What do you get when a man who believes in perfect marriage marries a woman who believes marriage is the hardest thing in the world?
Us. You get us, TR and Ava.
And a marriage that is literally the punch line of a bad joke.
Hi, friends, welcome to our first year of marriage.
I’m gonna be honest – the truth is ugly. If you’re here looking for the perfect newlywed story, you’re in the wrong spot. If you’re looking for hope that the first year is rainbows and unicorns, you will not find that here. If you’re seeking a glowing review of marital delight, I’m sorry. I can’t give you that.
Our first year of marriage…I have not yet found a word to describe it. It was something both miserable and miraculous. Dead and fruitful. Nightmarish and delightful, and every single thing in between. Our first year of marriage contained everything.
In twelve months, we dealt with combining lives, sleeping on a couch for months, being a one income household, and later, a no income household. We navigated family holidays, had a sister-in-law live with us, dealt with severe chronic illness, and realized we needed healing on an emotional, spiritual, and mental level. We did ER visits and hospital stays, had family call us despicable things, and found community. We navigated transitioning to a governmental job, an intensive season of healing, and removing toxic environments and people simply so we could rest. We embraced self-awareness, learned the importance of definitions, and the necessity of fighting well.
We traveled more weekends than not, starting a photo map to remind us of our adventures. We went to zoos, aquariums, fancy restaurants, and art galleries. We attended seminars, met friends, and found coffee shops. We began to establish traditions- Caribou Coffee before infusions and Red Rock Canyon Grill for special occasions. We swam in the pools of friends, skipped through local parks, and welcomed people into our home. We adopted a cat, began advocating for near-forgotten kids in our community, and went to the zoo some more! We read books, grocery-shopped, tried new recipes, and fell asleep watching movies. We spent most moments together, and we learned space is good.
Friends, there is so much in these months, and despite the sheer volume of experiences and encouragement I could share, I think there is one thing that rises to the surface.
We are grapes.
Grape vines require deep well-drained soil prepared beforehand. It provides a welcoming space for root development and growth. See, when these vines are first planted, they are dormant, and they have no roots. Then these little plants are pruned. Only two or three buds are left at the end of this process. These baby vines are planted with support – it trains them to grow upward and encourages flourishing. The goal of the first year is a strong root system and trunk. Fruit is not expected. Full sun is important, pruning remains vital, and fertilizer is strongly discouraged. *
Deep soil is pretty self-explanatory, and TR + I are both blessed to come from deep soil. Granted, the types of soil are radically different and don’t mix well, but they are fortunately profound. We knew to love our Jesus first. We knew a solid foundation of Christ was nonnegotiable for us. While brief, this was the depth we brought into our union. And miraculously, it was enough.
When TR + I were first married, I think we were dormant. There was no emotional functioning, little spiritual exertion, and minimal endeavors to pursue one another.
TR had lived this way so long; it was his rhythm. For me, it was more a reaction to adverse conditions. Either way, there was no activity, no growth.
Our roots were limited. He had none, and I’d just been pulled up from mine and transplanted south. I think we were both feeling lost. We had no community in our new home, no familiarity with our area, and no idea where to look for it. We were like sticks poked into the dirt. Not pretty, not growing, not thriving.
And like the grapevines, next came the pruning. In one way or another, all the buds – all the little spots of good and hope and light – were removed. I lost my dream career. We lost carefree newlywed days. TR’s job was removed and so was my health. The beginnings of community we had established were stripped away. Family was temporarily extirpated. Our marriage floundered and struggled. We had three buds left – our Jesus, His promises, and a safe place to fall.
Baby marriages, like baby vines, do best when planted with support. Many gardeners choose to plant grapevines with a corner support – two sides that encourage more growth, doubling the fruitful prospects, and reinforcing the security found in those guides. For most couples, including us, this refers to family. TR + I were planted lopsided, one side unsure if they even wanted to be there and one side cheering us on for all they are worth. We had to learn how to plant our own stakes and find our own supports when the original ones broke and failed.
Every grape gardener knows that a strong root system and trunk are vital to future growth. Roots that spread out and search for the same things. A trunk that upholds the same beliefs. TR + I spent much of our first year figuring out what we believed. We knew we loved Jesus. We had the same views of Biblical creation. We longed to be foster parents one day, and we both liked the house cold.
We disagreed on pretty much everything else! TR expected marriage to be perfect, to solve all of his problems. I expected it to be hard and tiresome and a lot of work. TR didn’t know what actual headship looked like. I didn’t know what actual Biblical wives looked like. TR thought using a debit card was a good practice. I’m fundamentally against it.
TR didn’t know how to use a vacuum hose, and I didn’t rinse my dishes. He likes video games, and I like books. Planners and schedules and organization are a me-thing only. He destroys my kitchen, and I cannot use the toaster oven without supervision. I have been banned from taking out the garbage.
We had to reconcile our definitions of depression, joy, suffering, respect, sex, and identity. We discovered we have different views of the importance of words – his are full of nuance and implied meanings and mine are straight from the dictionary. And we had very different opinions on how often TR should cut his hair!
We had to decide if we would fight or not. Spoiler alert, we do, and it is good! We committed to the middle ground of conflict – we will not hide from it nor will we provoke it. We strove to communicate honestly, well, and precisely. We agreed to assume nothing and imply less.
Together, we decided to pursue better. We decided to seek out life-giving water, healing, and involved sanctification. This is what we want our roots stretching towards. We pursue the whole word of God, and we refuse to be content with anything less.
While I’m not sure we have full-grown grapes yet, we certainly are full of buds! We continue to seek out the full Son and expose ourselves unashamedly. We will not soon forget the vigor our lives receive from pruning. Towards our anniversary, we began to discover life-giving rhythms, and the connectivity we found, and continue to find, are incredibly encouraging.
TR + I talk openly, honestly, and freely. Nothing hides in the shadows anymore. We practice risky love towards one another, giving opportunities to build and increase trust and respect. It isn’t perfect – I still struggle to let him in. He still struggles to attentively listen.
TR works hard to step into his role as a man, and I am learning to respect him. He finally understands that anger is good, and I cry in front of him. Each day, we take steps towards one another. We choose to walk towards a healthy marriage.
And that, friend, is the point, I think.
Healthy grapes don’t just happen. Neither do healthy marriages. Healthy people don’t just happen.
We choose to create an environment where we can learn. Where we can pursue better. We choose to be active. We choose to see when we are being dormant. We are willing to endure the hurt of pruning, and we choose to persevere with the hope for juicy and plump fruit.
Our first anniversary was bittersweet – we celebrated the day our stories became eternally entwined while mourning the pain that also occurred during that celebrated weekend. We saw we have much to process, much to learn, much to heal from in year two.
And that’s our hope, friends.
We hope to be better vines this second year of marriage.
Grapevines don’t often produce a substantial crop for a few years, but they are vigorous growers. We hope to embody this in the next year.
We hope to settle our roots more, spreading them and deepening them. We hope to cling to our supports, growing up, growing more, and developing buds. We intend to stake more supports, too! Each post can support more vines, and we plan on growing more vines.
And we desire to be pruned more, too! Grapevines properly pruned easily produce fruit within a few years of being planted and persist for decades. Pruning in our lives and our marriage can only do the same!
While this is certainly not a glowing review of newlywed days, neither of us would change this first year. We learned much, unlearned more, and rebuilt with stronger foundations and healthier buttresses. The hard was not wasted, and we finished in a better place than we began.
Our relational goal has always been and always will be this: leave the other better than when we met. This applies to romantic relationships, work relationships, familial relationships, and platonic friendship relationships. It applies to each day in our marriage, too.
As we intentionally pursue strengthening our roots and our trunk in year two, we remain open to all the unforeseen and uncertain it will bring, too. We are resolved to pursue more healing, more confidence in our identities, and more solidity in the Word of God.