(Photo: Facebook via Jefferson Bethke)
Jefferson Bethke, the Christian and spoken word poet whose YouTube videos, such as "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus," have garnered millions of hits, recently proposed to the woman he has been dating for two years. The couple, who both attend Mars Hill Church at Federal Way in St. Auburn, Wash., shared with The Christian Post their views on marriage, faith and love.
The faith-filled 22-year-old shared on Facebook on April 29 the results of his proposal to Alyssa Joy Fenton with a photo of the engagement ring: "She said YES!!!! I'm getting married to this beautiful/amazing/stunning woman of God! So thankful for her!!"
The "beautiful/amazing/stunning woman of God" is 24 years old and attended the same Washington high school and the same Southern California college as Bethke, but remarkably, the pair didn't cross paths until they were introduced after college at a mutual friend's wedding.
"Jeff did everything he could to be at that wedding and officially meet me! I was sitting at our table at the reception, when my dad introduced me to this guy in a blue polo shirt with a gospel bracelet on, who would later be the man I had prayed years for, my husband," Fenton shared.
Bethke says the minute he spoke to Fenton, he knew she was a keeper. "In fact the first date we ever went on, I came home, and my mom asked me why I was glowing, and I said, 'I just met my future wife,'" he told CP.
Below is an interview conducted via email with Bethke and Fenton.
CP: When did you know you were ready for marriage?
Fenton: That is a great question! I have wanted to be married since I was a little girl. In fact, I was a bride for Halloween when I was 5. I didn't date at all until after college, but through that time I really struggled with my deep desire to be married, to be a wife. It wasn't until after college that I had my first boyfriend (Jeff!).
If you had asked me then if I was ready to get married, I would have said yes! (I thought I was ready as a freshman in high school!) But the Lord always knows exactly what is best for us. The past two years I went through two extremely painful breakups, but those relationships and the pain after, really prepared my heart to be married. The Lord taught me so much through dating, but even more through the pain of heartbreak. I had always thought that you wait to date until you're ready for marriage, and then you find a guy, date, get married, and then live happily ever after. Sometimes that is the case for people. But not me. The Lord showed me that He was writing a love story for me that was so much more beautiful than I could ever write for myself. The Lord brought me to a place that I could truthfully say that I was satisfied with Him alone, whether or not He blessed a husband into my life.
Now, I'm not saying you have to be content single before He'll bless you! No, that would be a works-based mentality. But for me, I had idolized marriage my whole life, and I had to actually be brought to a place [where I] loved Jesus, trusted Jesus and rested in Jesus above all else. He also really showed me that relationships are messy because we're messy people who live in a fallen world. Relationships are wonderful and beautiful, but they are also messy. There will be conflict. But it's how you deal with the conflict. How do you respond? Do those moments make you better, or bitter? Will you faithfully love that person and give up yourself for them, or will you run away?
The is long-winded! I guess I knew I was ready for marriage because I had gone through the pain that has made me a woman -- a woman who knows real love -- love that is faithful, that sticks with you even when it's hard, that patiently waits and hopes. The Lord alone has brought me to this place. Practically too, Jeff and I have read a lot of marriage books, attended seminars, went through [Mark and Grace Driscoll's] "Real Marriage" at church, and started pre-engagement counseling before he proposed.
Bethke: I think I knew I was ready when I realized I could financially, spiritually, and practically provide for a wife. I think early on I had an idolatry of circumstances that most Americans have. I thought I had to have all my ducks in a row before I could get married, but then I realized it's actually sweeter as a couple when you go through those things together. It's not about "was I perfect?" -- because no one is -- but rather "am I living a life of repentance and do I have my face set towards Jesus?" If so, it works itself out.
CP: How has your faith contributed to the strength of your relationship?
Fenton: It's the source of our strength, and why we are together. Without the Lord, we wouldn't be together at all. Or if we were, it wouldn't be a great relationship; we'd be way too selfish! The Lord put us together, no doubt -- it really is a miracle story. But also, it's only through Him that we are strong. I can pray for Jeff daily, asking the Lord to continue to mold and make him into a man after His very heart. I can lay every worry or struggle at His feet. He gives me wisdom on how to respond, how to love and support and how to understand Jeff. And the Lord helps us to humble ourselves to serve the other, to give ourselves to them, and to deny ourselves.
Bethke: I think it has contributed in an immeasurable way. The Scriptures say we love because He first loved us. I wouldn't know how to love, how to sacrifice, how to cherish, how to honor, or how to pursue without looking to Jesus and his relationship with his bride (the church). Also, people build relationships based on commonality, and there can't be a deeper commonality than the fact we both passionately love Jesus and build our whole lives around that. What he has done for us in his life, death, burial, and resurrection (and what he continues to do today) informs every decision we make about one another. This is where she teaches me so much. I don't know anyone more in love with Jesus than Alyssa.
CP: What other things contribute to the strength of your relationship, besides faith?
Fenton: Our friends and family! They have been amazing in giving us counsel, and being prayer warriors for us.
Bethke: Same as what she said. Also, I think our personalities compliment very well.
CP: Why did you two choose to marry?
Fenton: I knew I wanted to marry Jeff because he loves and pursues the Lord daily. We've known each other for three years, and through that time I've seen Jeff go through hard times, but in those times, he's run to the Lord, not away from Him. He is faithful and full of integrity. He loves His word, and leads me so beautifully. One of my favorite things about Jeff, too is that he is so quick to talk things out and reconcile. He loves me in my messiness. Also, when we were broken up for a year, Jeff never stopped loving me. And when we started to talk again, Jeff was full of grace, honesty and mercy. He was so humble and so gracious. I knew he really loved me. There was about a month where I cried every time I thought of the grace Jeff showed me.
Bethke: I just came to a point where I realized I didn't want to spend my life with anyone else, and I couldn't see the rest of my life without her in it. I think I realized God's intention for marriage (to make us holy, to display His relationship with us, and to fulfill His mission) and who better than her? She makes me holier, she points me to Jesus, and she betters me in every way.
CP: Have you received questions/comments for marrying young? How about advice? How do you respond to these comments/advice?
Fenton: No, I haven't.
Bethke: Actually not really! No one has mentioned our age yet.
CP: Current culture tells us that people aren't interested in getting married anymore; that divorce rates are skyrocketing, and that opposition to same-sex marriage is moot among Christians since they aren't setting such a great example of biblical and healthy marriages anyway. What words of encouragement would you provide to Christians who are wary of marriage?
Bethke: I'd say don't look to the stats, but look to Jesus. Marriage isn't a curse, it's a blessing. Too many times we go into marriage thinking it's about pleasing us and getting what we want. That's why when we don't get what we want we split. But if you see marriage as something so much deeper and fulfilling, then you become attracted to it. It's sharing the deepest levels of everything with only one person. It's being 100 percent transparent and naked spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Ultimately it's in this transparency where your spouse still continually communicates their want for you, which in turn draws you out even more, which is just a picture of us and Jesus. He sees all that we are, and he still wants us (and is willing to go to every length possible to get us), and when understood that transforms a heart.
CP: What would you say to Christian spouses who are contemplating divorce?
Bethke: That one is tough to answer! I'd say look to Jesus and the reach. Realize marriage is for our joy, and not for our happiness. Even though it's tough, because God is a God of covenant, you can be assured you will come out the other end. Not only that, but when you do you will be closer to Him if you do it in grace and humility. Remember that marriage isn't designed to fulfill one's frivolous needs but rather be a divine picture of what Jesus and his church looks like. And when you divorce you are communicating to the world that God divorces us, which isn't true.
CP: Lastly, where do you plan to go from here?
Fenton: Great question! We're not sure yet. We're still praying about it. I have a feeling it will be something awesome.
Bethke: Haha, same as her answer!
Bethke, who has performed such popular spoken word poems as "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" and "Sex, Marriage and Fairytales," works at the Jubilee Youth Ranch, a Christian residential community for boys ages 14-18 in Tacoma, Wash. Fenton is a counselor at a Christian high school. The two attend Mars Hill Church Federal Way, a church plant of Pastor Mark Driscoll.
The couple, who reside in Tacoma, shared that their official wedding date will likely fall between August and October of this year.