From Restless to Remaining (an anniversary post)

I thought this was the year of Goodbyes.

So much had taken place in the nearly seventeen years since I’d gone out with my friends one night and was tapped on the shoulder by a cute baseball player, a really really cute baseball player standing close behind him.

Hey, would you talk to my friend, Clay? a sweet guy named Jim asked. He’s really shy.

Clay was just a young boy.

I was a young girl.

Both of us had our own stories, packed away in suitcases we dragged down the aisle the day we said I do.

Our hurts from the past.

Our worries about the present.

Our fears of the future.

Wasn’t long before anger crept in.

Harsh words were often spoken.

We learned they could be forgiven but rarely forgotten.

Bitterness grabbed us by the neck and wouldn’t let go, strangling us until we blacked out, no longer seeing the good. 

Pain is a selfish beast. You become caught up in your own struggles, oblivious to those of your better half.

I was focusing on my hurt and not my healer.

Trying to save myself instead of saving my marriage.

Hoping to discover ‘who I really was’ without counting the cost of my narcissism.

Pointing out his flaws without noticing my own.

Fighting to be right instead of learning to be compassionate.

Truth is, I’ve done a million things wrong in sixteen years of marriage.

He has too.

Our road has been bumpy and at times so dark we saw only a dim light at the end of the tunnel.

Make no mistake, however:

The Light was always there, steady and sure.

Relentless, even in my restlessness.

One day I finally shifted my focus.

Instead of focusing on our marriage and all we couldn’t get right, I focused on the Light.

Every morning I carried my burdens to the Light and laid them down.

I took every hurt, every scar, every sin of my own, and I allowed the Light to shine on them.

I decided the Light was more important than my husband.

Sounds strange. But what love my imperfect husband couldn’t give me, the Light from my Perfect Creator provided.

It filled the cracks in my broken heart.

And I am healed.

I’m also wiser.

Wise enough to appreciate a husband who has been faithful to me for sixteen years.

A husband who has seen me at my imperfect best and loved me at my absolute worst.

Has swum in the sea of riches and walked in the valley of the poor with me by his side.

Held four beautiful blessings in his arms and thanked God for His Good Gifts.

A husband who has parented with me in the trenches and rejoiced with me on the mountains.

A man who still gives me butterflies and loves me in intimate ways unknown to anyone outside our sweet bond of matrimony.

It’s taken me a long time to understand I serve a God who loves marriage and fights behind the scenes for our success.

An even longer time to believe He was fighting for my marriage. The Accuser seeks to open your suitcases and pile the contents on your shoulders, self-condemnation his greatest tool.

This year opened the suitcase of all suitcases. The one I had hidden years ago as a young girl, when my parents split after 16 years together.

That suitcase held fear, confusion, hurt, heartache, and strangely enough, pride. Pride that seeped out in cynicism towards those who showed me compassion. Pride that couldn’t let go of my bitterness towards God and all he’d allowed to happen.

Pride that refused to take responsibility for my part in the mess of my life.

A preacher once told Clayford and me that God works a supernatural miracle on your Wedding Day. I never believed it until this year, when God allowed me to see a revelation:

There is a Divine Unloading that occurs when two flawed people who love the Lord come together and make vows to their Creator, leaving their baggage at the altar for Him to unpack.

I now understand that my marriage is of utmost concern to my God.

More important than my children (because it’s so important for them), more important than Clay’s job, my purpose, our pasts, or our relationships with anyone else.

I can’t speak for you. I can’t speak for what keeps you with your spouse, caused you to quit, or makes you consider giving up.

I refuse to judge. It’s not my place, and I’ve lived long enough to see the worst of marriages. I believe there are also such things as Divine Forgiveness and Divine Healing.

And I won’t make claims for my own future; I’ve held onto the prideful lie of control for too long. I now know for certain that if all changed in an instant, I would still have the Light.

But this year, 2017, is the year I’ve decided to Remain.

The year I’ve decided Clay, I and our children deserve a happy, healthy family.

The year I’ve decided my childhood dream, the one that had gotten lost amid one too many suitcases, is worth fighting for, and all other endeavors will certainly lead to emptiness.

The year I’ve decided gratitude is a choice.

I am healed, but don’t misunderstand: My marriage is far from perfect.

We woke up with most of the same issues today we had on January 1, when I thought my marriage was dead.

But when I keep focused on our destination, the journey seems so easy.

God willing, my husband I will be blessed to travel this road for many years, our children close in our hearts, our memories of loved ones and good times ever-present in our minds.

And the most important truth I’ve learned along the way is, at the end of this journey, it won’t matter how we started.

Only how we finished. 




Put This at the Top of Your List (this one’s for the girls, part III)

I’m good at lists. I make them all the time.

I make a To Do list almost every day. (I maybe get half of it done.)

I make a grocery list twice a week. (Then leave it at home.)

I make bucket lists every year. (And feel as though I’ll never check them off.)

I even make lists on this blog.

five things I’ll never do as a mom

ten things I hate about my husband

eight ways to be a better human

The thing is, like my real-life lists, my blog lists are only helpful when I actually do them.

And many times when I write, I’m telling you what I hope I’ll do, not what I’ve succeeded at doing.

You might miss that if you don’t know me.

We miss a lot when it comes to social media, I’m afraid.

We read posts, we see pictures, we visit blogs, and we think everyone else has it together.

As hard as this is for an adult, I can only imagine, sweet girl, how hard this virtual world is for you to navigate.

When I was younger, the only fake we saw was what existed on television or in the movies, and it wasn’t called “Reality TV.” We knew it wasn’t real.

And if there was anything shady happening behind our backs at school, we were able to figure it out by lunch. We didn’t have to scroll through a thousand social media posts, wondering who liked us this week and who wouldn’t be our friend by the next.

But the reality of youth is still the same: It’s tough. 

And at the end of the day, what we choose to write on our list of priorities is really all that matters.

I wish I’d made better choices about what went on my priority list. 

Here is what I wish younger Toni knew:

  • I wish you knew right now that popularity shouldn’t be on your priority list.

That real friends are more important than fake ones.

That genuine fun trumps the fear of missing out any day of the week.

That you should love who you are instead of lamenting who you are not.

That you should stick by the people who choose you instead of chasing those who do not consider you worthy.

And that having talent, looks or money isn’t nearly as important as having authenticity, kindness or compassion. (I wonder what school would be like for all kids if parents worried more about teaching children how to be kind instead of how to be cool.)

  • I wish you knew that your family is imperfect but they are yours.

That to love and accept them is really the best thing you can do.

That to honor your mom and dad is important even when they’re not perfect.*

That siblings might actually be your biggest supporters.

And that if you’re lucky enough to have a roof over your head, clothes on your back and food on the table, you’re lucky enough.

  • I wish you knew that loving yourself is the greatest gift you will ever give to the world.

That to be content with who you are is the only path to happiness.

That positive change on the outside won’t happen without genuine change on the inside.

That you could have every single material piece of status or wealth in the world and still be miserable.

And that the memory of a good attitude is what we leave behind when we’re gone.

  • I wish you knew that these days are just a small part of a large life.

That school goes by so fast, and in the end it’s all about what you choose to do with the short time you’re here.

That those genuine friends will last a whole lot longer than the ones you hung out with for status.

That the people who work at your school—all of them—deserve a thank you.

And that the legacy you leave behind should have less to do with the choices you didn’t make and more to do with choosing to be content with who you are. 

At the end of my rope a few months ago I prayed a simple prayer:

Show me who I am, Lord. Show me who You created me to be.

This prayer has begun to change my life. I only wish I’d prayed it sooner. 

Your priorities aren’t necessarily wrong, sweet girl. 

But what you might not know is that Satan takes some childhood longings and warps them into selfish, unsatisfying desires.

We replace God with goals.

We chase endlessly for that which cannot bring us true joy.

We lose sight of who we are by focusing on who we are not.

My hope is that you’ll read this and decide today, while there is still time left, to make a new list.

And to put loving yourself at the top of it.



*Sweet girl, if you are in a family where violence or abuse is the norm, it is not okay.  Please tell someone. Do not be afraid.