The Big Move

I’ve moved far too many times in my life.

  • From Hayward, CA to Red Bluff, CA (and then another move within Red Bluff).
  • From Red Bluff to Azusa (far too many moves to count while I was in college!) – 525 miles.
  • From Azusa to Glendora (and two moves within Glendora).
  • From Glendora to Harrisburg, PA (five moves since I moved to Pennsylvania) – nearly 3,000 miles.

Each move has brought with it new adventures, new challenges, new surroundings. Most moves were welcomed, though some came from circumstances I could not control.

This move is different than all of the above.

This move means leaving the home we fixed up, the home where we became a family, the home from which Tori went to Heaven. So many memories in less than four years.

As of this morning, we owned this house for three years, eleven months, and eighteen days. 1,449 days. I haven’t lived anywhere this long since I left my parents’ house when I was eighteen.

And I think that’s partly why I have struggled with the idea of moving. I know it’s the plan, and I know it’s a great one because of the financial progress we will make. My heart hasn’t been communicating with my mind on this one.

But, it is finished. And I feel like this morning brought me closure. 

Let the new adventure begin ❤️

A Season of Waiting

It’s hard to believe that it’s October already. September was a blur, filled with many changes and hardly any free time. Now it’s Fall and the temperatures have cooled, the leaves are starting to change, and we are in a season of waiting and expectation.

My job has been going well, but they’ve been putting me on the schedule for far more hours than I had requested, leaving me feeling exhausted and with little time at home. Between working five days a week (as opposed to the requested 2-3 max) at The Hotel and one day a week at church, I’ve been left with only Sundays off consistently, and I’m hoping that changes soon. I haven’t had much time to write, read, or rest, and I feel weary.

In addition to working so much, we had to say goodbye to Brennan’s car last week, leaving us with only one vehicle for the foreseeable future. This means many hours of sitting at The Hotel for one of us when our shifts don’t coincide (all too often). Now one of the windows on the van isn’t working properly and we’ll have to have that fixed soon. Money is tight, we each have our own minor physical struggles (ear infections for me, leg injury for Brennan), we’re too busy (and that is out of our control), we miss Tori, and we’re tired. It’s so easy to feel discouraged right now.

Tori has been in Heaven for six months and it’s amazing how easily it is for us to lose perspective already. After all that we’ve been through, all that God has brought us through, it’s still so easy to get wrapped up in all the things that aren’t going our way. We realized this earlier this week and we corrected our perspective – what we’re enduring now is nothing compared to what we went through with Tori, and we can’t let ourselves be overcome by these trials. We can’t allow ourselves to forget that God is holding us in His hands and is in complete control! He is faithful, He is good, and we are trusting Him during this season of waiting and uncertainty.

There are some exciting things happening this month for us:

  • We’ve been working feverishly to get our house ready to be on the market, and that will happen THIS WEEK! We’re so excited! You can read about why we are selling our home here. We cannot wait to be DEBT FREE!

  • We were featured in the Lancaster newspaper yesterday and are so thrilled that Tori is continuing to make waves across the state!
  • My manuscript is being edited THIS MONTH and we hope to start pitching it to publishers in November! I also have another book idea brewing, so I hope to start working on that project soon.
  • We’re headed to California this week for a quick trip to Disneyland! I was supposed to photograph a conference in SoCal and had already purchased my plane tickets when the conference was canceled…so, we decided to go to Disneyland instead!
  • At the end of the month, Brennan and I will be taking a LONG awaited trip to Nevada, Utah, and Arizona with Mission: Imperative where we will be going to most of the National Parks in the area! We cannot wait for this adventure, especially since all the details are taken care of and we paid for the trip long ago! What a great way to celebrate six years of marriage doing something we both love – traveling! ❤
  • I’m continuing to write for The Transcend Project along with members of our church. Please check it out! There’s SO much great content on there!
  • Also, I finally decided to release the live recording of the song I wrote this year (my first and only!). You can hear it here.

A few prayer requests:

  • Please continue to pray for us as we continue to navigate life without our Tori. We miss her terribly and there isn’t a day that goes by without us thinking about her constantly. We’re still doing well, but life is obviously very different without her.
  • Please pray for wisdom with decisions regarding potential offers on our home and where we will live after the house sells.
  • Please pray for favor with publishers, and that the right one will step up to help us tell Tori’s story and save lives through Newborn Screening.
  • Pray for physical healing for both Brennan and me.
  • Pray for us during this season of “waiting” for so many things – our home, future children, the book, etc.

Trials in this life serve a few purposes, but one of the most important is this: this world is NOT our home. It can never make us fully happy – only Heaven and the One who reigns there can. These difficult times won’t last forever – we just have to remember that. And so we wait on the Lord who is always faithful and good. ❤

Day One

Today our new life begins.

A life without Tori. A life with new purpose and priorities.

The visitors have stopped, the mail has slowed, the house is quiet.

Tori has been a resident of Heaven for a month now.

My dad has returned to California after being here for five weeks total.

It’s just the two of us now.

Today is the third first day of our new life together.

11.06.10 – We said “I do” and our life together began

07.30.14 – Victoria Ruth was born and our life as a family began

04.26.16 – Our life without Tori – just the two of us again – officially begins


I sit at the dining room table making a list of all the things that I need to accomplish while I sing along to some new favorite worship songs and drink my second cup of coffee.

We are taking some time to not only focus on our marriage but on our individual selves. This is especially important for me because I now have to establish a new routine, new objectives, and, really, a new life. The past two years were primarily focused on Tori and I selflessly poured all my effort and energy into her care.


How do I even begin to focus on myself now?

We decided that I won’t be trying to find an official job in this interim between Tori and whatever comes next. I have lobbying to do, and we hope to have more children in a year or two, so I need to remain home.

It’s so strange to be able to build a daily routine that involves only me – I have to answer questions such as “how do I want to fill my days?” Wisely. 

I have a few priorities right now: lobbying for Newborn Screening, writing a book, getting healthy (including losing all of my “sitting on a couch for fourteen months weight”), spending time in The Word, learning to love to cook again, playing piano and guitar, and continuing to maintain our home and garden.

Driving for UBER and working at MHS  will bring in some extra money in the meantime while still allowing me to focus on things like lobbying and writing. I’m so thankful for our careful budgeting and frugality that allow us to live on one income so well.

We have planned some trips this year and we are looking forward to our adventures and to spending quality time with one another.

I have no desire to fill my calendar and be “busy” every day – in fact, I am forcing myself to allow plenty of time to just “be” and to continue to process all that has happened.

My heart aches for my baby girl and I know that will never go away. But, as much as I long with all my heart to have her back with us, I know that she is where she is supposed to be. Where we ALL (as followers of Jesus) are supposed to be one day.

One day at a time I will establish new routines and take care of myself and our home. The Lord has brought us this far and I know that He will continue to lead us well. We trust Him with our past, present, and future, and we are thankful for His loving and gracious care.

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!)

Five Years Ago Today…

…we said “I do” and promised to love each other for better or for worse… 

  
  
We had no idea what the next five years would bring, but we knew we’d get through it all together, as a team.
    
    
Though the past ten months have been filled with deeper sorrow than we have ever known, we have only grown closer together. We are stronger than ever.

    
    
 
We promised that day to keep God in every aspect of our marriage and to glorify Him through our relationship. He is using us in ways we never imagined.

  
    
   
Brennan, I am so thankful for the gift that you are to me, for the father you are to our precious Victoria, for the godly leader of our home that you have become. You are my perfect match in every way. 

You give me strength to get through the day and you let me lean on you when I am weak. You do so much to provide for our family, allowing me to stay home to care for Tori. I can’t imagine going through any of this without you ❤️

These first five years flew by, just like everyone said they would. I’m so glad I get to spend my life with you by my side.❤️

Happy Anniversary!

Five Years Ago Today…

Sometimes I wish that God would help us out a little in terms of recognizing moments that we should remember vividly forever. 🙂 A little nudge would be amazing.

My best example: when I met Brennan. That was a slightly important moment in my life, and I honestly don’t remember much about it.

It was five years ago today, Easter Sunday, sometime around noon. It was at East Shore Baptist Church. My life was about to change and I had NO idea.

I remember that I had been up since 4:00am and had just helped lead three worship services. I was exhausted. I remember that his mom said something about wanting me to meet someone, and me (the exhausted introvert) reluctantly following her. I remember inviting him to our newly formed “singles” class the following week and not saying much else.

Why is it that we can often remember the boring, unimportant details about such important moments, but not the details that really matter? Why can’t I remember what he was wearing, what he said, how he looked at me, etc.? In these moments, a little nudge from God would be SO helpful.

Mr. and Mrs. Brackbill!

In the past five years, so much has happened.

We were friends for three months, dated for six, were engaged
for nine, and have been married for three and a half.
Since our wedding, we have had three addresses.
We are expecting our first child, a daughter, in August 2014.

And, much like the song we danced to on our wedding day says, “…and I thought I loved you then.”
I never could have imagined how much love grows and deepens almost daily!

“What I can’t see is how I’m ever gonna love you more – but I’ve said that before…”

I may not remember very clearly how we met, but I am no less thankful for what joy the last five years have brought to my life.

I wasn’t looking for love that day, or even a date. But God, in His sovereignty and grace, redeemed that uneventful first meeting and turned it into a lifelong love.

Like a river meets the sea, stronger than its ever been
We’ve come so far since that day, and I thought I loved you then”

 

Day Six: I’m Thankful For…My Husband

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 was originally posted on 11/06/12 (with slight changes made today).

Today is our third anniversary.

I am so thankful that God brought me to Pennsylvania for many reasons…but I’m especially thankful that He allowed me the privilege of meeting Brennan on April 12, 2009.

I was content where I was and wasn’t looking to get married…but God had other plans and I’m SO thankful that His ways are different/greater than ours!

Brennan has been such an amazing friend and life partner through the past four and a half years of being together.

He consistently encourages me by his example to be a better person and sharpens me in ways I didn’t expect.

Just some of the things I love about Brennan…

  • His smile
  • The way he rubs his hands together when he is excited
  • The way he looks when he’s dressed up (SO handsome!)
  • His scent
  • His selflessness
  • His simplicity
  • His gorgeous green eyes
  • His leadership with our MHS boys
  • The way he cuddles up to me in the morning
  • His affectionate nature
  • His love of showing his affection for me–publicly and privately
  • His willingness to eat anything that I prepare
  • The way he can read me in a second and know how I’m feeling
  • His tendency to become protective of me when I am hurting
  • His amazing work ethic and how hard he works to provide
  • The passion he displays when he prays out loud
  • His love of children (he will be an amazing father)
  • His never-ending support and encouragement
  • His patience
  • His goofiness 🙂

The joy that Brennan brings to my life is incredible. Life is so much richer with him by my side! I am so thankful for him and for the adventures we’ve had so far…and for those yet to come.

Thank you, Jesus, for answering my lifelong prayer for a husband by bringing me Brennan. He is more wonderful than I ever imagined.