Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Wedding Stories, Tips and Advice

Once again (or it never  really stopped), it seems like everyone is getting married. If they're not getting married, their relatives are pressuring them to get married. If they are already married, they are related to or friends with someone who is getting married. Life is weddings. I'm very glad my Year of The Wedding is over, but I've recently talked to many young women who are in their own Year of the Wedding, so I may as well share some thoughts. Well, first read the posts I already wrote - Seven Things I Have Learned about Wedding Planning, The Secret to a Peaceful Bride and When Your Facebook Feed Explodes with Weddings. Oh, and a couple of cool wedding dress stories - God Designed My Wedding Dress and The Tale of the Free Wedding Dress.


A wedding is literally just one day in your life.

Okay for some people, it's a week or more of events, but my point is, it really is not everything it's hyped up to be. It really doesn't have to be a perfect day, or the most beautiful day of your life, or everything you've ever dreamed of. (Maybe you need other dreams?) Don't set yourself up for disappointment. That way, if it's a fun, happy day, you'll be pleasantly surprised, and if everything goes wrong and everyone is mad at you for different reasons, you can shrug your shoulders and say, "Oh well, it will soon be just a distant memory."


Be a rebel when it comes to choosing your marriage partner and the details of your life together, but be ready for compromise when it comes to the wedding details. 

A marriage is for a lifetime, the wedding is just for a day. It doesn't matter if the wedding is less than perfect when you are happy with your choice of marriage partner. On the other hand, the most perfect wedding cannot make up for a spouse you are unsure of, uncomfortable with, or unhappy about marrying. Social approval will not make or break your marriage, so don't get married for the wrong reasons. In India, many young people are pressured to choose a marriage partner after just a few meetings. You need to rebel! This is not a wise way to make the biggest decision of your life! You need to push back, and demand enough time to really get to know the person and be sure that you want to marry him or her. The wedding details on the other hand are really not that big a deal. Don't sweat the small stuff.


A wedding is a good time to learn how to set boundaries.

Yes, I've promised a boundaries post that I haven't written yet. But here is how that might work during a wedding - together with your spouse, decide what you want to insist on, and what you are willing to compromise on. Communicate those things clearly and kindly with your family members. Don't let people manipulate you and pressure you. Don't let 'But what will people say?' influence all your decisions. You might compromise on some things because they are important to your parents or in-laws, but you do not need to make all your decisions based on every single family member's opinions. Not everyone has equal weight in decision-making. (Whoever is paying for the wedding will have a little more weight.) And if people get unreasonably mad at you, don't let their emotions control yours. Tell them, "I'm sorry you feel that way, and it was not my intention to hurt your feelings, but it is my wedding and perhaps we need to agree to disagree." Make sure they know you value the relationship, and then let it go.


If possible, try to have an eco-friendly wedding.

I didn't want thermocol confetti at my wedding. Thermocol is horrible for the environment, and yet is remains a prominent part of many Indian Catholic weddings and events from the confetti to the backdrop. We used shredded marigolds instead, which is apparently not unusual in India. I would suggest rose petals instead though, because the marigolds hit a little too hard, got into my hair, dress and mouth and was not the most pleasant of confetti experiences. One of my cousins did bubbles which was very pretty too. I also requested that we did not have little plastic bottles of water for every guest - what an unnecessary and excessive usage of plastic. I hoped for big water dispensers where people could fill up when they wanted water instead, but in the end our wedding was so chaotic I don't even know if there was water available. Fire crackers are just painful to the ears and create air pollution, so that's another tradition that needs to go. Check with your venue and caterers what eco-friendly options they have in place.


You don't need to spend all your money on a wedding.

You definitely don't need to get into debt for a wedding. Figure out how much money you both have to spend on the wedding, and budget accordingly. Find ways to save money. Not all traditions need to carry on. Instead of buying outfits for every extended family member, get a small meaningful gift and card instead (unless it's immediate family members and they can't afford a new outfit, and you have the money). Dowry or expected 'gifts' needs to be a thing of the past! Put your foot down! Trousseau shopping can be expensive too - get what your need, not fifteen sarees you're rarely going to wear. Why does getting married mean yo have to be decked out in fancy clothes for the next year? A neighbour told my mum that she has huge quantities of silk sarees from her wedding she never wears now.

You don't need lavish innovations at the reception to make your wedding memorable. Be creative, and find ways to create your own decorations or cake or centrepieces. For my sister's wedding, we made paper lanterns to hang everywhere. For my other sister's wedding, with a Wedding at Cana theme, my brother and sister-in-law created a chuppah to hang over the cake - inexpensive and beautiful. You don't have to invite the whole village, or every person you have ever met or who wishes you well. You don't have to have a lavish buffet. Choose nice over lavish.



A honeymoon doesn't have to be at an exotic location.

It's not about the sights or the adventures. A honeymoon is about the two of you, and a chance to be together, alone! You don't need o go abroad or spend huge amounts of money on a honeymoon you can tell people about. We were perfectly happy with our honeymoon in Coonoor - the weather, the food and the natural beauty were perfect, and we did our own thing, moved at our own pace, rented a bike to explore, and enjoyed our honeymoon a hundred times more than our wedding.


Don't forget to get photos with the important people.

Although a wedding shouldn't revolve around the photographer, it is nice to have memories especially of people who traveled far to be there for your wedding, or of your whole extended family who may not always get together except at weddings. That is one regret I had from my wedding, that we didn't manage to get photos with the whole family, and many of my friends who I only manged to meet very briefly.


Assign someone to feed the bride and groom.

In India, the bride and groom and their families eat last, after everyone else has eaten and even left. But I learned the hard way that when you don't eat, everything else gets a lot harder. Towards the end of the reception, I was exhausted and I did't realize it, but I was also hungry. I burst into tears, and told Joel I was done and I wanted to leave and go to sleep. But he pointed at the tables that were set out for the family to eat, and told me we couldn't leave yet. "I don't want to eat. I'm too tired to care about food."Yet, I had to sit. He was hungry, and I nibbled at the food, which turned out to be really tasty (one thing that didn't go wrong). After getting some food into my stomach, I suddenly felt better and realized the world wasn't such a terrible place and perhaps I could last another half an hour.

Wedding food!


If you are a relative or friend of the bride and groom, be merciful and let go of your expectations.

I was extremely grateful for all my family and guests who traveled to a new place for the wedding, had to make plenty of adjustments, hardly got to see or talk to me at all, and still extended nothing but love towards me. They realized how stressful the day must be for the bride and groom, and didn't place any expectations on us at all. In fact, no one even told me when things were going wrong, but they just took care of any problems that came up, socialized and had fun with each other, and came willing to be pleased. I can only hope that I will be that gracious at all weddings I go to. Too many people in India think that the wedding is about them, and that they need to be honoured or paid attention to. Blessed are those who do not take offence easily!


Plan a few little elements of your wedding that are just for you and your new spouse.

Bring aware that you are going to have to compromise on a lot, and a lot of things are going to go wrong, if you can, reserve a few small elements that you know will give you joy. One of mine was choosing the 'Stars on 45' track as our wedding march song - a song my dad used to regularly play for us when we were kids, and was a familiar and beloved tune in the midst of an unfamiliar and crazy day. The other thing was planning a small party after the wedding where dancing was the centre of the evening as Joel and I love to jive together, and we knew it wouldn't be a major element of our actual reception.

Alright guys, that's all! Do you have any wedding tips for people beginning to stress out about their upcoming weddings?

Thursday, 23 January 2020

On Being a Bookworm

Cousins and siblings and me

My four siblings and I grew up without cable TV, and with our noses in books at every possible moment - when we were supposed to be studying (hidden behind our study books of course, or smuggled into the bathroom for long 'bathroom breaks'), during family holidays in Panchgani, during class in school (did our teachers know and just ignore it as not worth caring about?), during our larger family parties where no one would notice one or two grandchildren missing (of course one carries a storybook to parties), and so on.

My parents never had to figure out what to give us for Christmas and birthdays, we were usually into one particular series of Enid Blytons and were perfectly satisfied to receive another book to add to the collection (not to mention, as soon as we finished our own books, we would exchange with our siblings).

My parents were bookworms themselves, and most afternoon rest time and late nights before bed, they would pick up their current book and read a few more pages. They had much more discipline than the rest of us though, who would usually not stop reading until we finished our book, even if it meant reading by torchlight or cell phone light so we wouldn't get in trouble if my parents saw the light on in the early hours of the morning.

Yes, I had a book at a picnic

I am currently rereading Little Women in anticipation of the movie coming out in a few weeks. As I read, I am reminded of how the books we read and grow up reading form us and become a part of us. The characters in Little Women not only seem like old friends I know well, but as I read about Meg's efforts at homemaking, I was reminded that keeping a home clean and beautiful is a worthwhile gift to give my family (well, my husband at the moment), and I actually left my book to go and complete my many half-done household chores. As I read about Jo going 'into a vortex', as she started writing her stories, I remembered my dear blog and the joy I get out of my scribbles, and out of sharing them with others.

I have often bemoaned my (lack of an) education in convent school - I feel like I wasted many years of my life parroting facts, daydreaming and learning how to be invisible. What I should  have been doing was discovering the world, how big and interesting it was, and how fascinating learning could be. But what I missed out in school, I gained through my storybooks. I learned about the world through those books, I learned what history felt like through fiction and non-fiction set in different times and places and ages. For the general knowledge I have now, the familiarity with different cultures, the vocabulary and the writing skill I possess, I credit the books I voraciously consumed through my life.

Of course I chose 'Books' as my topic for Topic Week during my teacher's training course

But I have also come to the conclusion that being a bookworm is not a permanent identity, and it can (and has) been easily stolen by the temptations of the Internet. I have not been a bookworm for several years now, choosing instead to consume the written word on Facebook and Twitter. What a waste of time most of that has been. I recently asked a friend to change my Twitter password, and my new year's resolution has been to read more books, which has been happening aided by spotty Internet (a mixed blessing). If I want to grow and learn, I have to give up something to get something. If I want my kids to love to read as I did, they'd better not see me stuck to my phone.

I have also realized that not all books are worth consuming, and that I need to be a little picky about how I spend my reading time. When I was young I consumed every book I could get my hands on. I must have read every book I found in my home (we had a big bookshelf filled with books), not just the children's books. In the process, I came across some thrillers with graphic violent and sexual scenes that scarred my mind. It's hard to remove mental pictures once you see them. I also spent a few years reading sexually explicit romance novels, a sinful habit that was addictive and hard to break but thanks be to God was finally able to. I wish I had never come across some of those books, and will do my best to make sure I read every book in my house because if my kids are anything like me, they will have the same struggles.

The solution is not to ban books, but to fill your home with good books, books worth reading, books that inform and enlighten and illuminate, books that lift you up out of yourself, or give you a glimpse of the good, the true and the beautiful, books that make you want to fight injustice and be a better person and love and live without fear.

Reading one of The Chronicles of Narnia to my nieces a few years ago

I also wish I had been exposed to more Indian authors and storybooks, because my knowledge of my own country is lacking. I know more about life in Nazi Germany than I know about the Indian freedom struggle. I wish there were more easily available and readable books about the normal lives of different types of Indians of different times. It is such a diverse country, and there is so much to learn. I feel like I've learned more about lives of Indians by following Humans of Bombay than I have in years of reading books. I'm sure there are more books, I just have to be more intentional about seeking them out and buying them. Reading Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie was quite the eye-opener.

As a teenager and as an adult, the Catholic and Christian books I read formed my conscience, my imagination and my desires, and slowly helped me set my mind on higher things. Books like The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, He and I by Gabrielle Bossis, Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacques Philippe, and even The Chronicles of Narnia were very formative. Little Women and books by Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey (what a mouthful) had Christian worldviews, and while perhaps they were not always subtle, they were effective in making me want to be holy, to be less selfish, to be better.

I wish we had more well-stocked public libraries. I visited a beautiful one in Panjim, Goa. I still hope one day to start a library that makes good books accessible to underprivileged children. But I also wish educated and privileged parents would invest in story books for their children. Reading doesn't seem to be a popular pastime in India. Another dream I have is to be a professional storyteller who goes to different schools and groups and tells stories and gets kids excited about books. I did that during the one year I taught in a village school, and all my children loved reading by the end of the year.

One dream at a time. I'll start with me, and try to return to the world of books this year.

What good books have you read lately? Do you read as much as you'd like to?

My class in the village school, with the 'library corner' far left

Friday, 10 January 2020

Five Things I've Learned about Living with a Spouse

A month ago a friend asked me to write an article for the bulletin of the Family Commission Centre, with just a day's notice. I managed to complete it, and I thought I'd share it here with my blog readers... to make up for the weeks when I didn't post anything (sorry!).

I got married just one month ago, so as a newly married wife, I am obviously now an expert on marriage. Just kidding! I am in the process of learning to live with and love another human being, a lifelong process. My lessons started long before I met my spouse - in my family, and in different women’s households over the past nine years. The lessons I learned have been invaluable, and are serving me well, as I begin life with a husband.

1. Your spouse is different from you, and that is okay: It is so tempting to want our spouse to become another version of us, to do things our way. I prefer quiet, contemplative prayer times where I listen to an audio bible reflection and journal as I drink my coffee. I can hear my husband on the other hand in the next room strumming the guitar loudly, singing worship songs vigorously and reading Scripture aloud. Which is a better way to pray? That’s a silly question! God makes us different so we can learn from each other and be blessed by each other’s unique gifts and perspectives.

2. Gratitude changes everything: One of the sneakiest ways Satan tries to attack our relationships, is by planting seeds of resentment. The best way to combat that temptation is to cultivate gratitude. Look at your spouse, and your life together and thank God (and your spouse) for the gifts you see. None of us are perfect. But life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. "Thank you for loving me." "Thank you for cooking that meal, that was delicious." "I am so blessed to have a husband like you. I feel so loved." See how these words can transform our relationships.

3. Mercy must replace blame: We were driving from Pune to Mumbai last weekend when we suddenly realized that I had left our house keys in Pune. Our ONLY set of house keys. It was completely my fault as I had overstuffed my handbag and they had fallen out. In that moment, Joel extended grace and mercy to me. Not only did he NOT say "What were you thinking? You should have been more careful!", he instead prayed for me and the situation because he could see that I was upset by my mistake. What a beautiful witness of Christ-like behaviour! It was also a good reminder to me that the next time he made a mistake, I should remember I am far from perfect.

4. My project is ME, not my spouse: This might be particularly a wife’s temptation, but it’s so easy to want to improve and change one’s spouse. It is so much easier to see their faults and shortcomings than our own. Jesus had some clear words. ‘First take the log out of your own eye, before trying to take the speck out of your husband’s.’ My job is to work on my own holiness. So I try to avoid nagging and criticizing and constantly making suggestions for improvement.

5. There is actually grace in the sacrament: We don’t have to do this on our own strength, because we can’t. Sacramental marriages have a special grace attached to them. ‘Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses…, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens, to "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ," and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love.’ CCC 1642 We need to claim that grace and thank God for it. We also need to acknowledge the Third Person in our marriage, and receive His grace afresh, by spending some time together in prayer every day.

Monday, 6 January 2020

The Impossible Dreams I Dreamed

"I want to do something meaningful with my life, I want to get out of this selfish, self-centred rut, and live for others."
"Good luck with that. I used to think like that too. We all did. But once you start working, you forget about those dreams."

I was a naive 20 year old just out of my teacher's training, and instead doing a stint in the corporate world as an instructional designer in an e-learning company. Would I forget about those silly dreams with (what seemed to be to be) a fat pay cheque coming in every month, settling down into the real world?


"Susanna is open to getting married, but she is waiting to find someone whose faith is strong and central to his life."
The Catholic auntie who was questioning my mum and me about my life choices made a skeptical face. "That's a little unrealistic these days, isn't it?"

Was it unrealistic, overly idealistic? Would I die waiting for someone who didn't exist, the laughing stock of onlookers, a good example of kooky Christians out of touch with the real world?

I had consistently desired and believed from the time I was young that I was called to family life, to be a mother and a wife. As I grew older, I sometimes wondered, why would God have put these strong desires in my heart (not everyone had them) if they were not meant to be fulfilled? I began to be embarrassed to share that dream with others as I crossed 30.


On the Feast of the Epiphany yesterday, I suddenly thought about how ridiculous the three wise men must have seemed as they started their journey, following a... star??!! There must have been more socially acceptable ways to spend their time, or search for truth and meaning. Who gets on camels and follows a star? Maybe people didn't outwardly deride them, because they were obviously important, well-to-do men known for their wisdom. But in all times and places and cultures, there are social norms for what are and are not acceptable life goals.

It must have taken a very long time, probably years of preparation and study, and months of the actual journey. But, oh the joy, when they found the One they had been searching for!

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, 
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. 
They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 
and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. 
They prostrated themselves and did him homage. (Matt 2: 9-11)

This is not a blog post about believing in yourself and following your dreams. Not all dreams are worth pursuing. (Unpopular opinion, I know.)

But when we quiet ourselves, and search within, we often find the God-given dreams and hopes, the purest desires of our hearts. Many have not yet been fulfilled.

Maybe it's a dream of a strong Christian community where your faith is nourished and strengthened.

Maybe it's a desire for a specific kind of mission - a community centre where all are welcomed and loved and offered Christ, an outreach to sex workers, a prolife ministry.

Maybe it's a dream for mental, emotional or physical healing, where you are not constantly struggling and overwhelmed and drowning.

Maybe it's a dream for reconciliation and healing in your family.

Maybe it's a dream for a solid Christian spouse and a family.

Maybe it's a simple dream to live a happy and holy life wherever you are.

Maybe it's a dream to be free of a certain sin that you struggle with - pornography, indiscipline, anger.

Maybe these dreams seem unrealistic and far away and unlikely to ever reach completion.

Do not stifle these dreams! Hold on to them! Pursue them! Wait for them! Pray for them! Write them down! Find people who will encourage you in your dreams. (No cynics or pessimists allowed.) Do not allow despair or frustration rob your heart of hope.

Pope John Paul II said, "“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”


You know my story. I left my job, worked for a happy year in a school in a village. I joined a Catholic mission organization, and learned to be holy and less selfish over the next nine years. A year ago, I met and was courted by a strong man of faith, and we are now married and have started our family life together. Some dreams take time, but they are worth waiting for.

I have more dreams. I am tempted to get impatient and doubtful when I don't see them immediately take form. But remembering the slow ways God led me forward in the past gives me hope.

I pray this post gives you hope too.

Related Resources

How To Begin Dreaming (Abiding Together podcast: 33 minutes audio)