"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 in Retrospect

Can you believe 2012 is nearly over, or actually is over in much of the world as I type this. Craziness...

I tried to think of the highlights of the year, but when I look back, it seems like so much has happened that it's difficult to pin down the best parts. Since we got married close to the end of last year, and then did all the honeymooning, moving, etc. that comes with being newlyweds, 2012 was when we really settled into being married. Some major things happened this past year, including:

--Church: I went from feeling isolated at our church to working and serving there. I also started attending a Bible study at another church and am gradually making some friends there as well.

--Travel: Last spring, I visited NYC and Washington in a fun road trip; Gil and I went to Poland and Mexico, as well as some shorter road trips.

Gdansk city centre
Malbork Castle
Brooklyn Bridge

White House
--Weddings: We started the year out with a mid-January wedding in Ottawa . Two of my cousins got married this year (but we missed one of them), as did my brother. This year didn't top my record high of 8 weddings (2008), but was still a good one for nuptial celebrations.

My cousin M's wedding, Letchworth Park, NY

--Babies: At one point, I think there were at least 10 of my friends and acquaintances who were pregnant. Although I haven't had a chance to see many of them in person, I celebrated as friends welcomed little Evan, Ainsley, Ophelia, Mathai, Zara, Kenzo, and Silas.* (Guess it's true that there aren't many baby Johns and Jennifers these days!) I also saw both of my wonderful nephews turn one, and watched many little ones grow up via Facebook. I'm excited for another little one due at the end of January, and of course wondering who will be the next to get pregnant. (And no, that's not me hinting at something.)

--Housing: We moved into our first house in May. It's still half-empty as we haven't felt the need to furnish rooms we are not yet using, but we are enjoying it just as it is.... even though moving from an apartment to a house meant that I had to shovel snow for the first time in years last week. I'm gonna have buff arms by the spring, that's for sure!  We never did get the roofing work done in 2012, so hopefully that will get started next spring.

Our snow-covered lawn, December 27

These are all events, but in my mind, the year is really about the things you cannot measure: what happened day by day, how we lived and grew. I think over the past year, I've grown in my relationships with my family, especially my mom.  I've definitely pondered a lot of things as a Christian, woman, and wife, and have realized how much I still need to grow.  Gil and I made steps in understanding each other and ourselves better. We've supported each other and prayed together, and ultimately, we've been happy. That's what's really important, right?

Happy New Year, Friends!!

PS:  Don't forget to vote in my sidebar poll!  I've extended the deadline by one day.  So far there is only one vote.

PPS:  If I missed anyone's baby above, please let me know.  2011 and 2012 are all jumbled up in my memory....

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas 2013 (In Pictures)

Happy Boxing Day!  It's hard to believe another Christmas is over.  It's been a fairly quiet affair for us.  On Saturday, we had an early Christmas, exchanging gifts with my brother, sister-in-law, mom, and mom's boyfriend.  Gil and I exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, just in case he was called in to the hospital super-early.  I spent Christmas day with my mom.  We had a mid-day brunch and cooked while listening to Handel's Messiah on the radio - pure joy!  Some relatives came by in the later and we had a nice turkey dinner, followed by Christmas pudding (yuck) and cupcakes (yum!) for dessert.

Tasty Christmas!

We had planned to drive down to Ohio today to see some friends, but Gil applied to renew his passport a few weeks ago and the replacement has not arrived yet, so we can't go to the US.  I don't mind.  We are aiming for a quiet day of watching World Juniors hockey and eating pizza.  Tomorrow it's work as usual for my husband (wait, that's what he's been doing all week....), but I am off so will be going to see Les Mis√©rables at the IMAX with some friends and I cannot wait.

Other than that Santa a.k.a. my husband gave me a new fancy camera for Christmas to replace the one that took a dive into the Caribbean Sea, so I've been playing around with it, taking photos like these of my living room:

Woo, trippy...

Or these ones of my cat:

Because nothing says Christmas like gratuitous cat-posting.  Enjoy your day!

Monday, 24 December 2012

But Why?

My husband (somewhat) jokingly tells me that I ask too many questions. I'm always wondering, why he does think that, how does this work, etc. I say I'm just curious, but he thinks its hilarious (and occasionally annoying). This past week, however, was one of deeper questioning. I had applied to a full-time position where I work, and found out that I didn't get the job. I had not been seeking to work full-time until this opportunity arose, and even though it looked interesting, I didn't think my heart was set on it. Being turned down, however, threw me into a day or two of deep and anguished questioning what I am doing and why.

I was always “the smart one” in school, the one expected to go far. One of my high school teachers even insisted I was a future Rhodes scholar. Although I didn't fulfill her dream and go to Oxford, I did complete six years of higher education, and then worked for several years in an intellectually stimulating environment. And now.... I answer the phones. Even though most days I like my job, there are times when I wonder what I'm doing. This week I found myself crying to God, asking why He gave me this mind and educational opportunities only to end up answering phones. Why does it feel like I am squandering my potential? Will I ever have another job that's intellectually fulfilling? What if it takes us longer than we assume to have children, and I end up spending years and years doing routine admin work? Why don't things work out the way I plan them?

Fear is really at the heart of all these questions, and some of those fears are pretty shameful. I'm afraid of being dependent on another person. I'm afraid that people will look down on me because of my job. I'm afraid I'll lose my sharp wits and become dull, or that I'll never cut it in a domestic role. Most of all, I'm afraid because I don't understand God's plan for me.

What I'm realizing in my Bible reading this week, is that Christmas, far from being a feel-good jolly time, is actually full of these kind of fears and questions. There are so many questions in the Christmas story. Zechariah and Elizabeth wonder why the Lord has not blessed them with a child. Mary asks “But why me?” and “But how can this happen when I am a virgin?” Joseph asks what he should do about Mary's situation, and how they will manage the probable scandal of the pregnancy. They both wonder how come they have to go to Bethlehem at this inopportune time, and when the Jesus finally comes, they must have wondered how in the world they were going to raise the Messiah. The shepherds in turn wonder what is going on and why they are the ones blessed to be able to see the Messiah. And in the background, the whole nation of Israel is asking, “But when, Lord, when will the Messiah come?”

Our fears and questioning, far from taking us away from God, actually lead us towards Him as we seek answers and comfort from Him. We can know that we are not alone in not knowing the game plan or being confused; in fact, we're probably in good company with most of the people in Bible. We can marvel at the lowly carpenter and his wife who chose, in the midst of their fears, to obey God and find joy in His plan. And we can enjoy the presence of the One who knows all the answers (even if we don't understand them all).

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

Merry Christmas, from our little family to yours!!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

On Reading (Follow-up): A Marriage Reading Plan for 2013

About a month ago, I posted about how even though I would like to read books about marriage and relationships, have trouble getting through them.

This week, I had the idea that if I commit to reading a few of those books and blogging about them, that should provide some accountability to actually start and finish some recommended readings on marriage.  I will commit not only to read them, but to journal through them and write one (or more) posts on my response.  These posts won't be reviews, per se, in that my aim is to write what I'm learning rather than to critique the books.  After all, this blog is about marriage and what it is teaching me, and I am certainly no expert!

For now, I'm aiming to read and blog about five or six marriage books in 2013, so that I'll still have time to read the fiction and history books that I love.  To start with, there are five books that I think would be beneficial, and that I already have (except Keller's book, which is available at the library) but I'd love your input.  Which one should I read first?  What would you like to see when I blog about them?  Do you have any further recommendations?  Feel free to leave a comment saying which book I should start off with, and why, or else vote via my new sidebar poll.

Tentative list:
Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages (a gift from my wedding shower.  Update:  See my post here.)
Linda Dillow, Creative Counterpart (recommended by Jayme)
Hayley DiMarco, The Fruitful Wife (which I read about here)
Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (Update:  See my post here.)
Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (a gift from my wedding shower)

Monday, 17 December 2012

Leaving and Cleaving over the Holidays

When I got married, I was naive enough to think we had it so easy for holidays.  My mom lives in Toronto like we do.  My dad lives in Florida and does not expect us to visit at Christmas time.  My in-laws live in Asia and likewise do not expect yearly holiday visits.  Problem solved, right?

We failed to consider, however, that this meant that my family was the default for every single holiday.  I mean, it's not like we're the Braverman clan on Parenthood (love that show!), but we do have somewhat regular get-togethers, and over Christmas, they can be numerous.  Last year's family gathering at my mom's became somewhat of a gong show:  Way too long, too many people, me serving everyone and Gil forced to make small talk with my relatives for what felt like eons.  At the end, we we were exhausted and not so full of holiday spirits.

This year, my husband will be working on the 24th and on Christmas day, so I'll probably end up spending the majority of time with my family again, but I've realized that we need to have an ongoing discussion about how much family time is too much.  Of course, this is hard, and I'm a people-pleaser.  I've already had to tell my mom that I won't be coming over to do Christmas Eve dinner.  Gil and I will not have much time together, and it's important that we make use of what little we do have.  Saying no is not easy for me, but leaving and cleaving is important in establishing my little family with Gil.  Some small things I've learned so far are:

1)  It's important to have an ongoing discussion about Christmas plans.  What works this year may not work in a few years when me and my brother (God-willing) have little ones.  We started talking last winter about what worked and what didn't for Christmas 2011, and how things may change in the future, so we will be ready for that.

2)  Not all traditions are worth keeping.  Sometimes you just can't even remember why you started doing something year after year.  If everyone still likes it, then that's great, but there's no reason to keep up things that have become meaningless or onerous.  (Now if only my family would "see the light" about our annual plum pudding tradition... Yuck.)

3)  Bring up plans well in advance and with grace.  Some people hate change, especially at Christmas, so it's important to give them time to process and prepare if the status quo is changing.

4)  Don't get so bogged up in your own needs that you forget to extend love.  Some people over-extend themselves and entertain until they are exhausted, but others cocoon so much that they shut their families and friends out.  I try to remember that most of my family do not love Christ, so sharing His joy is an important part of this season, even if it means making time when I would prefer to be with my immediate family or husband only.

Edit:  One day after I wrote this, I discovered that my mom did not remember that I wouldn't be coming over on Christmas Eve, annnnnd all of the suggestions we'd made on making family Christmas a little less onerous were not implemented.  I guess there's always next year for changing traditions!  Merry Christmas nonetheless.  :-) 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

On Grumbling (Or Not)

When I worked at summer camp, our staff coordinator always started out training with her own set of "10 Commandments".  For some reason, although most of them have faded out of my memory in the last decade or so, #2 still stays with me:  "Thou shalt not grumble."*  It's pretty obvious why that was important.  Camp counselors work long days for little pay.  Their attitudes set the tone for the kids in their care, so it's important not to complain and whine... unless they feel like dealing with 12 children whining right back.

Since I work in reception, it's still very important to have a good attitude.  I don't want visitors to the church to hear me complaining, nor do I want to come across as a whiner to other staff.  Still, the temptation can be so strong to go home and vent to my husband about all the "trials" of my day, and while that may feel helpful, it often doesn't actually help me to adjust my attitude.  Instead, a small grumble leads to a bigger one, and now suddenly I'm annoyed at things that didn't even bother me before.  This certainly doesn't help me connect with my husband either:  He would certainly not prefer to spend our brief time together listening to my list of woes.

It's so easy to be a society of grumblers.  We hate waiting.  We hate bad service.  We hate traffic.  The problem is, most of these are unavoidable if we continue to live in cities and (usually) to put ourselves and our convenience ahead of that of others.  Living in a grumbling society, we use our complaints as a form of bonding:  "Yeah, I hate that cable company too!"  This doesn't make us any happier, however, because instead of building one another up, we're tearing other people and things down. 

Last week was quite a "grumbly" week for me.  We were super-busy at work, and in general I wasn't busy with tasks that are among my strengths or giftings.  Several times, I came home in the evening wishing I had checked my attitude more.  This week, I'm resolving to be more careful about the things I let come out of my mouth, and the attitude I am cultivating. 

What does the Bible say about this?  Oh yeah, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe."  (Philippians 2:14-15).  Obviously, I have a lot of room to grow!

*Evidently I'm not the only one who remembers this commandment.  A few days ago, said person posted a facebook status that was somewhat negative.  She immediately received this reply from another former counselor: "Is that grumbling I hear?"

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Interesting Holiday Traditions Chez Nous

--> T'is the season, friends! I loooooove Christmas! Today I was thinking a little bit about holiday traditions. Gil and I have yet to really develop our own set of traditions. Where he is from, Christmas is primarily a religious holiday, so other than going to church, there is not much that people do to celebrate it. I, on the other hand, grew up with the whole gammot of Christmas traditions, from turkey to Santa to carols. I love everything... except eggnog and fruitcake.

While my family have a lot of your typical North American Christmas traditions, like decorating a tree there are a few oddball ones that I and my family have developed over the years, so I thought I'd share a few:

1) Christmas Carols as of November 1. This tradition started in university. Most of December was usually consumed by exams, so my friends and I would go gift shopping in early November so we wouldn't leave it too late. Now I always crank up the carols after Halloween. Last year we returned from our honeymoon late on October 30, spent one day in Ottawa, and moved all my things to Toronto the following day. Gil drove the the U-Haul with me following in my car, and you better believe I was listening to Christmas music all the way! My husband is not so keen on this tradition, so now it is mainly limited to my car and when I'm home alone.

2) Garfield Santa and Garfield Angel. We got these stuffed toys from McDonald's some time when I was a kid*, and they have aged remarkably well. My mom let me take them off to university with me (I believe I hung the Garfield Angel from the ceiling by his halo using dental floss). Ever since then, I bring out the Garfields to decorate at Christmas time. Even though I have some classier decorations now, these plush friends still make me happy.

3) The Santa Stocking. As a kid, my mom had a set of four stockings, each with a different design: Santa Claus, a snowwoman, a nutcracker/soldier, and a teddy bear. I had the teddy bear and my brother happily had the soldier, but when my dad moved out, we each decided we liked the Santa stocking best. Every year, we would fight over who should have Santa, so my mom made us take turns.... and we still do! We have a slip of paper in the stocking to keep track of who had it each year. Come to think of it, I'm not sure who's turn it is for 2012...

4) My Mom's unintentional insults. This isn't a real tradition, but it's something my mom ends up doing every year by accident. When we were little, my brother and I were kind of obsessed with fairness, so I guess Mom tried to keep the presents even. Now we don't care, but my mom still tries to give us a similar number of presents and even give us similar gifts. When this fails, she always feels the need to explain herself, which leads to hilarious statements like, “Now Neil, I've bought your sister several books and none for you, but that's not because I think you can't read very well.” Mom never fails to make us laugh each Christmas with her explanations.

Of course, there are serious things to ponder, and I am trying to be more mindful than usual of the spiritual significance of Advent this year, but that doesn't mean I can't also enjoy the lighthearted side of life.

*A little digging found me this McDonalds ad ca. 1991 featuring my Garfield buddies.  Check it out!