Filipe went to Brazil for the summer while I stayed in Charleston taking summer classes, doing admin. work for our college ministry, and hanging out with friends in between. We exchanged emails back and forth sharing what we were doing, but still remained guarded.
When August finally came around, I anxiously went alone to pick him up from the Charleston airport. Thinking back over our entire relationship, I was probably more nervous that day than any other day in our relationship. It felt like a make it or break it kind of day. Most of me believed we were headed toward something; a small part of me hoped I wasn’t terribly wrong.
I remember standing in the airport terminal (this was pre-9/11 when you were allowed to go to the gate) waiting for what felt like eternity- about ten minutes.
Finally, I spotted him from through a sea of people; he spotted me. We both smiled awkwardly as he made his way through. The first thing I noticed was that he shaved his head (I did not like it, but I did not say anything. But he hasn’t had a shaved head since).
As he approached we said hi and gave each other a silent, awkward hug. The awkwardness hovered for a good five minutes as we stammered for words and made our way to baggage claim. Fortunately by the time we got to the car we were deep in conversation sharing the details of our summers. He told me about Brazil. I was probably rattling off all the pending, ministry tasks that awaited us. If there was one thing we were good at it was talking ministry.
Ministry brought us together; ministry kept us together. I couldn’t imagine a future without it anymore. I was hopeful Filipe remained in that future too. Doing ministry alone didn’t seem as fun, though given the mindset I was in, I would have. Ministry kept me grounded in a way nothing had before. It gave me purpose.
Soon after that day at the airport, and after months of waiting, we had the DTR (define the relationship) talk. (Do people even say that anymore?!) We put more weight on this decision than we did getting engaged. In fact, the way we treated it was how most people treat engagement.
For us, at the ripe ol’ age of twenty-one, we were done with the dating scene. Jumping in and out of relationships wasn’t worth our time, or the emotional baggage that came with it. We knew that if we were going to be together, it was because we thought we were heading toward marriage. We were too young (and not ready) to plan out the details, and there were quite a few variables that stood in front of us. But it was only a matter of time, and at any point we thought otherwise, we would have broken it off.
Having a godly, romantic relationship was not something we had experience with. We had both experienced relationships where too many boundaries were crossed and, ultimately, hearts broken. Filipe was not the first guy I thought I would marry. I had been wrong before. How could I be certain it was right this time?
Before the DTR talk, and without me knowing, Filipe talked to my dad about our relationship. He shared with him his intentions and what it meant to him. I was shocked when he told me; I didn’t talk to my parents about my relationships, but him doing that helped me see that this was no casual relationship for him. He was serious and he was taking this decision seriously.
There were several motivators we factored into our relationship.
The first was a deep desire to honor God and be more effective for Him together than apart. We also desired to remain pure until our wedding day. We believed wholeheartedly that God’s standards for relationships weren’t impossible, and in a slightly weird way, we wanted to prove to ourselves it could be done and that God’s way is better. Finally, a big motivator was that we wanted to be an example. We were aware of the leadership we had, and we wanted to give other couples hope that it was doable and worth it. If we couldn’t have a godly, dating relationship, how could we ever lead and teach others to do the same? (Looking back almost fifteen years later, I’m so grateful we cared.)
During our DTR conversation, we made two major decisions.
We decided to ask a couple to mentor us throughout our dating relationship. (We sought out an older, Christian couple outside of our church. We were intentional about them being outside our church because of our heavy involvement in ministry at our church.)
Next, we discussed boundaries. This was new for both of us, but something we didn’t do in prior relationships. We knew that if this was going to work, we needed firm boundaries set from the start.
We talked about boundaries in a very specific way as to protect ourselves from the line of temptation, not the line of sin. The Lord’s prayers says, “Lead us not into temptation”. So instead of putting our boundaries right before the line of sin, we pulled them back far enough so that if we crossed one, it simply sounded an alarm. It didn’t push us over a cliff.
We were gut-wrenchingly honest about what those temptations were for each of us, and embarrassingly specific. He remembers more of this than I do. The top two I remember today are: we wouldn’t be alone together, and we wouldn’t kiss anywhere aside from the mouth.
(It was popular at the time, in our Christian circles, to wait until the wedding day to kiss-even on the mouth. However, neither of us felt that conviction. We knew couples who held that conviction, but still crossed boundary lines. For us, what we felt comfortable doing in public is what took place in private, and that’s largely how we determined boundaries.)
When fall semester kicked off we were officially a couple. Aside from denying the rumors and questions, not a whole lot changed at first. I remember feeling a little confused. In the midst of those initial weeks, 9/11 happened adding more emotions to an already emotional season. I knew what we couldn’t do, but I struggled to know what we could do. How could we get closer without getting too close?
Our conversations about how to be together evolved over those first weeks, but one pivotal conversation kept us grounded until our wedding day. In fact this conversation is one we still talk about regularly today. Filipe uses it when doing premarital counseling, whenever we lead a group on marriage, or if we’re asked for relationship/marriage advice.
Walking side-by-side around an apartment complex near our college campus, we talked about what marriage means and worked our way backwards. We talked about how Scripture says when you enter into a marriage covenant, you “become one” with that person. We concluded that “becoming one” means more than just physical.
There are various facets of a relationship beyond what is physical. This is what makes breakups so difficult. From what we observed in others, and had experienced ourselves, we concluded that “becoming one” in any facet of a relationship before entering a marriage covenant, strains it. For those wishing to remain sexually pure before marriage, it’s also what leads to temptation.
After talking that out (this was a loooong conversation), we discussed what those other areas might be. We came up with four.
Now, let me pause and say, this did not come directly out of the Bible. This came out of a deep desire to honor God combined with a deep concern that so many godly relationships often took wrong turns. Looking back now, and after years of teaching this (and seeing many lightbulbs come on), I can’t help but believe wholeheartedly that the Holy Spirit was present during this conversation and leading us the whole time.
The problems and oneness we avoided while dating were:
- Relational Oneness- Couples who abandon friendships and become each other’s world. We wanted to make sure we weren’t isolating ourselves from friends. We also wanted accountability. Ever have a friend who leaves you for a guy, only to start coming around a year later when the relationship fizzles? We didn’t want to be that friend.
- Emotional Oneness- Oversharing our feelings and personal struggles with one another. Again this emphasized being in community and not isolating ourselves. We also understood Proverbs 4:23 about guarding your heart, and while it seems vague at times, keeping it in front of us was a good check- especially for me.
- Spiritual Oneness- Making our spiritual lives dependent on one another. We believed each of us needed our own relationship with God. We also believe it is Jesus who completes us, not each other. We noticed the power of a spiritual connection and believe it’s the strongest connection a couple can have. We saw too many couples struggle physically after doing devotions together or spending a lot of time alone praying together. That was something we didn’t do, nor would we encourage couple who aren’t married do.
- Physical Oneness- Crossing physical boundaries leading to premarital sex. Many Christian couples have pure hearts and great intentions. We didn’t want to struggle in this area our whole relationship. How frustrating.
After that conversation, we were at peace moving forward. I saw how most of my frustrations were rooted in having crossed many of those boundaries before. Now I was learning to open up with friends, leaders, and God for so many of the things I had previously gone to guys for. I was finally learning how to have healthy relationships on many different levels.
**Marriage Tip** Married couples, take each of these four areas and see how “one” you are. As much as you should not be one in these areas before marriage, you should be one in every one of these after marriage. Marriages begin falling apart when oneness begins coming apart in these areas. Once again, spiritual oneness, in our opinion, is the strongest.
Now is where my memory begins to fail me. I’ve heard our memory is stamped by our emotions, and up until this point, intense emotions accompanied my journey with Filipe. Writing this out all these years later has brought back a flood of those exact same emotions. It’s like it all happened yesterday. But here is where it gets spotty.
After that fall semester I graduated from CSU and moved back to my parent’s house. I went to work full-time as the admin for our college ministry; Filipe began an internship there too earning a whopping $50/week (the max he was allowed to make with an international visa). Let’s just say I wasn’t expecting an engagement ring anytime soon.
I settled into post-grad life. Our relationship remained steady and undramatic. Ministry remained front and center. Meanwhile, the rest of our friends began getting serious in their prospective relationships too. Whisperings of planned (or suspected) engagements were a part of everyday conversation. I’m just so thankful I went through this phase before Facebook and Instagram existed- the pressure seems intense. God knows I couldn’t have handled it.
While things were going well for us, there was still one last hurdle we had to cross together before we could move to the next phase. Brazil. Filipe couldn’t marry me if I couldn’t connect with his Brazilian culture (and I wouldn’t have wanted him to). Before he could propose, he had to take me to Brazil.
Come back next week for “When Cultures Collide”.