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.


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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The prayer that took my website global

This summer, “Me Before You” comes out: A movie about a guy in his prime who breaks his neck and then falls in love in what looks like an unconventional relationship.

Sound familiar? Stephanie standing frame 11-10-13

I read the tag line:

What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

What could that mean?

Unfortunately, I looked.

After realizing his condition, the guy agrees to live six months before undergoing assisted suicide. The girl initially struggles with his choice, but ultimately decides to support his decision to end his life.

Romantic, right?

And this is a movie? Based off of a book in the Top 10 on Amazon?

Am I missing something?

It is frustrating to me when I see stuff like this; as if we are entitled to perfect, happy lives and there’s no point in existing if that’s not the case. Without functioning arms and legs is there really nothing to live for?

My desire is to show there is a reason to keep going, no matter the circumstances. A reason to live. A reason for hope. That no situation is beyond God’s redemptive power.

I want others to experience what I’ve experienced.

How can I play a part in that?

When this website was launched in 2013, it was a nice way to keep family and friends in the loop. Pretty quickly my audience opened up- as did the opportunities that accompanied it. From speaking to a church congregation to appearing on the news, periodically someone would reach out, intrigued enough to bring me to their respective group to share about my experience.

Speaking at a local church was one of many doors that opened in 2014 after initially launching this website
Speaking at a local church was one of many doors that opened in 2014 after initially launching this website

Pretty quickly, people began reaching out and I began to get feedback about how others were finding hope in their own lives through looking at my situation.

I wondered if there was a way to reach more. So at the beginning of 2016, I began to ponder, “Why not ask God if he wants to amplify this chance to display what he is doing in my life?”

Over 2000 years ago a man named Jabez prayed, “God, enlarge my territory.” God listened and granted this request (See 1 Chronicles 4:10). I mimicked this prayer and was blown away by just how quickly it was answered.

...can anyone help translate?
…can anyone help translate?
I have corresponded with people from Canada all the way to Europe and Africa. I recently collaborated with a pastor on the West Coast and was able to address his congregation this past weekend via video (below). My story has been featured in the University of Cincinnati magazine, local news stations, USA Today, and even a Paris newspaper. One by one God has been adding another set of eyes to what he’s doing.

And the funny thing is, I’ve been stuck in my room in bed pretty much all day throughout this time. God can use any situation and is not bound by my capabilities and circumstances. This is yet another prime example of him making much out of what would seem hopeless.

What about you? Could God be taking you through a season that would be helpful for others to learn from?

Maybe the prayer of Jabez is just the prayer for you.

Here’s an example from earlier this month of how God expanded my territory by having the opportunity to address a church on the West Coast from the confines of my bedroom:

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