Katie and Nathan

December 25th, 2010

She had a list.

Most women do. You know, that list that outlines what they’re looking for in a partner? He has to have perfect teeth, a 401K and a good relationship with his mother. Maybe a dog. He should never curse, and always iron his clothes. Flossing wouldn’t hurt, either.

Katie’s list wasn’t like that.

There was the optional part of the list, which included dark hair, an accent and green eyes, but other than that, the list was solid.

#14: Likes sunshine.

#34: He will feel comfortable talking about poop with me.

#40: Likes mullets.

#42: Will sing me “The Glory of Love” and the “Top Gun” song.

Her list makes me giggle. But it also makes me cry.

#7: Wants to be 100% in love.

#15: Is tolerant of children with special needs.

#23: Looks at me when I talk.

#25: Has integrity.

#29: Says, “Hi, beautiful,” every time we talk on the phone.

#44: Will look at the stars with me.

#50: Will choose to live his life with joy and will challenge me to be a better person.

The list had 53 items on it, and Katie told me Nathan ended up fitting every single one of those items (except the dark hair and accent part). This really made me start to wonder what I should be including on my list. I’ve made tons of them in the past, but when I look back at all the superficial and empty things I had on them, it’s no wonder I ended up so darned confused.

Katie was confused, too – before she met Nathan. She spent five years in an on-again-off-again relationship that taught her only one thing – what she didn’t want. The day she heard Nathan speak at a Greek Christian Alliance meeting on campus, she turned to her friend and said, “I didn’t know guys like him even existed.” He was respectful to women, he was kind, he didn’t use profanity and he shared her faith.

Little did she know that once, when she shared with a group at a Greek Christian conference about the ways in which her faith had changed her life, Nathan was listening. He developed a crush on her instantly.

So here were two people who never officially met, but who were both completely taken by each other’s words. Neither knew of the other’s crush, college graduation was drawing near, and they would each go home, to cities four hours apart.

Nearly a year later, something remarkable happened. They both ended up at the same dinner gathering in the same city. They started talking. They exchanged email addresses. They emailed for two months, dated for six and were married nine months after that.

“I knew during our two months of emailing that Nathan was the one.  I knew immediately because when my previous relationship ended, I made a list of 53 things I was going to wait for in a husband, and told God that I was not going to settle and would wait however long. Nathan came two months later. I knew what I was looking for, and Nathan was very obviously it for me.”

Nathan knew fairly quickly, too. It was as obvious as the nausea on his face.

“On our first date,” he recalls, “I had so much energy and excitement from getting to be with her, that I decided to take a run around the park after eating. I came back and threw up right in front of her. She rubbed my back, and I knew then she was really nice.”

It was a good thing Nathan was so generous with his, um, feelings, early on, because that night was just a drop in the bucket compared to some of the struggles the couple would face throughout their marriage.

Not long into their marriage, Nathan changed careers, and they moved from Kansas City to Madison, WI, where he went to school for his Ph.D. Right before that happened, they had their first child, then had another child shortly thereafter.

“Since moving to Madison, we have had two of the roughest years of our seven years of marriage,” Katie recalls. “We moved to Madison with a five-week-old, knowing no one, Nathan started school, we were trying to live on a fourth of what we were making prior to our move, new state, new apartment, Nathan had a really rough first semester, we were so lonely and Nathan worked all the time. The second rough year was the year Sophia was born. She was sick, I had pretty severe post partum depression and anxiety, and, over time, all the stress began to negatively affect our marriage.

“There was a time when Sophia was about seven months old that I was ready to give up. I thought, ‘Is this too hard?’ And a little voice in the back of my head said, ‘No, don’t give up, keep going, this is worth fighting for.’ So I did. I remember coming home and talking to Nathan, and us both agreeing that things were getting bad. We called my parents and asked them to take care of the girls for a weekend, and we went to a hotel and talked things out, tried to make a plan of how to get our marriage back on track, and remembered why we loved each other. Things definitely began to get better after that, but we really had to work at it.”

When you’re young, and you watch a lot of Disney movies, there’s this unfortunate glamorization of marriage. It looks like all it takes is a man, a white horse and a glowing sunset. For so many of us, we inherit the false idea that love is all it takes to make a relationship work. Katie and Nathan can tell you it takes a lot more. For them, faith is a big part, too.

“I think things get skewed when the media and movies make love look like this great, easy thing,” says Katie. “I have learned that love is not always how you feel – it is a choice you make. There are times when I feel totally in love with Nathan, but there are also times when I don’t feel that way. I feel tired or blah or angry or sad. I have learned that feelings cannot always be trusted, and I try my best to show Nathan love no matter how I feel.”

Nathan does the same.

In fact, during that rough patch when their second child was sick and Katie was having a tough time, Nathan still chose love.

“Every Christmas we write out 100 reasons why we love each other,” he says. “The year Sophia was born, we did not get to do that, so I did it for Katie’s birthday the following August. Those eight months from Christmas to her birthday were bad. She had post partum depression, and was angry and being kind of mean to me. I did it anyway, though, because we are both committed to making this work.”

Nathan has a list of his own when it comes to what he loves about Katie.

“She is gentle, compassionate, loves to help people, gets excited about the little things in life, is a good nurturer, an excellent mom, encourages me, believes in me, trusts me, works really hard, is creative and really cute,” he says. “An important bond between us is our faith, and it helps that we both realize we are not perfect, and do things that are hurtful to each other, and when that happens, we ask for forgiveness, and that fosters healing.”

“Nathan cares about how I feel and what I think, and he is present when he listens,” Katie beams. “He opens car doors for me to this day. He brings me tea in the morning. He challenges me to be a better person, and is an awesome leader for our family. Most nights I go to bed thanking God he is mine. Although marriage is hard work, it seems not so hard with him. I think he totally rocks.”


Amy and Randy

September 27th, 2010

I am watching them talk.

They’re across the table from me, in their cozy little backyard, having a conversation about coffee. I don’t really know what they’re saying, but I like the way they interact.

Randy has a soft tone to his voice, and speaks to Amy like she’s a friend. Like he cares about the way his words impact her.

Amy smiles all the time. She has a smile in her voice, even. Just sitting next to her makes you feel more cheery.

We’re sipping iced tea, and they’re telling me about the name of their unborn child. Jackson, they think. It was the name of one of the mountains Amy climbed in Montana.

I watch them together and I think they could probably talk to each other for hours and not get bored of each other’s company. Often, I watch couples interact in public, and no one seems to talk. It’s almost painful to watch. Sometimes, I’ve seen couples spend an entire meal without saying even one word to each other.

But Amy and Randy have a lot to say. That’s really important.

Communication in a relationship is key. So are shared interests and belief structures.

They are vegetarians – and were before they even knew each other, Amy makes sure to point out. It’s just one of the many things they share in common.

They’ve been together 10 years. Right before Amy turned 21. They’ve been married for six of those years.

It’s funny the way things turns out. How someone is placed in your life (like in your neighborhood AND your middle school), directly in front of your face, and you don’t ever really notice them. But then, years later, you happen to be walking across your college campus, and you see that person. And this time, you notice a little bit. And during the next few years, you start to notice a lot more. And they do, too. And the next thing you know, you’re staring at your future.

That’s exactly how it happened.

They both grew up in Gig Harbor, Washington. Their houses were less than a mile apart. They went to the same middle school and, though they knew each other, they were never friends.

Their siblings knew each other, but Amy’s and Randy’s paths never really crossed.

Then came college. Freshman year, Randy was rooming with a friend from high school who kept talking about these two girls, Amy and Adrian. Later in the quarter, as he was walking across campus, and his roommate pointed them out, Randy quickly realized that the Amy in this story was none other than his Gig Harbor classmate.

Turns out, the pair had similar friends and, soon, the circles in which they traveled would converge.

“We’d run into each other at potlucks,” Amy recalls, “but Randy was always quiet. His best friend had a huge ego and wanted to talk all the time, so I lumped Randy in the same category. During Junior year, Adrian and I took a Scottish country dancing class, and we started dancing at an outdoor concert. Randy was there.”

Randy was dating someone at the time (though it was coming to end), and noted that it took a lot of pressure off trying to impress anyone, so he could be as silly as he wanted to be.

“Sure, I’ll jump into this highland reel and make a fool of myself,” he laughs.

After that, the two started hanging out on a regular basis.

A unique twist, however: Amy was on a dating sabbatical.

“I always had boyfriends, all through high school,” she admits. “After I broke up with my last boyfriend, I decided not to date for at least a year. I want to know that all the things I think about myself — that I’m smart, funny and worth being around — are true because I know they are, not because some guy is telling me those things. After the first year, I wanted to do another year because it felt so awesome.”

So Amy and Randy became friends. They had potlucks together. They walked places together. They even became sailing buddies.

“When I couldn’t get into a sailing class I wanted, I asked Randy to promise to go sailing with me once a week,” Amy says. “He was already starting to like me by that point. It was such a funny time. We were sailing every week and took another class together, but it was very platonic on my side. I wasn’t at all open to a relationship.”

Then came the true test: stormy weather.

One particular day, the pair decided to have lunch before they went sailing. And then one of Amy’s male friends from Seattle decided to come for a visit. All this while Amy was already hosting another male friend from out of town. They were all there at once, and they invited themselves to lunch with Amy and Randy.

“I remember trying to cook,” Randy says. “I didn’t have enough food. Suddenly there are these guys all trying to add this special dash to the food to impress Amy. At one point I realize I’m making the meal and they’re chatting up Amy. I planned on sailing with her, but now I wasn’t sure. I said, ‘Well, Amy, do what you want to do. I’m still going sailing.’”

Amy had an a-ha moment while her two male visitors pulled her in different directions, and knew then and there she would be going sailing with Randy. And maybe he’d be the only person she wanted to keep sailing with – forever.

She remembers thinking, “That’s what it is. When you find someone who lets you do what you want to do and doesn’t pull on you or pressure you or make you feel guilty. That’s the feeling you should have.”

After that, everything changed.

“It was like this veil had been pulled away, and I was seeing him for who he was and what that could mean to me,” Amy says. “It really scared me. I didn’t see any end with him. It was really hard for me to meet the person I was going to marry when I was 20. I was always the last in my group of friends who wanted to get married. I really didn’t think it was possible to meet that person so young. It was a big leap of faith.”

Not for Randy.

“I had girlfriends, but it always tended to be more long-term,” he admits. “Dating is not a casual thing to me. Maybe I didn’t have marriage in mind that early, but I knew that we were right for each other.”

Amy felt the same.

“My parents are still married, and my mom’s siblings are all still married to their original partners,” she says. “I also had a very protective brother who was always honest with me about how guys viewed girls, and why it was better to be the girlfriend. I didn’t have any interest in being ‘that girl’ to someone.”

What Amy and Randy Have Learned About Love

Amy: Randy and I had rich, fulfilling personal relationships, so we weren’t seeking out someone to fulfill that part of us. Someone else was just an enhancement of who we already were.

Love is so much more selfless than I ever knew. It really is about choosing what’s best for that other person. Not putting your needs aside, but really honing in on your partner and discovering what they need. We do these camping trips. When we first got together, I wanted us to carry equal weight. But look at our size difference. Randy would nonchalantly start setting up camp and make dinner while I just sat there. He knew how to take care of me and still make me feel like it was a partnership.

It’s so much more fun than I ever thought it would be. Every single day I have fun with Randy. And I laugh. I have so much respect for him and who he is as a person. He comes to life with such integrity and honesty, and it really encourages me to bring those same qualities to my life.

Randy: I get fulfillment out of having that person in my life to care for. It’s not anything I wouldn’t want to be doing. It’s my chance to give something back, and give more to the relationship.

Amy: We can be honest with one another, and talk through situations. We’ve always had an easy relationship. In ten years, I can honestly say we’ve never yelled at each other. Neither of us like drama. We don’t feel like to have a passion-filled relationship we need to be fighting. But we’ve had a lot of different challenges and had to figure out how to navigate them together. Parents who were ill, changes in jobs, all those life situations.

We try to cultivate a spirit of gratitude for what we have. I feel more fortunate today than I did yesterday, or a year before, to have the gift of each other in our lives. It helps me not to take it for granted. When you start to do that, then you lose. Relationships are work, but they can be so much fun if you put the right amount of work into it.

Randy: It doesn’t feel like work. I’m happy being a part of this with Amy.


April and Dave

September 20th, 2010

She was the perfect girl for him. The one by which all other girls would be measured.

He didn’t know this at the time. Not consciously, at least. Though he was always drawn to her for being the cutest, nicest, most generous girl he’d ever met, he didn’t know, at 16, that he was already beginning to uncover the basic principles of love.

He didn’t know that all the cartoon characters he would draw of her (including one of her as an angel) meant he was thinking of her enough to memorize her smile. He also didn’t know that when he drew those pictures to cheer her up when she was sad, it meant he’d want to spend the rest of his life keeping her happy.

That’s just not the sort of thing you know when you’re a kid.

You know it later, though, when after years of staying in touch you still can’t shake the memory of her smile. You know it when you all you do is compare her to every girl you meet.

Eleven years and a lot of life experiences between you, and, still, April is on your mind.

That’s how Dave knew.

He was preparing to move from New York to San Francisco when he finally put the pieces together. April, who lived in D.C., had come to visit him for a few days, and the two had a surprisingly wonderful time together. Though they had remained casual friends since high school, and even attended the same college, they never dated or took any steps beyond friendship. They’d see each other during summer vacation or holiday visits back home. Sometimes they’d share hot chocolate. Other times, they would share stories about their lives. They never expected to fall in love.

But something happened on this particular weekend that would change the course of their lives.

April was totally bummed that Dave was moving to the other side of the country. She, too, had felt an undeniable pull toward him, and was hoping Dave would say out loud what she was thinking.

But Dave isn’t that kind of guy. He’s shy and contemplative. When he wants to express his feelings, he writes a song or draws a picture. This time, though, he wrote a letter. A LONG letter. Longer than he expected. Eleven years’ worth of thoughts about the evolution of his feelings for April long. That’s a lot of words.

April thought it was about time! She told Dave she felt the same, and the two officially started their lives together as a couple.

The cool part about their relationship is that they had a long time to cultivate a friendship and really get to know each other. Everyone says couples should be friends first, but that rarely happens. Though it wasn’t exactly intentional, I wanted to know whether or not Dave and April would have started out with a slow friendship, had they known all those years ago they would take the romantic route together.

“I don’t think I’ve ever dated anyone I wasn’t friends with first,” April admits. “You know so much about the person’s core, what their morals are and you get all the major questions answered. I had crushes on people I wasn’t friends with, but I wouldn’t let it turn into more because there wasn’t a base. Having a friendship under your belt gives you a great level of trust. Whether the sparks fly, you have to wait and see.”

Dave agrees. “I got to see April from all different angles, in every stage of life, and that was really helpful,” he adds. “Having already had a relationship for 13 years, it’s not hard to think about the next 13 years and the 13 after that.”

Future tripping is so easy for Dave, in fact, that he wanted to start those next 13 years right away. So he and April got married July 4, 2010.

How do two people decide they want to stay together forever? How, in this day of drive-through divorces and relationships that start and end in the time it takes you to say cheeseburger, do people form their thoughts about commitment?

Having healthy relationships modeled to you is one way – an option most of us aren’t fortunate enough to have had, but something from which Dave and April both benefited.

Shared goals is another. Dave and April both want children, and it was something they discussed up front, so they could be sure they were on the same page. Teamwork is also another big one.

“Having someone you can rely on and always trust as a part of your team is key,” April says. “You need to be able to open up to them about anything and if you get really bogged down with work or have a bad day, they will support you.”

Beyond the basics, though, April thinks a good partner should also inspire you and work to keep things fresh.

That’s why they play piano together. And go on secret trips. Whenever it’s someone’s turn to plan the trip, they send photos and clues to the other person throughout the week. They cook dinner while listening to music, and April has gotten Dave addicted to “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“Dave and I have core commonalities like our beliefs and morals, but on the outside – the way we look at things, our reactions and problem solving skills – we’re different,” April admits. “We wouldn’t pick the same movie on any given night, but I never feel like he’s dragging me to something I don’t want. The part that doesn’t overlap helps us grow and be exposed to something new. A lot of people think your perfect match will be like you in every way and agree with you, but I wouldn’t want it that way. Dave is so exciting, inventive and imaginative.

“If I said one weekend, ‘Let’s go to a park and just draw for the day,’ he’d be up for it. I’m so glad I get to have him for the rest of my life.”