Love, Marriage & a Side of Grief

Apart from the occasional humorous anecdote or good-natured jab at his expense, I don’t often write about my husband. Sure, I write a lot about life and family in general, but I don’t think I have ever written about marriage or romance. Since I am guest-blogging here for the first time ON Valentine’s Day, it felt like maybe I should write about my husband, Tom, once and for all. As I sat down, I discovered that I just couldn’t do it.

First, allow me to explain why I don’t usually write about him. You see, I grew up with a bad-to-the-bone single mom who raised the junk out of us four kids. She taught us all the important things: like how to be kind and compassionate, how to curl and feather our bangs to perfection and how to make homemade donuts. Basically, life essentials. And she did all of this alone. She did this in the wake of a divorce and then the death of my 17-year-old brother just shortly after. She is incredibly strong, and she did a pretty great job with us. But still, it was not easy.

So, every time I feel compelled to tell the world about what an incredible man my husband is, I think of the women who are raising the junk out of some awesome little kids, and are maybe doing it alone. I think about the people who have marriages in crisis or marriages that are just okay I think of those that are still grieving the death of their spouse, or all the peeps who are single-n-lookin-to-mingle. OR the zillions of people who are happily-single-and-just-sorta-sick-of-hearing-about-other-peoples-marriages. And I panic. It starts to feel all weird and braggy, and I get in my head about it all. I tend to be hyper-sensitive to other people’s feelings and situations. It’s the blessing and the curse of being an empath, and sometimes it prevents me from publicly celebrating certain victories or gifts in my life. Including my husband. I just don’t want my joy to bump up against someone else’s grief.

In the past year and half, however, I have spent a lot of time studying pride, jealousy and envy in the Bible. These are three things that I have struggled with immensely for the past couple of 36 years. (Alright look, basically from conception on I have been a pretty gross person ok?) I have sooooooo far to go in this journey of uprooting pride, sinful jealousy and envy from my heart, but the one area that I have felt pretty strong is coming along side of those who are grieving or struggling. This is very natural for me. What is less natural and requires more of an effort, is the celebration piece. Celebrating others, and feeling the freedom to celebrate in my own life.

In the spirit of Valentine’s day, that is what I am commiting to do. I am going to celebrate all things love and marriage. And while I am still quite afraid of bumping into a wound or two, I am giving myself permission to publicly celebrate a man who is long overdue for me to gush over him a bit. Guys, if you take the beloved Jack from the hit TV show This is Us (hold the drinking problem and 70’s mustache – replace it with mild-to-moderate anxiety and lumberjack stubble) you have my husband Tom. He is dependable, thoughtful, conscientious, protective, hilarious, steadfast and strong. Unlike Jack, he would never die in a fire to save our dog, but that’s seriously his one and only flaw.

In the past 15 years together, we have faced some really dark times. We have had some big wins and some pretty major losses. We have had moments where we felt like total failures as parents, we have been passive-aggressive and cranky (me), hangry (him) at times, but also really devoted and self-sacrificing. He lives more like Jesus than any man I’ve ever known. All the good in our marriage has been him. So I celebrate him today. And I celebrate marriage and love and things that are going right. And for those with wounds – whether fresh or long held – there is plenty of room for this empath to give a reverent nod toward grief today too.

If you would like to read more from Lara, check out her blog at

Defining a mother…

Today’s post is brought to you by Sarah Watson – David’s Refuge Events Manager

Mom. What does that word mean to you? To me “mom” is pretty much everything. A name, a person, a feeling, a comfort, an emotion. Mom is wisdom, guidance, happiness, strength.

The Dictionary defines mother as –

Mother –

mothered; mothering  \ˈmə-t͟hə-riŋ, ˈmət͟h-riŋ\

transitive verb
1 : to give birth to
2 : to give rise to :
3 : to care for or protect like a mother


Okay I get number 1. That’s the super basic definition… Just from my own personal experience of… ya know… being born.. I was adopted, so my MOTHER who I still and will continue to call MAMA (YES I’m almost 30) did not “birth” me, but I think that’s completely beside the point. When I think about MY mom, I think of the quote from the movie Stepmom – “You know every story, every wound, every memory. Their whole life’s happiness is wrapped up in you… every single second.”

Let’s move to number 2. “To give RISE to” – Wow. When I first searched the definition and read the word “RISE” it gave me chills. They could have put “raise” which would have made complete sense (BASIC) but they chose “RISE.” Perhaps I’m stretching it a bit but a mother, a GOOD mother, will “RISE” their children up to the sky. They will allow them and help them to RISE up to their potential. They will RISE up to the opportunity of being there for their children no matter what the situation. They will RISE up out of their warm and comfortable bed at 4am when their baby is crying and refuses to go to back to sleep (I added that last one in there because it may have just happened at my house last night)

A few weeks ago David’s Refuge hosted our first “Vent” parent potluck at Casey’s Place. As I sat at the table surrounded by amazing moms and dads who are raising child with special needs, I listened to many stories of trials and tribulations, happiness and sadness, excitement as well as disappointment.

A story that that really stuck with me came from a mom who came by herself while her husband stayed home with the kids. She talked about birthday parties. A very popular topic in my house this past month as we have been planning for Chase’s first birthday

When the mom’s daughter was younger she use to go to so many birthday parties. It seemed like every other day an invitation was coming home with her daughter from school. As she got a little older the invites started to decrease and decrease until they stopped coming at all. One day an invitation arrived in the mail and the family celebrated! The mom was so happy that her daughter was invited to this party, but also so sad that throughout the years she had not only seen her daughters friends slip away, but her own friends who weren’t inviting her to coffee as much anymore. Her daughter is now in her later teens, and being a mother of an adult, she’s had a really hard time finding the right balance of “PROTECTING” (see mother definition 3) her daughter or letting her RISE up to life’s new challenges. Where can she find the balance? Where in the ‘Parenting 101’ handbook is this chapter?

As I’m writing this I keep glancing over to a picture of Chase and my mom. I want so much for my son. I want him to be healthy, happy, active, smart, strong, funny, clever, silly, brave, nice, but more than anything I want him to be accepting and compassionate. I want Chase to WANT to invite everyone to his birthday party, because he wants to.. not because mom is nagging him, or because that’s just what he has always done. I want him to WANT to do it! (HA I’m starting to sound like my own MAMA now)

It may be a lot to put on an 11th month old. But as I RISE up to be the best mother I can be, I guarantee you that I will try my hardest to teach him to be the best possible person he can be. And I’ll also call my mom and ask her what to do.

Every single day I find strength not only in my own amazing mama, but my coworkers (who are ALL mom) as well as so many David’s Refuge moms that i’ve met over the past two years. These moms are the definition of wisdom, guidance, happiness, strength.

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.

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

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.

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.


Just One Taste

Can you remember a time when someone said to you, “Just one taste!  I promise you’ll like it.”  Slowly they dip a fork into their concoction, twirling the bite size morsel into the sauce with all the bits and pieces.  As they raise the sample to your mouth, your nose is working like a basset hound trying to determine if you will like it or not.  While no one else can hear your thoughts, you are very aware of the voices saying, “Don’t eat it!” or “One bite and you will throw up on your friend!”  Wanting to be brave and not offend, you open your mouth and allow them to shove the food into your mouth.  For a few seconds all thoughts and sounds cease.  Slowly you you begin to chew and allow your taste buds to explore the spices and flavors of the “one taste.”  Without even knowing it, a thought enters your mind, “Hey, this isn’t bad!  In fact it is delicious!”  Our friend was right,  “Just one taste!  I promise you’ll like it.”

Over the past several years we have promised many parents, “Just one weekend!  We promise you will like it.”  Sadly, many parents will listen to the voice in their heads that says, “You don’t deserve a weekend away” or “There are others who deserve it more than we do.”  Very often we will hear moms and dads say, “We feel guilty taking time for ourselves.”  Some will say, “I don’t think my child will like it if we go away for a weekend.”  Money, lack of child care, and fear are other examples that we often hear.  Some will never overcome these reasons and register for a weekend of respite.  But for those who who are brave and willing to “taste” something new we often hear, “Hey, this isn’t bad!  In fact it is wonderful.”  All they had to do is try one taste.

This Friday we are hosting our fourth Taste of David’s Refuge event.  It is one of our premier fund raising events.  While its primary purpose is to allow us to raise funding so we can offer the gift of respite to our wonderful and amazing families, it is so much more.  Our hope is that those who attend and support our mission will experience and taste what we offer all our families.  Brenda and I want to say a huge thank you to every individual, family, and business that is supporting and/or coming to the event.  We hope you will leave refreshed and renewed and even more motivated to continue supporting David’s Refuge so we can continue to offer a taste of respite to those who really need it.

I am looking forward to introducing Jeff and Jennifer Rubin, our honorary Co-chairs, to those who are coming to this Friday’s celebration.   Jeff and Jennifer got a “Taste” of David’s Refuge as they watched the impact and stress of raising a child with special needs on one of their employees.  You will not want to miss how this one taste not only changed this families life but also theirs.

Dear David I Feel Helpless Today

One of the battles I struggled with as we cared for David was a sense of helplessness.  I couldn’t stop the disease from progressing, I couldn’t make David’s pain go away, and I often felt I was failing as a father.  A dad’s job is to protect their children from harm.  Sadly there was nothing I could do to protect David from the claws of Batten Disease.  I am grateful for my faith that would often remind me that while things feel and look like they are completely out of control, there is a God who is still in control.  He was my refuge when I had no where else to turn.

“Oh my people, trust in him at all times.  Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.”  Psalm 62:8

Dear David,

Wow, what a rough two days.  In fact I would say they were the roughest we have had since you were diagnosed.  Dr. Mink thinks he went too high with your Triliptal and boy did it have a huge impact on you.  I don’t know if you remember, but you were in physical and emotional pain.  You were angry and constantly upset.  You didn’t know where you were.  You kept saying, “I just want to go home,” or “I want to go to jail.”  You didn’t know if you wanted to sit, lie down or walk.  You didn’t like it when people touched you.  It was horrible David.  Two nights ago it took you almost two hours to settle down and go to sleep.  Last night you slept well and today you seem much better.  David, I was so afraid for you and what else is before us.  I wanted to be brave, I didn’t want fear to overwhelm my faith in God, but it was too much.  I hated seeing Daniel and the emotional pain he was experiencing.  I hated knowing the struggle Brenda, your Momma, was experiencing, and there was nothing I could do about it.  I was helpless.  

I prayed for you.  I asked God to turn his attention to you.  I asked him to pour out his blessings on you.  I asked him to take away your pain.  And while I know God heard me, loves me, loved you, I still felt helpless.  I am still struggling with just feeling sad.  I can’t shake it.  I’m supposed to preach next weekend and I am a little concerned about my emotional state.

I miss your laughter David.  I miss your kidding around.  I miss seeing your smile.  I had a little peak into what it will be like in the future and I don’t like it.  David I chose today to acknowledge God is in control.  I claim and acknowledge that God is good and loving.  Well buddy, it is a quiet Saturday morning.  We have changed you a couple times already this morning.  Dan Edsall is coming to hang out with you.  I hope you have a good day.  I love you buddy.  Daddy


Alajuelita: Costa Rica

As you are sipping your coffee reading this blog Brenda and I are in Alajuelita, Costa Rica with our wonderful church, Turning Point Church on a short term mission trip.  We are joining with a local church, Iglesia, Cristiana Alajuelita, to help build a home for a wonderful family.  Karolina and her four children live in a rundown shack that has no floor.  We will pour cement, build walls, run wires and lights to show her the extravagant love of God.

Many of my friends have asked me why we chose to go on this trip with all the other things we already have on our plate.  Let me share a couple of them with you.

  1. Community: Brenda and I are still trying to get used to the fact that we are now “Floridians.”  We realize the best way to accomplish this is to begin building friendships and relationships with a new community of people.   A great way to do this is to join hands and serve others in need.   Here is a picture of the team we are going with.


  1. Service: We believe one of the greatest ways to serve Christ is to serve others in his name. There is a story in the New Testament where Jesus is commending a group of people for serving him faithfully.  He thanked them for feeding him and dressing him and giving him a cold glass of water when he was in need.  They asked him when did we do these things for you?   Look at what he says, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”  (The Message)  As we serve Karolina and her children we are serving Christ.
  1. Faith: Alajuelita is one of the poorest barrios in Costa Rica. Some of the neighborhoods are dangerous, water unsafe to drink, and of course there will be a significant language barrier.  We know we are going to be stretched as we will have to trust in God to accomplish what at times seems to be the impossible.  It is all too easy to let your faith grow old and stale.  I am sure our time in Alajuelita will help freshen things up a bit.
  1. Focus: Serving others who are in greater need then yourself is one of the best ways to keep your focus on what really matters.  I am sure there are some of you are growing weary of the ongoing saga of our moving, selling homes, building homes, and on and on it goes.  I know I am!   We are praying and hoping a week in Costa Rica will “reboot” our hearts and minds to keep focused on what it really important in life.

Please pray for our safety, for our effectiveness, and for Karolina and her family to see, feel, and experience the love of God!