Should I “die with dignity” now or is there a better option?

I recently joined the ranks of teenage girls across America with my entertainment choice. The film on the screen? Me Before You.

This movie drew the intrigue of both Stephanie and I after numerous people compared our story to that of the film. As it turns out, there are quite a few parallels.

A guy has a vehicle accident resulting in paralysis below the shoulders. A girl arrives on the scene in a professional manner. A friendship develops. They fall in love.

In addition to the plot itself mirroring our own story, we were captivated by the fact that a movie was portraying both logistics and dynamics of our relationship that are not often represented anywhere outside of our own four walls.

We laughed knowingly when the girl spills soup into the guy’s lap while feeding him. The scene where she lathers his face with shaving cream and cautiously shaves his beard is a daily occurrence in our house. We could relate all too well to the part where his wheelchair got stuck in the mud.

However, the love story quickly takes a turn when the man ultimately decides he does not wish to continue living life in a wheelchair and elects to go through with assisted suicide.

After the initial shock of his decision wears off, the girl resolves to support him and even spends his final moments with him as he slips peacefully away. The movie ends with the girl in Paris, looking satisfied as she sips a cappuccino and smiles contentedly.

The insinuation is clear. In regards to the film, author John Stonestreet accurately stated, “Not only is death portrayed as better than living with a disability, but the ultimate act of love, for a person who lives with a disability, is death.”

What type of message is this supposed to send to me, others in my position, or to someone else dealing with a rough patch or dire prognosis? Give up? If life isn’t easy, it isn’t worth living?

Ironically, the marketing for this movie featured the hashtag #LiveBoldy. #DieQuicklyIfLifeGetsHard may have been more appropriate. It also sparked up much controversial conversation about what is considered “Dying with Dignity.”

If this is the dignified thing to do, is choosing to live gratefully in the face of hardship considered the opposite of dignity? Is taking life in stride, no matter what obstacles you come up against, considered disgraceful?

What if instead of looking for a way out, we allowed trials to teach us we are not in control and began to understand that there is a far greater purpose beyond our small little worlds?

We desire to avoid suffering at all costs, as if it has no use for us. The crazy thing is, this is exactly the opposite of what the Bible tells us. God tells us again and again that He will use our suffering for good, and in fact we are to take joy in it (James 1:2).

Amid pain, there remains a promise for those that don’t just throw in the towel. God promises great reward. According to James 1:12, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

Our momentary happiness and comfort is not the point of life. God is more concerned about who we are at the end of our lives. Even if it is uncomfortable, God wants to make us mature and complete.

Are there days when I wonder what the point is and just want to throw my hands up and yell to God that I can’t take this anymore? When I wonder if he’s there or if he’s even listening? Absolutely.

But maybe that’s exactly what I need. To get to the point where I am out of options and can only look to God. Looking ahead to the unknown of a future completely out of my control may be daunting, but the rearview mirror shows time and time again how the hardest times built character, endurance and hope unlike anything else could have.

So while the media may portray suicide as merciful, dignified, and even romantic, I will continue to believe that there is always hope.

Since ending up in this position seven years ago, I’ve gained a new perspective and realized my need for Jesus. I’ve graduated college, interacted with some amazing people, met and married my beautiful wife, and we both believe the best is yet to come.

There is hope in the now, but more importantly, there is a sure hope in the future, which makes the time here on earth that much more critical to use wisely.

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Why did we bother getting married?

Twenty years after eyeing the cute girl with the big glasses on the playground, I had the opportunity to officially commit the rest of my life to Stephanie last month in front of our friends and family.

Watching my bride walk down the aisle toward me was the most surreal experience of my life. My heart pounded, my eyes glistened, and it was almost as if time stood still as I eagerly awaited her accompanying me at the front of the church.

We exchanged our written vows, added some extra bling to our fingers, and were officially introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Ryan Atkins for the first time.

The day itself was a lot of fun, but aside from enjoying an awesome party, what’s the point of getting married in the first place?

People change, trials inevitably arise, and that “in love” feeling has no guarantee of sticking around. So why bother committing for life?

Upon getting engaged last year we began reading the book You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan. The book focuses on the fact that marriage is indeed a temporary institution (“until death do us part”) and therefore leveraging it as a tool for God’s mission rather than for our own happiness.

This resonated with Stephanie and I, and we immediately began game-planning what marriage would look like for us. Where was God calling us? How would he choose to use us? We wanted to align ourselves as a team, ready to take on whatever may lie ahead.

In the 1930s, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a staunch opponent of the Nazi takeover of the German church and insisted upon protection of the Jews. He was ultimately hanged in a concentration camp for his involvement in the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler.

Bonhoeffer is a prime example of a man who knew his life on this earth was meant to serve a greater purpose, and we get a glimpse into how this played out in what he believed marriage should look like. In a letter he wrote to his fiancée from prison, he stated:

“Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.”

As Stephanie and I embark on marriage together, we want to remember that our time on this earth is limited, and we want our marriage to reflect that by making the most of each day as a team, rather than getting so inwardly focused on our own comfort and pleasure.

That being said, marriage is amazing and we are already beginning to get deep glimpses into other aspects of the beauty of God’s creation of such a union:

Having a teammate to navigate life’s celebrations and storms

Looking Stephanie in the eye, committing my life to her, and enjoying the ensuing celebration was the perfect kick start to spending the rest of our lives together. However, after the excitement of the day itself is over, the challenges of life inevitably remain. While each “high” is even more enjoyable with my wife by my side, each “low” is made more bearable by having each other and by allowing for a deepened dependence on one another and on God.

Growing together as we acknowledge that our ideal scenarios may not always be in store

Sure, it’d be nice to have just returned from a carefree honeymoon to the beach and to not be reliant on a team of others to help us manage my physical body and the logistics of each day. Sleeping a full night without being awakened by muscle spasms and being pain-free would in fact be my choice if given.

However, while we live on this side of heaven we are not always going to understand what God is up to, but can continue to grow in perseverance and trust. We also continue to believe that better days are ahead, while intentionally seeking out what God may be trying to teach us in the meantime.

Getting a glimpse of God’s unconditional love

Our marriage is not only a contract, but a covenant before God that we will stick together no matter what life throws at us. I can be 100% vulnerable with Stephanie, knowing that even in all my insecurities, shortcomings, and flaws, she will choose to love me regardless and isn’t going anywhere. We believe that God has created this aspect of marriage to reflect his unfailing love for us.

Stephanie and I are learning that the less we focus on ourselves and our circumstances and the more we focus on the greater picture of what God has called us to as a team, the more we experience the benefits and beauty of marriage.

I want us to live out the last line of the vows that I spoke to Stephanie on our wedding day: “Let’s make the rest of our days count.”

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5 things I’ve learned since she said yes

Last year at this time, I asked Stephanie to marry me. After a day filled with a scavenger hunt (Check out the video below), great food, and memories that will always be with us, we started planning excitedly for the next step and what our future may hold.

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What we didn’t plan for? The trying year that awaited us.

Little did we know being engaged was not about to be a blissful, carefree experience. In fact, it would end up far from that.

One year later, we have the battle scars to prove it.

The elation of talking about the prospects of a future wedding and life together was abruptly interrupted when I was hit with a season of sickness, sleep deprivation, and physical discomfort that left me confined to bed for nearly the entire past year.

I didn’t realize how out of it I was until a friend checked in with me; genuinely concerned about my well-being. Suddenly feeling as if I was missing something, I checked in with Stephanie.

“You have seemed like a shell,” she said. She had been missing me and feeling lonely, regardless of the fact that we spent hours together each day.

I would slur my words and zone out mid-conversation. Once I even recall jerking awake in the middle of dinner while chewing my food. (I did not even think this was possible.)

However, in the midst of all of that, Stephanie and I have tried to remain intentional about focusing on the fact that the year was packed with growth that will serve us well in marriage.

Here are 5 things we’ve learned as a team:

God is never in a hurry

The past year has been defined by waiting. Waiting for marriage. Waiting for storms to pass. Waiting for the fulfillment of promises from God we still believe are on the way. God is in no rush. While our patience has unquestionably been tested, we can be sure it will be used for good: Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31).

Marriage is not going to be perfect

I’m sure any married couple would’ve been happy to point this out, but having grasped that reality up front may save us some shock later. While our unconventional relationship makes Stephanie and I no stranger to trials, the past year has served in further developing our ability to weather storms as a couple- an invaluable lesson going forward in marriage.

Perseverance is a powerful part of the process

James 1:4 implores us to “Let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” It’s never pleasant at the time, but being forced on life’s molding block is something we can be sure develops traits that enhance our resiliency, strength, and ultimately, where we find our hope.

Rocky times result in relationships rich in reliance

Zipping through the past year unscathed may have been more pleasant, but circumstances forced us to lean on God like never before. Being reminded of our desperate need for him is always worth the temporary pain.

Hope always remains

We are constantly reminded that we are part of a bigger story and trust that God has a better purpose for this time period than our own personal comfort and convenience.

That being said, we continue to live by faith, believing that greater things are in store and we excitedly await what lies ahead.



Combining scavenger hunt materials from the day I proposed, Stephanie put together this video:

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