I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face. The doctor had been to the house and asked me to close my eyes then one at a time he had me raise my arms and legs. She told me years later, that nothing had moved, I was paralyzed. I know she had prayed me through it. She prayed me back when I was lost in a nearby swamp, out of a spring flooded drainage ditch when I was dragged under still wearing a heavy snow suit, back from hospitals when I was in motorcycle or car crashes and for the rest of my life through every heartbreak and emergency I inflicted on her. I believe thanks to her prayers the Polio only left me with minor challenges, so minor that I wouldn’t bring it up for more than 50 years. Too many other kids lost their mobility or their lives and I felt guilty for getting off so easily.High School football was the highlight of my sports activities. I was tall and skinny but I played tackle on both the offence and defence. The coach said he wouldn’t throw me the ball because he couldn’t tell which way I was running! After I was married, I tried to stay in shape by exercising with machines, weights, and a tread mill. Later, I tried golf which wasn’t bad as long as a power cart carried the bag and chased the ball. Whatever I tried, whether it was a sport, jogging or dancing my focus was more on avoiding paying the price with the pain that would come later then on becoming really good at it.Finally, at 64 years old, working full time with a lengthy commute I could see the potential for health hazards related to the sedentary senior’s lifestyle looming on my horizon. I began to search for a solution, hoping that even at my age there might be one last chance to be the athlete I never was.
Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for my relationship with the living God, for a beautiful loving wife of 45 years, for our amazing children and their growing families but why not ask for the one thing I never had: sports prowess!
Around that time Pierre a co-worker and friend sent me a blog written by a prominent photographer extolling the virtues of a powerlifting program called “Stronglifts” by a young Belgian named Mehdi.
The principle had great appeal because it was simple: start by lifting the empty bar and add 5 or 10 pounds a week. “Stronglifts” provided an accountability system and I began walking down our farm lane to a makeshift gym in the former old milkhouse, 3 times a week. There, I would spend an hour, following the training program as written.
A year later I was stronger than I have ever been in my life. I Googled advice, chatted on weightlifting forums and researched diet. People told me it was difficult or impossible to gain serious muscle mass at my age; they were wrong! Eating 1-2 grams of protein for every pound of body weight, taking the highest quality nutritional supplements in the world and eating a small nutritious meal every 2-3 hours a day I grew from a tall, slim 190 pounds to a meaty 238. From the empty bar I began to lift my body weight and more.
In September 2014 I travelled to Hamilton Ontario to a powerlifting qualifying competition with a good family friend and world powerlifting record holder, Leon Brown. My wife Denise who was always there for me, including spotting when I did the bench press, travelled with me and helped me prepare, mentally and physically.
I qualified for the Provincial meet in November of that year and came back to Hamilton to win the silver medal in my class.
Then, in April 2015 at 67 years old, only 3 years after deciding to be a powerlifter, I set 4 national records, 5 provincial records and won the Gold Medal at the Canadian National Powerlifting Championship in St. John’s Newfoundland.
Now, I’ve set new goals that I’m working toward but I’m not doing it without going over every step with my lifetime coach. He already knows the outcome because after all He is God. He was with me in the beginning and He will be with me in the end. I’m not doing this to live longer but with Him as my coach, I am living stronger.
How to keep your marriage healthy after having kids.
I was concerned that becoming parents might weaken our marriage. I wasn’t afraid that it would ruin our marriage. Michael and I had made promises to God and each other to stay the course, come hell or high water. We also had—and still have—a deep friendship and camaraderie in our relationship. But I was, admittedly, nervous that having a child might throw some of that off-kilter—that, perhaps, adding another human being in the mix might strain our connection and closeness.
And you know what?
Our daughter was born on our seventh anniversary, and her birthday has become symbolic to me: Those things that were solely about me and my husband—the things that used to be just about us—those things have shifted. Even our marriage—our very anniversary—is shared, now.
And that’s a good thing.
Because although it feels like it might rub me raw some days, getting to be a parent is a gift. God’s word unabashedly declares that children are a blessing from him (Psalm 127:3-5), that each child is intentionally created by God (Psalm 139), and that children show us a picture of what it means to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:1-3). I believe in the Bible. And I also believe my experience—my daughter is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.
But being a parent is also a gift because it can strengthen our marriages, if we are intentional about growing as parents and spouses. Growing as parents without growing as spouses is putting the proverbial cart before the horse, and both the marriage and the parenting will suffer. But the opportunity to grow as friends and lovers—as husband and wife—as we are parenting? This is a truly good gift.
Here’s how to be purposeful about growing as spouses even as we parent those small humans who are making lots of noise in the house:
Make Time Just for the Two of You
Yes, it’s going to be a lot harder to get one-on-one, meaningful time together now that you’re parents. But do it anyway; your marriage is worth it.
When Michael and I were dating, engaged and then married before becoming parents, we had so much time to be together. Time to explore the arboretum. Time to talk over long meals. Time to see movies and sleep in. Now, as parents (and remember, we only have one right now; God bless all parents of multiple children. Amen.), a lot of our time is spent doing parent-y things: feeding our child, playing with our child, reading to our child, bathing, cleaning and clothing our child. Her schedule shapes a great deal of what we can and can’t do.
So we have a weekly date night. Sometimes we get a sitter and go out. Sometimes we talk and eat ice cream and watch a movie at home after she goes to bed (Alleluia for the 7:30 p.m. bed time). But we are consistent about making time to meaningfully connect so that we can operate as friends and lovers … and not solely as parenting partners.
Serve Your Spouse, Not Just Your Kids
Before children, it’s just easier to care for our spouse—to stop at the store and pick up a favorite cereal when we’re running low, or to refill the gas tank in the car before it drops to E. But when the days fill up with attending to the basic needs of children, we can get worn out with serving anyone but ourselves.
The gift in this, though, is that parenting reminds us in fresh ways that it’s not all about me. Caring for one or two or 10 little humans forces us to put the needs of another before our own—often to a degree that we’ve never had to experience before. Waking up 10 times in one night? Sure. Making meals and washing clothes for kids who don’t have the fine motor skills to do it for themselves? Of course.
But if we’re so exhausted by serving our kids that we can’t—or won’t—serve our spouse, we’re headed down the wrong path. We may not be able to fill up the gas tank on a whim or pick up roses on the way home, but we can still serve our spouse in simple, thoughtful ways through the week. A note left on a dashboard, the offer to take the kids while she gets a night out, or the willingness to clean the dishes—these little acts of service help keep marriages healthy in the midst of exhausting days and years.
Get Help When You Need It
Let’s be honest; we all need help (in countless ways). But having children can add a practical strain on the marriage relationship that can build up over time if those things are not intentionally worked through. The tensions that can arise in a marriage when time, affection and even money have to be split three ways (or four or five or 12 ways) rather than two ways can feel weighty.
Don’t go it alone. If you’re not already in a small group at your church, join one (if they provide childcare during that time, bonus!). Talk to other couples about how they try to balance it all. Ask for help when your kid gets sick. Make a meal for another family when they’re short on cash—and accept the same in return.
If talking with friends isn’t enough, seek out marriage counseling. Get help and don’t try to figure it out on your own. The Church, the Body of Christ, is called to care for one another, and our marriages and families need all of the care they can get. No couple is meant to go the intense, beautiful and difficult road of marriage and parenting alone. So reach out.
Strong marriages make for strong families, and it’s worth it to invest in our marriages so that we don’t lose intimacy with our spouse in the busy years of parenting. The kids, as treasured and valuable as they are, will leave. The spouse is the one who is meant to stay.
For most musicians, singing at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium with one of your musical heroes is a bucket list kind of event. For five-time GMA Female Vocalist of the Year, Natalie Grant, it marked the beginning of an unexpected nightmare.
“Less Than One Percent Chance of Conceiving …”
“Here I was about to go do this dreamy event, and my phone rang. It was the doctor’s office saying, ‘Hey, we have all of your results back, and you guys have less than a one percent chance of conceiving a child,'” Natalie said. “I just remember my head started to spin, and I thought, There’s no way. This is not going to be our story.”
A few hours later, Natalie took the stage with Wynona Judd, singing a song they had recorded together about how God brings everything together for good, just as her personal dream of bearing children began to crumble.
“A song I thought I would always sing to encourage somebody else was actually a lifeline for me that night,” Natalie said.
Natalie and her husband—award-winning songwriter and producer Bernie Herms—who she will celebrate 16 years of marriage with in August, had waited more than five years before entertaining the idea of starting a family since they both had demanding careers that required extensive travel.
The two originally met after Natalie moved to Nashville in search of a record deal. The Seattle native was showcasing her music for labels and needed a piano player. Someone recommended Bernie, and Natalie hired him. (He still plays piano for her today.)
“It took him a lot longer to figure out that he loved me; but after the day I met him, I called my parents and said, ‘I met this guy, and if he asked me to marry him tomorrow, I would say, yes,'” Natalie candidly shares, laughing. The two became friends, eventually started dating, and the rest is history.
Pursing Fertility Treatment
Five years into marriage, the thought of not having children was a test of the couple’s faith. After prayerful consideration, they decided to pursue fertility treatments.
Seventy-six shots later, Natalie turned up pregnant. However, when the elated mother-to-be went to the doctor for her first ultrasound, she was given another unexpected surprise—two heartbeats.
Bella and Gracie were the long-awaited miracles for which they had fervently prayed. With a burgeoning music career, a loving husband and two happy, healthy twin girls, Natalie had everything she could ever ask for. She soon discovered a manageable rhythm between her family and career, and by the time the twins were three, she was satisfied and content with a balancing act she could comfortably navigate.
That’s when the bottom fell out.
An Unexpected Miracle and Unbelievable Guilt
“Fast forward three years [from when the twins were born], and no medical treatments, no drugs, no shots, no nothing and I turned out pregnant with Sadie; and yeah, it was a miracle, but also the miracle I never asked for,” Natalie confesses.
She could balance her ministry, her touring schedule, and her calling as a wife and mother of two … but how could she possibly keep all of the plates spinning with a third child added to the mix?
“I think the guilt began to set in right from the beginning, because I didn’t want to be pregnant,” Natalie said. “I was very happy with just my two children, and I began to feel such unbelievable guilt that I would even have these feelings … like, wait, I didn’t ask for this one. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“That’s when those lies and whispers began: What kind of mother are you? You are a terrible mother. You’re not worthy of this. Obviously, God made a mistake when He allowed you to have this miracle. Things that in our right mind we know are not true—like God doesn’t make mistakes—but when your emotions get the best of you, you begin to believe those lies,” she continues.
Wrestling with Depression Behind Closed Doors
At the height of her career, Natalie sank into a deep depression. From the outside, she looked like she had a perfect, enviable life; but on the inside, she had never felt more alone—a challenge made even more complicated by the fact that her profession requires her to be on a public platform. There was significant pressure for Natalie to constantly be “on” and available to others and little time for self-pity.
“Here I am getting onstage, and [these women] already think my life is glamorous because I can dress up in cute clothes and hold a microphone and travel around the world—they have no idea. Now I’m going to stand up and say, ‘I’ve got this miracle in my belly, but I didn’t really want to be pregnant.’ So then I thought, I can never talk about it; they’re going to hate me,” she says. “It was intense pressure, mostly self-inflicted—it usually is. We’re our own worst enemies, always.”
Once she gave birth to Sadie, she expected her feelings would dramatically change. However, the darkness only closed in tighter.
“I felt like the lights had just been turned out in my life, and I really didn’t know how I was going to find my way back,” she said. “It was a really scary time.”
The guilt was overwhelming, especially considering other women looked to her as a role model and spiritual mentor.
“I was still getting up and saying all the right things but not buying a single word of what I was trying to sell. I had all the right Scriptures to say to help [other people] put their own lives back together again, but I [couldn’t] put my life together. I [was] a total fraud,” she says. “I would get off stage and retreat into my own little pit.”
Beginning the Journey of Restoration
“I struggled a lot longer than I needed to because I was so private about it,” she admits. “The beginning of my healing really started when I actually found the courage to give voice to my struggle.”
Through discussing her depression with her husband, her family and her doctor, she was able to begin the journey of restoration.
“So often we struggle privately because, especially as Christians, we think, What kind of Christian am I if I’m struggling with depression over my children? I know I did,” she shares.
In addition to acknowledging her depression out loud, Natalie also says leaning into Scripture pulled her out of her abyss.
“I ran from the Word of God. What I knew would be my lifeline is the very thing I absolutely avoided,” she said. “I avoided the Word of God like the plague, because I knew there would be a painful period. Once I got back into the Word, it was the greatest pain, but through that pain came the greatest healing.”
The Hard Work of Healing
Natalie admits that it’s tempting to stay in the darkness because the work of clawing our way to the light seems difficult.
“When we find ourselves in a pit, sometimes it’s just easier to stay there than it is to actually do the work of getting out. We find fulfillment in our self-pity. It sounds so backwards, but I only know it because I experienced it.”
“We don’t have to work for our salvation, but there is work involved in making ourselves whole,” she said. “I think we fall for the idea that God is going to rescue us and all the work is on Him; but He’s actually already done everything He needs to do to redeem our lives. We have to believe it. We have to take hold of the hand of mercy that He’s extending.”
God’s Greatest Gift Outside Salvation
Today, Natalie is grateful for her self-proclaimed “dark period,” because it’s shaped her character and allowed her to experience the depths of God’s faithfulness in entirely new ways.
Bella and Gracie are now 8, and Sadie is 4; and all three miracles bring her joy she never knew was possible. Moreover, her relationship with Bernie is better than she ever imagined, adding that he was her biggest supporter through her depression.
“I didn’t know I could love him more, but I do. My love for him grew so intensely because he waited for me to find my way instead of trying to push me,” she said. “God’s greatest gift to me outside of salvation was my husband; because I am a complicated disaster, and my husband is a patient, really wonderful, loving man who has walked with me through a lot. I constantly learn from him how to be a better person.”
Natalie’s life hasn’t turned out the way she planned. She never dreamed she would find a husband like Bernie. She never counted on struggling with infertility, much less becoming a mother to three little girls. She never imagined she’d be not only a successful recording artist, but also an actress, activist and an award-winner.
Natalie never thought she’d experience postpartum depression. However, she’s come to expect the unexpected, because sometimes the things we don’t plan are the miracles that bring us the most joy.
Where Natalie is Now
As Natalie travels the country, she’s now openly sharing her story with other women about her struggle with depression and how it literally refined every area of her life.
“When you belong to Jesus, it doesn’t mean that this stuff is going to turn out the way you planned or even the way you pray for, but you come out stronger on the other side,” she said. “I’m a stronger mother. I’m a stronger wife. I’m a much stronger believer; and I feel like I’m a stronger woman because of what I walked through.”
Hurricane: “Produced by her husband and longtime collaborator Bernie Herms, Natalie Grant’s Hurricane follows up her Dove Award-nominated 2008 album, Love Revolution. This time around, Grant finds a pleasing balance between her electronic dance music inclinations, piano-driven ballads, and country sounds.”
Watch the Music Video for Natalie’s Song “In the End”
A friend recently introduced me to a fabulous talk Brené Brown gave at a conference for creatives. You can watch it here.In it, she uses the metaphor of a coliseum-type arena as the place where we display our work, art, ourselves. The place where we must be vulnerable and put it out there. Whatever “it” happens to be. In the audience of the arena are many people, including the critics.
Brown says there are always four internal critics present in our arena:
Scarcity – which asks,
“What am I doing that’s original?”
Shame – which says, “You’re not enough. Who do you think you are, trying to act like you belong here?”
Comparison – Does this one even need an explanation?
Fill in the blank
Only you know who occupies seat number four, and I think the critic in this seat rotates depending on what you’re up to in the arena.
My 12th-grade math teacher will, on occasion, occupy that fourth seat.
I went to a small Episcopalian high school and one of its (many) traditions was The Senior Chapel Talk. The entire school attended chapel every day at 10 a.m., and at some point during the year, instead of our chaplain speaking, a senior would get up and give a 15-minute speech.
I was very nervous about my chapel talk.
I liked theater and choir and performing, but when it came to being on stage and acting like myself, I was terrified and had little to no experience.
I remember my dad sat down with me at our kitchen table and helped me plan out what I was going to say. Then, I practiced saying it aloud in front my mirror about 17 times. When the day came to give my talk, my mouth was dry and my hands were shaking, but I stood up at the podium anyway, and I got through it.
Photo Credit: Francisco Osorio, Creative Commons
I sat back down in my seat, feeling pretty proud of myself and very relieved.
After chapel, I went to math class, and the first thing my teacher said when she saw me was, “Wow, I’ve never heard anyone give a speech so fast!” I was mortified. I was so nervous I didn’t even know I had talked fast and flown through my speech. I looked around the classroom at my friends with questioning eyes. They averted my gaze. I decided this meant they must agree with her and slunk down into my seat.
Her comment echoed in my head for a long time.
Since that day I’ve always told people I hate public speaking, and I’m terrible at it. “My mouth gets dry and I talk too fast,” I tell them.
We have so many voices like this don’t we?
Maybe we have some we’re not even aware of that are taunting us from the nosebleed section, and we’re listening to them even though they’re mean. In her talk, Brown suggests replacing these voices with kind, trusted ones.
Listen to the people who love you and cheer for you, no matter what, and have a picture of the strong person you know you’re becoming.
One way of conquering my math teacher’s voice was volunteering to do chapel for the company I used to work for. I had 15 minutes (again) and the crowd would be 20-30 people. It sounds small but it was a really big deal for me.
And you know what? I was ok.
I received kind feedback, and I even enjoyed the experience.
Sometimes you have to do the thing that one person told you weren’t good at in order to kick them out of your arena.
They don’t belong there. Don’t let them have a seat.
Andrea Lucado is a book publicist by day and a freelance writer by night. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, she now calls Nashville, Tennessee, home. Get regular updates on Twitter (@andrealucado), or read more on her blog English Lessons.
Joanna Gaines is a wife, mother, and HGTV designer that is a star on the show “Fixer Upper.” But, she didn’t just get lucky and wind up there one day. She had gone through a few tribulations in life until making a promise with God. Joanna kept it, and in the end He delivered.This woman and her husband are proud Christians that speak to God often and openly. As a child growing up, Joanna had trouble because she was two different cultures and it had an effect on her confidence. When she got out of college, she met a man that she eventually married years later. Growing up she always had a desire to be a designer and have her own shop. But that’s easier said than done.
After some time, she was finally able to open up a shop. She enjoyed her time in the shop, and within time became pregnant. This cause her to shut the shop down because she felt it was time she needed to spend with her child. This is what her and God spoke about before closing down. People who found out about her and what she does, came to visit and wanted to shoot a show of her family. She and her husband Chip agreed to do so.
During this time, her husband took her down to a tree to go recollect her thought and speak with God. This is where her promise was fulfilled. When Joanna returned home, they were able to open up the store she always dreamed about. God is good!