When my now-husband, Anthony, was initially courting me, he made fun of me for my seeming-obsession with weddings. When he saw me run down the street to see a bride outside the church, he laughed and said, "I'm sure you have your whole wedding planned out in boxes under your bed." Well, this was 2011, so magazine cut-outs stored in boxes was a little outdated. But, this was 2011, so having a digital equivalent to his notion was completely accurate. Psh, boxes—where had he been, living under a rock? It’s called Pinterest—keep up, Anthony. So in that sense, boy was he right—cue my (multiple?) wedding Pinterest boards. Simply put, I love weddings, and I loved wedding planning.
Looking at all the sweet, smiling brides in wedding photos on Pinterest, you might forget that becoming a bridezilla is a reality for many brides. As soon as the planning process began, I was acutely aware of this potential trap, and did my best to avoid it. That said, I was not perfect. As much as I genuinely enjoyed wedding planning, I had a few unmet expectations and frustrations that inevitably caused some less-than-stellar moments. That’s why I loved when one of my readers asked me to share tips on how to plan a wedding with grace (of course I loved the connection to my journal’s title, too). How to be joyful throughout the planning of such a momentous occasion while still being realistic and productive? Well, read on.
Remember, a wedding is a day, a marriage is a lifetime
Okay I know, I know, this is what my “Marriage Monday” posts are for. But this is also the most important piece of advice to remember as you wedding plan. Anthony and I were overwhelmed with joy and excitement after getting engaged—it was the happiest I have felt second only to our wedding day. Just a day after getting engaged, we headed over to the church to pick a date for the next summer. Everything starts happening so fast! But my parents made a point to give this advice to Anthony and me before we all got carried away: to always keep in mind that a wedding is a day, and a marriage is a lifetime. And what a poignant and beautiful reminder that was. I will forever have the happiest memories of July 3, 2015; truly the best day ever. But now, the wedding cake is gone (yes, even the top tier) and the dust from moving in together has settled. And what are we left with? A beautiful, joyful, sacramental marriage. This doesn’t just happen, this is the result of intentional marriage preparation with our spiritual director, (not just the two hour class required of couples married in the Catholic church), reading books together about marriage and relationships, praying together, discussing the results of our personality tests, and a weekend retreat for engaged couples, among others. For couples without the option to use a priest or minister, premarital counseling with a professional therapist (like me in a few years!) is absolutely a worthwhile cost (and some insurances even cover it). Keeping this vital piece of advice in mind will help you to keep things in perspective when you realize the ink color on your invitations isn’t quite right (tragic).
Be mindful of the guest list
When a reader asked me to post about wedding planning with grace, the first thing I thought of was the guest list. Why? Because this was the part that, admittedly, I was not so graceful all the time. While I consciously did my best not to become a bridezilla, the guest list certainly tempted me. Between sticking to a budget, the venue’s physical capacity, and managing different opinions, the guest list was the trickiest part for us. For others, the guest list can bring out harbored family tensions or bring to light broken family relationships. One bride I talked to said 'the kids versus no kids' dilemma was at the forefront of her and her parents’ discussions. Which of your coworkers do you invite? What about your boss? Who gets a plus-one? Whatever the issue may be, the key to maintaining grace is to stay level-headed throughout all of the guest list conversations.
First, have both sets of parents, you, and your fiancé submit their guest lists (be very specific, i.e. don’t say “The Smith Family,” but specify which kids, if any). Count the total distinct guests, and decide if this number is okay or too big (either for budget reasons or the venue’s capacity). If it is too big, time to have a discussion about who doesn’t make the cut. As with all wedding planning dilemmas, don’t raise your voice, roll your eyes, or walk away from the conversation. Actively listen (not just hear) your fiancé, father, mother-in-law, best friend—whoever—and calmly tell them why you agree or disagree. Keep in mind, if you and your fiancé are not paying for all of the wedding, be very respectful of the opinions of those who are paying or contributing financially. The guest list total affects them significantly.
Take time-outs with your fiancé
At the beginning of our engagement, Anthony and I talked about taking “time-outs” occasionally. We quickly realized the temptation for wedding planning to become stressful, and we didn’t want to fall into that trap. We promised that whenever we started to feel stressed or frustrated, or even when we were just excited, we would step away from what we were doing and take time to pray and take in that moment. Instead of getting caught up in the details, we would memorialize the moment by stating exactly where we were in the wedding planning process (i.e. “We are addressing our save the dates, for our WEDDING!”), as if looking at the moment from the outside. When we removed ourselves from the task, we were able to recognize the gravity of this step (i.e. instead of just stamping envelopes mindlessly, verbalizing the moment rejuvenated us with purpose and excitement that this getting married thing was actually happening). We would also verbalize that we were going to be each other’s husband and wife in just __ months, weeks, days, or hours. We would relish in that wonderful truth, and reflect on how God had blessed us by bringing us each other, and soon, by uniting us in marriage. We prayed in thanksgiving for this fact, and asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit as we continued wedding planning. Even though we were long-distance for some of our engagement, we would call each other to do this when one of us needed it. In essence, each time we took a time-out, we were harboring the excitement that we felt on the day we got engaged: the absolute joy and astonishment that we were actually going to soon be husband and wife.
Keep a journal to give to your fiancé
I actually had started writing a journal, and shortly thereafter my aunt sent me a notebook with a letter explaining how she had done this for my uncle. “Keep a journal throughout your engagement to give to Anthony the night before your wedding,” she wrote. Even though I was already doing this, I loved the idea even more because someone whose marriage I so admire had begun this way. I journaled about our wedding planning and marriage preparation milestones, such as picking out my wedding dress and deciding on our Nuptial Mass readings. There were no rules or guidelines; I simply wrote what I wanted Anthony to know or remember from that moment. I include this in the wedding planning tips because this journal furthered my excitement and perspective throughout the process. The journal, which sat next to my bed, reminded me what this chapter of life all about, even when I wasn’t writing. Just looking at that gold, narrow notebook, I would think about Anthony and reflect on how blessed I was to be marrying such a holy, kind, and gentle man.
The week before. . . Drop it!
Funny backstory: my sisters and I were never too impressed with wedding cake the way some people LOVE wedding cake (I feel like I'm breaking some wedding-lovers' code by admitting that). So, being the bakers we are, we always said that we would make our the wedding cake at our weddings. Well, when I got engaged, my dad got wind of this idea, and did not support it. Not because it wouldn't save a little money, but because he realized that adding the unnecessary pressure of making my own wedding cake the week of my wedding might not be the best stress-reliever. (Spoiler alert: my uber talented friend and consummate chef, Maureen Abood, offered to make the cake as an incredibly generous gift! It was exactly what my homemade-wedding-cake-dreams were made of.)
Well, my dad was actually on to something. The week of your wedding is chaos. But it will be the best kind of chaos if you navigate it right. As I described to a recent bride, planning a wedding felt like studying for a test in college—it seemed like there was always something more to do. Despite your inner Type A, somehow the wedding is eight days away, and you still have to tie the bows on the menus, fold the programs, arrange the escort cards. . . While all of that seems crucial to your wedding day vision (ahem, Pinterest!), these are also the details that only you will notice if they don't get done. "Whatever you don't have done a week before the wedding doesn't need to be done. Enjoy the time with family and get enough sleep," my dad wisely cautioned. (Who knew dads knew so much about wedding planning?) If there is one thing that will ruin your efforts to be a graceful bride-to-be faster than you can say "bridezilla," it's a lack of sleep. My dad knew this, and had me on a curfew the whole week (thanks, Dad). Additionally, despite my inner control freak, I asked friends, family, neighbors, and my awesome wedding planner/coordinator to pitch in with the remaining tasks. While I still tied some bows and assembled guest bags that week (sorry, Dad), I didn't wince when some of the guest bags didn't get delivered in time. I found out later that I forgot to put out the framed photos of my parents' and grandparents' wedding day, but guess what? The day was still perfect. So pass-off or tear up your final to-do list, enjoy your company, and get some beauty rest, darling.
With a little grace,
Have some tips on wedding planning with grace that I forgot? Share them below in the comments!
* Photos by Cory Weber *