If you came in search of recipes today, I’m sorry to disappoint you! I promise I’ll have new recipes for you starting next Monday.
In the meantime, I wanted to pause from recipe posts and share more about my life, since it’s a special week for my family. It’s special because of three different life events that take place in the Spring – all of which mean a great deal to me.
- Two weeks ago was the 8th anniversary of Mark’s life being spared.
- Yesterday would have been our baby’s due date.
- This Wednesday, we celebrate three years of marriage.
So, I’m getting personal today about life, loss, and love. It’s a time for me to celebrate life – two lives, actually. Two very dear lives which are the driving force behind me starting Fed and Fulfilled in the first place. It’s also a time of reflection on the loss of one of those lives. And, it’s a time to be incredibly thankful and praise God for my marriage and the good things He’s doing.
I’ve spent weeks thinking about how I would write this, since it’s hard to put into words and a bit scary to reveal so much of myself and my family all at once. What kept coming to my mind was a verse out of the book of Job in the Bible. I’ve read this verse many times in the past, but it seems extremely relevant to my life right now and is a fitting theme for today’s post. It says, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21b)
If you don’t know Job’s story, essentially what you need to know is that he was a solid, faithful man who loved God and his family. And then, tragedy struck Job. Not only did he lose his whole family, but EVERYTHING. His possessions, health, you name it. What is difficult to comprehend is that God allowed this to happen. He allowed the devil to enter Job’s life and take everything he had.
At first glance, this seemed cruel and unfair. Why would God let this happen to such a good man? Don’t we often ask that same question about our own lives when things go wrong? I do it all the time.
Yet, asking why doesn’t get us far because even if we knew why, I don’t think it would make the hard stuff any easier to live through. So, I think instead of asking why, we should be asking what. What is God doing in this situation? What is His plan?
In this case, God allowed Job to suffer, but He did so for a purpose. God knew that Job could withstand even the worst of circumstances and still be faithful to Him. And that’s exactly what happened! Job still loved and relied on God even when everything around him was crumbling. Job 1:22 says, “In all this Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” And if anyone had a right to get angry and take it out on God, it was Job. But he didn’t sin against God and God rewarded him for it.
The best part of Job’s story is the ending, not the beginning. In Job 42:12, it says that God blessed the latter part of Job’s life EVEN MORE than the former. Isn’t that incredible?
I’m sure Job still had days where he felt sadness about the losses and hardships he suffered. But, I bet he also had plenty of days where he was able to celebrate and praise God for the blessings he received as a result of his faith and endurance.
Personally, I know there have been plenty of times where Mark and I struggled with something difficult, but later on, we were able to look back and see the good that resulted from it. Whether it was a tangible blessing or an intangible character-building moment, the hard stuff caused us to grow. And without it, a lot of good things wouldn’t have happened.
Keep all of this in mind as I tell you our story.
“THE LORD GAVE…”
On my About page, I hinted that I’d be sharing the story of how we met. And it’s actually a miracle. Why? Because eight years ago, on March 27th, 2008, Mark was minutes from death on the streets of New Orleans.
Let me start from the beginning.
Mark and I both grew up in neighboring suburbs of Pittsburgh and went to Grove City College, a small, liberal arts school near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mark was a year older, but it was amazing that we had never met on campus. We attended school at the same time, were both business majors, and we even had mutual friends. (Looking back, we’re both pretty sure we never would have dated if we’d met then!) When Mark graduated in 2007, he had an opportunity to join AmeriCorps and travel to New Orleans to help with the Hurricane Katrina rebuilding effort. It was to be a 10-month assignment, and since Mark wasn’t sure what he wanted to do career-wise, it seemed like the right path.
So, Mark headed to the deep South and stayed with a group of AmeriCorps guys. They all worked alongside Trinity Christian Community and helped oversee groups who came down to New Orleans to repair and build houses. One of the guys that Mark lived with had also graduated from Grove City College. Though they hadn’t met prior to AmeriCorps, they became fast friends.
I should note that the area where Mark lived wasn’t the safest neighborhood. There had been several attempts to steal a car owned by one of Mark’s AmeriCorps friends. Since the thieves were unsuccessful, they returned once more on the night of March 27th, 2008. As they broke into the car, Mark and his best friend caught them in the act. The thieves saw they had been spotted and took off on foot. Mark and his best friend chased after them so they could turn them in to the police. Mark caught up to one of them- a young teenager -and was shocked when the kid pulled out a .357 Magnum handgun.
Mark was shot twice at close range – once through his arm into his side, and once through the abdomen that hit his lung and liver. Both teens got away (and unfortunately, were never arrested) while Mark fell to the ground and his best friend caught up to him. Mark’s friend used his shirt to put pressure on the wounds and flagged down a neighbor to call 911. Despite losing so much blood, Mark was coherent enough to be able to call his parents, tell them the news, and ask for prayer. Once he got to the hospital, things were a blur, and Mark didn’t remember anything else until many days later.
During all of this, I was a senior in college and although I didn’t know who Mark was yet, I do remember hearing about the shooting from a mutual friend who Mark played basketball with. Our friend sent an email to our college community, informing us all about what had happened to Mark and asking us to pray. The story spread quickly through our campus and everyone began praying for Mark. The shooting was also covered by local news, so word got out across southwestern Pennsylvania. I also remember hearing Mark’s name mentioned often in prayers at the church we both attended (still without ever meeting each other). Despite not having a face to put with his name, I prayed for Mark Smith – that God would spare his life and heal him. Little did I know I was praying that God would save my future husband.
God definitely heard and answered my prayers, and the prayers of many – church members, family, friends, and total strangers. The doctors performed several surgeries, all of which were successful. Mark had a severe liver laceration, which, had it been any worse, would have killed him immediately. The liver, being an amazing organ, was able to regenerate itself. His lungs completely healed. He was able to regain use of his arm and hand, after surgery and therapy. And to date, he’s had no lasting injuries from the shooting.
A detective, investigating the shooting, later told Mark’s dad that after learning the caliber of the gun and the close range in which it was shot, he was almost certain that Mark should not have survived. And if Mark’s best friend hadn’t been there on the street with him, he never would have made it to the hospital alive.
It was a miracle that Mark lived. A gift from God.
After 15 days in a New Orleans hospital, Mark moved back to Pittsburgh to recover. It wasn’t until two years later that finally we met, through a mutual friend. By that point, I’d almost forgotten about the mysterious man that I’d prayed for years earlier. Several weeks into our friendship, it dawned on me that this might just be the same Mark Smith that was in the New Orleans shooting! After I finally got up the nerve to ask him, he confirmed my suspicions and told me his story firsthand.
Something Mark said that night hit me. He told me that he that for some reason, God wanted him to live and he wasn’t quite sure why he got a second chance. Even though we hadn’t started dating at the time, I couldn’t help but think that maybe God spared Mark so that we could meet each other. That God had saved him so that he could impact my life in some special way. Now, as we prepare to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary, I KNOW that’s true.
Since the shooting, March 27th has officially been called “Celebration of Life Day” by our friends and families. The Lord gave Mark his life back that day and in doing so, He saved the man I would fall in love with. It’s a day to remember what could have happened and celebrate what did happen – a true miracle.
“THE LORD HAS TAKEN AWAY…”
Growing up, it was hard for me to imagine having kids. I was never the type of girl who loved babysitting and I often found little kids to be more annoying than cute. Let’s just say that I never daydreamed of being a mother.
Even when Mark and I got married, I knew I didn’t kids right away because the thought still freaked me out. Don’t get me wrong, we both wanted kids SOMEDAY, but it was a very distant wish.
Two years into our marriage, I felt my heart do a complete switch. I started seeing people with their kids and finding myself picturing myself with our own kids, raising a family. I envisioned what our nursery might look like and what names we’d choose for our children. In short, I actually wanted to have a baby and be a mom!
Last summer, I found out I was pregnant, not long after I felt “ready” to have kids. To say I was thrilled was an understatement. I was not only excited, but I began planning our lives around this baby. It was a huge answer to prayer, and since God had answered my prayer, I felt like this was meant to be and nothing would change that.
Was I ever afraid that things wouldn’t happen as planned? Yes, I had my moments. But, my health issues had been addressed years ago, my family history was good, and the timing was perfect. And as the weeks passed, I think I got more and more confident that nothing would go wrong.
So, Mark and I started counting the weeks that passed, and we marveled at how fast our unborn baby was growing. At 7 weeks, the baby was the size of a blueberry, and for some reason, we started referring to the baby as “Blueberry” or “Blue” for short, since we didn’t know the gender yet. Sadly, we wouldn’t ever know the gender. We wouldn’t be picking out nursery items or teasing each other over our favorite baby names. We wouldn’t be announcing the news to all of our friends. We wouldn’t be having a baby.
Everything fell apart on a late September afternoon. All the planning and dreaming went right out the window. I was 11 weeks along before I miscarried. Needless to say, it was a devastating few weeks. Just when I thought my crying was over, I’d read something or see a baby picture and the tears would come again. I also remember how angry I was at God. Why did you let this happen? Why did we have to wait 11 weeks, only to be disappointed? Why did this happen to ME?
And then, as God began healing my heart, my “why” questions turned into “what” questions. What do I do with this, God? What are you teaching me? What is the purpose of this extra time I’ve been given?
I’m still trying to answer some of those questions, but I can already see evidence of how God used our baby Blue’s brief life inside me for many good things.
First starters, we received an overwhelming amount of support and encouragement. I also realized that we were far from alone in going through the grief, and that MANY people know what it’s like to lose a child. I felt like we now have a new layer of compassion for those going through similar circumstances and I hope we encourage others as much as we were encouraged.
Our loss also led me to have a long chat with a wonderful doctor who helped me discover an additional health concern that I never would have known about if Blue had lived. It’s called MTHFR and it had been negatively impacting my body for years without me realizing it. (More on that in a future post.)
Finally, despite it being contrary to what I thought was the perfect plan, I can now see that God had a greater purpose through our loss. I’ve learned so much about myself, about grief, and about how I should spend this extra time I’ve been given. While it would’ve been easier to hold on to the bitterness and just give up, I held onto the hope that something good was waiting, and it was only a matter of time before I discovered what that was.
Little did I know, it would take the form of a food blog – something that I had been too afraid to try in the past and something that I NEVER would have attempted if my original plan had worked out. When I debuted my blog on Leap Day, it was a huge step of faith for me, but the best decision I could have made. Fed and Fulfilled has been the hardest, most rewarding thing I’ve ever created, and I feel like it’s a way for me to honor and celebrate Mark and Blue – the two loves of my life.
Yesterday, we planted a tree dedicated to Blue. Each time April 10th comes, we’ll remember the earthly life that was a part of our family for 11 weeks. And we’ll celebrate the eternal life of the baby who we’ll meet someday and get to hold in heaven.
“MAY THE NAME OF THE LORD BE PRAISED!”
That brings us to today.
In this present season, I feel like we’re in the middle of Job’s story, in between the tragedy and the happy ending. So there are times when I feel like praising God and celebrating life because I know He will bless our faithfulness to Him. But there are also days where I’d prefer to be upset and dwell on how we’ve suffered rather than be joyful and grateful for what we have. Days I’d rather stay in bed and cry rather than create recipes, take photos, or write blog posts.
And then I stop and think about how God was with Mark on the streets of New Orleans and gave us the miracle of his life. And I think about how He was with us through the loss of our child and brought restoration and hope from it. And I think about how He blessed us with three incredible years of marriage. And I can’t help but praise God and be motivated to keep going. I pray that Fed and Fulfilled will not only be an outlet for great recipes, but also a source of encouragement and support to others who need to know they’re not alone in their grief.
I’ll leave you with the words of my favorite author, Shauna Niequist, who is no stranger to tragedy. She’s a role model to me of how to look for joy in life, even when it feels impossible to do so.
In her book, “Bittersweet,” she writes, “When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate, and when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”
For the past few months, life has been a hard, growing season. I don’t know what the future will hold, but I’m praying that God blesses the latter part of our lives even more than the former. And my hope is that someday when we meet our child in heaven, he or she will see that this season of life wasn’t wasted. That it was something good. Something to be thankful for.
Something to celebrate.