5 Things that Surprised me about Marriage

Last week marked ten months of marriage, and my husband and I are eager to celebrate our one year anniversary very soon. In this relatively short time, I have come to realize that so many things I once thought about marriage are simply not true! I thought I might share some of these marriage surprises so you could commiserate – some hilarious and some not-so-funny.

Marriage Surprises | Things That Surprised Me Once I Got Married - perfect for newlyweds | graceupongracetoday.com

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Morning Breath

When I thought about all the joys of romance in marriage, sleeping in the same bed and waking up next to my sweet husband was top on my list. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to flutter my eyelids open, roll over, and peck my sweetheart on the lips? …gross. The first time I tried it, we both had such terrible morning breath that I vowed to never try that again! We still like to cuddle some mornings when have time, but definitely not kissing.

It Still Takes Work

Before we got married, we met with an older married couple from our church for mentoring and we worked through a pre-marital study book together. We also met with our associate and lead pastors, and we gleaned advice from other couples and from various books. (We spent quite a bit of time and money on our wedding, and I felt like we were spending more on our marriage!) There was a lot of effort put in up front. However, after our honeymoon and as time went on, we realized that we could not just “coast” through our marriage. When things got difficult or other obligations got in the way of our proximity and connection to each other and to God, we fought more and we felt less close. One morning, I woke up and realized that I could not simply set the car of my marriage on “neutral.” I had to continue to invest in our relationship. I realized that marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. When you put in the extra work, you get to enjoy it.

Some Things Matter More Than Others

You want to know a simple way to make your marriage better? Ask your husband what matters to him! It blew my mind when someone gave me this advice. Here’s the thing: My husband does not really care if the house is spotless or the bed is made or the kitchen floor is clean. He values having clean clothes and something to eat. When I realized this, I was able to stop trying to be SuperWife and instead be the wife that he needs and desires. I choose to focus on laundry and grocery shopping first. Yes, the kitchen floor gets swept, but I focus on how to serve him how he desires it first. Likewise, he does the same for me! I love that he picks up extra work on the weekends sometimes, because it helps the budget. I also love when he’s home on the weekends. We are able to work out a schedule each month that satisfies both of us as well as the budget.

Socks… Socks Everywhere

Since I graduated high school, I always lived with female roommates and/or housemates. I know what it is like to walk around someone else’s laundry or dishes. However, I was just not fully prepared to find socks on the living room floor that no one will pick up until I pick them up on laundry day. At first, I became angry with my husband: How dare he leave his stinky socks on my floor? But honestly? It’s not that big of a deal, and I am thankful that he is home long enough to take off his socks in the evenings. Sometimes I ask him to pick them up (which he does gladly), and sometimes I gather them up with the rest of the laundry. It’s not worth yelling over – most things aren’t.

Men are Different From Women

I know, newsflash, right? Even though we married women roll our eyes at this one, we too often assume that our husbands think and feel just like we do. Ironically, my wonderful, sweet husband is just plain different from me. He has strengths in areas where I have weaknesses, and he has weaknesses where I have strengths. Case in point: Our kitchen sink began leaking around the seal. My husband cleaned it up, examined the sink, and made a plan for how to reseal it. Then he left the wet towels by the sink. At first, I only saw the wet towels. I did not see his effort in repairing the sink. His thought-processes work differently than mine, but that’s a good thing. Did God not create man to lead woman and woman to be man’s helpmeet? We need each other in a beautiful way.

Marriage Surprises | Things That Surprised Me Once I Got Married - perfect for newlyweds | graceupongracetoday.com

What have been some of your marriage surprises?

How to Survive Your First Big Trip with Your Spouse

Most married couples take their first big trip together on their honeymoon. With all of the happy feelings from the recent wedding, however, couples are more likely to compromise and even acquiesce during the honeymoon. Of course, the bigger the trip, the more opportunities for disagreements. Whether honeymoon or not, this post is for your first big trip with your spouse.

My husband (of three-quarters of a year) and I drove a few hours to the beach for our honeymoon, so I don’t consider it a really big trip. On the other hand, we just recently returned from a long weekend getaway trip to California, though, and it was amazing. Flying over four hours definitely makes that a big trip… One of the biggest you could have without leaving the continental USA.

Here are a few things I learned…

Express Expectations

When I say “vacation,” what comes to mind? Lounging by the beach? Hiking through mountain ranges? Sightseeing and shopping in a busy city? Skiing over snow slopes? Now, what comes to your spouse’s mind?

One of the very things I learned about marriage is that each spouse brings his/her own expectations to the relationship. Without acknowledging those, someone’s feelings are going to be hurt. Your spouse might feel unacknowledged, unheard, or even ignored. A big trip together is no exception.

Ask your spouse some questions, preferably before the airplane tickets have been purchased. Answer these yourself, too! Some to consider might be:

  • What is the one thing you have to do/see while we’re in _____? 
  • What would your ideal day look like once we arrive? Busy? Calm?
  • What is the ideal amount of money you’d like to spend on entertainment/shopping?
  • How important is taking photos to you? Do you want both of us, one of us, or just places/things in the photos? Are we going to be making a scrapbook?
  • How important are souvenirs to you? Who would you like to purchase for?
  • Would you prefer to eat every meal out? Or can we take advantage of complimentary breakfast, an in-room kitchen, or packed meals?

Don’t Assume… Ask!

This is my biggest weakness. Too often, we assume when we should instead ask. I assume that my husband will remember where we parked the car. He assumes that I know what time the reservations are. I assume that he brought his hotel room key. He assumes that I brought my rain jacket. It is truly a never-ending cycle. Instead, ask! I always ask my husband a series of quick questions as we’re leaving our house in the morning, and I did the same over our trip. My usual question is: “Do you have your keys, wallet, cellphone, and wedding ring?” I do this not to be annoying, but for us both to remember the things we need every day.

Similarly, on your first big trip with your spouse, it is important to ask. As I was ordering tickets for a tour this past weekend, I made sure to run the cost and the length of the tour past my husband, instead of assuming that he would want to purchase the tickets as well. Together, we found a couple different tours that we both liked and that fit into our budget well. Without asking each other, we would have missed out on the opportunity to make the decision to take more than one tour.

Have Patience When You’re Irritated

Yes, you will be irritated after five and a half hours couped up in the middle seat of row 34. Imagine how your spouse feels, and let that encourage you to develop patience. When I forget that my sweet husband is tired, too, I end up expecting more and more from him. The truth is that we are both exhausted. We must each do and give and serve, even when we do not want to.

Finally, we finally made it back to our car at the parking garage after our long weekend away. We realized (too late) that we had to pay for the ticket before we could exit the parking garage, instead of paying as we exited. My husband backed up the car and pulled around towards the elevators. “Here,” he said, “You go pay for the ticket while I stay up here with the car.” Now to me, that sounded like a terrible idea. I did not want to get out of the safety and warmth of our car to trek downstairs again and pay for the parking ticket. In that moment, though, I could have served my husband by taking the ticket. (He could have served me by asking more nicely, but that’s another post!) Having patience in moments like these enables your vacation to go much more smoothly and peacefully. You might even want to take another trip very soon!

How to Survive Your First Big Trip with Your Spouse: the latest post from Grace Upon Grace Today about enjoying a big trip with your new husband or wife. graceupongracetoday.com

What enables you and your spouse to travel together peacefully? Share below!

Lessons from Two Months in the Peach/Peanut State

Sometimes I still can’t believe I live in the peach state (which should, technically, be called the peanut state, but that’s another whole post).

Anyway, I have lived here for almost two and a half months now, and I am settling into my new normal: Work, church, small group, sleep, eat, work… Serving in kids’ Sunday school every other week… Leftovers, date night, laundry… It’s a little repetitive and a whole lot of busyness, but I learning how to settle in well.

I dreamed about being here for several months. However, now that I’m here, I feel a bit disappointed that, somehow,  it isn’t exactly like I dreamed. I’m adjusting to a new living arrangement (with sweet but new roommates), a new work environment (enjoyable but challenging), and a fairly long commute in metro traffic. At the same time, I’m adjusting to a new extended “family,” new friends, a shifting relationship with members of my family, a longer distance to my family, and a much shorter distance to my boyfriend.

We went from living three and half hours from each other to working literally around the corner from the each other. As in, down the hall and around the corner. Imagine that. We see each other single day, at least three times a day, but usually around 87, since he pops in my classroom around five times each planning period, much to my combined delight and annoyance. 🙂

Here’s the kicker: I moved expecting everything to just work out. I moved expecting a seamless, simple transition where life would be ten thousand times better. I moved expecting, in a sense, all my problems to go away.

Here, I still have problems. Different problems for the most part, although I’m sure a few of the same problems crossed over the state line with me. The problems are a little more grown-up, but nonetheless real and emotional and concerning. I may even have fewer “problems,” per say, but there are still things I’m working through and dealing with and adapting to.

I realized today that I moved without giving grace to myself. Or, for that matter, the people who were with me during the process. In those few moments surrounding the move, I packed up a lot of emotions and concerns that I have harbored against others. I withheld grace from myself and from those closest to me because my heart was (and is still) processing those emotions. Instead of trusting God with my loneliness and brokenness and doubt, I wrestled in my heart, and I had nothing left to give myself or those around me.

At my core, I am fragile. And though I like to proclaim my stoic strength as a woman of stability, I am one of those crispy little leaves, withering in the autumn wind, letting go of the tree I called home.

The first chapter of the Gospel of John says that Jesus took on flesh and blood and “made his home among us” (Jn. 1:14, NLT). He came here to the filthy, messed-up earth and pitched his tent and lived with humans. Why? Because we need him.

We are fragile, broken, dirty, messed-up. Yet he comes into our lives. He intersects our paths where we are mostly desperately in need. He comes alongside us and ministers to us in our places of darkness and loneliness.

Picking up and moving for the seventh or eighth time in six years is challenging. No wonder the little girl inside me is lonely. But Jesus came. He came to the Jewish people, in need of a Messiah. And he comes to me, in need of a Messiah, a Savior, a King, a Father.

I realized my fragility because I saw my need. Yesterday, my boyfriend of one year and three months wrapped his arms around me and told me he had me. He told me he would hold me. He told me he was there. That’s the same thing that God does. And you know what? It makes me angry. Forgiveness makes me angry. My boyfriend is rarely mad at me because he has a heart of forgiveness, and it makes me so confused that I end up getting angry. I am used to anger. I am used to frustration. I understand it because I have received it and dished it out. But God doesn’t harbor anger against me. He doesn’t withhold grace because he is frustrated. 

His mercies are new every morning.

When I think I’m solid and stable, like I thought I was during the moving process and as I settled in, I expect everything to be peachy. I expect to do all the things I had planned and be prepared for all the things I had expected to be prepared for. I thought that by now, I would have homemade-from-scratch baked goods for every social event and birthday cards two days early for every birthday and a perfectly organized social calendar and good relationships with everyone possible.

But I’m not solid and stable. My God is, and I rest on his unchanging grace, but I’m not. By two months in, I’m supposed to have a place to live, a job, and a couple ways to get to work. I’m supposed to have met a couple people at church and had dinner with a couple friends. I’m supposed to have a shelf in the fridge and a section in the cabinet and a favorite grocery store. But I’m not supposed to have everything figured out.

I must give myself the grace to still be learning.

I think I approached this stage of my life adventure the same way I approached my summer as a camp counselor or my semester student teaching in Thailand. Both of those were high-energy, short-lived experiences. They required investing a lot upfront for a fast payoff. I also got by with learning less and speeding more.

However, this part of life is going to be one of slower growth and deeper progress. I am not going to survive this entire school year, or the next one, or the next five without pacing myself. Will Reagan sings about climbing the mountain in front of him with his hands wide open, leaning not on his own understanding. This is that kind of mountain. I am investing here. I am investing into relationships. I am investing into this school. I am investing into this curriculum.

I am preparing for a future with not one, but two. And later on down the road, three and four and more. I have to pace myself so that I have more to give then.

One of the best ways to pace yourself is to take Kaley Thompson‘s advice and “fill it to the brim.” Sleep well, eat well, pray well, and study the Word well. Get counseling, take a day of R&R, invest into relationships that pour into you, and depend on God. Running through life without so much as a coffee break will not fill your bucket to the brim.

So, what I have I learned from two months in the peach state? What have I learned from one year and three months of dating?

  • Give grace to yourself and others.
  • Be open to receiving grace. It is God’s love that gives this grace.
  • Pace yourself to avoid spiritual and emotional burnout.
  • And finally, I have so much more to learn.

Isn’t that always true, though? I have been learning grace since 2013, and I still have no idea what it actually means. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe in my weakness and fragility, I can be used by the God of the universe. Maybe God’s light can shine through my brokenness into the lives of others. What a humbling thought.

You Can’t Keep God in a Box

Back in 1995, when I was just a little thing, I was privileged to see the Atlanta Braves win the World Series with my dad and grandma, both of whom are huge fans. From then on, despite the fact that I find the sport itself not exactly super exciting, I have attended numerous baseball and softball games. From watching my brother struggle through two treacherously scorching summers of T-ball and eating way too many salty sunflower seeds at church softball games when I was in college, to attending minor league games on warm summer nights and seeing my dad’s favorite college team at their stomping grounds, I have watched my fair share of baseball games. It’s funny what a baseball game experience recently taught me.

Can'tKeepGodinaBox

Last night, I got to see my cousin play a game of coach’s pitch baseball at the community park in the town where my parents live. A bunch of little boys running around in tiny baseball uniforms is precious, no matter who’s winning.

One little boy in a green shirt with tiny blonde curls caught my eye. Too young to play on the team, he sat outside the fenced-in diamond… Maybe “sat” is not the right word. He was constantly up and down, running this way and that way, playing with cups of water and sticks and weeds that hadn’t been cut recently. He couldn’t be still. His dad was after him every few minutes, carrying or calling the child back to the lawn chairs they had arranged beside the bleachers. After a few attempts to keep the little boy in the chair, his father raised his voice at him, demanding that he stay put.

I had been observing the boy, and I thought he was acting in a way akin to little boys. In fact, my cousin who was playing has an older sister and a younger brother, both of whom were roaming the area between the diamond and the concession stand, and given free reign to do so. Everyone was safe, as numerous concerned parents had an eye on the little ones. I couldn’t understand why this father wouldn’t let his little boy go play.

I realize that there may have been a special circumstance, and I acknowledge that each parent has the right to parent as he or she sees fit within reason, but this event stuck with me as I drove back that night.

Little boys don’t sit still, and that’s a good thing. The boy I watched couldn’t be kept in the lawn chair and he was into everything. Likewise, God doesn’t sit still either. He is constantly moving. Often, we tend to put God in a little box and relegate him to meeting our needs when and where we want them met, like a genie in a bottle. But that’s not who God is.

When I was preparing to go to Hong Kong in Summer 2012, the organization I went with gave us a preparatory devotional book. One of the book’s key points is that God has already been working in Hong Kong. Our arrival does not “bring God” to the people of Hong Kong. Our arrival just coincides with the work God is already doing there. It was a new experience for me to arrive in the western-eastern hybrid world of Hong Kong, but God was already a “regular” there. He had been there since the beginning of time, using His circumstances and His children to till soil, plant seeds, water seedlings, and shine sunshine in the hearts of the people there, in order to make his name known. I was just a minuscule blip on God’s infinite timeline of eternity. I was an important part of the team going to Hong Kong, and I believe that God used me and shaped me, but I didn’t “save” anyone. I didn’t single-handedly change the region of HK for Jesus’s sake. I was just a servant doing the will of her master for basically no earthly reward.

And yet for some reason, I feel that I have to keep God in my little box, as if I’m walking around with a little “God-in-a-box” that provides for my every desire.

That’s not how it works.

Going to Hong Kong made me aware that God is so much bigger than I had thought. Not only is He omnipresent (existing everywhere at the same time), but he is also omnipotent (all powerful in every situation). He is “in” time and space, but He is also outside of time and space. And he is in every time and space. At the same time.

No, you can’t wrap your mind around it. And that is good. God is not understandable by the human mind, and that makes him worthy of worship by the human heart.

Instead of praying for the “God-in-a-box” to bless the plans we have created in our finite minds, why don’t we ask the infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent God to place us where he wants us to go and show us what he wants us to do? See, he’s already laid the foundation for our paths, and his plans will come to fruition (Proverbs 19:21). And God is good. He will always provide. He works all things together for our good and for His glory.

How does this play out practically? How do we avoid asking “God-in-a-box” to bless our human plans? 

First, go where God is and invest there. Join the people there. I find this especially useful advice for college students and young adults because I am one of them. We want to start new adventures and plan exciting things and change the world. While that’s exciting and great and some of those ventures have made great differences for the better, we can do great things just by joining the work God is already doing. This is why I’m not a huge supporter of church plants, unless there is already a stirring for God in a certain needy area or demographic. Don’t plant a church just for the sake of planting a church. Don’t create a new ministry just for the sake of creating a new ministry. Go where God is already working and love there. Minister there. Invest there. Love right next door and see what happens. Support a local ministry with your time, talents, and money. This is an excellent way to keep us grounded in the fact that we are not saviors of the world, but Jesus is.

Second, pray big. A common of prayer of mine includes petitions for “grace, guidance, and protection.” Those things are nice, and God promises us all three, but that’s kindof a boring prayer. I think it’s fine to pray with repetition, because it’s a great reminder. However, I would ask that we pray bigger. If we really do have a relationship with the One True King, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Redeemer and Restorer of our souls, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, why do we pray so small? If prayer is communicating with the One who made our inmost beings, why do we pray so small?

I have heard people say that we should pray generically, following a “May your will be done” philosophy. I have heard others say that we should pray specifically, asking for big things with faith in a God who can move mountains. I think both are correct. Sometimes we pray with broken hearts: “God, we don’t know what to do in this situation.” Other times we pray with hopeful hearts: “God, we ask for this job, this healing, this provision.” In both situations, however, we are naming things. We bring our specific worries and needs and cares before God, trusting that he will make paths for us and work through situations in ways that only he can, for our good and His glory.

Personally, I don’t think prayer changes God’s mind much. I think it changes our hearts. I think it makes us more aware of what God is doing. I think it opens our eyes to see God’s work in, around, and through us. When we pray big, we acknowledge that we want to see God at work. We acknowledge that he may work out things differently than how we expected him to do so. We acknowledge that he is big. He is not “God-in-a-box.” He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and worthy of worship.

Third, always be thankful. When God answers our prayers by way of Scripture, people around us, circumstances, or provisions, our response should be gratitude. Thankfulness proves that we are small. To extend thanks to someone else makes us humble and accepting. It reminds us that we cannot provide for all of our needs on our own.

I recently read a few articles detailing things happy and healthy people do first thing in the morning. Many of the article listed gratitude as a good morning habit. Thinking of one thing you are grateful for keeps you going on stressful or difficult days. Is it any wonder that God calls us to be “Thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18)?

You can’t keep God in a box anymore than you can keep ten kittens out of trouble or an ice cream cone from melting on a hot day or a little boy from wandering around outside. Don’t ask God to bless your finite plans. Ask him where he wants you to go, and then go. Go with love, go with prayer, and go with thankfulness.