Last month, Brian flew to Fargo and proposed! The whole thing was a surprise, and he coordinated with my roommates to make it the most exciting and sweet day ever. I am so giddy about marrying my best friend and starting our lives together! And ever since that day, with a ring on my left hand, I’ve become a wedding-planning maniac.
I’m writing about this for a few reasons: 1) It’s a major part of my life right now and I want to share it with you, 2) I want to show the reality of being engaged, not only the cute pictures that make relationships look flawless, and 3) God has taught me a lot in this season.
Let me start by saying that being engaged is truly awesome. Brian and I have been dating for almost three years and have known for a large chunk of that time that we wanted to get married. There are so many things I respect and love about him, and officially taking a step towards marriage is crazy exciting! I don’t take it lightly that I have an amazing human committed to me for life. Plus, I get to use the fancy word ‘fiancé’ instead of ‘boyfriend’ now!
The daunting task of planning
Over my spring break last week, I really jumped into the wedding-planning process. I made an extensive spreadsheet, sent (what felt like) thousands of emails, calculated prices, talked to my parents, looked at photos for inspiration, worried about money. . . you get it. I was over my head in information and dedicated to making the day look like my Pinterest board. This was my laser focus for the whole week.
And then I stressed out to the point of ugly-crying three times in one evening.
Yep, that’s the real me. Thankfully, getting back into the routine of college has brought me some sanity and time apart from thinking about all there is to be done. But this struggle isn’t really a surprise. I’ve talked lots on this blog about my battle with control and wanting to plan everything to perfection: and my wedding is a huge test in that area!
God has given me so many bits of wisdom that relate directly to this. For example, I recently heard this in a sermon: when you’re trying to make a decision, you should ask “what would bring God the most glory?” I hate to admit it, but that caught me by surprise. Wedding planning is composed of one billion tiny decisions, and so I was like, “Oh yeah! This can be an opportunity to glorify God!”
I had gotten so wrapped up in the surface details and appearance of it all that I forgot about the most important thing. I, in effect, was striving towards my own glory and exhausting myself! I realize that my focus in having a wedding shouldn’t be to impress people or feel fancy, but to celebrate love, thank God, and start a marriage. I’m excited to continue planning with these things in mind!
Look under the surface
I hope this encourages you to look beyond the surface of decisions and happenings, and glimpse God’s purpose. Because really, it doesn’t matter whether my wedding has lavish flowers or folding chairs or a plated meal or a pretty building. What matters is the meaning behind it all: that Brian and I want to start a God-honoring marriage that reflects Christ.
Now, think about your life. What has been consuming your plans and thoughts lately? Look under the surface.
What deeper purpose can you find?
How does the world around you influence how you think? What motivates and inspires you? Why you do what you do? Recently, I read a book called Disruptive Witness. It showed me some surprising stuff about our society and how deeply we’re affected by it.
The first section talks about our current situation, which is what I’ll talk about here. A few of the main points really rocked me, because they are so true yet so subtle! I also love that the author, Alan Noble, explains it all without a condemning tone. It’s an honest assessment of where we’re at. So, here are a few points in a (hopefully) organized list!
1. We’re obsessed with image. Although we may not realize it, our main focus is on finding, crafting, and displaying our personal image. It’s present in every aspect of life: we experience our jobs, leisure activities, relationships, and even small things like food choices through a lens of “what does this say about who I am?” Noble had a great example of taking a hike alone while thinking about what a hipster you are. We may project any number of personas on ourselves subconsciously.
I’ve definitely seen this in myself. There’s a persona that goes like this: a girl who drinks coffee, reads her Bible, wears flannels, styles her hair in a half-bun, and attends a church with loud music. A ‘cool Christian.’ I can barely sit at a coffee shop and blog without thinking about it! (That’s. . . literally what I’m doing as I write this.) I’m sure you can think of a few personas you fit into as well. Our value of image is deeply ingrained.
2. We have a lifestyle of distraction. We’re bombarded with countless messages every day, and we know it. Ads, social media posts, conversations, and the news pull us in many directions. In the time it takes to scroll Instagram, we’re told to eat more spinach, help refugees, buy a new toothbrush, check out our friend's new shoes, fight climate change, and support the building of a wall all at once! These causes butt heads with each other, demanding our immediate attention and allegiance.
“A superficial but constant engagement with media invites us to unreflectively adopt ethical and political positions, creating a hodgepodge worldview. . . causes are as easy to pick up as they are to put down.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 26)
Since we can adopt views so quickly, they often remain surface-level in the back of our minds while we neither take action or understand them fully. This leads to cognitive dissonance, which I have experienced for sure. My brain has felt exhausted from the bombardment of so many causes and images, and the contradictions, questions, proposed actions, and insecurities they bring. The pace is stifling.
When taken together, the combination of these two points brings a shocking conclusion . . .
3. Christianity is seen as just another consumer choice. Essentially this puts faith on the level of ‘fun facts about me:’ on the same level as favorite restaurants, athletes, and vacation spots. It’s a trivial preference. Jesus is seen as a hobby or just another thing to pin onto our identities. Sadly, this makes the gospel feel far less weighty and easier to dismiss.
“The gospel appears thin, superficial, and inconsequential—just another image vying for our time.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 29)
It breaks my heart. Some people call themselves Christians but don’t take it seriously, while other people see faith as just another preference and dismiss the whole thing altogether. We struggle to portray the true depth and importance of our faith and may even accidentally trivialize it by our actions and words.
Here is one more barrier to consider:
The modernity of life makes it hard to sense God. In the past, the consensus was that God existed. People attributed a lot in life to his power and his creation. However, the advancement of science and the ease of modern life has made that far harder to see.
“We struggle to recognize beauty in the natural world because it has been so thoroughly conquered, and wonder is squashed through scientific language and nature-channel explainers. We are masters of our health, our safety, our morality, our time, and our success. Living in this society, it’s hard to sense the transcendent.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 57)
The problem is that the more advanced and automated life becomes, the less we see of life’s magic and wonder. That’s why the moments in which we remember them are beautiful. It’s why fairytales and books like Narnia are so crucial. It’s why we adore a child’s innocent amazement at the world around her. And it’s why a mountain range or the power of the ocean pulls on us in such deep places! But within the confines of our normal lives, wonder is often squashed.
Altogether, these facts of our current situation may seem hopeless. How can we live real, unaffected lives for Christ in this climate?
The second section of Disruptive Witness is all about that! Noble explains how to effectively witness in this climate and gives practical tips about how to break down barriers and show Jesus as who he is. I really enjoyed the read, and highly recommend it! (And if you purchase the book through the link on this page, I will receive a portion of the profit. Isn’t that neat and professional-sounding?!)
Whether you grab a copy of the book or not, I hope these points have helped you understand our culture. I know it’s made me realize shocking things about how I think and has shaped my understanding of witnessing, which is a great place to start!
I’ve been dating Brian long-distance for more than 2 ½ years. Before college, I lived in South Dakota and he lived in Illinois. Now, I live in Minnesota and he lives in Arizona. (Read the story of how we met here). It has been quite the journey and has taught me a lot about him and life. Because he’s moving to my city this May, we get to close the distance soon! It’s actually crazy to think about.
So, as that day approaches, I wanted to reflect on everything that’s happened so far. There are many faces and aspects to long-distance dating, so here are a few: the good, bad, and ugly.
The bad & ugly:
So, there you have it! There are so many highs and lows in a long-distance relationship. If you know someone who’s doing long-distance, show them some love. But if you think it’s impossible, it really isn’t. There are many good things about this season, and it's become a huge part of my story!
It was 2016. A sweltering July afternoon whisked by the windows of my family’s van. The heaviness in the air intensified every color: the grass a screaming green, the cloudy sky a pensive shade of blue-gray. Tiny groups of raindrops formed on the windshield while we bumped down a messily-paved country road. I tried hard to breathe easy. I glanced at my mom in the driver’s seat, wanting her to say something. Her hands gripped the steering wheel, her unreadable gaze straight ahead. “No need to worry already,” she advised. “We’re still three hours away.”
“I knowwwww.” I dragged the word out, hanging onto the anticipation in my stomach.
This day felt unreal. I was about to meet my boyfriend. What had started as a “hello” on social media in February had quickly grown into a cross-country friendship. Through drawn-out phone and Skype calls, I realized Brian was unlike any guy I knew. He was witty and hilarious, and planned to become a youth pastor. He asked me the most random questions about myself and actually cared about my answers. All the things that made me stand out awkwardly in high school were suddenly being accepted, welcomed, and enjoyed. I was finally comfortable with telling the whole truth about myself. We found out we were similar in many ways: we liked the same music, desired to be serious about our faith, and loved laughing about bizarre made-up scenarios.
I collected every detail he shared about himself, building a mental picture of his life: his character and friends, his house, his past. Every night I would talk to him on the phone, lying on my bed and staring at my ceiling. We would go on for two to three hours at a time, never running out of things to ask and tell. I began to feel like I knew him better than some of my classmates.
The night before his high school graduation, we made it official. We were ‘dating,’ although not at all in the traditional sense. We were exclusive; that’s what it meant to me. I was giddy.
My parents were understandably skeptical, which put up frustrating roadblocks. We wanted to meet before August, when we’d both be starting college. Earlier summer plans hadn’t worked, but finally we figured it out: we’d meet at Sonshine music festival, an almost-halfway point between our Illinois and South Dakota homes. The only catch? It would be a family affair for both of us.
I glanced at the backseat, where my two-year-old brother and preteen sister sat, engrossed in their own worlds. Samuel with a book, Rachel with her MP3 player. I was more thankful than I’d admit that they were coming. This was the strangest thing I’d ever done. An anxious heaviness was settling in my stomach. This was about to become a whole lot more real.
The drive felt agonizingly long, my mom and I taking turns at the wheel. Finally, around 5 pm, I pulled the van into our hotel parking lot. A wave of nervousness convinced me I’d throw up, even though Brian wouldn’t be there for another half hour. I shifted into park, chattering excitedly about how nervous I was.
We checked in to our hotel room and re-parked near a side door, which we propped open with a rock. We loaded our arms with luggage and ushered Samuel up the steps to our second-floor room.
Then. . . we waited. Every few minutes I texted Brian the same question. “Where are you?” Closer. Closer. I busied myself in the bathroom mirror. I flipped my head upside down and sprayed my curls with hair spray. I touched up my makeup, adding mascara and dabbing foundation over my pimples. This was a long-awaited moment. I wanted to look perfect. I adjusted my tank top, tugged on my jean shorts. Maybe I should change--
“Anna! I see him!” Rachel’s words shot through me, exploding in my head. I bolted out of the bathroom and looked out the window where she was pointing. Sure enough, a tan car was pulling into the lot. My first real-life glimpse of Brian. I stared long and hard at his dark features and bright blue shirt, then jumped up and down with Rachel, squealing and freaking out and laughing for the fun of it. Within a few long minutes, he texted me.
“We’re in the second-floor hallway.”
I fluttered around the room, forgetting to breathe while I wrestled on my sandals. I hesitantly poked my head out the door, looking down the long hallway. There they were, ten doors down. With every step down that loudly carpeted hallway, I concentrated on not tripping over my sandals.
Holy moly, this is actually happening.
“Hi!” I forced the word out as I walked.
He was just standing there with his mom. He gave a quick, stiff wave and a sideways smile. He was taller than I’d thought. His bright blue t-shirt stood out against his tanned skin.
“Hi.” “Hi.” The uncertain word filled the room, first from his mom, then him.
We were just feet apart.
And then, in the very moment I’d dreamed of and played out in my mind for months: maybe flowers? Maybe a well-spoken declaration of love?
Nope. A side hug: intercepted by his mom, standing too close.
“That was awkward,” This was the first sentence that left his lips in my presence.
All expectations of this prized moment drained out of my mind as my family approached behind me.
“Hi.” “Hi!” The uncertain word filled the hallway again as everyone introduced themselves. Nervous, choppy laughs. We stood in a cringe-worthy half-circle, no one knowing what to say. Comments about the drive, the hotel, the weather. Everyone focused on Samuel, of course, and Brian’s mom gave him a fist bump, followed by more forced laughter.
I kept glancing at Brian, standing right beside me. He was fully distracted by the trivial conversation between our mothers. We hadn’t even talked to each other yet! Plans were made to meet at a Culvers across the street, then head to the music festival. I walked back to the hotel room feeling like a trick had just been played on me. How in the world would we get through the next three days together?
Fast forward to today and, surprisingly enough, we’ve been dating for two and a half years and taken 14 additional trips to spend time together. Brian is moving to my town this May, and we’re planning to get married next year!
You’ll be relieved to hear that the awkwardness wore off throughout that first evening. We slowly started having fun together; laughing and talking just like on the phone. It’s hard to describe what it felt like to get to know someone I already knew a ton about. It’s like a layer of unfamiliarity had to wear off, but afterwards it was the most natural thing to be together.
To this day I cringe when someone asks how I met Brian. I’ve gotten a wide range of reactions to the whole ‘online dating’ thing. But through the many times I’ve told the story, I’ve realized this: it doesn’t matter so much how you meet your loved one, but what you do with the knowledge that they exist. People put so much emphasis on that one moment, but what builds a relationship is everything that happens after it.
For Brian and me, it meant that two very real people met on social media and have been learning how to serve and love each other ever since. Our story is unique and weird and loads of awkward: just like us. I honestly can’t believe I’m posting this on my blog for everyone to read. It’s not the love story I ever thought I’d have, but it’s mine, and I am incredibly thankful for it. God’s plan is always the best, even when it’s unexpected or just plain unbelievable.
Next week I’ll be posting about what it’s like to be in a long-distance relationship, because that’s been my life for the past 2 ½ years! There are so many good and hard aspects to it, and I have so much to share. You’ll also learn more about the middle part of our relationship: between the most awkward day of my life and today. . . so that’s a bonus! Thanks so much for reading and keeping up with my life! 😊
Last week, I had a breakdown in confidence. I was going through the motions my days, with meetings, classes, and work, but everything felt ‘off.’ Suddenly I was worried about how I looked. I was comparing myself to the people around me. Even when I was with people, all I could think about was me. There was a voice inside my head that mocked, “You’re not enough. You’re not doing enough. You’re not being enough.”
The result was a sad sight. I withdrew from people. I stayed holed up in my apartment as much as I could. I was not living life to the full as God wants us to. It was frustrating! I thought I had ‘gotten over’ self-image stuff since high school, but just like that I was plunged back in.
With prayer and God’s grace, I think I’ve come back to my normal self: and I am so thankful! We should never let satan’s lies and schemes against us prevail.
But it has me thinking. . . life will never feel 100% ‘right.’ Just when I think I’ve gotten back on top and have all my chicks in a row, a new obstacle will surface. Maybe I’ll struggle with control, or there will be tension in a friendship, or I’ll fail at something. I’m always going to feel a little misplaced in this world.
And somehow, that’s okay.
We live in a fallen world. Of course, there will be frustrations and feelings of inadequacy and mistakes. The thing that really upsets me is when I assume everything should go great, and it doesn’t. I shouldn’t be surprised when I see that stuff in myself, and you shouldn’t either.
What matters is what we do with it. Instead of getting frustrated and trying to cope on our own, we need to lean into God’s grace and ask him what his purpose is. The hardest thing to do is also the most necessary: to hand it over in prayer. God is extending an invitation. Will we let our hardships teach us and increase our dependence on him?
The things of this world are never going to fulfil us: only Jesus can. Maybe we should take the upsets and hardships as reminders of just that.
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Follow me on social media for post updates!