NATTASHA Mierendorf’s decision to marry was spurred by someone who’d never married and she’d never met.
Her relationship with Stephen, who arrived in Brisbane to serve with National Evangelisation Teams (NET) in 2011, was somewhat unexpected.
“I was really closed off to dating anyone,” Nattasha, known best as Tash, said.
“I loved the idea of being single and being able to do what I want … to travel, be adventurous, to not be accountable to anyone.”
As Stephen’s “co-supervisor” on NET, Tash discovered someone “kind, compassionate and really funny”.
“The more time we spent together, the more I wanted to be with him,” the 27-year-old said.
American-born Stephen, 31, who admitted to needing to recover from previous “heartache”, said their love “was not immediate but rather, a slow burn”.
“We spent a lot of time together – planning, travelling and supervising so we got to know each other quite well,” he said.
“Tash was and is very outgoing and energetic with a real passion for people … (and) I came to a point where I asked her to date me.”
It wasn’t long before the relationship was “pretty serious”, with talk of marriage, and Tash, who came to Australia from the United Kingdom at 16, said she felt “overwhelmed”.
Booking flights to and from India, she was boarding a plane a week later.
“I was just going for a couple of weeks for a holiday,” Tash said, citing her adventurous spirit.
Her intention was to “do something special while away” with volunteer work among the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata high on the agenda.
“It was all a bit last minute,” she said.
“I hadn’t booked accommodation when I left. I knew the place I wanted to stay was just over the road from the convent but they didn’t have a phone or a booking system, it was just turn up when you arrive.”
“Turn up” Tash did but it was early morning and the address was securely closed.
“I was completely on my own, in a foreign country, in the middle of the night with nowhere to stay,” she said.
Instead of “panicking” Tash said she “felt excited”.
“(It felt like) such a thrill and an adventure,” she said, adding, “These are the sorts of adventures you can have as a single person.”
Finding somewhere to lay her head that night, only a few hours sleep led to “heading over to the convent for Mass and signing up for volunteering”.
With not many seats available for Mass, Tash was “on the far side of the room on the other side of a large table”.
But the table was something quite more.
“It wasn’t until I knelt down did I realise the table was the tomb of Mother Teresa,” Tash said. “(And) I had to sit up on my knees to look over the tomb to see the altar.”
During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Tash found the statement, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” difficult to complete.
“I couldn’t get it all out,” she said. “It just struck me who I was knelt in front of,” she said.
“Here I was, looking over the body of one of the holiest and most influential people of the last century and looking at Christ in the Eucharist.
“Here I was, doing whatever I wanted, having my own adventures … but the woman lying in front of me never thought of herself, she gave her life to serving others.”
After receiving Holy Communion Tash was able to look down upon, for the first time, the tomb of St Teresa of Kolkata.
“(On the tomb) someone had written out in huge letters, with tiny flowers, the words, ‘True Love is Surrender’,” she said.
“(In that moment) I realised that if I really loved Stephen, I would surrender. I’d surrender holding onto whatever I wanted and whatever my plans were and I would be open to something more.
“(And) if I really loved God, I’d surrender to Him and His plans for me as well.”
The time away was “an amazing adventure” and had cemented her desire to “take the next step” towards marriage.
Stephen prepared a surprise visit to Tash while she was ministering in Townsville.
Doing a double-take when she saw him, Tash noticed he was “dressed really well” and the couple went to Mass.
The irony was she had dressed for what she thought was “a day off involving kayaking” with other NET staff.
Stephen told the priest of his intentions to propose after Mass, and kind-hearted clergyman asked the gathered congregation to “pray for a special couple” during the Prayers of the Faithful.
The soon-to-be-bride remembered “looking at Stephen’s pockets, wondering if he was carrying a little box”.
Mass finished and her hope was realised when Stephen produced a ring, not from a box but from around his neck, beside his Cross.
“I took Tash over to the statue of (Mother) Mary after Mass, told her how much she meant to me and then asked her to marry me,” he said.
Within a year the couple married in St Oliver Plunkett Church, Cannon Hill, joined by family from overseas including two of Stephen’s sisters who are members of religious orders.
Another 12 months saw the arrival of Lucy Anne and, in February, the family who live in Tingalpa, on Brisbane’s east, will welcome another daughter.
Feeling “grounded and the most settled” she’s ever been, Tash will soon take maternity leave from her three-year role with Emmanuel Community’s Ignite Youth.
“For the first time I feel like I have deep roots in a place,” she said.
“(And) having Lucy has made me more aware of the weight of the choices I make and how they have a big impact on her too.”
Of parenthood Stephen said he “wasn’t aware of how much” he could love someone.
“So far it’s been mainly about keeping Lucy alive and healthy but now it’s turning more into moulding her as a person as well,” he said.
Asked if they saw themselves as a mirror of the Holy Family, Stephen was enlightened.
“I definitely see Tash as a great example of Our Lady in her faith and love,” he said.
“(And) I feel more like St Joseph in simply trying to provide for the family the best that I can.”
The gentle example of St Mother Teresa also continues to inspire their shared adventure.
“If I was worried about never being able to have adventures with a family, I was completely mistaken,” Tash said.
“It’s like a new adventure every day.”
By Selina Venier