Val and I met Steve during our time at the Simple Way and although we have spent a really short amount of live time together, he has quickly slotted into my folder of ‘Favourite people.’ Steve is someone who really strives to live out the Good News of Jesus practically and is an absolute inspiration. He jumped at the chance to share his story here and I hope that it will encourage and challenge many of you as it has me… On his second visit to the Simple Way we got to meet his lovely wife, Helene. Here is a glimpse into their story from Steve’s point of view:
My pastor has a saying: “Sometimes you have to let a dream die before God will resurrect it.”
I became a Christian shortly before my 19th birthday. Being somewhat of a high-school nerd I had still – had my virginity intact without much threat to it as I entered my college years. Truth be told when I became a Christian it was mainly because I wanted to date a girl who would not date non-Christians — we were best friends and there always seemed to be the ambiguous friends-more-than-friends paradigm/angst to our relationship. Of course, it was me who usually had the more romantic interest in her. Needless to say that romantic part of our relationship never worked out with any longevity, but being close Christian friends we made a covenant with each other that we would remain virgins until we found the person that we would spend the rest of our lives with. And we would wait until we married that person. She held up her end of the covenant while I did not. I was close, but I blew it. Of course she did get married in her early 20s, while I would wait until I was nearly 40 to have God give me the person that I will spend the rest of my life with.
Finding the woman that I would marry was the number one goal of my twenties. It was frustrating to see my male friends that were not holding to my standards of sexual morality fall in love, and get married. I would pray and ask God, “My friends are sleeping around and getting rewarded with wives. You know this is the desire of my heart, I am not sleeping around with anyone – Okay I did buy that Penthouse magazine, but geez I threw it away the same night I bought it and even went back to the store clerk and confessed that purchasing it was wrong—so when do I get rewarded with the woman that I get to spend the rest of my life with?”
By the time I was 29 I had had it! Most of my guy friends were married and my closest friend who I was living with had just gotten engaged to a possessive and jealous woman and I had to move out and our friendship eroded quickly. In the process of this, I began dating a non-Christian woman who I was up front with about waiting until marriage before having sex. She was fine with this agreement. But my anger and resentment toward God for not giving me what I deserved with my chaste lifestyle boiled over. I still remember the night that I had sex for the first time. I remember my girlfriend honoring me – three times she said “You don’t need to do this if you don’t want to. Are you sure?” I was sure! It was obvious that God was not for me and if God was not for me, than I was not for God.
I had heard stories about how if you have sex before marriage you will wake up feeling guilty the next day. This was not the case for me at all — I woke up feeling great, in control, and like a man! However, our relationship would begin to fall apart soon after this decision. Despite me being the initiator of sex, I gradually began to lose respect for her and I think that was the primary factor that led to me breaking off the relationship.
It would be two years before I would have another relationship at the age of 31. Christina* was a divorcee, 6 years older than me, a recovering alcoholic, but a Christian. We both agreed to wait until marriage to have sex. We also agreed that we would date for at least a year. While we never had intercourse, I would not exactly say that were not sexual. Regardless, we were dating for 11 months and I was beginning to think about buying a ring when she abruptly cut the relationship off. I was devastated—It was one of the most difficult times in my life — God had again shown that he is not for me.
Somehow, I took to heart one of the things that Christina told me when she broke up with me. If you want to understand me you should attend Al-anon — a twelve step program for families and friends of alcoholics. I don’t know why I would take the advice of the woman that just broke my heart but I did. Al-anon literally saved my life. It was in the Al-anon meetings that I began to realize how egocentric I was! For a solid year I was at Al-non twice a week and on bad weeks more! One of the biggest turning points was on Good Friday — I attended a meeting that I did not normally attend because it was just a really hard week for me. I remember gushing tears after that meeting and going up to Val, who was always knitting through the meetings, and flat out told her, “I am unlovable!” She immediately gave me a hug and reassured me saying, “You are totally lovable.” She meant those words and somewhere inside of me I knew she was right.
Things did not get instantly better after that night but that was the turning point. I began the process of realizing God is for me — a process that continues today. Somehow, it occurred to me that maybe I was not meant to get married. I decided for the first time in my life that I would trust God with this. If I was meant to be married God will make it happen in his timing, but I was really willing to accept that maybe I might be called to be single for the rest of my life. That latter scenario was a bit hard to swallow but I was okay with it. I was okay with it until gradually I started to really enjoy it.
I would not go on another date for more than six years! I had gotten used to single life and I was loving absolutely every minute of it! And then bam! I asked a woman that I barely knew if she would like to share gas money to a river festival. This was the time when gas was more than $4.00 a gallon, I was driving a gas-guzzling SUV and the festival was three hours away! We were both avid whitewater kayakers and would be able to hang out with our respective friends once at the festival. Helene was a “safe” option — I was sure of it!
God had other plans! It did not take long for us to realize on the ride up that there was a connection between us. We talked the entire way without either one dominating the conversation at any point. I remember being excited and confused at the same time. Needless to say, the river festival was the catalyst to us beginning a relationship. The big problem for me with this though, was that Helene was an atheist, had a promiscuous past and had also recently dated a good friend of mine. Again, I laid out the boundaries of no premarital sex and was shocked to find another non-Christian agreeable to this.
I was committed to loving Helene for who she was and not for what she believed. I was very hands off with respect to sharing my faith with her. I was open to sharing what I believed and why I believed what I believed and would recommend books that had influenced me — mainly so that she could better understand me. Regardless, God began to enter her life.
I happened to be what is commonly termed as “dechurched” at this time. Al-anon was still serving that purpose for me at the time, albeit more like 2 times a month. Helene heard about an Alpha group at National Community Church (NCC) in Washington, DC and started attending. Before long she was going to services and then this atheist girlfriend started asking her Christian boyfriend why he did not go to church — weird how God works sometimes! God uses atheists to get Christians into church — NCC is still our church home today!
It was not long before our relationship would fall into the trap of what I call the “Bill Clinton” school of sexual abstinence. Everything but intercourse is not waiting until marriage, but it would take us a while until we realized this. We dated a little less than two years before we got engaged and moved in together not long after. About 8 months before our wedding we went through a six week prepare group with our church for engaged couples. The group leaders are empty-nesters and they are awesome and they do a great job with the group! However, it would be the week after the group ended that I would pick up Lauren Winter’s book, ‘Real Sex,’ off of my wife’s bookshelf. I will not go into details about the book other than to say that it was the kick in the butt that I needed and that it is a great read for dating couples! I read the book in a few days and immediately gave it to Helene and said, “You need to read this and then we need to talk.”
We agreed that waiting until marriage to have sex is not about doing everything but intercourse. We were cheapening what it means to honor God with how we were approaching our physical relationship. We set up an appointment with the leader of the prepare group and he let us have it. At that meeting, we agreed that I would move into the spare bedroom starting that night. The only problem was the Helene’s mom was visiting and staying in the guest room at the time. So instead we agreed that I would sleep in our bedroom but on the floor on a camping pad until Helene’s mom’s visit was over. We very specifically agreed on body parts that were off limits to the other until we said “I do.” We also wrote confession letters to each other that we would burn together as well after reading them aloud to each other.
The decision to do these things was paramount for the health of our relationship. Showing love physically is easy. It can be a challenge to show love in other ways. Helene and I had to be creative. Notes around the house—putting them in sneaky places where one would least expect it was one thing we did. Reading Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages and learning what those are for each other was also good for us. Moreover, the decision to step away from the physical aspect of our relationship was a step of faith in trusting that God knows what is best for us. Instead of seeing God as wanting to take away the fun things in our life–in this case sex—I decided to go all in (no pun intended) with trusting Him!
I will admit that it was not always easy but it was certainly amazing! I gained more respect for Helene. I gained more respect for myself. It was a catalyst for me to allow God deeper into my life. I also learned how to make Helene feel loved beyond the scope of just being sexual. And I felt redeemed — even all the mess that Helene and I created with keeping God at arms-length in our premarital sex life — God was able to redeem it once we invited Him in!
God had truly resurrected the dream that I had let die!
[*Name Changed to protect the innocent]