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Thu Sep 11, 2014
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by Hilary Tompkins
Resurgence Leadership #032: Elyse Fitzpatrick Interview
Tue Sep 02, 2014
Twenty Years of Grace Part 1
I was seventeen years old and as lost as Dick Cheney in the woods when she caught my eye. She was a grade older than me in high school, a petite sprinter on the track team with curly blonde hair, and I was drawn to her like I had never been drawn to any woman before or since. Twenty years later I am more drawn to her than ever.
Grace was my high school sweetheart.
Her father Gib was a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary who had planted a church in Seattle before Grace was born. He tended to that little flock for over forty years until he retired in his mid-seventies nearly a year ago. Grace gave her life to Jesus at a young age and walked faithfully with God until a rough patch in high school. We began spending time together on March 12, 1988, when she was a senior and I was a junior. Within weeks I told her I wanted to marry her and was deadly serious. I was raised Catholic, and while some Catholics are Christians, I was not one of them but was instead a moral “good” guy. Some time later she bought me a really nice Bible; when I read through the book of Romans in that Bible as a college freshman, Jesus saved me. At the time, we were about three hundred miles apart attending different colleges. I prayed at a men’s retreat as a new Christian shortly thereafter and God spoke to me and told me to marry Grace, train men, preach the Bible, and plant churches. So, I called Grace and asked her to transfer to my college so we could be together. She obliged, and together we attended a wonderful Evangelical Free Church and prepared for marriage. Our wedding day came on August 15, 1992. We returned to college for Grace to finish her final semester and me to finish my final year of college.
We were completely broke, and very happy.
Our first apartment was a small one-bedroom place in the basement of a Christian couple’s home that we rented for $250 a month. We did our laundry at the laundromat and played board games together to kill the time. To be honest, I did not really like the board games but I liked being with Grace so much that anything I did with her was fun because, unlike anyone I have ever met, I truly enjoy hanging out with her. Friday night date nights, which continue to this day, consisted of dinner at home and a movie for 99 cents at a second-run old movie theater because it was all we could afford. I worked nearly full-time while piling on college credits to graduate in four years. Life was busy but I would have done anything to be married to Grace.
Following graduation, Grace and I moved back to Seattle to house sit and work simple jobs until we could land better jobs and afford our own apartment. Those months were very difficult as we worked split shifts and did not get the time together we both craved. Eventually we scraped together enough money to get a small one-bedroom apartment for a whopping $450 a month. Grace landed a job working for a large media company. I started a small evening service on Sundays to try my hand at preaching. Before long we started a small college ministry and moved to the city of Seattle into a house with a big-time rent of $1,000 a month so as to be closer to the major universities. I got a ministry salary of $1,000 a month and worked a job running the theology section at a Christian bookstore, which has since gone out of business, while Grace got promoted in the media company as the assistant to the president.
After a year or two we started the core group for Mars Hill Church with maybe a dozen people in our living room. Grace still worked full-time, did all the hospitality for the church, threw every bridal shower, every baby shower, brought meals to all the new moms, did hours of counseling, co-taught Bible studies with me, hosted meetings nearly every night in our home, and brought food every Sunday for the first years of the church. Her health took a turn for the worse from the long stressful hours at her job and nights spent with a house full of people doing ministry. So, I repented to her, brought her home from work for the rest of her life, and we had our first daughter Ashley.
Since we launched Mars Hill in October of 1996, we have seen the church grow to thousands and our family grow to seven. Last month we celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary and more than twenty years together at Icebergs Restaurant on Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. It was a picturesque night and one of those snapshot memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Like every pair of sinners striving to be one, we have had our troubles. But by God’s grace, my Grace and I have gotten through them stronger, closer, and more certain that marriage is to make us holy and not just happy.
I believe that God gave me a need for Grace that is unlike anyone else. I am a self-sufficient guy, an introvert in many ways, and can take care of myself just fine. But I need Grace. I am drawn to her, smitten by her, and in love with her to a depth that I cannot explain but only enjoy. To this day I am more drawn to her than anyone I have ever met, and as always I just love being in her presence. I recently told her that her presence is one of the greatest gifts in my life. I work from home most of the time just so I can be near her. I love her touch, I love her smile, and I absolutely love her enormous laugh that fills a room. Not everyone thinks I am funny, but she has for over two decades and our home is filled with laughter and fun. Read part two HERE.