Marriage Mondays: Strong Foundation

Every other day it seems like someone is getting engaged, married, or having a baby. Of course I know that it is not an epidemic and that it truly is just the season of life that many of us are in right now. In all the excitement of starting something new, moving to new levels, and adding to families I cannot help but think about the importance of a strong foundation.

Psalm 127:1 reads, “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.” I personally, never want anything that I do to be in vain especially when it comes to my marriage and family so the foundation piece has always been super important for Joe and I.

We have definitely been through some things in these past few years and I know that the reason we are still happily married is because of that foundation in Christ. It is our goal to continuously work to ensure that Jesus is the center of all that we do. When we first got married we quickly learned that our love was not going to get us through the difficult times. But isn’t that such a cute thought? Our love will see us through! Hmmmph… yea right!

When I am upset with Joe, when I am offended, or hurt my love for him does not always overpower my emotions. Many times my emotions temporarily win that battle and things get worse before they get better. Then I remember that my marriage is a covenant between God, Joe, and myself and my perspective almost always shifts immediately. I am blessed to be married to a man that understands that same concept and it has made things a bit easier to handle. When we found out that we lost Nia the first thing that we did was grab hands and pray together. It was in those moments that I realized how crucial having Christ at the center of our marriage was. Things for sure are not always perfect, but I know that our foundation is set firmly in Christ and that makes everything better.

Never Again

Joe and I were listening to a sermon recently by a pastor named, Samuel Rodriguez. The sermon was entitled, “Never Again” and really spoke to us both on so many levels. He talked about the story of Noah in Genesis 5:32-10:1. One point he really touched on was the promise God made to Noah in the end, where he says,
“Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.”
The phrase “never again” resonated with me so strongly. For days, I would hear it over and over in my head, wondering what God was trying to say to me through it. In the scripture, Noah and his family had just come out of a storm. Though it was rough at many points, and even leading up to it they had to deal with issues, they made it out unscarred and then God gives them this great promise, “never again.” I could not help but to see the parallels in my own life and see what God was saying to me through this story and phrase.

We have talked so much about having more children and to be honest, I go in and out of fear when it comes to it. Clearly, this journey has not been easy for us so far. I am always tempted to worry about something horrible happening to us again. Lately, when those thoughts arise I hear the voice of God so clearly saying “Never Again!”.

I learned a few things from the scripture and that sermon about Noah that we can all apply to our lives and the storms we endure:
Noah was obedient… Despite the naysayers, despite the doubt he must have felt at some point, and despite any limitations and obstacles, Noah was obedient and as a result his family and future generations were blessed.
Noah was prepared for the storm… He worked hard for many years building the ark, despite the obstacles. He prepared his family for the storm. Likewise, we must be spiritually and physically prepared to endure whatever comes our way. The week leading up to Nia’s delivery Joe and I were both studying Job. Throughout the entire process, those scriptures kept coming up in my mind. Because of that preparation, my heart was different, my prayers were different, and I never doubted God’s plan in that moment.
Noah praised and worshipped God when the storm was over… Many times we like to shout that “we made it!” when we get out of a storm and forget who the glory is supposed to go to. The full verse quoted above actually reads, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:20-21). Noah’s praise was pleasing to God and led him to make that wonderful promise.
The ark landed on a mountain… As a result of the storm and the height of the waters, the ark was raised high above the earth. Sometimes your storm will leave you on higher ground in life spiritually, physically, and mentally.

I am looking with excitement towards the future, not just in terms of growing our family and having more children but in everything. When that fear does creep back up I will just pray those very words that have been floating around in my head and heart for the past few days… Never Again! And I will watch as God fulfills His promises!

Marriage Mondays: Service Charge!

Joe and I always joke around about taking a service charge when we do something for each other. Typically the charge involves food. For example, if I ask Joe to pass me a bowl of popcorn he would take a few off the top and yell, “service charge!” In response, I would make a little face at him and we laugh. The same happens when he asks me to do stuff that involves a snack. As I was reflecting on the little playful phrase between the two of us and even thinking of how we borrowed the term from banks I started to think about God and how it would be if He service charged us. Can you imagine how that would be? Every time we took a breath God would yell, “service charge!” and take our breath away for a short time. Or every time we sat down to eat He would yell, “service charge!” and scoop half the food off of our plates.

Thankfully, He is not that kind of God and we do not have to worry about those things with Him. Likewise, we should not have to worry about them with our spouse. So often, I hear individuals saying that their significant other owes them this or that because of what they did for them. I even catch myself having that same mentality from time to time and I immediately feel convicted. In a marriage conference we attended a little while back the presenters talked about the importance of serving one another in marriage. Not just serving, but constantly working to out serve the other. I was reminded of John 13:1-17, where Jesus washed the disciples feet. He was showing them the importance of serving one another, in love. Verse 17 reads,

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

I just want to encourage you to apply the same principles to your marriage today. Joe and I have definitely not mastered this concept, but we are both striving to out serve each other daily. We have witnessed firsthand the difference this has made in our relationship as we take the focus off of ourselves and place it where it belongs, on God first and then each other. As the word says, “you will be blessed if you do them.”

How can you work to out serve your spouse today?

Marriage Mondays: How I See Me vs How He Sees Me

A friend and I were talking the other day about how our bodies have not bounced right back after having our babies. It is so easy to look at celebrities and even other women that we know and love in our own lives and wonder why it seems so easy for them and so difficult for us. I often look down at my little pooch belly with pride and thankfulness because I know that God has blessed my womb to carry two babies so far and that more are to come. However, I do not always feel confident when it comes to what my shape now looks like.

I did not really realize that this was a problem until my husband’s compliments to my body begin to feel like insults. When he would look over at me and tell me that I am beautiful or sexy I would cringe on the inside because I disagreed. I would instantly take a quick inventory of the parts of my body that need some work. I thought about the stretch marks, extra folds of skin, and the incision from my c-section (though barely visible it is HUGE to me!). Yet and still he would have this look in his eyes that let me know that he really did believe what he was saying. This dude really does think I am sexy!

It took a while for me to come to terms with that and to even see the parallel between this and how God views us. I am thankful that Joe loves me… stretch marks and all (as he should of course!). I am even more thankful that God loves me through all of my mess.

Did you ever have body image issues after having kids? How did you deal with it? How did/does your spouse make you feel?

Date Night: Nehemiah Mondays

We have had to get a little creative with our date nights, while our little guy is still so young. It is important for us to get this time together without Nehemiah as often as we can. While I was on leave and this summer one of those days during the week will be Mondays for lunch. My wonderful mother is off on those days and has volunteered to spend quality time with him. Of course, she gave the day a name… Nehemiah Mondays! For my mom, it is all about him on those days. For Joe and I, it is all about us and our marriage.

So far, we have gone to a local pizza parlor and to do a little shopping and to an Indian restaurant followed by some dessert at a cute little frozen yogurt shop! It has been cool to start thinking outside of the box when it comes to our date nights (or days).

What did you or are you doing to maintain your marriage after children? Any lunchtime suggestions for us?

Marriage Mondays: Vulnerability

One thing I struggled with for awhile when Joe and I first started to date was my ability to truly be vulnerable with him. Completely letting go and allowing someone to get that close scared me. Prior to Joe, I always had what I called “back ups”. They were guys that I could always turn to if my boyfriend at that time acted up. It seemed like the perfect situation for me. I always had someone there if I wanted. Someone to flatter me, to take me out to eat, and make me feel special. Over time, those things no longer mattered to me. Those things were no longer enough.

Joe and Toya 12:2006

Joe and I, at UGA in 2006.

So Joe came along and demanded that I called all of my back ups and let them know that their services would no longer be needed. I was so shocked and appalled when he made that demand. I was even more surprised that I actually did it. Several phone conversations later and few choice words from some of my back ups and there I stood in a relationship with Joe. I was excited and terrified all at once. What would I do if Joe acted up? How would I bounce back? What guy would I call to fill that position? I felt completely wide open susceptible to hurt and pain, I was vulnerable. What that meant for me is that I would need to learn to trust Joe with my heart completely, not because he was this wonderfully, terrific person. I would need to learn to trust him because I knew to trust God. I prayed for months for God to bless me with someone like Joe. I had to decide at that moment to trust that the man God sent me would be enough. I had to decide to forgive him if he ever did make a mistake. I had to decide to place my confidence for my relationship and subsequent marriage in God and not in Joe.

 

Once I stopped trying to guard my heart and I let Joe in, I began to experience a type of peace in my relationship that I never knew existed. We evolved together from a couple of teenagers in “like” with one another into a couple completely in love and invested in making our marriage work. Everyday I allow myself to be vulnerable with my husband, I give him my whole heart because I know that what I am really doing is saying God I trust you. It is such a liberating experience and has truly taught me so much about how to love someone with your whole heart, no restrictions, boundaries, or fear. For me, true intimacy starts with the ability to remove those barriers.

 

How do you feel about being vulnerable in relationships and even in friendships?

 

Feeling Stuck

There have been so many times where I have just felt stuck. Stuck in my relationship with God, Stuck in my career, stuck in my marriage, stuck in my friendships… just stuck! I have always felt the need to make sure that I am progressing. I get joy out of that in the most simple ways, like checking off an item on my to do list.

Over the years, I have come to learn that being busy does not mean that you are truly moving forward. At times I am so “busy” that I am literally running in circles, no forward movement to be seen. I have felt like this particularly lately when it comes to my career. I frequently feel as though no progress is being made and I am simply wading in the water. Before going out on leave I would create a daily to do list and see how many items I could check off by the time 4pm rolled around. I used that list, with the neatly placed checked marks, as a measure of my success and progress for the day. By 4:05pm that feeling of progress waned and the feeling of being stuck returned.

My desire to progress or to be successful is often a distraction. I can easily get so wrapped up in  where I feel like I should be career wise and in other aspects of life that I quiet God’s voice within me. Perhaps I am feeling stuck because I am hard-headed, or maybe it’s fear. Maybe I am chasing the wrong things with the wrong motivation or even listening and taking advice from the wrong people.

When these feelings arise I know that I need to take a step back. I have to quiet everything around me and focus on His face. I have to (in the words of one my favorite celebrity families) get out of my own feelings and remember why I am here. I have to remember that it is not about me, it is all about Jesus and how I can be a blessing to His Kingdom. When I am feeling stuck or stagnant, I know it is time for a perspective shift.

Hopeless Laughter

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Throughout my last pregnancy I was drawn to women in the Bible who had some sort of struggle with pregnancy, such as Tamar who fought for her right to birth children, Hannah who was taunted by her husband’s other wife for being barren and prayed to God for a son, and now Sarah the wife of Abraham who had basically given up hope. As I was reading more about Abraham, I came across a scripture that really struck me.

Genesis 18:10-15 reads,
Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”  Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’  Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

I read that and thought about how many times I laugh at God. How often do I laugh at a word that was dropped into my spirit or something that someone speaks over me. How often do I see it as impossible? unattainable? unimaginable? or too much for me to handle? I realized that I often laugh just like Sarah did. I laugh not out of disrespect or disregard but out of doubt, disbelief, and fear. I laugh because I may have lost hope in a particular situation and have began to believe and accept that things are what they are. I laugh because I forget how big the God I serve is. Like Sarah, time after time God has followed through on His promises and shown me just how good He is.

I have decided not to laugh out of fear and doubt anymore. I am choosing to believe and trust that He will do just what He says. Will you join me?

One Year Later

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This past weekend marked exactly one year since we learned that we lost our daughter Nia Audrey. Nia was stillborn on April 5, 2013 and it was and still is the most horrific thing I have ever had to endure. The blessing is that we endured it and we are here a year later able to share our experience and testimony. I honestly have been thinking about this post for a few weeks. So many emotions have overcome me in these last few days that it was hard for me to focus enough to sit down and write this post. I have come to realize that blogging and sharing with you all is therapeutic for me. It is apart of my healing process and an opportunity for me to continuously give God glory for what He is doing in our lives.

For a long time, I wondered what God wanted us to see or learn through that experience. I wondered why He allowed us to go through such pain. I wondered how He was going to use what we went through to help others. I still do not have the answers to those questions completely but I do know that Nia was purposed. I do know that if she did nothing else in her short time with us, she changed me. Not only did she make me a mom, but she made me stronger and wiser. Nia gave me a testimony. Through the loss of our precious baby girl I learned what it felt like to suffer. I learned what it meant to give up something and someone that meant so much to you without a choice. I learned how to truly press into God.

I spent much of last summer in tears. I would lay on the floor in the nursery or the living room and just cry out to the Lord. I begged Him to hear my cry. I asked Him to heal me from the inside out. I asked Him to make me stronger. I asked Him to let me smile again, to feel joyful again. I asked Him for total and complete restoration. I discovered that He is so merciful and full of grace. He gave me all of that and more. I found my healing in writing and sharing my story. I found my healing in His word, in the stories of women in the Bible who struggled with pregnancy or the desire to bear children, in the stories of the many men and women who overcame major obstacles because of their faith and trust in God. I found my healing in the face of my firstborn child.

I saw firsthand how Nia’s birth into heaven changed the people around me. I saw my family come together. I have heard the testimonies of healing and breakthrough in the lives of those who heard our story. My relationship with my husband is stronger and our bond deeper. And the love I feel for my son, Nehemiah is powerful. As a result of Nia I will be a better mother and wife, most importantly I will be a better disciple of Christ.

Nehemiah coming into our family has been such a dream come true. Joe and I decided early on that he would always know about his big sister, Nia. When we got pregnant so soon after Nia many people seemed concerned that we were trying to replace her. Anyone who has gone through what we have knows that replacing Nia with another child is impossible. We already speak to him now about his big sister, how she is his guardian angel, and how she changed our lives for the better. He will grow up knowing all about her and the impact she made in her short time with us.
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So, this past weekend Joe and I celebrated our firstborn. I am going to try my hardest for it not to be a time to go back to sadness too much, but to instead rejoice in what this past year has meant for us. I will always miss my sweet baby girl. I will always wonder what her eyes would have looked like, what her cry would have sounded like, what kind of voice she would have had, if she would have been tall like her dad or petite like me. I am choosing to find peace in knowing that she is in heaven with the best daddy there is.

Happy Birthday Nia Audrey! Mommy, Daddy, and Nehemiah love you and miss you so much!

Waiting


Waiting is truly something that I struggle with. Some people say it is difficult for our generation because we are used to having instant gratification. We want things and we want them now and typically we go ahead and get them now. Since Joe and I have been together I have had almost constant lessons on waiting. Joe moves slower than I do (not in walking or anything like that… clearly his legs are twice the size of mine). He is just a thinker, very methodical, and very cautious. While I can work with that now, it was super hard particularly when I was waiting for the proposal! I had moments where I broke down! I would get so upset with Joe and wonder what was the hold up! My mother said over and over that patience is power and I got so annoyed with that phrase. Now, it makes too much sense and is very applicable to so many things.

I discovered over time that my lack of patience, directly relates to my faith, it directly relates to how much I trust God to do what He has already promised, it directly relates to how much I trust and believe that Joe, the man that God sent me, the man that I married, a man that goes hard after God daily is perfectly equipped to lead our family. In our marriage, Joe is clearly the patient one and I am work in progress in that area. However, I am learning that many times he ends up being right and I end up causing us a bit of trouble due to my haste. Most recently, I was ready for Joe to do our taxes so that we would know ahead of time what needed to be paid or what would hopefully be received on our end. Two days after he filed due to my persistent prodding, another W-2 came in for a job neither of us remembered that he worked. Thank goodness it did not affect anything negatively and it was actually a positive for our situation. It did give us more work to do and caused a delay in receiving those funds. In that situation, I learned so much about myself and saw some things that I really did not like. My impatience could be a detriment to me and my family if I did not quickly get things together.

So much is written in the Bible about patience, but a few scriptures stood out to me in particular for various reasons. Lately, I have been very interested in Abraham and learning more about him. Obviously, he was a very patient man. Hebrews 6:14-15 reads, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. When I read that scripture I immediately thought about all that I am waiting for God to do in my life. I thought about all of the prayers that I am waiting to be answered. I remembered the scriptures that I have been reading and praying over my life and my family. I recall all of the wonderful promises written in His word and I feel super convicted. We always say we want things in God’s time, but how many of us really mean that and live by it? I am encouraged today by this scripture and will work to exercise more patience in my life all the way around. What about you? Are you already super patient? Or is this an area that you also need to work on ? What prayers would you like answered? Are you on God’s time or your own?