David: A Man After God’s Own Heart

It was 3:02 and our first guests had not yet arrived.  Pandora was playing a quiet jazz station.  The flower arrangement was placed in the vase in the bedroom.  The gift basket was filled with gummy bears, chocolate, cheese and crackers,  and a bottle of Pinot Noir.  Now all we needed was for the guests to arrive.  We were excited, overwhelmed, anxious, and grateful for an opportunity to pay forward what so many had done for us.  As we waited, we remembered.  It had been a little less than two years since David had died.  As we peaked through the window curtains to see if anyone had pulled in the driveway, we remembered the exhaustion of caring for David….so many sleepless nights.   We remembered feeling alone and isolated.  We remembered the stress on our marriage and on our two other boys.  We remembered feeling angry at God, each other, and friends who didn’t know how to help so they pulled away.   And the more we remembered, the more we were convinced we were doing the right thing.  Our guests finally arrived.  We loved them, laughed with them, ate with them, cried with them, and sent them home believing they were not alone and loved by God.

But the story of David’s Refuge did not start that first January of 2012.  It really began in Libertyville, Illinois at 6:33 a.m. as David Gregory Pfohl came into the world.  He was loud, proud, and already believing he was in control.  He was healthy, fun loving, and strongly opinionated at an early age.  If there was a button you shouldn’t push, a line you shouldn’t cross, or a command to be followed, he tested it.  Obviously he was going to be a leader.  He was a salesman, and he loved to make money.  He sold golf balls, beanie babies, lemonade, and snack food to the staff where his dad worked.  He was mischievous.  While living in Poland we sent David to preschool.  Everyday the boys and girls would brush their teeth after “obiad” or lunch.  David and another American friend thought it would be a great idea to switch everyone’s toothbrushes.  It wouldn’t be the last time he got in trouble.

We named him David after the well known King David of the Old Testament.  In Acts 13:22 it says this about David,

“I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.”

We wanted David to know God, love God, and have a heart for God.  If you had the privilege of knowing David, you would know in a matter of minutes that our prayers for him had been answered.  He loved God and he loved others with all of his heart, mind and soul.  One evening he and Daniel, our youngest son, were in the bathroom getting ready for bed and he asked Daniel, “Have you trusted in Jesus yet?”  He reminded Daniel how much Jesus loved him and led him in a prayer.  He could have been the next Billy Graham.  We wondered what impact he would make in the world and what he would do when he grew up?

Sadly, David died just short of his 21st birthday.  While we struggled and grieved and mourned his passing, we also held onto the truth that God was not surprised or caught off guard by David’s death.  King David wrote these words in Psalm 139,

You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.

David lived his life to the full.  At his funeral we read the passage in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 that says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”  He left his mark.  David’s Refuge was born.  I hope you come back next week to read more of the story.

The Story of David’s Refuge

I love telling the story of David’s Refuge.  It is a story of hope, a story of redemption, a story that reminds all of us that we are not alone and are loved by God.  It’s the story of a mom and dad who experienced the greatest fear of any parent, the loss of a child, but decided to not let it destroy them.  It’s a story that acknowledges both the beauty and the brokenness of the world we live in.  It’s a story that breathes life into moms and dads who simply need to unplug and be restored.  And while I admit I am biased, it is a story that is inspiring, motivating, and worthy of being shared.

Over the next several weeks I am going to share bits and pieces of our story of starting David’s Refuge.  Yesterday I was talking with a new friend from Milwaukee who wants to donate her services and time to David’s Refuge.  As I retold the story, I kept hearing this little voice in my own head that said, “This really is an amazing story!”  I don’t say that to boast or to make you think how wonderful Brenda and I are, but to acknowledge how God has taken our story, our dream, and allowed it to grow into something that is absolutely amazing and beautiful.  Our staff, our board of directors, our volunteers, and our financial partners have all made our dream a reality.  It is a story that reminds me everyday that David’s life counted.

Over the next few weeks I want to conclude each blog with some comments that parents have shared with us after being served and loved on by David’s Refuge.  Every time I read them it is a reminder that David’s story, our story, and now your story isn’t over!  One family wrote,

David’s Refuge truly holds families together.  The mission is “caring for the caregiver” but really you care for the whole family as a unit.  Through all the events you build unity and provide respite.  It is quite amazing the amount of supports and outlets you provide to create better outcomes for entire family unit.

Through David’s Refuge “typical” siblings are provided self esteem, normative experiences, and connection to other families living similar adversities, reminding us all that we are not alone and that who we are and what we do matters.

David’s Refuge has become a code word in our home for “STOP, BREATHE, LOVE.”  At least one goal on almost all paperwork (IFSP, Hab Plan, or IEP) for a child with special needs includes goals for healthy living, having daily needs met, and normative experiences with peers.  David’s Refuge reminds us that these should actually be goals for family as well as individual goals.

The Power of Forgiveness


There is only way to live and never be hurt and that is to choose to never love another person.  If you are in a relationship with anyone, you will be hurt.  And the more you love that person, the deeper that hurt will go.  Unfortunately, we often enter marriage thinking if we simply love each other more and more, we will never have to say “I’m sorry!”  Most of us realize by day two of being married that this is a crock of bull.  Love is not a barrier against ever being hurt or hurting someone else.  But love does provide a barrier that every relationship needs and that is forgiveness.  Love is a barrier against the destructive and powerful force of unforgiveness.

I’m sure it wouldn’t take you very long to think of a person you are struggling to forgive.  You might be married or engaged to that person, it could be one of your children, or it might be a neighbor or business partner.  Now stop and think of how your inability or unwillingness to forgive that person affects you.  Here are a few words that came to my mind: bitterness, anger, wounded pride, sleeplessness, judgment, resentment, lack of intimacy, emotional distance, lack of vulnerability, and the loss of time and joy.  Everyone of those words are caustic and destructive.  We hold onto unforgiveness thinking we are are controlling the person who hurt us, but in the end we are only hurting ourselves.  You see, the deeper and longer we hold onto unforgiveness, the deeper its claws go into you.

Here are a few truths I try to live by when it comes to forgvieness:

  1. Forgiveness is an act of love that you extend to the other person that actually comes back to you as a gift for yourself.  I can choose to live overwhelmed by anger and bitterness and resentment because someone hurt me, or I can offer in love the gift of forgiveness and experience the gifts of peace, joy, and hope.
  2. Forgiveness is a personal choice I make and is not dependent on whether the person who hurt me is sorry or not.  Corrie Ten Boom, a Jewish holocaust survivor said this about forgiveness, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” 
  3. Forgiveness doesn’t mean I will immediate trust you again or that there are no consequences for your actions.
  4. My relationship with God has helped me be a more forgiving person.  There is no doubt he loves me and has forgiven me.  This motivates me to do the same.  A verse I often turn to is Ephesians 4:32, “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
  5. Forgiveness is tough.  Sometimes you need someone to help you work through the hurt, pain, and past.  Don’t be afraid to get professional help.




The Crazy Cycle

Do you remember the first “stupid” argument you got into with your spouse?  I do!  It was about whether chili is considered a soup or not.  We had only been married a few weeks and Brenda made her version of chili which included celery, not many chili beans, and spaghetti.  After taking my first cautious taste, in the most loving way possible I said, “This is not chili!  Who ever heard of chili that was brothy, with chunks of celery, served over spaghetti?”  As you can imagine these words of love and admiration motivated Brenda to show her love and respect for me.  She said, “You are wrong!  Chili is a soup and it is supposed to be brothy!  Just because your mom made it that way doesn’t make it right.  You’re wrong and I’m right.”  In the matter of a few seconds we were in a tailspin which later I learned was called “The Crazy Cycle.”

I wish I could say that the rest of our arguments have all been as silly as our chili challenge.  We have had seasons in our marriage where we were caught in the jaws of the Crazy Cycle.  Brenda has gone to bed feeling unloved and I have turned my back to her feeling disrespected.  The more she felt unloved, the more she did not respect me.  And the more I felt disrespected, the less I loved her.  This, my friends, is the Crazy Cycle.  Thankfully we have learned a few things over the past thirty three years and have worked hard to interrupt the Crazy Cycle when it begins.  Here are a few truths that have helped us have a great marriage from a book called Love and Respect by Dr. Emeron Eggerichs.

  • Men and woman were created differently.  Brenda’s primary need is to feel loved.  She was created to love, want love, and expect love.  My primary need is to feel respected.  I was created to want and expect respect.  Yes, both of us need to feel love and respect, but our primary needs are different.
  • When I withhold love from Brenda, it is very difficult for her to respect me.  When she withholds respect from me, it is very difficult for me to love her.  Our natural response is to fight back to get that which we desperately need and crave.  Without love from me, she reacts without respect; without respect from her, I react without love.  This is how the Crazy Cycle begins.
  • My love for Brenda should not be dependent on whether she respects me.  Brenda’s respect for me should not be not dependent on how I love her.  They are both to be unconditional.  This is the only way to break the Crazy Cycle.  If we continue to withhold love when disrespected or respect when unloved, we will forever be on the Crazy Cycle.
  • I have learned that Brenda wants me to honor her and cherish her, not to try and fix her, but listen to her and be willing to say sorry when I have messed up.  Brenda has learned that I  want her to appreciate my desire to protect and provide for her, to serve and lead her, and to appreciate my desire to work and achieve.
  • We have learned to quickly identify when we are on the Crazy Cycle and to remind each other that we are on the same team.  We love each other, are for each other, and often need to ask each other for forgiveness!

Next week I want to talk about the importance of offering and accepting forgiveness.  It is critical for every relationship you are in, especially your marriage.


PS: Here is a link to the book Love and Respect.

PSS: If you look in our recipe box, you will find chili under the soup section!  We still use celery and serve it over spaghetti, but have added a few more cans of beans and meat with a few more teaspoons of chili power.  We call it BellPfohl Chili.  It is one of our favorite soups!

Marriage: Overcoming The Challenges

I miss many things about being a pastor, but one of the greatest things I miss is participating in a couple’s wedding ceremony.  Months and months of planning and dreaming and hoping have finally come together.  The cake has been made, the guests selected and invited, the church reserved, the honeymoon planned and greatly anticipated, the wedding vows agreed upon, the music for the first dance chosen and danced to a hundred times, and the all very important decision of who sits next to Uncle Willard at the reception has been decided.  It is now time to get married!

As the ceremony comes to an end I make the following proclamation:

“Because you have vowed your love before God and those gathered here today, having pledged your commitment to each other as now symbolized by the rings you have exchanged, I now pronounce you husband and wife.  You may now kiss your bride!”

In that moment a miracle takes place.  Something that didn’t exist now exists.  Two wonderful, imperfect, oftentime a little naïve people say “I do” and a marriage is created.  I get shivers up my spine just writing about that beautiful moment.  The rest of the evening is spent celebrating this commitment of love by laughing and dancing and toasting and eating and drinking.

Now the real work begins.  While marriage is a wonderful and beautiful thing, it is also requires, in fact demands, hard work and commitment.  Near the beginning of most wedding messages I perform I will say something like this: “Marriage is a lot like using chop sticks or riding a bike or doing a handspring.  It looks easy until you try it.”  It takes practice.  It requires patience.  It always hopes and perseveres through both the good and the bad.  It will often require asking for forgiveness and extending the same to your spouse.  Marriage is a commitment to stay in love with the person you marry, even when it is a struggle.  Someone once wrote,

“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”

I have been married to my bride now for 33 years and I am still in love with her.  In those 33 years we have had many opportunities and seasons to fall in love with each other all over again.   We found this to be especially true as we cared for our son, David.  While marriage requires hard work for anyone who is married, it is especially true for parents who are raising and caring for a child with special needs or struggling with a life threatening medical condition.

I read a great blog a few days ago that asked the following question to parents of children who have a disability: “What is one thing you feel is the biggest challenge in marriage?”  I am going to list the answers they gave and at the end give you the link to the blog.  For each of the challenges the author lists some tips and resources to help overcome that challenge.

Common Challenges Faced By Parents of Special Needs Children

  • Different Parenting Styles
  • Lack of Privacy
  • No time alone or date night
  • Lack of Intimacy
  • Lack of energy
  • Balancing Life
  • Communication
  • Not having people who provide respite
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of family support
  • Finances

I hope you take the time to read the whole blog.  You can find it at https://themighty.com/2017/10/marriage-parenting-disabilities-support/

Would you add anything else to this list?  Do you have any other tips or resources you could share with all of us?

Next week I want to talk about “The Crazy Cycle.”  It’s something every married couple has experienced and needs to understand.

Asa Rowan Pfohl

I would like to introduce you to my new grandson, Asa Rowan Pfohl!  Asa and his mommy and daddy will be home in about an hour.  His brothers, Ezra and Levi, can’t wait for his arrival.  Nonnie and Poppie are a little tired but happy to be here to help and to celebrate Chris and Britt’s third son.

I love Asa’s name.  Asa was the third King of the Kingdom of Judah.  In the Old Testament this was written about Asa:

Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done…Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life.  1 Kings 15:11,14

This, of course, is my prayer for all my grandchildren.  My prayer for Asa is as follows:

Father, thank you for the gift of Asa Rowan.  May he always do what is right in your eyes and please you.  May he always be fully committed to you all his life.  Amen


Today I want to introduce you to a fellow blogger, a mom of a child with special needs, a David’s Refuge guest and host, and friend, Lara Capuano.   I love her honesty, transparency, and genuine faith.  Listen to how she is described on her website:

Lara also makes you feel bipolar because while you are cackling uncontrollably at her hilarity, you’ll inevitably be punctured by the stories of her life that are soaked in grief. There was abandonment, substance abuse, indiscretion, and even murder.  Lara’s older brother Adam was shot Halloween night when he was 17-years-old by an irritated neighbor. Adam was a champion athlete, academic, and hero in his community, and he was the ultimate hero to his baby sister.

This week I opened and read Laura’s blog, I Quit When It’s Cold and  immediately wanted to share it on mine.  She shares the heart wrenching story of how her brother, Adam H. Provencal, was killed.  As you can imagine as October approaches the memory of his senseless killing brings both grief but also memories of her hero brother.

To honor Adam’s life Lara started to challenge herself and others to do something good for someone else.  She called them “#Adams Acts.”  She writes,

I started doing these acts of kindness because I had to do something. I had to be productive and focus outward or I would implode with this seasonal grief and cyclical depression. I wanted to commit myself to honor all the good Adam would have done to the glory of God if his life had not been cut short. This is why we call them #AdamsActs, because these are the types of things Adam would have spent his life doing. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. Well, here is my chance… 36 is pretty grown up, so here goes nothing.

I was hoping we could join Lara this week in honoring her brother, Adam.  How much time would it take to do one act of kindness for someone else?  Last week almost 2,500 people read my blog.  Can you imagine the good we could all do if each one of us did one little thing for someone else?  I would love to show and remind Lara and her family that Adam’s life lives on through our simple acts of love for others.  So lets do it!  Do one act of kindness, small or big, and share it on Lara’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lara.capuano.  When you do, use the hashtag #AdamsActs.  Let’s show Lara and all who her read her blog that they are not alone and are loved by God!

If you are interested in learning more about Lara’s faith and how it helped her choose to become better rather than bitter, check out a little book she just produced called 31 Day Guide to Greater Kindness.   It is practical, not preachy, and very helpful.  It does cost $1.99.  If you want a copy and can’t afford it, let me know.  Here is an example for you to look at:

Standing For You

To stand or to kneel, a question that seems to be dividing our country.  Turn on your TV, open your Facebook News  Feed, or listen to the radio for just few moments and you will be barraged with commentary, opinion, hatred, fear and debate.  Each side vehemently believes in their perspective.  Some of the debate is civil and helpful, while most seems to be ugly, mean, and destructive.

Today I want to simply say that Brenda and I are standing up for the many moms and dads who have children with special needs or those struggling with a potential life threatening illness.  Just as fans will rise to their feet to celebrate a home run at a baseball game or a standing ovation is given to actors at the end of a spectacular performance, we stand to show our appreciation and support of you!

We stand because….

  • You are ordinary people loving your children in extraordinary ways
  • You are often misunderstood and therefore judged unfairly
  • Your children are beautiful, unique, and loved by God
  • We want you to know and believe you are not alone
  • You are not a perfect parent and that is OK
  • We know you are tired of fighting for your children and we don’t want you to give up
  • You need to believe you have been given the divine assignment of loving and caring for your children
  • Today you need to be encouraged and not pitied

Brenda and I stand up for you today to applaud you, love you, and celebrate you.

Beauty In The Wake of Irma

Often you will hear me say we live in a beautiful yet broken world.  Sadly the brokenness surrounds us here in Bonita Spring, Florida.  Hurricane Irma was vicious and destructive.  Homes are still flooded, trees uprooted, electricity is still off for thousands, water needs to be boiled, and countless people are left wondering how they are going to survive.  The brokenness is visceral.  It smells.  It’s overwhelming.

Yet beauty still exists.  It came in the form of chain saws, cases of water, diapers and wipes, food, gas cans, propane, bleach and rags.  Groups of volunteers came from Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida.  Steve Gill, our pastor from Turning Point Church , sent out one email and within two days over 35 volunteers from four different churches drove 12-16 hours to come and help.  They were young and old, male and female, bearded and shaved, bald and hairy.  They were beautiful.  They passed out over 1200 meals, they transported people by boat to their homes, they helped clean up local schools, they cut up trees that had fallen, and hugged any and all that needed to be reminded they were not alone.  In their simple acts of kindness, they brought hope.  They were the hands and feet of Jesus.  It was a beautiful picture of what the church should really look like.  Our neighbors brought over meals and offered any help they could give.  Everyone they came in contact with were reminded they were not alone and loved by God.

Brenda put together a video that captures the beauty and the brokenness here in South West Florida.  As you watch it please pray for those who have lost so much.


PS: Some have asked how we are doing.  The only damage we sustained was water damage to our bedroom floor.  It will have to be replaced.  We have water, internet, and electricity.  We have much to be thankful for.  We were able to host many of the volunteers in our homes here in Bonita.  It was a real honor.

Please Pray for Us!

I just got off the phone with our pastor in Bonita Springs, Florida.  He is kayaking around his neighborhood, his phone is about to die, there is no electricity, all the stores are closed, and he can’t find gas for his car.  I can only imagine how overwhelmed he feels.  While the storm has passed, and it could have been much worse, there are many who still need our help and prayers.

Thankfully, Brenda and I are safe and sound in New York with our family.  We have had neighbors tell us that there is no visible damage to our house but we don’t know if there was any roof damage or if water got into our home.  We sit glued to the TV watching report after report of loss and devastation.  We pray for our friends, we wonder how long it will take for life to return to “normal”, and we wrestle with a low grade anxiety in the pit of our stomachs that won’t go away.  We would appreciate your prayers.

I am going to keep today’s post short but wanted to share two things with you that hopefully will help you with whatever “hurricanes” you are experiencing. The first is a song Brenda and I have listened to over and over again called the Eye of the Storm by Ryan Stevenson.  The first line says,

In the eye of the storm You remain in control

The second is an editorial written by Max Lucado, an author, pastor, and man I greatly respect.   The three points he makes are very helpful no matter what storm we face.  I hope it is as helpful for you as it was for us.