From surviving to thriving


Apologies in advance for a lengthy, wordy post!  But I think it’s an important one —

A few weeks ago Simon and I were asked to speak to our Sunday school group at church on a topic that felt near and dear to us. We really wrestled with what that topic would be — being asked to speak to people about something somehow insinuates that you’ve got it all together or that you’re an expert at something.  And while we can unequivocally say that we hardly have everything together, we can speak passionately on the idea of going from living our life in survival mode to shifting into thriving as we’ve lived it firsthand.



Here’s my M.O.: I believe strongly in the power of transparency. There are far too many people who go through hard experiences thinking, “no one ever told me it would be like this.” I know this because I was one of them.  It’s paralyzing, alienating, and really lonely. But odds are, you’re not the only person who’s ever experienced your particular hardship. And I refuse to keep the lid on The Hard Things of my life just because they’re not pretty or they’re hard to talk about. Everybody’s got their problem.

I’ve never been hesitant to talk about all the issues I’ve had with ulcerative colitis, nor have we shied away from discussing all the craziness we went through early in our marriage (UC included, but also Jude’s premature birth, my postpartum depression,  Simon’s job going kaput, being unemployed for several months, all in the space of a few months).  It was rough, to say the least.  We weren’t really thriving or being nurtured — we were barely getting by emotionally, spiritually, and physically. It was survival.Slide6

Sounds pretty bleak, huh? There’s no joy in merely surviving because there’s so much involved in the staying alive.  Our turning point came not long after I had my final surgery. We went on an anniversary trip, just the two of us and over dinner one night we talked about all we had been through together. Simon looked at me and said, “I hereby declare this the year of no longer merely surviving. We are going to THRIVE.”



I can’t say that it was any one magic thing that helped us turn the corner during those difficult years. We were together, certainly, and we realized just how much hard stuff we really could endure. We also undoubtedly had our faith to ground us.  But beyond that, we also had a few core things that helped us through the rough stuff.  We also had to decide along the way that we weren’t going to be victims of our difficult circumstances. We were going to choose joy regardless of the circumstance.



The act of thriving doesn’t just magically happen — it requires lots of hard work. I don’t care if it’s your relationship, your business, your fitness, or your parenting. It requires design and intention to get the results that you really want. So what’s it going to take to get you that?  For me, it was the act of choosing surgery, even though it was a difficult and lonely choice with no guarantees. It was hard work to get healthy again – but I was healed, for sure.
Being a designer, I’m big on the form and function of things and I tend to look at my life in the same way. How can we be intentional about the way our lives play out? When we look back at our life together, will there be regrets? Or will we see areas where we were intentional – where things were designed for a certain purpose? Where we didn’t simply just “let” things happen to us – again, being a victim — but we were responsible for what we could be responsible for (or replace with control), and gracious for the things that we couldn’t control.


Beyond that, we couldn’t have gotten by without a support system.  What’s that phrase? No man is an island.  Our extended families were priceless, but we needed a little more support in the form of counseling to give us the proper tools to deal with the hurts and disappointments that had been thrown our way. I can’t stress the value & importance enough of counseling. It isn’t just for people who’re in a rough patch – I liken it to having an emotional personal trainer. You’re getting your feelings & actions healthy so you can be better prepared to deal not only with your past but also the future.

Simon and I both have benefited from it together and individually, and we still go back every now and then for maintenance sessions. It’s the best money we could spend.  Additionally, finding people who’ve walked the same road as you, regardless of which situation, gave us hope to see the good that could come from the future. I like to call those people the veterans – they’ve been through the war.


Similar to building your support system, find the people who are going to build you up. I remember when I was preparing to go back to Mayo for my surgery, I talked to too many people who, frankly, didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of my life. They wanted to offer up opinions — “Why would you choose to do such a thing?” or “Well, have you tried eating only foods that are the color white?” “Have you given up eating anything that isn’t ____?”  It was discouraging, despite their (surely) best intentions.  They just weren’t my people, you know? They hadn’t walked in my shoes or known the details of it. It was a lot of noise that was discouraging.

So finding the people that were my tribe – my people who had my back and just “got” me – that was huge.  Blogging has been hugely instrumental in this – it’s about building a community of people who are mutually supportive. People who build you up and help you be your best self.  I love finding those people — and more importantly, I love being that person for someone in need.

Wow – that was way longer and wordier than I intended it to be. So thanks for sticking in there for it!

Thoughts? Comments? Have you gone from survival mode to thriving mode?




, , ,

  • Michelle Holden

    I love this! Thank you for being willing to be transparent! We too have been in survival mode with many issues in our life and with the tools you mentioned we too have decided, to thrive as you put it, and not let circumstances dictate survival. It’s a choice, daily to not fall into that mode again. Our son roman ( ) was born with a rare lung and liver disease A1AD and had a liver transplant 9 yrs ago. We found out 3 wks ago, his new liver is in stage 3 fibrosis. That was a huge blow, but God pointed Steven to a verse ~ When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not end death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified. John 11:4
    How can we survive, when God is using our lives to bring Him glory?
    Thank you for sharing! You are being used by God and have inspired me!

    • I love that you mentioned that it really is a daily choice. It’s so hard, especially when you’re in the thick of it. I’ve struggled with hanging on to my joy through infertility battles lately.

      With Roman, I know you’ve been thoroughly in the trenches. You’re in survival mode physically, spiritually, emotionally. It’s so much to carry, isn’t it? Hang in there. xoxo.

  • Elise

    Hi. This is very interesting, touching and so so true. I think that what gets me more is to find and keep a tribe. I have stop seeing people who were not permitting me to be my best, were negative and did not add value to my life. I have fewer friends and family that I call my tribe.

    I just lost 30 pounds and I found out that there are two types of people: happy for you or trying to sabotage what you are trying to achieve. A person at the office ask me how much more do I need to lloose!!! And I thought I was perfect!!!

    I enjoy reading your blog.


  • pippinpearl

    Awesome post, Rach. (…and I consider you part of my tribe — thanks for being a positive influence in my life!) Xoxo

    • Love you bunches! I consider you a positive influence on my life too! xoxo

  • Erin Haines

    Love this Rachel! This is definitely a topic that I have been working through lately. I love the way you’ve so eloquently (and stylishly) put it out there. I’ve been learning from you and some others that vulnerability and transparency really matter when it comes to happiness and being able to find your ‘tribe’. And that the simple choice of joy can make all the difference, whether its a single uneventful day or a huge life event. Thanks so much for being awesome!

  • Your post couldn’t have come at a better time, I have been feeling my own struggles lately and this is a PERFECT reminder!

  • Jill White

    What an important post, Rachel! Your transparency is so powerful and will be used mightily in the lives of those who are coming behind you. I’m proud to know you!

  • Fabulous post! I will definitely refer to this one often. I don’t think you could have summarized it any better. Thank you!

  • I love this! Thank you so much for being so honest and transparent.

  • Vineeta A

    Thanks Rachel. Stumbling upon this was so well-timed for me. I have been feeling the blues ever since I gave up my job to get married. I’ve been feeling so lost and unsure of what to do in my career. After a long time of slipping in and out of a funk, I only just realised that I don’t need to have it all charted out in front of me right now. I just need to take one step, listen to my heart and just take that one step and that is how I will find my way to my-place-under-the-sun.

  • imperfctconcept

    This is a beautiful post! Thanks for sharing

  • Pingback: Archer: 15, 16 & 17 Months Old - Pencil Shavings StudioPencil Shavings Studio()