Beautifully Bound: Back Together

We met the Farris’ at a recent marriage conference. We were blessed by their story and believe you will be enlightened by their wisdom. Thank you, Tracy and Sylvia, for sharing your Beautifully Bound journey of reconciliation with our readers.

How long were you married?

20 years this Dec. 21


How long were you separated?

Though we were not physically separated, we were spiritually separated somewhere between 3-5 years.


What was the catalyst for you coming back together?

The catalyst that caused us to come back together was the understanding that our marriage isn’t merely for us. But it’s a ministry for us and others.


What does it mean to be “Beautifully Bound” to you?

To be committed to the marriage. To God, yourself and your spouse. In the harmony, trials, and challenges, victory and celebration all in the beauty of our heavenly Father God.  


What is the most powerful advice you have ever received or most powerful question you pondered during your time of separation?

The most powerful advice was that no one else on earth was created for us but us for each other. Many may catch our attention but no one else can handle us but each other.Farris Quote 2 (1)


What was the most difficult thing about being apart? The most difficult part is the actual feeling and experience of disconnection one from another. Knowing that what you have or had is no longer there.


What is the hardest part about coming back together?

Trust and Forgiveness. It’s one thing to say we trust and forgive but it’s another to live as you trust and to live as if you’ve been forgiven. Another area that was hard was sex. Each person wants to be validated with the assurance that they are the only King or Queen in the marriage.


What advice would you offer couples who are currently in the reconciliation process?

To recommit to God as individuals and as a couple. Focus on,

  • communication
  • compromise
  • capability
  • commitment
  • confession ( love for each other).

Take time out for each other and as an individual. Don’t lose your identity in the other person but allow your individual identities to make one whole identity. When people see you they should see God, you and your spouse. Build each other up with support, encouragement, validation, reassurance, and acceptance.

Farris Quote 2

What advice would you offer couples who are contemplating separation?

We would render this question. One simple word and question, “Why”? Many people focus their emotional decision on the circumstances of the effects of rejection and so forth. But how often do we focus on the “why” we felt rejected? People see the ripples in the water but have no idea why there are ripples in the water.


What will you do more intentionally now that you are back together?

Set boundaries. Work on being on the same sheet of music. Address the “why” not the ripple. Prayer, forgiveness, laughter, quality time, commitment, and communication. 

For more marital wisdom connect with the Farris’ by joining their Facebook Page Ambassadors Marriage Session “Inspired to Inspire.”


Bound - Sepia
Graced Lettering

If you would like to build your marriage on a solid foundation, nurture lasting love, and connect with other couples visit our Solid Marriage Support Facebook Page.

Ali & Dionne Carter Revisit Their Vows

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To Have and To Hold
The characteristic that makes Dionne’s husband Ali uniquely hers is the fact that he is not afraid to unapologetically be himself. “Ali is so put together and clean cut in appearance, but he can get real Southside Chicago if he has to, and still be totally earthy and laid back. I love that balance.”

When prompted to use 3 words to describe what takes place when she is in her husband’s arms she confidently responds, “I feel protected.

For Better or for Worse

One of the areas that the Carters admit they could do better is by being more attentive to one another’s unique needs. They would like to develop a deep understanding and ability to nurture those things for one another.

2016, was the worst year of the Carters marriage. “Last year we seriously considered divorce. It was horrible for me and the children.” Dionne explained. “It’s still hard sometimes to talk about. There are still triggers. It sometimes still feels like a fresh wound. She admits that taking the time to pause and ponder the interview questions was tough. “In 2016, we stop being on the same team.”
For Richer or for Poorer

The Carters consider their marriage to be rich in laughter, long-suffering, friendship, understanding, faith, intimacy, and support. When there is poor communication between them, Dionne says, “Everything falls apart, and we lose sight of being on the same team.”

Through Sickness and in Health

In response to the question of how sickness has impacted their marriage Dionne shares, “I have horrible pregnancies. Like straight- shut down, hermit, out-of-commission, ill. I have to say, my husband has always stepped up and took care of me and our family when I physically and mentally was just completely unavailable.”

The Carters have grown in the area of maintaining their marriage. “We’re learning to actively listen. And to be more attentive, yielding to one another.”

To Love & to Cherish

Dionne’s current perception of love is different now than it was before she married. “I once thought that love was the only required ingredient for a lasting marriage. Love is not just about the fairy tale and the warm fuzzy stuff. Love is patience, support, physical touch, perseverance, uncomfortable conversations, growing pains, and brokenness. The willingness to continue to love in spite of all that.” Ali builds his wife up by being her biggest cheerleader. “He challenges me to be my best self. Reminds me that I’m dope, all the time…”
Til Death Do Us Part

When Mrs. Carter was asked how the thought of death makes her appreciate her spouse she shares, “The thought of physically losing my husband makes me sad and ill. His presence is so big and robust. There would truly be a great void in my life. There are days when I wouldn’t even eat if it weren’t for my husband. I am so grateful for everything he brings to my life and our family. Most of the time, I can think out loud with him, and that’s a blessing.”

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    Something Old Something New

    Mr. Carter’s old school advice is, “If you want to be the man, then be the man.” (The marriage begins and ends with you.) His new school advice is, “Communication before marriage is key (Know her do’s and don’ts and her will and won’ts.)


    She never wants to own a big dog. She never wants to live in a high rise.
    She is allergic to cats.
    She doesn’t like cold weather.
    She hates washing dishes.
    She wants to be a stay at home mom, etc…”

Something Borrowed Something Blue

Mr. Carter believes that the popular phrase “Happy wife, Happy Life” is some “BS” he feels that the complexities of marriage can’t be reduced to such a trite expression. “The key to a successful marriage is not that simple.”
Ali goes on to say, “The marriage started with the two of you and it will end with the two of you.”

In response to the question “If you had the chance to do it all over again, what would you do differently?” Dionne shares, “I would take more time to put us first before the children came. To just nurture and further explore the man, the individual. Take the opportunity to have him all to myself a little longer. We began our relationship with children. That’s the only thing I would have wanted more of because everything else we’ve been through has gotten us here today. I have a greater respect, and appreciation for my husband and myself as a woman and wife because of what we’ve overcome.  Ali shares, “I would honestly have waited a little longer to try and get more established career wise so that we were more stable financially.”

For the reader:
If you have a question, comment, or compliment for this couple, please share in the comment section below.

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Scott & Shelton Oakley Hersey Revisit Their Vows

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To Have and to Hold

The quality that Scott has that makes him exclusively hers is his attentiveness. She describes him as having a unique blend of serious and silly.  “Scott is consistently attentive to me and to others, always looking for small ways to serve that most people might never notice.”When Shelton is in Scott’s arms, she feels beloved, home, and seen.

For Better or for Worse

One of the areas that Scott and Shelton feel they can do better in their marriage is through not reacting emotionally to the other’s state of being. “When one of us is sad, frustrated, tired, or insecure, the other can tend to mirror the same emotion. It has been something we honestly weren’t aware of at the start of our marriage and sometimes occasionally only saw it as a strength.” They’ve discovered that there are times in which this tendency is a good thing–when it promotes empathy and sensitivity. “Often times, however, this lack of emotional detachment has kept us from many healthy paths including seeking and speaking truth about who we are in Christ and the promises of God we can rely on.”

When asked about the worst year of their marriage Shelton and Scott respond with “Can we say the worst (or hardest) year and a half?”

As missionaries living in a South African township, The Hersey’s went through a period in which they had to balance full-time ministry, full work schedules, a growing social enterprise business, friends experiencing deep trauma, and their own mental lows. During this same period, they transitioned from South Africa to Boston, all the while facing consistent illness and infertility.

“There was so much to do, so much loss in the massive transitions and struggle with infertility and illness, and each of us had our own journeys of grief and healing to walk through. We had been married for three years at this point, we were exhausted and well past our breaking points and did not understand very well how deep our emotional lows were and how much we were trying to sustain ourselves on our own strength.”

Through consistent tears, moments of irritation and anger, little to no energy, and loneliness they came to understand long-suffering in marriage. They saw the beauty that can come from sticking by one another and trusting God’s promises. They had to mourn the end of one season while embracing the beginning of another. “We needed rest, perseverance, counseling, acceptance of one another, healthy detachment from each others’ emotional ups and downs and the type of healing that only comes over time cloaked in grace.”

For Richer or for Poorer

Shelton & Scott see their marriage as being rich in laughter, long-suffering, friendship, understanding, faith, intimacy, and growth. They enjoy learning from one another and growing personally and together.

When there is poor communication between these two they share, “Our tendency when we poorly communicate or don’t communicate is to make assumptions… Assumptions about what the other is thinking, doing and not thinking or doing that we feel they should be considering… and assumptions about each other’s motivations.”

Through Sickness and in Health

The Hersey’s are far too familiar with sickness. “This past year, we journeyed through the illness and passing of Scott’s father. Watching Scott’s dad struggle and pass from this life to the next was so painful, especially for Scott. Meanwhile, we continued to struggle with infertility and grieve through the process of unsuccessful fertility treatments. Again, the two of us were faced with another wilderness period of grief, each of us expressing it so different than the other. We longed for a lighter season of healing and regeneration. This time, we clung to God, sought joy and gratitude of each other, held a new perspective of the preciousness of life, and gave each other the acceptance, space, support, and grace we both needed to freely grieve and heal. We discovered amidst this wilderness season that regeneration was happening all along.

The way the Herseys maintain the health of their marriage is through communication. “We try to be aware of our own pain points when they’re triggered so we can speak God’s truth to ourselves and to each other. We create fun moments, romance, memories and conversations through which to connect in new and diverse ways. We rely on community and share openly about our marriage: the struggles, the different seasons, the help we have gratefully received, the love, fondness, respect and admiration we have for one another. We speak well of each other to others, conscious of building each other up and not tearing one another down.

To Love and to Cherish

Shelton’s perception of love has not changed much since before she married, but her understanding of what it means has deepened. “One perspective that has changed is what love in action means. I have had to learn a LOT about what this means for Scott and also for myself. Love for us means:

  • Prioritizing time together. 
  • Extending an extra measure grace to each other. 
  • Acknowledging what Scott says he needs.
  • Supporting each other in every season. 
  • Celebrating small and big “piles of stones” (or markers of God’s faithfulness.) 
  • Laying down our individual life visions for a God’s vision for “us.”
  • Embracing a unified vision that is about our journey toward wholeness. 

Scott cherishes his wife through encouraging her. Through his words, small notes, texts, emails and choosing to be present. He supports her in various areas of work and community commitments. He contributes to her gifts and passion. “My favorite is when he out of the blue says to me, “I’m so proud of you, Shelt,” or sends me a text that says, “I love you, and I see you.””

Til Death Do Us Part

When asked how the thought of death makes Shelton appreciate her husband she responds, “It is strange. Even though I only met Scott at age 25, I now cannot imagine living this life journey without him. In fact, looking back, it feels as if he was a small part of me all along. Perhaps this is because God has intricately used Scott to shape me more into my whole and true self. I always tell people that in being married to Scott, I have grown into the person that God created at my very inception; through him, my brokenness has given way to a more centered soul rooted in Christ.”

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Something Old Something New

Scott’s old school advice can be found in John 15:13, he quotes,

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay one’s life down for another.”

He goes on to share, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” – Philippians 2:3-4

  • Seek the interest of your wife before your own interest
  • If your wife wants to connect with you in a way that doesn’t interest you, lay down your interest and choose to connect.
  • Enter into conversations and conflict that you don’t think is a big deal or worth a conversation but it’s important to your spouse to engage and grow.
  • Listen to understand.
  • Buy a less expensive car (or something else) because your together-values are to be frugal and generous with others.
  • Put down your work (or turn off the t.v.) and go to bed with your spouse as much as you can (ending the day together is a great rhythm!)
  • Conserve energy throughout your day to have the peace and presence to go on a date night or to help serve alongside your wife in daily family routines.

His new school advice is to, “ Be aware when to HALT(!) a conversation. In other words, don’t enter into a serious conversation if either of you are feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (HALT). Take some space–even if it means going to bed, taking a walk or going about your day while you’re still feeling a few of these things–so you can come back to each other and the conversation in a better, more whole place.”

Something Borrowed Something Blue

Some borrowed advice that has greatly impacted Scott over the years is, “Intentionally discover and seek out the unique ways your wife receives love and keep exploring new ways to speak her love language. Keep in mind that your wife’s love language might (and will) change from season to season in life. Your wife is in the process of constantly changing… So take the time and give energy to continually get to know her, always holding her with sacred curiosity.”

Scott’s bonus advice is to “Have fun together! Seek out fun, adventure, and new experiences, and pursue enjoyment of one another in little and big ways!” He suggests that couples celebrate as often as they can.

The question Scott would like his wife Shelton to answer is, “In what way do you feel you most need to be consistently pointed to God?”

Shelton’s question for her husband Scott is, “What do you dream over and for us?”

When asked if they had the chance to do it all over again would they, Scott replies, “I would have been more consistent about walking with other men through the marriage journey. We have had some very important and intentional voices speaking into our marriage, and some of the most important pieces of vision and health in marriage have been heavily influenced by our mentors and those with an intentional presence in our lives. I would have tried harder to be more consistent about these connections in difficult seasons as well as find new mentors from whom to receive encouragement.”

Shelton’s response to doing it over was, “Earlier on, I would have lowered my super-high and unrealistic expectations of Scott and our marriage (an expectation of perfection that I didn’t realize I had until a few years into marriage). I like the hopes I hold for us and that we hold together. I am enjoying the plans we make that are cloaked in God’s grace and vision for our wellness, not in my own expectation. I know I have a long way to go in this area, but I hope we can continue to see our marriage even more through the eyes of God’s delight in us so that all we do and say to one another might derive from a place of inspiration, not expectation.” 

For the reader: If you would like to ask this couple a question or offer a word of encouragement, please do so in the comment section below?

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Jenny & Buster Frith Revisit Their Vows

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To Have

Jenny Frith knows her husband, Buster. She knows his looks, when he needs to talk when he needs downtime, what drives him, his strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly she knows that he lives his life to serve God and their family.

To Hold

When Buster holds Jenny she feels secure, safe, and connected.

For Better or Worse

Something the Friths feel they can do better in their marriage is to take date nights and spend more time alone time together without the kids or any distractions. The worst year of their marriage was when their older kids were ages 1 and 2. “I was working full-time at night so I could keep them during the day.  I was missing seeing my husband, and I was exhausted because I would come in from work as he was leaving, and the kids were just getting up. Not seeing each other was the worst thing ever. I was emotionally and physically exhausted.”

For Richer or Poorer

As they talk about their relationship, it’s clear that the Friths are best friends and their marriage is rich in laughter and levity. They dance in the kitchen and laugh a lot. Jenny confesses, ” I love watching him read and study the Word- that is so hot to me! I love that he knows me. He knows when I need chocolate, he knows when I’m upset he’ll say, “come here,” and he gives me a big ole bear hug. I love spending time with him, I love my man.” Whenever there is poor communication between these two frustrations arise because they are big communicators. If something doesn’t seem right, they discuss it and get it solved. If there is a miscommunication, they believe in owning their fault so they can apologize and move forward. 

Through Sickness and in Health

The Friths are not strangers to sickness and health struggles. Jenny shares “There have been so many. We both helped take care of my grandmother as she aged.” She recalls a time in which her grandmother fell and broke her hip which led to her being wheelchair bound. Being picked up in her wheelchair and carried up the stairs to enter their home would frighten her grandmother so Buster singlehandedly built a large wooden portable ramp so Jenny’s grandmother would no longer have to worry. “It meant the world to me how he cared for her in that way.”

5 years ago, Jenny had breast cancer, and Buster never left her side. When she came home, she had to sleep propped up on a couch in their den because of her drains and Buster slept right there on the other couch just to be close to her. He cleaned the drains, cooked, took care of the kids, helped brush her hair, and helped her in the shower daily.

Last year, The Friths found out about a tumor on Buster’s pancreas. Jenny says, “He showed he had the strength and faith of a warrior. When he came out of surgery, he was so pale… He spoke quietly, “come here.” When I leaned in gently to give him a hug, he said, “I love you so much.”

The way the Friths maintain the health of their marriage is through communication and spending time together. “We work together to get things done and truly enjoy each other. We pray together each day and make God first in our marriage, family, and lives.”

To Love and to Cherish

Jenny, who was 15 years old when she first met Buster says, “we’ve always been friends, but marriage brought new experiences like finances, children, work, ministry, sickness, etc. I thought I knew what love was back when we were young, but I have grown to love him more deeply than I ever knew possible. “

The way Buster cherishes his wife is through supporting her in every way. Before he leaves for work, he kisses her on the head and tells her to have a great day and reminds her that he loves her. He also calls her during the day to check on her and the kids. From housework to homework he helps out daily, even after a long day at work. “I love that when he comes home, he will find me before he does anything else. He will come to wherever I am to find out about my day and hug me and kiss me as soon as he gets home. He always puts others first and has such a servant’s heart.”

 Til Death Do Us Part

When asked about to talk about how death makes Jenny appreciate her spouse she responds, “This last year was eye-opening for me (referring to sickness). We can talk about death and try to imagine it, but until it comes or we are faced with an attack, we

simply cannot imagine how overwhelming and gripping it is to experience even the thought of truly losing your spouse.”

Though the spot on her husband’s pancreas was discovered a year ago and has since been removed. She vividly recalls what it was like to receive the news. “I had to literally sit down as I received the call. I knew he had not looked well and was having abdominal pain and of course, being a nurse immediately thought of pancreatic cancer.  That phone call literally took my breath away. I had to go and sit down at my kitchen table and ask the nurse to repeat what she just said. I heard it, but I needed to process it. I had to leave immediately and go get orders for another scan to be done at the hospital. As I got into my car, I started saying, “this is not happening” out loud.” The thought of losing her husband was too much to bear.

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Something Old Something New

When asked to share some old school advice Buster refers to scripture, In 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul tells us to pray continuously and give thanks in all circumstances, for that is Gods will for our lives.” Buster adds “in marriage, we should pray continuously together, as a display of unity in our appreciation for His many blessings, regardless of what we might be going through.” 

 He continues with some new school advice for husbands, “Youll commonly hear the old saying happy wife, happy lifebut don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the words or trapped into believing that her happiness is fueled by material things. Your wife has a fundamental need to know shes loved, cherished, and appreciated. A light touch as you walk by or an unsolicited compliment on her looks or what she’s wearing lets her know that she is noticed. Listening to her and holding her when she’s upset (even if shes upset with you) shows you care.” Buster believes that if a man really wishes to show commitment to investing in a marriage that arranging a surprise date night or weekend away sends a strong message. “When the pace of our world (especially if you have children) makes you feel too busy unselfishly spending time together and small displays of affection strengthen the bonds of marriage in ways a new house, car, or diamond ring cannot.

 Something Borrowed

 Once while preparing to teach a couples’ class about expectations, Jenny and Buster realized that even though they had been married for more than 10 years, they were guilty of letting misplaced expectations cause division within their own family. As they taught they learned strategies for communicating expectations. As they set out to pour into the couples in the class, God used the information they were sharing on expectations to not only strengthen their marriage, but also their relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. 

Something Blue (something extra just for fun)

Buster has a brilliant strategy of finding out what’s going on with his wife. He has learned to listen to their children who are homeschooled because they are his wife most of the day. By listening to their kids, he can tell if she is stressed or simply needs encouragement. Buster says, “my daughters occasionally greet me when I come home and quietly inform me about something she is struggling with. Those are the days she especially needs to know she’s loved, cherished, and appreciated.

A question that Buster would like for his wife to answer is, “What is one aspect of our lives we could change to make our marriage and family stronger?” and a question that Jenny would like for her husband to answer is “What is something I can do to make your life easier?” When asked if they would do it all over again Jenny and Buster referred to a sign they have hanging in their bathroom, “If I had my life to do over again… I’d find you sooner so I could love you longer.” They said they would do it all over again in a heartbeat.


For the reader: What question would you like to ask this couple?


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My Bittersweet Bio

20161112_164249Writing a bio was harder than writing my whole book. By definition a bio is “an account of someone’s life written by someone else,” but everyone secretly knows that you really write your own bio. Well written bios make me happy; unfortunately, I don’t have one that is well written. I wanted to title this post “My Bipolar Bio” because when I talk about my life I often feel like I’m discussing two different people. My bio is bittersweet, it feels like a half truth, it’s sterile, and my life has consisted of many messy moments. To read my actual bio click on the ABOUT page of my website.

Bios in which highly qualified people don’t mention their credentials are probably my favorite. People who have earned the right to brag, usually don’t. People who are trying to conceal their weakness seem to write lengthy bios in an effort to compensate for what they lack. Be forewarned, this post will be long but it is not to compensate for what I lack. Its purpose is to expose what would be easy for me to cover.

My Bittersweet Bio

Toya Poplar was raised in a small town filled with big dreams. Her hometown is where I-96 ends and Lake Michigan begins. Muskegon is surrounded by water, it’s shoreline hydrates the soul. Though she spent years beholding the beauty of the lake, Toya never learned to swim. Much like her life she watched others be refreshed by something she only gave herself permission to admire from afar.

Toya grew up in poverty, not just a lack of finances, but a deficit within her soul. She never learned to dance, play piano or do a cart-wheel. When she encountered those who did, she marveled at their courage. She graduated from high school and was awarded many scholarships. As a freshman at Eastern Michigan University she embraced activism (towards social justice) and let go of her focus (towards education). Losing her scholarships led her to Washtenaw Community College where she rediscovered her passion for learning and worked hard to obtain an associate degree.

By her last semester in college she was unwed and pregnant. She graduated, moved to Nashville, and lived with the father of her child. She was depressed, discouraged, and disappointed with herself. After trying everything she knew to be good enough, she surrendered her life to Christ and found peace within. She was married at Davidson County Courthouse on a Friday, just before they closed. It was nothing like she had imagined as a small town girl dreaming big dreams.  “Anticlimactic” is how she describes it but, admits that it was the antidote to her shame.

She and her husband Melvin are living out their happily ever after in a tiny town nestled in North Alabama. They have 6 children. Toya counseled at a crisis pregnancy center, it was there that she found purpose for her pain. The Poplars became marriage counselors, known for sharing their unglamorous wedding story. They encourage couples to focus on the quality of their marriage and not just the details of their ceremony. 

As a single, unwed, and pregnant college student; Toya made herself a promise that someday she would further her education. She blinked and her oldest son that was conceived while in college, was entering college himself. This day was filled with bittersweet tears. Happy that her baby boy was headed to college but sad that she didn’t continue her education. The lies that bombarded her seemed unbearable, until something clicked on the inside. Life is not defined by merit but meaning. Her son’s start did not have to be her end.

My Perspective

Someone else’s victory is not your defeat. Things won’t always go as planned. A change of plans provides you with an opportunity to overcome. People can learn far more from your weaknesses than they ever can from your strengths. Don’t conceal what needs to be exposed, and be certain not to reveal what might become a stumbling block to others. Braggadocio sets people up to feel like they are failing by simply playing the hand they have been dealt. Your story is still being written, so be sure to co-write with conviction. Transparency and truth are a catalyst to set people free. Thank you for taking the time to read this memoir. God bless, and be sure to always tell your truth.

If you were to write a Bittersweet Bio what would it say? Feel free to email your response to: