June’s Featured Married Couple of the Month is Erin and Michael from Louisiana. Like last month’s couple, I have never met them, but I follow Erin’s blog and have truly enjoyed reading her thoughts. I first came across a blog of hers written on miscarriage and I could relate on so many levels. Erin blogs over at the Humble Handmaid and does podcasts, which I highly recommend checking out. Michael is a mechanical engineer working in chemical plants along the Mississippi River. Erin and Michael will celebrate their 8th anniversary this August. They have three children on earth, a boy and two girls, one child already in Heaven, and a baby boy on the way. I love their honest, open answers and so without further ado….Erin and Michael.
What did you do for your first date?
Erin–We were working as camp counselors at Camps Kahdalea and Chosatonga in Brevard, North Carolina. Michael picked me up from Kahdalea (the girls’ camp) and took me out for nice dinner at the Jordan Street Café in Brevard. After dinner, we went to Dolly’s, this super-popular local ice cream shack. Some other counselors on their day off called us during dinner to ask if we wanted to go sleep under the stars that night with them on Black Balsalm, a gorgeous flat-topped mountain near camp. We decided to go, and Michael gallantly carried all of my gear all the way up the mountain (in the dark!). Despite the fact that I got lost for a while in the middle of the night when my flashlight went out while I was answering the call of nature a ways away from the campsite, we had a great time.
Michael–I thought our first date was both our first and last date, since Erin got lost that night when we were camping with our friends!
Erin, what initially attracted you to Michael? Michael, what initially attracted you to Erin?
Erin–What initially attracted me to Michael was his fun and outgoing personality. He is a natural leader, and he was always at the center of whatever fun activity or conversation was going on. I also thought he was cute. He is almost five years older than I am, though, so I honestly didn’t think he’d take a second look at me. (I ended up being very wrong about that!)
Michael–I could immediately tell what a genuinely sweet and kind person Erin was. All of the counselors at camp went on a training overnight campout at a site near the camp. Erin and I ended up in the same group sleeping all together under the stars that night, and the two of us stayed up late having an amazing conversation. I couldn’t see her in the dark, but it was that night that I started to fall in love with her as a person.
What has been the most surprising thing about marriage?
Erin–As an engaged couple trying hard to “prepare” for marriage, you think you’re automatically going to have a great marriage right off the bat. There are so many ways you have to grow up and grow together as a married couple, and learn some things the hard way.
Michael–How selfless you have to be.
If you could go back and talk to your newlywed selves, what would you say?
Erin–I honestly don’t have any regrets about my newlywed years! There is so much about marriage that you have to learn along the way, no matter how well you “prepare” for marriage!
I don’t think that anyone can say they have discerned God’s will perfectly in every decision of their lives, but Michael and I surely have tried to do that individually and as a married couple since the get-go. At some point, you have to rest in that. Even if you mess up, and even if your life seems to take crazy twists and turns, God can work it all together for our good. And sometimes those twists and turns are exactly what we were supposed to go through!
Michael and I have been through some difficult things—injuries, family troubles, miscarriage, job insecurity, several moves, painful relationship struggles, and severe financial trouble. I think that I have always tried to trust God and pray that way, too, because I knew that’s how I should be praying, but now that we are on the other side of many difficult things that I once prayed about, I wish I could go back and tell my earlier self, “It’s all true! God will work all things together for your good. Just wait—for God’s will, God’s way, and God’s time.”
Michael–I would talk to my earlier self about how important a strong personal prayer life is to marriage. I would also advise us to be a little more frugal early on in our marriage, especially saving more, to help prepare for when Erin quit working to stay home with our kids.
What has been one of the hardest things about marriage, in your opinion?
Erin– NFP (Natural Family Planning) and intimacy in general has been a big struggle for us in the past. I know we haven’t been alone in that—there are so many factors that can make that part of marriage complicated for many of us! But God has been amazingly generous to us in healing us individually and really moving us forward from that struggle to a really good place I never thought we’d get to.
Another hard thing about marriage has been learning how to work together with my husband on the “project” of our life together. We both like to be in control of projects that are important to us, but we have extremely different personalities, different weaknesses and strengths, different ways of coping with stress, and different ways of planning. We have had to learn how to respect one another’s feelings and ways of doing things.
Michael–I think that one of the hardest areas of our marriage has been intimacy and using NFP at different times and for different reasons in our marriage. Like Erin said, there are many different things that can complicate that part of a marriage.
What do you believe is the purpose of being married?
Erin–Each vocation is a unique way to know, love, and serve God. The experience of marriage and parenthood has given me a lot of insight into my relationship to God. Marriage has also challenged me in ways that religious or single life probably would not have! I think that God knows which vocation we need to grow into the person He created us to be. He knew that I needed this man, these children, and the particular joys and sorrows of my marriage so far in order to keep growing into the woman He created me to be.
Michael–We are meant to help one another get to Heaven, and to help the souls God may entrust to us (our children) get to Heaven, as well.
How do you bring God into your marriage?
We have prayed together daily since we were engaged, and over the years we have also made it a rule of life to pray specifically about major decisions in Eucharistic adoration together as well.
The major way we incorporate God into our marriage is through our involvement with Domestic Church, a lay movement for Catholic married couples that started in Poland about 40 years ago. The formation materials for the movement began to be translated into English about five years ago, and at that time a few couples started up Domestic Church here in Louisiana. Domestic Church’s premise is that strong, Godly marriages steeped in ongoing spiritual formation on marriage and family will deeply bless their children and also their parishes and communities. There are a few different commitments to prayer that couples try to do daily, including daily individual prayer, daily Scripture study, daily prayer as a couple, daily prayer with your children (if applicable), and also a monthly “couple dialogue” in which you talk and pray calmly about your marriage, family, and relationship with God. None of these prayer commitments have a certain structure to follow, but rather you are supposed to pray about how the Holy Spirit is calling you to pray in each of those ways in your particular season. There is also a monthly meeting with a circle of other couples and also a priest, which is an amazing “shot in the arm” each month to help us stay on track with prayer, receive solid ongoing spiritual formation together, and also have the encouragement and practical support of other married couples with the same goals of a happy, holy marriage and family.
What do you love the most about marriage?
Erin–The closeness of our relationship. Our inside jokes. Being completely comfortable around each other. Laughing at the adorable things our kids do. Holding our newborns in the hospital. Celebrating one another’s triumphs. And I especially love the joy of finally reaching the other side of a long, hard struggle that we experienced together. Also, we did not live together before we got married, and we both still love going home to one another at the end of the day.
Michael–Being with my best friend every day.
What is a common misconception about marriage?
Erin–I think a common misconception about marriage is that just because you have a great idea of what you want your marriage to look like, that you’ll automatically just kind of be awesome at it. On my wedding day, we had this idea that “of course we’re going to have a great marriage!” And we do, currently. Praise God! But it hasn’t always been that way. We’ve had rough patches that really beat both of us down. There are so many ways that people can still be slaves to sin even when they have a lot of things “right” in their spiritual lives and relationship. Those things will ultimately come up in marriage and have to be worked through. Marriage takes a lot of work, a lot of being vulnerable, a lot of suffering sometimes, and a heck of a lot of prayer and trust in God to grow a mature, holy marriage. It takes a commitment to regularly talking things out in the presence of God (something that we’ve learned in Domestic Church!). I don’t know where we would be right now without the changes we made to our marriage since joining the Domestic Church. Not every couple needs the gentle accountability and structure of Domestic Church, but those things have been exactly what we needed to grow in maturity in our particular marriage.
Michael–That everything gets easier once you’re married. There is real and powerful grace that comes with the sacrament of marriage, and couples truly need that. But they have to learn how to cooperate with it and be intentional about putting God into their marriage through prayer and intentionally talking things out regularly in the presence of God.
“He knew that I needed this man, these children, and the particular joys and sorrows of my marriage so far in order to keep growing into the woman He created me to be.”