Todd’s Story

God has not given us a spirit of fear

by Todd Kramlich

It was March 1989. I had been invited to a faculty member’s home of the Bible college I attended for a social time with other students. Ed and Vicki Germann enjoyed hosting students at their home, and I enjoyed getting off-campus and hanging out there. Ed started off the evening by playing a game. He had written many different questions on pieces of paper and each person needed to pick a paper and answer the question they got. My question was what 3 items I would take from my house if it was burning—not too personal. When we had done one round, Ed changed the rules of the game. All the questions that had been asked were now available for anyone in the group to ask anyone else in the group. Since I was on the shy side, I didn’t expect anyone to ask me any questions. As I settled back in my chair, a voice piped up from across the room—“Todd, what’s your greatest fear?” I was taken aback—any question but this would have been OK for me to answer. I sat still trying to compose an acceptable but untrue answer. As I sat there, the girl who had posed the question said, “Todd, don’t try and make up something else, tell us what your greatest fear is. I had been caught red-handed. I opened up my mouth and my heart and spoke, “I’m graduating from Columbia Bible College in around 3 months and my greatest fear is that I haven’t let anyone get to know me. I am scared to open up and be myself around people and it’s impossible for me to be vulnerable with people.” The room grew quiet and the girl that had grilled me also dropped her head. Little did I know that one day, this was the girl I would marry.

I grew up in a simple home with very few rules. I had an older and younger brother and we made quite a bit of mischief and trouble growing up. I know that my Mom and Dad loved me, but conversation in our home was always surface level and no one shared deeply about their inward feelings. I became a Christian when I was 16 years old and my whole life turned around. While I now had a peace and purpose for my life, I found that I was still heavily influenced from my home and found it very hard to open up and disclose myself to other people. I was petrified of deeper relationships and managed to keep all of my friendships at a nice surface level. While there had been girls that I was interested in, I never pursued anyone as I wasn’t willing make myself vulnerable for the benefits of a relationship. I was now 24 years old and had never really opened up myself to anyone or let anyone get close to me. I began to regret this about myself, and wanted to change, but fear paralyzed me.

Four weeks before I was supposed to graduate from Bible college and move back home to Stanwood, Washington I went on our Senior Retreat. All of the graduating students were allowed to go away for a weekend together and enjoy one last time of fellowship before we went our separate ways. We rented a large house on the beach in North Carolina. The second day that we were there, Debbie Samworth came up to talk to me. She had been on my ministry team( a pantomime team) all year. While we weren’t exactly friends we knew each other fairly well since our team had traveled so much for our performances. She was a nice girl, but hadn’t really caught my attention or interest. While we were talking, she asked if I would have time to talk with her sometime that weekend. I suggested that we could go for a walk on the beach together that evening.I showed up late for our walk as I had been helping another student make an international call. Debbie and I headed down the beach together. We talked for around 15 minutes or so, but our conversation didn’t seem to be going any place so I asked her what she wanted to talk about. She grew quiet and then said,”We’re getting to it.” After a few more minutes, she stopped suddenly and said, “I can’t do this”, and left me on the beach and walked back to the house. I walked on further down the beach uncertain as to what I should do. After another 10 minutes or so, I heard footsteps behind me, and Debbie said, “ OK, Todd, we need to talk. Do you want to sit down or stand up?” She was quite business-like in her manner and so I let her decide. We sat down together and she began to talk. . .

We found a place nearby on a sand dune and made ourselves comfortable. She started out by saying that she was only doing this because she felt God was asking her to, and Ed Germann was encouraging her to, and… she listed off about twenty different things before she finally said, “I think you’re wonderful and I really like you a lot.” I responded by asking, “Do you feel better now?”

I then asked Debbie if I could say something. I told her that I was wanted to do what God wanted me to and I needed to pray about whether this was something He had for me. We talked a little bit more and then returned to the beach house to try and get some sleep.

I took a week to pray about whether I should start a relationship with Debbie. I felt that if we did our relationship shouldn’t just be for fun, but should have marriage as its goal. I prayed through whether or not Debbie was someone that I could marry. I didn’t like the word dating because it didn’t indicate that there was the end goal of marriage. So after one week, I asked Debbie if she would be willing to build a relationship together with me.

Four days later, I went to Washington D.C. for the weekend with some friends. Even though Debbie wasn’t with me, I started feeling very scared. This was the first relationship I had been in. I was afraid that if someone got to know the real me, they would reject me. So I conveniently kept everyone at a distance. When I returned from the trip, I did the only thing that I knew to do to deal with the situation. I stopped talking to her.

Five days after I returned from the trip, it was my 25th birthday. Debbie came to the computer lab where I worked and asked to talk with me. She didn’t understand why I was avoiding her after we had decided to start building a relationship together “I’m not sure what God wants”, I said, “Let’s pray about it today and tonight we will get together and talk.” I was scared and had really no intention to pray about it. I was using God to accomplish my own agenda. That night, Debbie and I met and I told her that I couldn’t continue with our relationship because I didn’t have a peace about it. She then spoke quite strongly to me, and asked me some tough questions. “I think you are just scared.” “How can God want something one day and a few days later not want it?” “God has given you a great opportunity to overcome your problem and you are running away…” When she finished, I quietly took the birthday cake she had baked for me and left.

Debbie was now gone from my life and therefore the fear was also gone. I felt great! A few days later I had a conversation with Debbie where she told me that no matter what the status of our relationship was, she still wanted to be my friend. I told her that I felt great ever since we had broken up , which I found out later had deeply hurt her.

Three day after I broke up with Debbie, I went to a senior chapel message from a friend of mine. Every graduating student has to preach a 30 minute sermon in front of his or her own peers. My friend, Mike Thompson, began by saying, “Today I am going to talk about why we shouldn’t use peace as an indicator of God’s will. Many times God calls us to do things that are scary and tough and we won’t have a peace about it, but need to know that God will support us and sustain us through it.” When I first heard this, I thought it sounded ridiculous. But about half-way through, I realized that God was speaking directly to me. Right there in that message, I was starting to get scared again. I was afraid that God was telling me that I needed to be back there with Debbie.

The next day I went to a class where one of my professors did a sample lesson. She used the story of Moses giving excuse after excuse to what God wanted him to do. God answered all of Moses’ excuses until he had no other choice but to do what God wanted. As I listened to this lecture, I recognized the similarities between myself and Moses and questioned whether I should have broken up with Debbie.

That evening in the library, I met my friend, Mark Toney. He asked me how it was going with Debbie. I simply told him that it hadn’t worked out. He said, “What’s the matter with you, are you scared?” Mark continued on by saying what a great woman Debbie was and how I shouldn’t throw away this opportunity. Just then, Debbie walked by and Mark called her over. “What’s going on with you two?” he said. “Don’t ask me, ask him”, she responded. Mark told me to take a good look at Debbie and reconsider what I had done and then he got up and left Debbie and I standing there alone. Debbie started to walk off and then I asked her to sit and talk with me. A few days later we started building a relationship again.

A week passed and then the fear grew out of control again. I told Debbie that I couldn’t continue on. But this time, I didn’t feel better after we broke up. I wanted to call Ed Germann and tell him that I was afraid to go forward because that meant letting Debbie into my life and allowing her to see all of my problems. Yet, at the same time, I was afraid to go backwards because that could mean that I was running away from God. I knew exactly what Ed would say. He always spoke in sport terms to me. He would say that you never run from first base to home plate, you always run from first base to second base: go forward. I knew that he would say that I should go forward with Debbie.

Debbie came by that day and we had a chance to talk. I told her that I couldn’t give her anything at the moment, but asked if we could go forward together.

My parents flew in for my graduation and we had a good three days together. I didn’t know if I would graduate because in my fear had affected my sleeping, eating and studying. I failed all of my final exams, and thought that my grades weren’t high enough to graduate. Somehow though, I managed to squeak by.

I flew back to Seattle without promising Debbie anything. She didn’t know if we would stay together or if I would return home and forget about her. Instead, I wrote her a letter and sent her some money to visit me at the end of the summer.

I would have days where I would wake up and look in the mirror and think, “ You got a girl friend. Yeah, you!” I would be excited. Then there would be days that I would wake up terrified about the fact that Debbie was in my life, even though she was 5000 km away from me.

On one of those good days, I decided to solidify our relationship. When I was talking to Debbie on the phone, I said, “Let’s make some plans, how about marrying me?” She was ready to marry me, but said that I should meet her parents first before we made it official. I told her to send me her ring size. The next morning, I couldn’t believe what I had done and the fear completely overwhelmed me. So I did the only thing I knew how, I stopped writing to her and didn’t talk any more about marriage.

Debbie and I had a good time together during her visit to me and during a surprise visit that I made to South Carolina for her birthday. I still had good and bad weeks. On one of those good weeks I went out and bought a ring. I thought that Christmas would be a great time to purpose. I was going out there two days before Debbie actually arrived and thought that would be a good time to talk with her parents. When I arrived, I panicked. Once again, I retreated into myself and stopped talking. Debbie knew that something was wrong as soon as she arrived. I tried to convince her that I felt the Lord was calling me to be single.

On Christmas Eve, we opened the gifts that night, which was her family’s custom. I got showered with gifts. Her sister gave us matching sweaters. I gave presents to everyone in her family except for her. I had the ring but wasn’t prepared to give it to her. I kept telling her that I had a great gift for her but was trying to think of something else to buy. Finally, on the 6th of January I pulled out my wallet and gave her $40. I thought that it was very practical since she had to get some things laminated and didn’t have the money.

I took the ring home with me and didn’t know what I was going to do with it. Debbie and I continued to talk on the phone every week or so, but I didn’t know where the relationship was going. When we would end our conversations on the phone, I would end in one of two ways. I would say that I loved her if I was having a good week, but if I was having a neutral or bad week I would say that I was committed to her. During one of our phone conversations in which I was having a neutral week, I ended by saying, “I’m committed to you.” I hung up the phone and then got really honest with myself. “I’m not committed to her! I’m just passing time and hoping that one day God will release me so I can go on without Debbie.” I started to pray immediately and ask God to show me if I should continue on with Debbie or not. After praying for 20 minutes, I felt that I should take the next step. I called Debbie’s father right away.. After I had asked him for permission to marry his daughter, he said, “We thought this was coming.” God must have been talking to them directly, because I didn’t think it was coming. I found out later that he and Debbie’s mom had been praying for her spouse since she was a toddler. God must have prepared them for the call since all they knew of me was the scared and withdrawn person they had seen at Christmas.

As soon as I had made this decision to commit myself to Debbie, I never got scared again. A verse that was a big encouragement to me comes from I Tim. 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, of power and of a sound mind. I learned through my experience that God does not use fear to guide us, but the Enemy uses it to paralyze us. I have had to train my mind to follow what God says and not let my feelings overwhelm me and guide my decisions and actions.

Todd served with Torchbearers International from 1993-2009 and is now working with TeachBeyond in Kandern, Germany.  Todd and Debbie met at Columbia International University in Columbia, SC. He has been married to Debbie for 21 years and they have 7 children.  Todd started off each Bible school year by sharing the story of his relationship to Debbie and is enjoys seeing how the Lord has continually used their story to encourage others who struggle with fear.

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