Updated: Aug 26, 2020
“You tell this part!”
Debbie smiles wide, taking her seat on the couch beside her husband James. Her eyes are filled to the brim with affection and mirth, and she seems just as excited to hear their story retold as I am to hear it for the first time.
Seated across from the two in their beautiful home, I get the feeling that their story is going to be a good one, a notion fuelled, no doubt, by the sweet way the couple goes back and forth, sharing private looks and laughing together before opening up to let me into their world.
“Well, the way we met is a story,” James begins, fixing his gaze on the coffee table as though homing in on the memory. “And it’s a story that many people have enjoyed.”
That story takes place at Queen’s University, where both Debbie and James were beginning their freshman year. James was an engineering student, and Debbie in the faculty of rehabilitation sciences. The university, wanting to create opportunities for the primarily male- and female-dominated fields to mingle, organized a dance at the end of orientation week between their two faculties.
“The guys were filed down this long corridor,” James recalls. “And the girls passed through a walkway above, where we couldn’t see them.”
The two areas were connected by a large spiral staircase, and, one by one, the ladies would descend and be paired with the gentleman waiting at the bottom of the steps.
“Debbie was at the top, and I was at the bottom,” James goes on, the corners of his mouth lifting instinctively at the recollection. “She was smiling the whole way.”
Debbie leans forward and whispers, with a mischievous grin,
“He swept me off my feet.”
The feeling was clearly mutual, since James called her afterwards and invited her out on a date. But Debbie was in a long-distance relationship at the time and could only offer James her friendship.
“I told her flat out,” he relays. “I can’t just be your friend.”
So the two went their separate ways, only to be reunited three years later by a chance meeting at the corner store.
“Both of us kind of recognized each other, but we weren’t sure,” James recalls.
“It was over the bread aisle,” Debbie recounts breathlessly.
“Our eyes just sort of met and… it was a very odd moment.”
“One of those drowning out the world kind of moments?” I prod.
Debbie’s eyes are alight before I even finish my question, and she responds with a resounding, “Yes!”
Still, the two didn’t say anything to each other. Debbie left the store and James did soon after.
“I stood there on the corner,” he says. “Just standing there, and I watched her walk away, and she had on her blue corduroy faculty jacket that said, ‘Queen’s Rehab.’”
James wracked his brain for a good while until finally, a piece of information surfaced: Peterborough.
“I went home, grabbed my copy of the student directory, and I proceeded to scan for Rehab, and if it wasn’t Peterborough, I’d keep going,” James explains. Then, with a wry smirk, he adds, “Her maiden name was Newmaster.”
At that, the room erupts into boisterous peals of laughter.
“Queen’s had 10,000 students!” he exclaims, holding up two fingers about an inch apart. “The book was this big!”
It took some time, but James did eventually call Debbie, and the two went out again. Debbie and her long-distance beau had broken off their relationship just six weeks prior, and the timing was perfect, but the two didn’t start dating just yet.
“We still can’t really agree on when we started dating,” Debbie muses thoughtfully.
They go back and forth for a while, one throwing out a date and the other dismissing it, before James turns to me and concludes, “It’s never been resolved, to this day.”
Despite the ambiguity surrounding their official status as a couple, Debbie and James were spending more and more time together. But James was, in his own words, “Slow to get married.”
“I knew for a long time I loved him, I wanted to be his wife,” Debbie shares. “But I knew he wasn’t quite ready to hear that.”
So she waited, until finally, one day, James made his decision. He was on his way to work, driving on the highway, and as he approached an exit, a choice became clear to him.
“Left meant I go to work, right meant I went downtown shopping for an engagement ring. At the last second, I took the exit, and then that evening, I proposed to her.”
Once engaged, things moved quickly for Debbie and James. They married nine months later, had three sons, and settled into the rhythm of married life.
Debbie describes their time together as chapters of life, “filled with adventure and joy.” But one chapter in particular bought the couple through great difficulties.
“There were some dark times,” Debbie breathes quietly. “But I think also, those were the years where God reached in. The homily at our wedding… the theme was love is a decision, not a feeling. And,
“That message was on my heart at that point: Choose love. And we did.”
About two years later, the couple became involved with Teams of Our Lady, a ministry aimed at empowering couples to discover and live out the fullness of the vocation of marriage.
“Before that, I don’t think we would have been ready to join and to grow as a couple. We have learned so much about each other, and it has been a real story of transformation, of how God can make something beautiful out of something really difficult. It’s really helped us to be very aware of God’s presence in our marriage. It was very palpable and there’s been such great healing.”
Now, the couple is clear about Jesus being at the center of their relationship. Following the Endeavours, or goals, laid out by Teams of Our Lady, Debbie and James are intentional about praying together, even when separated by James’ business travels. The two are also active members of their parish community, with James serving with the Knights of Columbus, Debbie leading the parish mother’s group, and the two together acting as liaisons for Teams of Our Lady.
“These things all take time,” James admits. “But the fact is, it’s in service of others, in service of God, and we support each other in that because Christ is part of our marriage.
“It’s like 1 + 1 = 3, and we have the extra to give away.
“We consider our marriage a kind of Trinitarian relationship.”
Debbie nods beside him before chiming in. “He’s our glue. There are our own beings, and then there’s this entity, this Trinitarian piece. That agape love becomes a whole other entity, and together we make a great team!”
That much is obvious to anyone blessed with the opportunity to meet Debbie and James. The two share something so clear, so timeless, and so awe-inspiringly beautiful that it never fails to attract the attention of others.
“Once we were on vacation in Florence, and this young lady thought we were a cute couple, and she asked for our secret,” James relays. “I turned her around and pointed at the steeple where there was a cross and said, ‘That’s our secret.’”
“It’s not a what, but a who,” Debbie adds with a smile. Then, after a beat,
“I think a lot of young people are losing hope and they need to know that this is possible.
“God wants us to be fully alive, He wants us to be saints, and He gives us a spouse to help us.”
Her prayer every morning is that God bring opportunities to share the joy of married life with others.
“Marriage is a gift,” she insists, blue eyes ablaze with both love and conviction. “And it’s worth fighting for!”
Discover more about Teams of Our Lady here