On Tuesday, Sarah Wallace from our Selah class shared her story. Born into a Christian home, Sarah was saved at a young age, met her husband at bible college and set off after marriage to serve with him in a junior high youth ministry. Let’s pick up the story there.
So here we are. Newlyweds. Planted in the middle of upstate New York–which is a world so different from both of our Midwest upbringings–trying to figure out this marriage thing; family 14 hours away; and not a soul we knew. On top of that, we were pretty much second parents to 30 junior highers! Then, two years into our time there we became pregnant with our first child and entered into another new place–the season of parenthood.
I think we knew from the beginning we were not in a church that we wanted to be in forever. That became more and more clear, as time went on. We just had a different vision for ministry than the church did. So, when our Amelia was about 6 months old, we started looking at different job options for Topher. He had done some freelance work with some friends from college who were in Nebraska, and they let him know there might be a more permanent job available.They graciously told us we were welcome to live with them until we got a job. And so, with a hope and a prayer, we packed up our baby and our stuff and moved to Lincoln. And Topher got the job!
We got pregnant again about four months after moving to Lincoln. As refreshing as it was to be back in the Midwest and to have dear friends our age, this also began a pretty hard season for us. About a year into the job, we realized it was not the most perfect fit. But when you have a family, you kind of have to just keep at it. And so, it became a season where Topher really struggled to thrive. It was also the first time in our lives that we really had the choice of going to church or not . . . and after feeling unsupported and unloved at the church in New York, we both just took a break from church.
After about a year of not going to church, my mom confronted me and encouraged me to find community and a place where we could be encouraged and fed again by other believers. As much as I felt ready to find a new place, Topher felt the opposite. He just wasn’t ready to dive back in. So, I went to church for about 2 years alone. A dear friend invited me to come to MUMs here at Berean, and I have to say it saved me. That sounds dramatic, but this was the community I needed to be accepted into, the teaching I needed to hear, and just the safe place I longed for.
It was a hard season in our marriage though. I felt like we were on different pages. And the man I married was different–depressed and sad at a job he knew he had to go to but was so unfilled by. I begged and pleaded with God to show me what I could do.
- What could I do to change Topher’s heart?
- How could I help him through this hard time?
- What words could I say to magically help him feel better?
God just kept telling me over and over again to pray . . . to TALK with HIM about the situation. But, honestly, it felt like that wasn’t enough. I had to learn there was nothing that I could do. It had to be God’s work.
Ladies, there is power in prayer. And so, I just prayed. Prayed, not just for the things I wanted Topher to change but prayed for his heart to be softened. And although sometimes it felt like I was doing nothing, I look back and realize so much of what all that praying did was change my own heart and my love for Topher. And slowly, little by little, I felt like I got back the man I fell in love with. And he got back the joy and peace that he had lost for a while.
When our youngest was 4 and our oldest was 6, we got pregnant again. We always knew we wanted a big family, but having babies during those hard times, well, the timing just didn’t seem right. And so, when we found out we were pregnant with our Roosevelt, we were beyond excited because we were in a way better place. And then again, when our tiny Roosevelt was 8 months old, we got pregnant with our fourth!
In the middle of that 4th pregnancy, with our Audrey, Topher called me to let me know he was getting laid off. The company he had worked for, for 6 years, had gone from 100 employees to about 15. I remember, honestly, just not really understanding what he was saying because my brain just couldn’t help but panic! We were still living in our little 2-bedroom duplex. Making it work . . . but hoping for so much more.
So again, another season of needing to trust. I remember calling my mom to let her know about this recent layoff and she encouraged me to keep a journal of all that God was providing . . . a list of all the blessings and ways that God showed up every day.
Now it’s just the most beautiful piece of paper . . . to be able to look back and see how he met all of our needs. And He not only provided for needs; but gave above and beyond!
- Friends dropped off gift cards.
- Neighbors brought vegetables.
- The list literally goes on and on.
And each time it happened, we knew we were going to be okay.
Isaiah 43:1-3 was key to me in those times.
But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel,
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
3 “For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”
I love these verses so much because it doesn’t say IF you go through waters or IF you walk through fire . . . it says WHEN. Our Heavenly Father knows it’s a broken world and he promises us to go through it WITH us. To me that is so beautiful.
After two months of applying to jobs like crazy and going to so many interviews, Topher landed a job at Nelnet with a nonprofit that he really loved and a team of people that he thoroughly enjoyed. We just cried and were so thankful for the blessing that it was.
About two months later our fourth was born , BUT she came 3.5 weeks early, so she had to spend some time in the NICU to get those lungs of hers breathing just a bit more. And once again, I just found myself having to trust that God’s plan was better than my own. It was not what I wanted or would have chosen, but he was faithful as always.
In that next year of our lives we were finally able to buy our first house and it was such an immense blessing to our family! It was so exciting to actually have a bit more space for this family we were building.
Then, a year and a half after Topher began his new job at Nelnet, we were told that his position was going to be eliminated because of budget cuts. You would think at this point that I would be a pro at trusting, but it sent me into a whirlwind all over again. The fear of not knowing what was going to happen and how we were even going to be able to make it overwhelmed me.
I remember telling Topher I felt like I had no control . . . like I had no grasp or handle over this life of ours. I remember him looking at me at saying, “When do you think you HAD control?”
God provided yet another job for Topher about three months later. And honestly this is the most enjoyable job he has had and the job that just uses so many of his strengths.
So, I titled my journey “Trusting God and giving up control”.
I have lived so much of my life wanting to create order and control. Yet in those seasons where order and control were absolutely ripped away from me, I was forced to make a choice—freak out or trust God. I have to say—those circumstances are not something that I want to go through again; but I now see it’s during the hard times when my relationship with God grows and thrives the most.
I married this crazy guy who knows how to take life as an adventure . . . and God knew what he was doing! Because it has forced me out of my comfort zone–forced me to open my hand wide to God when all I want to do is grab anything in sight and try to control it.
My very first vacation with Topher’s family was right after we got engaged, and we all went up to northern Michigan to a place called Mackinaw Island. If any of you have ever been there, you know it is beautiful, but the most beautiful thing about it is there are no cars! Just bicycles and horses.
Topher and I rented a tandem bike and, gosh, it was such a picture of what our marriage was going to look like! (Also, a picture of what my relationship with God looks like.) While we rode down this huge hill every morning Topher would say, “just put your feet up and enjoy it.” And, every time, I would push down on the brakes and hold tight.
Honestly, I had to learn to trust.
In everyday life circumstances, as on the bike, it’s useless to rely on my ability to “put on the brakes” to keep things under control. The joy comes when I learn to let go and let God . . . BE God.