While living in a basement apartment with newborn twins, Trent and Cheryl Carlson knew their marriage was in trouble.
Both from Maple Lake, they had dated on and off since their senior year in high school. When they finally tied the knot, they got pregnant right away and she had to go on bed rest at just four months.
That meant quitting her full-time job and having to rely on his income, which was too low to afford living in a house. So, they moved in with his parents.
A host of tensions built up to the point that divorce seemed imminent.
“Just a lot of fighting; it was very stressful,” Cheryl said. “We were just not getting along.”
The last straw came when Trent announced he planned to get a vasectomy, as a way to alleviate future problems.
But, to Cheryl, that news meant there would be no future for them as a married couple.
“I told him, ‘Go get the vasectomy because I’m not going to be married to you much longer,’” Cheryl said. “I really meant it. I really seriously never dreamed that we would be married [long term].”
A better path
But, thanks to a Marriage Encounter weekend in 1999, they stayed together. Eventually, in 2000, Trent had a vasectomy reversal, which led to having three more children to go with their first-born twins, Tyler and Grant, both 17. On June 24, they will celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary.
They have the kind of success story that their friend, Jean Stolpestad, the new director of the Archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life, wants to celebrate at Saturday’s annual Archdiocesan Marriage Day at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
The event includes Mass at 10 a.m. celebrated by Bishop Lee Piché, followed by a reception. Couples celebrating silver and golden anniversaries will be honored, along with those who have been married for more than 50 years.
For the Carlsons, who belong to St. Henry in Monticello, it looked like their marriage might not even make it past year five. Though both came from Catholic families, only Cheryl was serious about deepening her faith in those days.
“I was a long ways from where Cheryl was,” Trent said. “It was a real struggle. She was light years ahead of me in her faith, and diving into it.”
The more Cheryl pushed Trent to move ahead spiritually, the more he pulled back. Finally, he agreed to attend a Marriage Encounter weekend in Hinckley at the invitation of friends.
“We both did a lot of crying,”?Cheryl said. “It was so healing, it was so good. That weekend saved our marriage. It totally turned the course of our marriage. It brought us much closer [together].”
Yet, there still was lots of work to do in their relationship. Mainly, the vasectomy needed to be addressed. It was a thorn that, in Cheryl’s mind, needed to be removed. So, she decided to do something about it.
“I was doing some intense praying like I have never done before,” Cheryl said. “I was going to Mass every day, I was praying the 54-day novena to the Blessed Mother. It’s a life-changing prayer.
“And, in that 54-day novena, I got my prayer answered. He didn’t know I was doing it. We were laying in bed one night and he said, ‘I regret having this vasectomy.’”
Soon afterward, they flew down to Texas to see Dr. Cary Leverett, who specializes in vasectomy reversals and makes them affordable. It cost $2,000, which worked in their budget.
Not long after returning home, they started practicing natural family planning. Their new openness to life led to three more children — Jordan, 10; Jonah, 7; and Rose, 3.
“We can’t imagine life without these three reversal babies,”?Cheryl said.
God is faithful
They also can’t imagine a life together without God at the center. It is that realization that prompted Cheryl to offer simple wisdom and advice to young, newly married couples.
“Marriage is a sacrament and when you abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church and God’s laws, God blesses you,” she said. “Don’t make the mistake that we made of having a vasectomy because it does not do anything for your marriage.”
But, Stolpestad, whose job it now is to help couples understand the benefits of practicing NFP, knows that it is hard to resist the pull of an easy-sounding solution.
“Challenges and difficulty are a part of life we can count on,” she said. “When we experience extended suffering, when we are emotional and find zero support from those around us, it is easy to make a wrong decision, a decision that ends up dashing all that we hope for and desire.
“But, don’t despair. Even when we choose poorly and all seems lost, God is faithful. Love is always possible. He wants us to be happy. Trust God. He’s got a plan.”
Marriage Day celebration
• When: 10 a.m. Mass, June 9, followed by reception. Mass includes renewal of vows and honoring of couples celebrating silver and golden anniversaries, and those married more than 50 years
• Where: Cathedral of St. Paul
• More info: For information, call (651) 291-4488, or visit http://www.archspm.org. Sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life.