The dress

On Sunday, we celebrated our “liturgical” anniversary.  Since we were married during the Paschal season, we can always remember the exact Sunday we were married on, even though it will usually fall on a very different day than the one we actually celebrate our wedding.

It was also 3 months to the day that Seraphim died.  My husband thought this was symbolic in a way.  We remembered him and our kind-of-sort-of wedding anniversary the same day.

For our wedding, just about everything was DIY.  The biggest project that I took on was also the one I most wanted full control over: my wedding dress.  Being married in the church means a strict dress code, and most store-bought gowns don’t even come close.  I wouldn’t want to flaunt everything on the day I was getting married anyway, church rules aside, and I didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for a gown and then have to pay out another outrageous sum for a cover-up to keep my modesty.  Besides, I had very particular tastes that I doubted anyone could please but myself.

I spent right around $100 on my wedding dress and veil–including a change of mind about lace that could’ve saved me $20 but was worth it in the end for my personal happiness with the finished product.  I still have lots of scraps of material (which, had I been feeling better when I was pregnant, I would’ve sewn into a gown for Seraphim–something I regret quite a bit).

I recently remembered that the day I started making my dress (which was a big celebratory event for me, personally–I suppose like shopping for the dress is for other girls, though I’d had my pattern picked out for months) was Presidents’ Day.  I picked this day because I had the whole day off of work, and to start a monumental project like making a wedding dress, I knew I would need a lot of time.  The date I started my dress was the same date that our son was born a year later.

Who would’ve guessed the changes that just a year would bring?  I hoped we would be blessed with a child (at least a pregnancy) in the first year or two of our marriage, since we both really long for a family.  We didn’t expect what we got.  It wasn’t even a thought in our minds.

I suppose that reinforces the whole Orthodox Christian mindset of marriage: we give up ourselves to make the whole better, and to better our souls.  We had to give up our hopes and expectations and desires and take what life gave us instead.  We took something that we didn’t get a decision in and had to accept it because we couldn’t refuse it.  The crowns of martyrdom we were granted thus far in our marriage were far different than the crowns I thought I was taking on.

How typical.

Because I want to, I’ll go ahead and share some of my pictures of my “masterpiece” (aka my wedding dress).  The dress is Vogue pattern V2979 with Simplicity 4940 sleeves (I liked the Grace Kelly style, but wanted less form-fitting and more breathable sleeves since it gets really hot around here this time of year!).  The half-hat veil pattern was something crochet I found online (my friend made it because I don’t know how to crochet) and then I just cut some lace and sewed it onto the veil.  Simple.  The dress took me about 2 months to finish; the veil took about 5 minutes.

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I was showing the back of the dress (which had about 30 buttons) to some ladies. The train got a little tangled up in my hand.

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Yes, I made the flowers, too (with some help from a few people and a great online tutorial).

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I was anti-train until seeing a friend’s wedding and admiring the bride’s train (incidentally, the wife of my husband’s sponsor/best man). So I decided I had to have one.
I made almost all of the accessories as well: flowers (as mentioned), hats, men’s ties (which you can’t see here), crowns.

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Too-fancy-wedding-induced lonely days

My husband is going to a wedding today without me.  I’m still not sure how exactly I feel about it.  Part of me says I should be happy for a little more alone time to work on my personal projects and do what I want to do.  But I get plenty of alone time with him working more, and my anxiety is still significant enough that, while I can drive again, I don’t go far or very often.

The wedding is one of those where they’re paying a significant amount of money for every single person they invite, so they needed an exact head count over a month ago.  We expected Seraphim to be born closer to the end of February (sometime during the week of the 24th, since I was scheduled to be induced on the 24th, and was told that could take up to 4 days), and we didn’t know what the status of his health would be–or mine.  So K RSVP’d for himself and said I wouldn’t be coming so that they wouldn’t have to pay way too much money for someone who might not come.  

Then Seraphim came early and naturally, and died.  No baby in the hospital or at home, no C-section for me to recover from.  And, quite honestly, this week I feel pretty good.  We “played tennis” two days this week (and by that, I mean we took a hopper of balls and hit them against a backboard at the park… not much exercise, but way more than I’ve had in months), and I felt deservedly tired for the first time in weeks.  My body is still weak, I’m still healing, and my emotions are still raw sometimes (and by that I mean I am easily made both happy and sad… not just crying spells), but I’m getting there.  But I didn’t really know how well I’d be until about two weeks ago, and it was way too late to change the RSVP.  

So I’m not going, and I feel kind of dumb.  Like his friends, some of whom haven’t met me, will think I’m stuck up, or maybe just a sobbing mess.  I’m not, but they don’t necessarily know that.  So I’ve been telling myself we couldn’t afford us both to go–which is partially true.  Since it’s on the other side of the state, we could’ve driven for $50 or so (assuming the stupid passes stay open!), or taken the Greyhound for $60.  Instead, only he is going, so it only costs $30.  I don’t think that doubling that would’ve broken the bank, even with me taking so much LWOP… but it makes me feel better to say that.

This whole situation does make me glad we did things so much differently for our wedding.  I appreciated RSVPs, but didn’t depend on them.  We made all of the food for the reception (with help of about 10 of our friends), so it was very inexpensive (we spent under $500 for all of the food) and exactly what we wanted.  We had many people who RSVP’d the week before the wedding and it didn’t change anything.  We didn’t have to get numbers to our caterer; we didn’t have to deny people from bringing their significant others or children because we didn’t want to pay $200/plate for extra people.  Everyone could bring their children (and the kids had a great time–the pictures of the kids at the wedding reception are some of my favourites), and we encouraged everyone to bring their significant others.  We wanted everyone to feel welcome and comfortable (since sometimes it’s awkward to go to a wedding where you know no one except the bride and groom, and you can’t exactly spend every minute of the wedding with them!).

I guess that’s the thing with Orthodox weddings though: while we aren’t required to invite everyone to the reception, the wedding is open for all.  Since it’s a sacrament of the Church, everyone from the church community is automatically invited.  Since my husband and I came from two different church communities, both of our churches were invited.  It was up to us if we wanted a private reception, but in light of the attitude that this was “for all,” we felt like having a small, private reception that excluded some of the people who came to our wedding would miss the point.  These people came to support and celebrate our joining; we wanted to keep them around as a “thank you” for their love.  It was perfect and I don’t regret doing what we did–it was a lot of work, and sometimes a little stressful, but it was so much better than dealing with caterers, or spending hours chopping our guest list.  I wish more people felt free to do what we did.  I think the wedding industry discourages people from it–insisting that it is one day of your life that you can never repeat (unless you get divorced and remarried) so you should spend as much money on it as a house or else people will think you are cheap.  I read plenty of wedding websites and magazines that insisted that making your own food was something you should never do.  I don’t think it’s right for everyone, but never?  I wouldn’t go that far.  It worked out perfectly fine for us, and while it was certainly not a gourmet dinner, we didn’t want a gourmet sit-down dinner in the first place.

I don’t have hard feelings towards this couple who are having the fancy, expensive wedding, but I know the situation I have found myself in–not being able to go because I couldn’t RSVP in time–would never have happened with a wedding like ours–the do-it-yourself wedding you are apparently never supposed to attempt.

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Our wedding cake that we made and decorated with the help of a few friends. We made about 500 cupcakes the week before, froze them, and then defrosted them the day before the wedding to frost them (frosting slightly frozen cupcakes works really well). They were perfect and delicious!

Marriage Is Martyrdom… and everything that comes with it

Even before we got married, I’d been contemplating this idea of “martyrdom” that comes with the Christian life.  I didn’t have to be married to be aware that, especially to those of us who are Orthodox Christians, “martyrdom” is a daily goal.

I’m not talking about getting stabbed or beaten or ridiculed for my faith like the great martyrs we revere were.  That is, of course, a possibility, but the martyrdoms we are supposed to take on are usually a lot smaller, and there are a lot of them.  They also, it seems to me at least, are easier to rationalise bowing out of.  If someone told me, “I’m going to kill you because you’re a Christian!” I would probably say or do something that would sound something along the lines of St. Paul’s “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  It’s just so clearly the Christian thing to do.  (Note: I have never been in this situation, so I can only hope that that is actually what I would do and that it would actually be as easy as I’ve envisioned it.)  However, when I’m faced with things like doing something I don’t want to do that is also the right thing to do, it’s so easy to say, “Oh it won’t matter if I just don’t do this…” and embrace selfishness.

The Christian life demands that we “take up our cross” like Christ and deny ourselves.  Easier said than done, right?  Most frequently, the only denial I actively take part in is denying myself meat and cheese on Wednesday and Friday.  It’s a good first step to teach us control over our bodies and minds, but it isn’t the only denial we’re called to.  We have to deny our temptations, our impure thoughts, our wants.  “I would rather do this” is supposed to become “I will do this for the best of the other person (or my soul, or both).”

It’s easy to forget self-denial when you are already living for yourself.  That is why Orthodox Christians generally are supposed to choose between monasticism and marriage (there are a few unmarried lay people floating around out there, but that is because Orthodoxy is handled on a person-by-person basis with the individual and his spiritual father).  Both monasticism and marriage are similar in what they require of us spiritually and how they shape us even though they look completely different.  Both can be used inappropriately and be of no spiritual value whatsoever, though.  (Thus it’s outright wrong to say that monastics live “better” spiritual lives by default because the temptations still exist to not be holy, though I will certainly allow that they tend to be in an environment that sharply highlights the holy and unholy in the human being and eliminates, or minimises, worldly distractions.  Marriage and monasticism are very different things, after all, but one is not better than the other–only better for the individuals involved.)

I personally contemplated monasticism for quite some time.  My last semester of college, I saw the path as inevitable and made arrangements to pursue it.  An abbess I loved like a mother was fully supportive and wanted me to spend an extended stay at her monastery.  I didn’t stay as long as either of us would have preferred, but it didn’t take long for her tune to shift from, “You might be a good candidate for this life!  Try it out!” to “Why don’t you go back out in the world and see about getting married?”  It was rather crushing since at the time, I had absolutely no potential suitors.  I knew every eligible bachelor in every church near me (both in the area of California I lived, and on the rural side of my home state where I grew up and moved back to after college) and all had quickly friend-zoned me for whatever reason (which is why I roll my eyes at young men who complain that young women are always doing the “friend-zoning.”  They just don’t realise they’re also doing it.).  I left the monastery dejected, heart-broken, and a little hopeless.  I needed some kind of pilgrimage to help me at that point, I figured.

But guess what?  Just about a month after my spiritually difficult trip to the monastery, I ran into the man who would become my husband.  He didn’t “look” the way I thought he would so I tried to ignore him (I don’t actually mean physical looks–I mean he wasn’t what I had envisioned and I didn’t want to think that my personal blueprints could be deviated from).  I couldn’t, so I finally called a priest I was close to, knowing that if he could just reason with me and tell me to stop seeing this young man, I would have the resolve to actually do it!

He didn’t.  He told me to give him a chance, with some very specific and careful guidelines.

So I did.

Before long, this topic of “marriage as martyrdom” became very important because marriage was the next step for us.  (Neither of us would have continued pursuing one another after our summer of letter-writing as he was across the country from me if we hadn’t seen a potential future together, which was appropriate.  We took the courtship seriously.)  The thing is, though, that it seems I’ve heard this phrase so often, it starts to lose its meaning.  So marriage is hard work?  Of course it is.  I’m surrounded by others’ marriages every day and I see that.  But what purpose does something that is difficult have?  It shapes and strengthens us if accepted appropriately.  It can weaken and destroy us if we let it.  The latter is definitely easier because it seems to be the natural way things happen.  A situation is difficult, so I will give up, or pout about it.

In the marriage ceremony in the Orthodox Church, we are given crowns.  Now the crowns represent plenty of things, but the most apparent thing they represent is “crowns of martyrdom” like we see in the icons.  On taking on those crowns (at which point in the ceremony, the couple is actually considered married–not at the end, not at any special announcement, but in the middle of the ceremony when the crowns are on the couple’s heads, uniting them and challenging them), the couple is voluntarily taking on special tasks of self-denial.  They recognise that this life is no longer about them as individuals and that everything from this point forward will be a joint effort and have joint effects.  This is wonderful sometimes (a shoulder to lean on, for instance), and horrible other times (a companion who constantly brings to light what is wrong with you and challenges you to fix your attitudes).  Our first steps as newlyweds were taken around the table that represents the altar (the Kingdom of God) on which is the Scripture, the chalice (which represents the Eucharist and Christ Himself), and the Cross (the ultimate representation of self-denial).

Everyone calls this ceremony beautiful.  If you really think about the symbolism, though, it is one of the hardest things a person could really choose to take on.  Why voluntarily say, “Bring on the hardship and the struggles!”?  So, yes, it is beautiful–it is beautiful in the same way that blessings don’t always take the form of pleasant things.

In light of all this, with marriage comes children, in most instances.  In modern society, this is the part of the ceremony that is most uncomfortable to so many people: just how many times God is beseeched to bless the couple with children!

Ah children.  Now if that isn’t an opportunity for martyrdom, I don’t know what is!  You can either gain heaven or lose your soul raising children, which must be the reason many people want to avoid it.  There is no middle ground.

I read a fantastic blog article on this topic this morning, when I was, fittingly, contemplating writing something about marriage as martyrdom.  He entitles it: Your Life is Over When You Have Kids (http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/01/10/your-life-is-over-when-you-have-kids/).  A couple of quotes sum up marriage and parenthood particularly:

My life is over now that I have kids.

My life is over.

That thing that I called MY life. That portion of existence — that long, lonely chapter — when I lived for me, and me alone. That delusion known as my life, where I exerted, or thought I exerted, ownership over my whole self. Where I separated my life from all other lives, and lived to satisfy my whims and desires… I’m not living for me anymore. I never should have lived just for me, but now I can’t. Either I become less selfish, or I fail in my duty as a parent. There is no middle ground.

Taking care of another human being–especially one that is as absolutely helpless as a child–is a huge act of self-denial.  It is, quite honestly, martyrdom to our wants and preferences, and can very easily bring out the worst in us.  When the passions that corrupt us are brought to light, we then get two options: 1) Act on them! (Hint, this is the easy one), 2) Swallow, deny them, and do the opposite of what we necessarily want to do and how we want to react.

The phrase in the marriage ceremony that has most stuck with me over the months of marriage my husband and I have enjoyed (and struggled through!) already is the deacon’s petition that God: “That there may be given unto them soberness of life, and fruit of the womb as is expedient for them.”

As is expedient for them.

We got pregnant right away.  That was a shock to me, even though I knew I was fertile at the time (which happens about twice a year for me).  I figured we would struggle with fertility for at least a year or three, especially given what I’d been told by multiple doctors.  When I realised I was pregnant, my immediate response was anger.  I cried about it.  We wanted children, but this was a little ridiculous, right?  Then just as quickly as I figured out I was pregnant, we lost it.  I was devastated and felt like it was my fault for railing against God about getting pregnant.  Truth be told, if my cycles weren’t   I prayed long and hard that if He gave me another opportunity to have a baby, I would take it gladly and without complaint.  11 days later, I ovulated again (much to my surprise–I’d never had two fertile months in a row), and I got pregnant.  Again.

So I can only guess that this is an answer to the prayer that we be blessed with children as is necessary (expedient: practical, useful) for our salvation.  Which is why this baby, our baby that might not live more than a few minutes or a few hours or a few days or a few years, is so obviously a great blessing to us.  Every baby is a blessing, but a blessing that brings so many struggles, difficult decisions, selflessness, uncertainty (and with it the surrendering of our wills and preferences), along with the joy is the best blessing we could possibly receive.  We have to learn to see life in God’s control instead of in our own.  We have to give up so many things for the welfare of our baby and with it, our own souls.

Fittingly, our marriage crowns are displayed on our icon table in our bedroom where we pray most often.  We can’t forget that we took on this particular task when we took on marriage–even though at the time we certainly didn’t know that this would be in the future!  But we also know we don’t do this alone.  We took the crowns of “martyrdom” along with the Scriptures, the Cross, the chalice, and the Kingdom of Heaven (they are all part of that end goal) so we know that God is with us every step, and that the saints who have gone before us and completed their martyrdoms are cheering for us, supporting us, and loving us through each challenge.

It definitely makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger.

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