Expectations, True Joy & Green Grass

One of our okra plants in our raised garden. Our little homestead is lush and green because it gets lots of attention.

One of our okra plants in our raised garden. Our little homestead is lush and green because it gets lots of attention.

On December 6, 2010 I embarked on an unknown journey. I was 24 years old, hopelessly in love, seeking happiness and a sense of belonging. I had expectations for my life up until that point and things hadn't gone quite the way I had imagined. I thought for sure I'd marry my high school sweetheart, be married by 21 and have my first kid by 23, the same age my mom was when she had me. Instead, I hopped between states, in and out of an unhealthy relationship, finally forced myself to finish school while also working at night. By the summer of 2010, I had long gotten out of the bad relationship I was in, dated other people and finally found what I felt was real love (or really, it found me), I had a 2 year college degree, a good job and was living completely on my own, supporting myself. Things were great but my new found love was long distance and I didn't want to wait for whatever the future held. I wanted us to be together right then so on that early morning in December, I left the south, my only real sense of home and stability, and took a chance on love. Even then, flying by the seat of my pants, I had underlying expectations. I was leaving "home" but I expected we'd move to New York for a few years and then start our family down south. I expected he'd propose shortly after I moved especially since I was leaving my life behind and starting a new one with him. I expected so many things but I quickly realized as much as I felt like I wanted to control and dictate how my life was going to play out, it just didn't happen that way. What I thought was going to be a year or two here in New York, turned into five and now I'm going on eight years of living on Long Island. We got engaged 6 months after I relocated here, got married 11 months after that, and what started out as my rant of, "I will not have kids here!" has now turned into us welcoming two beautiful, healthy children at the same hospital here on Long Island and bringing them home to our humble but quaint house.

My expectations were high, even of that real love I found in Rob. I have my own theories of why I became the way I was with guys, love and a sense of acceptance but that's for another day. The bottom line is, I was longing for someone to want me and be enthralled by me but also be the "perfect" guy in terms of character, looks, spiritual life, etc. I kept seeking love and happiness, only finding disappointment after disappointment, falling on my face, and earning regret which only left me feeling even more empty than I already felt, like something was missing. When I met Rob, it started out the same as any relationship I had before except I really felt we connected on a deeper level. There was a real friendship aspect that sparked it all but there was always something there that I could not quite figure out. Once I moved here to Long Island that deep connection was still there but my deep sense insecurity crept up. I was suspicious of things, I never felt like I was good enough for him and in turn, the first few years of our relationship had some major rocky points. Part of my insecurities proved to be true after digging, which then screwed up my whole view of my expectations of Rob that led me on the road to finding true joy. I remember one night, after having a long discussion with him about some things that we were dealing with, he proclaimed something to the effect of, "you have me on this pedestal and have these expectations of me but I'm human and I'm going to fail...it's a lot of pressure to have on someone." It hit me like a ton of bricks in that moment that he was so right. My whole life I've had expectations of people, probably because I have so many expectations of myself and have always been very hard on myself. Needless to say, because I've had expectations on myself and others, I've been disappointed and let down a lot. People are not perfect, people can be good but they are not perfect. Sitting in our room that night after that painful realization, I looked at life a lot differently. It didn't happen overnight and it's something I still struggle with at times, but especially with Rob, I force myself to remember that he is human. He is man and man is fallible. That includes me too. I'm not perfect, far from it actually. I have the best of intentions sometimes but at the end of the day, I mess up just as much as the next person and I have learned, more so in the last 7+ years that true joy, hope and peace lie only in one place and that's a relationship with Christ. A man can't meet my expectations or give me true joy, a career can't do it, kids can't do it, hobbies and passions can't either. Those things can make me happy but as it's been told time and time again, happiness is fleeting. Happiness depends on your happenings, joy is eternal.

Rob and I had a lot of issues because of my expectations of him. The biggest elephant in the room was the fact that I developed resentment because I had expected that we wouldn't be on Long Island for as long as we were (and have been). I also still struggle with this from time-to-time and it creeps up but I recognize it's the devil trying to shake things up. Once I really grasped the fact that I can't depend on Rob to make me happy or my kids, or my work, and that I needed to depend on God for that, I began to loosen my grip and thoughts of what was going to me happy. At the end of the day, I knew I had to trust that my (now) husband was looking to God for guidance and trusting Him, coupled with the fact that God is GOD and what He says, goes. All this time I've had my husband in the seat of God, looking to my husband to fill my needs and depending on him to get me "home" when really God has a mission for me here and when that mission is completed, maybe, if it's in His will for me and my little family, He'll open doors for us elsewhere.

I'll admit there were times in the beginning of our relationship when things weren't going my way and my expectations weren't being met, I contemplated what life would be like if I left and went back south. I went through some dark times as well as times of doubt. Was he really worth staying here? I felt lied to and duped at times but I remember someone once saying, "the grass is greener on the side that is watered." Talk about a slap in the face! How true is that?! So many people can only see what's right in front of them--their kids are a mess, their marriage is a mess, their finances are a mess, the list goes on and on--and they think if they could have what so-and-so, has they'll be happier...the grass would be greener on the other side. I may be only 32 years old but I'm here to tell you, I've learned a lot from other people's mistakes as well as my own and the grass is not greener on the other side. It's an illusion. Like the illusion of water you see in a desert...it's non-existent. Think of how harmonious everyone's lives would be if we expected nothing from eachother, looked to our Creator for fulfillment and joy and stopped comparing our lives to others. Imagine if we stopped wishing for what was on "the other side" and began nurturing and tending to what we do have, what our marriages would look like, our kids, our work, our life as a whole. Life would be pretty sweet and a whole lot less complicated.

I challenge you, whoever you are who may have stumbled across my little corner of the world wide web, to examine yourself. What are your expectations? Where does your happiness lie? Do you even know the feeling of joy? Have you found yourself wishing for someone else's life, wanting the perfect husband? The perfectly groomed kids? The cookie cutter life? The greener "other side"? I challenge you to start watering the grass you're standing on as you read this. Is it wilted? Is it nothing but weeds? Start watering by asking God to help you see the good in what you have. Instead of looking at all the negativity (because trust me, friend, you can find negativity in anything these days!), ask God to show you one single, solitary good in each area of your life. You'll be amazed at where you'll be led when you surrender your expectations and look to the One true source of joy to help you see that lush, green grass.

PART I: Caught Between Two Worlds

Me holding Bo at 4 days old.

Me holding Bo at 4 days old.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a mom. I remember having a baby doll glued to my hip from about the age of 5. My favorite doll was one of those shiver newborn babies from the early 90’s—it never shivered but I didn’t want my mom to return it to the store because I loved it so much—it was perfect to me. She was perfect to me. I named her Christy and Christy went wherever I went. Through my schools years and onto college I still dreamed of the cookie cutter life: husband, kids, nice house, nice things. I never had a specific passion or drive aside from being a mom and wife someday, but I developed a love for art in high school and never felt I was overly great at it but it was fun to me. I majored in Fine Arts right out of high school just because I knew I wanted to do something creative...just didn’t know what exactly. I spent my spring freshman semester abroad, studying in Caen, France; I was the first freshman from my university who had ever participated in the study abroad program. Upon my return from Europe, I transferred to art school in Charlotte, North Carolina to study Fashion Marketing and Management, thinking it’d be cool to work in the fashion industry because I always loved fashion. That lasted all of 7 months and I’m still paying for those short 7 months today, 12 years later. Lesson earned, right? When I dropped out of art school, I went and got my Associates in Paralegal Studies. Where that big career field jump came from is still a mystery to me but I was determined to finish school, albeit an associates degree, when I had spent enough time in school that I could have received a Bachelors, but whatever. I earned many degrees in the school of Lesson Learning and Life Living. Those "degrees" weren't always fun earning but they were experiences that were added into my book of life and have added to what made me who I am today. I made a lot of bad mistakes, I got caught up in an unhealthy relationship and so on, but by golly I worked while in college, lived on my own, and did was I set out to do—get a degree. I moved back to my hometown in South Carolina after I graduated and landed my first job at a law firm, and that is what I did for about 4 years, even after I moved here to New York. I had put art on the back burner and didn’t pick up a paint brush again until I moved back to South Carolina. It’s crazy how God works. I remember being in a season of loneliness and emptiness and I don’t know what prompted me to go and purchase some canvases but I did. I used the same brushes and paint that I had leftover from one of my college art classes and I just painted some random stuff. Nothing earth shatteringly amazing but it was just what was coming out of my head.

Eventually I moved here to New York where I continued to work in law and then the year after Rob and I got married, a job opportunity presented itself for me to be the assistant for a CEO of an internet startup company. The job was nothing like I had been led to believe but the company was, in a sense, graphic art-related and it helped pay the bills so I tried to ride it out as long as I could. I was pretty miserable there and extremely bored but I truly feel God had me there for a season to learn specific things and I don’t regret leaving law to go there. Being there got my creative juices flowing again and I started dreaming again—dreaming of much more than I could picture for myself but the dreams felt so real and there was a point that they were nagging at me. I felt trapped inside four walls, sitting at a desk, staring at a computer with my own dreams in my head and heart but having to do busy work for someone who I felt was unappreciative and wasn't using me to my potential.

However, in November of 2013 I went to a women’s retreat with my church and everything changed. It was the next-to-last day of the retreat and our guest speaker, Rita Springer, gave us homework for the day. I can’t remember what exactly the homework was but when we returned that evening after dinner, one of the women in our group, April, said she had heard a Word from God during her quiet time—it was a song that came to her and she didn’t quiet believe it was God speaking to her so she told God that if it was, to let her hear that song again. As she was walking up the back steps to the room our evening service was being held in, there was another church group having worship and they were playing the song she had had in her heart before. She shared this revelation with us and Rita led us into powerful worship. During worship, I remember screaming internally at God to speak to me. I wanted a revelation like he had given to April. I wanted to hear Him audibly. I wanted to know He was speaking to me. There were 3 areas in my life I was pleading with God about—I had been begging Him to get me back home to the South for 3 years by then and nothing was panning out to allow us to move, Rob and I had been trying to get pregnant for more than a year before that retreat and it had come down to me having to decide to start taking medication in order to conceive, and the last thing was that I hated my job and was feeling the pull to quit and pursue my passion of art and creating things. I continued to scream and beg God inside to speak to me during worship that night, “God please, I’m begging you to speak to me! Talk to me!! Give me a sign, SOMETHING!” During my begging session with God, I began to sing the song “Great is thy faithfulness” and I remember asking Him to let me hear it if I was to quit my job. I know, sounds silly, but I was so desperate to hear from Him and know that it was Him, not myself in my mind. I also prayed about getting me out of New York and getting pregnant; when I prayed about the latter, I remember an audible male's voice inside saying, "just a little longer...just wait a little longer." Rita never played the song that night but at some point she started calling out things and speaking over people. She specifically prayed for barren wombs and I lost it. My knees hit the floor quicker than I could realize what was happening and my sister-in-law, Bree was beside me, consoling me because she knew what was happening. I felt heartbroken but also victorious because I think that was the first time in my life that I felt like I had a true; divine appointment with God—that He had a Word specifically for me. I went back to my room that night and got Rob on the phone and told him that I wasn’t going to start the meds that the doctor had recommended I go on to try and conceive. He supported my decision and said, "if God said not to, then I'm not going against that." The next morning was our last morning of the conference and I was still on fire from the night before. Rita had brought a friend, Lisa Corley, who spoke that final morning at the retreat on fear and being catalyzed with fear. She delivered a powerful Word and I left that conference room feeling uplifted and ready for battle. Bree and I had driven together that weekend so after we packed up all of our things and got ready to head back to New York, we decided to pop in to the bookstore they had on the grounds of the place where the retreat was held at. It was a Christian retreat place so we thought we’d be able to find a little momento to bring home from our weekend away. I brought home a lot more than that. We walked in to the little bookstore and the first little trinket I walked into said, “Great is thy faithfulness”. My jaw dropped, my eyes probably bugged out of my head and I stood speechless for a second before brushing the thought away about my begging session with God the night before, I continued to browse the merchandise only to see, “Great is Thy faithfulness” over and over again on more signs and items. I had shared with Bree all that happened the night before so she knew about me asking God to let me hear, “Great is Thy faithfulness”—she was tripped out as much as I was when I grabbed her and reminded her of the song. I purchased a few things and left that little bookstore in Po-Dunk Pennsylvania, feeling on Cloud 9. That was November 17, 2013.

I got home and told Rob all about the retreat and my revelations God had showed me, including the fact that I felt He was telling me to quit my job. Rob was skeptical but supportive and we sat down to go over finances that week—he said that if it was truly God’s Will, we would be ok and he requested that I wait until the new year to put in my notice at work.

On the night before Thanksgiving, almost two weeks after I returned from the retreat, we were heading off the island to North Carolina to be with my family for the holiday and we totaled our truck. Like BAD totaled. As in got clipped by an 18-wheeler on the LIE (I-495) in the pouring rain, spun around, hit a guardrail and bouncing back into oncoming traffic. God was all over us that night. My father-in-law came and got us, took us to LaGuardia airport, we got a rental car and still made it to North Carolina in time for Thanksgiving turkey. About 3 weeks later, we found out I was pregnant with our first child, not knowing that I was likely very very early pregnant when we totaled the truck that night. Not knowing that as Rita Springer sang and spoke on barren wombs to be opened, that she truly was speaking over me. A few weeks after we found out I was pregnant, I quit my job and within two weeks of quitting my job, Rob essentially was laid off of work. I went from Cloud 9 to, “ummmm what just happened?!” I knew God was the One orchestrating the miracles and the calling, but I didn’t know what in the world was going on when Rob came home and said, “there’s no work for a few months”. Any other time I would be in straight panic mode, feeling like I had to fix the issue but I had an overwhelming peace. We were strapped tight financially and for about a month or two, resorted to Food Stamps and WIC. Talk about a humbling reality check! I remember Rob handing me a $100 bill one day and saying, “this is for groceries, make it stretch. It's all we've got.” He was able to find work with a local mechanic, getting paid cash under the table so we could pay the bills and I was steady creating stuff for my little Etsy store. God was so FAITHFUL during that time. By March of that year Rob was back working construction and I continued to do custom orders for people I knew as well as sales here and there on Etsy. We no longer needed assistance and we began to get ready for the arrival of our first child. On August 20, 2014, our son, Bo was born. He was and still is one of the greatest blessings in our life and is truly an answered prayer. 

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You Don't Belong Here

A shot of the Verrazano bridge when we were returning from a recent road trip from seeing my family in Tennessee and Alabama.

A shot of the Verrazano bridge when we were returning from a recent road trip from seeing my family in Tennessee and Alabama.

“You don’t look like you belong here.” I was wearing whatever funky, out-of-the-box outfit I had thrown together at the time—all I remember is it involved hot pink and possibly leopard print. That was probably a decade and a half ago...walking into Big Lots with my mom in Florence, SC, my home for the better part of my adolescent years. Her comment at the time made my soul soar a bit—I’ve always been a big dreamer and never was really part of a particular crowd in school. I was the girl who wanted to be popular and liked, but was stuck between my conscience and morals, and the desire for acceptance. My mom’s comment wasn’t one of criticism but rather a confirmation that little ‘ole Florence wasn’t big enough for my dreams and ambitions. Little did I know that—fast forward several handfuls of years—I’d be living an hour or so train ride from “The City of Dreams”. The Big Apple. It’s amazing to look back on the puzzle pieces that were created that brought me to where I am today. A Cali-born, southern girl living in a yankee world. I’ve spent the last 7 years wondering what in the world I’m doing on Long Island, wondering what God is trying to show and teach me, wondering, “what’s next?”, wondering when this feeling I’ve always had of 'something great is about to happen' will finally feel achieved. I guess that’s what life is about. Constantly striving for that end goal...that feeling of achieving greatness. I love the cliché quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination”. It’s taken me a few physical moves, several coming-to-Jesus-meetings with myself, and at least 7 birthdays to get that. God only knows what tomorrow brings but in the meantime, I'm determined to be the best ME I can be--follower of Jesus, wife, mother to two miracles, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, artist, and every other title I go by. This life is not a dress rehearsal, we only get one chance to live it so it might as well be great.

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