Practicing Joy as an Expectant Mama

So I’m expecting. I’m expecting! This is an exciting season of anticipation that is filled with newness, joy, and wonder. However, when I sit down and really think about the future, it can sometimes feel like the calm before a storm, the peace before the chaos, the fun before all that hard work!

I am a natural worrier. I don’t need encouragement to think about the future and all the hard things that may come with it. What if we get overwhelmed and can’t properly take care of our kids? What if I have a physical problem and can’t even cook dinner, let alone take care of my family? How does a mom with an infant and toddlers in tow use a public restroom???

There are lots of questions, and plenty of puzzles, if I allow myself to think on all the potential complications or frustrations or difficulties or sacrifice involved in raising a family. I mean, I grew up in a family of nine. I know raising kids isn’t a piece of cake (though as a middle child, of course I was the exception…). We’re told it’s hard work, it takes a lot of sacrifice, it involves basically no sleep for the first year and you won’t have time to use the bathroom alone for 3 minutes.

But wait, isn’t this supposed to be a time of joy? We’re told children are a blessing. We believe that, and we’re so excited to meet and love on our little Truffle. But there are times when I think it’s easy to have my joy as an expectant first-time mother be overshadowed (overwhelmed?) by all the available advice of others who have gone before.

I know they mean well. I know my brothers and sisters would not seek to discourage when they share their insight into parenthood. But if there’s one line I’ve heard most frequently during my pregnancy, it’s “enjoy this time while you have it”, or “savor these moments- you’ll never have this time again!”. I can’t speak for other new moms, but to me, those phrases simply encourage a dread of the future, a feeling that something is about to be lost that can never be regained… that the clock is ticking and we better hurry up and enjoy where we’re at before it’s behind us. And I hate that feeling.

As a first-time expectant mom I don’t fully understand it yet, but I watch-and admire- you mothers as you make sacrifices for your family. I see you struggle through your difficult trimester, I observe you coming to church with little ones in tow, looking tired and worn from the past week. I hear your prayer requests for strength, your plea for help when you don’t think you can make it through the day without an extra pair of hands. I don’t need words said to know that there will be difficulties ahead.

But, I’m expecting. I’m expecting! This little baby is just the size of a lemon but so, so precious, and I’ve never been through labor or stayed up all night with Truffle or figured out the whole child-training thing… but we can’t wait! We’re young and in love and blessed and want to welcome our sweet child with open arms, holding nothing back, without regrets and without fear. We want to greet the month of April without counting how many times pre-baby we were able to sleep in, or just leave the house when we want to, or have time just the two of us. Our time as newlyweds has been wonderful, sanctifying, and precious… and we want to believe and anticipate that our time as parents will be even more so. We want to greet the future with joy.

I really do think there are times when it’s better to hang on to some of that innocence, that sweet naivete. To hold hands while stepping into the unknown, as husband and wife, to discover the easy and the hard, the “better” and the “worse” without anxieties of “what may be” tugging at our hearts. And right now the best gift I could ask for from other parents is that of wisdom, yes… but even more importantly, encouragement to choose joy, because it is a choice. To choose it now, to practice thanksgiving, to highlight the blessings in life even while working through the difficulties. To know that as hard as it may be, and look, and seem, that it’s so amazingly worth it, and that the blessings far outweigh the hardship.

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If you are a parent who knows other new moms and dads, consider how you share advice, insight and wisdom. Certainly we need to know what to expect, how to prepare; and there’s no better way to learn than from those who have years of experience. Advice is greatly needed and appreciated, so long as it’s balanced between the joyful and the difficult, and not focused on the negatives. It may just be that the young parent needs to hear encouragement and celebration more than anything… to see the genuine love and joy, as weary as it may come, on your face as you raise your own children.

Ashton and I are so excited about our little one, and any other blessings that may come. And today, I’m going to touch my growing belly and praise God for the season we’re in, and the season we look forward to with great joy, knowing that we serve a faithful Father who plans good things for his children.

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“1st Anniversary” Photo credit: Kathryn Grace Photography

One Year Ago

Ashton,

One year ago, I woke up alone with butterflies in my stomach, ready for our wedding day to begin. Now I get to wake up every morning next to the love of my life.

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One year ago, I carefully dressed and prepared myself to be the most beautiful bride for you. Since we’ve been married, it’s been a delight to be beautiful for you… the only one you desire. But even more precious are the days when I feel so much less than pretty, and you still see me as your bride in white.

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One year ago, on that peaceful sunny morning, I somewhat nervously walked up the patio where you waited to see me… wanting to surprise and delight you, not knowing exactly what your reaction would be. Now that we’ve grown in deeper trust towards each other, we don’t have to be nervous about sharing the new or unexpected… I know that you will always love me and care for me, just as you have every day this past year.

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One year ago, we prepared for the day and took fun photos with our wedding party. And how blessed we have been to build on those friendships as husband and wife, together… how blessed I am to have a husband who desires to share meaningful relationships with the dear people in our life.

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One year ago, my father prayed over me before the ceremony started; his last prayer over me as my protector and leader. Now I am daily blessed by a husband who leads spiritually and prays for me and our baby.

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One year ago, I stood nervously on the back staircase, holding my Dad’s arm as I watched my bridesmaids disappear into into the sanctuary… waiting, waiting for the final moment to walk towards you. Now there is no waiting, no hesitating, and every day is an eager embrace when we meet.

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One year ago, I walked down the aisle towards you on the arm of my father, overwhelmed by the moment and trying hard not to cry. Today and every day, we get to walk together, you and me, through this journey called life. And how grateful I am for the man I walk beside!

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One year ago, we looked each other in the eyes and said our vows, promising to be faithful yet not really knowing what that would look like yet. After a year, we’ve gone through our misunderstandings and long conversations and hurts and tears and become closer and deeper in love as a result… beginning the discovery of what it means to live out our vows.

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One year ago, we kissed for the first time, and in front of 350 people! And now we kiss all the time, only… not always in front of people. And while I appreciated the sacrifice of our chaperones, it’s still pretty cool and exciting that we get to be all alone now, just the two of us.

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One year ago, as we stepped out of the Church into the sunny Fall day, you surprised me with a vintage mint green car as our getaway vehicle, complete with dapper, charming chauffeur! And you have brought so many fun surprises along the way in this past year.

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One year ago, we walked into our reception together, for the first time, as husband and wife… truly blessed and humbled by all of our family and friends who filled the room. This past year, we have had many opportunities to attend events, volunteer, show hospitality, and be a team together as we step out into our community. And I wouldn’t want it any other way!

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One year ago, I danced with my Daddy as we both cried together, knowing that such a happy day also brought an end to a special season of life together. In the year that has followed, I have been blessed by your desire to build stronger relationships with our families, and to watch you become a part of mine, even as we establish our own.

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One year ago, you and I danced together; our special first dance that we had practiced. We did pretty well, even though we only had one class and a few times to practice beforehand. But even now, we’re so much more in tune with each other as we dance through life… I can anticipate how you will lead and know better how to follow, we step on each other’s toes less and less as we grow in maturity, and we have become more fluid in our movements as we set patterns and habits for the future.

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One year ago today, we drove away from our reception, past the blur of smiling faces, waving hands, dear hearts. Saying goodbye to our former selves, our single selves, and saying hello to a new life, a new beginning, an exciting unknown as husband and wife. And we haven’t looked back. Life has been full, life has been blessed, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the precious first year the Lord has given us.

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I love you to the moon and back, Ashton. Happy anniversary!

Photo credit: Kathryn Grace Photography 

The next adventure

Ashton and I love adventures. We like traveling, going to new places, trying different things. Our honeymoon to Switzerland was our first adventure after getting married, and living in a new city and getting plugged into some ministries and projects together has been a fun “adventure at home”.

But really, not even beautiful Switzerland can compare with the adventure that started when we found out, with great joy, that we are expecting our first baby. We were hoping and praying for this blessing, and in late July I began to wonder if those unexpected, intense hunger pains just might be a signal… so on the 21st, our 10th monthiversary, I decided to take a test. I knew it would probably be way to early to get a positive, but if there was any chance, why not find out on the day we got married on?

P1170850After I excitedly turned over the test to see two lines, I was shocked and excited and tearful all at once! Needless to say, the rest of my day wasn’t terribly productive. I spend my time journaling and praying and smiling and putting together a special card for Ashton. I could hardly wait to watch him walk up the street on his way home from work so that I could tell him. Since it was our monthiversary, I was dressed up and ready to go out on our special dinner date, and nonchalantly sat him down on the couch and gave him a card, which we also like to do on the 21st of each month.

P1170857When Ashton read the card- which was actually a note from baby, instead of the traditional card from me- he didn’t believe me at first! I, however, acted upon my pregnant instincts and promptly started crying. We’re going to have a baby! This is really happening! We stopped by a meeting to catch the parts we needed to before heading to dinner… almost sure our little smiles and looks would give us away. We spent a romantic dinner on cloud nine, still trying to take it all in.

DSC_0458We decided to wait a bit to announce our news, especially as we wanted to surprise our parents and family in a meaningful way, which can require planning when my family is 6 hours away. The morning sickness hit around 5 1/2 weeks, but I managed to live on granola bars and only vomit at home… making it through a busy wedding weekend without letting our secret out.

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Finally, at 7 weeks, we announced to my family over Skype, having sent them a box in the mail containing baby booties, and then Ashton’s family that weekend while we visited them. We were so excited to finally have our news out and be able to share it with those closest to us!

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DSC_0508Today marks 10 weeks already. Next week I’ll have my first prenatal visit, and we’re hoping we get to hear a heartbeat!

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 Baby Truffle is expected to arrive in April of 2015. We are so excited to meet our little one; and what an adventure it will be, as we become a family of three!

11 Months

11 months today! 11 months since I walked down the aisle, heart pounding, holding my Dad’s arm and with a small smile on my face… trying not to cry with the emotion of it all. Knowing my life was changing, turning, knowing that with each step I was moving into a new life as your beloved.

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingHow long had I waited to see you standing there, waiting for me… me! You looked so serious, but I knew you were feeling it all inside. Your hands clasped, waiting at the end of the walk to take my hand. It seemed like such a long wait before, when I didn’t know your name, but all of a sudden that all melted away and it didn’t seem so long anymore. How my heart rejoices now that the Lord timed my walk down the aisle perfectly, and that you were the man He chose to place at the front of that sanctuary on that sunny Saturday afternoon.

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingYou know I love my Daddy so much! One thing I appreciated so much, and have come to love even more these past 11 months, is your respect and love for both of our fathers. Just as my Dad raised and loved and protected me before giving me to you, so I look forward to watching you love and nurture our daughters as we prepare them for their husbands. You are going to be an amazing Dad!

 

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingLooking into your eyes and saying our vows to each other. So much meaning, such a beautiful promise, such a big responsibility before the Lord and all our witnesses. So little we understand yet! But by God’s grace, He has begun to show us over these 11 months what it means to live out our vows.

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingGod truly gave me a man with loving, caring hands. Nothing is truly perfect in this world, but they are perfect for me. They have comforted, served, guided, and protected me. Our hands are the Lord’s, and just as He is honored as we raise them in worship, so He is honored when we clasp them in marriage as a sign of devotion… a reflection of His relationship with His bride, the Church. How I love those hands…

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingOnly 11 months later and I feel we have grown so much, and still have a world to discover together. I savor the discovery and adventure… from the mundane to the special, doing it all with you is a gift I don’t deserve.

I love you, Ashton. Happy 11 months!

Ten Months

View More: http://www.kathryngracephotography.comTen months today. Every day a gift, every laugh a treasure, every tear a mark of growth and bonding. How very little I deserve this joy, this delight of growing with another person. We are both sinners, both so small in the great scheme of things… simply grains of dust, here one moment and gone the next.

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingYet our love is so much bigger than the two of us, our dedication and commitment so much stronger than anything we possess. I know we’re young, I know we have a life ahead in which to learn and have the edges rubbed off. But the foundation of the cross is already laid; a foundation that we stand on and trust to guide us through our immaturity, our failings, our frustrations. With such a big God as the author of our love story, we can continue to move ahead in youthful excitement and hopeful anticipation, knowing that He holds our marriage and our future in His hands.

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingTen months today. How very little I deserve those arms encircling me, those hands lovingly guiding me, a visible, physical picture of our Father in heaven who loves us oh, so much more than we could fathom. To have been found by a man here on earth who strives after the character of Christ; our Savior who gave his life so that we might live… I am blessed beyond measure not just by an earthly, passing love from my husband, but a love founded on something deep, rich, and eternal. 

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingHappy ten months, my Ashton.

 

Lately…

Ashton and I will have been married for ten months, come next Monday. The Lord has been faithful, and it has been a very wonderful ten months! On one hand we feel as if a lot has happened, but on the other hand, as if time has flown by and wasn’t it just yesterday we were saying our vows at the altar?

Our lives right now are fairly easy-going, though for a while we were traveling and having guests almost continually… which is fun, but we are thankful for a summer at home.

Our last trip was out to Nebraska to visit my family over my birthday and the 4th of July. It also meant the trip to say goodbye to my Border Collie, Mac. I had been caught up in wedded bliss while holding on to the hope that Ashton and I would have a home suitable for him soon… and then as life settled down and we ended up signing on for another year at the apartment, I accepted the reality that we wouldn’t be able to take him anytime soon, and my family had their hands full without trying to give him the attention he needed. The Lord provided at the last minute so that I could say goodbye and meet his new owner on our trip in July. There were few tears, and Mac was overjoyed to meet his new playmate and girlfriend, May, and it made it easier to say goodbye as I watched him so enamored and in love.

P1170769It was a great visit home… a more relaxing time to be with my parents, siblings, and grandparents. Family is a blessing, and I take them for granted much less now as a married woman living six hours away… which didn’t sound so far away in the beginning, but as time goes on puts a bigger gap between family time than I anticipated. But, anything that we love and see less of just becomes even more treasured.

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I definitely miss the big, open deck at my parents house… especially as we are living more in the city and see less of the sky. Ashton and I soaked up the sunsets and rolling countryside in the distance while we were there!
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IMG_4680It was fun to visit Fort Atkinson the morning of my birthday, to visit my sister who was reenacting, and to see the place we girls and the boys haunted when we could… in our historical garb, reenacting and dancing. It was a beautiful weekend!

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Flash back to Saturday, June 21st. Ashton and I decided to change things up and have our monthly date (nine months to the day we got married) in the morning. We forced ourselves out of bed early enough to catch the beautiful sunrise as it came over the Illinois river. It was so worth it!

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Then we went to one of our favorite farm-to-table restaurants… Harvest Cafe in rural Illinois. We were hungry and savored every bite of our hash, eggs Benedict, juice and coffee. IMG_4506Another flash back to one of our “firsts”… our first time at the Statewide home school conference near Chicago. It was exciting to go as a married couple, as we are praying for and preparing for the blessing of children, and the privilege of teaching them.

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Another first… our first time visiting the Creation Museum together.

IMG_4539While in Cincinnati for a board meeting with Samaritan Ministries, we went downtown on the river for drinks and then walked across on a pedestrian bridge as music from the live band on the river filled the air. We really enjoyed Cincinnati and hope to go back to discover more of the city.

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IMG_4610Life is fun with this guy!

 

Our Wedding (part five)

Wedding Reception

After we took our “kissing photos” at the front of the Church (and with our amazing, retro getaway car!), we drove over to the Church fellowship hall where our guests were waiting and made our entrance…

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingThere are several moments on September 21st when time stood still, and I was overwhelmed by the realization of the day, and our blessings. One such moment was when we walked into the reception hall… the decorations were beautiful, the room transformed… but what caused me to blink back tears of thankfulness and awe was seeing the large room filled with the smiling faces of our friends, family, students, role models. How rich, how showered with blessings we were by the presence of so many wonderful people who were rejoicing with us.

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingA woman from my Church, a dance mom, and their helpers did such an amazing job decorating the hall for us! We sat up on the stage with our wedding party, and were served an English tea menu with delicious food planned by my mother and prepared by Ashton’s aunt, and several women in the kitchen. So many people involved in our special day!

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingBlessed, tired, thankful, finally husband and wife, relaxing with our guests. Happy!

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingBlessed by the presence of the dear friends in our lives.

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My sister and maid of honor, giving her speech.

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She did a great job, as did the best man. No embarrassing stories, either! :D

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Though we did get some laughs, which is always fun.

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The bridal cake was a gift from a kind lady from my Church! All the cake options were quite yummy.

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Of course, when you pick a group of fun-loving guys who know each other fairly well to be the groomsmen, they’re going to come up with something fun and goofy to surprise you with. In our case, it was a follow-up to a thread of emails in which I jokingly told the guys what they were wearing (and not wearing). Hence, the afros.

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Our first dance as husband and wife. Ashton’s brother gave us the gift of dance lessons for our first dance, so we had one simply choreographed to the song we had chosen; “Let the Words Escape” by Chris Rice. We had fun learning it together, but even more fun dancing on our special day.

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“I love you… let the words escape.”
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“Love, you snuck up behind me… I thought I was hiding, but oh, how I fell for you.”

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“My heart beats double inside me, as I learn to love and say my prayers for two.”View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferwedding

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingOur father daughter dance, done to “Through the Eyes of My Father” by Brianna Haynes. I cried every time I heard our song being played beforehand, but I wasn’t prepared for my Dad to be the one crying first as we got out onto the floor…

“From the start, you were first, he loves you at your worst, he’ll do anything… a father”
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“He shows you what love is, saw your dreams before you did”
View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferwedding“A father’s like the Father in the way he loves you”

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferwedding“A strong hand as your guide, feel his strength by your side, he’ll give anything… a father”

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“He is everything, like your heavenly Father… I see love in my fathers eyes, I see love.”View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferwedding

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View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingDancing with my students! Trying not to cry…

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Precious faces that I miss.

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Precious hugs, that I treasure.

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Fun dancing with all the members of the English Country dance performance group!

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Dancing was such a huge part of my single years, and it was special to have lots of it at our reception.

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Especially when our guests could get out and enjoy it, too!

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I have to brag on my brother and my dear friend and bridesmaid, Christa. They do the Charleston like no other dancing couple I know! When the song started playing, they totally busted some moves and everyone was watching and clapping in time.

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I also have to brag on my younger brothers and the young men from my Church in Omaha… they acted as the waiters and served the luncheon meal to our 350 guests. They were amazing, and did a wonderful, “handsome” job! It really added a special flavor to our reception and was a very nice treat for us and our guests. View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferwedding

View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingBefore we left, I had made a point of asking our family and wedding party to gather with us in the foyer as our guests congregated outside with their bubbles in hand. I wanted to make sure that we had a quiet, special and private moment to say goodbye to those closest to us.

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Climbing into our very special getaway car. View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferwedding

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View More: http://kathryngracephotography.pass.us/ashtonjenniferweddingFinal moment of the celebration, as time slowed and I took all the faces in one last time before we drove off… smiles, waves, overwhelming happiness and undeserved goodness poured out on us from the Lord… through our friends and loved ones. 

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Our day was so blessed. We praise the Lord for everyone who blessed us in so many ways that weekend. We praise Him for our wedding day; and every day that has passed since.

Happy nine months of marriage, Ashton!

 

 

Life is real, life is beautiful

Eight months today. Eight wonderful, beautiful months of being his- from the moment I wake up to his kiss, to the moment I fall asleep in his arms. Marriage really is beautiful, and he can be so romantic and caring and… perfect. Perfect for me!

Eight months today. Life is definitely real, with schedules and expenses and decisions and misunderstandings. We work and cry and try to plan, try to be diligent with our time, our resources. We fail, we disappoint, we fall on our knees still so in need of His sustaining grace.

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Eight months today. Life is beautiful. After the honeymoon… the celebration, the newness, the vacation, when life slows down to show us our faults, then speeds up to test our resolve, we choose the beauty. Yes, it’s real. Yes, we have our moments. But from here on out, amidst the craziness, the lessons, the responsibilities, by God’s grace we will continue to choose joy as the theme to our covenant. It is a choice, and one we can make together, at the foot of the cross.

Happy eight months, my darling.

Journal Entry- Sunday, April 28th 2013

The birds woke me up at 6:30 with their beautiful calls and chirping, and when I peeked out our bedroom window I saw a beautiful, vibrant, pink-red sunrise. So I excitedly came out here to listen to the many birds and take in all the newness and quiet beginnings of this wonderful day. 
Last night, on Saturday, April 27th, Ashton got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said yes! I still can’t believe the beautiful sparkly diamond on my left hand is mine… that I am Ashton’s girl for now and forever. 
My heart is very full. I am so blessed… it really is a wonderful day to sing in welcoming- my first as the future Mrs. B and promised girl to Ashton. God has heard my prayers. And life is going to be quite the adventure!

Our proposal story

One year ago today, a young man got down on not one, but both knees to ask for my hand in marriage. It was such a special day that seemed so short, yet so long in coming. While our three and a half months of courtship leading up to that point may have seemed fast to the onlookers, I went through many different stages of learning, growing and bonding in the time leading up to Ashton’s proposal. The Lord took me from “this isn’t going to work- I’m going to have to say no” to “when is this guy ever going to propose?!”.

By the time we reached April, we had talked through all the major issues, and I had grown to admire and respect this young man who was both patient with me, yet would make me laugh and push me out of my comfort zone. I distinctly remember sitting in my parents’ parlor as they asked me where I was at emotionally- if I was ready for the next stage. With an excited smile and butterflies in my stomach, I said that I was. 

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Visiting the Dodge House in Iowa

The weekend before Ashton proposed, I was out in Illinois visiting him and his family. By that point, we had talked over all the big issues, and seen each other work through something difficult. In other words, we really liked each other and were in that mysterious region of a relationship where we were hovering between the “get to know you” courtship stage, and engagement.

I tend to be rather dramatic and do the opposite of taking everything in stride, so merely two weeks into the “mystery” stage, I was anxious to move on to the next step. I also had my studio to consider… I wanted to be able to make the recital (which was quickly approaching) a goodbye to my students, and wanting to figure out the timing with that had me on pins and needles. I had to keep reminding myself to trust my Dad and Ashton, let them make the move, and leave the timing up to the Lord.

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During my weekend with Ashton and his family, he would start to say something and then stop and say “I’ll save that for later”. All I could think was, “when?!”. Here was the guy who very seriously took the initiative in January, ready for a quick courtship and engagement, while I was the one asking to take more time. Now it seemed the roles were reversed. I was definitely ready for the “next stage”, but managed to keep my mouth shut and, again, trust the Lord for the timing of when he would pop the question.

We also went to a wedding the same weekend, which didn’t exactly help me stay focused. I tell people that I’ve become more emotional since being in a relationship, and it was definitely true as I teared up watching the bride walk down the aisle and exchange vows with her beloved. I couldn’t believe I was standing next to a guy I liked so much, who, unbeknownst to me, already had plans to ask me to be his bride. 

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I left Illinois on Sunday, and actually saw Ashton again the next day when he came to Omaha for work. I had no idea that over those two days – while I was busy with recital preparations- he was scouting out downtown Omaha, and planning the perfect proposal.

After a returning home for a few days, Ashton was back out to our place for another weekend. On Saturday we spent a leisurely morning with one of my girlfriends, who gave us a tour of a historic house, a local museum, and obligingly took photos of us throughout the beautiful April morning. We had planned to talk with my parents that evening about “how things were going” and decided to do it over dinner in the Old Market. Of course, I was wondering what all we had to talk about, since things were going just peachy!

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We had reservations for a pretty classy restaurant, which was a treat, but since mom had coupons and an excuse to go I wasn’t suspicious. Ashton and I agreed we had to dress up, and as we were driving in the surprisingly warm evening weather, in my concern I asked the sweating Ashton if he wanted to take off his jacket. He insisted that he was fine, and to keep it on, and again I was clueless and thought nothing of it. (Later I found out that he had the ring in his jacket pocket…)

We arrived in the crowded shopping area ahead of our reservation, so we decided to walk around for a bit, and at one point walked by the horse-drawn carriages that are often used for rides in the Old Market. As we paused, Ashton randomly (and, as I might add, nonchalantly) asked if I wanted a ride. 

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I had never had a buggy ride and viewed such things as a rather romantic thing to do; where he puts his arm around her and they gaze dreamily into each others eyes. And, if one was doing it for purposes other than romance, it seemed rather touristy to me. Since we weren’t allowed to be romantic and I really hate to be watched by onlookers, I tried to answer vaguely. But, Ashton insisted that we do a carriage ride, so I reluctantly climbed in, looking down at my parents and asking if they were going with us, who smiled and shook their heads.

So off we went in the carriage, sitting side by side, riding around in the gorgeous night air, as I tried not to be self-conscious of all the passersby watching a couple ride together without holding hands or cozying up. 

Our first carriage ride…

That Monday was a cold, rainy and snowy April day, but on Saturday the 27th it was beautiful and sunny. We enjoyed the peaceful carriage ride as we rode down the brick roads in the Old Market, finally stopping at a park surrounding a lake. The driver asked if we wanted to get out, which confused me… I didn’t know stopping to see the sights was a part of the ride. But I was still clueless, so Ashton helped me out of the carriage and we began walking down the stairs towards the lake.

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The entrance to Heartland of America Park

When we got to the bottom of the stairs, Ashton said “let’s go over here” and led me underneath a trellis on a little brick path towards a stone bench. At that point I finally caught on to what was happening. Wow, it was actually happening! 

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Still unsuspecting…

We sat down on the bench as Ashton proceeded to say some sweet things (sorry, classified!), and within a moment was down on both knees in front of me, pulling a ring out of his jacket pocket, and asking me to be his wife. It’s hard to remember exactly all the thoughts and emotions that passed through my mind… this moment was so long awaited, it was hard to take it all in. Was this actually happening to me, was it actually my turn?

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A hug, some tears, smiles, taking a closer look at the diamond ring, another hug… discovering the undercover photographer hidden in the trees, seeing my parents wave from the stairs, hearing cheers from a wedding party up on the street who had observed the proposal from afar off. More smiles, more tears.

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Noticing the wedding party cheering above us

Finally we stepped away from our little bench in Heartland of America park, hugged my parents who were waiting on the stairs… laughing over how clueless I was all day, how well the plan went… I always wanted a special, surprise proposal, and Ashton’s was perfect.

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Holding hands!

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My parents

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Mom and Dad, guess what!

We climbed back into the carriage, leaning against each other, and finished the second half of the ride along the river, through a park, back to the Old Market where my parents were waiting for dinner. More hugs, more smiles. It was such a blessing to have a private proposal, and yet have my parents involved and present surrounding it. 

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We all had a wonderful dinner in a romantic setting at our own tables; at a classy restaurant with amazing food, brick walls and low lighting. (I didn’t realize it until my friend reminded me later, but that was the same restaurant I had said would have been perfect for a proposal dinner, when we had a girls’ outing together in 2008.) I don’t think wine glasses have ever been so sparkly, an atmosphere so serene, or a prayer before a meal so touching as it was when I had dinner holding hands with my fiance on the night of our proposal. 

Dinner at V Mertz in the Old Market

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Diamonds!

DSC_0378And that, my friends, is just the beginning of our story!