Monday, January 28, 2013

Veritas: Stephen and Erika

{real life love}

I'm sure that, like me, you know plenty of couples who are deliriously in love.  Some seem quieter about it, but others are more visible, you know?  Both kinds of couples are wonderful in their own ways, of course, but isn't there something so amazing about seeing real, embodied love right on someone's face and in their actions?  It gives the world such a wonderful peek at the Father's love, delight, and attention.

I've never met Erika in person, but when she wrote to me and told me about all the sweet ways her husband Stephen loves her in the details, I thought to myself that they must be that kind of couple who wears their feelings on the outside.  Read on for her telling of bars, beaches, conversion, and mission.

Sometimes love stories begin in unlikely places. It was a cold night in November, and I was studying for a biochemistry exam. At the time, I was working full-time as an ER nurse while taking the last few science classes I needed to apply to medical school.  That night, my roommate Megan asked me if I would come with her and help give a talk at a young men’s Catholic retreat about what Catholic women look for in men...I very reluctantly agreed. After we finished the talk, Megan convinced me to go out for dinner and a drink before I went back home to study. I’m really not sure to this day how Megan convinced me to go, but I’m so thankful she did! 


While we were getting a drink after dinner, we ran into a group of Megan's boyfriend Pete’s friends. One of them was Stephen, a tall, athletic redhead. Megan introduced us and we ended up talking for hours (so much for studying!) I couldn’t help but notice what a gentleman Stephen was, always holding the door for us and so respectfulI don’t think that it was chance that Megan and I gave a talk on the qualities that were important to us in the man we would marry the same night I met Stephen! Also, Stephen loves telling our story as “we met at a bar.” Not exactly, but still…

Stephen asked me on our first date shortly after, but I was in the midst of medical school interviews and had a plane ticket to go home for Thanksgiving so we didn’t end up going for a few weeks. Stephen planned the date by asking Megan about my favorite things, and she told him ice skating (I was a figure skater and Stephen is a hockey player) and Mexican food. Stephen planned our date accordingly, and we went ice skating at the outdoor rink in downtown Detroit, decorated perfectly for Christmas time. A few days before our first date, Stephen came by our apartment while I was at work and picked up my ice skates from Megan so he could get them sharpened. The night of our date, he brought two thermoses of hot cocoa for us so I wouldn’t get cold. These gestures reflect Stephen’s personality well, and I constantly feel thankful that I met someone so genuinely thoughtful.

Shortly before we started dating, Stephen had started going back to Sunday Mass with Megan and Pete. He has strong Irish Catholic roots, but had fallen away from going to church in high school when his dad stopped going. From the time we started dating, Stephen went to Sunday Mass with me, and he decided he wanted to go to confession before Christmas that year (his first confession in about 15 years!). In the spring, he took classes at church to come back to the faith and make his confirmation. It has been beautiful for me to see how he has deepened his knowledge of the Church and his relationship with Christ, and prayer is a central part of our relationship.

The spring after we started dating, my life was changed forever by the devastating earthquake in Haiti. ER nurses were needed to help care for the wounded in its aftermath, and because I had some experience working in developing countries on medical missions, I went to Haiti with a relief team. I traveled back and forth to Haiti for the next couple years, usually volunteering for 2-3 weeks at a time.  Stephen always supported my work 100%, often getting the supplies that I needed and collecting donations for my missions.  The summer after our engagement, we did a mission together to Haiti where we worked with the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres in a poor town in the mountains. Stephen painted the clinic/hospital, played soccer with the local boys, and helped take vital signs while I saw patients in the clinic. That experience is very close to our hearts, and we hope to do similar work together in the future.

I started medical school about 9 months after we started dating, and honestly, I didn’t know if our relationship would survive its inevitable rigors and stresses. Instead, we grew closer together as a couple when I realized the truly sacrificial love Stephen had for me and the multitude of ways he would support me on my journey to becoming a physician. Med school was an hour and a half away from Stephen, and he would faithfully come to visit every weekend and sometimes during the week, often bringing me flowers or groceries and hanging out with my aunt (whom I lived with) while I studied. Sometimes Sunday Mass would be the only time we would have together when I wasn’t studying. A little after I started medical school, Stephen decided to go back to school (he previously had been working with his dad’s painting business) and completed his training as a firefighter and paramedic. It was great to be able to study together (my aunt started telling us “those that study together, stay together!), and although the stress we both were under at times tested our relationship, it ultimately strengthened it.

It took me a little longer than it took Stephen to realize that he was my soulmate. He patiently tried to win my heart, and the small details day after day showed me his love for me (noticing my car needed an oil change and changing it without me knowing, getting toothpaste for me when he saw I was getting low at my aunt’s house, finding the perfect rolling duffel for me to bring the supplies I needed to take to Haiti, bringing me flowers just because, etc. etc.). His incredible patience when I was too often stressed (and irritable) the first two years of medical school was just one way he showed me unconditional love.  Through marriage we experience a small part of God’s love for us, and Stephen shows me that love day after day.

After a year and half of dating, Stephen proposed. He planned to ask me when we were visiting my family so that I would be able to tell them in person (another example of his thoughtfulness), but his plans were deterred, unbeknownst to me, several times. Early in our visit, he planned to take me to my favorite waterfall  a couple hours from my parents’ house to propose, but it rained. Later, we went on a hike, but I didn’t realize his proposal plans and I invited my sister. 

Finally, he asked me to go for a walk on the beach and I initially refused because it was chilly outside. We did go for the walk, though, and to my complete surprise, he got down on one knee on the beach and asked me to marry him. He also pulled out the most beautiful ring, which he had blessed when he went to confession just before he proposed. Of course I said yes, and he picked me up and kissed me on the beach .

I’m thankful every day for Stephen. I think that God knows just the right moment to bring that person into our life, and I can’t imagine doing my work in Haiti or going to medical school without Stephen’s support and love. He makes me laugh on a daily basis, puts up with my craziness without complaining, and shares my spirit of adventure (our favorite adventures have been hiking Macchu Pichu together and our honeymoon in Costa Rica). Most of all, I’m so grateful that we share our faith and love of Christ, and we can’t wait to experience all that God has in store for us!  

As a sort-of newlywed and ardent J. Crew lover, I knew Erika and I would get along when I first saw her blog, Stethoscopes, Style and Grace!  She and I share a similar fashion sensibility, I think, and her blog is bursting with style and money-saving tips combined with reflections on the faith.  Head over there and show her some love!

Want to see your love story featured on Captive the Heart?  Email me at stephanie.captivetheheart@gmail.com!

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