It was cozy. His earnestness about the things that interested him was so endearing. That night, I knew I could fall in love him. And I knew part of me had already started.

What is the most embarrassing/awkward moment with your partner? One of those moments when you knew it must be love if this person still loves me after this.
There were a lot of awkward, embarrassing moments, including Looney Tunes. (If he could still want to date me, and I him, after that, it must be serious.) The one that comes to mind, though, happened on March 10, 2018, the day Tyler proposed. We were visiting my parents in SC for the weekend and I’d known Tyler had procured my parents’ blessing the night we’d arrived. We’d designed the ring together months earlier, but I hadn’t thought he intended to ask me to marry him that same weekend. I had suggested the beach, after all! I was the only one who brought it up. My parents didn’t let on at all as they handed us bottles of water and encouraged us to have fun. Hunting Island, the beach we went to that day, had experienced massive damage during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. Sand had been pushed into the parking lots in some areas and swept out to sea in others. Hundreds of trees had been snapped by the wind and bleached white by the salt water in the air. The blue sky of the morning had grown overcast as we pulled into one of the recently cleared parking lots. I zipped up a thin jacket and we took off down the beach. I told stories and pointed out features like the lighthouse and the campgrounds. On the way back, we were walking into the wind. My ears ached and my nose ran because of the cold. Between the lighthouse and the parking lot, Tyler suggested we head up into the trees. He wanted privacy to propose, but I thought he might be trying to give me a break from the wind. We trampled up the little sand hill, emerged into the trees, and stopped. It was a dead tree cemetery. White, bark-stripped trees lay in rows as far as we could see. Many were the tops of the dying trees around us. Tyler said, “Well this is kind of depressing.” I answered, “Yeah, but it’s kind of cool, too,” and tramped on ahead. After warning Tyler about snakes and mud—so romantic—he caught up with me and hugged me. His face was so full of love, it startled me. Then he wiped the snot from under my nose and kissed me. And if I hadn’t known before, I absolutely knew then that he loved me.

When did you realize this is the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with?
During Hurricane Irma last year, my house lost power for 4 days. Morgan, my roommate and bridesmaid, had to be at work for almost 48 hours straight. I grew up on the coast, so I know what hurricanes are capable of, even far inland. I also remember seeing my cousins’ houses after the Mother’s Day tornado here in Macon in 2008. Tyler lives in a second-story apartment. I lived at the time in a house on the side of a hill with a half-basement. Of the two, the house is far safer in the event of a tornado. But for the first time, I didn’t wanted to be in the safer place as much as I wanted to be wherever Tyler was. I would rather be in Tyler’s second-story apartment, knowing he was okay, but possibly being in more personal danger, than in my basement without him. And I knew that feeling wouldn’t change. I wanted to be wherever Tyler was for the rest of my life.

What is the most loyal / endearing / sacrificial thing your partner has done for you?
Last summer, Tyler and I went to visit his friends Colby (a groomsman) and Tina and their daughter Harper for the weekend. We all went to the Atlanta Zoo together, then Tyler and I planned to go downtown to the Georgia Aquarium and, after, to a Persian restaurant Tyler used to enjoy eating at when he attended Georgia Tech. I had a migraine that day, but my symptoms were different than usual so I didn’t realize it. I was exhausted. I had a terrible headache. I threw up three or four times throughout the day (always in a bathroom, thankfully). And Tyler was so incredibly patient and attentive. I felt so badly that our fun day together had turned into such a fiasco. I was quiet, hardly talking with his friends, who I hadn’t met since college. I kept having to sit down. The Advil I always carry with me wasn’t doing anything. Even Harper could tell something was wrong. She was only two, but she noticed I was hanging back and took my hand to lead me up to the glass at the panda exhibit. I didn’t want to ruin the day, so I said I felt okay to stay, then okay to go downtown. We braved the CNN Center crowds to get me a smoothie after I could only eat a couple of fries at Johnny Rockets at lunch. The moving sidewalk at the GA Aquarium gave me vertigo. I had to physically lean on Tyler to keep my upright while we waited to see the sea lion show. I was miserable, and sure I was making him miserable. Of course we didn’t even try to go to the Persian restaurant. The smell of my potato soup at dinner sent me running for the bathroom (and I barely made it). Tyler did not complain. Not once during the day. Not once since. He didn’t express any frustration with me or let me feel guilty. He spent the entire day focused on what I wanted and needed. He insisted that he only felt sorry that I felt so badly, and didn’t care if we went to the aquarium or his favorite restaurant or went home to Macon immediately. Anything to help me feel better. So even though it was a horrible, miserable time in a lot of ways, I have really good memories from that day, too.

What do they do that drives you crazy?
I’m not going to publicly criticize Tyler, so I’m not going to share anything he does that drives me crazy. Instead, I’m going to talk about baseball. It’s Tyler’s favorite sport and his favorite team is the Atlanta Braves. The first time I saw him and the first time I met him, he was wearing a Braves hat. Before we started dating, I’d watched exactly 4 baseball games in my entire life: two college baseball games, one Braves game at Turner Field, and the game when the Cubs won the World Series. That was it. And, honestly, I could probably go back to that life pretty easily. But Tyler loves it. Even though baseball is played outside. In summer. In Georgia. Even though there are 162 games a year. That’s a 4-hour game almost every single day for an ungodly number of the hottest months of the year. 162 games a year. One hundred. And sixty-two. Not including playoffs, spring training, or the All-Star game. For every single team. When the game is really good, it could only be 3 hours long. When it’s bad, it could be 4. Or 5. Or 6. Or 3. At least in football there’s a clock. But I’ve learned to enjoy baseball. I’ve learned to recognize the Braves players in their batting helmets and in the dugout. I’ve memorized their positions. I pretend to understand when Tyler starts complaining about the Braves’ home record. I loudly criticize the Indians’ racist logo and name and have developed an unreasonably strong dislike of the Marlins and the Nationals. I know the only place in SunTrust Park to get a funnel cake is the 300 level by the elevators. I’ve learned to recognize a balk! I take a lot of naps now. Tyler loves baseball and I love to see him enjoying it. And I’ve learned to enjoy baseball, too. Which is good, because the Braves are still in the playoffs, Tyler will be spending at least 4 hours every day of our honeymoon in the hotel room watching them play. (Don’t worry, I packed a lot of books.)

What qualities/attributes do you see in your partner that you most admire?
Tyler loves learning about other cultures and languages. He’s curious about how other people live and appreciates all the differences he finds. He’s patient. He listens. He makes me feel safe. Although I’m a words person and he’s a math person, he assumes that I can understand his work and takes the time to explain it. He’s tender-hearted and trustworthy. He makes me laugh. He’s a good cook and baker. The people he lets into his heart, he’d do anything for.

What is attractive to you about his relationship with Christ?
Tyler’s curious. He wants to learn and will go to great lengths to do so. Sometimes he focuses on learning Korean so he can better chat with his former supervisor when we run into him at Publix. Sometimes he focuses on prayer, or why the church is structured the way it is, or stories about God’s role in others’ lives. He loves God deeply and wants others to have the hope that we do, but he also wants those who don’t share our beliefs to know they are safe with him and appreciated by him. When we pray together, Tyler holds my hand and leans his head to touch mine, reaffirming that we’re a team and a family and connected, whether we’re blessing a meal or praying for our families or listening to someone else pray. He spends a long time pondering things in his heart before he acts, and I have confidence in him as a leader and partner.

Trousseau

Trousseau (n) — the clothes, household linen, and other belongings collected by a bride for her marriage

The first and probably last time I encountered this word, I was in elementary school and reading whichever Little House on the Prairie book that Laura gets married in. She and her sisters and mother sew curtains, embroider handkerchiefs, and finish new dresses for her trousseau. They stack finished items in her hope chest, which sounded like such an antiquated concept, I was shocked when I learned that a couple childhood friends had one. For those friends, it was just a place to store things that they wanted to keep into adulthood. Opening my friend Joni’s, peeking inside with her, felt reverent. There was her great-grandmother’s quilt. Some of her baby clothes. And not much else, honestly. We were eight. Marriage, let alone having a home of my own, felt infinitely far away. I forgot about hope chests and trousseaus.

Until Saturday morning. I woke early, played with the dog, chatted with my roommate, and went to the local mall to do a lot of shopping. I had a game plan for where to park, the order in which I visited stores, and what I was looking for in each. I had budgeted and researched for the watch I wanted, the shoes I hoped to find, a new dress for an upcoming bridal shower. All the stores were having sales and I’d downloaded a number of coupons.

After about an hour, I reached Pier 1 to look at nightstands and other furniture for the guest room we don’t yet have a bed for. While there, I examined flatware we don’t need and platters I chose not to register for. Standing in front of a bread pan that said, “Mr. and Mrs. established 2018,” I asked myself, What are you doing?

This wasn’t normal behavior for me. These weren’t my normal spending habits. Yes, I tend to buy nothing for a long time, then buy a lot of needed items all at once. Yes, I like interior design and haven’t had many opportunities to enact my visions on the space I inhabit. Yes, I’m excited for a place I can decorate and arrange to suit our purposes. But I know we don’t need a 2nd nightstand for the guest room yet. That’s one more thing we’ll have to move when we move out, which may only be a year away.

I’d never even been inside a Pier 1 before. Why did I make a point to come here and look at one? Why am I looking at all these platters I won’t need, especially as I already registered for some I like a lot more? And I’ve been on a hunt for new dresses, shoes, and other clothing necessities as if I’m about to move to the middle of 100 acres. What am I trying to accomplish?

Trousseau.

The word fairly floated into my consciousness. I grasped at it, held it in my hands, and let my mind pull forward its connected memories. I couldn’t even be sure of the definition of the word at first. I hear about nesting, the stage in which expecting parents try to make their homes suitable to their coming child or children, including decorating and other, strictly speaking, unnecessary steps. But I hadn’t heard of the trousseau stage, the urge to acquire domestic items for a new stage of domestic life.

Expectations play into this. I’m about to be married. What do married people have/need (other than a spouse) that I don’t? What am I supposed to have?

Making a wedding registry was a firm step down this path. We put everything we think we’ll need on it, and there wasn’t much. So we leaned back and dreamed, thought about what would be nice or helpful. I asked myself how others’ expectations of me will change and what we’ll need to meet those expectations. I also thought about the furniture I’ll be bringing to our new home. It’s only a few pieces, but I still find myself planning and measuring and doodling a lot, deciding where things can go, how to make the rooms look more put together, more finished, and more functional long-term.

Except, I know we could be moving out in a year. It doesn’t need to be long-term functional. Just functional for a year. After that, we’ll reevaluate.

Still, it’s tempting to go after those plans and dreams now. To look at prices and measurements for that cabinet, that nightstand, and a basket for spare toiletries in the guest bathroom. On the cusp of a big life transition, long-term hopes and dreams that feel more immediate, giving me a false sense of urgency to keep working, keep buying, keep organizing.

I know waiting leaves me more options, and that future Katie will be grateful.

And yet, I’m also bringing large tubs full of blankets and winter clothes to place in that future guest room. A couple pairs of boots and both my winter coats are there are well. I’m planning which sheets to bring with me and which to leave for my roommate. What I should do with my old, raggedy towels? What items will I be bringing with me into my marriage?

Trousseau (n) — plastic tubs full of hope and plans

The Wedding Registry

As a wedding guest, I used to only buy “sensible” things like towels and kitchen utensils. Necessities. In the past few years, though, I decided to branch out to what I considered “fun” gifts. I’ve bought newly married couples Christmas movies, nice throw blankets, expansion packs to their favorite boards games, art for their walls, and 2-person floats for the river. Now that Tyler and I are building a registry of our own, though, you better believe I’m going to be as grateful to the person who buys us plates and towels (The patterns will match! I’ve been using the same ratty set of towels since college!) as the person who’ll give us a Scrabble board and posable magnet people for the fridge.

We’re really excited about all of it. We honestly don’t need much to survive, and won’t be moving into a house in need of a lawnmower or garden hose or rolling kitchen island, so at first our registry was really small. But as we’ve grown more used to the idea of receiving so many blessings at once, we’ve thought of more and more items that would be really helpful.

For example, a couple days ago Tyler realized that he doesn’t have a suitcase more substantial than a duffle bag. And in addition to the big party we’re planning, we’re also planning a big trip. I then remembered that my beloved orange monkey luggage tags, which have visited multiple other countries multiple times, are pulling loose and have my maiden name on them.

As another example, last week I took the dog for a long walk with one of my bridesmaids while Tyler made dinner at his apartment. When I arrived, the entryway vaguely smelled like smoke and the fire alarm was chirping. Tyler, who had just finished plating our dinner and scraping the burned pan, hugged me in welcome, then moved a dining room chair to the hallway to try to reset the system. He could barely reach. I knew I’d only have more luck if I wore heels, which was an exceedingly bad idea.

A lot of the items on our registry are things we’d probably buy in one form or another as we needed and could afford them: a ladle, a spatula, a step stool, a new suitcase. But because we don’t need them all immediately, we can add them to our registry. Our wedding season is a rare and touching opportunity for people other than close family to buy us gifts, and for the people we love most to help us prepare for our life together.

It also gives us a little space to dream. What would be nice to have? There isn’t much we need to get by, but what would help? We can keep using the dining room chair to reach high places, but what if we had a step stool? What if we had a couple different sizes of suitcases? What would make the sunroom and porch more enjoyable in winter? What would we like to have on this wall? What would make the next few years a little easier or more comfortable?

We’re really excited to be getting married and to be sharing the day with so many people we love. And we don’t need gifts to enjoy the day or those that will follow. Even though we know that’s also the case with the friends whose five weddings we’ll also be attending this year, we’re excited to be able to bless our friends with board games and new towels, too!

Still, in the flurry of Save the Dates and bridal shower invites zipping through the mail these days, we want to say it one more time: no gift is necessary. For every gift we receive, “sensible” or “fun”, we’ll be thrilled and incredibly grateful. (And our thank you cards have photos from our engagement shoot on them!) But we’d much rather have the blessing of your presence than the blessing of a present.

Since posting, several people have asked us where we’re registered. We are registered here. Our wedding website is here.

Fear and Marriage Planning: Death

A couple years ago, my friend Molly and I were headed to Nashville to see a touring Broadway show called “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Honestly, I can’t recommend the show, but I’m glad we went to see it because it gave Molly and I about six uninterrupted hours in the car to catch up. We used to meet for lunch once a week, but since she married and moved, we hadn’t been able to stay in regular contact.

After a while, Molly began to confess some honest aspects of marriage that she hadn’t anticipated. We started talking about fears, and I brought up the fear that my future partner (I wasn’t dating anyone at the time) would die. Molly immediately answered, “You can’t think about that. You can’t let yourself.”

Her conviction came from experience, but also from something her mom had once told her: “If you ever get married and something happens to them, you can’t fall apart. You have to keep it together to handle things and take care of your family.”

Although I don’t particularly feel like an adult and I’m told that I won’t ever feel that way, I am aware that part of maturity is the ability to deal with the situations, particularly the bad and sudden and complex ones, that arise. It requires adaptation and leadership. It involves eating less sugar and more greens and having less and less desire to stay up late or go out after work on Friday (even if it’s just to a restaurant). It involves facing violence and loss and disappointment without losing, or letting die, the spark of hope and kindness and joy inside you.

Another part of being an adult is being reliable. As a kid, you don’t always have a lot of food-on-the-table responsibility, but you have homework, studying, friends, sports/activities, and job responsibilities depending on age, time of year, and socio-economic status. When you get to adulthood, or independence, your responsibilities are different because your safety net and goals are different.

And when you have a spouse, perhaps also children, you are part of a team. You can’t collapse on your responsibilities or everyone in your nuclear family will suffer.

In the wake of Molly’s words, I thought of friends of friends whose spouses have committed suicide, been injured or killed, or grown very sick. I understood that being in love and having children are vastly different kinds of love and are also extremely intense. So to lose a person on your team, or for that person to be in tremendous pain, must be proportionally painful and disorienting.

Molly followed up her mother’s words by telling me that she can’t let herself think about anything happening to her husband. It upsets her to think about seriously, to imagine, and so she can’t let her mind go there. Emotion rose in her voice as she explained; even this much discussion was difficult for her.

Last year, as Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Irma came through Macon, I found myself at home alone about ten miles from Tyler, who was also at home alone. He lives in a second floor apartment, and the house where I live has a basement. Thinking of tornados, I deemed my house to be the safer place to be, but I still wished I could be where he was. I had a dog to care for and it wasn’t safe to be on the roads, so I stayed put, but the ferocity of my desire to be where Tyler was surprised me.

I reached my hand out, swishing it through these waters.

For the first time I didn’t care about being in the logically safest place as much as I cared about being where he was. I would rather have been in his apartment with him, knowing he was safe or facing danger with him, than being safe at my house and not know every moment if he was okay.

I watched the radar until the power went out, then I forced myself to save my phone battery and his by not texting him constantly for updates. (I also didn’t want to be annoying.)

That week was lonely. Because of road conditions, I spent a couple days at home with only the dog, candles, and the overcast sky. I checked on and was checked on by my neighbors, but I had no other personal contact. I didn’t see Tyler for two days, and sitting across from him at the restaurant where we met up during his lunch break (my office didn’t regain power until later that day), I felt the charge of built-up stress shaking my limbs and voice. And I felt relieved. I wanted nothing more than to go to his apartment and lay down on his couch with him and sleep. To know he was safe. To feel safe wherever he was. To not be alone (and in the dark) anymore.

As I drive to work each morning, I glance at the interstate Tyler takes to work. When there are backups—and often when there aren’t—I pray for his safe passage to and from work. But even that I can’t think too much about. Last night as I waved goodbye to him from my driveway, I couldn’t let myself imagine his journey, safe or otherwise. I took an extra, long hug and smiled and did not think, did not think about his night drive or the construction zones in the morning or the lonely walk back to my own door.

I kept to Molly’s example and put my fears from my mind before they spun into a monster requiring sweat and blood and sleeplessness to slay. And then I put them from my mind again. And again. Until I finally fell asleep.

Wedding Planning (and Mental Health) Tips

Last week, a friend who recently got engaged asked me how I remained so calmly attentive while planning our wedding. “Teach me your ways,” she said.

This week, two high-profile celebrities, a designer/business entrepreneur and a chef/TV host who made the world better in their own ways, died by suicide.

So here are some major things I do to help manage my anxiety in a constantly humming, high-stress, at times overwhelming season of life. And if today is hard for you, I hope this list might give you some ideas of things that might help you to feel better.

1. Don’t idolize calm. Not only calm, anyway. I oscillate between feeling calmly capable, impatiently excited, and frantically stressed. If I don’t get enough sleep or food, I’m grumpily pessimistic. Just because you see me in a serene moment, or I’m intentionally projecting calm, doesn’t mean I didn’t spend most of the day in one of the less fun emotions. And such moods are just as real, just as natural, as the cheery ones. You don’t have to be happy all the time just because you’re engaged or your life is going well by the world’s standards. You’re still a person. You’ll allowed to feel all the same emotions you felt before, including frustration, fear, anxiety, sadness, and more. Calm is not the ideal. Healthy is.

2. Build a soothing nightly routine. For me, this is a 3-step ritual. Step 1: Take a shower or bath (more on that below). Step 2: Write down the events of the day in a 5-year journal (1 line a day). In doing so, I’m acknowledging what happened that day but also closing the book on it and setting it aside. Step 3: Read a chapter in the Bible. I was already reading the Psalms when I got engaged, and followed that book with Proverbs and now Isaiah. When I read a chapter, I’m nourishing my soul. I’m engaging my mind with something outside myself, and on Someone who can give perspective on my life and struggles and experiences.

3. Hot baths. It sounds frivolous or stereotypical but for me it’s 1000% true. Hot baths can calm you and help your body unclinch from all the stress you’re carrying around. Showering and taking baths are kind of like intentional sensory deprivation: you’re warm and comfortable, the room isn’t busy or loud, you choose the smells and sensations (bubbles, bath bombs, bath pillows, etc) that you experience. Leave your phone OUTSIDE, preferably where you can’t hear it buzz or ding. Read or listen to music, or listen to nothing. I like to give myself 30 min to an hour to enjoy my bath, so I’m not constantly checking the clock or wondering how much time has gone by.

4. Mystery novels. Usually, I read cheesy romances when I’m stressed. It’s my go-to genre in TV watching, too. But lately, they just aren’t as much fun, and I find my mind wandering to my to-do lists. Mysteries, however, are engaging enough to distract my brain from all the people I need to call, all the emails I need to send, and all the kitchen mixers I need to research. They’re easy to put down and pick back up when I have the time. They also tend to be short, so finishing an audiobook a week and a paperback every two weeks makes me feel accomplished. We may still be struggling to get the guest list under 250 people, but I finished two books last week, and I feel good about that.

5. Post-it notes. I keep 2 colors by my bed. One is for daily goals (pink). The other is for weekly goals (green). I cross things off when I get them done. If I don’t get everything done in a day or a week, I just throw the post it away and write a new one. If something distracts me while I’m journaling or reading before bed, I write it down and move on. It’s a quick aside and I’m not letting myself stay distracted by it. Again, acknowledge, then put aside until a better time to deal with it.

6. Take care of yourself. I get way grumpier if I don’t eat well and on time. I get way more stressed if I’m tired. Take naps. Eat green stuff. Go home early and read. Take a bath and go to bed. Drink a glass of water. Go for a long walk or a run. Play with the dog. Watch a funny movie or a mystery and put your phone out of reach. Sit in the sunshine. Make a hair or massage or pedicure appointment and let yourself enjoy it. When you’re taking care of yourself, you’re better able to deal with the stress and anxiety and pressure. You’ll make better decisions and you’ll handle sudden problems better. Your well-being is more important than any of the details of your wedding day.

7. Take breaks. Take breaks from planning. Take breaks even from talking about planning. At the beginning of our engagement, I intentionally tried to only do and talk wedding stuff with Tyler during the week. Weekends were for fun things like visiting friends, having lunch with family, and watching baseball games. If someone else brought up the wedding, we could talk about it. If Tyler wanted to run an idea past me, he would. But I saved all my plans and phone calls, and as many meetings and requests as possible, for weekdays. Eventually, that model broke down and we had to use the weekends. Now its even more important that we take breaks to focus on other aspects of our lives and relationships. Even just a meal without wedding talk can be incredibly helpful.

8. Let go. Let go of stuff. You’re going to be blending your living space and things and time with someone else. It’s a good idea to simplify, even to cull, so you’ll have more time and space and freedom. I’m currently knee-deep in a great book cull. Yarn will follow. I’ve cleaned out my winter closet and am going to clean out my summer closet as the season wanes. Also, let go of obligations that don’t align with what you want and need right now. That will mean saying no to good and cool things, even though you don’t want to. Letting go also gives you permission to cut out things that were never good for you.

As much as you can, let go of others’ expectations for you. Someone is going to get upset with you for something that you didn’t even see coming. It’s going to be stressful. Handle it in the way that’s best for you as a couple. That might mean placating or acquiescing because family is forever and you don’t want to alienate your friends over something that isn’t a make-or-break deal to you but is to them. It may also mean trusting the people who really love you to keep loving you, even when they disagree with or feel hurt by your decision.

9. This is fun. You get to pick out new clothes! You get to figure our your favorite flowers! You get to plan a big trip with your favorite person! So many old friends reach out to you! And a registry is the biggest, most expensive Christmas list you’ll make your whole life! Put another, less bridal way, you experience good things because of this season of life. Remind yourself of those good things. Make a list if you need to. Remember them especially when things don’t feel good.

10. Marriage plan as well as wedding plan. Try to make good habits now that you can keep up later. In the end, your wedding day is just one day. And so is today. Work on your communication. Make a budget. Cook together. Learn way more about your future in-laws. Learn way more about your parents. Don’t give up your hobbies and other interests. Don’t give up your friends. Make buddies with other engaged and newly married couples. Attend pre-marital counseling. Tyler and I consider counseling to be preventative care for our mental health (especially mine) and pre-marital counseling to be preventative for the health of our marriage.

Fear and Marriage Planning: Miscarriage

Trigger warning: discussion of miscarriage (non-specific, non-graphic)

Over the next few months, I plan to write about lots of wonderful parts of wedding and marriage planning. (I’m ridiculously excited to register for our Christmas stockings, for instance.) However, I feel like there’s a lot of that in the world. And it isn’t the whole truth of my experience. There’s plenty of fear as well.

I’m an anxious person. I’ve had social anxiety all my life, but I haven’t fully understood the degree to which a more general anxiety has influenced my life until recently. I don’t have generalized anxiety disorder; however, anxiety is a low-level but persistent factor in my life. My mother—I’ve always known and she’s always admitted—is a worrier. But worrying, I believed while growing up, was learned. Learned things could be unlearned, even if my shyness could not. I prayed and unlearned as best I could, but anxiety remained.

And over the course of my life, I’ve developed a number of coping mechanisms and emergency protocols to help me through situations that trigger my anxiety. A big one is managing my expectations. But lately, I’ve noticed myself trying to manage Tyler’s too.

A couple of weekends ago, Tyler and I traveled up to Atlanta to visit my best friend/maid of honor and to go to a Braves game. At some point on the drive, as we were talking about the day, I recalled how excited my bestie’s mom had been that we were thinking of going on a cruise for our honeymoon (she goes on at least 2-3 cruises every year). I hadn’t expected her exuberant reaction. Tyler agreed, saying that’s how his mom will react “when she finds out you’re pregnant.”

Immediately, anxiety gripped my heart with both hands.

Tyler was imagining a scene in the future—real to him, though not yet realized—when I will be pregnant, we will tell his family, and his mom will scream with excitement.

To Tyler, that scene is not a possibility but an expectation.

At least, that’s what I took from his words. We’ve since talked about it and he assures me both that he’s aware of the risks and possibilities and isn’t pretending they can’t apply to us. But at the time, I didn’t know that.

I didn’t want to squash his hope or make him think I don’t hope for the same, but it’s just a hope in me, not a foregone conclusion. Relationships, marriage, good health, and pregnancy are generally accepted as will-happen situations with no complications or problems. We all I know there is a possibility that these dreams might not pan out the way we have been led to expect, but we generally don’t think other people’s tragedies and pains will happen to us. In the filing cabinet of coping strategies, in the emergency protocols drawer, is a folder labeled, “Miscarriage.”

I’ve written before about how, growing up, I kept putting off my disappointing about not being in a relationship, saying it’ll happen by this age, then this later age, until I realized I was building myself up for a disappointment so profound, so capable of embittering me, that it wasn’t healthy to defer hope any longer. I wouldn’t let myself set another relationship due date. I faced the reality of perpetual singleness. I made lists of the great things about it. I read stories of women—single, widowed, or divorced—who built adventurous, generous lives that I could admire. I grieved what I desperately wanted but may never have. I prayed and tried to choose, each day, to accept my current state and whatever future might be mine, especially the ones I found most painful and disappointing to imagine.

In Tyler’s truck that afternoon, he imagined telling his parents, experiencing his mom’s joy. I imagined Tyler having to deliver the bad news, his mom’s disappointment, how she’d look at me the next time she saw me. I imagined her, some weeks or months later, asking when we were going to try again. And if not her, than another well meaning, loving person in our lives.

Tyler’s family is large and close and many of them live nearby. Good news spreads through them like a wave and bad like fire. I imagine carrying everyone’s disappointments as well as my grief and Tyler’s. A miscarriage happens inside you; it brings guilt, a sense of betrayal. I would take the weight of everyone else’s disappointments and my body’s failures on myself. It’s a weight I’m terrified of, and everyone’s knowing would add elephants to it.

I feel horrible for being afraid of something that I have no actual evidence will occur and that we won’t be ready to pursue for years, anyway. So many struggle with infertility, miscarriage, and child loss now. Perpetually.

In Laura Turner’s essay “Missing Hope: A Trio of Miscarriages, and What Happened After,” she writes, they don’t tell you that fear, to reverse a phrase from C.S. Lewis, will feel so like grief, and so you begin to mourn what you have not yet lost, because mourning prematurely is the only way to protect yourself from hope.

“I know there isn’t a family history or anything,” I told Tyler as the stadium grew large before us. “But miscarriages are so common. I’m not going to want to tell anyone for…” we hit a bump and I stayed in the air an extra moment, wondering how many weeks would be safe enough, conservative enough, “a good long while.”

I didn’t want to bring the day’s mood down any further, so I didn’t explain. Tyler didn’t ask questions. He just said okay. My anxiety eased, and we had a really good day.