My own story speaks of a singular narrative: of a single Ghanaian-American woman in her mid-twenties pursuing Christ and all he has for her in this season. But there are many people in other seasons of life – and God is speaking to them too. I’m excited to share this first part of an interview I did with Dana, wife to Alex and mother of the beautiful baby Ava and puppy Bentley. Her story is one of strength, perseverance, humility, and grace in the face of challenge and loss. She, like all of us, is striving to be attentive to everything God is teaching her in the season she’s in, and I hope her narrative blesses you as much as it did me.
I’m sure people reading this want to know: Who is Dana?
Dana is passionate. I’m passionate about the people and things that add value to my life. I am married to an amazing man and mom to my baby girl Ava and big puppy Bentley. I’m also a blogger and writer.
So Dana – we’ve known each other for what… 8 years now? Would you have ever thought 8 years ago that you’d be where you are right now?
8 years ago? I couldn’t have imagined I’d be here 3 years ago. It just goes to show that life – that God – has a funny way of showing you you’re not in control. But I couldn’t be happier.
I can see that. And yes, life is never really under our control is it? It’s like how as twenty-first century women we find ourselves saying things like: I’m not ready for kids or for a family – but what do you think: are you ever really ready?
The thing is, you’re never really ready for ANYTHING in life really. And I think being a wife and a mother is the biggest indication of how new we are to certain life events regardless of how much we prepare for them. When I was pregnant for instance, I read so much about pregnancy and motherhood and what was happening with my body. And when you’re getting married you read so many articles about how to be a good wife or how to deal with married life, you go to premarital counseling, you get all the advice you can, wanted or unwanted, from every single married couple you know — but nothing prepares you more for those roles than actually BEING in them. I never not once thought, ‘oh, I’m so prepared to be a mother! Let’s make a baby!’
I do understand, though, that being a millennial my narrative is different. Being quote-unquote “prepared” for motherhood is not unusual for many women, however I am 150% sure that the journey of (and to) motherhood is far more complex than what we can ever envision. I think that there is a general fear that as individuals we lose out on life — the job, the car, the exotic travel experiences — when we get married and start our families. That’s partly true, I’ve sacrificed job offers and a ton of girls (gone wild) night offers to have a family. I’m definitely not the same person I used to be, but you know what’s amazing about that? I love who I am becoming and how much I’m growing. It’s not always comfortable and it’s challenging but I’m pretty content with the person that I am today and wouldn’t trade her for the world.
So what do you think the biggest learning curve has been for you in terms of marriage?
Thinking outside of myself has probably been the biggest challenge. Really, it’s learning to be selfless – like selfless even when you don’t feel like it lol. You know, people tend to associate selflessness with certain acts, like giving to someone in need. And this is accurate, but selflessness can also be characterized in how much of yourself, your kind, loving, understanding, patient self you choose to give even when your wife or your husband is driving you crazy and all you want to do is book a trip to the beach somewhere and hope your pina colada magically solves the problem back at home.
And it’s not that I was super selfish before, but with marriage you really have to die to yourself daily. People tell you that all the time, but it really is true. Because you’re living with someone you love – or at least someone you thought you loved when you started lol (jk jk)- and you think you’re compatible and it’s going to be easy. But we don’t realize that there a quirks in marriage. So you go for it and one day you question your sanity because you’re totally overreacting and don’t understand that sometimes your husband comes home and has probably had a long, challenging day and just wants to watch basketball and talk about Curry’s technique for half an hour instead of have a deep and meaningful/ super romantic conversation with you…duh. My point is –it’s really NOT the big things – it’s the small details no one ever talks about, like sharing your space and living with each others weird habits and mannerisms. Like, for instance, Alex is a clean freak, and me… well not so much lol. So he’s always pointing out that I’m never orderly enough and I tell him that I’m orderly–just…in a different way.
And let me just say respectfully– it’s not at all like shacking up. There’s a kind of carte blanche in that situation where you can walk out one day if you want. Marriage isn’t and shouldn’t be like that. It’s hard work, but boy is it fulfilling and so much fun.
LOL! You have Cyclical Cleanliness Syndrome too?
Like when your space gets messy, but then you go OCD and it gets really really clean, only to get messy again 2 days later lol
Yes! I have that! That’s me! Haha. But because Alex is so into everything being in order, I’ve had to learn how to outgrow that habit and be consistently neat and tidy because it matters to him. And I’d hope that if something came up that mattered to me, he’d reciprocate it too. Which he does– above and beyond. So, yeah, for us it’s never been the huge issues that are the steepest learning curves. In fact, we work well as a team when it comes to the big things. I initially thought finances, and buying a house and all those other big things you think of that make a marriage, but it’s really just adjusting to life with this other person and seeing them and yourself as human – as people with flaws and consistently, each day, giving each other third and fourth and twentieth chances to get it right.
Yes – how do you deal with coming to terms with living with those flaws, and with recognizing them in yourself?
I think when we first got married, we expected each other to always be polite and nice to each other and to be sweet and romantic. But people are people. If I’ve had a bad day and I come home and don’t feel like talking to anyone, he gets that end of the stick. And sometimes you don’t really know you’re like that until you’re married because your husband or wife serves as a mirror, and he/she is going to tell you exactly what you’re really like for better or for worse. But that’s okay because this person should be a safe place for you so that criticism should be taken with that in mind– that your spouse loves you, wants the best for you and is not trying to attack you.
And what about having a baby? What was the learning curve like there?
My learning curve with motherhood is steepest in realizing that it’s OK to fail, definitely. I think as a mother you, number one, always want the best for your child. Mom guilt is so intense! When we first brought her home and I missed a feeding time, I’d feel so guilty, like I was starving my child. Sometimes I’d get into such a routine with taking care of her that I wasn’t really spending time with her to just enjoy our relationship, but now I take the time to stop and let go off that crazy perfectionism and just enjoy time with her, to watch her grow. So knowing that I won’t always be perfect as a mother is definitely something I am learning but it’s also weight off my shoulders when I’m too hard on myself.
So what would YOU say makes it ‘easier’ to play these roles?
When you’re getting married so many people want to give you so much advice – and they’ll all tell you marriage is hard. They will give you all sorts of unsolicited but well-meaning advice: ‘date your wife’, ‘make him feel like the king of the house’. My mother gave me a lot of advice I don’t even think I should repeat lol. But the point is, they all want to try and give you a recipe for making marriage easier.
It might sound cliche, but I think for Alex and I, we’ve found that marriage really IS sweeter when you’re putting God first. When you’re married to God and trying to please God first– it’s a beautiful fragrance that seeps into your marriage for the betterment of your union. You can actually tell how off-centered you are from Christ when things start to go haywire in your home. That’s what we’ve noticed with ourselves. The relationship that God wants to have with us is a direct representation of the relationship He wants us to have with our spouse.
Like how Paul illustrates marriage using Christ’s love for the Church in Ephesians 5…
Exactly. I think we had a good relationship when Christ wasn’t at the center – and even Christian relationships have problems – but I think the difference is that when we did face issues back then, we thought we were solving them, but they would always pop back up in some way or another like weeds. When Christ was outside of the equation, we simply couldn’t find the answers on our own. I think we found bandaids for our problems as a young couple. We said things like, ‘If this makes you better, I’ll do this’, just so we wouldn’t have to deal. But the real answer is, what does God want? What does He want us to learn about this? How does He want to make ME better for my husband (and vice versa). I think that when we start to ask those questions, that’s when we find the answers.
I mean it hasn’t been a walk in the park, we’ve definitely had a lot more hurdles in our relationship as Christians – but it’s been the most rewarding relationship. It feels like there’s an incentive to work at it as we grow together and become more mature and open in our love for each other. It’s getting sweeter. We love being married. So it also adds a lightness to our home and to those tough situations because you know it’s just a challenge you two have to solve with the help of God — no big deal. Once it’s solved you get Dana 2.0 live in colour! Like, you’re really really annoying right now, but I still can’t wait to see where we will be next year lol. It makes you excited for the future and you can wait on the fact that God’s best is yet to come.
Yeah, there will be times you don’t want to talk to them or deal with them, and I think that’s part of what I’m coming to terms with when I think of my future – that not only is perfection in marriage not even a standard, it’s an impossibility.
So, here’s another question – an issue I’ve seen a lot of new and old mothers and wives deal with: How do you balance being a mother and a wife with still maintaining who you are – while staying true to Dana and making time for you? How do you not lose yourself completely in these other identities?
I think you have to plan for it. I think you have to be conscious enough to say “I’m a woman, and I need me time.” It’s easier to slip into the routines of motherhood and marriage and never stop and do something for yourself. Since Ava has been home, I can count the number of times I have straightened my hair – or even brushed it lol.
Today, I had one of those moments where I was able to be me and do me. I finished all her appointments today and was like, oh I have some free time. And to be honest I found myself torn – there were things to do at home: laundry, cleaning, applications – so much. But I had to stop myself and say, no, I need a manicure. And it was so hard having her with me, but God is so funny because all the women at the nail salon were just so amazing and actually helped me by taking care of her while I was doing my nails. And I felt so free that I even said, what the heck, let me just do my lashes. And they even let me nurse on the table WHILE I was getting my lashes done! Uhm! Amazing. And it made me feel OK about taking care of myself. They didn’t make me feel guilty – they understood and they wanted me to have a well-deserved break. Just imagine if I’d have come home to do laundry? Ha! It was such a blessing. That to me is balance.
I think what most encourages me in those times is the little things that God does to remind you that He cares for you – and not just you as a mom or a wife, but you as an individual, as His daughter. And He did that this past weekend when Alex was away and my friend showed up with breakfast, and I was able to sleep and she was just good company – and then the spa story. It’s so easy to forget in the grand scheme of things that God shows up in the littlest of moments.
That’s such an awesome narrative of women coming together to support each other in a situation that only they could truly understand. But what’s this new life like? I mean you’re 23, and you graduated college not long ago, and now you’re currently a stay-at-home mom. And that’s great – I am 100% certain there is no greater or more challenging job than that – but what’s it like adjusting to this new season?
Well it’s a difficult adjustment. As a woman who went to school and had a great education and huge plans for herself and now has to stay home with a newborn who requires special attention for a season because she was born prematurely – that’s a HUGE adjustment. Alex is so kind and generous and understanding about it, and doesn’t make me feel less-than because this is the situation we’re currently in. But he works full time and has to be away occasionally and I’m left at home all alone. And most times I’m OK with it, because I understand it’s his job, but at other times when I have to stay awake all through the night and all through the day to take care of Ava, it can be really hard. Everyone says you should sleep when the baby sleeps, but that doesn’t happen! And it gets tiring.
And then on top of those things, people – especially in our culture – ask things like: ‘what are your plans? what are you doing next?’ Or even worse, we get attacked with questions like, ‘why are you doing this?’ And in order to bypass all of that we’ve gotten into this habit of putting on this facade like we have everything all together and we know where we’re headed, because it’s tough to go against that grain.
I remember graduating college and having this amazing job offer that would have taken me all over Africa, and I’d be making good coin. It was a tough job to get and I was applying alongside people who had their MBAs and Masters degrees, and I didn’t feel prepared. So I prayed about it and I spoke to my parents about it – and then I met Alex. And I came to the point where I had to decide if it was really what I wanted for my life at that point. And I chose to stay here and see what would happen and honestly it was tough. I couldn’t find a job and when people would ask me what I was doing, I got so tired that I just started making things up at some point so I could avoid the questions. I just made the decision to trust God. No matter how I struggled with doing what He wanted, I just chose to trust the road I was on and to be obedient to His spirit.
I completely get that. Taking the unconventional road is hard, but I always take solace in knowing that the road God has for us – even with all of the hurt and pain that comes along the way – is so much more beautiful than anything we could create ourselves. Imagine if you had taken that opportunity. You’d never be married to Alex or have Ava.
That’s exactly it.
Watch out for part two of my sit down with Dana, where we talk more in depth about how she met her soulmate, the difficulties and loss they encountered, and their faith through it all. You can follow her @livebeautifulmama and livebeautifulblog.com