Marla Taviano ~ There’s No Happy Ending {Story 1 of 30}

MISSING: One Big, Happy, Fairytale Ending

My family just celebrated an anniversary. On October 29, 2011, my husband Gabe suffered a massive heart attack. God saved his life. He was 34.

I’ll give you the nutshell version of the year that followed. Six weeks after he got home from the hospital, we (Gabe, me, our three girls) hopped on a plane and spent five weeks in Cambodia, loving on orphans, fighting human trafficking, and making lifelong friends. While we were there, God spoke to both Gabe and me very clearly: he wanted us to move to Cambodia.

Two weeks after we got home (end of January), we were back in the ER because Gabe was having chest pains. Seventeen hours (and no diagnosis) later, they sent us home. Two weeks later, we were back. And this time, he was diagnosed with anxiety.

From February to June, we made three more trips to the ER (and I talked him out of a hundred more). Gabe had to quit his job and started working (or not working, as the case often was) from home. The panic attacks were debilitating. Our marriage was suffocating. Paying bills became a huge struggle. It still is. We’ve memorized all the hospitals’ numbers. We don’t answer the phone when they call.

Our girls (Olivia—11, Ava—10, Nina—6) have had their worlds rocked. Nothing is the same as it was a year ago. They’ve seen their daddy at his worst, his weakest. It hasn’t been easy.

We’ve wanted to quit, and Gabe has wanted to end his life. We’ve cried a billion tears and screamed a million angry words.

And I’d need thousands and thousands of words to do the whole story justice.

So, where is God in all of this?

That’s a really good question. And while I don’t know much these days, I do know the answer to this one.

He’s here. Right here. He’s with us. He has never left us. He’s never given us more than we could handle (although I’ve begged to differ many, many times). Let me rephrase that: he’s never given us more than HE can handle. We’ve gone down, down, down to the bottom of the mucky, miry pit. And he was there.

In the tears, in the fears, in the cold sweats and chest pains, the sleepless nights, the days and days of Daddy crying and never getting out of bed, the piles of bills, the empty refrigerator, the cancelled plans, the shattered dreams, God has been there.

And there has been a silver lining. A bunch of them.

We have witnessed physical healing and emotional healing. We’ve seen God use Gabe’s story to bring hope to others who are hurting. Bills have been paid when there was no possible way. Friends have sacrificed so we could buy groceries. We owe a debt of love we can never, ever repay.

One year after the heart attack, we are new creatures. We’re bruised and weary and carrying scars that will never go away, but we’ve changed in some amazing ways too.

We have more empathy for those in need, in pain, without hope. We don’t take life for granted. We know any day could be our last. We don’t take for granted being able to put food in the cupboards and gas in our car. We see beauty where we never saw it before. We’ve marveled at how resilient we all are.

We’ve devoured the parts of the Bible where people are hurting and angry and screaming at God to please, please rescue them. We’ve joined them in their pleas. And we’re so comforted by the fact that God seems to choose the most imperfect people to do the coolest stuff.

I’ve learned (am still learning) that life isn’t all about me. That my problems aren’t the hardest, that I wasn’t put on earth to be comfortable and happy, that God has big plans for our family (and that living them out will require daily—no, minute-by-minute—dependence on him). That his plans are even bigger than our little family, that what we’ve gone through has far-reaching effects, that we aren’t at the center of the universe. He is.

We’ve gotten to share our story a ton of times with all kinds of people in all kinds of settings. And no matter how many times we tell it, there’s never a big, happy bow to tie on the big, happy ending. The anxiety isn’t gone, the bills haven’t disappeared, we’re still in counseling, we’re still flawed, human.

And I’m finally okay with that.

I’m learning that life is a stinking precious gift. Even when it’s a big, messy, unwrapped wreck. Maybe even especially then. 

I may not have it all together (just today, we hit a rough patch that sent us all skidding for a bit), but God does. He can take all the crazy, awful, stinky parts of our lives and wrap them up into something beautiful. And he will.

And guess what? He doesn’t even need a bow.


Marla Taviano  is the author of From Blushing Bride to Wedded Wife (Harvest House, 2006), Is That All He Thinks About? (Harvest House, 2007), Changing Your World One Diaper at a Time (Harvest House, 2008), Expecting (Howard, 2009), The Husband’s Guide to Getting Lucky (2011), and Once Upon the Internet (2012). She also blogs at

Her biggest passion is loving the poor, seeking justice, and sharing the hope of the gospel–in her city and around the globe. She and her husband and their three young daughters recently returned from a 5-week trip to Cambodia where they loved on orphans, helped fight human trafficking, and experienced God in amazing ways. They’re praying for the chance to go back.

In the meantime, Marla will continue to write (mostly blog posts and e-books these days) what God lays on her heart. “I write books to support my missions habit,” she says with a grin.

She also does a number of speaking events each month on just about any topic (yes, including sex).

Marla and her husband, Gabe, live in Columbus, Ohio and have three daughters—eleven-year-old Olivia Joy, ten-year-old Ava Marie, and six-year-old Nina Gabriel.


I met Marla in the blogosphere.  I am thankful for her encouragement and her heart.  When my daughter, Hannah, was collecting money for Amazima Ministries, the Tavianos sent a check for $12.00 in honor of Hannah’s 12th birthday. They were (and are) struggling financially, but they gave still.  Awesome.

Thanks, Marla, for your post and (most of all) your obedience to your Creator.  Blessings!


  1. AnnMarie Dixon says:

    I am touched by your story Marla. This is a story that needs retelling because there are so many people who have more than you have but yet they cannot relate to that peace you have. I know that god cares for you and your family and He has big plans for you. Continue to trust Him even when you don’t understand. There is a purpose to your story.

  2. Great post. Life isn’t all puppy dogs and pig-tails is it? It’s through the crap that I learn to lean a little more on Jesus. We live in the valleys, not the mountain-tops. Thank you for your honest, transparent story. May God continue to bless you and your family beyond your wildest dreams!

  3. This is powerful!

  4. Wow. What a road God has taken you on this year, Marla!! Praying for you and your family! The part of your story that touched me the most was the paragraph where you said, “He’s never given us more than HE can handle.” SO true. Thank you for sharing so openly.

  5. “…life is a stinking precious gift. Even when it’s a big, messy, unwrapped wreck. Maybe even especially then.” Living in the face of oodles of question marks is an art, and you and your family are learning to be master artists. The work of your hands can’t help but show it, whatever you touch.

    Marvelous, frightening, powerful post!

    • I love that you mentioned art, because we’re a family of literal artists (writing, graphic design, drawing, bracelet-making…). Thanks so much for your encouragement, Marilyn!

  6. love you Marla!!

  7. Love this, Marla. I am so grateful to have seen how great and big and awesome and mighty our God is as He has worked miracles in your lives.

  8. Marla, thank-you for sharing this with us. I had a feeling as I read this, that what you are going through right now is intrinsically tied to you going to Cambodia. The crazy trauma that you are living is going to give you exactly what you need because God is amazing like that. Oh how I hate difficult times (going through some of those myself) but I know, in the end, that God is teaching me something important. I am currently going through the minor prophets in the Bible. Intense stuff there. God bless, Marla. HUGS!!

  9. Wow, this is awesome. I love how you write. Very inspiring and truthful. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us.


  1. […] His love, his redemption, his comfort in suffering, his plan (even when we can’t see it). I’m up today, sharing honestly about some tough stuff we’ve been through (and are still going through) […]

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