Inspire Series: Showing Grace to Dream Again
It's a warm, sunny May afternoon. A beautiful day to be at a local cafe. We're seated by the cafe's windows, outside in the shade. Cafe regulars banter by the entrance behind Stephanie. She hums as she reviews the menu, wondering what to order. She settles with the Nutella waffles with banana and an iced vanilla nut latte. I order a cranberry muffin and iced chai latte.
I thank Stephanie for agreeing to be featured on my blog.
"I just want to interview women who inspire me and see what inspires them," I say.
Stephanie and I first met at a youth service in our local church as teenagers. While I can't recall our first encounter, I am filled with good memories together. She was a bright, bubbly youth. Always smiling wide, her eyes lighting up with joy. She came to youth with her younger siblings following her around like ducklings to a mother duck. She watched over them while maintaining conversations or activities with others. Stephanie loved bright colors and accessorized with bold and intricate jewelry and hair pins. She was fun to be around and to admire.
Being older sisters, she and I had a couple of playdates together with our siblings. I remember this one evening of snowball fights between sisters. It was fun, and we were soaked from the snow.
I've watched her blossom into the graceful woman she is today. A woman with many roles, but still the Stephanie I know and love dearly.
Even after all these years, I learned so much about my dear friend at this sit-down. Her life took many turns, from accepting Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior, to realizing she had given up on dreams she once held onto.
"The past couple years I've had to do a lot of self-reflection and just talk myself through things and build myself up and remind myself that I'm capable of doing things that I don't even know I'm capable of," she says. "I know whenever I pray about something and I feel peace about it that's just God giving me the green light."
Proverbs 19:21 says, "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." This proverb has been Stephanie's anthem.
How did this trust and faith in God grow into what it is now in her life? To be able to walk past the fear that comes along and yet remain obedient? This fear that makes you want to hide, shut the door, and stay away from people, it drags along keeping you stagnant.
Stepping out and going through with obedience can be daunting. For Stephanie, it's feeling God's peace that gives her the push to walk in obedience.
"It's scary, it's really easy to hide from those things and just be like nope I don't want to do it, shut the door, close it out of your mind," she says. "But just praying and feeling the peace and like 'Alright, God, I know You're giving me the peace and I know You're going to carry me through it, completely. Not leave me halfway through,' that's comforting."
Stepping towards changing seasons were tests of faith for Stephanie. From becoming a mom, anticipating a move to a new state, and public speaking, the temptation of closing the doors on those paths lingered in the atmosphere. Her faith has been a journey of personal work.
Stephanie accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior at a young age; she remembers being moved by a play organized by a local church.
"I felt it and when they did an alter call for people to receive Christ something in my heart was tugging," she says, "'I need to get up there and get prayer,' little 12-year-old me. So I went up and got prayed for. They followed up with me to come to service and I did. My mom would come with me and we started attending ever since."
Being one of six kids, Stephanie grew up feeling voiceless and unseen. Being bullied in school, then having feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem followed her into her teenage years.
"It wasn't until I was really grounded in Christ that I was like, 'this is so stupid, why am I carrying this around with me?'"
Being grounded in Christ is having a personal relationship with Him. You can't depend on what you do, how you serve others, and how much you go to church.
"You really have to dig and want it for yourself," she says. "When I came to that realization and I started doing the work on myself, that's when I really felt my relationship with Christ grow. I realized all of the things that were just like shedding off of me. Low self-esteem, insecurity, all of these things that I dealt with as a child."
"In every aspect," she answers. "She knows I'm like her biggest cheerleader. Even when she's wrong I'm like, go sis, go, go. Just look at her life. Just growing up with her and getting to see how, you know, she made it out the hood. She's the only one of the siblings to graduate high school the traditional way, went to college, got married, have these beautiful children, has a beautiful home, has a faith-centered marriage. It's just so wholesome. That's what I aspire to be like."
When it comes to finding what inspires her, Stephanie says it takes some thinking and consideration of what stage of life you're in and taking the time to reflect.
"In this new stage in motherhood things look so different that you constantly have to be intentional in finding that, and honestly I don't think I've intentionally taken the time to figure out what that is in this stage. But there's definitely so much beauty in motherhood that I would say that's one of the things. Just thinking ahead for the future, what I want my life to look like for me, my husband, my daughters, my family, how ever many kids we end up having. And just looking to the future inspires me for today, if that makes sense," she says, laughing.
When it comes to habits or patterns she follows every day to better her future, she contemplates her current stage of motherhood and how that comes into play for her innate planner personality.
"I feel like all of these questions are going to go back to motherhood," she quips with a laugh. "With motherhood it's like you really just got to take it second by second, day by day, because you never know what's going to be thrown at you. It's just the unexpected. But I do like to plan for things. I do like to write things out. Dream. Have vision. I'm very crafty so I do like to have my vision board on my desk of the things that I want.
"I definitely do need to be...intentional is a big word for me because I constantly have to be mindful of what it is that I am doing with my time, the habits that I'm developing, who I'm talking to, if I'm wasting time just sitting on the couch, which I do a lot being pregnant," she says with a laugh. "This year really for me has been about being intentional. Even if I'm not doing it, how can I make it for myself to better that area, of how can I work towards being intentional."
Walking up to her apartment door you're embraced with a warm welcome. You catch a glimpse into the heart of the family, a wooden plaque with "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15 sits atop their door frame, an intricate wreath centers their door, with a wooden signage "This House Runs on Jesus and Coffee" over their welcome mat.
If you didn't know who lived here or the people in their lives, those wonders will rest at the sight of picture frame after picture frame. Photographs of the couple, friends, and family encapsulate the walls, refrigerator door, desks, and window sills. It's beautiful. Memories of dinners, travel, and parties captured. There won't be any wondering who was or wasn't at an event, the photographs are proof.
We moved the interview to her apartment, where her husband and daughter returned from doing laundry.
Stephanie starts to answer a question but gets interrupted by sweet Shylah, "Mommy?" "Yes, baby. I'm talking to Kathy." She just wanted to show off one of her pull-ups. Then again, Shylah comes asking for juice, a skilled multi-tasking mother, Stephanie puts the straw in her juice box and hands her juice while speaking with me.
At the time of this interview, Stephanie and her family are in the process of moving out of state.
"Even with this whole move at first I was very uncertain and what I really wanted was to stay in New York," Stephanie says. "That was the plan in my heart, to stay with my friends and to stay with my family. But praying about it has brought me so much peace," she says with a smile. "Because I'm like, 'OK God, I see this is what You're calling us to. Ultimately it's Your plan that's going to prevail above anything that I want,'" she pauses to laugh. "'I just hope to be obedient in when You're calling me to do that.'"
With Stephanie and Adrian expecting their second child, a baby girl, I ask, does thinking of the future scare you?
"Not at all," she quickly responds. "It's exciting when you get to dream, not only for yourself but other people who are around you. What is my friendship with this person going to look like in 5, 10 years? What is my relationship with my husband going to look like in 20 years? What is it going to look like having teenage children? Just like thinking about that makes me excited and it makes me think of what I can do today to make those possibilities better or the outcome look more beautiful."
Motherhood has changed her outlook on life completely.
"You want better for them, it's not even about you anymore. What do I want for my children, what do I want my future life to look like for my kids, it's not about me. You just begin to dream a whole new way, and for me that's how it started."
For every "um" and "hm" Stephanie expresses as she thinks of her answer for my next question, Shylah mimics her mannerisms of placing her hand on her chin and repeating the sounds, making Stephanie laugh and me to smile. She then calls out to her husband to join us as I have some questions for him too.
Having been a couple for a little more than a decade, Adrian and Stephanie have journeyed through many trials together. One being personal growth they each endured.
"I hope it doesn't sound mean, I always feel like by God's grace we're still here," Adrian says. "It wasn't easy at all. Steph was still immature in her character, she was still immature in who she was as a young woman. Why I stuck around? That's God. Going back at it now and seeing, it was hard to look at those memories. She's grown from immature to very mature, from having an attitude to being kind, to being sweet. The Stephanie that I have now is the best Stephanie that has been for the last 11 years. There's no past better Stephanie. She's continuously growing."
Stephanie brought an important element to Adrian's faith walk that was missing: grace. She inspires him because she brought grace into his life.
"My background was more of work-oriented, by deed, by the law and I lacked grace," he says. "Whoever focuses so much on self-righteousness and works and doing works lacks grace...I felt like I put myself on the judgement seat and I saw that she would show grace and it was because grace was shown to her."
One can't assume a person has had a role model they could reference to take on certain roles in life. There could be fruit ripening within us that branches out of us at the right season, ripe with grace.
"For Steph's case it's special. She didn't really have a model of that prior to everything, she's making it out of nowhere," Adrian says. "As a good wife, she's bringing that out of nowhere, it's not that she's copying. Being a good mother, I feel like that's out of nowhere. So to see the things that she's doing now it's special because she got it from within her and God planted that in her. In every role. She's picking up a side job of being a momprenour, and just with her little free time of trying to better the family, she's handling it well."
Stephanie chokes up tears as she listens in the background. Touched by his kind words and observation.
As a friend, Stephanie is open and vulnerable with others, willing to talk and listen. But communicating with others wasn't always so easy.
"For a long time communication was really difficult for me. And even in my relationship with Adrian it was difficult for me to even share how I was feeling about anything because I wasn't used to that."
Growing up in a big family, Stephanie felt as if whatever you had to say wasn't welcomed.
"Like it was said you can always share something with me but it was like whenever you did share something someone always had a response to it rather than just trying to understand where you're coming from," she says.
Meeting her husband challenged her to open up more.
"I wasn't used to expressing my feelings and he was a very, very open person where he communicated everything and it drove me crazy," she says with a smile. "But now I've grown a lot over the years where it's like I feel comfortable sharing with people...I hope I create a safe space for people to be vulnerable with me as well." And she does.
Her advice on how to create a safe space for others to be vulnerable in: spending time with people.
"You just have to know who the people are that you can trust and it's just about spending time with people. It doesn't have to be from one day to the next, opening up and pouring your heart out; obviously you have to have some kind of relationship with that person. Spend time with the person. Go for a walk, grab coffee, chill at your house together, just find ways to connect with people that way you feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable and be open about those things. I feel like it comes with also you being interested in the other person. You can't expect a one sided relationship where it's like I'm pouring my heart out to you and then never checking on the other person and seeing how that person's doing. And then in return I feel like you would be comfortable enough to share your own life."
"I think a lot of it comes back to the grace that's in her," he says. "I feel like image doesn't play a big thing in her life and that's a good poison not to have... So when people come in she doesn't expect you to be a certain way. Or you have to sit like this; if you come in nasty you come in nasty, you're welcomed."
"All are welcomed," Stephanie chimes in with a giggle.
A person's passion is what keeps them tied to their felt calling in life. Something they are compelled to do with vigor and drive, turning it into a day-to-day task. This passion for Stephanie is to teach. While the passion remains, the way it has been executed turned out differently than Stephanie had expected. Always having a love for children, she always thought she would be a teacher in a school environment, but her new found passion has been helping others who find themselves in similar circumstances she and her husband have been in.
"It started with me becoming a stay-at-home mom, and finding the struggle balancing a household with one income, and managing all of that and figuring out how to make it work for us. I've become passionate in the sense where I'm teaching others about that," she says.
In relation to her passion for teaching, she and her husband have walked through the open door of mentoring other couples.
"I grew up with a very broken family and to find myself in a place where it's like helping others with their families and with their marriages is really just so funny. God is funny in the way He does things. I feel like I have a lot of passions, just making time for it all is a real struggle," she says, laughing.
As a financial advisor, Stephanie has a platform of encouraging others to pursue the dreams they've stored away. A place she recently realized she was in, in fact.
"There were so many things I dreamt of and that I wanted in life that I told myself, 'it's not possible for you. It's possible for other people, but the way that you live your life or the way that your life is set up, it's not going to happen so stop dreaming about it,'" she says. "And I've convinced myself for a long time like it's not going to happen."
Being hyperaware and consumed by her surroundings, Stephanie convinced herself to stop dreaming. This narrative was suddenly stopped when she interviewed for her current position.
"When those words came out of my mouth about like me no longer dreaming I woke myself up," she says. "I didn't even know I thought that way. I didn't even know that I had disqualified myself. And I've never heard anybody else really speak that way so to me I was like I didn't even know I had that in me, it was really shocking."
She suddenly realized how everyone in her current surrounding had a positive outlook for their future.
"I've never heard people's dreams and aspirations. So to me I was like wow, it's possible. People who come from where I come from can do it and they want to do it."
From where she grew up, finances is such a taboo subject; one wouldn't typically ask a person if they're saving money and what they are saving towards. It's a place where the majority are living just to get by, stuck in the cycle of feeling that certain pursuits are not for them, or settling for the bare minimum.
"If you have that mentality of holding on to something because of the small benefits you get out of it — because really there's not much benefit to it — the small benefit you're getting from it and you're holding on to that for dear life, how are you ever going to be blessed with something more abundant? You're holding on to things when there's so much more out there. You realize how you're limiting yourself," she says.
The limits Stephanie once put on herself was to dream and see herself living a life of abundance. The possibility for her to buy a house and own property, to have a yard for her kids to run around in, just to have a life that's flourishing and abundant seemed impossible, unreachable. A life where you don't have to worry about anything. But now, she's felt the freedom to dream about those things again.
"Your only limitation is yourself," she says. "Whatever work you're putting in you can reach what you want, you can reach those goals, you can reach those dreams, it's just about how hard you are willing to work for it.
"There are things I was successful at that I wasn't expecting, that I had no idea and it was all God. I've succeeded in things I didn't expect or things that were out of my comfort zone, but that's how I've been able to grow."
Stephanie, Adrian, and Shylah welcomed baby Adirah into the family this summer (photographed above, courtesy of Stephanie).