It’s hard to believe that one year has already passed since I gazed into Cassidy’s lovely eyes, held her hands in mine, and exchanged our vows on the wedding platform.

Creating memories with Cassidy, discussing hopes and dreams for the future, blending our two distinct personages into a cohesive family culture and identity, laughing together, and enjoying the joys of marriage and parenthood has made the past year the most blessed year of my life.

God has been so good to two very undeserving individuals.

A couple weeks ago, Cassidy and I sat on the couch in our living room and discussed the top things we’re grateful we did the first year of marriage. This week we’ll share thirteen of them with you.

1. Having Family Devotions

Psalm 127 assures, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”

Through family worship we strive to let the Lord build our house. During these times, we pray together, sing together, and discuss what we learned in our personal devotions. I also share a passage of scripture or a topical study.

The past year, we studied a few books of the Bible, as well as studying topics such as finances, church, time, the body, evangelism, government, business, and the family.

2. Enjoying Car and Tractor Conversations

We thought we knew everything about the other one, until we married and discovered how little we actually knew. Hence, every day since marriage has unearthed exciting new discoveries in the treasure hunt of life.

Drives to church, the hospital, or road trips offered great opportunities for getting to know one another better. Often, we talked for hours on end, bunny-trailing from one subject to another. In order to inject fresh perspectives into the conversation, we listened to podcasts and sermons.

During fall harvest, we enjoyed hours of conversations in the tractor.

3. Speaking Soft Words

We choose to never yell or raise our voice at one another, even if not in anger. Proverbs 15 describes a “soft answer.”

It is easy for anyone to unknowingly speak in a harsh tone even if not angry. However, the tone of voice often communicates more than the actual words themselves.

4. Speaking Kind Words

If soft words are the wrapping on a birthday present, kind words are the actual gift itself.

“There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health” (Proverbs 12:18). “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).

Since two become one in marriage, cutting words are akin to self-mutilation. Ephesians 5:29 puts it this way “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.” 

We should ask, Is this necessary? Does it build up?

5. Never Tearing Down In Public

The shameful acceptance of husband-wife “jokes” within the Christian church paints a dreary picture of Christ and His church. Like Christ and the church, husbands and wives should be always loving and always respecting.

Before speaking about the other one in public, we shouldn’t ask, Can I get a good laugh? Rather, we should ask, Will this edify?

We want to be always unified, never allowing Satan, others, or ourselves to drive wedges between us.

Because Cassidy is the love of my life, I never want to do anything that would tear her down or cause others to question my love for her.

6. Choosing Forgiveness

Will it matter in five years? Will it matter in five hours? Shortsightedness and self-centeredness have ruined countless relationships.

We’re called to forgive one another as Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).

Cassidy and I desire to not sacrifice our relationship for little things that don’t matter. After all, it’s the little foxes that spoil the vineyards. 

7. Saying No As Much As Possible

In His infinite wisdom, God designed the first year to be an incredible time for learning and growing together.

To the Hebrews, God commanded, “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken” (Deuteronomy 24:5).

There must be something special about the first year if God so clearly emphasizes it. The chief priority for a newly-married couple in their first year, apart from their relationship with God, is to spend as much time together as possible. Wanting to please others, a young couple can easily fall into the trap of overcommitment at the expense of their own marriage.

We didn’t do it perfectly. We constantly prioritized and reevaluated commitments. We committed to ask each other before committing to anything. At times, we said no to other “good” things in order to say yes to a stronger marriage.

Looking back, we’re grateful for every time we said no.

8. Reading and Discussing Good Books

The depth of any conversation is determined by the depth of the inputs of both people. Great books lead to great conversations.

We both love books. We read and discussed many books together, including The Christian Family, The Intentional Legacy, and To Train up A Child.

9. Doing Real Things Together

Although we enjoyed watching a few movies, most of our time was spent away from technology, in the simple moments of life. Playing board games, sitting outside and reading, going on walks, and talking on the couch created memories that will last a lifetime. 

10. Creating Fun Family Times At Home

Everything in our society today seems to be pulling families away from the most important place on earth, the home. Biblically, the home is the locus for education, discipleship, and mental, emotional, spiritual and physical nourishment.

We don’t have to go anywhere else to have a party. Our best memories come from our home.

11. Engaging In Hospitality

Not only is hospitality a Biblical command (I Peter 4:9), but it is also a great way to get to know people on a level not possible in normal everyday interaction.

We didn’t do as much as we wished, but hope to do more in the future. We made a list of people we wanted to invite over for a meal, and then tried to find the best time to do it.

12. Traveling With Our Family

After much prayer, we chose to travel and minister with my family for parts of 2018 and 2019. Traveling taught us much flexibility. It also drew Cassidy and I closer together, as on the road we were doing everything with one another. We made many memories together and with my parents and siblings.

13. Creating Our Distinct Family Identity

After marriage, we enjoyed a lot of fun memories with both of our families. Yet things had changed. We had to “leave and cleave.” We had to find time with our parents and siblings while focusing most on our own little family.

Striving for this balance was both challenging and rewarding.

Here’s one of our goals for our family culture in the future.

Bontragers laugh all the time and are highly expressive. Bontragers use big, rare, words. Bontragers love mentally sharpening games and possess palpable disdain for meaningless games like Candyland, Sorry, etc., They love Axis and Allies, Stratego, Chess, Ticket to Ride, Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, Take 1, and Memory. Bontragers love learning, reading, writing, and public speaking. Bontragers cultivate the courage, knowledge, and skills to engage in the battles of the day.

This may or may not describe your family, but it summarizes some of the things that are important to us.


Lest you think we’ve arrived, let us assure you that we still have much work to do. Reflection finds certain areas wanting. By God’s grace, we seek to improve and better represent Christ and the church each year. In every life area, we wish by God’s grace to lay foundations that we pray will last a lifetime.

Please come back this Friday to read, “The Year in Pictures,” and next Tuesday for “Things We’re Grateful We Did Our First Year of Marriage (Part II).”

Question: Why is the first year of marriage so important? Which one of these points resonated with you the most?

Categories: Family


Ann · September 4, 2018 at 10:36 am

The first year is important because it forms the foundation of the marriage.

Before marriage, you create the building blocks – are we compatible, do our visions of the future and our beliefs match, can we communicate, have we been gifted the blessing of love etc. The first year is when those building blocks are placed together to form a solid foundation, blending two personalities into one new family takes time, compromise, honesty and ideally a sense of humour.

Points 4 and 5 resonate very strongly with me;
Speaking kindly is so important, especially so when you need to communicate a problem. The words you choose either inflame a situation or open the door to resolution, kind words that are softly spoken, very often achieve far more.

Not tearing down in public – I’ve never understood why anyone would wish to denigrate a person they profess to love; it’s not funny, it’s humiliating for the person being belittled and shameful on the part of the person doing it (I would class it as bullying).

I look back after several years of marriage and think fondly of that first year, the things that tried my patience are now the things that make me smile. We wouldn’t be blessed with the marriage we have today if we hadn’t invested in that first year.

I pray you and Cassidy are equally blessed.

    Joshua Bontrager · September 4, 2018 at 12:33 pm


    Thanks for your thoughts!

    Your comment on “building blocks” is spot on. As you said, “Before marriage, you create the building blocks – are we compatible, do our visions of the future and our beliefs match, can we communicate, have we been gifted the blessing of love etc. The first year is when those building blocks are placed together to form a solid foundation, blending two personalities into one new family takes time, compromise, honesty and ideally a sense of humour.”

    What do you think are the most important ways for young couples to build a strong marriage?

      Ann · September 4, 2018 at 1:04 pm

      Personal faith and communication are, to my mind, the most important aspects to building a strong marriage (assuming the other building blocks are there). My husband and I found that while our visions and beliefs match really well, our routes and expressions were quite different – something that did not become apparent until we were living together. This is where faith and communication come into play.

      Faith – Faith in the Lord was reasonably easy for me by the time I married, it had certainly been tested but had held true. I realised quickly that I had to have faith that my marriage was God’s will, pray and trust that he would guide both me and my husband. My ever-deepening faith gave me the strength and patience I needed so desperately as we learnt how to be husband and wife. Faith also brought acceptance that different didn’t mean wrong.

      Communication – The first year of marriage increased my communication skills hugely, it was probably my area of greatest personal growth. We communicate differently in different situations; how I communicated with my parents was very different to how I communicated with co-workers, my students were different again. Developing the language of our marriage took time, our language has evolved but the errors of the early days shaped how we communicate now (we grew up in very different areas and words that meant one thing to me, meant something very different to my husband – we accidentally offended each other more than once). Developing communication isn’t just vital to building a strong marriage though, without a really strong base of communication skills a couple will struggle if/when they become parents. Fatigue and a busy home can easily sharpen words and leave a husband and wife at odds, good communication is the best antidote I have come across – alongside taking an extra breath before responding to check my words and tone.

        Joshua Bontrager · September 4, 2018 at 1:08 pm


        Well said. Good communication is indispensable to a good marriage. I believe patience is one of the most important characteristics of good communication. We must be patient to understand and not jump hastily to conclusions. We must be patient to listen from the heart. We must be patient to always respond in the right spirit.

Gina · September 4, 2018 at 12:19 pm

It is wonderful that you are both being not just “intentional” in your Christianity, but “intentional” in your marriage. I actually think the second is certainly part of the first, but it is so lacking even in Christian circles. Thanks for sharing your journey and road map to your loving relationship.

    Joshua Bontrager · September 4, 2018 at 12:34 pm


    You’re right. Intentional Christians must truly strive to be intentional in every area of life, including marriage. We’ve definitely got a lot left to learn, but are grateful for the goodness of God and the wisdom of others who have poured into our lives.

Alicia · September 4, 2018 at 9:52 pm

I really love the idea of creating goals for creating your own family culture, and the deliberateness with which both you and your wife have approached marriage! I’m not in a relationship, but I hope to remember these things should I get married one day.

Sasha · September 5, 2018 at 9:45 am

Aw, my two year old learned her colors from Candyland. It’s also good practice for taking turns, counting, etc. She was so happy that she could play without needing help or knowing how to read. The illustrations on the earlier versions are much nicer–I was glad to find an older copy at a garage sale. It’s not a game you play forever but it’s a sweet thing to do with your very littles.

    Joshua Bontrager · September 5, 2018 at 12:46 pm


    Very true. I’m glad you all made good memories with your two year old that way!

      Chad Anderson · September 7, 2018 at 11:35 am

      There are many things that we can do that are amoral which are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. But most times we can only devote ourselves to one thing at a time and we only have each moment in our hands for one time. Each moment we only get the chance to do what is best one time. Instead of doing something that is amoral wouldn’t we rather spend that moment doing what is best? Instead of doing something that is good even wouldn’t we rather spend our time on what is best? Instead of doing something just because we feel like it or because it’s fun or because it floats our boats wouldn’t we rather spend our time on what truely edifies us and that which build us and others up in Christ and on things that are not just fun and beneficial for the present moment? Why spend our time purposely on things that have no real Heavenly value and that will bring no Heavenly reward? We only get each moment once and each moment is a gift from God. Should we use that gift from God to do things that do not serve any tangible use in His Kingdom? Can we spend time doing meaningless things and at the same time say, “Glory to you God for letting me do this meaningless thing. I hope this meaningless thing that I am doing brings Glory to You God! Glory to You for meaningless games God!” That seems a little weird to me. Wouldn’t doing that be kind of intentionally wrong? If avoiding meaningless games is a bad form of asceticism then I need to be corrected by Divine guidance. Maybe my perspective is completely off.

Abigail · September 5, 2018 at 11:08 am

The Christian Family by Larry Christenson is a much better book.

    Joshua Bontrager · September 8, 2018 at 2:24 pm


    I’m always searching for more good books to read. What do you like most about The Christian Family by Larry Christenson?

Bianca Jago · September 5, 2018 at 11:33 pm

Thanks for sharing — it’s so encouraging to see the intentionality you and Cassidy approach your marriage with!

Rebekah · September 10, 2018 at 12:18 pm

I love this – thank you so much for sharing! Congratulations on your first Anniversary! My husband and I are about to celebrate our first anniversary as well…and this has been the best, and sweetest year of our lives so far.
Wishing you many happy years to come!
Rebekah Joy

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