Debbie’s Story

This is the Lord’s Doing, it is marvelous in our eyes. Ps. 118:23

The verse found in my quiet time during the start of our relationship that we had on our wedding invitation and program.

by Debbie Kramlich

“Steve” and I were committed to spending our lives on the mission field in some South American country.  We met each other at Bible college and had dated for 2 1/2 years.  He had been president of his class, respected, successfully academically and committed to the Lord.  He was now in seminary.  It all sounded too good to be true.

So why did I have this nauseous feeling in my stomach?  The more “Steve” talked about a life together with me, the more trapped I felt.  “Was this it:”  I often wondered.  “Where are all the feelings and passion:”  While I respected “Steve” and his relationship with the Lord, there seemed to be something missing in our relationship.  We were tense with each other, and often discussions turned to arguments.

I began to pray.  “If ‘Steve’ isn’t the one you want me to marry, could you please just have me meet someone else that I could deeply love and respect?  I don’t have to have a relationship with this person, but I just want to know that there could be someone out there like this.  If there is, then I will end my relationship with “Steve”.

I was in my junior year at Bible College when I started praying this prayer.  This year my outreach was the pantomime team.  We were a group of 5 who traveled on weekends to different churches and schools and gave performances and share the gospel.  The leader of our team, Todd Kramlich, was so patient and kind with the team and I respected him.

In the beginning of April, we got an invitation from a church in Orlando, Florida to come and do a weekend seminar for their youth group.  On Saturday we didn’t have any engagements, and Todd had said that the team could take that day and go to Disney World.

Saturday was a beautiful day and our team really had a blast together as we went throughout the whole park.  Around 5:30 that night, Todd asked everyone in the group what they wanted to do.  I interrupted him and said, “Todd, let’s do what you want to do tonight.  You always do what the team wants.  Why don’t we do what you want for a change?”  Todd looked at me and breifly touched his hand on my shoulder and said, “Thanks, Deb.”  I fell totally and irreversibly in love with him.  I floated through the park for the rest of the evening and the whole way back to Columbia, SC where our Bible college was located.  I was madly in love.

That Monday, I called one of my best friends, Kathy Hathaway, and told her everything that had happened.  She encouraged me to end the relationship with “Steve”.  I got on the phone that night and broke up with him.

A week later, I was at the home of a faculty member that I had babysat a lot for.  Ed Germann and his wife Vicki had adopted me into their family and were my substitute parents during my college years.  They were surprised that “Steve” and I had broken up and Vicki asked me if there was someone else, so I asked her to guess.  Her first guess was Todd Kramlich.  When I admitted that I had fallen in love with him, Ed said, “It would be a shame if Todd Kramlich graduates and leaves here without knowing how you feel about him.  You need to tell him.”  I was surprised that Ed was so insistent about this.

I prayed for a few days, but did not feel comfortable at all about telling Todd.  How would I do it?  What would I say?  What would he say?  I really didn’t think that he was interested in me which made me even more hesitant in telling him my feelings.  With all of my concerns and doubts, I quickly wrote off the idea as a bad one.

A week or so later at work, I got a phone call from Ed.  He asked me to come to his office.  When I entered, he looked at me straight in the eye and asked, “Have you told him yet?”  I stammered out an awkward, “No,” and something about now wanting to.   Ed said, “I don’t know why I feel so strongly, and I have never done this before, but I believe God wants you to tell Todd.  Let me pray for courage for you.”  He prayed for me right there.   That weekend I was going on a retreat with all the seniors and Todd would be attending.  Ed encouraged me to tell him that weekend.

I started praying again.  I had just read Passion and Purity where Elisabeth Elliot speaks very strongly against women initiating relationships.  I balanced that with Ed feeling so strongly that I should.  Ed was someone who deeply loved the Lord, and didn’t do things causally or lightly.  I knew that Elisabeth’s book was not the Bible, and I began to ask God what he wanted.  I felt more and more confident that the Lord wanted me to tell Todd about my feelings–not to ask to start a relationship, but just be honest with him.

The second day of the retreat, I walked outside and Todd was standing there alone.  I casually mentioned that I wanted to talk with him about something else if he had a chance and he mentioned that we could take a walk on the beach that night.  As evening drew closer, I began to feel more and more anxious.  I wanted more than anything to run from this, but felt that I was doing what God wanted.  When Todd met me for our walk, I was shaking inside.  As we talked and talked on the beach, I began to panic.  I finally blurted out that I couldn’t talk with him and walked back to the beach house.  As I got to the entryway, I felt the Lord nudge me back to Todd. I was actually only doing what I felt that God wanted me to do and then would leave the resting His hands.  So with renewed courage, I marched back to Todd.  We sat on the beach and I gave him a list of all the reasons why I wanted to tell him something.  Then I blurted out, “I like you a lot and I think you’re wonderful.”

Todd fell silent and then he asked if he could say a few things to me.  He told me two things:  First, he wanted to take some time to pray about what I said and see if it was what God wanted him to do.  Secondly, he really struggled with opening up and was concerned that he was graduating in 4 weeks and it didn’t give us much time to get to know each other.  He said that he would talk again with me after he had prayed through things.

One day after I had told Todd, he asked me officially to start building a relationship wiht him.  That weekend he left on a long trip and I didn’t see him until he got back on Monday. Immediately I sensed things were different.  He was very quiet and subdued and began to avoid all contact with me.  By Friday, I was frustrated.  It was his birthday and I had baked him a cake and had someone put it in his room.  I hunted him down in the computer lab and asked him what was going on with us.  He said he needed to pray again through things as he wasn’t sure if God really wanted us together.  We would meet that night and talk again.

That evening Todd told me that he didn’t have a peace about our relationship and thought it was better to end things.  Since I figured this was the end, I thought that I should be honest with him.  I said that I didn’t think God had changed His mind about our relationship, but that TOdd was running because he was scared.  I told him that I thought God had brought me into his life in order to help teach him to open up and be vulnerable.  Todd asked if I was done talking and then he got up and left.

I was devastated.  I was still madly in love with him, and had felt that God had already led us together in so many little ways.  What was I to do?  I couldn’t do anything, but pray and leave things in God’s hands.  I did pray one more prayer, “God, if Todd has made the wrong decision, make him miserable until he comes back to me”

God began to answer that prayer of mine.  Through a chapel message and Bible lessons, God began to convict Todd that he had made the wrong decision.  A few days later, Todd asked if we could start building a relationship again.  Initially, I was excited as I thought that we had now worked through our difficulties.  Little did I know, but this was just the start.

In Todd’s struggle to be honest with me, he was very hurtful in some things he told me.  I had told him that my feelings were very strong for him.  He replied with the fact that since the fear was so strong, he really didn’t have any feelings for me at all.  He had been attracted to other girls, but didn’t have similar feelings for me.   He wasn’t trying to hurt me, but was trying in his way to open up and share with me what was going on inside and how deeply scared he was.  Nevertheless the comments carried a lot of pain with them for me.

After a week of being together again, Todd began to retreat into himself.  Two nights before graduation and the night before his parents flew out to see him graduate, Todd ended our relationship again.  The only way for him to be free of his fear was to break up with me.

I walked back to my dorm room stunned.  How could God allow this to happen?  When I ran into Todd later the following afternoon in the computer lab, Todd again asked to talk with me.  He said that he had nothing to offer me, but that he would try again with God’s help to continue on with me.  We stopped and prayed together in the lab.

Two days later, Todd flew out with his parents to Seattle, Washington.  As we said good-bye, I didn’t know if I would ever see him again.  He had said that he didn’t want to make any plans at the moment, but that we would write and stay in touch.  During some of the rough times in the previous weeks, I ran across a verse in my quiet time.  It was Psalm 118:23, “This is the Lord’s doing it is marvelous in our eyes.”  I was so encouraged by this verse and claimed it as my promise from the Lord.  For Todd and I to continue on in our relationship, it would have to be the Lord that would do the work as it was out of my control.

Two weeks after we had said good-bye, I got a letter in the mail from Todd with a check for 150 dollars to help buy a ticket to come visit in August.  Another two weeks passed, and Todd called me on the phone.  We talked briefly about what we had been doing and then Todd asked me suddenly, “You enjoy making plans, I think we should make some plans.  How about marrying me?”  I was shocked.  I told him that I was ready to marry him, but I didn’t want to have an official engagement until he had met my parents and asked their approval.

I received several letters from Todd during the first month we were separated, but once he proposed to me, the letters stopped coming.  I got a phone call 5 or 6 weeks later asking about when I was coming, but Todd was very distant and cautious in what he said to me.  I began to be very concerned and wonder what the status was of our relationship.  Were we friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, or engaged?

I was very nervous on the flight out to Washington.  When I got off the plane, Todd was standing there waiting for me with a rose in his hand.  “OK, I thought, at least we are still boyfriend and girlfriend.”  During my 10 day visit, Todd never brought up again the subject of marriage though, and I let it be.  During our visit, we had a significant talk.  Todd said that he wanted to make a promise to me.  He felt that he needed to promise me that he would never break up with me again because of fear.  If there was any other reason, he could break up with me, but he no longer wanted fear to be the basis for ending our relationship.

Todd decided to fly out to PA to meet my parents a few days before I arrived.  I was excited to spend Christmas break with him, but I was also under quite a bit of stress at this point.  I had a lump in my neck that the doctors suspected was Hodgkin’s disease.  During the break, I was to have surgery to have it removed and examined.

When I saw Todd at Christmas, my heart sank.  He was quiet, moody and didn’t seem to want to be with me.  The fear had come back stronger than ever before.  My parents were quite disappointed in this man I had fallen for.  Todd kept to himself and didn’t talk much.  At one point, my Mom pulled me into another room to bring up some other men she thought were more worthy of my attention.  I was so disappointed that my parents weren’t getting to know the Todd I loved.  I defended him loyally, but was frustrated that fear was once again controlling our relationship.

Things came to a head on Christmas Eve.  Todd mentioned twice that day that he felt God was calling him to be single and that he wasn’t cut out for marriage.  We called Ed Germann for advice and when he talked with me, he was discouraging.  He felt unsure as to whether Todd would be able to cope in a relationship and that it might be time for me to get out.  It wasn’t fair to me to be put through the roller coaster of uncertainty.  We spent hours praying together that day and for the first time in my life, I skipped going to church.  I was too emotionally wrought to be able to sit quietly through a church service.

That evening, we did our family gift exchange.  My family showered Todd with gifts and we even got a few gifts together.  His parents gave us a Christmas ornament that said, “Our first Christmas together.”  I muttered, “And our last,” and laid it to the side.  Todd had bought gifts for everyone in the family and he passed them out.  He had already spoken to me of a special gift that he had gotten me for Christmas, so I waited patiently for my gift from him.  He told me that he would give it to me later.

The rest of our visit was OK.  Todd struggled greatly with fear the whole time and was never able to really relax.  My surgery went well and the lump was benign,  but my heart was still heavy.  I didn’t have a lot of hope for our relationship, but still felt that I shouldn’t give up.  I left for college again the beginning of January.  As Todd and I hugged good-bye, he said, “Oh, I forgot to give you your Christmas gift.  Here’s 40 dollars to spend on the teaching books that you wanted.”  I was disappointed.  This was the great gift that he had told me he had bought for me? It was just one more blow in a very disappointing Christmas.

Back at college, Todd and I continued to talk once a week.  We usually enjoyed our time on the phone although it took Todd quite a bit of time to open up.  As I was nearing the end of my student teaching, we decided that it would be good for me to visit Todd again in Washington. I flew out on March 13th, 1990.

Todd met me at the airport and we walked together to his car.  He asked me to open up the back of the trunk so we could put my luggage in there.  When I opened it, it was full of many presents for me as well as a small box with an engagement ring.  Todd looked at me and asked, “Debbie, will you marry me?”  I was so shocked that my first words were actually, “No way.”  I couldn’t belive that it was happening.  My next answer was “Yes” and then Todd kissed me for the first time.

Todd planned to move back to South Carolina the following year so that we coudl hvae a year where we coudl be in teh same area before we got married.  He once told me that his dream was to work at Bodenseehof, a small Torchbearer Bible school he had attended in Germany.  One week after I returned home from WA, Todd called me.  Bodenseehof had called him and wanted him to come and work at the school the following year.  It would mean another year of separation for us.  Todd wanted to know what I thought.  In my heart, I knew that he had to go.  This was Todd’s dream, and maybe the Lord had something for us in the future at Bodenseehof.

So instead of being together we were separated again in different countries.  The separation went well, although all our spare cash was used for phone calls.  Todd had a tough, but good year as RA and little did we know, but it was the start of our full-time work with Torchbearers International.

15 months after we got engaged, we were married in Pennsylvania.  We took a 2-month honeymoon and drove 17,000 kilometers all over the USA in our 1971 VW camper van.  We had a great time getting to know each other and just being able to be together.

The next two years, we both worked at Columbia International University and completed our master’s degrees.  Todd was asked to go back and serve with Torchbearers International at Bodenseehof Bible School.  We served on staff from 1993-1997 and then moved to Holsbybrunn, Sweden where Todd was principal for 12 years.

Now we have been married for 21 years and have seven children.  While the struggle we went through in our relationship were very hard, I don’t regret any of them as our relationship is built on a strong foundation based on all we worked through together.  The biggest lesson that I learned was to let go of the relationship and leave it in the Lord’s hands.  God worked in so many ways to bring and keep us together which was a confirmation to me that Todd was the man I should marry.  It has been a blessing to be married to him and we are still best friends!!

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