Joseph’s Birth Story

First of all, I want to start by saying every birth is beautiful. I know some women have difficult ones, traumatic ones, short labors, long labors, Cesareans and more, but bringing a life into the world is incredible. For doing that, you are strong and brave. It is a great blessing to co-create life with God, house that life in your body and then nurture him or her outside of the womb as well.

I was so nervous about the birth of my first, James, and what it would be like. See here. I had planned an un-medicated delivery and ended up being in a lot of pain for weeks and weeks that followed because of some side effects of interventions I had not planned (ie. episiotomy and epidural). While I made peace with how his coming into the world went, I still hoped for something a little different with my second.

My hope and ideal was an unmedicated birth, without my water breaking first. My water breaking means unbearable back labor for me, and immediately having to go to the hospital because I was Strep B positive and needed one dose of antibiotics. I preferred to be able to labor at home for a while and wished for anything shorter than a 24+ hour labor. I was also hoping I didn’t have to go to the hospital in the middle of the night and not be able to say bye to James or go into labor before my mother in law was there to help.

This second birth for me was redeeming. I prayed and prayed for these certain things above to come to fruition and particular fears to be alleviated. And while God doesn’t always answer prayer how we want it answered, God answered each one of these birth prayers very specifically! I was nervous once again about the birth itself but also adding a second child to our family and how I could ever love the next child as much as James.

My mother in-law arrived on Monday, April 1st and had two days of “training” on how to do nap time and bedtime routine, which are pretty extensive (first child problems). On Tuesday evening, I noticed my Braxton Hicks were coming maybe every 20-30 minutes. They didn’t hurt at all so it wasn’t thinking too much of them other than it was different than the random ones throughout the day. I must’ve been in early labor during the night because I woke up Wednesday morning April 3rd with an upset stomach. As Ryan ran out the door for class that morning, I told him I felt weird and it was probably just all the chocolate I ate the day before. I texted my doula my symptoms and she said she had a feeling it was baby day! At 8am was around when I realized the tightening of my belly was coming with heavy cramping at the same time, and they were already 4 minutes apart.

In between hanging with James and my MIL and working through the contractions on the stability ball, I was keeping Ryan updated via text.

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 8.56.59 AM

In birth class you usually learn to head in to the hospital when your contractions are roughly 5 minutes apart, 1 minute each for 1 hour (5-1-1). By 10am, mine were already at 3 minutes apart, but I felt like I was managing the pain pretty well and I was trying not to over think it! I didn’t want to have a baby in the car, but I also didn’t want to get turned away from the hospital for not being far enough along…When would be the sweet spot?!

I decided to call Ryan home from school after only an hour and a half of being gone. He got the car packed while I was eating a snack and the pain was getting worse. I said goodbye to my precious James before his lunch and we got to the hospital by 11:30am.

When checked at triage, I was 6cm, 90% effaced. Whoohoo! Let’s GOOOO! Our nurse walked in and introduced herself. She was one of Ryan’s classmates’ wives! She was super sweet, made us feel very comfortable, and it was just another confirmation that God was watching over us!

We settled into the room around Noon… got my labor playlist going, got back on the bouncy ball, and was chatting it up with my midwife and nurse between contractions. They hurt really bad, but I was in a good head space. My doula was massaging my back and Ryan was speaking scriptures over me.

The midwife checked me around 2pm, while I was standing up (SO COOL I didn’t have to climb back into the bed on my back while in pain for a check). I was 10cm, fully effaced!

WHAT!!! AMAZING! HOW DID I GET HERE!

2 hours had flown by with singing, breathing deeply, and offering up contractions out loud for prayer intentions. I was calm and supported and God was with us in that room as I battled the pain with love and joy to meet my child. This was when I realized how deeply spiritual labor and delivery can be.

My water was still intact. The midwife said if I wanted, they could break my water and baby Joseph would come very soon after.

After my water broke at 2:20pm, in came the TERRIBLE HORRIBLE NO GOOD VERY BAD stabbing back pain. I distinctly remember this song “Warrior” coming on my playlist. I literally got chills. It was perfect timing for these lyrics.

Take a listen- super motivating!

I started feeling urges to push and climbed up on the bed in between a contraction. My face fell into a pillow while on my hands and knees, and I squeezed it hard as I was hit one after another with intense waves of pain. I stayed on all fours and began to sweat profusely! I had just about finished my one dose of the antibiotics. Yet again, perfect timing.

“Ahh he’s coming!!!” I was glad I had my face down because I didn’t want to focus on how crowded the room was. Ryan was holding my hand. The midwife was holding me up and occasionally pushing on my back. A student, the midwife, a resident, and two nurses were all doing who knows what, touching me and talking to me.

I started to push… and SCREAM. Yep, I was a screamer. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t care if people were judging me at that point! It was honestly the worst possible pain I could ever imagine. I tensed up. I started joking (sort of serious!) about really wanting the epidural NOW. Of course it was too late. Another contraction, another push, and another scream. I tensed again and made no progress.

Everyone was telling me I could do it, and all I could do was yell, “Jesus, Jesus help me!” The midwife then said, “Hold on Rosemary, he’s right here.” I replied, “Joseph??”, and she said, “No. Jesus.” HA!

I knew that Joseph had to come to us one way or another, and if I could just focus on getting him out instead of resisting, the pain would stop. One big final push and he was born at 2:53pm.

21 inches. 9lbs of chunky goodness.

We did it! He was here! And the pain was over!

Joseph, Ryan, and I enjoyed an hour of uninterrupted time with skin to skin, breastfeeding, chatting, and basking in the whirlwind that just happened. We looked at our SECOND little boy and we were in awe of the result of our self-giving, life-giving love.

I literally just took a lunch break and had a baby. SO FAST. SO INTENSE. And now, so peaceful.

IMG_0146

There is probably some extra dose of assurance with mothering a second kid because hey, it’s your second time around. But, I really feel like the empowering birth experience gave me such a positive spirit and confidence with each step after that, staring with his birth, his first latch, and moving into how to get to know and calm this new little babe.

My physical recovery was yet another blessing and answered prayer. I was up walking around pretty easily an hour afterwards and other than normal uterine cramping, felt great. I guess God knew I’d need to be able to have the strength to hold my needy toddler AND my baby at the same time when we got home. This was so different from the first birth’s feeling of overwhelm and defeat.

Honestly, the biggest struggle going from one to two kids hasn’t been things like how to get two kids out the door, how to manage their schedules (yet), or how to get anything else done- this is close to impossible, but doable… It’s been my heart figuring out how to love both kids in the ways they need to be loved at the same time. People told me my heart would naturally just expand, and it didn’t come that easily to me. I felt my heart tearing in two separate directions with two different very loved kids who had very big needs. The first two months were a painful stretching period and we ALL had to learn more patience. While the adjustment was really hard on James, it has gotten noticeably better now that we are nearly 3 months in. It is the sweetest thing to hear James tell us how much he loves his brother and say, “shhh shh, it’s okay Jo-fuf!” when he’s fussing.

Joseph is proving to be a generally calm and silly little one. His smiles light up our life. We love him so much! Thank you for all of the support as we grew to a family of 4!

IMG_0233

 

 

Self-Care 101

“Self-Care.”

This is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot these days and it used to make me cringe. It just seemed like a lot of people used it to justify expensive shopping trips, spur of the moment tropical vacations, nightly chocolate cake and bubble baths, weekly manicures, monthly massages and mud baths, and ALL captured with a beautiful filter for their snapchat/instagram. I guess I wrongly associated it with being selfish or high-maintenance.

As you may have read my perspective of the first 3 months of motherhood, I am 100% for giving yourself to serve others, and that can means seasons of not getting to enjoy life in the same way you used to. However, I have learned the hard way in this wonderful, yet very difficult first year of motherhood, that pouring yourself out for your family cannot happen without plugging yourself in for a charge occasionally. And though God’s love wishes to perfect us and grow us sometimes through bearing hardships, that still means finding time to be alone to pray, be still, and slow down.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.   //Luke 5:16

The reality is, no one can pour from an empty cup. 

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 1.47.24 PM

I had figured out how to take care of myself when it was just me planning life around me, but it was harder to figure out what I needed when my focus and time were so attentive to my son, my husband, and our home.

During the first year with an infant who fed around the clock and doesn’t sleep much, it was especially difficult to figure out what I needed to stay sane or how I could even make those things happen. Heck, I was just trying to figure out how to keep a tiny human alive.

But as time went on, I realized more and more that many of the times I was anxious or upset over little things was when I hadn’t been praying, hadn’t had an adult conversation (besides my husband) for several days, hadn’t been listening to or reading anything positive, or hadn’t taken a break to do anything that brought me joy. I realized, especially in stressful seasons, my mental health is something I actually needed to work on.

Self-care isn’t necessarily about indulging yourself, it’s more about nourishing yourself so you can blossom in your vocation.

And sometimes “self-care” is doing things you don’t really want to do in order to create a more balanced life, like exercising regularly, finally scheduling that doctor appointment after 3 years, forcing yourself to go to bed earlier, getting organized and purging old clothes from high school, spending less time scrolling on social media or with toxic friends, doing the dishes right after dinner each night so that you have time with your spouse instead of stressing that they pile up and you can’t handle it all.

I knew I did need to change several things to find a little pep in my step again! My word of 2018 came quite easily to me: RENEWAL. Life is always going to be busy so I needed to find some small steps to take care of myself, and renew my mind and soul. (The same thing I preached to other people pre-motherhood, I now needed to practice!)

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 5.53.47 PM

So January 1st, I left the babe (now toddler) at home with dad and drove to Starbucks to start brainstorming.

I broke the categories up into MIND, BODY, & SOUL. I made a few other goals for the year, but most of them revolve around this practice of making my interior life a priority.

Then, I made my list under each category of the most important things I needed to do to take care of myself.

These are simple things… perhaps just the minimum things I need, but nonetheless things that will go a long way for my well-being when done frequently.

I can tell you after working toward implementing these this first month of the year, I may not be accomplishing all of them, but I feel hopeful and motivated for the months to come because I’m breaking out of the rut. There is a great satisfaction in using my time wisely, seeing myself as a daughter of God that deserves to grow intentionally and is important enough that my needs are worth the effort. That is not selfish. Loving my mind, body, and soul in a small way each day is extremely valuable.

Whether you’re a mom or not, I’d venture to say most people are too busy, too scheduled, and too stressed. Maybe if you’re struggling to get started, this list below of mine will give you some ideas! Ask yourself, what is the MINIMUM I need to do each week to feel healthy, happy, and whole? I’m not talking about training for a marathon, having a spotless house, or doing perfectly on every single work project… just the little things to really look out for your long-term self.

MIND

  • Listen to a podcast, read an article or a few pages in a book
  • Have an encouraging conversation with a friend (on the phone or in person)
  • Write in my “One Line a Day” book each night
  • Plan meals for the week on Sundays (even if it says Pizza)
  • Journal once a month

BODY

  • Wash face & brush teeth twice a day (this sounds so sad, but it is an example of how the minute my son woke me up for the day, it was off to the races. He could wait for a couple of minutes while I started every morning with some basic hygiene.)
  • Move everyday (Stroller Strides 2-3x’s a week, reaching 10k steps, 10 minutes of stretching, going to the park etc.)
  • Take vitamins. Sit down for all meals, not snacking with processed food during day. Focus on veggies & limit sweets.
  • HYDRATE HYDRATE HYDRATE

SOUL

  • Take deep, meditative breaths while rocking James to sleep. Once asleep, pray for him, my marriage, my family and friends
  • Read scripture and devotional each week (sometimes this is daily, but I’m working in baby steps)
  • Play music and sing while cooking or playing throughout the day
  • Go pray in the church adoration chapel alone once a month
  • Fill in my “I am grateful for:” section in my planner each day. (It’s harder to be frazzled when you come from a place of gratefulness and when you have moments in the day to just stop and force yourself to slow down.)

 

How am I doing all of this when I already didn’t feel like I had the time or energy to before? Well, I’m not doing all of it yet…but the short answer is that I’m trying to improve the way I use my time to use it more efficiently.

  1. I have been trying to make a habit out of sitting down for breakfast with my son, getting out my planner, and first thing, writing down my 3 most important tasks or hopes of the day. I find that this helps me get my head on straight before I just start reacting to my day. I also look and see I have scheduled to go to workout class today, so my morning needs to prepare for and work around that goal.
  2. Finding a friend to do a babysitting exchange 🙂 I watch your kid, you watch mine, gives me pockets of time I know I can take a long shower, journal, or just be in silence to think.
  3. Grocery Delivery occasionally
  4. Delegating/getting better at communicating my needs (This one is HUGE) ie. I do bath time while my husband does the dishes; I literally text my husband at work and say “I need to shower tonight”, so he knows we need to work our evening around giving me the time to do that and he’ll remind me if I forget.
  5. Making appointments and putting it on the calendar (my time away in prayer, my workouts, my Bible Study… all ‘obligations’ that I don’t want to miss!)
  6. Alexa play my favorite music” while we are eating lunch, or “Alexa, order more paper towels.”
  7. Podcasts while making dinner or driving

Any other ways you work in your “self-care”? What are your typical go-to activities to fill your cup? 

 

The Struggle is Real… for Everyone. 

The A/C has been out for 3 days and it’s 85 degrees in our apartment. James and I are both sweating, sitting on the floor in front of the box fan we bought from Target last night. There are puffs and toys all over.

I just spent the last 30 minutes taking all the dirty dishes out and unscrewing the filter from our dishwasher (dishwashers have a filter??) to see if that’s why it wasn’t working, while trying to distract the little one climbing on everything next to me. 
Well, turns out it’s not the filter. We left the cool of the fan to feed baby James dinner-time purees when I get a phone call. It’s my landlord, probably calling to get an update on the window sill we just had fixed, or the broken A/C or the broken dishwasher.
I decide I can’t answer it right now because I’m about to start preparing dinner for my husband and I to eat when he gets home. But then I remember how desperately hot my child is and how he’s been struggling more than usual to sleep, so I decide to call the landlord back. James starts screaming to get out of his high chair, and to quiet him down, I move him to his exersaucer. As I’m on the phone with my landlord who has me on speaker phone with the lady at Home Depot asking questions about my dishwasher, I calmly try to explain to them what’s wrong. In that amount of time, baby James takes the food pouch out of my hand and squeezes it out everywhere. All over me, and him, the exersaucer, and the floor.

[Don’t panic Rosemary]

As I’m still talking, I take him out, strip him of his clothes, and he makes a dive into the same chair that he previously pulled on top himself.  See here.  Luckily this time it was just a little bump on his head, but the screaming followed. Mid sentence, I hung up the phone and focused on calming him back down. Home Depot called me back and James grabbed the phone and hung up on them again…

This saga went on and on, playing phone tag with different contractors, scheduling time to get things fixed, cleaning up the ongoing mess, trying to figure out why our internet has been out all week, and finally deciding to just wait to fix dinner until after James went to sleep…which he did for all of 30 minutes before waking up and crying again…

Oh, and the next day our car battery randomly died for no apparent reason. 

The day above comes not too long in the lineup after James and I had an epic car ride home from visiting my in-laws, where the little boy cousins 11 weeks apart got to play! James hates his car seat, always has since he was a newborn. Of course the minute we got on the road, screaming commenced and escalated to gagging and full on hysteria. I ended up pulling over every 5-10 minutes…an hour had passed and we had gone maybe 5 miles. I’ll spare you the exhausting details but it involves going through some sketchy areas of town, getting visited by the police while pulled over, and peeing in a water bottle…

These funny stories are just my average days. Lots of fun, lots of laughs, lots of tears, lots of frustrations, the ups and downs of fussy days or weeks… balancing sleep schedules, teething, nursing, figuring out solids, walking, crawling, dinner, cleaning, errands, bath time, laundry, cleaning up blow outs, prepping to lead bible study, prepping to teach workout class, fighting sciatica pain and carrying James, the diaper bag, and 4 grocery bags up the stairs to our 3rd floor apartment etc. etc.

Some days this all seems like the most complicated thing in the world (especially those of you out there with multiple littles!), but most days it feels like the BEST job in the world. It’s easy to look at the craziness and want to just tap out… but all of this matters. I remind myself often: What you do matters and WHO you raise matters.  It is a beautiful mess. As much as I occasionally get frustrated, I do LOVE these days with all my heart. And just because they’re hard days, doesn’t mean they can’t also still be very good days. And I’m learning, as many moms have advised me, to just let go of some things — the most important thing is that my son knows and feels he is loved and cherished.

I share this craziness because in our overshared, “liked” and commented social media lives, we often don’t see it. 

You know those models on instagram that post the beautifully edited, posed photos holding their babies in the cutest outfits and you feel like their life is perfect?

It’s a lie. 

Well, some of it. That moment when their child was snuggling was calm and sweet. But don’t be deceived by what seems to be picture-perfect…I bet that same kid decided to color the couch with sharpies right after that… Or maybe that mama is struggling because her husband is deployed or she’s just lost a parent or she’s self conscious about her post-partum body… Everyone is going through SOMETHING. And if they’ve had a good day or good week, maybe they’ll be going through something next week or next month.

It’s easy to see how we can look through the highlight reel and the smiling photos on someone’s profile and think, “Their life is perfect. I’m the only one struggling.” But the truth is, you’re not.  I tell you these funny little snapshots because I don’t want you to look at anything I post and think “they must have it together!” When I look at this picture below I see extreme exhaustion and the anxiety I battled trying to leave the house, but I also see so much love and joy and wonderful memories with family. Sharing joyous moments isn’t “bad” by any means—it’s encouraging! We just sometimes need to step back and realize maybe that person went through valleys before they got to that mountain top. 

My sweet boy! A highlight from our week!

On the floor, sweaty, and tired. Not picture ready 😛

 

Everyone has “hard”, you just might not see it unless you’re “doing life” with him or her in person. Don’t forget, to every picture there is a much deeper story. To every person there is a soul that’s weary, trying to find their balance and their purpose. To every life there are highs and lows, ebbs and flows. We all carry burdens, whether they are big or small. Look beyond the cute photos and ask someone how they are really doing. This is your friendly reminder that the struggle is real… for everyone. You are not alone. 

The Soul Strong Life Update

My page was originally called Soul Strong Fitness…. Why the change?

Soul Strong Fitness was born in January 2015 out of the desire for me to help people see their health and exercise as a change that started with, and was rooted in, their spiritual lives. I saw in my own life, in my personal training clients’ lives, and in my online support groups, that the only way to make lasting change was to work past the superficial reasons and excuses, and get to the core of what we really should be living for. Behavior-change starts from the inside out.

Society has long bombarded us with the message that exercise is to make us skinny and look good in photos. It is a message of push yourself because you’re not good enough. In fact, most “fitness stars” today (the majority of whom are flaunting lots of skin on the reg) are drawing us to worship the body, rather than the One who created it. I wanted to be a opposite voice to remind people to love our bodies as living temples preparing for heaven. It isn’t “sexy” so the message doesn’t sell as well; but still, for those that were looking for something different, something positive and genuine, I felt compelled to offer it.

While I have seemingly always have had some connection to fitness over my life, I also am passionate about many other topics that relate to our whole well-being– staying healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve expanded some of my blog posts over the years to be more than recipes or workouts for you to try, but to share my personal reflections on related topics like body image, miscarriage, relationships, motherhood, lifestyle balance, natural living tips, and more. Because I enjoy writing on these topics near to my heart, I’ve decided to expand to encompass not only our fitness, but also living the Soul Strong LIFE, and to have the title of my blog reflect that. 

What is the Soul Strong Life? This means that the call to love God is with our physical muscle AND with everything we have available for honoring God — which includes in our relationships, what we eat, how we move, what we love, how we spend our time, what we wear, and what we struggle with…loving The Lord with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Whole-hearted, life-encompassing allegiance to God should be the priority of our life and the desire of our souls. This is our motivation, and the greatest commandment, but the journey is hard. We are all works in progress in this life, and this blog will chronicle mine!

Whether we’re eating or singing, jogging or blogging, texting or drawing, mourning or rejoicing… love for God is to be in action, and seen in everything we do. I hope through this page & my blogs to follow, to encourage you and ME to put the daily focus back on Him while running this race. With a strong soul, the rest of life follows.

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 2.42.19 PM

What to Expect from Your Workouts When You’re No Longer Expecting

People give you all kinds of advice on life after you have your baby (ehm-sometimes too much advice), but you honestly won’t really know what you need or how you’ll feel until you find yourself lying at home on the couch with an icepack, a jug of water, snuggling your brand new human.

Will you feel like you can’t walk for weeks? (ME!) Or will you feel ready to get back into your workout routine right when you’re cleared? Having an active pregnancy right up until the end does not always translate to jumping right back in to where you left off!

Whenever you are ready, there are some things you maybe don’t expect when you try to start working out again:

  • Leaking… enough said.

    Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 11.25.33 AM.png

    Must have.

 

  • Being worried about milk supply, soreness, engorgement etc etc.

 

  • Being interrupted multiple times by crying, pacifying, feeding, holding your baby, and taking your own pee breaks!

 

  • Not being able to hold your pee in when you jump or run

 

  • Not being able to do upper body weights EVER because your arms & shoulders are perpetually sore from carrying baby & the heavy car seat around

 

  • Being so tired from not sleeping that it takes days to muster up the courage to workout, & then several days before the next workout because you’re still sore/tired from the last one

 

  • Your old workout clothes don’t fit the way they used to & you may not feel like yourself

 

  • Starting, then stopping for several weeks, then starting again, then stopping again. It may take many more months to get into a regular routine than it did pre-baby! And just when you get into a routine, your baby may switch it up on you.

 

  • Needing way more pelvic floor work than you think… Taking a break from your old HITT routine & sit ups to focus more on kegel exercises, glute bridges, wall sits, light sumo squat pulses… The “boring” stuff. Your insides need to HEAL!

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 12.01.21 PM

  • Feeling guilty because you’re not giving your baby your full attention (or maybe have a sitter while you head to the gym), but hey, mama’s gotta be strong to handle the craziness of motherhood!

 

  • Your body may feel up to it, but your mind may not, especially if struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, or hormonal fluctuations

 

And because everyone has to offer their 2 cents new moms, I’ll offer mine:

You might not bounce back right away, so take your time, be gentle with yourself, and laugh at yourself A LOT.  Your body just went through an amazing and incredibly taxing miracle. Any time you’re active is a victory! Take it one day at a time, and focus on getting some movement in each day–walking with your baby around Target counts 🙂 Speaking as someone that has always LOVED to workout and was running the stairs hours before my water broke, it has taken me 6 months to feel up to a consistent routine again, and really wanting to get back into it.

As with most things worth doing, the path is often not linear, but we keep working at it. Listen to your body, and push yourself–or tell your partner to push you– when you feel up to it and know you need to! And remember, even if you’re not thrilled about how your body looks postpartum, please appreciate it for how it housed your little one and worked hard to bring them into this world ❤

IMG_0436.JPG

My first “walk” 1 week post-delivery in January. Walks have been my saving grace to get me out of the house and doing light cardio when I don’t feel up to more.

A Least Expected Path

Just the night before, I was on stage in 5-inch heels with hair teased to the heavens, passing my sash and sparkling crown on to the next Miss Virginia. But that very next day, I was back in my college small town, lying in the grass in my Nike running shorts (you know the ones you live in during college), away from the spotlight, soaking in the sunshine with no makeup or hair spray. It was the perfect new setting for journaling my reflections from the great adventure of 2012.

IMG_2295

I had finished one of the most incredible years of my life, and had to move back into my isolated college dorm room, (my single dorm room that had no mirror I might add) to finish up my last semester of college after taking the year off to travel with the full-time job of Miss Virginia. All of my friends had graduated. I was back at the school that I nearly transferred from each semester because of the pressure and stress. And yet now, coming back to college, I felt free.

It wasn’t that I was “free” from my year traveling as a Miss America titleholder; it was deeper than that. I had grown. Somehow I felt like I had a new outlook on life. Somehow, in a place where people would assume one would become more shallow, self-centered and appearance-focused in “pageantry”, pictures, and autographs etc., God took me on a journey to learn how to deny myself and find true happiness in the midst of that world.

The night I was crowned, the Chairman of the Board of the Miss Virginia pageant handed me a silver pocket cross and said he thought I might need this for the difficult and beautiful year ahead. That was my first sign that something special was going to happen that year. I kept that cross with me each day and saw it each time I opened my crown box before an event.  I expected the year of living and traveling alone each day to be hard, but I did not expect to learn as much as I did about faith, hope, and love.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 7.35.26 AM

From the day that I was given the honor to represent Virginia, I prayed for God to keep me grounded and to help me not get trapped and chained to my temptations. A couple months before the pageant, I was on my second mission trip to Haiti, where God showed me His heart for the needy, how He was there among them, and how I felt more alive than ever before in the midst of serving others. I was determined to not lose sight of what I had learned and stay the path to be the person the Lord was shaping me to be as I entered this new and unknown chapter.

There were a lot of things at the time that I was in the process of breaking free from: Desire for human approval. Pride. Un-forgiveness. Fear of being alone. Fear of not being in control. Fear of failure. Achievement and performance…Suddenly, when I won the prized title, picked up my life and moved to the Miss Virginia apartment in another city, I found myself smack dab in the middle of all of these temptations, and was forced to grapple with each of them throughout the year.

With a business manager setting up my daily travel schedule, I realized in a magnified way that I was very much out of control. Each day was a chance to find joy in the PRESENT, to be flexible, and choose the Lord’s plan over my own agenda and comforts. At the end of the day, His plan would always work out better than I could’ve orchestrated.

Of course there were many, many days that I struggled to stay flexible and surrendered…

Days that I got flustered because my hair wasn’t curling the right way and I would look stupid to the students I was speaking to…

Days I didn’t feel that my speech was quite ready or I messed up the lyrics to the song I was performing…

Nights that I read mean things online people said about me…

Several weeks of walking on crutches to appearances because I had broken my toes and was embarrassed that Miss Virginia would show up to the business meeting a few pounds heavier and not in heels…

Nights I was driving across the state and got lost in a cornfield with no GPS service and broke down crying…

Events where I was milking a cow in a dress and stepped in poop…

Days where I just hit pure exhaustion and felt overwhelmed by all the people I was meeting and things I was experiencing…

But, there was something nearly everyday that reminded me to reach out to God for help. And it was often on the hardest days when I felt most alone that God gave me confirmation that I was right where I needed to be and reminded me of my truest purpose.

It was the biggest blessing as God showed me that coming to the “end of myself” was going to give Him an opportunity to shine through me, to love someone, to serve someone, to make His name known, or at least to give me a good laugh and remember He was looking out for me along my travels. He would give me rest exactly when I needed it, and courage when I was nervous or worried. And He would sometimes miraculously get me to events on time, even with horrible traffic!

….

When you ask God to be with you and to guide you, He certainly will.

He opened the door for me to share about my decision to save sex for marriage at a youth True Love Waits conference, to visit childhood cancer patients in the hospital and share that there is hope, to be an advocate in schools for healthy living by respecting your body and making wise choices, to teach fitness classes to those with disabilities, to spend time with our veterans and thank them for their service, and so on.

These events taught me to let go of seeking perfection, and just simply BE with people and love them, from playing with babies and coloring with toddlers, to deep talks with high schoolers, to conversations with businessmen and the elderly in nursing homes. I had to accept whatever came my way that day, even if it was out of my comfort zone. There is no energy left to care about what people think of you. And instead of focusing on “loving myself and accepting myself”, my goal became to try to forget about myself and empty myself for the people before me, wherever I was that day. The more and more I shared this truth of “service over self” with the students I spoke to each day, the more and more it sunk in for me to live out in my life too.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 7.47.19 AM

That chance to live life really engaged with strangers from all backgrounds taught me that it was possible to make each day incredibly meaningful. And it confirmed for me that while Miss Virginia opened many doors for me, I didn’t need to be Miss Virginia to make people feel special and loved, and to live out my mission in the world. 

It’s funny to me that God decided to use my time as a “beauty queen” to give me a deeper understanding about being His masterpiece and being content in His never-fading joy…a strange path I never would have planned for myself, and a path that often leads some to discontentment.

It was once I had the crown that it truly sunk in that I didn’t need to pursue any crowns on earth, and the true secret to a full abundant life was entire separation to Christ. It’s easy for people to think having some kind of “glamorous” elevated position is the most fulfilling; but I’ve found that it’s pursuing the humble life that is actually most beautiful. And what’s amazing is that almost every single Miss Virginia in the “sisterhood” that I’ve ever met is focused on making a difference in this world without the crown as well. They are always looking for someone to help and someone to support.

So when I moved back into school that summer, yes, I was ready to relax, unplug, and just be plain old “Rosemary” with no one to answer to for a little while. But I’m also forever grateful that God chose a crown and a sash for that sweet time, to teach me about relying deeply on His strength and storing up crowns in Heaven.

Often in the ways we least expect it, God heals our weary souls and offers His abundant grace to us on the extraordinary path He lays before us.

IMG_2131

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day

I have childhood memories of the Sunday morning of Mother’s Day when my dad and brothers brought me breakfast in bed. I may have only been 7 or 8 years old, but that sweet gesture made me feel honored as a young woman, and excited to be a future mother. I have thought about what this day with my own child might be like for many years.

2 years ago on Mother’s Day, I was miscarrying our first baby. We decided to still go to church, but at a different location and time than our own. The church we happened to be visiting asked all mothers to stand and be recognized. Tears burst forth for the millionth time that day. My womb and my hands were empty. My husband nudged me to stand, but I couldn’t muster up the strength. I sat and hung my head.

I was a mother on this particular Mother’s Day, but not how I had hoped I would be.

Last year on Mother’s Day, my husband and I had just found out we were expecting for the second time. We were nervous with this pregnancy after our loss, but were overjoyed nonetheless, and it seemed like God’s perfect timing. It was a happy Mother’s Day for our family to have the hope of a healthy baby to come, and a nice distraction from focusing on last year’s experience. We traveled down to spend the day celebrating with my mom, dad, and Grandma Rosemary. We shared the exciting news with my grandma, who was elated to hear she would have another great-grandchild. She was in her 90’s and her memory was starting to go. Several times through the first half of my pregnancy, she didn’t remember that I was pregnant. It was very sweet how thrilled she was about the news each time, reacting as if hearing it for the first time every time I told her. When I think of this pregnancy and that Mother’s Day, I will always remember my grandmother (my son bares her maiden name as his middle name).

This Mother’s Day is bittersweet. It is extra special for my husband and me, as we are able to hold a precious baby boy in our arms. Oh what joy fills our souls to be gifted this little life! I think about how my life has changed already, and how I am learning more each day about what it means to live out my maternal vocation in my family and in the world. Yet, this Mother’s Day is still a reminder that my grandma passed a week after my son was born this year. She was an incredible mother and grandmother, and I know my mom and I miss her very much.

And also, many others weigh heavy on my heart… It is a reminder of a friend who lost her newborn son last year, a friend who isn’t able to have children but longs to be a mother, a friend who’s mother was absent growing up and she still has wounds, a friend whose mother passed away when she was young, a friend whose son is struggling and rejects her as mother. My heart goes out to all of these women and the ache they may feel on this “holiday”.

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 10.59.54 AM

It’s okay to feel incredibly grateful for the mom(s) in your life who have been your role models, while simultaneously feeling anger or sorrow about your own circumstances. It’s okay not to feel like posting something happy on social media, and it’s okay if you do! It’s more than okay to be thrilled about the special relationship you have with the mother God gave you and want to shower her with praise. And it’s okay to not know what to feel on this day. This day brings out many different emotions, and may bring out different emotions each year that it rolls around.

There is no denying– Mom’s are heroes. And Mother’s Day is a beautiful day, one that lifts up this unique and nurturing role we are given as women. We shouldn’t take this day away! But if there is a woman in your life you know who may be struggling on this day or just deserves a little extra encouragement, remember to reach out to acknowledge her. Offer a hug, a card, a text.

This Mother’s Day, let us rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. Let’s celebrate the women in our lives who have lived out this motherly role, no matter the number of earthy children they may have.

Thank you to all mothers for your service, your courage, your compassion, your fidelity to your family, and for making the world more honest and life-giving. Happy Mother’s Day to ALL moms… We honor you.

Click here to read more about the movement to #honorallmoms.