You Ask, I Answer! Part Two.

Hi friends! What fun I am having with this Q&A! All you lurkers who have been de-lurking, thank you!! It's been fun to "meet you." Of course I also love hearing from you regulars too :) I think I can answer most of the questions you asked me in one post, with the exception of the nanny topic. So many of you asked me about that or commented about it, so I am planning to do a little further blogging on the topic. You raised some great points and asked some specific things that I really want to address, so stay tuned for that. In the mean time, I am going to tackle everything else and I'm warning you now, this is probably going to be long. Thanks so much for participating and letting me hear what you're curious about. It's been really fun for me to host this Q&A, I will definitely be doing it again!

You really did inspire me to get out of my rut too :) Lately I've struggled with what to blog about, besides Ava. She's really easy to discuss! But sometimes I need a little prompting to share what the Lord is currently teaching me. I started this blog largely because I wanted to keep our out of town family in the loop, but also because I just simply like to write. I enjoy expressing my thoughts through writing and this has been a wonderful forum for me to pursue.

But enough about that, on to the "main event!" Part two begins now...

1. How do I maintain old friendships (pre-baby)?
Great question! Now if only I had a great answer :) Just kidding...I think I might have some wisdom to share on this. The reality of the situation is that I have not been in this new phase of my life for very long. However, I certainly was in the pre-baby stage for a very long time. I definitely know how it feels to be the "odd ball friend" without kids. So, now that I'm on the other side, I hope I never forget what it felt like to be on the outside. I think in every earthly relationship, i.e.- friendship, marriage, parenthood etc., in order to have a good standing with another person, you have to make an effort. Relationships just don't happen without any work.

I would hope that I could continue to maintain my old friendships just like I always have. Are things different with me now? Yes. Do I have a skewed point of view now that I'm a Mom? Probably. Should I only seek out friendships with people who are just like me? No! After I wrote my most recent post on what I've found to be more easy or hard about motherhood than I previously thought, I kind of had a little "come to Jesus" moment with, well, Jesus. I shared with you my feeling about being lonely sometimes, wishing I had a friend in the exact same stage as I was in. While that was an honest reflection of my heart, it was probably a little too honest. Not in the "wish I wouldn't have said that" kind of way, but in the "uh oh, I think I have some attitude adjusting to do" kind of way. Let me explain...

For the last few weeks, I have been living in Ecclesiastes and reading each chapter, verse by verse, word for word. I LOVE Ecclesiastes. This isn't the first time I've been through it so carefully and it most certainly won't be the last. I LOVE it because it is a book just dripping with perspective and wisdom. It is so darn practical, it awes me every time. Anyway, as I was reading in chapter 4, I encountered the classic passage about "two are better than one..." You know, the verses that make a lovely little sermon at a wedding?? While that can be applied to marriage, Ecc. 4:9-12 is really just talking about all kinds of relationships in general. Solomon has just finished warning us about the danger of putting "things" above people and then he goes on to just lay out the value of relationships. He helps us see that life isn't just about performing a function or making a living, but about experiencing the delight of of people! Lest you think I'm wise enough to pull that out on my own, it should be noted that I am paraphrasing from a book I am also reading along with the Bible. It's called "The Problem of Life With God" by Tommy Nelson and it wonderful! Anyway, one of the things he points out is, that loneliness is a real thing and sometimes something we can't do anything about. But not usually. In light of the value God places on being in relationship, he simply said, "don't be lonely by design."

Simple I know, but because it was just what I needed to hear, that one statement resonated in my heart and mind and caused me to re-think what I previously said about being lonely. It's one thing to be isolated and without friends simply due to the season of life you're in or circumstances beyond your control. But it's an entirely other thing to be lonely by design. While it would be lovely to have a best friend who got married the same day I did, got pregnant the same day I did, and delivered a little girl, just like I did, the reality of that is just not going to happen. And thank God! I don't need the stress of comparison :) The beauty of what God does in the life of the believer, is that He already knows every single need we have (including the need for friendship) and He is able and willing to meet that need NOW. And sometimes HE does it exclusively (through time spent in relationship with Him and through His word), but sometimes He also does it through friends he puts in our lives.

Every single season in my life has been full of a variety of friendships. Some with people like me, some with people nothing like me, but all with people that I needed FOR THAT SEASON. (There's another Ecclesiastes gem for you from chp. 3. There is a time for everything!) The point is, I have the choice to invest in the people who are in my life, regardless of how alike me they are. Some take more work than others, but all are there to provide a different color thread that I need for the tapestry of my life. It would be sad and unwise for me to dismiss the friends He's given me, simply because of age, stage or preferences. So does that diminish the feeling of loneliness I may feel? No. But it does cause me to re-examine what I'm doing about it. Life is just not all about me (Lord knows I think that sometimes!) but it's about Him and about people. In a severely long-winded way, I hope I am conveying the truth that hit me square in the eye. If you want to have a friend, be a friend! Work at it. Make the effort. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Schedule a coffee date. Whatever it takes! Just don't be lonely by design :) As for me, I've signed myself up for Tuesday morning Bible study at Church to get to know some other women. In an answer to prayer, Travis and I are entertaining the invitation of being in a small group. And I've got some fun things on the calendar with people I love. Is it perfect? No. But it is what God has for me right now? Yes! And that is enough.

2. How am I able to say "no" to something without guilt?
Honestly, this has come very easy for me lately :) I think that is simply because I am such a do-er/over-achiever and I have had a bad history of ALWAYS saying yes! Because of that, I have experienced the natural burn-out of having too much on my plate and I have watched certain areas or people in my life suffer, because of my over commitment to too many things. Having a baby has been the best excuse of my life to put an end to it! Actually, about two years ago, I really did learn this lesson and re-think how I respond to requests for help. Believe me, as a Pastor's wife, I should have a degree in the art of saying no, because I've been asked to do just about everything! But, I realized that you cannot do multiple things well, at the cost of other things. I would rather do 1 thing and give it all my time and attention, than do 10 things and give them only a portion of me. So, from now on, I NEVER give someone an immediate response, even when it's awkward and hard. I always take time to chat with Travis about it, pray about it, check our calendar, etc. I also delight in the calling that I have to time with the Lord, time with my husband, time with Ava, and time with our family. After those needs are met, then I choose what I want to do with what's left. Guilt doesn't have to be a part of that. When I've dealt with guilt before, it's almost always been because I had no business saying yes in the first place and I was paying the price. Saying no has been freeing in every way! I once heard it said that "saying no to one thing is saying yes to the right thing" and I really think that is true. Don't let anyone rob your joy of what you are called to do! I am accountable to God and to my husband. If they are on board then great! If one or both of them aren't, then it's a red light for me and I don't have to feel badly about that. Let me just say one more thing, guilt is NEVER from the Lord and always from the enemy. Be careful what feelings you give authority to.

3. What is my favorite baby clothing store? What am I dressing Ava as for Halloween??
Hmmm...I hadn't thought about Halloween yet. Good question! I honestly have no idea if or what we'll do with that. Obviously she doesn't know why she would want candy, so at this stage, it's purely for me that I would dress her up :) But, I don't know?? It will most likely be cold here, so I can see us choosing some kind of warm, snuggly outfit, if at all! Now as for my favorite baby store, I think I have a two part answer to that...of course, right? Because nothing I write is ever simple and straight forward! Most of Ava's clothes are 2 brands, Carters and Baby Gap. I have grown to LOVE carters stuff for everyday wear. I like their collections that you can mix and match and I think they hold up really well after several wears and washes. I get her Carters stuff at Kohl's, Target, department stores and consignment stores. In fact, I am a big fan of those consignment stores and of garage sales. If you know where to look, you can find great stuff! But, if I'm going to splurge and get something really cute, I almost always go to Gap. Gymboree has darling stuff, but it's pricey. Gap can be too, but I seem to always catch their sales. I also LOVE etsy shops and the unique stuff you can find there. In fact, someone asked about her "a" shirt that she's sported recently and that came from an etsy store.

4. Now that we have Ava, how many more kiddos would we like to have?
Well, I think the key word in that question is "we." I'm not entirely sure that "we" know the answer to that, we certainly believe that God does though and with each one, we will seek Him about it. However, we have been chatting about this lately and I think our consensus is that we are definitely hoping for at least a few more Armstrongs :) I have always wanted a big family and Trav too. We think it would be wise to think about our financial ability to provide for a big family, but we know that children are a gift from the Lord so if He gave us lots, then we would trust Him to provide. There are many benefits to multiple siblings and lots of life's lessons get learned at home, in the natural relationships a family provides. We'll see what God does, but if it were up to me and only me, I would have another one sooner than later :) I loved being pregnant and I loved the whole experience of giving birth. I can't wait to do it again!

5. What is my favorite youth group memory with Travis??
Oh there are so many :) If you've caught wind of anything on this blog, it's probably that I married an adventure seeking, high energy, crazy, loveable guy! And I wouldn't change anything about him! He is totally wired to minister to students and is great at relating to them, on their level. It's impossible to choose one memory, but maybe my most recent one is from camp, when He was able to baptize 24 junior highers. I stood on that beach and watched him do that, one by one, marveling at how God brought us to Minnesota and how he's used Travis here. To see 24 kids, under 15, who are spiritually mature enough to desire that public declaration of faith, blessed my heart. It speaks to the homes they come from, but also to the influence Trav has had in each of their lives. That is the best part of youth ministry. Trust me there are many, many crazy things I could have shared because of who he is, but that was a special one to me. Especially since he baptized two of my cousins kids. What a rich blessing that is.

6. How did Travis and I meet?
Because this is already so long, I will be brief. I know. Get excited! We met after we had both graduated from college in 2002. I moved to Naples, Florida to start an Interior Design internship there and Travis was already living there, after getting his first job at a Christian school, 4 years prior. We didn't know each other existed :) We met for the first time at Church! Surprised? I knew no one (besides my grandparents) and my Mom was really on me to get involved at a church, so I could meet some people my own age. Remember, this was Naples, a.k.a. Retirement City!! After a couple of weeks, I went and this sweet girl recognized I was about her age in the service. She invited me to the 20's group that met that night and I bravely decided to go. She was so, so kind and introduced me to all kinds of people, including the man I would eventually marry.

He doesn't remember meeting me that night and in his defense, he was busily chatting with EVERY OTHER PERSON THERE. I thought he was cute, could tell he was older, but just assumed he was either married or about to be. I thought nothing more about him (well maybe not nothing!) and summer marched on. In a few more weeks, I was asked to join the summer evening Bible studies. I signed up and didn't care which night or which group they put me in, I just really hoped I would have someone to do something with! Well, don't you know that the cute, chatty guy was the leader they put me with?? Oh yeah, things were working out for me :) Naturally, I made a serious commitment to NEVER scheduling ANYTHING on a Monday night so that I wouldn't miss our Bible study. And I never did! But do you know what just struck me as funny?? I'm trying to remember what we talked about that summer and I have no earthly idea!! I just know that I was always early, answered all his questions and stayed late to "help clean up." Oh yeah :) And make no mistake, he did all the same things! We spent that summer getting to know each other in a big group setting, with some friends who are so dear to us, 7 years later. We had a BLAST getting to know each other and hanging out with all those friends. It was seriously the best year of my life (at that point!). In september, on the 8th to be exact, Travis asked to officially "date me." If he would have asked me to marry him that night, I would have said yes! I knew a gem when I saw one!!
We dated from September on, got engaged in April, and married in August. It was a fast, fun and life-changing year. There are many details I'm leaving out, but our story always reminds me of the faithfulness of God to bring us to one another from across the country and His abundant grace in blessing me with Travis. Seriously, he was EVERYTHING I prayed for in a husband and a thousand things more. But, the reason I knew he was "it" was because the very best thing about Him was his love and devotion for the Lord. I knew I needed a man who would LEAD me and CHALLENGE me spiritually. I craved that. And when I met Travis, I knew I had found "him." He wasn't perfect and neither was I, but he loved Jesus more than anything and he was so kind and so respectful of me. I had so much respect for him (still do) and our relationship was as easy as breathing. We didn't always agree, but we never had a big fight, never broke up, never had a bump in the road. I was 23 and Travis was 29. I think that was a big part of it :) We were ready for one another and ready to commit. So, that's how it happened from my perspective...and it was so much fun, I wish I could re-live it all over again!

7. What was our "baby road" like?
Again, in an effort to not write a novel in answer to this great question, I am going to be as brief as possible. I did write pretty extensively here and here about this subject, one year ago when I announced that I was pregnant. But as a synopsis, here's basically what I said.

Our road to Ava was bumpy to say the least. We tried for several years with no luck whatsoever, then got pregnant in September of 07 only to miscarry 8 weeks later. After that miscarriage, I was beyond frustrated, hurt, angry, etc. It was very hard for me to understand why we couldn't have a baby as easily as others seemed to. Over the weeks and months that followed, I grew immensely in my relationship with the Lord. I poured out all my feelings and thoughts and submerged myself in the Word. Although I was aching, God was so faithful to me. He met me in that dark place and healed my wounds, then showed me truth in His word. He helped me see some things about my self I wasn't aware of. I realized I had made this longing for a baby like an idol in my life. It became the barometer that I judged everything by. Whether or not I was happy, whether or not God was working in my life, or whether or not I could do something he called me to do. It was intense and tender and just the restoration I needed. I got to a point in the journey where I was able to really lay down my desire for a baby and accept that it may or may not happen for us. There was one dominant theme that God kept laying on my heart..."am I enough for you?" It was eye opening for me and it allowed me to rid myself of some very unhealthy attitudes and beliefs. I certainly wouldn't say that I conquered that lesson and have never struggled with it since, but God did an amazing work in my heart and helped me let go of what I was holding onto so tightly. I felt renewed and refreshed, freed up to just be who he created me to be. Baby or no baby.

Meanwhile, Travis and I decided to seek more help and began to walk slowly down the road of infertility testing. We made it as far as the initial consultation when we decided to really pray about what we were going to do. We got through all of our hurdles and we're prepared to proceed when all of the sudden we were hit with one major snag. Trav's employer decided to change insurance companies in the spring of 08, days before we were to start our program. The new policy was horrible in comparison to the old one, when it came to infertility testing. The old plan would have covered everything and the new one, nothing. It was devastating to us and stopped us in our tracks again. So we paused, prayed some more and just decided to wait until fall to make another decision. Well, long story short, after we took a break from "trying" and just tried to enjoy our summer, Travis went to Peru on a mission's trip and I found myself home alone. I kept myself busy but couldn't believe how tired I was. Lo and behold, the day before he came home, on our 5th anniversary, I realized I was pregnant!! I picked him up from the airport, secretly took 2 tests and then surprised him over an anniversary dinner. It was wonderful, a moment I will never forget. But it wasn't easy and it wasn't at all how I "planned" it to be. However, because of the difficulty we went through, it did make the joy of discovering little Ava, all the sweeter. God knew what was best for us, He knew the perfect timing for us and He was there all along. It took me longer than I wish to trust Him, but I did and He gave us the blessing of our lives when He gave us Ava.


Lindsey said...

Thank you for posting these! Also, thank you for sharing your path to becoming a mother. As I also wrestle with much of your concerns, fear, and anguish, I take comfort in your statement of your Sept. 2, 2008 post that says, "Awhile back, in the early weeks, I found myself gripped with fear about losing this pregnancy too. I asked the Lord then to help me hold this baby with an open hand, but I am grateful to my friend Wendy, who reminded me to choose faith over fear. She helped me see that until the Lord called that baby home, I had no reason to let fear rob me of the joy this pregnancy brings." I have the same fear of reliving what happened. However, keeping these words in mind I hope to appreciate the next pregnancy that God give me. Thanks again!

Heather said...

I love this, Steph! God has used you on my are a real blessing!!

Sarah said...

A lurker coming out of lurk-dom! I feel so blessed to be able to read about your family and your relationship with the Lord - what a journey you have had. You & Travis are such excellent examples of what it truly means to be true disciples.

In terms of the ask me anything - I love anytime you post and share recipes!

Toni :O) said...

I, too, miscarried between my son and daughter and I think of that baby so often. I feel your pain most definitely. However, I'm glad you've been blessed with Ava and I'm glad I've been blessed with my two children. Thanks for sharing those sweet details of your life. Loved the post and I feel like we could be fast friends outside of blog world. Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

How did you get to be a nanny? Did you use a service?

Brenda and Brantley said...

Stephanie -

Thank you for your answer to "How to Say No without Guilt"! It is always helpful to get a healthy perspective on that and to hear how other women handle it and prioritize their responsibilities. Everything that you said was a good reminder and exactly what I needed to hear!

Also, in reference to the Halloween question, I wanted to share an idea that a friend did when she had her first sounds just like something you would enjoy doing too (if the snow doesn't prevent it)! She did a reverse "Trick or Treat"..she dressed her baby up in a cute monkey outfit...made banana nut muffins and their family delivered them to friends and neighbors. I know that whatever you decide to do, if anything, will be precious.

Happy Fall! We miss you in NC!