Learning. Growing. Loving.
I was a freshman at James Madison University and I had just been to my first InterVarsity Large Group where I had signed up to be in a small group. Just a few days later, a paper had been slid under my dorm room door with pictures of Jessie (the cowgirl from Toy Story) and two girls I had never met, with an invitation to dress up like a cowgirl and come to a volleyball tournament.
I went, totally unsure about the whole thing (who plays volleyball dressed as a cowgirl?! I had no idea what I was getting myself into), and met Vianne for the first time. She was bubbly, energetic, so warm and welcoming, and just plain happy to meet all of us, and I remember wondering why in the world this girl was so excited about a silly volleyball tournament. I remember thinking then that she was probably a little crazy, but I also wanted her to be my best friend someday.
As a freshman, I was very closed off to the idea of being close with people (especially girls) having gone through a lot of really painful and hard drama with girls in high school. Now here I was, in a small group of a whole bunch of girls I didn't know. Even though I stayed guarded, kept everyone at a distance, and just gave my perfect Sunday school answers during our discussions without revealing anything personal, Vianne never gave up on me. If I had been in her shoes, I think I would have, but she never stopped seeking me out, never stopped asking me to get lunch or coffee, never stopped trying to get to know me.
Despite all of my best efforts to push everyone away, by the end of my first semester, I absolutely loved Vianne. She was an incredible small group leader with the biggest heart for our little community, a gifted teacher who knew the Word inside and out, a beautiful worship leader with amazing talent, and the greatest friend.
In January of 2011, I wrote in my journal, She has the best advice and the best encouragement and I'm just in awe of the incredible people like her that God has blessed me with in the short time I've been at school. Later that year, I wrote Thank you for Vianne, thank You that her arms are always open so wide to me and that she is so faithful and grounded in You-- she is such an encouragement and a beautiful blessing to me.
Vianne absolutely radiates joy that so clearly comes from the Lord. That contagious spirit of joy was the very first thing I saw in her, and it's one of my absolute favorite things about her. Her heart is so deeply rooted in and intertwined with the heart of the Father. She loves relentlessly, from her big and amazing family to all of us girls in her small group to women all around the world that she's never met. Her heart beats for justice and I've never met someone so dedicated to fighting for it any way she can.
We met almost weekly for most of the three years we were at JMU together, and they were my most cherished times. Everything about her spirit was calming and encouraging and so beautifully authentic. She was the first person to truly invest in me wholeheartedly and walk beside me in my faith day in and day out, and her friendship has forever changed me for the better and shown me more of who Jesus is and how He loves us.
There was nothing Vianne and I wouldn't talk about together-- from my ridiculous relationship drama to her relationship with Jeff (the kind of relationship every single girl in our small group envied and hoped for), from missions trips and talking about fighting sex trafficking to studying Scripture or homework for our Old Testament class or just laughing together-- the hours we spent in TDU or in coffeeshops are the hours I'll always remember most fondly about life at JMU. They kept me grounded and held me accountable in so many ways.
From the time I met Vianne, she was dating Jeff. He didn't go to JMU, but he would visit on weekends and tag along with all of our wild small group to dinner and Large Group and even to dance parties, and although he was mostly quiet, we all loved him and loved his relationship with Vianne. We saw her light up around him and saw how perfectly they complemented each other, and we all knew from day one that they would get married some day.
And then, at some point during the middle of my three years at JMU, they decided to take time apart. I remember sitting in Java City with Vianne and hearing her talk about it and wrestle with the Lord through so much confusion and a deep desire to just follow His will no matter what that meant, and even then, I never doubted that they would be together forever. Their relationship had grown so steadily from a high school friendship to a long distance college relationship, and they just seemed to be the perfect match.
I saw how both of them encouraged the other in their faith and in the ways they were serving and leading in different ministries, saw them grow so much as individuals and as a couple. Even in the time they were apart (yes, they did get back together-- PRAISE), I always knew the Lord had such an incredible story ahead of them with such a perfect purpose in mind. They just fit together like they were always designed to be two halves of one complete whole.
Vianne and Jeff had the most perfect, gorgeous, joyful, Spirit-filled wedding the fall after all three of us graduated, and everything about that day was glorious. She was stunning, radiant, glowing. I think everyone teared up watching Jeff look at her as she came down the aisle. We all cried, laughed, worshipped, rejoiced and celebrated together as a small group, and it was simply a wonderful wedding. I really don't think a wedding will ever top theirs-- it was that flawless, seamless and fun.
Since they've been married, I've loved getting to know Jeff even better. I've visited them in NOVA, caught up over pizzas in Old Town Alexandria, worshipped with them at the church they're a part of, gotten brunch at The Daily in Richmond on multiple occasions, wandered through bookstores in Carytown together...the list goes on. They are my favorite couple to spend time with, and I love them both and love their love so much.
On their own, they are both incredible, passionate, Jesus-loving, smart, driven and talented people, but together, they're unstoppable. Their love for each other, their church, their families, their community and their Savior is a force to be reckoned with. I'm so proud of what both of them have done through their educations and careers, but above all, I'm so proud to call them true friends.
I'm so excited to share with you their story of their first year of marriage. They just recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary on September 22, and today, they're sharing their story of the past year.
Here is Vianne and Jeff's story.
Jeff and Vianne are (kinda) newlyweds living in Reston, VA. He graduated from Old Dominion University and she graduated from James Madison University before tying the knot and settling down in the NOVA area. Jeff is currently training to be a firefighter for Loudoun County and Vianne is a technical writer by day, and a strict follower of food blog recipes by night.
We said “I do” at the ripe young age of 22.
During the year that we were engaged, we certainly never considered ourselves prepared for what marriage would hold. Sure, we figured we had a grasp on what it would be like to have a husband or wife. To be honest, after four arduous years of a long distance relationship, we were just excited to live together in the same city. We knew we were young when we got married, but we chose to do it because we sincerely felt God’s hand upon the timing of our marriage—we were just hoping to be obedient to Him. What we didn’t expect was for life to coerce us to learn how to love one another in unfamiliar ways; it would draw us together to find that we had much to learn about the person standing in front of us at the altar vowing till death do us part.
J: The first few months started out simple enough, although maybe not in the most preferable circumstances. I was a new husband working a part-time job as a head lifeguard for an unimpressive aquatics program, while Vianne worked a static office job outside of Washington, D.C. With unexciting workdays, we typically rushed home to enjoy the comfort of each other’s company as we binge-watched Mad Men on Netflix in our new apartment. Shoot, how hard could this marriage thing be? We were having a lot of fun making memories in our new home during that time, with no major stressors in our marriage other than the conflict of trying to decide what to make for dinner.
However, after a couple months, the novelty started to wear off as we both began to realize that we couldn’t keep this up forever. I started to get really weary of my lifeguarding job that was only meant to be temporary after moving to the area with Vianne. It began to impact my self-esteem and morale, feeling the sting of being unfulfilled. It affected how I felt in my role as a husband, in an adolescent job that made me feel useless in our marriage.
V: Lazy Saturday mornings drinking coffee and visiting the farmers’ market, snow days trapped inside with squash soup, and stealing away from our routine with just a picnic basket and blanket remain some of my favorite memories during those first couple months of our marriage. Yet at some point, I realized that we had seemed to forget about all of our friends and maintaining those relationships after the wedding. We had become infatuated with spending all of our time with each other and were neglecting our friendships. In addition, I found that after growing up in a family of seven and having just previously lived in a house with eight college roommates, living with just only one other person for the first time in my life was a difficult adjustment. Quickly, we realized that my extroverted tendencies did not always agree with Jeff’s introverted habits. “But I need committed friends around me so that they can know my soul,” I would explain to him over and over again. Yeah, he didn’t really understand me on that one.
Figuring out how to communicate these feelings, among others, was the most vital piece of our first year together. We were forced to realize a lot about one another. We both learned how to listen, how to discern, and how to be comfortable sitting in silence. Most importantly, we had to learn how to make an unyielding priority in our marriage to push each other toward the things that made the other come alive. I had fallen in love with a man whose life flowed from the passions that drove him. He proposed to me because he saw the life I found when in deep relationship with others. I don’t know why it became easy for us to lose touch with those aspects in our marriage. But we had to discover how to support one another and nourish the things that make us who we are.
J: We got connected into a local church community and began to grow in our marriage in unexpected ways as we gave ourselves to others. I encouraged Vianne to start pouring back into her relationships and interests, even to include tapping back into her art as a writer. I began the competitive process of applying to local fire departments, and I eventually got hired as a firefighter for a local county government—which was an amazing opportunity to continue a satisfying career in public service.
Of course, once we both got involved in our communities and new jobs, this meant way less time we had to focus on one another. My schedule as a recruit during firefighter academy was (and is) extremely intensive, and all of a sudden we found ourselves re-prioritizing to manage time for each other again. We had to learn how to love one another in completely new ways. We are still learning.
V: It has now been a year, and we’ve discovered that it is the uncertain, anxious, and expectant waves in our marriage that has taught us to love more than we thought imaginable. In faith, we decided to get married when we did because that’s what we felt God was guiding us to do. Today, we have no doubt about His plan, as He has opened doors left and right for us to continue walking forward in the intention He has for our marriage. We still don’t consider ourselves experts on how to do this thing (read: we still have no idea what we’re doing). Our marriage certainly has not been faultless, but we have grown. We have changed. We have loved, and learned. And we are happy.