On a muggy Alabama night in June of 1982, Steve McAuley walked outside to clear his head. A guest speaker at a men’s retreat had just spoken about the importance of praying for their future wives. The notion that he could pray for things in the unforeseeable future blew him away and was a paradigm shift in his approach to prayer. He wasn’t quite sure how to do it, though. Slightly hesitant, he looked up at the stars thoughtfully and began. “Lord, you made the stars, and out there somewhere, you’ve made a woman for me…”
Just a few weeks later and halfway across the country in Spokane, Washington, a young woman named Wendy Todhunter would begin attending a church youth group and accept Christ.
Though this is the true beginning of Steve and Wendy’s love story, they didn’t realize it until a few years ago as they prepared to speak at an FCA event. Steve McAuley is now the director of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a campus sports ministry with an emphasis on evangelism and discipleship. Wendy is the administrative assistant for FCA with a passion for women’s ministry. She has a desire to help other women “grow in the Word, grow in the Lord, and see who they are in Christ and live that out.” Her personal mission statement is to “establish, equip, and empower women to be who God created them to be.”
As a couple, Steve and Wendy love pouring into younger and new believers to help them avoid spiritual pitfalls. They desire to apply the growth God has done in their lives – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most recently, they’ve served in this capacity at GFC by leading the Merge Pre-Marital Class.
Steve and Wendy are a colorful and lively couple. They laugh easily together and Steve’s playful nature and big personality perfectly balance Wendy’s demure and understated graciousness. She was initially drawn to him because of his humor. “He always wanted to be with me. He was kind and sweet, and I hadn’t had that before. I felt safe and comfortable with him,” she adds.
“It was her money that attracted me to her, obviously,” Steve jokes. “She was in debt when I married her.” Wendy bursts out laughing and says lightly, “Moving on…” He goes on to say, “Wendy is beautiful – her eyes, her hands, her nails – she could have been a hand model. She was fun to be around, playful and a little flirty. It was easy conversation with her.”
Though Steve prayed for Wendy in 1982, they wouldn’t meet each other for several years. Their paths led them both to Grace Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wendy was returning to school from an accounting job and Steve had worked in a furniture store after college when he decided to go back to school to explore ministry work.
Wendy describes one of their many interactions. “I was a cheerleader and we had to auction ourselves off for a fundraiser. He bid for me and won. He always teased me – I was thinking he would work me to death. When it came that time – 8am to 6pm – I said, ‘Okay, what can I do? Do you want me to clean your room? Go get you breakfast?’ He just said, ‘I don’t know.’ I told him, ‘I have to do something!’ And said, ‘How about I go get you some tea?’ The day went on just like that, with him doing everything.”
At the end of the day, he asked her out to dinner. After holding the door open for her, he went around to the driver’s side, got in, pulled the door closed, and leaned in and kissed her.
As it turns out, Steve had been infatuated with Wendy at first sight. At the welcome banquet at the beginning of the year, she arrived a few minutes late after sprinting through the rain. “I looked like a drowned rat!” she exclaims. “And there he is, at the end of the table with his parents, and he can’t stop staring at me.” He would go on to crash her 21st birthday party and sign up for her beginner’s swimming class (even though he was a Florida native and a certified scuba diver) just to be near her.
After dating just a few weeks, Wendy overheard him at a pay phone telling his mom she was the one. They had their first date on October 9 and were engaged on November 30.
Though their whirlwind courtship may have been a fairy tale, marriage was a hard reality.
“Marriage was horrible and beautiful,” Wendy says. Steve laughs and agrees. She goes on. “I tell our Merge class a little of my story – that I was abused as a child and my dad died when I was 11. I’d always wanted to be married and have children, assuming that would make everything okay. But when we got married, all of that hit me like a freight train.
“For years it affected us in very negative ways. Intimacy, trust – it was all very difficult. But by the grace of God and Steve’s desire to love me as Christ loved the church, we got through it. That’s one of my passions for Merge – I want them to understand it’s not always easy.”
Steve follows this by adding, “What we always drill into them is that marriage is a covenant, a commitment, not a contract. It’s not 50/50. It’s 100/100 – or 100/0. It’s 100% from your side – you don’t worry about the other side. If she gives 1%, I give 100%. If both spouses have that mindset, it will succeed, through the storms and the difficulties. If my attitude is, ‘I’ll be nice to her if she’s nice to me’ – that’s not a reflection of God’s character, is it? …There’s no strings attached… I can bear up under difficult circumstances in my life, through Christ who strengthens me… That makes the sweet times even sweeter.”
Wendy jumps in. “It’s also about holding on to each other… we lost a baby we were trying to adopt. We followed the pregnancy, and then the mom changed her mind. Instead of going our individual ways – he grieves one way, I grieve the other way – we held on to each other.”
Almost seamlessly, Steve picks up the thread of the conversation again. “…because we’re one. That’s the other thing about Merge. It’s even there in the logo – two becoming one. Not ‘mine and yours,’ which is our society’s mentality.”
Wendy and Steve are passionate about Merge because they believe God is using their long and winding story – the highs and the lows – to bless and equip young people on the brink of marriage themselves. “It’s been an amazing experience,” Wendy explains. “The curriculum is very spiritually based. Every mentor couple we’ve had has learned something from the class, too… whether they’ve been married 30 years or 50 years. I’ve learned a ton from it. I love the ‘ah ha’ moments… we’re giving the couples tools to use that they never would have thought about.”
“The goal isn’t to have an easier marriage. It’s to have an enduring marriage,” Steve says in conclusion. “We use the illustration of a building – if you have a 75-year marriage, you have a 75-floor skyscraper. That foundation needs to be strong. You can build a 1, 2, 3 year marriage on nothing… but to have a skyscraper marriage, you need a strong foundation. Merge is about establishing marriages on the foundation of Christ.”
Though Steve and Wendy have very different backgrounds and brought their own baggage to the relationship, they have fought for a marriage that is not only surviving but thriving. They know this is because they have chosen to align their marriage to the principles found in God’s word. The way God is using them in Merge today is a natural extension of that.
There isn’t a secret sauce for a great marriage, but it sounds like Merge has the perfect recipe.
Learn more and sign up for our Merge Pre-Marital Class online.
Posted on Fri, August 26, 2016
by Grace Fellowship Church