So I got engaged a few months ago. I always wondered when the time came how I would know I’d found the right woman to spend the rest of my life with.
Some people told me “you just know,” or “you have this feeling.” No help there. Could you be anymore vague? Others had stories of God telling them they would marry someone before they had even met her. Sounds cool but God rarely reveals His plan beforehand to me.
When it came down to it, there were several reasons I knew I had found the right woman for me, but none more vital than the fact that we had fought, argued, pissed each other off, offended each other, yet we learned how to resolve the issues, rectify our problems, forgive, and still love.
Along with that, here are five things I learned in finding my future wife.
FINDING A SOULMATE IS A MYTH
I may have found the one I want to spend my life with, but the idea of a “soulmate” is erroneous, dangerous, somewhat heretical, and otherwise B.S.
I, like many lovesick saps (both Christian and secular) grew up believing there was one chick out there specially-designed for me. Our souls were connected even though we hadn’t met. It falls in the line with romantic fairy tales and emotional porn that often give us unrealistic expectations and perceptions of what relationships and romance are about.
No woman was designed or designated for me, nor was I designed or designated for a woman. We are designed for God, that’s it. We meet people along the way that we connect with, complement, and carry out a purpose together.
YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT, BUT NOT WHAT YOU NEED
Like many people, I had a list of the type of mate I wanted. It was a short list with some basic characteristics to help me measure potential partners by. Though my fiancée embodied most of the things, there were others that she didn’t.
For example, I wanted a woman who was an extrovert because I thought it would balance my introvert tendencies. Well, my fiancée isn’t an extrovert. And in the process of being frustrated with that, I realized that I wasn’t an introvert. I’m much more outgoing than I realized. And our personalities balance each other. No matter how old we are, we’re still in the process of self-discovery. It’s hard to know exactly who we need when we don’t truly know ourselves.
CONFLICT IS GOOD
I had already started to learn that conflict was necessary for character development, but never have I experienced it like I have in this relationship.
Oftentimes when things are going rough in life we think it’s an indicator that we’re on the wrong path. But it’s usually the opposite. Anything worth having will require conflict to get. Conflict shapes our character.
A pastor once told me that it’s good that our relationship had rough spots. If we had no issues, then there would be cause for concern.
YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH YOU SUCK
I always thought I was a great catch. Heck, for some lucky woman I’d be the ideal man. I’m a gentleman, romantic, patient, love God, have a good job, etc. But I had more flaws than I realized… way more flaws than I realized.
The relationship brought all the crap to the surface. Awareness of my flaws makes me more patient and understanding of hers.
LOVE IS A CHOICE
If nothing else I’ve learned on this journey so far it’s that love is not a feeling, it’s a choice. There are days when I don’t feel like loving my fiancée. I don’t feel in love. But I have decided to love. No matter what, I have decided to love. And when you’ve made that choice, feelings follow.
You’re 20 years old. You’re newlyweds enjoying your new life together. You’re dreaming of starting a family, buying a home, and growing your business. Life seems normal and promising. The first sign of those dreams start to emerge. You are pregnant…. but with triplets.
Complications begin. One triplet’s heart stops and he’s lost. You go into premature labor weeks later — just 22 weeks into the pregnancy. Doctors don’t expect the remaining two children to make it. Complications such as blindness and missing limbs are predicted if you go through with the birth. There’s no guarantee you’ll survive the birth. They recommend abortion.
You’re only 20 years old. This wasn’t what you signed up for. This isn’t happily ever after.
Those were the circumstances Jesús and Maglys Hernandez faced early in their life together. Blindsided with tough decisions and challenging circumstances just a year into their marriage. It was the first test they faced together. Just the first. Many, many more would come. Nineteen years later, they tell their story with peace, confidence, surety, and the perspective of a couple that has lived by faith, walked through fire and emerged, not just stronger, but more compassionate.
FIGHTING FOR LIFE
“It was like a blur. It was like a bad dream. I was only 20. There were a lot of shattered dreams there. You’re preparing for something, and all of a sudden in a blink of an eye everything changes.” – Maglys Hernandez
Maglys recalls the fear, confusion, and chaos of that day. A doctor telling her there was nothing she could do and the best choice would be to terminate the pregnancy.
“You’re so vulnerable at that moment,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘Do I really want to put my child through this? Am I wrong if I decide yes or no?’ Then you have to shake yourself and say, ‘Wait a minute, who is she to determine the outcome of my children?’ I had to believe that whatever God took me to, He’s going to bring me through.”
They went through with the birth. Their daughter, Jeselys, was born 1 pound, 4 ounces, and 5 inches long. Just 24 hours later, she weighed less than a pound — the size of a fetus. At that time, only 1 out 7 babies that weight survived. Maglys’ cervix was stitched to allow the other child to remain in her womb. But five days later, their son was born: 1 pound, 5 ounces. He didn’t fare as well as their daughter and he died five days after being born.
“I knew my daughter was going to be the one to survive,” Jesús said. “So when he passed, I just said ‘God allowed it.’ I just looked at it that way. So then, I just wanted my daughter to have a normal life. That was what my focus was on.”
TURNING PAIN INTO PURPOSE
Five months. That’s how long their daughter remained in the hospital after she was prematurely born. And every single day, Jesús and Maglys would visit her. They watched as she was given multiple blood transfusions daily, flat-lined on several occasions, and underwent surgeries. Finally, after five months, they brought home a 4-pound, 13-ounce girl.
“I tell people all the time, I don’t know how we did it,” Maglys explained. “It was literally by the grace of God. I don’t consider myself strong enough. It was all by God’s grace.”
Even after leaving the hospital, Jeselys endured many challenges, including a Level 4 brain bleed, eye surgeries, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.
“On the spiritual side of it, when your life is attacked at such a young stage of the game, it’s because there’s a huge purpose,” Jesús said. “Our daughter is very spiritually connected. If I want to know something about a spiritual situation, I’ll go to my daughter to see if she agrees. She’s very connected to God. We’ve seen that her whole life.”
An example of that was when Jeselys was younger, there was a lunch aide at her school going through difficulty in her marriage. The woman found out her husband had been cheating on her and she decided to commit suicide. The day she planned to take her life, she met Jeselys while working the cash register in the lunch line. After paying for her food, she decided to give the woman a tip. The woman refused, but Jeselys grabbed her hand saying, “Please take it because you served me.” As soon as she touched her hand, the woman said a feeling came over her body and she couldn’t stop crying. She didn’t commit suicide, and to this day, she regularly sends gifts and cards to Jeselys. “She adores my daughter,” Maglys said. “She always tells me ‘Thank you for giving birth to this child. You’ll never know what your daughter means to me.’”
Now at 17, Jeselys continues inspire others with her progress and faith.
“She’s amazing. She’s come so far,” Maglys said. “My daughter has disabilities but she doesn’t focus on them. You can’t even tell her that. Sometimes I’ll tell her we need to get her therapy for her arm and she’ll say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with me; I’m healed.’ I have to catch myself because I can’t tarnish her faith.”
NEW CHILD, NEW CHALLENGE
Four years after Jeselys was born, Maglys was pregnant with a son. Though his birth went much smoother than their first pregnancy, they would face a unique challenge in their son’s development.
As a toddler, they noticed he had a speech delay, wouldn’t make eye contact, and was very quiet. When he was 2½, they decided to have him examined by a neurologist. He was diagnosed with autism.
“Honestly, my son’s diagnosis was harder than losing my first son,” Maglys said. “It turned my world upside down.”
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S. It is a brain development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and repetitive behavior. One in 88 children is diagnosed with it.
The journey has been tough for the Hernandezes, but it hasn’t hindered their faith.
“As a faith-filled family, we believe no matter what label they give him, God still could intervene,” Jesús says. “There are no ifs, ands or buts that somewhere down his life, there’s going to be a testimony from this. Because if I believe God for salvation, I have to believe God for healing. Why’s it taking so long? Yeah, that’s a question in our mind, but I don’t question God. Because I believe, in His time, we will see something happen supernaturally.
“There has to be something in this that God’s going to get the glory for. I’m believing that what’s going to come out of this is that he’s going to be supernaturally healed. Not only that, but God’s going to do miracles in other people’s lives. I can’t settle for less. I can’t believe that God’s not able to intervene. I trust His Word.”
God has already been using their experiences to help others. Jesús was hired as the children’s pastor at Faith Fellowship Ministries in New Jersey, and last October, they started a class for special needs children during church. Before, parents of special needs children didn’t have a place to bring their kids for a Sunday service. Now, they have a haven where their children are worshipping God and improving behavior.
“There’s a huge need, this thing has grown and there’s no answers for it,” Jesús said about autism. “When there’s no answers, it’s because God has the answer, and people will flock to wherever the answer is. I believe this is why God’s allowed all of this to happen. For you to be able to touch someone you have to have compassion. You have to go through it or understand it.”
To understand Jesús and Maglys’ trust in God, you have to understand their background. Maglys’ family was “the epitome of dysfunctional.” Her father was an alcoholic and drug addict, and she had a distant relationship with her mother. The family unity she lacked growing up, God gave her with Jesús. “If I would have never gone through those things, I wouldn’t love God the way I love Him now,” Maglys said.
Jesús’ faith emanated from his father, who was diagnosed with cancer and given just 30 days to live. The day he was diagnosed, his father went to a Bible study and told God, “If you’re real, give me 20 more years to live to enjoy my family.” Later he was re-examined and they found no cancer in him. He lived exactly 20 more years, serving God. “I’m a Christian because what God did in my father’s life,” Jesús said.
Before they faced the trials in their children’s lives, they had seen miracles. A foundation of faith was already built. They drew on the grace and strength of God to endure. There’s plenty more to their story — including financial struggles and setbacks in which they lost homes, cars, and went through bankruptcy — but as Jesús says, it’s still unfolding. They’ve witnessed God work miracles in their lives. And they are expecting more.
“In everybody’s story, there’s conflict,” Jesús said. “There’s a moment when something’s going to happen. You can’t live this life and expect that nothing’s going to happen. There’s always going to be conflict somewhere down the line. It could be early on, in the middle or at the end, but you’re going to have conflict. That way you can understand who Jesus Christ is. I believe our story’s not finished. This is just the beginning.”
You’ve devoured the heart-shaped box of chocolates, finished the date at the expensive restaurant, and the dozen roses are starting to fade. Valentine’s Day is just a memory, but where does the relationship or your romantic life go from here? If you’re thinking of holy matrimony, or if you’re already married, it takes more than a romantic weekend to keep the love flame blazing.
We interviewed five married couples to found out what it takes to have a healthy marriage. David and Julie Heras (14 years married); Dominick and Tisha Stokes (10 years); William and Candice Knight (five years); Justin and Stephanie Jones-Fosu (three years); and Abiola and Emily Ijalana (three years) share there hearts with Transparency.
WHAT IS THE KEY TO LONGEVITY IN MARRIAGE?
Julie: Having a sense of vision and purpose for your marriage.
David: Early in our marriage we did adopt a vision statementfor our marriage. I think also humility is key. It helps to keep the marriage alive when you know that you’re not always right, and you’re willing to come from that stance.
Justin: Full submission to God. I just can’t believe that a person can be fully submitted to God and not have the best marriage possible…I also believe accountability is key, and that is why we started Christian Couples United (CCU) to bring together couples of all cultures and different churches.
Stephanie: I think God must be the foundation of each person’s individual life and the foundation of the marriage…Marriage is not for the weak, the selfish or the simple, but is for those who are willing to work at it and invest into it.
Candice: There are four keys to longevity in marriage — humility, forgiveness, the fear of the Lord, and prayer…In our wedding vows, we chose to include the statement: “We promise to forgive, as Christ in God has forgiven us” (Ephesians 4:31-32). When I forgive, I am also acknowledging that Will’s sins against me are no greater than my sins against him.
Dominick: God, conflict resolution, communication, commitment, loyalty, and forgiveness.
There’s a saying that goes: “Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.” Was there an “eye-opening” moment for you in marriage?
David: I think there was a moment where we learned that we disagree differently. When Julie would get angry, she would get quiet. When I would get angry, I would get loud. We had a period of time in which we had to learn, ironically, not each other’s love language, but each other’s anger language.
Julie: And change it, and figure out what is healthy and what is unhealthy, because some of the things you do growing up aren’t healthy.
William: I don’t agree with the saying to be honest. I had heard so many surprise horror stories; I did the best I could to give Candice a realistic picture of who I was in both public and private. I think it’s essential couples be real with each other.
Emily: To be honest, marriage was better than I expected.
How has your spouse made you a better person?
Dominick: She constantly tells me: “You ain’t all that and a bag of chips.”
Tisha: Helping me not to take things too seriously.
Justin: She has challenged me to be more like Jesus. As the husband role I am supposed to be Jesus and she is supposed to be the church, so day by day, I am asking “Am I being like Jesus to her?”
Stephanie: Justin has been a mirror to me, showing me things about me that need to change. He has also challenged my walk with Jesus, getting me to get out my comfort zone. The submitting thing is always humbling, but I’ll take it over being the “Jesus” in the relationship. I know that can’t be any easier.
Candice: I admire William’s humility. Since the beginning of our relationship, if we ever had an argument, William was usually the first to apologize. I know that this is pretty sad, but I had never really apologized to someone else in a serious way until we were dating.
What has been the greatest adjustment you’ve had to make since being married?
David: Having kids is the greatest adjustment, I think. The world shifts as the focus comes upon providing and nurturing these little individuals. And the world has to shift. I think it’s very sad to see people who try to run their lives with children just as they did before children. True, Julie and I used to like going out to eat and sleeping in on a Saturday morning, but we have a charge…a responsibility, and it’s an important one.
Justin: To stop being so selfish. You really do not realize how selfish you are until you are down to that last piece of freshly-made salmon and you want to eat it so bad, but you know she likes it too. That is where you have to make a choice to please me or her.
Abiola: Understanding that we both have input into things that happen. Decisions have to be made together, not just by me.
Emily: With marriage you must be unselfish. I’ve learned to not only be aware of my needs, but also my husband’s needs.
Is there a certain challenge or trial in your life you’ve overcome that you may not have without your spouse?
Dominick: Yes. Without her, I would still be clueless about my vanity, selfishness, pride and ego-centric mind-set.
Tisha: Yes, because of him, I have a better relationship with my father.
Abiola: I was able to handle the fact that the company I was working for was closing and to look for a new job with the help of her support and prayers.
Emily: One of the toughest challenges I’ve had to overcome had been family issues. I know I probably would not overcome these issues as positively had it been without my husband. I feel like sometimes it’s hard to have a clear perspective when you’re going through a tough time, and having a husband who knows you intimately can be that guide and leader that is needed.
What has challenged the health of your marriage the most?
Justin: Well the challenge for us was continuing to be married. I was unfaithful in the beginning of our marriage, and we were separated for about nine months. It really took her praying for me as well as others, and me accepting God’s grace and mercy. We now are on our mission to help other marriages never get to where we were, and others that are there to hold on to God’s promise.
Stephanie: The journey to rebuild trust has also challenged our marriage. But I am glad to say that since we have overcome that situation, God has healed us and restored the trust in our marriage. That situation challenged every fiber of our beings, but we are better for it. I am a stronger woman and wife. My husband is a stronger warrior in God’s Kingdom. And out of it, God birthed a ministry where other marriages can find refuge.
Abiola & Emily: Our family. Although we love them, they still need to understand that we are our own family now so the dynamics of our birth families has to change.
What key advice would you give to a dating or engaged couple?
Will: Do your marriage for Jesus. He delights in you and your future spouse, but believe it or not, he takes delight in you two as a couple together before Him. Enjoy that and enjoy Him together; that is what it means to make Him the center.
Candice: Pray, pray, pray! The best preparation for marriage is to pray together now and pray for each other individually. Reliance on God is the answer. Don’t be afraid to obey the direction that He leads you as a couple. God has a different plan for every family.
Dominick: Don’t rush, get to know your spouse, find a good premarital counselor, don’t spend too much on the wedding; plan everything: kids, finances, vacations, holidays, etc.
Tisha: Always keep lines of communication open. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and pray together.
Stephanie: Allow God to confirm that you two are to be together for the purpose of marriage. 2) Know who you are in God first. 3) Be whole. No man or woman wants a broken boy or girl.
Julie: I would say make some rules for your marriage. Like, never use insults, abusive language, or behavior…And never use the “d” word. Divorce is not a joke, and it’s destructive to bring it up, especially in the heat of an argument. You’ve sworn before God and man. Take that oath seriously before you get in. And once you get in, stay in and work the problem through.
David: Don’t go telling everyone about the troubles you’re having with your spouse. Why do my co-workers need to know an ounce of what happens in my home? If I have an issue, I want to discuss it with people who care about supporting the health of my marriage.
Abiola: Besides keeping and developing your relationship with God first, also have a great friendship with one another, love and trust each other, and always represent each other well in front of others, even when you’re by yourself, because you each represent each other.
Emily: Continue to build and strengthen your friendship. Even if that means going through some bumps and building along the way.