Our Story: God is Kind

Before Cormac and I got married on May 29th, we got engaged believe it or not. A handful of our engagement portraits are infiltrated throughout this post. They were all taken by the incredibly talented Julia Cox of Darling Juliet Photography.

Cormac and I got married nearly a month ago. There are many who walked alongside us as our relationship began to unfold two and a half years ago, and we have new friends who have shared in our celebration story more recently, but before celebrating with all of our Texas friends we wanted to share our story, and by our story I mean where our hearts came from and how they developed throughout the first few months of our relationship (some of the months we deem most pivotal).

We’re writing to have a resource to remember all we’re celebrating, and we’re sharing so there’s no question that it was by the Grace of God that we made it to now. If you decide to read past this point, we hope to share what you’re actually celebrating at our wedding reception — God’s grace in us as individuals and our togetherness, answered prayers, and God’s kindness in our failures, misunderstanding, and need of Him.

If you’ve ever walked alongside someone who was far from Jesus and came home, or found yourself there, then you’ll easily recognize why any of this changed the trajectory of our lives, really, both with the Lord and with one another; I don’t know that I’ve ever remembered it or listened to Cormac share without wiping tears out from under my eyes. It builds our faith and we’re so, so grateful. We hope that it builds yours, too.

Cormac’s Background

Cormac:

I was born in Ireland in 1993 and that is where I grew up for the first 23 years of my life. Like the majority of Irish people I was raised in the Catholic belief system and attended mass every Sunday with my family. Roman Catholic Church values and beliefs are interwoven through Irish society, from the education to the legal system, so it’s part and parcel of daily life. Throughout my childhood I celebrated the milestones of being christened, receiving my first holy communion and making my confirmation with my schoolmates.

Around age 15- 16- is when I began questioning the Catholic church. I thought the Bible was a collection of fables, each with a message on how to live a good life. I believed that being religious was a crutch for comfort since most of my associations with mass were with elderly people. Even though I didn’t necessarily believe in all of what was being taught, I knew that in the future I would be happy to raise my kids in a church environment because of the good lessons it imparted.

At the time my personal belief system revolved around attracting positivity into my life by doing good things and being a decent human being to others. While still attending mass every Sunday I would use the calm atmosphere as a time of reflection of the week gone by, and a time of gratitude for my family and the life I was able to have. Although I didn’t believe, nor had I explored the teachings of the Bible or of Jesus Christ, I found it hard to deny the existence of a god. On occasion I would have conversations with the “universe,” where I’d show gratitude for all the good in my life.  

….

Sports constituted as a large part of my life through secondary school (12-18 years old) and college. In secondary school I rowed and then in college I ran track and cross country. The realistic nature of endurance sports is that in order to be successful they must take priority on a daily basis. Therefore, as I got older my decision making usually tended to gauge upon whether the thing I was doing would benefit or inhibit my ability to run well (e.g. social life, partying, nutrition, etc.). Throughout college I trained hard and reaped the benefits of winning and improving. With winning races came celebrating. I knew I could always depend on myself to get up and train hard no matter the weather or the circumstances. My athletic performance was a big part of what kept me accountable to partying and indulging in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Essentially I did whatever I desired and so long as I kept running fast, that was fine.

Why Lamar University?

I got my first real taste of the working world while interning for a government agency in college. The reality of a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday job struck and it was not something I looked forward to upon graduating from my undergrad. It left me with a bleak outlook on what the future had in store for me. I saw a future of working a job, leaving no time for creative or sporting pursuits, but instead building a career until I was old enough to retire.  

With this in mind, I figured I might as well put the reality of the working world on the long finger and make the most of what I was good at— running. Upon graduating with my undergraduate degree from Dublin City University (DCU) I was offered a sports scholarship to run at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. The offer was made in September 2016 and I landed in Texas the following January to begin the Spring 2017 semester.

Shelby’s Background

Shelby:

I was raised in church and would have called myself a Christian my whole life, although I don’t believe it was until my sophomore year of college that I truly began to understand and take heed to the Gospel.

I was on the straight and narrow for most (not all, but most) of college. I was involved in YoungLife, I went on mission trips, and I was really involved with Praise Church. I loved all of it. I loved the involvement, I loved getting to do it beside my closest friends, and I loved that the heart behind all of it was refreshing in the midst of day-to-day college living — building relationships and serving where I was needed to push people towards Jesus.

In October of 2016, the month I turned 21, I took my focus off of Jesus and got involved in things that were not going to grow me. This rebellious season, for a lack of a better word, lasted until early January 2017 when I went to Passion. It wasn’t Passion that changed my heart, but I do believe the Lord used it to refocus my attention towards Him. After the first of the year I made some serious life adjustments in my friendships and tendencies, and I haven’t looked back since.

Cormac’s Arrival in Texas

Cormac:

Having already known a former DCU team mate from Ireland who was at Lamar, I fit in seamlessly and made friends quickly with the diverse group of people that made up the track team. With no vehicle we depended on the kindness of licensed team members. The usual Sunday regime was to get up early and meet the team for a long run at the local marsh. After that, Sundays would consist of hanging out and watching TV at the apartment as we had no means of getting around.

A couple of my team members would go to church after our Sunday morning runs, and would follow it up by food or a trip to the grocery store. Seeing as I had nothing better to be doing, with the promise of food and one of the guys telling me that it was way different to church in Ireland, I was happy to see what all the fuss was about.

After attending a service at Praise church I was impressed mostly by the in-house band. As a bass player, I was blown away by the musicianship on display, not to mention the production standards and equipment used…all at a CHURCH? The atmosphere and delivery made the pastor’s sermon feel like a TED talk that you’d typically find on YouTube instead of in a church. With all that said, I knew I’d be returning the following Sunday.

The Beginning of the Two of Us

Cormac:

As a fresh face to Lamar University, I was eager to meet new people. When a team mate from Slovenia called Nejc (pronounced Nate’s) invited me to the dining hall for lunch I was happy to tag along. He had a friend join us who had given him a ride to church the previous weekend.

His friend was called Shelby; she was a small girl with blonde hair. She had her hair tied in a bun and she was wearing a rain jacket. I thought she looked sweet and I thought her nose rings were cool. We all grabbed coffee and sat together for about 10 minutes until Nejc picked up his bag and left us to go to class. I had every intention of continuing the conversation, but Shelby had other plans, as she usually does. She opened up a journal and inserted one ear bud. Nonetheless, I pressed on with the conversation. We found common ground on the topic of traveling and things flowed smoothly from there. She said she attended Praise Church and we figured we’d probably see each other again there at some stage. Luckily we had followed each other on social media just in case.

I didn’t want to wait until church the following Sunday to chat again so I followed up the day after we met. We made arrangements to get coffee the following Sunday (still had to wait until Sunday, but at least it was secure).

That Sunday we sat at Sertinos for 5 hours (4 inside and 1 in the car) and found we had much more in common than either of us could have anticipated. I thought I made it super clear that I was into her when I kissed her before she dropped me back at my apartment.

Shelby:

I was absolutely into Cormac after our date at Sertinos. We had more in common than I had ever had with anyone, ever. But I honestly did not think he was in to me, maybe because I could hear my own thoughts and obviously couldn’t hear his. He told me later on that he liked me after our first coffee, but I really just thought that Irish people were so strange for giving friendly goodbye kisses. I also remember thinking, “That was fun. I’ll probably never see him again.”

I was wrong. We made plans for the following Sunday for church and brunch, but cut our time in between short when we made plans to study together. It started out as just studying, we were even studying in separate rooms, but after, we moved in to the same room and started chatting. The conversations flowed forever and homework was finished.

I was in a strange place at the time because half of my heart felt like Cormac was unique, and as lame as this sounds, I thought we fit significantly well together. The other half of my heart knew that I couldn’t date Cormac. My one reservation was that he was not a follower of Jesus so to me, that was that.

At the end of our study chats I asked Cormac where he saw things between us going and he essentially told me that he wanted to be my pal. To make a long story very short, I told him that we couldn’t hang out anymore because I would fall in love with him and it wasn’t going to be a great thing for my heart. I took him home, but before getting out of the car he told me that we couldn’t just stop hanging out. I argued and said that we for sure could, but he was convinced that there was something unique about our connection. I promised myself that for two weeks, and two weeks only, I would see how things played out. The course of the next few weeks would be trying, prayerful, and would require probably more patience of me than, to this day, I’ve ever exercised.

Cormac:

Over the following weeks I continued to go to Praise and during that time Pastor Reg was preaching a sermon series on the story of the Prodigal Son. The parable tells the story of how the father was overcome with joy and celebrated upon the return of a son who came home despite having squandered all of his inheritance. It was the first time I came to grasp the meaning behind the concept of grace.

I thought it was fascinating how the father denied the way in which human nature would have him act, but to do the opposite by loving his son. This spoke volumes to me.

Over the next few weeks, Shelby, Nejc and I started to hang out more. She would be our tour guide and road trip navigator as we checked out local sites like the Houston Zoo, the aquarium, the Kemah Boardwalk, the Galveston area, and the NASA space centre. Road trips give you the opportunity to get to know people better.

Between the three of us we shared stories about experiences, our home countries, travels, adventures and beliefs. I remember Shelby asking me what I believed and I shared my thoughts on the church, the universe and what I thought of the Bible. It started to dawn on me that what I believed was all based on my own opinions, which were supported by very little to no evidence at all.

Working in the Waiting

Cormac:

As we approached Easter Sunday, the three of us decided to go the movie theatre to watch a film called “A Case For Christ,” which is based on a book by Lee Strobel. The movie is based around a journalist’s quest to disprove the existence of Jesus Christ. It was the first time that I had been presented with historical and scientific evidence for Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and the collection of documents that make up the Bible. How could I deny that Jesus was a real man who walked the earth thousands of years ago? Had my perspective been challenged? Yes. Did I believe in the existence of Jesus? Most definitely.

Shelby:

Seeing Cormac come to Christ was incredible, first, because I had a new brother which in and of itself is worth celebrating. Second, because the only hesitancy I had to dating Cormac was done away with. I knew there was something different about the dynamic of who we were to each other, and again, I was wary and very careful; I don’t think it’s a great idea to always pursue relationships with people solely based on the idea that “you click,” but this was different and I knew it.

The heartbreak that came with our first year of dating was not easy for either of us. There was sin that had to be dealt with and an unfolding of a new way of living. It was hard because as a sister in Christ I was so rooting him on, but as a girlfriend I was learning to forgive and have grace in ways that I never had to before. It was painful. The best way for me to explain it is through the lyrics “Cover the Earth,” by Kari Jobe. She says, “Let the Spirit rise up, let it break through the walls and beat down the doors, and crash through the windows.” When this happens in our hearts and shows itself in our lives it is the most painfully beautiful manifestation.

I’m grateful that the Lord used me, and I’m grateful that He let me have this relationship with Cormac for longer than just those first few months of 2017.

God is Kind

Cormac:

Since placing my trust in God I live more purposefully; He has given me the fulfillment and joy that I once sought after in other things, always to find myself let down. I no longer feel anxious toward the future, and I don’t fear the unknown. Where I used to look dismally toward spending the rest of my days in the mundane, I know that we were created with talents and gifts to be used productively and creatively for the glory of God. God has shown me that being a “Christian” isn’t about doing good works but that His grace is sufficient; salvation does not need to be earned, and I am loved regardless of my flaws and shortcomings. I’m not perfect, I will mess up, but I know that God is kind and works things together for the good of those who love Him. Like the father upon the return of the prodigal son, God extends to us the gift of grace and grants us forgiveness when we place our faith and trust in Him.

Shelby:

My prayer for Cormac and I as we enter into a vastly new season is to grow in the Lord and in our understanding of one another, and allow the rest to take shape. I speak for both Cormac and myself when I say we’re still developing an understanding of the meaning of marriage, and I believe we will for years to come, but what I know for sure is that it goes beyond a white dress and an event documented in front of a camera; every marriage is made up of two people with unique stories, we all know this, and I don’t share ours to discount anyone else’s. But nonetheless, our story is important and I believe every story is worth telling. So for those who were keen to listen, thank you for celebrating in this season alongside us.

Author: Shelby Strickland

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