Contemporary Christian music artist Laura Story and her husband, Martin, offer hope and encouragement as they discuss how God has strengthened their faith and relationship after Martin was diagnosed with a brain tumor early in their marriage. (Part 1 of 2)
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Mrs. Laura Story Elvington: You truly learn to find your hope in the person of Jesus. A lot of times we look for hope in Jesus changing our circumstances. And sometimes He does that, but other times He says, "No, I just want you to trust in Me."
End of Teaser
John Fuller: That's Laura Elvington and you might know her better through her Christian music name, Laura Story. She and her husband, Martin are with us today on "Focus on the Family" and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, it is so true that so many marriages go through various trials and difficulties. Marriage is also very good and we want to make sure that point gets across. That's what we're talkin' about each and every day, but we do hit bumps in the road, sometimes big bumps in that regard.
Those trials can be overwhelming, but God is always with us through those storms. That's what's important. That's what you're gonna hear today in a beautiful story. And within just the first few years of their marriage, Martin and Laura dealt with some life-altering circumstances and I think they will teach all of us today about how to embrace God, even when things aren't perfect. And Laura's written this book, When God Doesn't Fix It. And that title should cause you to lean in.
John: Yeah, I think all of us have to deal with expectations and that title really is appropriate for the conversation we're about to have. The Elvington's live in Atlanta, Georgia. They have three young children.
Jim: Okay, we've gotta post this picture (Laughter), 'cause it's one of the cutest family pictures I've seen.
John: It's a great shot.
Jim: So, that's goin' on the website.
John: And a couple of these are twins; is that right?
Laura: Yes, twin boys--
Jim: Two boys.
John: Oh, man.
Laura: --and a 4-year-old girl. (Laughter)
John: Well, Martin is a baseball coach. Laura is the senior worship leader at Perimeter Church and you might recognize some of the songs that she's known for, because so many churches around the world sing some of these, including "Mighty to Save" and "Indescribable" and "Blessings."
Jim: Yeah. Hey, welcome to both of you to "Focus on the Family."
Laura: Hey, thanks so much for havin' us.
Martin Elvington: Thanks for havin' us.
Jim: You know, those songs are you writin' those for me?
Jim: I love those songs. How'd you know I would love those?
Laura: Yes, exactly. (Laughter) I wrote them personally for you.
John: She's got your picture on the bulletin board. (Laughter)
Jim: How in the world? I mean, you're obviously a creative person. I mean, how do you hit that pitch, that right [touch] where millions of people are gonna resonate with a song? How do you know it?
Laura: Yeah and that's a great question. I think that's the prayer always when you write, you know. It's not just to … to write a pretty song, but you know, as a believer or even as a worship leader, my goal is something that can be very relatable to for believers and even used in the context of worship in churches.
Jim: I mean, it's an amazing skill-set—
Laura: Thank you.
Jim: --and to really touch the heart of God. I mean, some of your songs bring you to tears, bring me to tears when I'm listening. It's just really an amazing gift that you do have.
Laura: Hopefully not my singing (Laughter) bring[s] you to tears.
Jim: Not at all.
Laura: Okay, good.
Jim: Okay, Martin, now you're the baseball guy. You and I connected there. I played a little bit of baseball. Football was my sport though, but you were a catcher.
Martin: Yeah, that's right.
Jim: And you played some college baseball, as well, right?
Martin: Very small amount in college. (Laughter) Actually, [I] got injured the summer after my freshman year. I was playing with an organization called Athletes in Action.
Martin: I was in Nicaragua playing baseball [with] this team and ministry. And I fractured my catching[wrist]. I was a catcher and I fractured my catching wrist.
Martin: And it ended my career. And I had the opportunity to actually cut the trip short and go on home. My coach at the time said, "You know, you could do that and you could actually," we were on the trip for a few weeks at this point in time. And he said, "You could save your money and come back next year." He said, "Or you could continue to go on with us."
And I'll never forget this. He said, "I think the trip could change your life." And it did. That was the summer of my freshman year and that's when I became a Christian.
Jim: Oh, that's amazing. And now Laura, your sweetheart here, she was kinda scopin' out Fellowship of Christian Athletes, right? (Laughter) I mean, that was where you were at least looking at where a potential husband could come from.
Laura: So I was in high school and you know, Martin played baseball. I played bass, string bass, which is, you know, his athlete friends affectionately called the "Dorcas dress." That's what they (Laughter) tend to label me as.
But I had heard about Fellowship of Christian Athletes and had some friends that went and went to one of their cookouts and that's where Martin and I met and so often I joke that I really wanted to fellowship with the good-looking Christian athletes (Laughter)
Jim: Okay, well, that's fair. (Laughter)
Laura: And t ended up really working out for me then. (Laughter)
Jim: So you met and what happened? How long before you said, "Man, this could be it?"
Martin: Well, we began dating in high school. We had kinda hung out. Actually she sat at a table in the cafeteria adjacent to mine and we kinda continued our conversation over the next few weeks. And we got to know each other in that context. Eventually I asked her out on a date and we started dating. She was a year older than me, but we dated in high school. She graduated and went off to college and met some real Christian men and at that point in time, she realized that there was somethin' different about these guys than this boyfriend of hers still back in high school. They had somethin' that he did not and that was Jesus.
And so, that was me. And so, I did not have Christ. I thought I was a Christian and I'd grown up in a family that had gone to church our whole lives, but I personally did not have that relationship with Christ, even though I'd gone to church my whole life. I had the kind of the outward trappings of a Christian and the outward behavior even perhaps, but didn't know Jesus personally.
Jim: Boy, that is something, Martin, because I think a lot of young men and women that grow up in Christian homes, they're not sure, 'cause they didn't come perhaps from a dramatic salvation. There wasn't that big moment that they could point to. You ended up splitting up, right?
Jim: And you took off. Now this was really funny in your book, When God Doesn't Fix It, you have this breakup and then you go to Outer Mongolia? (Laughter) I mean, that's a little dramatic.
Laura: Well, so my freshman year of college, I [did] lots of soul-searching, you know, all of that and broke up with the boyfriend and really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And some friends of mine, we all went to this campus meeting put on by a local church and heard, I would say I heard the gospel again, kind of in a new and fresh way.
And just a really impactful evening and at the end of the night (Laughing), the college minister passed around this clipboard to sign up for this mission trip and all of us were like, That is it. We're givin' our lives to Jesus. We're goin', you know, wherever He wants us to go.
Not one of them followed through on this (Laughter). They all ended up like spending the summer at the beach and I had somehow gotten locked into spending my summer in Mongolia, on this month-long mission trip. But it was the same thing that Martin was saying about the trip he went on. It was truly life-changing.
We would ride around in these Jeeps and using a generator, we would project "The Jesus Film," you know, a reel-to-reel kind of situation (Laughing)--
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Laura: --on the sides of their tents. I mean, it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. It's really even hard to describe it now. But as I watched these Mongolian nomads watching this story of Jesus, really hearing the gospel for the first time and just the tears rolling down their faces and then saying, "Now why would Jesus die for someone like me?"
Laura: It reminded me of the fact that, that was a question I needed to grapple with, as well.
Jim: Well, this is really good. So, both of you are kind of on the same faith journey.
Laura: Isn't that neat?
Jim: Yeah, which is wonderful, because you were gonna need that encouragement.
Jim: So, you get married and you're both committed to the Lord in a profound way, in a fresh way, in a real commitment kind of way. And I'm sure your dreams and aspirations at that point are like every young couple. So, how old were you and what were you thinking after the honeymoon? What were your plans? What were your big dreams?
Martin: Well, yeah, we often said we went from the honeymoon to the E.R. (Laughing) quite quick. We really thought the world is available to us. We could do anything we wanted to do and I was just excited about what God has in store for us. I was doing college ministry at the time. And then she was offered a[n] opportunity to lead Music at Perimeter Church--
Jim: That's in Atlanta. Yeah.
Martin: -- in Atlanta, Georgia where we are now. And I was wrestling with kinda what God was calling me to. I also had a background in graphic design and was tryin' to figure out what if God called me into the marketplace for that? And should I get more education there? And so, I was lookin' actually to go back to school and to get more training in that area.
So, we took the leap there and went to Atlanta. I began grad school and she began working for Perimeter Church. Within just a few months of bein' there in school, I began having some symptoms that went undiagnosed for about a year, I guess.
Martin: I was kinda fallin' asleep in class. My symptoms were very vague. I was a little bit forgetful and I'd kind of fall asleep.
Martin: Yeah, just kind of randomly.
Jim: And Laura, you were noticing these things, but didn't know [what was wrong]?
Laura: I was. At first I think both of us thought we were kind of losing our minds, because it was just small changes and I remember, you know, sharing with some friends [saying], "Have you seen a counselor?" Or maybe you need to get more sleep. And he was in grad school and really studyin' hard and so, for a while, we just thought it was nothing.
And so, when we finally got the diagnosis about a year after all of it started, there was a sense of relief in finally having an answer, but hearing the words "brain tumor" was a lot heavier and weightier answer than what we expected.
Jim: So, you're about a year, year and a half into your marriage and you, you know, find out that Martin has a brain tumor. What happens next?
Laura: Well, one of the things [was], we met with a neurosurgeon and so, we had gone from just, you know, picking out our china (Chuckling) as newlyweds, to sitting with this neurosurgeon and hearing about the surgery Martin needed.
And the surgeon was very honest with us saying, you know, there are risks for these surgeries and it's possible that Martin might even wake up from the surgery and not remember anything about his life before, you know, whether it's not remembering parents, not remember who I am, not remember any of it.
And so, I'll never forget getting this, even that first time after that initial surgery and as soon as our eyes met, he said, "You're Laura Story." (Laughing) And I thought, oh, good; he remembers me. And then I could tell he was a little confused and he said, "What are you doing here?" (Laughing) And that was my first kind of indication.
Jim: So, you kind of got both barrels and maybe what's happening.
Laura: Well, I realized he knew exactly who I was, but he had no idea that we were married.
Laura: And so, I'm thinking, how do I break this news to him and finally I said, "You know, I'm here because I'm your wife and we're married. We walked the aisle, you know, that whole thing with our family, the white dress, all of that." And he looked at me just so stunned and finally said, "We're married, yes!" (Laughter) It was like--
Jim: It was like walkin' down the aisle a second time, right?
Laura:--it was like the best way something like that can go down. (Laughter)
Jim: I made a good decision. (Laughter) And at the same time, I mean, your music career's beginning to take off, right?
Laura: Well, it was interesting. So, I had written this song "Indescribable" about a year earlier and I had begun to talk with some record labels in Nashville. And I didn't grow up thinking that I would be anything like a singer. I was a string bass player. I was in "dorchestra," like I … like I mentioned earlier.
I loved music, but didn't see myself really being a lead singer of anything. But I began to talk with these labels about my songs, you know, getting out there. And actually the offer came from the label I'm currently with. The offer came within about 48 hours of these doctors diagnosing Martin with a tumor.
Laura: And so, it was interesting, 'cause I had kind of waited for this opportunity and then found out this is happening with my husband. So, I'm sitting with these record label executives and saying, you know, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm gonna need to turn this down because we have such a long road ahead of us."
And sure enough, they came back. You know, they continued to stay in touch, but probably six to nine months later, they came back and they said, "We really want you to reconsider, because we believe that the story that God is writing in y'all's life needs to be what you're writing your song about." Because you know, you think about worship or Christian music. It doesn't necessarily need to come from a place where everything has a happy ending, 'cause most people's lives aren't like that.
Jim: Yeah, you're listening to "Focus on the Family." I'm Jim Daly. Today our guests are Laura and Martin Elvington, Laura Story, her stage name. You probably know her songs very well, like "Indescribable" and other things. If you're just tuning in, we're talking about an early diagnosis that Martin had with a brain tumor only a year and half after being married.
Martin, you woke up from surgery, too. I want to hear your perspective with knowing what could happen and doctors explaining that to you. You go into surgery. You come back out. Things are different, right?
Martin: Yeah, very much, very much so. And I do recall is having difficulty with my short-term memory. We would have this kind of situation she just recounted there where I'd say, "Laura Story, who are you?" And we had this sweet moment. Ten minutes would pass, you know. Maybe she would leave to go get a cup of coffee or somethin'. She'd come back and I would do it again.
Martin: Like she walked back in the door and my short-term memory is what was severely affected. I forgot again that she was my wife and that would continue to happen. And so, Laura's beginning to kind [realize]. She never said it out loud, but she's kinda wondering, if this the new normal? And I'm tryin' to put my life back together, at least from a memory standpoint and try to recall kind of how I got to this place.
Jim: Sure, did you get frustrated? I mean, here you are. You know there are missing pieces and you're trying desperately to put them back together for all the right reasons. I mean, did you get frustrated in your faith? Did you say, "God, where are You?"
Martin: Never, never once.
Martin: I'm kidding. (Laughter)
Jim: I'm like impressed. (Laughter) Wow! You're a much better man than I am.
Martin: It was frequent as just a couple days ago.
Martin: I still get frustrated absolutely. And it has been a difficult journey. There are still things I struggle to remember. There's still short-term memory issues that I have difficulty with. It would not be abnormal if I were in a conversation with a friend next week and they said, "Martin, what did you do last week?" And I would have difficulty recounting this very event we're having right now."
Martin: Now do have short-term memory [problem], so I could look back on my Day-Timer or whatever and see that we were at Focus and then I would begin to—
Jim: Fill in the blanks.
Martin: ---to, yeah, begin to kind of fill in the blanks. And then I would remember some of the conversations, some of the faces and that kind of thing.
Jim: I was gonna say, "Laura, that had to change the dynamic of your relationship in some ways. What were you feeling? I mean, were you saying, "God, where are You? This isn't the dream that I had?"
Laura: Well, part of it, now I remember meeting initially with that surgeon and him giving us this pamphlet about, you know, what those five days of surgery and recovery would look like at Emery University Hospital. And day one would be the surgery. Day two and three in the ICU. Day four in a regular room and day five we would be discharged. Well, we ended up spending that first, I think a week, week and a half in the ICU. We finally moved to a regular room and discharged from the hospital, only to come back 10 days later with some complications.
Laura: And while we were in the hospital then trying to take care of the complications, Martin developed a brain infection called meningitis and that's when he actually coded and had to head back to the ICU and spent a few days not knowing whether he would make it or not. And that was yet, you know, another long road of about two more months spent in the hospital.
And finally, when he was discharged, the joy that we had felt the first time when he was discharged of, "Oh, we finally get to go home," it was a little bit heavier because we could tell that some of the complications from the tumor or the surgery, that they may be a little bit longer lasting than what we expected.
And the doctors couldn't tell us with all certainty that everything would go back to normal. And as a wife who just really had a pretty clear picture of what our perfect marriage and family was gonna look like, or what felt like the Lord kind of ripping that plan from my hands and reminding me that He isn't so much a God that is gonna jump in line with my plans, as much as He's concerned about bringing me to a place of trust and surrender, where I'm willing to say, "Not my plan, but Yours be done, Lord."
Jim: Yeah, I mean, that is well-said. In fact, your title, When God Doesn't Fix It, really grabs it because I think in the Christian context, those of us who follow Christ, we expect that remedy to come around. And that's a good thing. That's called "hope."
Jim: And we pray for that. We pray for healing. We pray for a better path forward. But it's not always gonna be there immediately. It may not be there until we're with Him in heaven, right?
Jim: And some people may, you know, take exception with that, but it must be true because it doesn't always end in the way we think it should. How do you manage that? It's been how long now since you looked back on that operation and the complication? How many years?
Laura: It's been 10 years now.
Jim: Ten years and things are better, but they're not perfect.
Jim: So, how do you absorb that, both of you? And how do you continue to trust God?
Laura: You know, When God Doesn't Fix It, it really [is] about our story and how God has shown up as faithful in the midst of our story. But whether someone's been through a health issues like we have, it really is for anyone who's ever had God not answer your prayers the way that they thought He would or maybe not in the time frame that they thought that He should.
So, it's for anyone who's ever struggled with disappointment in their walk of faith and even when I call it "a walk of faith," a lot of times as believers, we aren't anticipating that it actually will be that. Like we want our walk with the Lord, but we don't actually want to have faith (Laughing), you know, 'cause faith is believing in God's goodness and in His faithfulness, even when we can't see it.
Jim: Right and with things that are unseen.
Laura: Yeah, that was one of the things that we had to come to terms with is, you know, God, even in our lives, it looked like such a tragedy, but it was also an opportunity for us to take a step forward in our faith, believing His goodness even though we might not have been experiencing it in that season.
Jim: Yeah and at the top of the program we talked about that beautiful family picture we're gonna post on www.focusonthefamily.com. That's the poster picture for Focus on the Family. I just love it, because you did have children. But at this point when you're trying to figure out, "Lord, what's in the future?" that was not necessarily gonna happen, right? I mean, you weren't sure.
Laura: I know. It really is amazing that (Laughing a lot of people will say, you know, so what [were] you guys thinking? You know, for a while we wondered. Like we thought maybe we should get someone to adopt us. (Laughter)
Jim: Well, I'm sure people were in different ways, right?
Laura: I know, absolutely. And we thought, who are we to be parents? But we prayed through it a lot, realized that the Lord even in the midst of the disability, the Lord had not taken away the desire that He's given us to be parents. And we had some friends that we just asked to pray for us as we made the decision. And it was pretty amazing that the Lord allowed us to have these kids.
But it's been the same thing as, you know, with his disability, as a couple, just a new way for us to lean on the Lord every day.
Jim: Hm, that is so good. And for you, Martin, I mean, were you at that stage, I mean, you're coming out of all the complications, did you ever feel a burden for Laura that, look where I'm at; look at what I am? Am I a drag to her? Did that ever cross your mind?
Martin: Yes, absolutely, absolutely it did. I, you know, I grew up in a family where my dad worked. My mom stayed at home and took care of the kids and that was sort of the model that I saw among my friends and that kind of thing.
And so, I sort of had this presupposition that dads work and moms stay at home. And all of a sudden, I'm in a situation where my wife is having to work because I cannot. And so, there [were] two thoughts going through my mind. A, I had a longing to work, but could not or a longing for a certain career that I was now unable to do.
And both that along with that disappointment, then there's the disappointment that I know my wife is experiencing that she would like to raise kids, you know, and potentially stay at home and she's unable to do that. And so, we're both sort of disappointed with kind of the path that God had given us. And you know, I think we've both come to embrace the calling that we have, but it was certainly kind of readjustment of expectations.
Laura: And one thing we've learned, it would be easy for us to identify Martin's disability as the biggest problem in our marriage. But what we've learned (Laughing) that really our sin is the biggest problem in our marriage. And we so often see that and displayed in the context of disability in the same way that, you know, I talk to other couples that would say, if my husband only had a better job, if I had a different mother-in-law. (Laughing) Or if we could only get pregnant, or I mean, just heavy things that they would say, "Man, this is the biggest problem in our marriage."
But for us, the more we began to own our sin and how it's displayed through Martin's disability, the more we were able to see, you know, this disability, it's certainly something we never asked for, but it's something we believe that God truly can redeem and use for good, because we believe that God can use all things for that.
Jim: Well, and that's such a healthy perspective. I mean, but it's hard to get there.
Laura: Oh, I'm not saying (Laughter) that we live that way every day.
Jim: Oh, no. I mean, you're on the way. I mean, I can see that in your relationship and the way you're talking with each other and where you're at today compared to where you were 10 years ago, right?
Laura: But with his short-term memory deficit, it can either be a constant irritant in our relationship or a means of grace. You know, when he asks me for the fourth time, you know, where his backpack is, you know, I can either see that as "Aah!" you know, if he asks me that one more time! I can either be frustrated or I can see it as more opportunities to answer him in kindness. And I wish I could tell you that I always chose to answer n in kindness, but that's just another area that the Lord's working on both of us.
Jim: Okay, this is what we need to do, because we're getting to some real practical spiritual help and I think we need to come back next time and continue to explore how you apply this day to day. I mean, I appreciate that vulnerability, Laura, because I think for all of us, even if we aren't living in the same situation you're living in, we don't have a medical issue in our marriage, there are other surgeries that have occurred that have left a deficit, emotional, whatever it might be, spiritual.
Jim: And I think there are some wonderful lessons that we can learn from you. So, let's come back next time if you're willing and talk more about your wonderful book, When God Doesn't Fix It. It's such an unchristian title. I love it.
Laura: I know. (Laughter)
Jim: No, I love it, because that's the real world. That's where we live and there are many people that are gonna be helped by that conversation and hopefully, today's conversation.
John: Yeah and you can get the CD or a download of our discussion today and find out more about When God Doesn't Fix It over at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And it may be that we've touched on some things that are hard for you to deal with. We have caring Christian counselors here. They would count it a privilege to talk through some of these things with you and help you get onto a journey, a path of wholeness and wellness. We have other resources, as well. Again, our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And when you make a generous gift of any amount to the ministry of Focus on the Family, we'll send a copy of Laura Story's book, When God Doesn't Fix It, as our way of saying thank you.
Jim: Laura, as we close, because we've gotta give that lifeline to that person that might be in trouble. When God hasn't fixed it and you're not sure if you're gonna get the fix, how do you go to bed tonight trusting in Him?
Laura: Well, I don't want it to sound too cliché, but you truly learn to find your hope in the person of Jesus. A lot of times we look for hope in Jesus changing our circumstances. And sometimes He does that, but other times He says, "No, I just want you to trust in Me."
You know, you think about a guy like Paul who wrote about freedom from a jail cell. You think about him talking about joy, even in the midst of what was the hardest time in his life. And so, we see example after example in the Scriptures of God being that joy, being that peace even in the midst of Him not changing our circumstances the way that we think He should.
Jim: That is good.
John: And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we once again, hear from Martin and Laura Elvington and help you and your family thrive.
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Martin and Laura StoryView Bio
Singer-songwriter Laura Story recently released her fifth studio album, Open Hands, which is a follow-up to her 2013 critically-acclaimed album, God of Every Story. She has won a Grammy Award, a Billboard Music Award, several GMA Dove Awards and an RIAA Gold certification for her massive No. 1 hit, "Blessings." Laura has authored two books, What If Your Blessings Come Through Raindrops? and When God Doesn't Fix It. Laura has penned songs recorded by other acclaimed recording artists like Chris Tomlin, and she has led worship at Atlanta's Perimeter Church for 12 years. Laura and her husband, Martin, have three children. Learn more about Laura by visiting her website, laurastorymusic.com.