In Sickness and in Health

Do you take Kari to be your wife, to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish as long as you both shall live?

On your wedding day, the happiest day of your life, you say your vows to the love of your life. And during those vows, you are probably only thinking of the better, the richer, and the health. No one is thinking of the worse, the poorer, or the sickness. I mean I assumed those times would eventually occur, but I certainly didn’t think we would be staring down the barrel of sickness five years and eleven months into our marriage.

My favorite picture of the two of us and it was candid.

Our wedding was perfect. I know most people think that theirs was but ours really was! I had it all planned. The bridesmaids’ dresses cost only $12 a piece, and I found my dress on clearance. (I refuse to buy things at full price) I had the ceremony configured that from the time I walked down the aisle to the time we were pronounced husband and wife was only 14 minutes (Jordan and I neither one are big fans of standing in front of people). For the Grande Finale, we had a s’mores bar; so yeah, it was pretty awesome.

But as perfect as our wedding day was, our marriage has been that amazing and more. I swear Jordan treats me like the queen of England. If I ask for anything, he moves heaven and earth to make it possible. I can probably count on my hand the number of times Jordan has told me no. Granted, there are probably plenty of times he should have told me no and didn’t!

I get all of these brilliant ideas from Pinterest or Joanna Gaines, and I usually get about 1/ 8th of the way through my project before Jordan has to come to bail me out. I have this extraordinary skill; I strip every screw I have ever put in. It’s one of Jordan’s favorite features of mine. He is the one who has to come in and figure out how to finish the project with only stripped screws to work with! Jordan especially likes it when I get the fever to paint, and more paint ends up on the floor and me than on the walls. He just shakes his head at me. But how else am I going to get the farmhouse look?!

He wears matching Halloween costumes with me every year even though he hates it. He makes me laugh: all the time. He once drove 2.5 hours round trip to make sure there wasn’t a burglar outside the house I was housesitting. He always lets me control the remote. He goes to Walmart to buy me a chocolate cake from the deli section when I just can’t fight the craving. He will sit through a hallmark movie and only complain a quarter of the time. He let me pick our first dog (Jordan looked ridiculous taking a teacup chihuahua for a walk)

Jordan and I have been on this cancer journey together, every single step of the way. We have had to make so many major decisions that I never dreamed we would be making at this point in our life. Is our life insurance up to date? Will we have to sell our house to pay medical bills? How should we handle our finances? Which hospital system do we trust with to care for our premature baby? Should I have reconstructive surgery? How much should we tell our children?

Our wedding vows have definitely been put to the test but I think we are passing with flying colors. Our marriage is stronger and more Christ-centered than it has ever been. We have been together since we were 17 and we have grown and matured together spiritually and physically. We have grown through failures and successes. We have tried new things and created traditions. We even took on our own fixer-upper house before the Chip and Joanna were a household name, and I am convinced if you can get through a remodel with your spouse you can get through anything life throws at you.

We have gone to church camp, Christian conferences, retreats, and bible studies together. He is a perfect example of a Spiritual leader for our family. I think it is so important to pray about decisions in your marriage, to worship together, and to study God’s word together. I pray for Jordan daily and I know he prays for me.

He has been the rock of this family; especially recently. I don’t have too many complaints about chemotherapy, but I definitely feel more drained as the day goes on. Jordan is here every day in and day out, after working hard all day, doing everything that needs to be done with our house and kids. He gives baths, plays with them outside, changes so many diapers, fixes our air conditioner, does dishes and anything else that needs to be done without uttering a single complaint about the extra load. If Jordan thought chopping of his arm would help me, I know he would do it in a heartbeat. He is the prime example of loving me like Christ loves the church. The love Jordan has for me is a sacrificial love. I do not doubt that if he could bare this disease for me, he would.

“Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

I can’t imagine having to go through all of this without the love and support of my husband. I count it a blessing because I know many people navigating their cancer journeys don’t have the support I have. He has lifted me up mentally, spiritually, and physically over the last few months. But I also know that we would have already crumbled under the weight of this disease if it weren’t for Christ’s love for us and His position in our marriage. Jordan and I are both in agreement that the order of importance for our life is as follows:

1. God

2. Spouse

3. Children

If these get out of order, I believe our life will quickly be in disorder. The Bible is pretty clear about how our life should be prioritized.

Matthew 10:37 says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

If I put Jordan before my love of God, then I will rely solely on Jordan. He is only human and will fail eventually, just as I will. We both need to depend on God more than each other because God is perfect and will never fail us. God wants us to have him at the center of our lives because when we put him first, everything else will fall into place.

Everything in our life needs to be looked at from an eternal perspective: including our marriage. How is what we are doing as a couple affecting the kingdom of God? Are we being a good example of a Christian marriage? Are we raising our kids in a way that leads them to have a strong love of Christ?

Our marriage should not just be about the two of us. I want our marriage to be a tool that God can use to bring people to him. If we have a good marriage but keep it to ourselves are we really honoring God with what he has given us? We should be doing the work of Christ together. God brought us together for a reason and I don’t want to get to the end of my life and see missed opportunities.

“For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” Luke 12:48

Jordan and I have been given so much which means we have so much we need to give back by praying for others, offering support, serving together in and out of the church, raising godly children, being examples for a Christ-centered marriage.

Sure, Joanna Gaines has Chip, but I have Jordan Justice.


Dignity & Strength

I am the mom who never sent my babies to the nursery in the hospital.

If the nurse had to take them, I waited on pins and needles until they returned.

I wanted skin to skin as soon as I popped them out. I didn’t care if they looked like someone had pulled them out of a giant tub of sour cream.

I wanted to breastfeed exclusively as long as I could.

Their precious rear ends rarely touched a bassinet or swing because I would just snuggle them and watch them sleep.

I waited almost 10 months to finally hold these sweet things in my arms, I didn’t want to miss a single second of bonding once they were finally here.

Well, the reality that my experience with Robbyn would be completely different set in as I sat in a dimly lit postpartum room by myself.

I forced Jordan to get some food with his parents, we couldn’t see Robbyn for a couple of hours, and my left leg was still so numb I could barely stand up.

The room was quiet. Had I really just had a baby? Or did I dream all of this?

No newborn snuggles. No awkward fumbling as we try to figure out breastfeeding together.

No breastfeeding in our future either, due to the toxic medications I would soon be starting and the bilateral mastectomy in my very near future.

No sneaking a pacifier in her mouth while the nurse is out of the room.

No peeking into the sleep sack to recount all of her fingers and toes.

My baby was on the floor above me in an incubator.

Don’t get me wrong; I knew this was our destiny once we found out she would arrive a full 6 weeks early. I was ecstatic she was strong, and I was able to hold her for almost an hour, but her tiny body had tired out, and now she needed to rest.

She hadn’t needed to be intubated and only required a small feeding tube through her nose, but that was to be expected. At 34 weeks, she had not yet developed the reflex that allowed her to suck, swallow, and breathe at the same time and she could not eat enough to gain weight without tiring.

She had done phenomenally well, and I was so grateful that she was healthy. This could have been so much worse, and I personally know some of the world’s strongest parents who have watched their babies go through much more terrifying circumstances. After seeing a tiny glimpse into what they have gone through, I have the utmost admiration for them and how they handled their trials with such grace.

So, it didn’t seem fair to be upset about our small hiccup when God had already blessed us so much.

The two other moms and their sweet babies I know who have very recently endured long NICU stays, and multiple surgeries have inspired me with their strength and reliance on God.

Chapter 31 in Proverbs is all about what it means to be a godly woman. (The whole chapter is excellent if you are curious about what it says.) In verse 20 it says, “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.”

I was in a pretty “needy” state once we were home and Robbyn was still in the NICU without a foreseeable discharge date. Both of these women who have experienced this before checked on me multiples times offering prayers, advice, physical and emotional support every time I see them.

They have been doing just what Verse 26 says a godly woman should, “She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” They used the previous trials God allowed them to face, to now assist me. Something that I intend to do for others now that I have been there. These two women continued to care for their husbands, their households, their other young children in the home and continued to nurture their children spiritually by assuring they rarely missed a Sunday of church to learn that Jesus loves them.

I also know another mom who waited years, YES, YEARS, to get her already adopted son and daughter out of Africa because of paperwork and red tape. She had so much strength. How could I be upset about a possible month-long NICU stay when she waited patiently for years for God to allow her beautiful babies to be brought home, and she gave praise and glory to God every step of the way? She has inspired me to be a woman like verse 25 describes. “She is clothed with dignity and strength. She laughs without fear of the future.”

Dignity and strength.

No, that was not me.

Such powerful words.

Guilty and afraid was more like it.

Fearful that this baby in the incubator would never know who I was pending my PET scan results. Guilty for having to induce labor forcing her into a possibly lengthy NICU stay. Guilty I wasn’t with her most of the day providing her care. Guilty that she would have a different newborn experience than my other children. Guilty that I was dumping two small children with relatives every evening so we could see our new baby. Guilty for not seeing our baby to go to Reed’s first baseball game or having Ryanne’s second birthday party while Robbyn was 30 miles away in an incubator.

I was having some serious guilt. I feel like I hear this over and over again from moms around my age. You have probably heard the phrase too.

Mom guilt.

Feeling guilty for leaving your child while you go to work or them not having as many playmates because you are a stay home mom. Feeling guilty for not putting them in enough activities or debating if you have them in too many activities. Worrying about not having a Pinterest perfect Christmas, to retaking your Instagram picture so your messy house isn’t shown. This mom guilt comes in all different forms and it torments us no matter the mom’s circumstances.

Definitely not Pinterest perfect but perfect nonetheless

Definitely not Pinterest perfect but perfect nonetheless.

We forget that we are daughters of the King, and He gave of these children, whether biological or adopted, knowing we were the perfect woman to raise them.

He knew that you might have work full time or night shift to provide for them, or that you wouldn’t be able to afford to throw the best birthday party, and still, he handpicked you to raise them. He entrusted you with these precious children. I am learning that the negative thoughts and fears about whether I am doing the right thing for my children are Satan trying to take time and energy away purpose God has designed for me.

Proverbs 31 also say a Godly woman, “arises while it is yet night and provides food for her household.” I believe whether you care for your family by staying home or by working part-time or full-time, you are providing for your family the best way that God has shown you.

One is not nobler than the other. Whatever the job God has given you, you should do it to the best of your ability. I am also learning that if I approach God in prayer about the role he has for me, then I need to have peace with that decision instead of this misplaced “mom-guilt.”

James 1:5-6 says “If any of you lack wisdom you should ask God who gives generously to all, without finding fault and it will be given to you. But when you ask you must believe and not doubt. Because the one who doubts is like a wave in the sea, blown and tossed about by the wind.”

I don’t want to be like a wave tossed about, second-guessing whether every decision I make about my children is the right one. I want to be the the Proverbs 31 woman whose “strength and honor are her clothing” I am trying my best know to turn over my concerns, fears, and misplaced guilt to God and have peace about my circumstances.

He knew when I had Robbyn that she would be in the NICU and he knew I had two small children at home. He also gave me a fantastic support system to care and love on my kids when I’m not there whether it is our family or the amazing NICU staff.

“She is clothed with dignity and strength. She laughs without fear of the future.” Did you read that? She laughs! Laughs! She’s not even saying, “I know God has my future under control, and I’ll try and be ok with that…”

No! She boldly laughs because her God, My God, the creator of the universe, has already has a plan for her future, so she has nothing to fear! I want to be that bold with my faith in God. I’m not anywhere close yet but I will keep running toward him.