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Testimonies

Our Family isn’t a Fairy-Tale, it’s for Real

Tags: Marriage, Love, family, engagement, Germany, Costa Rica
At about age 14 a friend advised me, “Entrust yourself to St Raphael the Archangel, and pray that he does honour to his feast-day by getting you a good husband.” This was in the time when the feast of St Raphael was celebrated on October 24, which is also my birthday. I had no idea how far-reaching this piece of advice would prove, nor how powerfully St Raphael was going to shine out.

Some years went by. My elder sister was studying medicine in Frankfurt, Germany, where she lived with her husband. When they had their first child, they asked me to come over from Costa Rica to help them with the baby. There I enrolled for a dancing course, and met Norbert, a polite young man who helped my with the language. He worked for Lufthansa, as part of a special anti-terrorist police squad who travelled incognito, wearing the airline uniform, to ensure the passengers’ safety. He flew several times a week, to different parts of the world, but when he got back to Frankfurt we met, chatted, laughed together...

For his twentieth birthday Norbert took me to his parents’ house for the first time, in a village three hours away from Frankfurt. When we visited the local church I noticed that one of the frescoes was of St Raphael the Archangel with Tobias. Was it a sign?

But time went by, and the day came when I had to go back to Costa Rica.

What was this separation like for you both? Is a long-distance engagement even possible?

There’s no way I can explain the indescribable suffering you feel when you know you have to go away and leave someone you love. Perhaps for that reason I understood perfectly what St Josemaria wrote in Christ is Passing By, talking of the miracle of the Eucharist, when he refers to people in love who have to part.

We kept writing to each other all that time. This was the 1980s, and there was no internet, no Skype, no mobiles, nothing; telephone calls cost the earth and the only way to stay in contact was by ordinary air-mail letters. My letters took about a week to get to Germany, and then I’d have to wait at least another week for his reply – and that was in the best of cases; sometimes it was longer.
All of this was and is worth while, and as I look back over these past years all I can do is thank God again and again for all his care and blessings!

We kept writing for six years, and at one point I began to ask myself if it made sense to keep hoping and writing. What if I never saw him again? What if it was all just a day-dream? It was crazy, all that distance, separated by the whole of the Atlantic.

1985 was the decisive year. I got the chance to go to Rome in March with my mother and sisters. When I saw European soil, my desire to contact him flamed up again. Once in Rome, I called him and told him I was in Europe. He just asked, “Do you want me to come?” I hesitated a few seconds, not knowing what to say, and then said, “Yes!” He got there two days later and stayed for another two. He told me he would come to Costa Rica at the beginning of August, and that we had to decide whether to get married or to stop writing. We each had a huge pile of letters. I remember how I went back to Costa Rica in a state of intense heart-searching: it was such an important decision, with so many consequences... I remembered another prayer that helped me a lot in all my anguish: I turned to our Blessed Lady for help, praying “Most sweet Heart of Mary, prepare a safe way for me!” I said that short prayer thousands of times, begging her to help me see clearly, because if I said yes, I would have to move to Germany, with all that that involved.

On August 15, I received the clarity that I needed. That day I said yes to Norbert.

So after so many years’ waiting, Norbert and I got married and lived happily... But our life is not a fairy-story but for real, and real life brings difficulties, problems and suffering along with it too.

Tell us a bit about your “real life” story, with its joys and its big and little sufferings.

As I didn’t want to go and live in Germany we decided to set up house in Costa Rica, and we lived there for the first four years, and our eldest three children were born there. But by God’s providence things got complicated and we could not stay there. I can say that now, but at the time I resisted the idea of moving to Germany for as long as I could. When we moved, we had to live with my parents-in-law for some time until we could build ourselves a house. We were there for four more years... years when we had nothing, we had to start from scratch.

With God’s help and Norbert’s hard work, we managed to keep going, and then bought (with bank loans, of course) a piece of land, and started to build. Norbert drew up the plans of the house himself, and on top of his normal job he worked on building at the weekends.

I once heard it said that no architect has ever succeeded in inventing a kitchen where two women could fit, and it’s perfectly true: a young family has to have its own place.

That was an intense and exhausting time. There were days when I felt like a zombie, because our five eldest children didn’t sleep well at night.

Speaking of children: when you got engaged, did you talk about the family you wanted to have?

Before we got married we had agreed that we wanted to have as many children as we could. But when he was still in Germany and I was still in Costa Rica, I had some medical checks and was told I wouldn’t be able to have children. I wrote and told him, and said that if he didn’t want to marry me I would understand. Norbert replied that it didn’t make any difference; we could adopt.

And then, thank God, our own children arrived. Norbert and I agreed that I would stay at home looking after the children, and he would earn the money. Although I gave up working outside altogether for some time, I have never felt that that time was wasted, in fact it was the most valuable time in my life. I had the opportunity to be with my children as they took their first steps in the adventure of life, to give them a Christian upbringing, to teach them values...

Now, as I write, I think about our five elder children who have already flown the nest, and I thank God again that nearly eleven years after our fifth child was born, he gave us the joy of having Eva Maria, who is now eleven years old. I had her when I was 44, and naturally I was worried at first, but luckily everything went normally and at last Stefanie (our eldest) had her longed-for little sister.

Norbert, hard-working as ever, helps to support our sons who are still at university; we are still paying off our bank loans, but there is very little still to repay. God always helps us, but as the saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Marriage and a family, as you’ve been telling us, present unimagined challenges. How did you cope with being in a strange country, with unfamiliar language and customs?

It was very difficult getting used to my new country, with different customs and a different mentality from mine, and I often wanted to go home. Luckily I had a lot of spiritual support, which helped me to look at things from another point of view and encouraged me to overcome the money problems, misunderstandings with my mother-in-law, my homesickness, etc., and helped me to see that all those sacrifices and struggles were worthwhile. And it is true, they really were worthwhile.

I’ve now lived in Germany for nearly 25 years. I’ve had to learn so much – among other things the way people are here. In Latin America we are generally very communicative and emotional, and when we talk we bring in every kind of detail. Here, people are quite reserved and restrained, but with immense inner wealth. If you are lucky enough to make a friend here, you’ve got a friend for life. I didn’t know any of that to start with, and the character differences made me suffer a lot. I had to learn how to get to know them, and meanwhile pass over things that I didn’t understand and didn’t like, try to forgive and forget... All of this was and is worth while, and as I look back over these past years all I can do is thank God again and again for all his care and blessings!

We’ve now been married for nearly thirty years, we have six children, and from time to time I go to the little church in my husband’s home village to greet my dear St Raphael.


"We would have a poor idea of marriage and of human affection if we were to think that love and joy come to an end when faced with such difficulties. It is precisely then (...) the tenderness of a person's gift of himself takes root and shows itself in a true and profound affection that is stronger than death."
St Josemaria






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