September 12, 2016
I first met Christina in fall of 2010 when I began teaching at a high school in Center City Philadelphia. She was a young rising star in the organization, training to become an assistant principal. She had a passion for her students and gave a 100% to everything she did. I remember being in the building on an early Spring Saturday afternoon to make some copies. She was there also, prepping baskets of testing materials for the next week. She looked focused and dare I say, a bit stressed. With her was a tall, solid guy who was about her same complexion. He helped her lug the materials to and from the office and seemed to be pretty supportive.
The tall guy was Miguel and at that time, they were engaged. The two met in 2010 at an event through mutual friend from church. Initially, Christina thought he was rude and wasn’t impressed. About a month later, that same mutual friend invited Miguel and a few other men to help Christina move out of her apartment. It was then that she figured something was up: “He worked that day and drove from Jersey to Philly to help me move. I realized he obviously wasn’t rude if he was willing to do that.” They exhanged numbers, began texting and talking, eventually going on a series of dates. The rest, I suppose, is history. They are now married with two beautiful girls, Summer and Naomi. Miguel is a firefighter and Christina recently launched the South Jersey chapter of Growing Up Gorgeous, a community for moms to get refreshed, restored, and relate to one another.
I remember watching Christina over the years. Looking from the outside in. I thought to myself, “Wow. She is really doing it!” Things seemed to be taking off for her and REALLY quickly. She was engaged and quickly advancing in her career. Like, GOALS. Right? Eventually, Christina moved on to help turnaround a school in North Philly. She and Miguel got married in November of 2011. Time passed and I saw wedding photos then images of their growing family. Summer, their first daughter, came along March 2014 and the second child Naomi is now 8 months old.. More pictures. Lots of cuteness. More GOALS.
So as I sat down to interview and photograph them in their New Jersey home this past summer, I was reminded how incongruent our idea of “GOALS” and real life is. Social media is deceptive, with the mounting pressure to carefully curate and display the “best” moments of our lives to the world. Yes, I am guilty of this too. Perhaps, that’s why I decided to find married couples who were willing to be honest and open about their struggles as well as their triumphs.
Christina and Miguel are the first of several couples who opened up their hearts to me this past summer. My goal is that through words and images, I’m able to celebrate the reality of marriage, motherhood, and hopefully capture the little moments in between. I hope that this will be the beginning of something great. Thank you Christina and Miguel for allowing me into your home and for sharing your story with the world.
How did you know he/she was “The One”?
C: My grandfather died in 2010 and I remember him singing “What a Friend We Have In Jesus” on the phone. It wasn’t corny or too much. It was just what I needed. I realized it was because it was coming from his heart. This is coming from his relationship with the Lord where he really wanted to pour into me and really wanted me to be comforted. For me, that was the moment when I knew we were going to get married.
M: There was a struggle with the local church in Philly and Trenton. Through it, I felt that there was nobody on my side- just me and Jesus wrestling. When I called her, even though I was giving her pushback, she was praying for me. It was different from any other relationship that I’d been in. Nobody had ever taken on my battles. A few years earlier, my dad gave me some advice: “You have to be really intentional about what you pray for.” She was everything I prayed for, down to the short cut and glasses. I just trusted that I intentionally prayed for this. I realized He gave me the gift of my heart.
The Yellow Light
C: We had pre-marital counseling. It was 9 weeks. We met on Saturday mornings, went through a lesson and we were given a mentor couple that we would meet with individually during the week.
Y: How was it?
C: We talked about all the stuff we were bringing into our relationship…I remember it being really heavy. We didn’t get to solve a lot of things but it did open us up to a lot of deep conversation. A lot of issues. Growing up. Family issues. Addiction issues.
M: I’d tell her about the things I struggled with deeply. We’d get into these sessions and I’d warn her about entering into this [marriage]. She wasn’t as open so I thought they’d [our counselors] jam her up. I was self-righteous thinking, “she needs work”. However, it actually helped me process some things.
C: At the end of counseling, each couple receives a light. We got the yellow light. We took a second to break. It wasn’t just his issues. It was that I wasn’t sharing much. I just don’t talk a lot about myself. I just let him talk. I was very comfortable just sliding into the shadows. We both came into the marriage with some of the typical stuff that married folks deal with – being selfish, arguing about money, being so used to having our own way. We also came into it with very heavy stuff. Struggling with sexual issues, anger issues, hostility towards each other. That should have been dealt with [more].
Y: Did you have any assumptions about what marriage would be like?
C: I surely did. So this man loves the Lord and we prayed while we were dating. So when we get married we’re just going to study God’s word every day and he’s going to sharpen me so much and I’m going to wake up with this fresh anointing because I’m married now. We’re going to do devotions together all the time. I just knew that no matter what happened, even we argued, it’s just always going to come back to Christ. That’s what people say because it’s supposed to be a “Christian” relationship. But this is a practical relationship. In reality, we are two people coming together that Satan is going to want to drive a huge wedge in between and not connect with Him or each other. It took us years. I was MAD. The first year, I was like, “We don’t read the word enough”. How you gonna be mad about that?! Read it on your own! Open the Bible yourself. I was so busy being mad that first year I couldn’t even see what it was doing to my own relationship with Christ.
M: I was thinking that relationships get better with time as you build. We were coming together, we were both broken. We were building. I didn’t want to have that fairytale in my mind. My pastor uses the analogy from the movie “I’m Gonna Get You Sucker”. Guy takes girl home and she takes off the fake hair, the fake legs, etc. I didn’t want it to be like that so I thought, “let’s just build from here”. Both perspectives we wrong though. We should have enjoyed one another and cherished our time before children. We should have vacationed more and done more things together. Instead, we just wanted to waste money on Chinese food (*laughter*)…and argue.
The First Year, “Spoons” & Living Two Separate Lives
C: We were mad at each other for the first year.
M: We can summarize the first year in one word: “Spoons.” I work 24 hours, I come home and there’s 9 spoons in the sink. Did you have a tea party?
C: Meanwhile, I’m a messy person. I was just proud that the rest of the house didn’t look crazy! Yea, maybe there are some dishes in the sink but I tried. We planted a church, got married, and I was helping to turn around a high school all in the same year. I didn’t realize how much my life was consumed by working…He was really excited about being on the team (that planted) Camden Epiphany. I didn’t really have time to be excited for him. My road was work, work, work. We were living two separate lives. I was gone from 6:30 in the morning 7:00 in the evening every day. That’s a lot. With his schedule, we didn’t really spend that much time together. When we were together, we were with other couples. We were trying to help everybody get comfortable, meet people. We weren’t really investing in building with each other that much at all.
M: When we were arguing, I used to say, “You ain’t on my team!”. She’d respond, “What is that?! We’re not playing basketball!”. When she came home or when we were around our friends, all she talked about was [work].
C: It took until Summer was born for our relationship to look different. For Summer, we had to come together or else we wouldn’t survive. I think we were so happy to have her. There was a lot of joy that came with her birth, first of all. We were a team and we needed each other in a different way.
M: We were forced to come together. I guess at that moment, I started to appreciate what she did rather that saying, “You’ve got nine spoons in the sink!”. Instead of coming home and complaining about dishes in the sink, I thought maybe I should come home and do the dishes.
C: It definitely brought us together. I was in the house waiting for her for a month because she was 2 ½ weeks late. So I was sitting in the house with him. He was off work too. So we were sitting in the house waiting. Then, the birth was very trying. It was 3 days long, it brought us together. He helped coach me. It was our first thing together.
M: It went from us ripping and running and kind of getting things done together, to passing the baton.
C: Early in our relationship, we went to a Paul Tripp marriage retreat. He talked about kingdoms. Most people live their lives wanting to build their own kingdom than wanting to build the Lord’s Kingdom. Any problem in our relationship, unless we are directly sinning against one other, is our fault. I still remember saying, “NOT TRUE!”. But, he was right. Unless Miguel is sinning against me, then me being irritated, aggravated, or annoyed is just me worrying about my own kingdom. At the time, it only sunk in a little. However, it eventually helped us transform how we were with each other.
Year 1 vs. Now
YS: Describe your relationship in your first year versus now.
M: Forks, knives, spoons. (*laughter*)
C: We were very separate. We lived two different lives. Disconnected. Maybe that’s a better word.
M: I think we were immature. I think because we were getting such compact information from the church, we expected [an immediate] transformation…We’re more patient now.
C: I think patient is a good word. We’re more of a team.
M: We have actually have had people around us that more mature just push us to be more patient with each other. There are younger believers under us that are encouraged by our relationship. Now, it doesn’t feel like we did anything drastic. Perhaps things just slowed down.
C: We spend ALOT of time together now. I don’t think we even realized it before. I’m home now. He’s home a lot too during the day. We spent more time this past year alone than any other year of our marriage. It’s good though. I think we enjoy each other. We can laugh, watch a movie together, play with the girls. Eat. We love to eat together. We have a good time. We’re friends, and I think getting that friendship back helped us to understand each other’s perspective. After [Summer] was born, I stayed home for 6 months and went back part time for a year. Then I did a half of year full time until Naomi was born.
What are you still working on?
C: We need to go on more dates, but we’re going on one tomorrow.
M: That’s one thing I need to do. I want to spend more time with her. Give her a spa day. I don’t want her to get burned out. She went from working full time to being a full time stay at home mom. When we were in premarital counseling, she said she didn’t want to lose her identity as a woman. [Often], men want their wives to just follow behind them. I struggle with people wanting to be exactly like me. So I said, that was never going to happen. I want to set up time for her to be able to let her hair down. I know she’s worn out. Some days I come home and she’s exhausted. I’m exhausted. So setting up time to let her hair down.
C: Just spending time away from the kids. I don’t want it to be that we’ve only grown because of the kids. I don’t want them to grow up, go away and we’re back to-
C: Exactly! Spoons! Our communication. When we do have our arguments -and we do have them- he’ll be frustrated about something and won’t tell me or we’ll forget to talk and share upcoming dates our how important something is. Where to spend money…communication is big. We won’t check in and we’ll get frustrated or mad about something.
Legacy of Love
YS: What do you want your legacy to be?
M: We talk about this all the time. We just want to be impactful. We want our girls to grow up and love the Lord. We pray that a nice guys who love the Lord come along and woos them. Hopefully, they can be ready by seeing us and our relationship.
C: I want our family to be the place that they can always come back to. People can come to us as a place of consistency and steadiness. The way we’re talking now…20 years from now it’s the same thing. We wouldn’t be anything without the Lord. When I think of legacy, I think of a strong, consistent foundation.
M: We also want to impart a good financial legacy. I don’t know what college prices will look like in the future (chuckling).
Be sure to comment below and show Christina and Miguel LOTS of love!
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