Before God and These Witnesses

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The days leading up to it were crazy. At one point I said to Tim, “This whole thing is reminding me why I wanted to elope.”

January 13th came and my stomach was in knots. My husband told me it was just my sympathy nerves, but I think there was also a fear that something would go wrong, that it might not be special enough for the sister I love.

Now I’m standing on the other side, trying to describe what it was like. All I’m getting is a picture of her face. Jess. Simple, beautiful, loving, selfless, God honoring, Jess. I’ve become convinced that the reason she is all I see is because the day was like her. Simple, beautiful, full of love and generosity, and, above all, focused on Jesus Christ.

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The ceremony vacillated from solemn to joyful. The bride and groom randomly giggled, their joy was so effervescent. As the vows started, Jessica passed her bouquet back to Deborah to have her hands free, and got caught in a snippet of conversation. Winston was already speaking his vows, and the room erupted in laughter when he tugged Jessica back.

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As Dad spoke the words that would end the ceremony, I watched Winston’s eyes widen in disbelief. He mouthed something that looked a lot like, “Wait, that’s it?” as though he couldn’t believe they were now actually married. The two of them began to laugh again.

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Dad furrowed his brow, “What’s funny?”

Winston shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Oh.” Dad shrugged. “I thought I said something funny and didn’t know it. That happens sometimes.”

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Thus two families became one, and love swung its arms around us all. Love that originated in Austin, Texas, where God began to write the story of Jessica Svendsen and Winston Terry.

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The day was a together-happiness that began and ended with praise and worship to Jesus Christ. He wrapped us all in his embrace, a new family here on earth and a forever family in Him.

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Meeting the newborn

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Best Man and Maid of Honor speeches

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Their turn comes this summer ❤

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Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Winston Terry. I love you both. ❤

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Five Years Later

Everyone has “are you kidding me?” moments with their parents. One of mine is when my mother told me that she and my father were actively trying to stop me from marrying my husband.

Defiance wasn’t an option in my childhood home. The severity of consequences for even the smallest infraction left me with a fear and mistrust of my parents that lingers to this day. So you can guess my incredulity when my mother told me I’d been allowed to defy them. Perhaps they hoped our relationship would just fall apart naturally, like the other three romantic relationships within the family that they’d destroyed with silence.

But this guy wouldn’t go away so easily.

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I really wasn’t sure if my mother meant what she was saying, so I probed her. Her responses came with a level of pride that left me in no doubt of her sincerity. I could imagine a parent drawing themselves up with dignity to inform their child that they “never liked that fellow anyway” if their child had been sobbing about wrongs done and the need for retribution, but not when the couple is still very much content in their mutual love.

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I asked for reasons, but none of them made any sense to me. In fact, her complaints were opposite of facts. “He’s not spiritual enough.” “He has no respect for you.” “He’s irresponsible.” It was like they’d never met him, and we dated almost five years before we got married. He is now, as he was then, the sweetest, most caring, and supportive person I have ever met, a sentiment more confirmed by the sandwich at my elbow which he just made for me after stacking wood outside in the freezing cold for over an hour.

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I thought about this conversation with my mother while Timothy and I were at dinner on Thursday, celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary. I thought about all the beauty and the pain we’ve been through in almost ten years together.

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Our first kiss in a parking lot before a Patriots baseball game
The loss of our first child
The birth of our baby girl
The way he used to shove his hand down into my glove because he wanted to hold my hand, not my glove
Struggling together through my panic disorder and suicidal depression
Setting up our first apartment
Taking long walks
Watching sunsets
Getting up early to watch the sun rise over the ocean
Setting off fire alarms with smoky dinners
And how nervous he was to propose to me, even though he knew there was only one answer for both of us.

Yes. Yes then and yes now. Yes for always and always and every day for the rest of my life.

So here’s to you, darling, for being the best reason ever to leave my home and defy my parents, and for giving me the home and family I never dreamed I would have.

Happy anniversary. Happy ever after.

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Perfect Timing

While my pregnancy was a planned pregnancy, it was still a shock to me. I just figured it wouldn’t happen when it did, and while it’s still overwhelming at times, it’s become just another one of those times in my life where I can see how perfect God’s plans are when we submit to his will.

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17 weeks

First: My Crazy First Trimester

I mean, I was sick for my first pregnancy, but all these people kept saying to me that what I was feeling “wasn’t normal.” Since they never specified what part of it was so abnormal, I guess I just assumed that a heathy baby would be less horrible to carry. As wrong as I was, the miracle of it all was the impeccable timing of my bedridden stage. My morning sickness began the week of finals, but most of my finals were papers I’d already drafted and merely needed to hand in. After that I had the entirety of winter break to do nothing but rest and vomit.

Second: Returning to school

The oncoming spring semester was looming in the background like the malevolent flaming eye of Sauron. Every day that I spent laying in bed, incapable of anything more than watching Shawn the Sheep, the soft voice of anxiety whispered, “And how do you think you’re going to manage that?”

My early religious education emphasized the idea that once you’re a wife or mother the Bible allows for you to be nothing else. I’ve come to believe this as not accurate Biblical teaching, but I wrestled with what I was supposed to do next. Was God trying to tell me through illness that being a wife and mother was all he wanted from me?

No longer wishing to blindly follow the teaching from my youth, I prayed that God would make it clear what he wanted from me: finish my degree or quit for the baby. Maybe he’d let me finish my degree later, who knew? Only Him, and I just needed to know clearly what step to take next, one semester at a time.

There were so many times when I was leaning over the toilet bowl with Tim rubbing my back when I’d gasp out the words, “I think I should drop all my classes.” Tim, ever patient, ever wise, always said, “Just wait and see. There’s still time. Just wait.”

I waited. I saw. God provided me just the right amount of miraculous strength I needed to get to every class. Even the week before my first day I was too sick to go, but despite the fact I was still throwing up to and from school, and napping on a foam mattress between my classes, I have remained on my 15 credit class schedule.

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And Tim? Well, who could expect him to be anything but my guardian angel. He walked me to all my classes, carried my books, and for several weeks sat right outside the door to my class in case I needed any help, even though it made his butt fall asleep. Speaking of blessings from God, let’s not forget the man I wake up next to every morning. Him. Always. ❤

Third: The Due Date

The baby is due August 18, 2017. Even if I go late, I will still give birth this summer, before classes can start for next semester.

Fourth: Online Classes

One night, just out of curiosity, I looked over my degree evaluation at WPU to see what else I needed to graduate on time. The idea of returning to school with a two week old infant in tow is daunting, even if your husband doesn’t mind looking after him while you’re in class. I worried if it would even be healthy for the little one.

As I looked through what I needed to graduate, I saw a lot of online courses being offered. I grabbed a notepad and began to jot down courses. Soon, I had over 7 online course options I could take in the fall, all of which were perfect for keeping me on track to graduate Spring of 2018. I now fully believe that God will allow me to take most if not all of my courses online for my first semester after giving birth. My heart nearly burst with thanksgiving for this.

Fifth: Our Living Situation

I’ve never really been in close contact to infants before, except for bits of exposure during my time working the nursery at church. Basically, I’m terrified, and given my penchant for panic attacks and overreacting due to my struggle with anxiety disorder, I know that I’ll be as neurotic as any three new mothers locked in a dark tight space for 48 hours.

First on the emergency contact list will (of course) be my dear husband, eldest of 7 and widely recognized “baby hog.” His relatives know that when they bring their little one into the room, my husband will make puppy eyes at whomever is holding the baby until somebody lets him settle down with the little one so he can snuggle and play with it.

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Timmy with our nephew Emmett

But if even he should fail to calm me and the infant (both of us probably screaming), we will still be living with his mother, grandmother of my child and veteran parent of 7 children. Honestly, watching my husband’s parents raise the two little ones at home (6yrs and 10yrs) has grown me tremendously. Their grace and patience is something I pray I’ll have in my parenting, and it is truly a privilege to watch. If I could be half the mother Mrs. Svendsen is, my children will never suffer for love and acceptance, the two things I found most lacking in my own childhood.

I will have one full year under her roof, blessed by her wisdom and tutelage before my husband and I pack up and move across the country for him to complete his seminary training.

There is too much perfection in all the timing of this baby for me not to step back, look up and say, “Thank you Lord. Thank you so much.” ❤

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Quick First Trimester Recap

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It sucked.

It still does some days, but I’ve gotten enough of a lift to feel like my body is on the mend. My husband and I have gone out to dinner and taken a trip to Ikea in the past few weeks, something that would have been unthinkable a week before.

It wasn’t long after seeing those two blue lines that I began to develop aversions to smells, tastes, and sights. I was already vomiting once a day before I even missed my period. I still had this romantic idea that if I just boiled carrots until they mushed when you looked at them or ate saltines with a little bit of avocado, I could be gentle on my stomach while still getting solid nutrients into my body. *looks over shoulder at naive past self and laughs mockingly*

I lost about 20 lbs.

My first and foremost aversion was butter, one that still has not entirely abated. Quickly, anything associated with butter became partner in it’s evil salty oily fatness. That list begins with pasta, toast, rice, and potatoes, and ends somewhere with anything else that vaguely resembles butter in either its liquid or solid state. In fact, the aversion became so severe that when I started reading Tana French’s In the Woods, I ended up putting it aside to vomit because she had the audacity to use the word “butter” inside the first paragraph. I had to hide the book, because even looking at the cover put me at risk for another surge of nausea.

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In a moment of pure hysterical madness, I asked my husband to take a this photo. I thought the mineral water made it look more hangover than morning sickness.

With how easily my nausea was triggered over one aversion, it won’t surprise you when I say that eating anything at all was a battle. Add to that, I developed an aversion to water, and then I was battling fluid intake. My only hope for keeping anything down (and me out of the hospital) was to lay flat. I was absolutely freaked out by all the changes in my body. I fought my desire to shower twice a day, but lost the battle with my clothes which I changed frequently throughout the day, leaving mounds of laundry in my wake. I spent days in bed, hating every moment I was awake. I said to my husband, “This had better be the cutest damn baby in the whole world.” I also said, “I think this is by far the worst experience of my life, and it’s not even half over.”

Honestly, I couldn’t have done any of it without my husband. He was the ultimate caregiver. He cleaned up after my sick, did the laundry, straightened the room, made numerous runs to stores to get me food or medicine, and kissed away my tears. I hated seeing him working so hard with absolutely no help from me. It made it harder to rest in bed.

Whenever I expressed this frustration to my husband, he would always say, “You’re building a baby. You’re working hard.” Then he’d kiss my forehead and tell me to rest.

I’m excited for the reward at the end of this mess called pregnancy, though I still worry about my ability to be the kind of mother I want to be. Perfection is out of the question, obviously, but will I be enough? Loving enough, affirming enough, and enough of a guide to them that they will have the equipment to take flight into adulthood, wise and very curious. I doubt myself, but I never doubt that my husband is going to be the best father ever. Patient, wise, kind, affectionate, and fun? What more could a little baby want in a Daddy?

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Love ❤

Unconditional

Some people get cranky when they’re tired. Some when they’re stressed. Some when they’re hungry or sick or when they’ve been cooped up inside from a snowstorm.12605531_10153376992302963_4298170848787498067_o.jpg

Me? I get cranky for all of the above reasons, but this particular night was the second day in a row that I was cranky from studying for my French quiz. Jon saw me come in favoring my tender, twisted ankle after a literal run in with the six year old.12140878_10153214699457963_8518091886176476593_o

“Aww,” he said. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

I snarled a groan at him and waved him away, “Just leave it, okay?” And that was just the beginning. I took everything else he said completely out of context and chewed him up to the best of my ability before throwing myself on my bed and sobbing into my blankets like a Disney princess with PMS.

I felt like…well, a jerk I guess. I’d like to use stronger language, but I try to keep it clean around here as best I can. I fell asleep hating myself, thinking about how, even if he had meant his words the way I’d taken them, I was still being unfair. He’s tired too and working so hard. I should at least be giving him as much grace as I’d want for myself.

First thing I woke up, I sent him a text: “I’m sorry I’m a jerk sometimes.

I saw him around the house but couldn’t make eye contact with him. I was too afraid that he’d still be upset at me for being so horrible the night before. On my way out the door, he called my name and came up to me with his arms wide open.

“I got your text,” he said, as his arms closed around me.11081166_10152783748617963_5494858081283997201_n

“I love you Jonny.”

“I love you too.” He pulled back a little and looked at me with his head cocked slightly to the side. “But seriously, I don’t remember you being a jerk.”

Every. Single. Time.
This bizarre treatment isn’t just specific to my brother-in-law. No. It started with my husband. Even when I know he knows I’ve done something to hurt him, even at the times I’ve brought tears to his eyes, he just says, “It’s okay. I forgive you,” and it’s done. It never comes up again. There’s no wall, no hate, no slamming doors or days of silent treatment and shunning.

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His parents are the same. I can openly disagree with them. I can do something they don’t like. I can be a snarky, nasty, easily annoyed female dog for days and they still just…

love me.

12622269_10153376950777963_1368095368960911501_oThis version of love is new to me. When I first found it in my husband, I just assumed it was so wild and beautiful because this was the way true romantic love was when you’ve finally found THE ONE. I never dreamed that I would find it in others. Yet here I am, living in a home where everyone just loves me. Not the nice me that nobody would have trouble loving, but the real me, the one with all the dirty broken bits.

It’s beyond my understanding, this concept of a love that13391473_10153678715022963_2054460552765938291_o does not have to be earned; that’s reaffirmed daily by action and word. Growing up, love was something I had to fight to gain. When I didn’t keep my behavior, thoughts, and attitudes properly in order, I was tossed aside until I got it right. I spent so much time groveling, hoping that if I just said enough right things or did enough right things or buried enough of the parts of me people didn’t like or understand, that I would finally receive the love I wanted so desperately.

Over the past few years I’ve come to realize that people who put that many conditions on love, are not worth the time spent in trying to gain their affections. So, I stopped trying. I thought this decision would mean the end of family for me, that I’d only have one again when Timothy and I had children and a home of our own.

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12961212_10208680190820471_2361922664253489059_oBut here are these people, these beautiful people, that I have no blood relationship to, that have no reason to want me around, who live with me day after day after day and see what a hot mess I am and yet CHOOSE to love me. It’s as though they made a decision to love me the first time their son brought me through the door. They didn’t even know me then, and they loved me. They know me now and love me just as much. And they give and give and give and want nothing back. And I’m just wrecked by it, in a good way, because I can’t wrap my head around the idea that the love I’ve always wanted, my whole entire life, the love I begged and wept for my whole childhood, the home I need now more than ever, was waiting for me in the arms of a family that I didn’t even know existed until eight years ago.

I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever understand it. I know I’ll never deserve it. But please, you guys, please don’t ever stop. ❤

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Tigger and Eeyore

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There we are! Aren’t we cute. I’m the grey one by the way. The one looking morbidly at the dirt I’m sitting in. The bright orange fellow mid bounce would be my husband.

0077_COBURNWe have a perfect marriage. We’re alike in all the things and dissimilar in everything else. It’s a crazy balancing act that must have originated in heaven, because it’s effortless. We almost never argue, often laugh, and always adore each other. It’s been that way for as long as we’ve known one another, so don’t rain on my parade with all that “honeymoon stage” bologna. It’s been eight years. I think it’s safe to say “for keeps” at this juncture.

But still, sometimes how crazily different we are makes me snort derisively.

I’m a determined pessimist. My husband is a dedicated optimist. I think my way is tumblr_njw973Yan11tx9vazo1_400better. I tried to explain it to him. I said, “Look, if I always expect the worst, I’m more likely to be pleasantly surprised.” He doesn’t seem to see my logic so instead he bounces around me, laughing while he showers me with rose petals and glitter.

tumblr_m92wg1btYg1rc1js9o1_500Sometimes he annoys me when he pounces me from behind with all his talk of sunshine and butterflies. I worry that he’s not being realistic, because there COULD be an earthquake, and thusly a little preparation is in order. But really, life would get pretty gloomy without his constant rays of sunshine. He brings laughter to my gloomy spot, and encourages me when I feel like there’s no point in moving forward.

My life would suck without him. ❤

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Text © Rachel Svendsen 2016

“I am cold.”

“I am cold.”
“Let me warm you.”
And he slipped off his jacket

“I am tired.”
“Use my shoulder.”
And she fell comfortably to sleep

“I am sad.”
“Let me hold you.”
And she wept and was comforted

“I am frightened.”
“I’ll protect you.”
And he shielded her from their blows

“I am lost.”
“I am with you.”
And they wandered hand in hand

© Rachel Svendsen 2015