Ben and Michelle – Our 13th Anniversary


Dec 14, 2015

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I am supposed to be writing about my anniversary weekend today (which was at the end of October), and I can’t ignore the people and the thoughts and prayers in my heart this past year. So this won’t be exactly what one might expect…

On more than one occasion, I have heard my sweet friend Becca tell young women that when you contemplate marrying someone, it isn’t just about how “in love” you are with them, but you have to ask yourself “Is this someone who I can go through the struggles of life with?” Saturday, myself and hundreds more (some who watched by live stream in Scotland) celebrated her husband’s life at his memorial service. At age 37, Jeff met Jesus face to face less than a week ago after fighting an aggressive cancer. He lived a life so extraordinary and left a legacy so powerful that it is reverberating around the world. He was a Younglife director in Culpeper, Virginia for 13 years and brought the love of Christ to entire communities with his family in Scotland for a year following this, even after his diagnosis. As his friend, Dave, said of him, “He was an amazing guy—seemingly fearless, full of energy, driven to share the mighty love of Jesus with young people.” There are very few “Jeffs” in this world and very few families like his…and the humble man I knew is now with Jesus hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant, my friend.”

So here I am with images from my recent anniversary, and I don’t know what to say. I am supposed to be writing about my anniversary celebration with my husband and I am struggling to find the words. But marriage is important and I want to write about it so as I write a bit about my own, I am also writing about my friends, their loss and their triumph. But Lord willing, this is one way I can encourage those getting married. Marriage is about choosing to love when things are easy and when things are hard. The person you marry and their family become your family. As a wife, It is not my responsibility to make my husband happy nor is it for him to make me happy. A person cannot ultimately fill that God-sized hole we each have. However, if we choose to abide in God and let His real love and joy flow out of us, joy and giving joy to another is the natural outcome. And that means forgiving, choosing to love, and often longsuffering.

My husband, Ben and I enjoyed our first few years of marriage with few external problems. And then we lost Ben’s dad to the same cancer that Jeff faced. And we committed to living in the house we had built next to his parents as long as God would have us here. Ben’s mom has become a second mom to me. And then more trials of life came including job changes, a physically painful time, a surgery, a five year infertility battle, a long adoption waiting time that resulted in nothing, then our miracle baby boy after one of the most difficult pregnancies, and a life with the joyful two year old we have been blessed with. And that’s just to name a few of our marriage milestones. We have never faced the loss of each other or a child as so many of my friends have.

My sweet friend Becca used to tell me that Ben and I “did marriage so well” before children and that married life with a child is different. She faithfully reminded me to pray over my marriage and treasure my husband even moreso after having Judah. Those of you with kiddos know…she was right…marriage IS DIFFERENT with a child. And in most ways better and some ways more difficult, but I am convinced that I am married to an incredible man, the father of my baby boy. He is forgiving, tender-hearted, and he will do ANYTHING for us. That includes changing IV bags in the middle of the night while I was helpless during a large part of the pregnancy, syringe feeding Judah throughout the night with me before his tongue and lip ties were corrected, and fixing his mom’s car on his day off. That, my friends, is true love…yes, our travels, our date nights, our ministry time together, our incredible times with friends but also the tough parts, the hard roads, the painful times. And thankfully we have had friends with marriages and families like Becca and Jeff to look to and to longsuffer with.

I am not saying this to upset anyone newly engaged…but here is the reality and the beauty of what marriage should be…circumstances do not have to dictate your love. Fourteen years ago, my husband chose Jesus over what he thought he wanted in life and in turn, I was blessed with a man who is not perfect, but who I am convinced is a better husband than I am a wife! His integrity and humility is something I pray our son will also see and value as he points him to Jesus.

Becca, Jeff and their three boys willingly chose to give up anything in life they could possibly gain in order to live a life of loving others more than themselves, sharing Christ with and genuinely loving teens no matter who they were. And I can tell you that if our boy is anything like any one of their three boys, I will be overjoyed.

Becca helped pray our boy Judah into this world with me. She has always been my mommy hero in life by the joyful way she loves and parents her three boys, how she loves her husband and how she listens and cares for the broken and the hurting. Both she and Jeff’s devotion to the God of the universe, both here and in Scotland, was straight from the heart of God. I am not easily star-struck, but when I am it is usually by friends like these…ones who know what really matters in this life. Becca told me through tears when she was pregnant with her third son because she didn’t want to hurt me as we went through infertility and failed adoption waiting. All I could do was laugh because I was so happy for her and so touched that in her happiness she still thought of others’ pain. That is my friend, Becca. That is the kind of woman, wife and mother I want to be.

So with these words, I want to share these images from our anniversary getaway. Ben and I spent a night at Walden Hall in the cozy Longfellow room with a warm fireplace at the end of Autumn, because that’s us…not flashy, but definitely cozy. Ben said before he came out to meet me that he saw it said “Walden Hall” when he put in the address. He couldn’t resist looking it up online and looked at all the rooms and hoped that I had picked the Longfellow. After thirteen years, I knew which room he would want and I love that about us. My friend Emily, took some photos of me (I can barely get through a photo without a goofy look or fishy lips so that is nothing short of a miracle) and some of Ben and I together. I surprised Ben with some trinkets from our wedding and some of the same flowers and greenery from our wedding day. One of my brides from 2015, Stephanie made this amazing gluten free cake and of course we had to enjoy our favorite dinners form Thai Culpeper. The next day, my parents (who just celebrated their 45th anniversary!) came out with Judah…and between myself and my father we photographed some more of my sweet little family.

I believe in the power of photographs, but only because I believe in God. Any good gift any of us have is from Him. I pray that any gifts He gives me I steward as He wills. And I love these images already because they represent my family, gifts, real gifts from God. When I photograph a wedding or a family or a baby, I so desperately want to give my couples photos that they will cherish and pull out and go to in the good and bad times.

My prayer is that my marriage grows stronger every day, that we find the joy in every moment, that we will treasure every single second with our son and every day give our lives over to God more and more until I agree with the apostle Paul to the same degree that absolutely nothing compares to what we have in Christ. I pray that we can bring His love to the hurting of this world right here where we live. I pray that I am willing to give of my time and my prayers to live a life well lived, not of my own strength but of God’s. I pray that I can be a doormat for others to stand on and knock on that door because God is ready to fling it wide open. And that means I have a lot more dying to self to do…a LOT more.

And I am married to a man who will help me in this, who partners with me by choice and who loves and forgives and helps with a sacrificial love, not expecting anything in return. Lord, make me more like that.

I pray that this coming year I can serve my couples by capturing THEIR love story, THEIR journey, no matter where they are in life. As I recently discussed with an incredible photographer and former student…WHO is my ideal couple…my ideal bride? We both had the same answer…we know who…the ones who are meant to be together…the ones who not only have chemistry but also are ready to go through the struggles of life TOGETHER. I am blessed to serve these couples….all so individual and unique from all walks of life. I am blessed. Treasure every moment. Every second my husband and I look at our son, we treasure it, we hold it firmly in our hearts, not knowing what the future holds but making the most of each minute we have with him.

If you entertained my self-indulgence and read to the end, thank you for your time and I if you want to read more about Becca and Jeff’s journey this past year, go here:

Venue: Walden Hall, Reva, Virginia

Cake: Stephanie Serrino

Rings: Blue Nile, Pandora, Mossy Creek Studio

Photography: Lieb Photographic, Emily Marie Photography, and Tedd Benedict


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