{concerning marriage} entertainment

{Yesterday I shared about the crazy process of planning for a wedding and life, and today I have some suggestions about the media’s vision of marriage. Be sure to check out the first post and watch for a few more coming!}

Several years ago I started watching Glee, which made sense because I’m a musician and lots of my friends watched it and wanted to talk about it. But I had to stop watching when the choir director was part of a subplot developing positive romantic tension with another teacher instead of his wife. My best friend was in the middle of getting divorced even though they were homeschooled, parentally-approved, rule-following, supposedly all set for life, bla-bla-bla. (Remember that planning thing? Not foolproof.) I knew that no matter how atrocious the original wife was portrayed, the show was selling a lie that marriage or divorce aren’t a big deal. The pain for a one-flesh-tearing-asunder that wasn’t even mine didn’t feel fun or entertaining, and the experience profoundly changed how I thought about TV and movies.

It’s not a surprise that Christian marriage is counter cultural.  A religiously-oriented life of permanent sacrifice and fidelity is perceived as an attack on freedom in a world that worships the profane trinity of me, myself, and I, and our entertainment reflects this. When you watch commercials, women are often caricatured with artificial physical beauty and men are mocked as idiots. This Discover commercial…? Rude! It would be really offensive if the genders were reversed. 

When you get back to the regular programming, romantic leads on a TV show “can’t get married” because it “ruins the tension” of the show. So unrealistic. Legitimate marriage has plenty of tension. Married or single, chances of building a good life are better if you avoid passively receiving the idea that marriage is a joke, or that a romantic high is the ultimate fulfillment of your existence. I’m not going to tell you what not to watch! But I think negativity about marriage and family slipping under the radar poses a greater danger of messing up a life than most straightforward steamy scenes or course joking. With that in mind, here are a few movies and TV shows I’ve found encouraging…

1. The Sound of Music. Watch how Maria and Georg transform through the story, growing as individuals and strengthening each other while caring for their family and living bravely in adversity.
2. The Harry Potter Series – Molly and Arthur Weasley, parents of Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred, George, Ron, and Ginny. This is a great couple who built a life of modest means overflowing with love and respect for each other.
3. The King’s Speech. So much appreciation and encouragement! And a story of personal growth that happens in the strength of their day-in-day-out marriage, not a fantasy relationship.
4. Julie & Julia. Apparently this all falls apart in her second book, but the movie is really sweet and shows two different married couples building each other up in love and encouraging each other to be their best self.
5. Shadowlands. Kind of corny, but this is a great look at love and loss from the life and writings of C.S. Lewis and his wife, Joy Davidman.
6. Father of the Bride I and II. Also corny in a different way, but hilarious and positive. There are lots of real-ish life fights and making up, and a commitment to a lifetime of love throughout.
7. Duck Dynasty. All the married couples here have lots of fun joking around and showing that marriage is worthwhile, exciting, and meaningful. (Also, if you ever think your husband is gross, this show will give you a good dose of perspective. Or maybe that’s just me.)
8. The Office – Jim and Pam Halpert. This couple has always been a favorite because their romance was based on friendship and personal connection, not an immediate physical fling. Especially in this last season, their heartfelt reconciliation after months (years?) of hurt feelings, which resulted in some marriage counseling and a conscious choice to live out 1 Corinthians 13, from a flashback of their wedding, with each other was beautiful. 

Is there plenty of trash on the show? Yes. (I totally watched all the seasons anyway. I’m not telling what to watch or not watch.) But how often do you see mainstream media showing the key to succeeding in marriage is to be patient, kind, forgiving, humble, hoping the best for each other, and not failing no matter how hard it is? How often do you see a “couple” saying they have worked together every day for 9 years (a Hollywood eternity)  and their family is the most important thing in their lives? That all happened on network television during the last season, and I think it’s encouraging.

Jim and Pam

A rare attitude coming from network TV!

I’m sure this list could be much longer! Are there any other ideas for refreshing and uplifting marriages in entertainment from you guys? I mean besides the most obvious suggestion, which would be a reality TV show of the two of us, of course. iowa movie

{concerning marriage} planning

With our fifth anniversary and the family weddings this summer, I’ve been mulling over some ideas about marriage, and I’m sharing some thoughts from conversations with friends and sisters here. I know just enough to spout off a few things but I am basically a five-year-old telling a newborn baby what life is all about.

Everyone’s busy asking, “So how’s the planning going?” There is so much to talk about, to dream for, to plan on when you are getting married.  We even read a book about 100 things to talk about before engagement or marriage, encouraging discussion to ensure we prepared for an impossible number of topics. This is well-intentioned, but I think it can accidentally promote the lie that careful planning means you can control the outcome of your days. Is he planning to propose?  When is the wedding? Where are you going to live? How will you split the holidays with your families? When do you want to have children? Will one of you stay home with them? What about adoption? Are you going to homeschool? Do you want to travel? Go back to school? Start a business? Buy a house?

Of course, you need to talk about these things, and many others, but you should keep them in perspective. Is it wise to marry someone who doesn’t share your vision for life? No.  But it is not wise to marry someone based only on your shared vision for life, either. If circumstances (incomplete list of possibilities: test scores, lost jobs, surprise pregnancies, barrenness, illness, financial hardship, natural disasters, change of heart, governmental collapse, death in the family, End of Days) alter or disrupt that dream, you want to cheerfully weather uncertainty together.

Also, you want unity and agreement when starting life together, but a healthy marriage should spur your maturity, and this usually results in changing your mind about some things. This probably includes things you think are really important right now. It’s good to grow in surprising directions and to be ready for your spouse to do the same.

When I was engaged, I thought I was moving to California for a crazy few years that were supposed to include a shoebox apartment, working for a year, starting a family, and earning two Masters degrees between the two of us, and not necessarily in the order a reasonable person might think. We had done lots of careful planning, and after the deployment we felt like we had grown up quickly, anxious to get our external situation caught up with how we felt inside. Obviously, that’s not what happened. Who plans for hardship? Who plans for messed up military schedules that mean moving to a land of ice and cornfields instead of SoCal, or long PhD programs, church problems, war recovery, faith crises, depression, miscarriages, long years in bad jobs? No one. But that’s our real life. In the breakdown of the original dreams, there have been lots of good things we hadn’t expected, too. The gospel is crucial here: For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ (not in a prayerfully coordinated marriage!) shall all be made alive. There are problems in life – they’ll be there in marriage, no matter how carefully you select a spouse and plan your life, and they’d be there if you were single. If following all the “rules” or carefully planning meant anyone could avoid trouble, it would nullify what God says about humanity and salvation. So when things are messed up, it’s not because we didn’t prepare enough or should have anticipated better. When things work out well, it’s by God’s grace and not because we had our ducks in a row at any point. Either way, you just take it and go with it.

The surprising news: With the right attitude, all this planning is the kind of test that prepares for real life. I’ve found that persevering in marriage calls for lots of dreaming and re-dreaming. And the important part of the planning is not the plans themselves, but the teamwork and unity that grows in the process. In light of this, enjoy the planning and dreaming! Because getting married means you will probably be doing a lot of it for the rest of your life.

[Just for kicks, this was taken five years ago this week. We even look like babies to me.] honeymoon2

ready, set, go!

Since moving to Iowa five years ago, a full day’s drive away from both sides of our immediate family, Aaron and I became the family outliers. We’re the furthest away from everyone else, and we’ve made that long journey back several times a year, sometimes in very inclement weather. (I still have bad dreams about the “New Years ’09 Road-Trip from Hell.” It involved fog, blizzard, icy roads, my first ticket, traffic delays, construction, an electric thunderstorm, more fog, mixing up the direction of the time change, all between the hours of 10:30p.m. and 9:30a.m. Never. Again.)

If we know anything now, it’s how to road-trip well on a budget. So when it was time for the first of at least three summer drives back to Michigan, I was prepared. For best results, fill up on gas the day before leaving, then pack a cooler. Squeeze a little water out of  water bottles and freeze them for 4 hours prior to leaving; use flexible icepacks; bring a combination of good food like carrots and trash like Salt & Vinegar chips; and plan at least one real “treat,” like the Greek Gods brand honey yogurt, which tastes better than ice cream.  All of this is about the same price as stopping for lunch without risking that awful feeling of sodium overload.   roadtrip

Outdated technology necessitated a “hipster” GPS:

downsize (5)

The first part of the weekend included celebrations for Aaron’s brother, Jack and Caroline. While, of course, there was plenty of Bachelor partying, rehearsing, setting up, marrying, eating, and dancing, our main responsibilities are pictured here. I bossed the wedding party around before they made it down the aisle; Aaron’s responsibilities as a groomsman paled compared to his cherished role as Chief Niece Spoiler/Teaser. (The root beer is closed. She is probably contemplating at this very moment how silly it is that adults think it is a treat to suck on cold aluminum cylinders.)

wedding weekend

I also made a fabric banner to compliment the Hobbit-inspired tent reception, and I think it turned out well.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the sweetest, happiest couple on their big day. It was an action-packed weekend full of setting up and driving around, and I only managed to get a few pictures … they are all of the toddler. Despite the lack of photographic evidence, this weekend was an answer to prayer. We had been hoping for this wedding since we first met Caroline, before they were dating!

We drove from the reception straight to my parents house and arrived well past midnight so I could host a bridal shower for my sister, Beth, the next day. I picked a “Lovebirds” theme, and it turned out very cute!beth's shower

And of course, we made it to Lake Michigan for a little while before driving back. I think you can tell which people pictured don’t have regular beach access. Ahem.

family beach

We are so thankful for a safe and happy trip. It was exciting to start celebrating this summer of love and family!

Vander Port preparations!

“I don’t think you should get your hopes up for this wedding dress trip, Mrs. Hummel, because I have two sisters just like you and I’ve gone shopping with them both before.  I don’t think there is anything fun about it. You’re probably going to be really disappointed.” – a nine-year-old boy in my piano studio.

My first Sabbath of Lent started off with a sudden burst of tears. While I scrambled eggs before church, Aaron showed me a meteorologist’s report indicating a big snowstorm for the end of the week, and said I should prepare myself to make a hard decision about my weekend plans: driving (solo) to Michigan for a special day of wedding dress shopping for my sister Bethany, who is getting married in July. I knew Midwestern road trips in February were never a sure thing when I put this on my calendar, but facing the reality of a predicted blizzard in an area not known for decent road conditions was entirely disheartening.

Almost everyone I know heard my tale of woe during the week, and many faithfully prayed this trip would work out for me. With three sibling weddings coming up this summer, extra time to visit and prepare for the big day(s) are a luxury, so it is likely this dress shopping trip would be my only time to celebrate with Beth before her nuptials. This was it! The trip HAD to happen! And then my prayers were mercifully answered with a very light snowstorm so I could travel safely. This probably came at the expense of children all over my county who hoped and prayed for a snow day from school. I hurried through the local library and grabbed some random audio CDs off the shelf to keep me company on the road.

I listened to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua during my drive. I cried when she spoke of her sister’s cancer diagnosis, and it made me so glad I was going to spend this weekend with my own sisters. After I arrived and recovered from the car time, my mom and all three of us girls spent a long Saturday shopping for a wedding gown. We watched Beth start off nervous and quiet, (probably overwhelmed by thousands of yards of lace, satin, taffeta, ruffles, ruching, sparkles, and appliques)  transforming through the day into a confident, comfortable, well-spoken Bride – with the perfect dress to match! I wiped a few tears when she first wore it. Grandma had to stay home nursing an injured knee cap, so we took secret forbidden iPhone pictures for her.

After all this hoopla, we ended our Saturday with a party celebrating the engagement with both sides of the new family. Now that she’s engaged to Isaac, Beth is marrying into a family of our old home-school friends. (Aaron and I even went to college with the oldest brother and his wife.) During the past ten years of friendship we’ve all known we would somehow become related, since “they have boys and we have girls,” and we have called ourselves “The Vander Ports,” a combination of our last names, for years during our movie nights and beach parties. For a while it wasn’t clear where the romantic connection would eventually happen to bring brother-sister friendships into an official capacity, but Beth and Isaac are finally making good friends into a big extended family. We made plans for the wedding and swapped stories, laughing until we cried on more than one occasion.


The Vander Ports (minus Caleb) — best wedding party ever! 

Then I cried a bit when I had to leave on Sunday morning. We chose to move forward with Aaron’s PhD knowing that this career was not ever going to bring us back to the same towns (or state, probably) as our families, but it’s really draining that the current distance requires such sacrifices to get back and forth. During that long trip back, I listened to A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl, and I sniffled along with her tale of love and sacrifice, losing her husband Danny at the hands of Islamic terrorists in Pakistan. My story isn’t the same as hers, but she hit me hard; I was very ready to be home and celebrate that my husband was alive. When I arrived, I found Aaron working on a project in the garage. He says it is an A-frame playhouse for our future kids. I think it looks suspiciously like a chicken coop, which he recently mentioned was legal in our neighborhood.

chicken coop Oh, my!

(It seems like there was altogether WAY too much crying over such a great weekend, no?)