Michael had the bad habit of leaving his food containers in his bag or at work. It drove Vanessa crazy.
“I would find dirty containers around the apartment or in Michael’s bag at different stages of mould growth,” said Vanessa. “I would totally flip. I would get so upset. Michael didn’t understand why I was getting so angry about these containers, but for me, I asked myself questions like ‘Doesn’t he love us?’ or ‘Doesn’t he respect our stuff?’ ”
The “dirty containers” became a recurring argument for the couple. Vanessa wanted to talk about it, and maybe even scream and cry. But Michael found this overwhelming and hurtful, so he would disappear into another room for silence.
Michael and Vanessa share this story all the time. Two or three times a year, they volunteer their time as facilitators for Engaged Encounter marriage preparation retreat weekends. They use this story to introduce the topic of conflict resolution to engaged couples.
“It came to a point, through lots of dialogue and understanding where each person is coming from, where I can say on a scale of one to 10, how important are dollar store containers? And I can say not that important,” said Vanessa.
“But the point of the story is that we were able to face that conflict ... and we were able to respond to each other’s emotions.”
“And respond in love,” said Michael.
Eight years later, there are still dirty containers around the house, but now the couple can laugh about it.
“For us our own Engaged Encounter experience was a really powerful one that really set up a series of dialogues that we are still continuing,” said Michael. “It was a really positive experience for us so we really wanted to do that for other couples.”
Sharing their story in the new book, Portraits of Faith, became a natural next step for the couple. In their essay, the couple wrote about how they saw their marriage as a vocational call, and how they are facing new challenges as parents.
“I think Vanessa and I are very open about our lives,” said Michael. “Our kids are a big part of our marriage and a big part of our family, but they’re also their own independent lives, so I think we, sometimes, wanted to protect them a little bit ... and hopefully, in time, they can share their own story.”
The couple’s two boys, Liam and Nate, have both faced delayed gross motor skills development.
Their first child, Liam, did not walk independently until he was two years old. At 18 months, Nate was yet to crawl or walk. Both boys have worked with physiotherapists and occupational therapists to help them develop their strength and mobility.
“It’s hard to watch your child seemingly fall behind at such an early age,” said Vanessa. “All kids develop at their own pace, but as a parent, you worry that you’ve done something wrong or failed your child.”
They spent every minute after work working with the boys, sessions that sometimes ended with the boys crying in frustration.
“Our children have helped us connect with the aspect of love that is a gift,” said Vanessa. “In the moments we feel exhausted and defeated and as if we can give no more, we are inspired by Christ who gave everything, even unto death, for us, and we are inspired to keep trying.”
Liam is now four-and-a-half years old and is loving junior kindergarten. He can run, jump and play with his friends. He still makes his teachers nervous whenever he stumbles and falls, but Vanessa said it doesn’t seem to slow Liam down.
Nate is now two years old. He loves to laugh and dance. Although he has delayed speech and gross motor movements, he is learning to communicate by sign language.
“One of his favourite signs currently is ‘no,’ so he seems to be keeping up with other toddlers in the self-assertion department,” said Vanessa.