The day of our wedding rehearsal was Thursday November 17, 2011, which also happened to be my parent’s wedding anniversary!
My mom had come down earlier in the week to complete some last minute projects and to run errands for Steve and I. She picked up our programs, decorated our candy bar glassware, and ran supplies to Brackett’s, our reception venue.
I couldn’t believe in just one day, I’d be saying, “I do.” There were so many random times throughout the week as I’d be counting down that I’d just stop and realized, I’m getting married this week.
We had the best wedding party. Seriously, top notch friends and they were good looking! We each had six friends stand for us. I chose my sister Melia, my best friends from back home—Jill, Carie and Michelle, my brother’s girlfriend Lisa (soon to be fiancé) and mine and Steve’s friend Tamara.
Steve’s lineup included Lance, Edog, Cory, Chris, Terry, my brother Keaton as well as Dan, Rod, and Ben. Steve’s best friend Stien was living in California at the time and his wife was expecting around the date of our wedding. Unfortunately he couldn’t be the “best man” in person, he still holds that title. Lance stepped in for the day and fulfilled his role.
We also had a flower girl, Asia and of course JT was our little ring bearer.
Our rehearsal went smooth. Both Steve and I had musically talented friends. Carie practiced her solo “One Thousand Miles” by: Mark Schultz, which would be sung during the lighting of the unity candle. Terry sang “When I Say I Do” by: Matthew West.
Typically I’m a steady person when it comes to emotions. I process things internally and it takes a lot to get me fired up. But then there’s music. It literally takes three notes and something inside me just opens up. Whether it’s the lyrics that touch my heart in it’s deepest places, the melody or a memory associated with the song, my emotions flow uncontrollably with music.
Today was the first time we had heard the two songs we chose for our wedding live. When Steve told me Terry could sing, I had to ask him, “You mean he can really sing, or he likes singing around the house and in the shower?” I just had to double-check to make sure we were on the same page. I knew Carie could sing because I’ve heard her sing dozens of times growing up. Steve confirmed that Terry, could in fact, really sing.
Listening to the lyrics made me realize this was really happening. I mean obviously I knew that, but I mean I was really getting married. I felt so blessed.
Before I was a commitment phobe. If you were to ask my sister, she could probably give you a list of relationships that I’ve ran from in my life.
I remember a time when I was dating guy in high school and he lived about two hours away from me. He gave me a ring, a simple silver band and that was enough to send me running to the hills! I thought, oh my gosh, he thinks I’m going to marry him! Now this ring didn’t come with a proposal nor was it presented to me on one knee, but my mind just ran with it. Needless to say we weren’t together much longer after that. If you’re reading this…sorry about that!
But I wasn’t a runner any more. I had found the one that I could love, trust in, the one who challenged me to be better in every way and the one who made my heart overflow with love. I was ready to open up and share my authentic self with him. Steve always joked with me that I was the rock of Gibraltar, and that he finally cracked me and got me to open up. All I could do is smile at him because I knew he was right. I was so thankful to have found Steve. I had waited a long time for a husband and the journey we’ve had together up until this point was crazy.
We rehearsed that day, one groomsman short. Edog was flying in from California and he missed his flight. Of course he got an earful when he showed up at my house for the groom’s dinner. Pretty boy Hollywood was late; Steve wouldn’t let him hear the end of it.
We had a great time sharing stories that night. I learned more about Steve from his guy friends than I’d known before.
We all said goodnight and it was time for bed.
By this time tomorrow, I’d be Mrs. Steve Toms.
Having a sense of adventure and trying new things has always been part of who I am. Wait long enough you’ll see me try something new and crazy! There is something thrilling about putting myself out there that energizes me. Now this doesn’t mean this tenacious spirit hasn’t struggled with self-doubt or uncertainty, but my internal dialogue always tells me to keep going and that I can do anything.
This whole “energizing thing” when trying something new feels different when I’m the one who is choosing what that new challenge will be, versus when I’m told I’m going to do something, which leads me to the life of dating Steve Toms, the personal trainer extraordinaire.
All throughout my relationship with Steve I was exposed to the inside world of personal trainers. As the personal training department head, it was his job to push the trainers to be successful, which included practicing what he was preaching.
Steve was a great leader. He was the type of boss who truly cared about his team of personal trainers and what was going on in their lives. When we’d spend time together he’d tell me about different trainers and what their life stories were, and there were some fascinating ones! His relationships with people were never about what they could do for him; it was about helping others be their best. Steve didn’t have to put on an act or be crafty in his relationships because there was something about him that naturally pulled the best out of them and everyone he was around.
The same was true for me. His presence drew out a laser focus in my training and I valued training hard and performing my exercises with excellence. Of course this didn’t mean he didn’t say anything, because he was a chatty smart alec that knew just what buttons to push to get you to do what he wanted you to do. Sometimes his brutal honesty was off-putting, but he was oddly loved for it.
As I mentioned before, Steve had a way of getting people to do what he wanted them to do when it came to physical activity.
My routine during training for figure was to get up at 4:45, get to the gym by 5:00 for my first round of cardio training. Then I’d go to school, teach physical education all day and be to the gym by 4:00 for my second training session with Steve.
There were several times I’d get a text during the day from Steve saying: We are running a 5k when you get here.
I read that text and thought, CRAP! I don’t want to run a 5k. I just want to lift. Can’t a girl just lift!
Upon reading that text, I’d grumble to myself. This girl was not in the mood to run a 5k. This happened several times. Steve wanted to show support by taking part in the Run Club races that happened once a month.
The surprise physical activity ventures didn’t stop there.
The next physical conquest we would be part of would be the Life Time Fitness Alpha Showdown.
Thankfully we were able to train for this event in advance because it was by far the most physically demanding of all the physical things I’ve ever been a part of.
The Alpha Showdown took place at the Chanhassen club that year, and there were competitors from all the Minnesota Life Time Fitness clubs.
The Alpha Showdown was broken down into three different segments of exercises in which competitors would demonstrate their athleticism and strength while pushing the boundaries of what it means to be mortal (Life Time’s words, not mine).
As Alpha Showdown participants we would compete in a series of events including the Power Gauntlet, the Hypertrophy Decathlon featuring 10 different stations, 250 meters of rowing, and finally, an obstacle course for the Endurance Gauntlet. All events will be timed and participants will be disqualified for not meeting required time restrictions for each segment.
Since Steve was doing this event, that automatically meant I had to do it too. He also managed to coax my sister into competing as well. As we arrived we signed in and were assigned a start time. Thankfully I was able to watch other competitors go before me so I could learn from their successes and failures.
My goal was to simply finish within the time restrictions. I wasn’t sure how my body was going to respond to the real deal.
It was my turn to go. I stood at the starting line, my competitive switch immediately activated, you know, that little bit of sass inside that automatically causes you to size other people up. I started the same time as a guy. That alone motivated me. I was going to crush him in this, (that’s my inner voice talking).
Both the men and women completed the same exercises, at different weights. It’s hard not to charge out of the gate when it’s a timed event. This is a problem for people of all ages. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve given a speech about pacing yourself for the mile run to my elementary students. Most of them can’t help but ignore my advice and take off like they’re on fire. It’s only a matter of seconds before they’re walking their laps.
So I tried to hustle and pace myself at the same time because my goal was to finish. I wasn’t going to go through all of that for nothing!
Thankfully I finished. Every limb was begging for me to stop. My heart was beating out of my chest, my lungs were burning and I couldn’t suck in air fast enough. All that lunging, pushing, squalling, thrusting, rowing, army crawling, running was enough physical activity for a month. My sister finished and Steve tuckered out during the squat press portion of the Hypertrophy Decathlon.
I’m thankful that Steve challenged me to compete in the Alpha Showdown. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of accomplishment and a job well done.
What I ask myself is, why does is it easier to have someone else to push me well beyond my box to truly test my limits? It’s as if I need someone else’s permission to allow myself to jump.
Of course this doesn’t happen all the time, but some times I just need someone to give me a shove and confirm that I can accomplish what I’ve set out to do in order to get back on the horse.
Sure I’m full of great ideas and big dreams, but that’s all they are if I don’t do anything with them.
The Alpha Showdown was physical in nature, but there are other showdowns in our lives that will occur one way or another. It’s usually because of time and we have to “face the music” or we finally get the courage to go for it!
When we fail to address the things that are in our way, we waste time. Wasted time equates to wasted opportunities because we allow ourselves to be hung up.
To be honest, I’ve been hung up myself lately. In my mind I know what I need to do, and there are things on my to-do list that have been staring at me for over a month. I should be blogging more consistently, I should have more speaking events, and I should be further in the writing of my book than I am. With that, I know to sift through the voice that reminds me of the things I “should” have accomplished, because if I’m not on-guard, the lies of the enemy get sprinkled in and before I know it, I’m set back even further.
This post isn’t simply about physical conquest to test my mortal abilities, but it’s about the showdowns we face in life.
I’ve allowed the fear of all the things I don’t know beat me in the showdown. I have moments when I’m totally overwhelmed by what I know I need to do, so instead, I do nothing. But you see, these dreams aren’t just about me. I know for certain that God would love to use me as an instrument if I would be obedient. As my pastor said one Sunday in church, “Partial obedience is still disobedience.” Doing things halfway is not okay.
Now I’m not one to wallow in a mistake or setback because I simply refuse to let Satan have a field day in my mind. Instead, I will rise to the occasion because that’s what champions do.
Just like me, you, my friend, are called to win!
This love letter is taken from one of my favorite books of encouragement titled “Love Letters from God—Affirmations for Your Soul By: Bonnie G. Schluter. My parents mailed this to me when I was going to college in Hawai`i.
I love this love letter for so many reasons, especially the last paragraph: “Does a winner go it alone in his fight to win? No, he get the best trainer he can find, and he trusts those professionals to help. The trainer maps out a training program. He sets the course, then the athlete follows that course. My child, you do the same.” Lovingly, God
I truly had the best earthly trainer in Steve and I have the ultimate life trainer– God setting my course. Trust in God as your life trainer and follow HIS course.
Step up to the starting line and stare down the roadblock in front of you. It’s time for you to finally have a showdown… YOU WERE BORN TO WIN!
It was summer and wedding planning was in full swing. Today I’d be going wedding dress shopping with my mom, sister and best girl friends, Jill, Carie and Michelle.
I had made a few bridal appointments for my dress hunting adventure. I did some pre-shopping online just to see what types of dresses were out there. I have always been a fan of one-strap dresses, not only because I like the style, but also because I have a large scar on my chest that I wanted to conceal.
We arrived at the bridal shop and were given the details about where specific dress styles could be found. I had a general idea of the look I was going for, but I was open to trying anything on.
The girls and I picked out dresses and the fashion show began. I tried on all kinds of dresses: strapless, halter tops, sweetheart, fit and flare, mermaid and trumpet to name a few. I’m sure there are guys reading this that are confused by the lingo. That’s kind of how us ladies feel when you talk about car parts, farming or the stock market…zzzz.
I wasn’t totally sold on anything right away. Nothing that I tried on felt like me. On to the next stop…
The same procedure occurred. A small introduction, details about dress locations, searching and then another fashion show.
When I got engaged, my hair was blonde. I had always wondered what I would look like with brunette hair. I figured that now was the time to test things out and figure out what color hair I wanted for the wedding. So after I got engaged, my mom colored my hair. Thankfully changing your hair color is not a permanent change. If I didn’t like it I could always change it back. It helped that my mom was a hairdresser; so making this drastic change didn’t cost me a cent.
In trying on these dresses I was trying to envision myself in my dream dress on my wedding day and my hair color. As I was trying on the dresses I realized none of the dresses felt like me and I didn’t feel like myself with dark hair.
Thankfully these things are both things that can easily be changed, but some times in life we don’t have the luxury of change. Some times our choices come with unforeseen implications and even consequences.
Have you ever made a decision about life and later realized what you decided did not fit whom you truly were and later you had a ‘what was I thinking’ revelation? Maybe your decision fit a specific need or desire you had in that moment and you stuck with that choice because it was easy and too scary to make any sort of change without knowing what was on the other side.
Maybe you’ve journeyed down the same hallway to a better future, approaching the door that leads to the life you’ve dreamed of time and time again. You’ve reached for the knob of change because you were ready to inhabit a new dwelling place; a healthy place for your mind, body and soul, a place where the innermost parts of you could be at home, where you feel at peace and you experience the freedom and joy of being your true self.
I want you to know that you’re not alone. You’re not the first one to make a bad decision. Yes, your previous decision may have been a momentary lapse in judgment. Maybe you chose to partake in a life-sucking relationship, to inhabit a toxic environment, or took too many turns on the hamster wheel of poor financial decisions or perhaps you’ve harbored bitterness and anger in your heart and then, as if that wasn’t enough, unpredictable heartbreak hit. You really want to yell to the high heavens asking God, WHEN DOES THIS END?
Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson after.
But what I really want to ask is: WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED?
Now I know that life is full of trials that extend far beyond choosing the wrong hair color, but the point is the freedom of choice.You have your free will given to you by God that allows you to choose. You get to choose what you’re going to do about your life!
I believe that every thing we go through in life serves to help us grow and to inspire others to do the same. Many people go through trials and refuse to learn. They keep doing the same things OVER and OVER but expect their lives to change. Maybe that person is you? You resist the rich growth that these yucky experiences offer because you refuse to see that there might be some value in your struggle. You’re too busy being mad, allowing your heart to harden in the dark, to step out and embrace THE LIGHT–Jesus.
In case you haven’t noticed, light is a requirement for growth of living things. The same is true for you. You need THE LIGHT to grow. Things that get light grow, change and become stronger. Things that are not IN THE LIGHT don’t grow. They might change but when they don’t grow, they soon die. I’m not talking about a literal death, although that may be true for plants, I’m talking about the death of hope. You can either nurture the spark in your heart that tells you to keep going because there’s sure, confident, hope in Jesus, or allow your growth to be choked out. You choose.
WHY ARE WE SO SURPRISED WHEN WE FACE TRIALS? GOD WANTS TO INCREASE YOUR FAITH; THEREFORE, TRIALS SHOULD DRAW OUT YOUR BEST!
My favorite Psalm that has become my chapter of encouragement in my life is Psalm 71. I love verses 20-21, 23 &24
Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.
My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you—I, whom you have redeemed. My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long…
He promises restoration and a new start. Praise God for the reset button!
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. -James 1:2-6 & 12
My challenge for you is to reflect on the trials of your life with new lenses– even the trials that sting to think about and view the stories of your life as growth opportunities.
- What areas of your life have you grown in?
- What areas of your life do you still need to make changes in?
ACTION STEP: Share your new perspective with a friend. Encourage them to see the growth potential in the midst of their trial.
REMEMBER: We persevere because when our faith is tested, we grow!
It was a Saturday evening, May 14, 2011. Steve had worked that day, just like he did most Saturdays. He started his Saturdays fairly early with clients, and then I would go in to the club and we’d workout together.
After working out we went to his townhome to relax and spend the day together.
The plan was to go to church at 6:00 and then meet our friends Ben and Alyson at Stella’s Fish Café in Uptown.
We had one of those lazy Saturdays; lounging around, watching TV, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company.
“Babe today we have to get to church early at 5:00 to meet up with Pastor Alan to pray before church,” Steve informed.
“Okay,” I said, glancing at the clock. “I need to get ready then.”
I wasn’t quite sure as to why we had this special meeting with Pastor Alan, but I’m all for prayer so I didn’t question it. I went upstairs to his bathroom to change, freshen up and fluff my hair.
Steve eventually came upstairs to get ready. He put on Christian music from Pandora as we got ready.
I finished one last touch, walked out of the bathroom, “okay, I’m ready.”
He looked so good. Steve always looked so handsome. He had on a red polo shirt, his hair was done just how I liked it and as always, he smelled so good!
Steve had a cologne collection, and I’m not talking about four bottles of cologne. I’m talking more like twenty. I had asked him about it, and where the cologne collecting came from. He told me growing up his parents were smokers and he hated the smell. In order to try to cover it up, he would cover himself in cologne.
Gone were the days of living with his parents, but this cologne thing still carried through. Not going to lie, I wasn’t mad about it. There’s something about the way a man smells that makes me melt. If there were a love language for smelling good, I’d add that to my list!
Steve turned down the music. “Babe, we need to pray before we go.”
Pray before we go? I thought that was strange. That wasn’t ever part of our routine before, but I wasn’t going to question what he was requesting. I thought, if my man wants to pray, we’re going to pray.
I fell more in love with him in that moment. I had always wanted to be dating a guy who was a spiritual leader. I have a tendency to want to lead, but I know that in marriage, the wife is not supposed to. That doesn’t make her any less important, that just makes us different. We were designed to have different roles for a reason. If one tries to take on the role of the other, the divine purpose of each spouse within marriage is diminished and your relationship has/will probably suffer as a result.
I know there will be people reading this that might get all “huffy and puffy” hearing me say that. The Bible says: Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18) and it goes on to say Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”
I’m a natural leader, but truthfully, in a relationship, I wanted to be led. I don’t want to the leader in my relationship. I want to be cared for, adored, loved and cherished.
There we stood, hand in hand in his bedroom with our eyes closed.
“Dear God, I want to thank you for today, and Lord I want to thank you for Ashley. Thank you for bringing her into my life…”
As I stood there I thought, I like this. Steve is really growing in his faith, he’s praying over our relationship…I melted…
“And Lord I ask that you bless our engagement…”
My eyes popped open! He just said ENGAGEMENT….oh my goodness!
I don’t even remember any of the words after engagement because I was so shocked that came out of his mouth.
He reached into his pocket, took out the ring and he got down on one knee and said, “Will you marry me?”
My heart raced, I looked into his eyes with slight panic, palms sweaty…
As he was on his knees my hands embraced the back of his head as I pulled him in for a kiss. He got teary-eyed and attempted to put the ring on my finger. He couldn’t quite get it on, so I put it on.
I paused for a moment, “Holy smokes we’re engaged!” We kissed again.
“Are we really meeting Pastor Alan?”
“We are supposed to, but it’s okay if we’re not there at 5:00.”
It was after 5:00, I grabbed my purse and we headed out the door. We called our parents on the way and told them briefly that we were engaged! We didn’t have time for long drawn out conversations about all of it because we had to get to church.
As we pulled in, Ben and Aly were driving out of the church parking lot. They were in on the plan and I waved at them and Steve stuck his arm out the window shaking his fist in victory and followed it up with a thumbs up.
We didn’t have time to pray with Pastor Alan before church. By the time we got in praise and worship had already started.
I have to admit I was distracted the whole time. I kept looking down at my new rock and I kept replaying the highlight reel of the whole thing in my mind. I glanced at Steve, we exchanged excited smiles, as he held my hand.
There we were, singing praise to Jesus, embarking on a new adventure as an newly engaged couple.
I glanced over at Steve as he poured out his heart in worship.
Thank you God. Thank you God. THANK. YOU. GOD!
What about you? Did you have a moment when prayer changed everything? I’d love to hear about it.
Share it below!
I was 12 days out from stepping on to a national stage in Atlanta. This would be my quickest turnaround from one show to the next, and my biggest event to date.
I had an evening to celebrate the win and then it was back to the drawing board; maintaining my diet and tightening my physique up even more.
Before nationals Steve and I had several conversations about getting a sponsorship for figure. He looked at me with a smile on his face, “what are you talking about, I am your sponsor!”
We both laughed. He had trained me for free, bought our supplements; we cooked together…that pretty much covers all major bases. I ended up not pursuing that route.
This was the first time I’d be competing out of state. Most people check luggage that has shoes, clothes and everything else you need. I had a checked bag that contained all my food portioned out for the final three days, plus ice packs to keep it all cold.
I was excited for this trip. I wasn’t going alone. I had my partners in crime, Steve and Mel there for support.
We arrived in Hot-lanta, and checked in to the hotel. It was time for NPC Nationals!
I was in awe! This place was a central hub full of people with orange skin, carrying gallons of water and coolers. I had never seen so many fascinating physiques in one location at a time. I was thrilled to not only experience this culture, but to be one of the athletes competing that weekend.
I had an athlete meeting Thursday night in which we received our athlete gift bags, competitor numbers and heights and weights (for bodybuilders) were checked.I wouldn’t be stepping on stage until Saturday morning. I had a whole day of waiting.The three of us attended part of the competitions on Friday night, but we went to bed early because tomorrow would be a big day.
I woke up at 5:00 to start getting ready for the show. My manager, (Mel) always helps me with my hair and make up.
Before I left for nationals, I decided I wanted my hair longer, therefore, I needed extensions in my hair. Well, if I’m going to have extensions, so is my sister! We have this thing where if we’re out and about shopping and we find something we think the other sister will like, we buy it. For example, I bought two of the same bracelets one time and when we noticed we both have them on, we say “sister bracelets” in unison. Weird I know. We’ve bought several other “sister” things, for example we both bought the same pair of sandals, those are our “sister sandals.”
My mom is a hair stylist, so we make regular trips with her to get supplies for her salon. I was on the hunt for extensions and I found exactly what I wanted. My sister was spontaneously in the market for extensions that day as well.
Introducing, “Jessica.” A clip in extension helmet-type hairpiece that gives you instant length and body, so you can enjoy long healthy locks, made by Jessica Simpson.
I found the perfect blonde one, and Mel found one that was black and we made the sister purchase. These two salt and pepper hair pieces became know as “Jessica.” We both tested out these hairpieces before we went to Atlanta, making sure we had our hairstyles down. They worked best when you wore your hair down so you wouldn’t have to worry about the clips showing.We’d be getting ready to go somewhere and I’d ask her, are you wearing “Jessica?” It became our little joke, and no one knew what we were talking about.
Mel proceeded to help me do my hair, clipping in my Jessica, and then I helped her put in her Jessica. I put my suit on, did my makeup and I was ready to rock the stage.
I hugged them both, and then disappeared through the “athlete only” zone. I thought I was prepared for nationals, but you wouldn’t believe what some of the other competitors bring with them.Suitcases stocked full of food, beauty supplies, pins, makeup, full- length mirrors, extra heels, you name it, they had it all. I saw different athletes with their sweatsuits on repping their team apparel. I wasn’t part of a team, I was my team.
This was my first time competing at this level. In the Minnesota competitions I’ve been in, there are usually 8-10 competitors in any given height class. At nationals, there were 40 women in my class D category alone.
The goal when you step on stage is to be moved closer to the center of the stage. The closer to the center you are, the better your chance is for making callbacks. They take the best competitors within a specific height class and then have those competitors step out together and go through the poses again to narrow down the number of competitors and to determine the overall winner of that height class.
I was not one of the competitors called back. I really had no idea what to expect. I don’t know how they even begin to narrow things down with that many physiques to evaluate. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was bummed about it. I had put in SO MANY HOURS of training and dedicated my time to this particular day. In the end, I know that I brought the best physique I ever had to nationals that day and I”m very thankful for that.
I was pleased with how my body peaked for nationals and I’m thankful for the experience I gained through my first taste of the big stage.
Mel, Steve and I celebrated and went out for dinner at a place similar to Fogo De Chao. I sampled almost every type of meat they offered and they use the same green means go, red means stop cards at our table. We were stuffed, but happy to celebrate after long weekend.