10 Things We Learned Our First Year Married

August 5, 2019


Hey, hey, hey! Michael and Meliah Apa here, and we just wanted to pop over here and celebrate our ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY!!!


 [video coming soon]


That's right, y'all, one year ago today, on August 4, 2018, and after almost 5 years of dating, Michael **finally** got to marry his girl, and I became the luckiest human in the whole wide world. We celebrated with some of our closest friends and family, where they boldly braved the boondocks (oh sorry, I mean, rural Edwall WA) after travelling from their homes across all parts of the US and in countries as far away as Papua New Guinea & Austria.


It was perfect.


This slideshow represents many of the people who traveled from all over to be with us

to celebrate our marriage. 



(Tonight, we're watching our wedding video for the first time, so we can actually remember just how perfect it was, lol ;) ) In the meantime, here's some pics:


 a little preview of our (first) best day ever.


Obviously, one year is nothing compared to forever,  but looking back on the past 12 months, we realize just how...crazy...and life-changing our first year married has been. And how sweet the "little moments" truly were. 


 We went to Mt. Spokane National Park for this cutie's 25 birthday. 


We are blown away at God's provision and how far we've come, in just one year! The Lord is good, y'all!


We are also genuinely surprised when we saw just how universal many of our feelings were toward living the "Just Married" life, so we decided to put together a little something to celebrate our growing love, to reflect as we move forward into Year 2, and to reach out to those of you who feel like you're alone in your pursuit of lasting love. 


BONUS: We have included many (many) links to a few of our favorite things since we got married. Click on text that looks like this to see what's up!]



On the way to Mt. Spokane, to check the viiieeews



... Or maybe you and your boo already have everything figured out one year in and you're some kind of marriage mogul, so you'll just sit there and laugh at our youthful floundering. Idk. You do suck, though. ;)


We love Jesus and so love the gift we have in each other. We want to grow up strong together in this big crazy world, but getting married is WEIRD, and sometimes, we just need to know that we aren't alone. 



[ We know we don't know everything. Of course we don't. We wrote this to be a light-hearted, but honest reflection of our past year with some added practicality here and there, so please don't think we expect this to be a full guide or how-to on how to make your marriage great. It isn't. Relax ;) ] 


So, without further ado. . . 



Here are 10 things we learned our first year MARRIED: 


#1. Being sleepy is inevitable, being intentional is a necessity. 


While we are blessed (and very thankful) to see each other at the end of every work day, we are both pooped by the time we get home. The "make dinner > eat dinner > watch a movie > fall asleep" routine is very easy for us to get used to, and while it isn't necessarily bad, it doesn't leave us a lot of room for communication. 


Thing is, exhaustion stinks. It doesn't let you do very much and it has a short fuse, especially for the person you now live with.


But here's something I've learned: just because we don't have it all figured out, doesn't mean I can't be present in this moment-- and love where we're at.


"Sleepover Saturday" was a short-lived, but beloved (minus the kitty-attacks-to-the-face in the middle of the night) tradition we decided to pick back up this Saturday in honor of our first anniversary.



These are the days we are building the foundation for Our Forever. This process takes time, intention and care, and these should never be wasted looking at other people's Forevers. 


So for us, to stay intentional with one another, we are developing our family 'rhythms' (or a few simple goals we can count on achieving throughout the week, encouraging us to stay connected and balanced):


Our Routine:


We aim to take 10-30 minutes at least twice a week to read together. Right now, this is a goal that is attainable for us and we believe it is an important tool to harbor honest communication, love and focus. 



Here's what we're reading, right now: 


1. Weekly Update: "The Marriage Journal", by Jeremy & Audrey Roloff -- 4.5 out of 5 stars

2. Devotional: "Cherished" by Gary Thomas -- 4 out of 5 stars



For us, this is a time of cultivation, especially because it's still just the two of us. So in this time, we are learning to appreciate and cherish the small moments. And let me tell you, as a talker and a planner, you guys, I LOVE this time Michael & I have together. 

#2. Love is often communicated in the way we prepare.



This is like a Part B of #1. The inevitable end-of-day exhaustion used to bother me so much. Not having the energy to do some glamorous dinner or adorable stay-at-home date at the end of the day (let it be a 10-12 hour work day) really ticked me off. But as far as I knew, this was an expected necessity of newlywed life and I felt like I wasn't doing enough.


As dramatic as it sounds, I felt like I was failing as a wife because of it.


And I think that's an understandable feeling, but in reality, this thought played out a super negative energy that drained us even more...


Key note:


From our experience and what we've seen of other couples, young newlyweds are often physically and emotionally worn out because all of our energy is spent learning how to navigate new cities, new workplaces and the dynamics at home-- not to mention living life starting-from-scratch-- we feel like there isn't enough energy left to spend it anywhere else.


And we're here to tell you, that we aren't bad wives for not making dinner for our men every night.


We aren't bad husbands if we want to play 2k at the end of a frustrating day.


However, the value of our relationship is communicated through the way we prepare (or are intentional) about the time we spend together. This comes down to the way we meal prep, the way we set boundaries, the way we adjust our expectations, etc., so that when tiredness comes-- which it will-- we can relax, instead of be angry. Rest, instead of worry.


So, over the New Year, I decided to shift perspectives: instead of being angry because all the stuff I couldn't do, I will be grateful for the time we have together.  Sounds simple and cheesy, but that perception shift led to an attitude that really made a difference. (I'm definitely not perfect, but progress over perfection, amiright?) 



#3. Meal planning saves lives. Literally. 


So maybe it's not glamorous, but getting food into the bellies of 2 exhausted newlyweds is no small feat.


Neither of us used to think about what were having for dinner that night until, well, dinner time. Like typical college kids, our food options used to consist of cereal, ramen or anything at the school cafeteria. Super nutritious, I know ;) So, we never had a use for something as "fancy" as meal planning. Until we got married. 


And GUYS, meal planning really does save lives. And probably marriages. 


A Tip from Two Newbies:

Food was our biggest point of contention for the the first 6 months or so of our marriage. It wasn't until my mom recommended making a "Quick Fix Food List" and my boss walked me through some general cooking tips, did our hangry arguments finally calm down. 


The Quick Fix Food List:

  •  a list of  5 or 6 go-to meals (aka "Quick Fixes") that are clearly displayed somewhere in your kitchen. These meals need to be fast, tasty and require ingredients you almost always buy at the store anyway.


The Apa Q.F.F.L:


1. Tacos (ground beef or chicken)

cook time: 20 minutes + defrost time


To cut down on defrost time:

Bigger. Healthier. Tender-er.  And they don't need to be thawed.

  • If you purchase in-bulk chicken (like these at Walmart), before you put the tray into the freezer, divide into pairs and put into ziploc bags. You will save yourself the risk of bacteria-infested chicken later.  


Chicken Pro-Tip: the USDA says chicken can sit in the fridge for 1-2 days after it's been defrosted (but no longer).  


Ground-Beef Pro-Tip: 90% lean is best.



2. Baked Chicken & Rice --

cook time for this honey garlic chicken: approx. 35 min for 2 TJ breasts

cook time for rice: 20 minutes


Traditional: before adding water, lightly brown rice, mix in oil and a little seasoning. cover for 20 minutes. done when rice is fully visible with small holes. ratio 1:2 (rice:water)


Instant Pot: ratio 1:1, rice button, steam valve to "sealing". If the rice is still crunchy, add a little more water and select "warm" for another 5 minutes. 


3. Stir-Fry Chicken & Rice

cook time: 20 minutes + defrost


Our fave: Trader Joe's Orange Mandarin Chicken (cook time 8-10 minutes and as good as take out) + veggies + rice


4. Spaghetti + ground beef + mushrooms + cheese 

cook time: 15 minutes

[Cut noodle-cooking time in half with an Instant Pot-- here's how.]


BONUS: If you want amazing meatballs, see meatloaf recipe in Honorable Mentions.  



5. BBQ Chicken Sandwiches (this recipe) + Sweet Hawaiian Rolls

cook time: 25 minutes

* to save your hands and cut down on shredding time, but you don't have a Kitchen Aid, use a hand mixer 


Honorable (but time-restrictive) mentions--

[ perfect for times when we cook ahead of time / come home for lunch / have access to a fridge & stove at work. ]



6. This **life-changing** meatloaf

cook time: 1h 45m

best. meatloaf. ever. 


7. This chicken marinade 

cook time: varies*

* you need at least 30 minutes to let chicken marinate, but 4-5 hours is ideal. We use a cast iron skillet instead of a grill, but it takes longer to cook to 165*.  


While these are our go-to's, we eat other stuff too. Check out my Pinterest boards on Meal Planning + Breakfast Foods + Cold Lunches for more easy recipes. 



Our Routine

Step 1. I write down our meal plan for the work week on a magnetic whiteboard we stick to our fridge. (Hobby Lobby impulse buy. best $3 ever spent. Here's a similar one. A bonus is when we plan one big meal to have over the weekend. 


This was our meal plan for the week of Michael's birthday (weirdest week to use as an example, but whatever, lol). In the spirit of celebration, we didn't plan anything complicated, until the weekend. 

I made Michael homemade fried chicken and a special fried rice as apart of his birthday present :)


Step 2. I make a grocery list (if needed) to make sure we can make these meals to happen.


Not for the same week.. but you get the point ;)


Step 3. Briefly discuss who is in charge of making each meal. 


Sometimes, plans change, of course, but generally, this is a great way to plan, communicate and start craving what's for dinner. This way dinnertime really becomes a highlight!


Side Note / PS / Potential TMI:

In high school and college, I struggled with an eating disorder called E.D.N.O.S (or "Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified", where my  eating behaviors reflected characteristics of both bulimia and anorexia, but did not fully qualify for either disease). While I have made significant progress in this area, I still have some residual stress when it comes to food, specifically when I feel like I haven't "earned it" that day. Which is dumb. But it's just apart of my story, and another reason why it's important we're intentional about this. 


Props to Jeff & Alyssa Bethke's "Real Life" podcast on Spotify for being a tremendous resource for us as we figure out sustainable mealtime rhythms. (You can find the most episodes on Youtube and this site, too.)


This episode on family rhythms and this one on unpacking the tradition of Jewish feasts are incredible.


#4. Not knowing how to be a "wife"/"husband" is normal. 


I've talked about this before, but it's worth mentioning again:


While my identity is not wholly wrapped up in being a wife, there's been significant portion that's here now that wasn't there before-- and it takes time to figure out what that means, practically, spiritually and emotionally.


And all of this is a part of growing up and growing old together. It's tough, but it's also insanely and absolutely beautiful. 


If it's the end of a particularly hard day, I want to make reading Proverbs 31 a habit.


Wives, will you join me? Let me know in the comments below!



#5. When life gives you lemons, you smack 'em down and say "NOT TODAY SATAN"



Our relationship is a little unorthodox in the way that we have been told* how we can do things-- and no, I don't mean that we're pansies and don't have the gusto to "pave our own way", though, I do wish it were that simple. 



We are "told" what to do by the US government. They dictate what we can and cannot do simply because I am an American, my husband is Papua New Guinean and we live in the United States of America. They tell us (threaten us, basically) that even though my husband came here legally on an F-1 visa years ago (and maintained his status until the day of our wedding),  he can no longer work. Why? Because he married me. He has honorably and wonderfully assumed the role of Provider in our family and the government says "no". 


. . .


Can I get a "bull crap!" from the back please?


(Thank you.)


All of this to say that, sometimes, marriage isn't heroic. It isn't always "hard, but it gets better because you're together". And it's definitely not always Instagram-worthy (nor should it be). But it also doesn't have to be as awful as culture says it is.


Life just sucks sometimes. Hills and valleys.


But this is also why I feel so lucky to have married Michael. This means that even when life starts pro-balling lemons, we will always have each other to help smack 'em down. 


I know that I can trust my whole life with the man standing next to me. And that means everything in something as deep and lasting as marriage is. 




#6. The US government is... not sexy. 


...While this sounds weirdly obvious, let me explain:


Moving states, getting an apartment in a new city, adjusting to a new work environment and having the covers ripped away from you in the middle of the night.... this is all very basic newlywed stuff. Also...sorry about freezing you out last winter, babe. 


But in each relationship, I imagine, there are these unique quirks that make things especially interesting, and for us, it's been immigration--getting Michael his US residency. With a green card, he will be able to work and travel the world (and back home) freely, and without it...he can't.  While residency won't lead to a citizenship for another 5 years, it is a huge step in the right direction.


 Michael & our friend at our other friends' wedding in MI earlier this summer


Since September, we've hired a team of lawyers, filled out a ton of paperwork (sometimes three times over, because hey, legal stuff expires faster than a head of lettuce, apparently), sent and submitted that paperwork to the government (and paid for it, thanks to you guys!!) and waited.


Oh man, how we have waited...


We wait on the USCIS to initially approve our documentation, then we wait for their request for bio-metrics (fingerprints), then we wait for the Notice of Interview... I'm pretty sure the Lord is using the US government to make me a more patient woman-- and it isn't fun. 


Someday (soon), we will be at the end of this. We will able to travel the world, hug family again and experience a new kind of freedom that this whole process has made us deeply appreciate. But for now, we wait and cherish this time we have together on this side of the world. 


Our good friend @SueLaniMadsen of the Spokane Review expertly delivers this article on the the process of legal immigration. She includes our story alongside many other couples, arguing that even the "right way" to immigrate to the US is a classic Catch-22.

#7. Disappointment is not a person, it's a feeling.


...and it's important to faithfully communicate this to each other. Especially when we feel like throwing the other through a window. 


(Out of a one-story building, of course.... on to a fluffy mat... Covered by only moderately itchy plants. Aha.... Ah, marriage ;) Love you, babe. ) 



Marriage is the union of two broken people, in two broken bodies, in the middle of an ever-breaking universe, so disappointment is an inevitable fact of life. But that does not mean the person who made a choice that disappointed you is now a dissapoint-ment, as if to assume their mistake is now their identity.


We are made free of that murderous label because of Christ, so it's important we don't inflict it or passively "suggest" it to the other when we're hurt. 



#8 Invisible expectations are destructive. 


I'm not talking about the expectations like one where we are to remain faithful to each other, but the "invisible expectations" like:



a). the ones we don't realize we have, but still expect fulfillment


b). the ones we know we have, but don't communicate properly and/or don't accept compromise



This is already a (very) long blog post, and I could make it twice as long with this sucker, but to sum up, here are a few things that have helped us as we are learning to rightfully manage expectations:


- Pray that God will reveal our incognito expectations, and for the right words to express them if they are expectations within reason.  


- Apologize... with specifics!


- Communicate often, but genuinely, too.


I'm a talker (obviously) so I'm learning there's a delicate balance between voicing my concerns and showing respect for my husband. 


- Compromise without passivity. 


- Acknowledge and voice gratitude for all honest efforts.


- FORGIVENESS just...all the time. 



#9. Unpacking is important. 

[pictures coming. house is currently "under construction". ]


Coming from a guy who lived in hostels for 5 years of his life, and me, a missionary kid who's moved a lot, unpacking is a complicated process. And even though it made both of us anxious to leave our first apartment only half-out-of-boxes, it wasn't until one day,  just a few months ago, when we said "screw it!", unpacked a bunch of stuff, found a place for (almost) everything and started what we call our "Making It Work" project.


This started when we decided to stay in our current apartment another year,  and it's an effort to turn what was the super broken (and cigarette-smelly) apartment of last August and transform it into a home. Not a college dorm. Not even a college apartment. But a home. Cozy. Warm. Functional. Pretty. You know... not cigarette-smelly. 


#10. Making "home" is a creative process.

[pictures coming. house is currently "under construction". ]


While doing things--especially home decor things-- on a budget can feel limiting and it will definitely not get you the newest and shiniest things, its a special and treasured time to build up your little home, from the ground up.


To me, as an easily excitable, aspiring homemaker, it's very important that "coming home" is a place where we can both be free to create. Developing this element in a small one-bedroom apartment is challenging, but nothing short of totally worth it. One of my favorite things to do--especially once we've cleaned the house--is to come into our apartment, and after hockey-blocking our two cats at the door as they try to make a break for it, I stop at the edge of our kitchen, smell all the good smells, and look at Michael's music corner by the window and my desk behind the couch...and take it all in :) 


Hush, it's nerdy, I know. But these spaces are our own and they are set up and ready for us to create amazing things.  


I love it. A whole bunch. 


Also, it may be helpful for you to know that  Michael BUILT that desk! Aaaaand it's one I can actually cross my legs under (?!) and it's super cute-- talk about dreams come true! 





Doing little projects with Michael is literally my favorite pastime-- like ever-- and because he knows that one of my goals is to become an expert carpenter (oh to be Chip and Joanna Gaines at the same time ;) ), he encourages me to help, too! 


 Our first project together: building an extension for our curtain rod so that the cats have space to play between the curtain and the window. #catparents


I've also started to draw a lot, recently, so someday soon, I hope to fill these empty walls with a lil' bit of homemade joy, too :) 




Positive vibes, all day long.

. . .


And that's all, folks! All 10. Phew. Oh, the hand cramps. This has been like, 3 weeks in the making, so there's been some rest, but still


Anyway, one last thing:


The way we choose to adapt to our new life and to grow this marriage, is up to us. As much as we love all of you-- and as much as you love the people in your life-- it's not up to our parents, our in-laws, our grandparents, or our friends to do the blood-sweat-and-tears thing for our relationship. While it's vital to have a supportive community that encourages our pursuit of lasting love, it's on us to make the decisions.



It's on us to be "until death do us part". 


It's on you to do with yours. 



We are grateful, humbled and responsible to make this love work, and we hope you enjoyed just a few of the ways we've learned to do that during our first year as husband and wife! 


If you did, be sure to share this post on social media and talk about it with your friends! We want to hear what you think, too!


For all you married cuties out there, what are a few things you learned during your first year married??



With Love, 

Mr. & Mrs. Michael Apa


Extra special thanks to CS Photo for taking our wedding photos.

Chelsie Sunde & co. are WA-based wedding and portrait photographers for the romantic, fun, and in-love. Book a session with her today-- your future self will thank you. 







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