Against All Odds: The Realities of the Happy Family (Our Readers Tell Their Stories).

 The familiar mandate found in Mark 10:9 is clear. “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate.” But what happens when the “unexpected,” comes to test the image and notion of “happily, ever after?” In the first of our three part series on “The American Family,” Link2us shares the stories of four couples who have put faith, teamwork, patience, and commitment into action—against all odds.

It was so intense that I almost didn’t recognize myself as this person who previously didn’t want kids. Now all I wanted was to have a baby. 

Jazmine O’Neil

As two successful professionals in the law field, Jazmine and Sean were content with their mutual agreement to not have children.

But in the seventh year of their 14-year marriage, the desire to have children changed for one of them.

Jazmine and Sean trace their love story back to the American University in Washington, D.C., where Jazmine was an undergrad student and he was completing a senior semester program at the institution. “We’ve always been committed to each other. We started dating relatively young and maintained a long-distance relationship while he finished his undergrad at Michigan,” said Jazmine. “We’ve always been committed to making our relationship work despite the distance and some of the growing pains that happen as a relationship evolves.”

Early in their courtship, they decided that children didn’t fit into the equation of two people who were pursuing law degrees, loved to travel, and lived very independent lives with no sense of obligation. “There was a bit of selfishness that comes with that decision and I don’t say that in a negative way,” said Jazmine. “If we wanted to sleep in until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, we could do that and I knew that having kids would change the dynamics of our relationship.”

Then something happened that changed Jazmine’s mind.  “Around the time I turned 30, Shaun’s sister had two kids, my sister had twins and it just set the biological clock off for me,” she said. “It was so intense that I almost didn’t recognize myself as this person who previously didn’t want kids. Now all I wanted was to have a baby.” When Jazmine approached Sean about the detour in her previous stance about having children, his response was not what she expected. “I took a lot of time to analyze it and it caused a little tension because my response was muted and I was internalizing the prospect,” said Sean. “I viewed our life one way, and now I would have to picture our life this way and get my mind around it and move forward.”

Jazmine said she realized that if he didn’t see children as part of their future, they both had to figure out what that would mean for their marriage. They soon sought couples therapy to help them sort through this difficult topic in their relationship. 

As an analytical person, Sean says he began to think about the mechanics of how having children would work, including the financial aspects and the fact that they did not have family who lived close by to help out. He says during his time of reflections he realized that not having kids was nothing worth losing the relationship over. And Jazmine worked to consider Sean’s perspective and understand his concerns, which she says deepened their relationship because it signified how committed they are to each other. “During this, I learned how deep my love is for her that I was willing to do something that I didn’t think I wanted to do or was willing to do before,” said Sean.

During the 10th year of their marriage, Jazmine gave birth to their first child, a son. They are also parents to a daughter. “We figured out what was really important to us and I really commend Sean and give him all of the credit in the world that he was committed to us having a baby and if it was important to me, it was important to him as well,” Jazmine said.

She describes seeing Sean as a dad as “one of the most beautiful things” she’s witnessed in her life. “He’s hands-on and thoroughly involved,” said Jazmine. “I couldn’t have such a demanding job without such a supportive husband. He loves taking care of our kids and he has embraced that.”

Despite the significant adjustments that they’ve both had to make to become parents, Sean says whenever he makes a decision, he’s all in. “I love my kids,” he said. “Once you have your kids, you can’t imagine your life without them. It’s a choice that everyone has to make and we were just very thoughtful about that choice.” 

Both attribute their strong relationship to patience and having “kid-free” time, whether it’s a quick trip to Atlanta to watch a football game or more casual outings such as dinner and a movie. “We have love for each other and remember that is the root of everything that we’re doing,” said Sean. “We know that everything that we do comes from a place of love and trying to be the best family person that we can be.” 

She was independent and such a force, that when she was down, it felt like the Lord was holding us up.

Mark Klapp

Together for 10 years, Mark and Alanna credit devotion and leaning on God’s love for getting them through stressful times during Alanna’s debilitating battle with migraines.  

As an avid gardener, Mark showers his wife Alanna with flowers, except on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, when most women expect them. Alanna loves how they both call each other funny names and communicate throughout the day via emails and texts. “What makes our marriage work is the Lord and communication,” said Mark.  “We are conscious of ourselves and responsive to each other. It’s a real Biblical principle.”

But a Biblical perspective can be tested especially when a health challenge surfaces. “I was diagnosed with migraines and was placed on a treatment plan,” said Alanna. “Two weeks into the plan, I found out I was pregnant and the doctors had to rearrange everything regarding my plan.” Bed-ridden and sick during her first trimester, Alanna experienced pain, couldn’t eat and was depressed.  During that time, her father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away amid her sickness. “I couldn’t do anything, even housework. Mark had to step in and do everything,” she said.

Mark recalls that period time as difficult as he took care of Alanna, the house, and became the sole breadwinner. Unable to work, Alanna spent most days in a dark room looking for relief from the headaches. Thankfully, four months into her pregnancy, her condition began to improve.  It wasn’t until she became pregnant with her second son that she realized that it wasn’t her pregnancy that triggered her condition. As they both reflect on the experience, Mark and Alanna experienced a first-hand account of how much they needed each other and how much they loved one another.

Alanna credits God’s love, Mark’s devotion and the birth of her son Gabriel, as saving forces during this difficult time. “I learned that God loves me when I’m a mess and that God was there with me. I know Mark would always be there for me and I will always be there for him. I knew I had to get better for both he and our son, Gabriel,” she said.

“We’ve been together for 10 years and know each other pretty well,” said Mark. “She needed me to step up and I had to be there for her. She was independent and such a force, that when she was down, it felt like the Lord was holding us up.” 

We were standing outside near the garage of our home, weeping and wailing, not wanting the kids to see us falling apart,” said Venus. “Quentin looked at me and told me that he didn’t think that he could do this.

Venus Bolton

Happily married for 20 years, Venus and Quentin attribute teamwork and connection as qualities that helped then endure one of their darkest moments: their daughter’s illness.

Venus and Quentin would describe their marriage and parenting four children as a testament of love, teamwork, unwavering faith, and compassion towards others as well as to each other.

After meeting at work and starting a friendship, Venus intended to play the role of matchmaker for Quentin with a family member and one of her girlfriends. But she came to a life-changing revelation. “I realized that I loved everything about him,” said Venus. “And either I was going to marry him or someone like him.” As time passed and they went their separate ways, circumstances would have it that would end up working at the same place again. It was destiny.  “One Fourth of July we decided to see fireworks together. I showed her my new townhouse and we spent hours there just talking and chatting,” said Quentin. “I don’t remember us not being together as a couple after that.”

Venus and Quentin consider teamwork as one of the biggest attributes of their relationship. Even when they encounter challenges and are on different pages, they credit God for allowing each one to fill in the gap in spaces where the other spouse may be struggling. Although they wouldn’t consider themselves as polar opposites, they both give each other space to be individuals and support each other.

Their teamwork approach to their partnership couldn’t have been more apparent than when their daughter, Mireya, which means “Miracle” in Spanish was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness about six years ago. “She was on the verge of dying and that was a devastating blow to us,” said Venus. She was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a bone marrow issue where the body was not producing red and white blood cells. Although it was not cancer, it presents itself as the disease.

After the diagnosis, reports from the doctors, and Internet searches, Venus and Quentin saw information that was contrary to the outcome that they were hoping for. “We were standing outside near the garage of our home, weeping and wailing, not wanting the kids to see us falling apart,” said Venus.  “Quentin looked at me and told me that he didn’t think that he could do this. Then God showed me that we were going through a challenge and I prayed that God would give us the capacity to operate in spaces for each other where we thought we couldn’t.”

Mireya was not responding to the medications but fortunately, their son was a perfect match for the bone marrow transplant she needed to save her life. After the first trans

plant from her brother Jalen who was six at the time, they thought the procedure was successful, unfortunately, Mireya relapsed and the procedure had to be repeated. “I wish our son didn’t have to go through all that he had to go through,” said Venus. “That will always be the most difficult part for me because he was so willing the first time, but the second time, he was very vocal about it that he didn’t want to do it but he knew he was doing it to save his sister’s life. If I had had a magic wand, I would have spared him from that.”

Their daughter is now healthy and living a full life but as being a couple who is also connected to a community of people who have children with cancer, they recognize the story did not end the same for many of those children and their parents. That’s one of the reasons Venus and Quentin have been inspired to pay it forward by being available to talk to families who have had similar experiences and advocating for bone marrow donorship. They both are signed up for a bone marrow match registry and Venus was recently contacted that she had been identified as a match for a woman who has leukemia. “I was like ‘Whoa, ok God,” said Venus. “I’m going to go through it and move forward with the process because I know what it’s like on the other side – to have someone’s life hanging in the balance and their only hope is that there is a bone marrow match.”

They both agree that accepting help from family and friends, and remaining connected even through life’s hardest challenges is crucial. “I could understand how the stress could break up a couple after going through an ordeal like this,” said Quentin. “I learned that despite these stresses, we had to focus on being a couple. That realization was important to both of us. We’ve learned to appreciate each other because we are each other’s teammate. As a couple, we’re pretty darn resilient.” 

You have to learn how to withstand the stretching that marriage brings,” said Nerine. “And eventually, you will come back to being centered as a family.

After 17 years of marriage to her life husband Emitt, Nerine fondly recalls the memories of her husband who passed away 6 years ago. She remembers him as prayerful and spiritual and quickly easily acknowledges what made their marriage successful. “We were committed to each other from the beginning regardless of what went on.” She said.

When Nerine first met Emitt after being introduced to him by a friend at church, she had initial reservations about entering into a relationship with him because she felt he was too spiritual for her. But she soon realized that his strong convictions and integrity were his greatest strengths. “Emitt was someone who was very truthful,” she said. “He kept his word and stood on his word without wavering.”

Being a widow and a mom of three boys who were ages 1, 13, and 16 when Emitt passed away, was not part of Nerine’s plan. But she continues to be surrounded by her husband’s peace and their connection, which she has passed along to her children. “When my husband was passing, our children and I drew near and we discussed what we would do next. I told them that I was not daddy and I would never be daddy,” said Nerine. “We are a unit and come together as a family. We are all supportive of each other and still have a mission as a family of serving the Lord.”

Nerine recounts the many good times, like their love for music as musicians and singing together, and reflects on the difficult moments in their marriage when their faith gave them strength individually and as a couple. Nerine and Emitt’s first child was stillborn. “This was traumatic because this was our first child and my mom was in the hospital at the time suffering from a brain tumor,” Nerine said. “But when the baby died, we couldn’t believe something like that could happen to us.” The traumatic event inspired them to open up their home for a weekly Bible Study and during that time, Nerine sorted through the fact that men and women grieve differently. “I carried the baby for nine months and Emitt got a chance to feel the baby move,” she said. “But he could not internalize what was happening inside of me. It was a loss for him, but it wasn’t as deep a loss as I had because I carried it.  Having family members and friends come to us and pray for us helped push us forward.”

Although marriage is not easy, Nerine says in times like those, couples should give each other grace and focus on the fact that marriage is an institution where God shows his glory. “You have to learn how to withstand the stretching that marriage brings,” she said. “And eventually, you will come back to being centered as a family.”

In addition to Emitt leaving her the gift of three boys, two who are attending college and one who is school-aged, Nerine says he also left behind being prayerful as a part of his legacy. She fondly recalls how Emitt would consistently pray downstairs by himself. She believes his prayers have carried and continue to carry her and her family.

Nerine, who is currently in school, says that her life as a widow and single mother has its ups and downs but she’s learned how to be resilient and lean on her faith. “I keep God at the forefront,” she says. “He’s my partner and continues to be at my side working things out for me.”

Jennie Blizzard

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