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Is It Okay To Propose On The First Date?

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Chris Grace: Well, welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. Tim, we get an awful lot of good guests around here.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah we do.

Chris Grace: Today we have a real special one. Someone that has been around Biola for a long time and Talbot. We'll introduce her in just a minute. Tim, it's fun to do these podcasts together.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, it's great, enjoy it, enjoy our conversations.

Chris Grace: Our guest today is Mandy Catto. Mandy, so glad you're able to join us and be here with us today. We're going to introduce the listeners to you and to some of the things that you've been doing here at Talbot. You've been around and associated with Talbot now for how many years?

Mandy Catto: That's right. We came over 20 years ago and I studied for one year here at Talbot and it was an awesome experience. We didn't have the Visa to stay. We went back home to Scotland and we brought our family up there. It was a long dream to be able to come back to Talbot and join in again.

Chris Grace: What did you study while you were here? You came to be a student, started in a masters program and what'd you finish with?

Mandy Catto: That's right I started actually in educational theory. At the time I was working in education, elementary education in Scotland. I did a couple of classes then. I had very small children so I just took two classes and enjoyed it. When I came back, different stage of life, different season. I took the theology and Bible diversified course. I think I'm actually one of the last students to-

Chris Grace: To take that.

Mandy Catto: Take that particular course. I really loved it. Finished up in two and a half years. Finished out the master's then.

Chris Grace: Nice, awesome, so you are currently doing some fun things. We'll ask a little bit more about your family because I want to hear about them. Let's just start with that actually. Married to Stephen and a number of children I know that are here and maybe some that even attended Biola?

Mandy Catto: That's right. Stephen and I have been married for 30 years now and we're both from Aberdeen, both very Scottish in our identity.

Chris Grace: We didn't know that.

Tim Muehlhoff: We do now. I was thinking Ohio.

Mandy Catto: We have three children. Our oldest son studied in King's College in London and then a little bit in UNC North Carolina.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, Tar Heels.

Mandy Catto: Tar Heels.

Chris Grace: Anti Duke.

Mandy Catto: I'm very much anti Duke.

Chris Grace: [crosstalk].

Mandy Catto: He is now working in politics in Washington D.C. He's working for our Republican Congressman and enjoying that. Our younger son is finishing up at Biola. He's part of the reason that we ended up moving back here. He is currently a super senior in his fifth year and loving his experience. He's a physics major.

Tim Muehlhoff: I was going to do physics or theater.

Mandy Catto: Then just to mix it up a little [crosstalk].

Tim Muehlhoff: I kind of chose theater. Mime or calculus, I went mime. I could have done both.

Mandy Catto: I can see they would both fit you. Then my youngest daughter, just to mix up the Biola picture, she is currently a freshman student at Azusa.

Chris Grace: Oh, we're out of time.

Tim Muehlhoff: Thank you for joining.

Chris Grace: Let's move on.

Mandy Catto: Actually she's really enjoying it there. She is a theater acting major.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, at Azusa.

Chris Grace: Is she really?

Mandy Catto: My kids are very different from each other. Different interests. I have a physics major right beside a theater major. It makes for a lot of fun in the family.

Chris Grace: I bet.

Tim Muehlhoff: I bet.

Chris Grace: Does it cause any ... Raising children that have very different interests kinda challenges you as parent, right? You have to be involved in different things and walk alongside them, learn different things. But it's a unique personality that each of them bring, isn't it?

Mandy Catto: Very true. Just when you think you have parenting sorted out, you know what you're gonna do, then they send you along the next child who is entirely different with different interests, different challenges, different joys. Yeah, you have to be constantly adapting and trying to discover, how am I gonna be the best parent I can be?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Mandy Catto: For this particular child.

Chris Grace: How did they adjust to the move? I imagine they identify as English or maybe ... Rather than American. But they now have many traits I would assume and cultural influences on them. How have the adjusted?

Mandy Catto: Well the two boys chose to come over here in their own right to study. They loved it from very, very soon after they arrived here. Made lots of good friends, enjoyed the different style of learning. One of Scott's first class was your psychology class.

Chris Grace: Oh yes.

Mandy Catto: I think you particularly picked on him quite often.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh.

Mandy Catto: Referring to Scott from Scotland. He was quite often late in class and you picked on that too. But despite that, he loved his time here and really was him coming for the year then saying, I would like to stay on here. That was the final piece in the jigsaw of our family's decision to move here.

Chris Grace: Oh, yeah. No, I do remember Scott very well. We used to tease him quite a bit. The students all just really wanted him to talk. He would stand up, they would say ask Scott, because they wanted to hear his accent. It was an awesome English accent. Mandy, as you and Stephen have now transitioned to your children are in college, they're beginning the whole dating process. One of the things to talk about and what we like to talk about, is relationships and how they differ and change over time. Even in different cultures, what's that like? So you and Stephen, I would imagine, met back in Scotland. Tell us a little bit about that.

Mandy Catto: I first met Stephen when I was 15. We knew his family. They were another Christian family, lived near us in Aberdeen. When I was 18, I helped out at a Christian camp. Stephen was one of the leaders then and I fell for him very big time over the course of that week of camp. So we had our first date shortly after that camp. I proposed to him during that first date. So there you go. I was an 18 year old, I was very confident that this was my life decision.

Tim Muehlhoff: Wait a minute, are you serious?

Mandy Catto: I really am serious, yeah.

Chris Grace: Tell us-

Tim Muehlhoff: Tell us this story.

Mandy Catto: Well, we went out for dinner and we had been talking about plans and I said, I have a life plan for you that I think will really well. How bout we get married and we live on a farm and we live happily ever after? He was from a traditional Christian brethren home where women in church don't pray or even talk much in church, so he wasn't really used to someone quite like me. I do remember he dropped his fork back into his plate at that particular moment. So we didn't really talk about it again. I went home and said to my mom, oh mom I know I'm gonna marry Stephen Catto. And she said, oh okay. Then I said, so I told him and I proposed to him tonight. She went, oh. Okay.

Chris Grace: That's fine.

Mandy Catto: Anyway, our relationship survived that initial onslaught by me. A year later, he took the chance to propose back.

Chris Grace: Ah.

Mandy Catto: So we kind of did the traditional thing as well. He went down on one knee. So I was 19 when we got engaged.

Chris Grace: 19, wow.

Mandy Catto: I was 20 when we got married. Now my kids are pretty much all of that age and older.

Chris Grace: What would you do if your son came and said, she actually proposed to me? Or your daughter? How would you respond? What would you feel?

Mandy Catto: I think I felt so grown up, you know, 18, 19, 20. I really thought I had it all sorted. Now my kids are at that age and if they said to me, I know who I wanna get married at age 18 I would probably say, okay. Let's pray about this and see how it goes and not rush into anything.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well your mom handled that really well, obviously, to be able to-

Mandy Catto: She did. She like Stephen so she was kind of hopeful that I wasn't gonna blow it and that it was gonna be a long term relationship.

Tim Muehlhoff: [crosstalk]. Wow. Do you notice differences, obviously the American dating scene, how Americans do dating and even college students, American college students, any observations you have of your take on how Americans do dating and relationships?

Mandy Catto: That's interesting. I think they take it more seriously here.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh.

Chris Grace: Oh.

Mandy Catto: In looking back at my time and as a Scottish young person or even the youth work that I did more recently in Scotland that they're slightly more casual when they're younger. It's okay to just date a few times and go out different places and if that doesn't last very long, it's not a big deal. Then maybe there'll be someone else in your youth group that you're ready to date. Whereas I feel here, it's a little bit more intentionality and if people are ready for that commitment then they think about it and maybe there's less casual dating and more-

Chris Grace: [crosstalk], yeah.

Mandy Catto: But once it does start, then often it can escalate quite quickly and people have expectations. Oh you're dating, therefore, are you ready for the next stage?

Tim Muehlhoff: Well is that a good thing or a bad thing in your estimation?

Chris Grace: I think I have the same question-

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: Cause there could be some negatives, right? It feels as if you put a lot of pressure on that very-

Tim Muehlhoff: Absolutely.

Chris Grace: First couple of dates, it seems like it could be really almost more difficult, more stressful, maybe not end as well as a more spontaneous [crosstalk].

Tim Muehlhoff: I'm not sure if your kids talked about this but I have three kids, two have graduated from Biola, one right now is heading into his junior year. They say dating doesn't happen at Biola because of all the pressure that's on the first date. There's so much. I kinda like the Scottish idea of a little bit of being more casual and carefree. Not being irresponsible. So what's your thought looking at both?

Mandy Catto: I think there's dangers and challenges and advantages to both actually. The danger is Scotland is that you end up just dating all the time. It can be very frivolous-

Chris Grace: Okay.

Mandy Catto: And actually it can fragment a youth group after a while if everybody's dating then broken up. So there's a danger in that. But also I do see the challenge of an overtly serious situation here where the expectation is, if you've got to that decision where you're actually gonna date, oh you probably are really serious and at some point in six months you're gonna get engaged. So actually, it's like a lot of what we're learning culturally, the differences is not necessarily better or worse, it's just different. There's different challenges, there's different opportunities.

Chris Grace: So you're going to eventually, and you've already started, at Biola as professor, teaching in an adjunct role. How has that been going by the way? Are you excited about that? That's a fun thing and I know you've taught in the past but this kind of formalizes it a little bit more. Do you bring with you some information or some ideas that you look forward to with Biola students thinking, this is gonna be a challenge to reach them in a way? But what are you looking forward to as you undertake that kind of journey?

Mandy Catto: Yeah, I hope I will be able to bring some of the things I learned as an adjunct back in England.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Mandy Catto: Bring that to a different cultural context.

Chris Grace: Yeah, yeah.

Mandy Catto: But also I'll be trying to learn very quickly what is appropriate here, what is helpful here? I don't wanna be this weird Scottish teacher that gets everything wrong and no one really understands her. So I'm looking forward to it, really looking forward. I'll be teaching biblical interpretation and spiritual formation to undergrad students.

Chris Grace: Oh, that'll be awesome.

Tim Muehlhoff: Nice.

Mandy Catto: Initially online so starting January it'll be an online class and then the following semester it'll be in person.

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Chris Grace: So you and Stephen have done a lot of teaching in your background in marriage and in work, so tell us a little bit about how that started. Eventually I wanna ask even about what you do today more full time rather than adjuncting. I know you work at a small church called Saddleback which is nearby. So tell us a little bit about that journey.

Mandy Catto: Yeah, Stephen and I when we first started dating actually, we were both involved in children's work and in youth work in our church. We very much try to find ministries often that we can do together. We really enjoyed that so we've probably done youth work 20 years or so, you know, in different church situations and always enjoyed that.

Talking about dating and relationships and marriage just kind of inevitably became part of that because sometimes we were the only couple in any particular youth group situation. I think we have good memories of conversations and discussion and teaching on that. I think my children possibly would have some more painful or embarrassed memories of being in a youth group where they're parents were doing the sex talk and they were there. I think Stephen once said some line about swinging from the chandeliers and somehow that became a catch phrase that haunted my boys in particular for many months to come as people teased them about the fact their parents were somehow swinging from the chandeliers.

Tim Muehlhoff: Noreen and I were speaking at church here and it was on sexuality. The head pastor had wanted a couple to do it so Noreen and I agreed we would do this one talk on sexuality. So the kids weren't there but it was being recorded and live streamed. I don't know if Stephen's ever done this but every once in a while you just share an illustration you didn't clear ahead of time. This one, it just was spontaneous and I did it and Noreen was just kind of like, what? But the kids weren't there. So we get home and our youngest says, hey I listened to your talk tonight. I was like, all of it? He goes, all of it. Noreen literally points to his room saying, go. Go have a talk with him right now. Go.

But that is wild. Two things I wanna point out. One, it's great for the kids to see their parents in ministry.

Mandy Catto: I hope so.

Tim Muehlhoff: I think that's awesome. Second, what a great lesson for listeners. Do ministry and then the people you meet while you're doing ministry probably is a good indication of the type of person that you wanna marry. People don't just start necessarily to do ministry when they get married but man, marry a person who wants to do ministry, is in ministry, excited about ... Noreen and I would do these sorority talks. Male, female differences and the sorority would be packed and I'd represent all of manhood. We weren't even dating at the time. I think that's so cool to start a relationship in ministry is a great principal to find the right kind of person you wanna do life with and ministry with. That's really cool.

Mandy Catto: Yeah. Stephen when I met him was the other person I knew who had as much if not more energy and enthusiasm for ministry. Enthusiasm for the church and I guess that was one of the things that really attracted me to him.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: Yeah. So then as you started off in your journey with Stephen and your work, what eventually led you to what you're doing today? Saddleback and all of that? Love to hear about that story as well. Then I know a little bit of your work early on in marriage stuff at some of your early churches as well.

Mandy Catto: I think that the journey towards working at Saddleback probably came through my love of evangelism. Of being there and reaching out through friendship so that people can come to know Jesus. Probably for ten years now I've been a director of an evangelism non-profit back in the UK. My heart has always been, not necessarily for the people who are already in church, who are already connected and following Jesus, but for those on the edges.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Mandy Catto: Or more particularly, for those who don't even come to church.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Mandy Catto: How can we as Christians serve them, connect with them, be there, make those relationships and give them opportunities so that they will come to church? During my studies at Talbot, I was always more interested in the classes or the parts of classes that talked about evangelism. That talked about reaching out. That talked about building relationships. Having authentic conversations. Being ready with the right answers but earning the right before you have the right answers to have the conversations through relationships.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Mandy Catto: When I graduated from this time last year from Talbot, we'd been attending Rancho Capistrano campus which is where we live. It's part of Saddleback campus. It's only 1800 people so it's one of the ... It's not as big as Saddleback but it's bigger than any church I ever attended in the UK.

Chris Grace: Yeah, I bet.

Mandy Catto: So very different experience for us.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Mandy Catto: I've been working alongside the pastoral team there in the welcome and connection and community outreach.

Chris Grace: Oh, that's great.

Mandy Catto: So three areas that I absolutely am passionate about and I just love being at the welcome kiosk and people coming up every service, usually have between 10 and 15 brand new people every weekend who are approaching Saddleback. Some of them already Christians, many of them not, exploring faith. So having that opportunity to welcome them and then follow up with them. Creating a relationship.

Chris Grace: Well I could imagine your experience in England, Scotland and other places in that area ... Tim, you and I have both been there with our families, very limited amount, but there's almost a stereotype or an idea out there about the lack of church people or the lack of the gospel in that country and the decline over the last number of decades in practicing Christians. My guess is in Scotland, there's a huge ministry and need for evangelists or people who can share the gospel at a level, so how have you seen that? How has that challenged you a little bit and is that right? Is Scotland a very tough place for example, to talk about God's word or who he is?

Mandy Catto: It is a tough place. It's a wonderful country but the percentage of people who actually attend a church regularly on a weekend, I think it's currently between five and seven percent.

Chris Grace: Wow.

Tim Muehlhoff: Five and seven ...

Mandy Catto: So we are really in a almost post Christian situation. Many people would still align themselves as part of an identity that they are formally Christian, but that does not include attending a church in any way. Perhaps Christmas and Easter, that's about it. So yes, the majority of people you meet that you live alongside, that you work with, that your children go to school with, are not believers. They are maybe two generations away from having been in a Christian upbringing. So yes there are challenges obviously, and there's a sadness that so many people don't know who Jesus is. But it does mean that the Christians tend to have a siege mentally and we work together. We argue less I believe, denominationally, because there's so few of us. We have to stick together.

Chris Grace: Stick together.

Mandy Catto: We have to be focused on outreach. We cannot sit in our dying churches and expect that things will be good. That brings a good passion and an energy to the evangelical believers to get out there and do all that they can to reach people for Jesus.

Tim Muehlhoff: What a great principle. I did all my grad work at seculary universities from UNC Chapel Hill. When you're there as a Christian, which is very a minority, if somebody else came in and said hey, I'm a Christian, I wouldn't care. I wouldn't care what denomination you are. I would say hey, that's awesome. This end of the swimming pool is like completely empty, come jump into my end and let's work together as we try and impact what we see. At a place like Biola is that because we're a bit insulated, we start to have a lot of these internal debates that can actually separate each other. I think there's great benefit to being in a place where people just aren't Christians and you have to pull together with other Christians, I love that. That's a great mentality to have. I was gonna say, preach it. Preach it. No, that's important.

Chris Grace: How has it helped you then now, Scotland has an amazing history of theologians and in fact, you can point back to some that have made huge impacts in Protestant views and theology and I'm sure some of them are heroes. How has that helped you though now in this context working at Saddleback with Americans? Is it the same? Do they feel like a different group when you think about evangelism with them? How does that work for you?

Mandy Catto: Yes, it's interesting trying to tie in the original traditions that I've grown up with, with the situation that we're in now. Saddleback has a good mentality of really looking outwards. I think-

Chris Grace: [Wayne].

Mandy Catto: Wayne was one of the pioneers of this ministry of kind of seeker sensitive. Maybe that's not a term we use very often anymore. But looking outwards to people who don't yet know Jesus and I think that's still very true today and our particular campus in particular. We really prioritize. There's a lot of money investment in gifts and follow up and the events that we do which I'm really excited about.

Chris Grace: Yeah, yeah. Can we go back to Scotland just for a second? Again, if this is something that's just outside of your purview, but what happened to Scotland? What happened with this great rich tradition? What was happening culturally that Scotland then just kind of moved away from faith?

Mandy Catto: It's a good question and one that's hotly debated and still is. There's probably quite a few different aspects to what the answer would be. Some of it I think is just the disposition of the average Scotsman, Scotswoman, that we don't talk about religion. You don't talk about your emotions. Generally speaking, people are ... I wouldn't say cold, they're just not very open.

Chris Grace: Reserved.

Mandy Catto: Reserved, yeah. Conversations about faith are difficult to come to. I think it was one of the most striking things when we first moved from Aberdeen over here to California, that people would say, oh why are you here? Cause they would hear our accent immediately, why are you here? I'd say, well we're studying at Biola. And they would say, oh yeah, that's a Christian school. You know, I'm interested in Christianity. That conversation happened at least once a week when we moved here. That conversation had almost never happened in Scotland. So if you said to people, oh I go to a church or I'm studying divinity at Aberdeen University, then there would be a silence. Because one, they wouldn't know what to say and two, they might not want to ask about that because that would be embarrassing or it would be too open.

So there's a whole aspect of just personality type that makes it harder for an openness to the gospel. Maybe there's a sense of the country's moved on a bit. People feel like we've moved on from Christianity.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Mandy Catto: That's what my grandparents believed. Look, it didn't do them much good. If their parents were nominal attenders but the faith wasn't real for them, if it didn't really impact their life, then their children are not even gonna be nominal. They're not even gonna be interested in being at church. So there's a sense of people feeling like they've moved on-

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Mandy Catto: And the country's moved ... Very sadly.

Tim Muehlhoff: When we were overseas, we lived in Lithuania for a year, me and my wife. When people heard that Noreen and I were Christians and that we were serious about our spirituality, they were blown away. They were like but wait, you're educated. You're young. Why would you care about religion? Because in Lithuania, it was really the older generation that was interested and that's what your grandmother did. It blew people away. Why in the world would you guys care about it? You're young, you're American? Interesting take we have on religion across the world. Europe has been such a sadly secular revolution has happened there that people don't talk about religion much anymore. The very birthplace of some of our greatest theologians and heroes. That's really a sad reality.

Hey, can I ask you a quick personal question? So this reservedness of Scots, did you carry that into your marriage? Is there any of that bleed in with you and your husband that we don't talk about these things? Or did you guys kinda get past that?

Mandy Catto: I think we're very different when it comes to that. I've always been very open. I used to be made fun of, oh, your hearts on your sleeve. You always talk too much about your emotions. That was part of my family dynamic. I was the one who was always sharing, oversharing. Stephen was kind of more naturally Scottish and reserved. So we're a good contrast to each other. A good balance for each other and you know, I really appreciated his steadiness. But it does bring challenges to our marriage now because I'm the one who'll say, oh last night we had this argument or I would just share details, which usually try and be funny and make a joke. I don't know Tim, if you've even been like this, but that's what I would be like. I would be oversharing and then afterwards Stephen would be the one saying, okay I wasn't expecting you to share that in public. So that's been a challenge. But usually, just a joyful one. He's very patient with me and happy that I'm a little bit more open.

Chris Grace: Tim I wonder if you have a little bit of Scot in your background with your reservedness. You struck me a lot as she was talking about being Scottish.

Tim Muehlhoff: So here's what's funny, Noreen was a business major. I was a theater major. She was pre-law. I was pre-unemployment. Right? So I'm the one in our marriage, talk about gender reversal, that I'm the one who would be more open and say hey, we need to talk about this or that. Noreen is up for it but that's not her natural inclination. Yeah. I like the gender difference in our marriage that it's not always just the woman who's open.

Mandy Catto: No, absolutely not.

Tim Muehlhoff: Absolutely, yeah.

Chris Grace: Mandy, it's been great talking with you. We are going to take a break given the time and we're going to continue in the next podcast. Just love hearing a little bit more about your story, your journey in ministry and then so grateful to have you here at Biola and joining at us at The Art of Relationships podcast. It's gonna be awesome and fun. Thanks for being with us.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Mandy Catto: Thank you.

Chris Grace: Thank you.

Mandy Catto: We're very glad you joined us for today's podcast. For more resources on marriage and healthy relationships, please visit our website at We'll see you next time on The Art of Relationships.