One of the first things my husband and I did after he proposed was sit down at a local coffee shop to plan. Laptops and coffees in hand, we settled in to make some of the most important decisions we might ever make.

I’m not talking about planning the wedding. Before guest lists or budgets, we sat down to cast vision and make a plan for success for the next season.

Married women know: engagement can be a trying time. But also, it is holy. It’s a significant time of preparation; engaging with the Lord and your spouse as you set a foundation for your life together. My husband and I believed this — and we weren’t about to let our engagement, or the first year of marriage that followed, slip away in a whirlwind of stress or poor communication.

The truth is, we had heard stories about engagement and marriage that didn’t feel like “us.” Without any judgment, we wanted to live our story, not someone else’s. We also didn’t want to set a sub-par standard for our marriage in which emotions ruled, and peace was circumstantial. We wanted to stay aware of each other and God, no matter what happened.

We knew God had great plans for us, and it’s His delight to give us the desires of our hearts. We wanted to be fearless and open to God’s plan — and we figured by being honest about what we wanted, we would be more likely to receive the help we’d surely need to get there.

With all this in mind, we set aside time to communicate what we wanted (vision casting) and deciding what we would have to do to protect that vision (creating core values as guidelines).

Over a few hours, we journaled separately and discussed together what we wanted in the season to come. We shared how we wanted to feel and experiences we wanted to have with the Lord. We talked about what our priorities were as a couple, and what type of marriage we wanted. We discussed what biblical principles we felt God was teaching us. We considered what it would look like to partner with God in all these things.

We distilled all of it into a list of core values — because we knew we would need the reminder. We created a reference we could look to in the future to remind us of who we already decided we would be.

Practically, having a list of core values helped us stick to our vision. Going through the process to create it, however, was powerful itself. Through it, we practiced vulnerable communication and honesty. We prioritized our future over selfish needs or instant gratification. And we learned how to be a united front by choosing our shared values and agreeing to protect them, together.

No matter what problem arose (like running out of money for the wedding for example), we were able to stay connected. We didn’t get lost in despair because we knew the bigger picture.

Consequently, we had an amazing engagement season. Plenty of stressful things transpired, but we could roll with the punches. We were able to stay focused on what mattered. We were more aware of our growth and of the Lord moving on our behalf — and more or less, walked through that season unscathed.

Here are some examples of core values we included on our first list:

Connection trumps logistics

We follow Peace when making decisions

We flush anxiety, burdensome “should’s,” and fear-based advice

We believe there is always more than enough

We delight in our romance

God is who He says He is, and He will continue to prove Himself true

We are always on the lookout for blessing, both giving and receiving

Here are some practical steps for trying it yourself:

1. Set a date. Your marriage, connection and future are worthy of your time and effort.

2. If you’re not sure how to start, try our method. First, take 5 to 10 minutes to journal individually, without self-editing. Be honest. Then, take 10 to 20 minutes to share what you’ve written. Discuss how you can bring both of your desires together. You might do this a few times with different categories or questions. Ours often look like: How do I want to feel during this season? What is God teaching me in this season? If money didn’t matter, how would I solve/feel towards this problem?

3. Set time limits to keep the conversation moving.

4. Write it down. A written document will provide a reference point, a template for praying together, and a list of declarations you can say over your life. Re-reading your list will help you to center in on the Lord and your husband.

Over the almost-two-years since we first laid this foundation, we’ve had countless conversations about dreams, our vision for our careers, family and finances. We’ve prayed and wept and had bold conversations about what God is calling us to. We’ve seen God bless us wildly because we had eyes to see it.

When I look back on the last two years, I don’t remember stress or the lack of finances. They didn’t have a lasting impact on my life. I do remember the power of being vulnerable together. I remember having hard conversations and coming out of it feeling more connected than before. And I remember all these moments where God did come through — proof that as we laid those hopes and weaknesses before Him and each other, He met us and helped us to grow.

Engagement and marriage will look different for everyone. Casting vision and creating a plan is a practical way to live the story that God has created for you and your husband.