Maintaining Your Marriage in the Midst of Suffering

Marriage experts will tell you that it is vitally important to maintain your marriage during the child-raising years because one day it will be just the two of you again. One day you will need to know how to live with each other and love each other without your children around.

Brennan and I have been learning day by day how to maintain our marriage in light of the fact that it might be the two of us once again sooner than we ever imagined.

We’re only ten months into this journey of having a terminally-ill baby, but we have learned so much already about how to focus on our marriage and each other in spite of the constant care Tori requires.

Are we perfect? Nope. We fail daily. But, it is through those failures that we have learned many lessons, and we have grown stronger and closer together.

We share these lessons in hopes that it will encourage someone else who is walking a similar path. Many of these we learned by observing other couples and we are so thankful for their wisdom.

These are all things that you should do as a couple under normal circumstances, but when you are subjected to a tragedy or other stressful season, it is even MORE important to be purposeful about these things.

So, how are we caring for our marriage?

1 – We established from the beginning that this would NOT break our marriage.

The evening of January 30, 2015, as we sat in the ER awaiting results from Tori’s CT scan, I looked at Brennan and whispered, “We won’t let this break us.” He readily agreed. We made a decision before she was even diagnosed to not let the enemy use this to break us apart. It was like a vow renewal in a few simple words.

We make the daily choice to walk through this together, because we promised to do so from the beginning. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. We believe these vows don’t only apply to the two of us: they apply to our children as well.

We had our first child together and now we are losing her together. Together.

You don’t make marriage vows because it’s a romantic thing to do; you make them because life is hard, times can get tough, and the promise you made is a constant reminder that you are in this together. You promised.

2 – We communicate openly, honestly, and freely throughout this journey.

This has affected Brennan and I differently, so it has been very important to be real at all times. If we are having an emotional moment, we talk about it. If we are struggling with some aspect of our situation, we talk about it.

There’s no reason to hide our emotions in light of all that we’re dealing with, yet we know that is a temptation for many couples. It’s easier to just put our feelings aside and ignore them.

Every day we are faced with the reality that our daughter is dying, and it isn’t something we ignore. We acknowledge the situation and work through the process of grief together as much as we can.

3 – We try to apologize quickly when our emotions speak for us.

When you are losing a child, the grief begins at the moment of diagnosis. At least it did for us.

We have found that there are often underlying emotions that shape our tone of voice and our words without us realizing it at first.

Therefore, we do our best to analyze our feelings to find the root cause, because, more often than not, it is our grief that caused the outburst of emotion, not what the other person said or did.

4 – We forgive each other freely and offer abundant grace.

Grace is probably the most important element of any relationship, but especially for situations like ours.

Offer it freely. Remember that you are both dealing with the most traumatic situation you have ever dealt with and it is new territory.

5 – We are creative with our time to ensure that we still “date” even when we can’t leave the house.

We don’t get date nights. Until we have nursing help, there is simply no one comfortable with watching Tori because of the need to suction her frequently.

Right now we rarely even get to sleep in the same bed because if we did we would both be exhausted all the time. Tori simply doesn’t sleep well. Because she has to be close to us (suctioning), she sleeps on one half of the bed and one of us sleeps on the other half. The other person sleeps upstairs so that they can get some rest. This is our reality right now and we make the most of it.

So, in order to still “date” each other, we found a show we watch weekly together and laugh together as we enjoy it. We take advantage of Tori’s typical evening nap and we eat dinner together and spend quality time together.

It isn’t about quantity in this season – it’s about the quality.

6 – We allow the primary caretaker to have some alone time whenever possible – and we take care of the caregiver.

I care for Tori about eighteen hours every day by myself, and I definitely need opportunities to get out of the house. Running errands – which I previously didn’t care to do – has become such a joy for me because I am able to do things by myself, things that otherwise get neglected.

I drive when we go anywhere as a family and Brennan sits in the back to care for Tori. I drive for UBER some nights, which also brings in some extra money. All of these things allow me some time away from being a caretaker while still doing things that are productive and beneficial for our family.

As an introvert, this alone time recharges me and allows me to be the best possible caretaker and mother for Tori that I can be.

Brennan also does his best to do things to take care of me, as we realized that I wasn’t feeling cared for – by no fault of his own! Because my entire life is spent caring for Tori and for him, it has been important to have him do little unexpected things to care for me as well – things like making chiropractor appointments for me. These little things help ensure that I am taken care of in the midst of our crazy life.


As we continue along on this undesired path, we will continue to learn more about ourselves, our marriage, and how to make it even stronger. We will share those lessons along the way because we want to help others as much as we can through their own tough situations.

Every day we choose joy and love instead of sadness and irritation. We choose to be a team instead of individuals. We honor the vows we made before God, family, and friends. And we find reasons to be thankful even when it would be easier to complain.

Our marriage is not only going to survive this tragedy, but it is going to thrive because of our purposeful care of our relationship in the middle of all of this. And yours can, too.

(This post was also featured on The Mighty!)

Easily Offended…

of·fend·ed (əˈfendid) adjective: resentful or annoyed, typically as a result of a perceived insult.

Of all the things that bother me about the way our culture in America has changed during my lifetime, the tendency to be so easily offended is probably at the top of my list. It’s something I don’t understand, and, unfortunately, I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

You don’t dare say something that might “offend” anyone, even if it is the truth. This goes hand-in-hand with our culture’s lawsuit mentality – another thing that drives me crazy. People live their lives in fear that they might accidentally say or do something that someone will sue them over, and it has become absolutely ridiculous.

I worked in the political arena – as a volunteer and as an employee – for several years, and I saw this all the time.

In the political world, people allow party lines to be roadblocks to open communication. In the legislature, simply knowing that a bill was written by someone of the opposite party can mean that it won’t pass, despite its merit and worth to society. People choose to be offended simply because someone sees something differently than they do. This is especially amusing because our culture says that everything is relative…

One of my favorite quotes about this topic is from the movie The American President – which is one of my favorite movies of all time.

‘America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”‘
– The American President

Our Founding Fathers didn’t agree on everything, but they didn’t let these differences prevent them from coming up with solutions. They had reasonable discourse, even if heated at times, and they were respectful of different ideas (as evidenced in many documents from that time).

They realized that we all come from different backgrounds and have different ideas, and all of them are worthy of consideration. If we all thought the same way and believed the same things, life would be incredibly boring and we would have nothing to discuss. Yet, our culture has lost the ability to respectfully dialogue and discuss issues with the intent of truly learning from the other side.

Our country was founded on the concepts of several freedoms, one being the Freedom of Speech – and that freedom only works if you are willing to respectfully listen to those who disagree with you (as the quote above says). History aside, this is a significant problem in our culture today.

In terms of the Freedom of Religion, the best example I can come up with at the moment is Christmas: Christmas is a holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus. It is a religious holiday – more specifically, a Christian holiday. But, don’t you dare mention Jesus or have a Nativity scene set up to celebrate, because you might offend someone.

Yes, I realize our culture has largely changed Christmas into a secular holiday as well and has made it all about gifts and Santa and whatever else, but it is supposed to be about JESUS. It’s not called “Christmas Vacation” anymore in schools because you might offend someone who doesn’t celebrate the holiday (which, really, is a very small amount of people since it has become so secularized). People say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” for the same reason (even though holiday comes from “holy day” so it’s essentially the same thing).

When did we become so sensitive, and why?

This is something I simply cannot understand, because I have never been offended by a Jewish menorah or Star of David. I have never been offended by Kwanzaa or Ramadan. I have never tried to secularize these holidays so that I can benefit from the celebrations. Why? I recognize the right of these groups to celebrate what they believe in openly and publicly. As long as what they are doing is not destructive or harmful, then why does it matter what they celebrate? It doesn’t. So why are Christians and Christian holidays singled out as being so offensive?

From a theological standpoint, I understand why people are offended by Jesus. The Gospel offends because it acknowledges sin in our lives and we don’t like to be told that we are wrong. There is also a very real enemy who roams around the earth trying to turn people against Jesus. I get all of that. But it seems like the only religion that brings offense in our culture is Christianity. 

I maintain that it is a choice to be offended. It is a choice to refuse to listen to the other side of the issue and discuss things rationally. And the root of this is selfishness – “it’s all about me, so don’t you dare do anything that I don’t like.”

We have forgotten how to love our neighbors. We have forgotten that each person has value and deserves to be respected. We have forgotten that there’s a huge difference between tolerance (“the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with“) and acceptance, and we let our emotions and selfishness rule our behavior.

This is a dangerous path and if we don’t take the time to instill within the younger generations what true tolerance is, and encourage them to not be easily offended, things are only going to be worse in the future.

Guatemala Stories: The Avocado Lady

I first saw her after our first day of ministry at The Ravine School in Chimaltenango.

She was sitting on a stool with her produce to the left of the school’s entrance. She was beautiful, and she was selling my favorite thing: avocados. With my photographer’s eye, I noted the perfect contrast of her green sweater, the green-blue building, her colorful dress, and the gorgeous avocados in the orange basket. I had to take her picture.

I took a few stealthy shots but they weren’t at an ideal angle. Unfortunately, that’s what happens sometimes when trying to be sneaky.

Avocado Lady

I worked up the courage to ask her if I could take her photo, only to be told “no” by this beautiful lady. I respected her wishes and retreated to the van.

I couldn’t get her out of my mind, and as I talked with the other ladies in the van about her, we came up with a plan for the next day to try to win her over – not solely for the purpose of taking her picture, though. We had something bigger in mind.

I mentioned that I would love to buy some of her avocados, and one of my teammates said, “Why don’t we buy ALL of them?” And the plan was set.

As we prepared to leave the school that day, “Avocado Lady” laughed at us silly Americans because we were so excited about a man with two cows walking down the street. That broke the ice a little. I waved to her as we drove away and she was still smiling at us.

Silly Americans, so easily amused...

When we returned to the school the next day, we were so excited about our plan. Sure enough, as soon as school was finished, she was there with her goods, hoping to sell enough to provide for her family.

We approached her and I asked her, in Spanish, how much each avocado cost. She replied that they were 1 Quetzal each (about $0.13). The three of us had decided to give her $20 for all of them, so I held up the money and told her that we wanted to buy them ALL. Her eyes widened and she smiled as she gladly accepted the money. She put the avocados into my teammate’s backpack with a smile on her face the entire time.

To give perspective, had she sold all of her avocados at the normal price, she would have made $4. Most of the time, these ladies who sell produce don’t sell everything that they prepare (fruit in bags, etc.), and it goes to waste. We paid her $0.75 an avocado (a great price here in Pennsylvania!) in an effort to bless her and provide some extra money for her and her family because we could.

Because $20 isn’t a whole lot of money to most Americans, but to a Guatemalan woman who is working hard for pennies a day, it’s an abundant gift (about 150 Q). It was worth every penny to see the gratitude in her eyes. We didn’t just make an impression on her – there were quite a few children around who kept saying (in Spanish) “$20!” and smiling in wonder at the $20 from the strange American women.

After we bought all of her produce, she agreed to let us take a picture with her.

1898539_10100154516834390_276019840_o

She may not be smiling in this picture, but she was definitely smiling inside.

Hopefully she decided that these crazy Americans weren’t so bad after all.

Hopefully she’ll wonder what we were doing in the school next door. And if her children aren’t already in school, hopefully that will change.

We decided to give some of the avocados to our team’s drivers, and we gave the rest to the orphanage at which we served that afternoon and the next day so that Papa Cesar could make some more of his famous guacamole for the girls, which made this mutual blessing stretch even further.

I can’t think of a better way to spend $20.

Day Twenty-Three: I’m Thankful For…The Start Experiment (and Jon Acuff)

Preface: Last year I decided to express my thanks during the month of November for something new each day, as so many others have done before me. I never finished this series, so that’s my goal this year. I am re-posting the ones I wrote last year and adding new ones. This one is new. 🙂

Meet-up in the food court!

If you had told me a year ago that in the summer of 2013 I’d willingly join a community of people I have never met, and that I’d be sharing openly and honestly with them about my passions, dreams, and struggles, I likely would have laughed at you. But that is exactly what happened this past July (and continues in the present).

In late June, I received an email from Jon Acuff inviting me (and all of his readers) to join him on an adventure. He said it might require a passport and a machete. He sent the email to 250,000 people, and only 2,500 responded.

I was at Christian Retreat Center doing camp photography the day I received the email, and I knew immediately that I wanted to be in on this…that I needed this. It resonated with me. So, even though I had no idea what was about to happen, I said “yes” and dove in.

The first round started on July 15, and my world was changed in some fantastic ways.

Here’s how it worked:

  • Jon Acuff created a secret Facebook group and invited those who responded to his invitation to join.
  • Each day for 24 days, Jon sent out an email with a challenge for the day at 5am.
  • A community was formed that is so hard to describe because it’s so awesome.
  • We all worked hard toward our various goals and helped each other along the way.
  • There ended up being a “Round Two” so that we could invite people to do “Start 101” while the “alumni” did “Start 201” – and it was awesome. Same format with emails being sent daily (and the theme was “audacious”).

(To read my blog posts about “The Start Experiment”, click here.)

When Jon sent out that email, I was in the perfect position to accept the invitation. I had been unemployed for almost two months. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life in terms of a career. I didn’t know what my dream was. I was just taking one day at a time, hoping that God would give me some direction.

Through the course of Round One, while I worked on being more self-disciplined, I was able to discover what I believe I was created to do: missions photography. I was able to take steps forward and bring this dream a little bit closer to reality. And I couldn’t have done this without Jon’s leadership/mentoring AND the amazing community that he built in The Start Experiment. 

My dream...

This community is real, open, honest, a little silly, loving, supportive, encouraging, non-judgmental. It’s a safe place to share your fears and your successes (“brag table”) without fear. It’s the closest thing to Heaven that I’ve experienced here on earth, by far. 

A literal brag table

I had the amazing privilege of being able to attend The Start Conference in Nashville in September, during which I strengthened these friendships “in real life” and made connections with people who are doing what I want to do (like Jeremy Cowart). I left that conference feeling so inspired, empowered, fulfilled, and energized. 

Punching Fear in the Face

If you are struggling with finding your dream, or if you know what your dream is but are struggling to make progress, please check out Jon’s website and his books – Quitter and Start. Both of this books have really impacted my life and have given me wise and practical advice about chasing my dream. If you’d like to join our Facebook community, let me know and I can talk to you about it!

If it weren’t for The Start Experiment, I can honestly say I’d be in a totally different place right now in terms of my career and plans for the future. I have gained so much confidence and have overcome so many fears through this community!

I am so thankful for Jon and for his leadership through example.

A place to type our fears...and then destroy them.

The Start Experiment: Choosing Destruction Over God’s Perfect Plan

In my “One Year Bible” the Old Testament passage today was from 2 Chronicles 25. It has been fascinating reading about all of the past kings of Israel and Judah and how they followed (or didn’t follow) God’s leading. In today’s passage, the king was following God but encountered fear when presented with a message from the Lord that required significant sacrifice.

For context, at this time, the nation of Israel was not following the Lord but the nation of Judah was. King Amaziah of Judah was building up his army so that he would be prepared when battle arose (which it often did). He surveyed his available troops and found that he didn’t have quite as many as he wanted to have; so, he hired men from Israel to join his troops and paid them 7,500 pounds of silver in exchange. That’s quite an investment.

After this, the Lord sent a messenger to King Amaziah to warn him to not bring in troops from Israel and said that if he added those troops he would surely fail in battle, no matter how well he fought. Essentially, the Lord said to not have anything to do with Israel because He knew what was best in the long run for King Amaziah and Judah.

v.8 If you let them go with your troops into battle, you will be defeated by the enemy no matter how well you fight. God will overthrow you, for he has the power to help you or to trip you up.

This brings us to the verse that struck me this morning:

v.9 Amaziah asked the man of God, “But what about all that silver I paid to hire the army of Israel?”

The man of God replied, “The Lord is able to give you much more than this!” 

Let’s sum this up. Amaziah hears from the Lord that if he continues with his plan he will be destroyed by the Lord Himself. His first thought is about the money that he invested and what he will lose if he follows what the Lord is telling him to do, not on the fact that the Lord is saving his life and the lives of his troops from certain destruction! God knew the hearts of the people of Israel and knew that it would be worse for them to infiltrate the army of Judah and spread their influence than to just destroy them all. So he has two choices: be destroyed and waste your investment, or be saved and waste your investment.

From our perspective this seems so ridiculous. We look at Amaziah and think, “What a moron! Be grateful!” But, if we think about this in simpler terms, we realize that we all do this. We convince ourselves that we “need” whatever our temptation may be and we don’t want to give it up because the sacrifice seems to be too great.

For King Amaziah, it was manpower and money. For me, it is sugar. I love ice cream. I love chocolate. I have a sweet tooth that is genetic. When faced with facts like a family history of diabetes, being overweight, knowledge that the longer I wait to reform my lifestyle the harder it will be, it seems like it should be as simple as deciding not to drink alcohol was (due to family history of alcoholism)…but it isn’t.

If I take the verses above and put them into my context, here’s how they would read:

If you keep allowing sugar and unhealthy eating be part of your life, you will be defeated by your desires no matter how well you fight. 

Lesa asked the man of God, “But what about all that I am going to miss out on? I will be giving up so much!”

The man of God replied, “The Lord is able to give you much more than this!” 

In the moment, when presented with ice cream on a hot day, or chocolate everywhere I go in Hershey, it is so hard to remember the greater gift that lies ahead if I will just submit to a healthy lifestyle: weight loss and self-confidence, a longer life (in theory) because of my body being healthier, being a better example to our future children about what is really important in life, and most importantly, honoring God with the body He has given to me and keeping it holy and set-apart… Instead, all I can think about is what I am giving up in the moment. When that is my focus, it is easy to cave into the justifications like “You only live once!” or “Just this once, it won’t happen again” and eat that ice cream instead of exercising self-control.

Giving up refined sugar is hard. It is everywhere. But that can’t be an excuse for me to give in to temptation. There ARE ways to avoid it, even though it feels like I’m making a huge sacrifice. Fear tries to tell me that this is just too uncomfortable, that it isn’t worth it, that I can wait until tomorrow to start this…but the Voice of Truth says that the God I serve is greater than any of these things that my brain (and the world) tells me are desirable and worthy of my attention.

The New Testament passage today was from Romans 12, and this passage fit perfectly with the one above:

v.2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s Will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to give up something that will cause destruction in the end just because of what you have invested in it, or because of how uncomfortable it will be in the moment to let it go. God is greater than anything you are struggling with and He can give us FAR better things in exchange if we will just follow Him! 

 

New Chapter…

Friday marks my last day as an employee of my company. I am the second one in my department to be laid off due to budget cuts, which means that my small department has now lost 20% of their workforce.

I have been trying to leave this job for well over a year…I’ve been trying to find something that better fit my passions, skills, interests, etc. and I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to “be” in terms of a career. This job was never going to be a career–it was a stepping stone to hopefully move onto different positions within the company…and I have now been here for two years and eight months, not due to lack of trying!

About three weeks ago, after God continued to close door after door, I had resigned myself to the fact that I needed to just stay put until we had a kid. I moved my office furniture around, dove into projects and was pro-active about taking an extra project on that needed to be done. I was actually enjoying my job for the first time in quite a while because I had DECIDED to enjoy it.

I definitely did not expect what happened last Wednesday to happen. No one did. My bosses were quite upset about it and apologized profusely to me. I was stunned. I felt strangely sad, though I had been praying that God would release me for a long time now, and the only reason that makes sense is this: I didn’t get to leave on MY terms. I didn’t get to give my notice, and it wasn’t for my reasons. This isn’t my choice. My choice was to stay here until the time comes to be a stay-at-home mother, not to be let go because the company is making cuts.

Over the past week I have grappled with this new reality and still have no answers. However, I fully believe that God is completely sovereign and that He loves me deeply. I believe that His ways are far more wise than my own. So I will trust Him and choose to be content.

We are not worried at all–we have no doubt that He will provide for us – He has done it continuously and will do so again and again. I am truly content and am excited to see what comes my way! I’m excited to be able to be at home more to take care of things like planting our vegetable garden, finishing projects that we need to finish, and doing other tasks that need to be done around the house on a regular basis so that Brennan doesn’t have to do as much in the evenings (i.e. yard work now that spring is here). I’m looking forward to whatever temp agency assignments come my way and excited to meet the people who God has planned for me to meet.

Friday begins a new chapter in our lives with no title. No introduction. Nothing written down yet. We’ll just take one day at a time and see where God leads. 🙂

Practical Products I Love: eMeals

 eMeals - Dinner Done

About a year ago we decided to finally try eMeals – a meal planning program that Dave Ramsey endorses as it saves time and money while also simplifying the meal-planning process.

“Food is the biggest budget buster of all. I’ve wanted someone to create a practical solution to the “beans and rice, rice and beans” dilemma. Finally… eMeals has done it! Now thousands of my listeners subscribe to eMeals. You will save a ton of time and money.”

— Dave Ramsey

We used it the past two weeks exclusively for the first time and were SO pleased! Granted, we don’t eat every meal they create simply due to our tastes/likes (i.e. I don’t like fish), but everything that we tried was fantastic!

We’re currently using the “Slow Cooker Clean Eating” plan for two people, and this has saved us SO much time, energy, and money already because we’re only buying what we need, dinner is ready when we get home, and I don’t have to spend extra time planning out what we’re going to cook and what we’ll need to make it. It has also helped because our plan is for two people so the portions are appropriate and we don’t have extra food.

How does it work? Each week you will receive an email with the week’s recipes AND shopping list. They come in .pdf format so that you can keep them forever. Even better–if you have a smart phone, download the eMeals app and it gives you full and easy access to everything; plus, with the app, you can “skip meals” that you won’t use and it modifies the shopping list for you! Brilliant! You can change your plan once a month and there are plenty to choose from.

Click on the banner below for more details and start saving time and money!

eMeals - Easy Meals for Busy People!

Full disclosure: if you sign up with my link I get a small commission (available to all subscribers!) for referring you.