Skip to main content

How Do I Balance Marriage With The Rest Of My Life?

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

Chris Grace: Welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast. We've been having as a guest, Mandy Catto who, from Scotland and if you listened to our last podcast, Tim, what a delight to have Mandy here with us and hear her background and experience. Glad to have you back on the program.

Mandy Catto: Great to be back.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yes. Love to have you.

Chris Grace: One of the things that we were talking about last time, Mandy, was what it was like to study here at Biola. Let's just start off with that question. You've been here and associated with Talbot for a while now. What drew you to Talbot? Why Talbot? Of all the different places you could have gone, you've traveled the world, you and your husband, I'm sure could have gone and done, to any school you wanted. Why Talbot? What stood out to you?

Mandy Catto: Talbot has an interesting connection with Aberdeen University going back a long way, and particularly Professor Howard Marshall, an amazing evangelical writer and leader. I've met him a few times, a wonderful, godly man.

Chris Grace: Is that I. Howard Marshall?

Mandy Catto: That's right, yeah.

Chris Grace: Oh, no way.

Mandy Catto: He's actually a really quiet, reserved-

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, but he's amazing.

Mandy Catto: He's not a great public speaker, but he's an incredible, godly man.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's great.

Mandy Catto: He drew towards Aberdeen evangelical students from all over the world and particularly from this area. Many years ago my husband was good friends with a certain Dr. Clinton Arnold who came to Aberdeen.

Tim Muehlhoff: Dr. Arnold is the dean of Talbot here if anyone doesn't know that.

Mandy Catto: That's right. So there's been a connection going back and forwards, not just Dr. Arnold but quite a few other Californians who've come to Aberdeen. So when we and 20 years ago initially, when we considered taking a year out, Steven was going to study full time. I was going study part-time and Talbot was the first place that we thought of because of this amazing connection between evangelicals and we knew its great reputation. We actually wanted to go abroad for a year and we're not that great at languages so we thought, okay it's either going to be Canada, America, or Australia where at least, even though we have a weird accent, at least we can understand other people and they can, hopefully, understand us.

So I distinctly remember a conversation, Steven called Clint and said, "We're thinking about studying abroad. We're thinking about Australia, Canada, America." And he said, "Yes there are many good institutions you could study at." And in the background, his wife Barbara said, "No, come to Talbot."

Chris Grace: Awe.

Mandy Catto: And you know, I think she sort of said that as a joke but for me because I didn't know anybody, I was like, "I want to go where that woman is welcoming me."

Chris Grace: Awe, that's awesome.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's cool.

Mandy Catto: Twenty years on, I still remind her about that. I say, "It's your fault that we're here-

Chris Grace: Ah that's good.

Mandy Catto: ... that we came that one year to Talbot." And I've loved it ever since.

Chris Grace: What was it like to us, go back to school? What was it like, the impact on your relationship? Now you probably had young children, having to move and what was that like? Was it hard to think about going back to get a degree like?

Mandy Catto: It was a challenge. I had started my first degree at Aberdeen University when I was 16 so I was very young student. So I finished my first masters by the time I was 20, and then to start again at the age of 47, was a challenge. It was-

Chris Grace: Sure.

Mandy Catto: And in between I had worked and done different things but I hadn't been a student. So it was challenging at Talbot and most classes you're in a small minority of female students. Some, couple of classes I was the only female student.

Chris Grace: Oh wow.

Mandy Catto: And then I was older than most of the students. Sometimes, I was older than the professors, so that was a particular challenge and just being British as well. Generally, people are very kind and open to British people. Generally, and they like it when we speak even when we have nothing intelligent to say. They're like, "Oh just talk. We love your accent."

Chris Grace: That's not fair.

Mandy Catto: I have nothing to say. But-

Chris Grace: Does it work there as well, do Scottish people love American accents or not really?

Mandy Catto: Do you want me to be honest?

Chris Grace: Yes.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, It sounds a little grated.

Mandy Catto: I think sometimes they do. I think youth culture in particular really embraces the whole American youth culture and music culture and films. So that would be, amongst young people, they would love the American accent. I think sometimes older people in Britain and Paris and Scotland are like, "Oh no Americans." So I'm just being honest there. You may not get the warm reception that you're always hoping for.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well I did grad school later in life as well. We had small kids. And I'll never forget sitting at the table, the kids were working. I was writing a paper for one of my graduate classes and one of my kids, I think it was Jason, says to Noreen, "What grade is dad in?" And Noreen goes, she added it up, she goes, "22nd grade." And I thought, "This is pathetic."

But Mandy, it is challenging time wise and making time for kids, making time for your spouse in the midst of grad school.

Chris Grace: Tim and Mandy, how do you do that? For the listeners out there, you have young children, the both of you and now you're trying to balance school, you're balancing study, work, raising a family, being married. How do you do it?

Tim Muehlhoff: Are you a perfectionist?

Mandy Catto: No.

Tim Muehlhoff: See, I'm not either. I really think that's a huge part of it. Grad school eats up perfectionists and spits them out. I mean, you have to be able to say, "This paper's done. And I'm ready for the test. I just don't need to do any more because it's not fair to the family that I just," ... Noreen can't hold her breath for weeks at a time to say, "Honey, I promise you after this paper's done, or this midterm's done," or something like that, so I didn't struggle to put something aside and say, "This is family time." I just wasn't a perfectionist. I got the grades I wanted. So you're not a perfectionist.

Mandy Catto: Well, I'm not a perfectionist but I was very driven and not entirely sure why. But I was this annoying student at the front of the class, saying "Didn't we have a test today?" Or [crosstalk]

Chris Grace: Oh I'm sure people love you.

Mandy Catto: I'm sure they did not love me. No, I don't think I ever did that. But I was the annoying student at the front of the class and I did want to hand things in on time.

Chris Grace: Right.

Mandy Catto: I never missed a class. I was never late for a class. I always handed my essay ... So from that point, I think, because I was a mature student ... Mature students tend to be like that anyway. And also a slight nervousness coming back in, it wasn't as laid back. I'm not a Californian laid back person so there was a sense to which I did want to be there and give off my best. So Jenna was 15 at the time when we moved here and I became a student. I think it helped to involve her right from the start in the whole decision for me to study. We prayed about it as a family. It was kind of part of the deal of moving here because it's difficult to get a visa. We were here under my student visa which enabled Steven and Jenna to move as well. She felt, and I hope she did, and we really talked it through so that she would be part of the process and I tried very hard to work and study and take classes during the day so that I could be there when she was.

Now, very quickly, she loved American life. She was very busy and out all the time so it was fine and sometimes we'd sit together at the kitchen top and study together. That was a fun experience for her. She was very supportive of what I was doing and why I was doing it. I really appreciate that. But to try and always be sensitive to her needs and if there was a night where she really needed me to just drop the work, I could do it early in the morning when she was still sleeping.

Tim Muehlhoff: I tried to check in and I think morning was pivotal for me before the kids got ... Our kids were much younger. So to back up that alarm by maybe two hours, and so the morning was my time before the kids got up. But once the kids got up, you just had to set stuff aside and say, "Hey, I got to help with breakfast." I would check in with Noreen every once in a while and just say, "Hey, how are things going?" And she'd be honest and say, "Hey, it's been a pretty crazy week or two. And how long is this going to be at this kind of pace?" And that just was a queue to me I got to really back off. My modeling career, I had to pull away from that.

Mandy Catto: So sad.

Tim Muehlhoff: I know, it was hard. I lost a fan base.

Chris Grace: Trying to get that master's, finish up that grad ... or even starting up an undergrad program. Your recommendation if they're married and if they're a young family is marry well, get a good, supportive spouse, don't be a perfectionist, what else?

Tim Muehlhoff: Which is impossible. You can't say to a perfectionist don't be a perfectionist. Here's what I do, I ask their spouse if they're a perfectionist. It's amazing how many perfectionists don't own the perfectionist label. They'll say, "Oh, I'm not sure." Then I turn to the spouse and say, "Hey, what do you think?" And then the spouse is like, "He's a perfectionist," or "She's a perfectionist." That needs to be negotiated on the front end. Things have to be put in place and there have to be checkups along the way because once you get in the riptide of grad school, it's very easy just to say, "I got to get an A and my career's based on this." So those conversations I think at the beginning, middle, and end are really important.

Mandy Catto: I think we've seen our marriage together as kind of a tag teaming, that there's been seasons of life where Steven was studying full-time and he went back and studied at Aberdeen and then he did a PhD which is a huge commitment and we had very young children then. And during that time, I was able to support him and to read some of his papers for him to just be there and to take a lot of the slack in the family to be the one who was there for the children when they were little so that he could do that. He was very happy to take, in a different season of life, to tag team me and to pick up the bat.

And actually when we arrived in America he said, "I'm going to do most of the cooking and the shopping." And I was like, "Really? Okay, this is a very different season." He's always been great at barbecuing and he'd been good at doing bread and things but to take on the kind of overall responsibility of the cooking was awesome. It really freed us up. It was also a bit of a challenge for me to be happy for him to do that. And what I found was it was fine when it was just Jenna, Steven, and I at home but when other people came around I would kind of want to pretend actually it was me. And when people came to stay ... There was some interesting ownership going on there.

Chris Grace: What was it do you think? Identity issues?

Mandy Catto: Oh definitely. That kind of felt weird that here he was taking on a role that I had previously done but it was great that he was able to support me in that one obvious way but in so many other ways in our relationship to allow me to be able to study at the level I did.

Tim Muehlhoff: What was his Ph.D. in?

Mandy Catto: In New Testament study.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh wow.

Mandy Catto: And second century synagogue.

Tim Muehlhoff: Really?

Mandy Catto: You're looking really fascinated right now, Tim.

Tim Muehlhoff: Identity issues, I have no idea what that is. Let's ask about the classes you're taking and how it's impacted you as a Christian and as a follower of Jesus. So we know that having gone through grad school you have to do a ton of reading when it comes to grad school. Everybody assigns a ton of books. So we thought it'd be a fun question what two or three Muehlhoff books have most impacted-

Mandy Catto: I have read one and it was very good. Can I remember the name of it? No, but it was very good.

Tim Muehlhoff: Wow, talk about identity issues. I need to speed dial my-

Mandy Catto: I did quote you in my final capstone paper.

Tim Muehlhoff: You did?

Mandy Catto: I did. It was kind of anti-combative apologetics. I took it from the point of view of it's all about relationship, it's all about kindness, it's all about evangelism.

Chris Grace: Is that the class you had to re-take because you failed her?

Tim Muehlhoff: Thanks for being a good sport. What books kind of have stayed with you after you read them?

Mandy Catto: I took two classes early on with Dr. Walt Russell and I absolutely loved those classes. His book, Playing with Fire, was great. I absolutely fell in love with hermeneutics and I'm so glad that I'm part of the teaching I'll be doing this next semester gets to interact with that book again.

Chris Grace: Explain what hermeneutics is for our listeners and why his book was good.

Mandy Catto: That's a good question. Can you give me a semester of teaching it and then maybe I'll have a great answer? It's understanding how to read the Bible, to reading it within its context. It's all about genre, it's about not cherry picking a verse and plucking a promise out of the Old Testament and immediately applying it to use. So it's really digging down to understand the Bible better so that you can read it better.

Chris Grace: It seems as if, and this is just a quick aside, that one of the things that faculty have noticed over time, not just at Biola, but a lack of almost Biblical understanding, reading, and wisdom and so even applying that I would imagine as a professor in this area you're going to find that'll be a challenge. Students come with less and less information or knowledge, I wonder why that is. How does our culture then recover from that when we start to see people who just have no Biblical knowledge, wisdom, or understanding whatsoever? And then your role in helping them teach that would be awesome.

Mandy Catto: It's been great this semester to watch Joanne Jung. Dr. Jung, I've been shadowing her, and she's just incredible at this particular area of making the Bible come alive. Each class she has a kind of drop the mic moment usually at the end where she'll just give them a drop of amazing godly wisdom to do with how to read the Bible. And also spirituality, the spiritual practices. It's been really fun for me to watch her and react with the students and how those students have been responding to and enjoying, even at 7:30 A.M., that's when the class was.

Chris Grace: Her class is 7:30?

Mandy Catto: Her class is 7:30.

Tim Muehlhoff: I'd have a lot of drop the mic moments at 7:30.

Mandy Catto: It's been a great class and to watch her has been a privilege.

Tim Muehlhoff: She's loved here at Biola.

Chris Grace: So give us another [inaudible] of that same package-

Mandy Catto: This is a book I read early on in my career at Talbot but have been using it in Saddleback as well, Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero, so kind of a spiritual formation side but also diving into your own relationship with God and then how that impacts your work in a church setting or your leadership in any role. That was a very helpful ... But we did that in a spiritual formation classes and I was in an amazing cool heart group. We were so ethnically diverse and yet we really bonded. I absolutely loved the 18 months that I spent within that group.

Chris Grace: That was part of another master's that you took in spiritual formation, is that right?

Mandy Catto: No, I think it's just part-

Chris Grace: Oh, it's just part of your program.

Mandy Catto: We have a requirement to do 18 months of spiritual formation class.

Tim Muehlhoff: Can you explain for our listeners ... We use the spiritual formation label all the time. What's your take on it? If somebody asked you what is spiritual formation, how would you answer that question? And what's valuable about studying it for the modern follower of Jesus?

Mandy Catto: I think there's an academic side to it so I guess you could do it as someone who didn't even believe in God. But really, spiritual formation is about connecting your own personal walk with God with your studies, with your developments. It's about looking at the specific practices, working your way through the different practices that may be helpful to you.

Tim Muehlhoff: By that, you mean solitude, prayer, fasting, kind of stuff like that?

Mandy Catto: Yeah. The very specific ones. I was typical of a lot of students that some of these I found not me but it was good to experience them and to try for a few weeks but there were others that I really loved. You build on the ones that you feel you're shaped, the way that God has made you. You build on those spiritual practices to take you forward and deep in your relationship.

Tim Muehlhoff: What's been particularly meaningful for you? What practice resonates with you?

Mandy Catto: I think I really loved journaling as I prayed. We're required to spend an hour each week in silence and solitude and to write and answer questions. I found that, initially, very difficult. But as long as I could journal what I was feeling to process it by writing it down and to see what is God saying to me. How does that make me feel? What am I going to do to change this? How do I feel about spending this much time alone?

Speaker 4: If you like this podcast, be sure to rate on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform. Of course, Tim and the other guy would love it if you gave them five stars. And be sure to share the podcast with a friend on Facebook or Twitter.

Chris Grace: Tim and Mandy, for both of you doing a spiritual formation in that setting and in working and thinking about these disciplines. What impact can they have on a relationship, on a marriage? Do they strengthen relationships? Obviously you're getting close to God, you're learning about what He has called you to do, you're learning how to listen to His whisper, you're listening in for that but it certainly seems to have an impact on relationships. What's it had for both of you? Tim, I know you're going to be speaking a little bit on that as well.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. I think when Paul says discipline yourself for the sake of godliness, I think if we were to say, "Okay, I'm going to run a marathon," or "I'm going to take up TaeKwonDo," that discipline thing makes sense to me. "I'm going to go to class regularly, I'm going to actually practice outside of class," so that makes sense to us if we're going to run a half marathon, a marathon but when we say spirituality for some reason American Christians get stuck. Like how do I discipline myself for the sake of godliness? And that's where those spiritual disciplines really come into play. For instance, we talk about perception checking, it's really good during grad school just to sit with your spouse and say, "Okay, how do you think things are going? How am I using my time?" I think that's spiritual prayer, that's introspection with God is to sit with God regularly and say, "Hey, I want to do some perception checking how You think I'm doing as a spouse. How do You think I'm doing as a father? How do You think I'm doing as a professor or whatever?"

And to allow the Spirit, almost like Kind David, "Search my heart, God," so that kind of spiritual discipline is to regularly check in with God and say, "God, how am I doing?" And then it's not always your spouse who has to play the Holy Spirit. You give the Holy Spirit direct access to do that. That takes time to do that but what a valuable thing to regularly check in with God.

Mandy Catto: I think to share together honestly how you're doing in your walk, share together as a couple in a marriage but also in a family to share in front of your children, the prayers that you've had, what you're reading in the Bible at the moment, what's making you passionate in the Bible at the moment, and if there's any verses or passages that you're struggling with, to talk about that as a family.

Tim Muehlhoff: Wonder why we hear so often that this is one of the hardest things for couples to do is to share honestly about their walk with God.

Chris Grace: And to pray, that took us by surprise. That couples really struggle to pray together as a couple.

Tim Muehlhoff: Why is that? And what are some tips we could give to listeners who are in a relationship, in a marriage? They're more reserved, this whole idea of sharing that intimacy with somebody it just seems awkward or weird. What have you guys learned?

Mandy Catto: I think that to acknowledge that you're different in a marriage ... We have different spiritual practices that we are passionate about. Steven is very ... He loves to engage with podcasts or to read theology books and he would be very passionate about that. Often, I connect to God more through worship and through having a time of worship. I will turn on worship music when I'm in the house and Steven will often walk in the door and turn it off, he's not trying to annoy me he's just like, "Who put this music on?" He's ready for silence. So to acknowledge that we're different in that area and not to kind of be, for me to feel like there's something wrong with me because I'm not passionate in the same way that he is or his particular thing.

God has made us to be different. He's created us differently. And to be able to share with excitement the different areas ... So he will go with me to a worship concert and I will often sit with him and discuss a great sermon that we've heard so that we can share that but not to be somehow embarrassed or to think that someone is a better Christian than someone else just because God made them differently.

Tim Muehlhoff: That is so good. I love apologetics. Noreen appreciates apologetics. I could talk about the problem with evil all day long. I can talk about those who've never heard of Jesus all day long, never make any progress in answering the question but just do it 24/7. And Noreen's up for it but after a while her eyes gloss over and she's like, "I love what you're saying," she doesn't need to feel like a second-class Christian, I'm just wired that way and Noreen is wired in different ways. That's kind of the thing we need to learn about each other as spouses and not judge each other, things like that I think is good. Chris, what would you say?

Chris Grace: I think for us it's similar. It's not just learning about where I feel closest to God but it's also trying to encourage in Alisa where she feels closest and then creating those opportunities so when I come home and Alisa talks about she would love to go for a walk or go to the beach and I'm just thinking I just want to curl up with a book and read ... I realize at that point, some of the things that Alisa is saying is, "I feel closest to God when I'm out in nature, when I'm walking, when I'm in this beautiful setting." So we have tried to figure out how do I encourage that in her and still find places where I love to be. We'll take a book to the beach and sit there-

Tim Muehlhoff: Which never works. Chris, that never works. It works philosophically but you're sitting there and you're getting sand in your pages and face, and seagulls attacking you. Mention the book you have found really impactful is Spiritual Pathways?

Chris Grace: Yeah. Well, Sacred Pathways-

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, Sacred Pathways, okay.

Chris Grace: And he has a number of books like that, extremely helpful and some of our listeners might want to go check it out because what it does is it gives you a gauge and a way to even measure yourself and to see where you land in spiritual pathways and what you find ... So, for example, Alisa would find her closest times with God in where she feels His pleasure or is taking a walk or journaling, that's another thing she's loved to do. And so for me, it's always, Tim, similar to yours, I love the intellectual connection with God. I love hearing and thinking thoughts and talking with Him and reading about people of insights. That book, by the way Sacred Pathways, does have an available type of survey questionnaire and you take it and you kind of can see a little bit your top two or three ways or gifts or what he would call spiritual personalities.

Tim Muehlhoff: What are two Muehlhoff books do you like to curl up with? On the beach?

Chris Grace: I'm still trying to find those. On Amazon they don't really show up.

Tim Muehlhoff: How do you say in Scottish ... No, I'm just kidding. Well, let's try this. Do you have anymore or was that it? Any other ones that just kind of stood out to you?

Mandy Catto: I think the last book that I loved was by Joe Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family. I think that book was very helpful in thinking through what church could be and what it should be. It was also kind of a part of a healing process of having come out of a church situation in England that had been quite hurtful and painful in some ways. Transition can be hard and we'd been through a situation there that was hard and that's often the case as Christians. There's no perfect church on this earth. But to be able to process and Hellerman's idea, his ideal of the church as a family, and what the early church had to offer and what we can learn in church now was helpful for me to process that situation and also to move forward and think, "Okay, fresh start, new day with God. God is forgiving and we have grace and so we can move forward into a new day."

Chris Grace: And I don't know if we mentioned Joe Hellerman's a professor here as well. We are so blessed at Biola University with such-

Mandy Catto: I've managed to bring in two books from Biola University. Are you pleased with that? None of them Muehlhoff books but good, good people.

Tim Muehlhoff: By the way, can you just one last time say the word process? Can you just say-

Mandy Catto: Process?

Tim Muehlhoff: No, process.

Mandy Catto: I don't know. What can I say? Process?

Tim Muehlhoff: You say process.

Mandy Catto: Process.

Chris Grace: It sounds much better how you say it.

Mandy Catto: Do you want me to say cup of tea as well? That's the one usually people ask me to say. Can you say cup of tea?

Chris Grace: That's awesome.

Tim Muehlhoff: I was listening to an interview with John Kravinski and Emily Blunt, who's the new Mary Poppins, and she's hilarious because she has this wonderful accent as well but her kids are speaking American and it's really bothering her. She's pretty funny when she goes, "Can I have some water?" It's pretty funny. Your kids, more English accents, Scottish accents, or is it-

Mandy Catto: Well, it's interesting. Jenna, now that she's away at college and she's not at home with us all the time, we can hear that she is becoming more American in her intonation. Most Americans still think that she sounds very British. We're hoping that all three of our kids can hold on to their accent a little bit. And actually, Americans are so wonderful and embracing of our ethnicity and of our accent that it is kind of an advantage to hold on a little bit so we're encouraging her to be Scottish.

Tim Muehlhoff: I can say the exact same thing Alex Trebeg says and people would go, "Eh," he says it and they're like, "I just heard the word of the Lord."

Mandy Catto: I have a conversation with people about once a month about Alex Trebeg, I'll start speaking in a store or a church or anywhere and they'll say, "Oh, you sound like my favorite radio preacher," and I'm able to tell them that Alex Trebeg came to my house when I was a little girl and my parents had me [crosstalk] and then he came and spoke at my house, so that kind of makes me cool.

Chris Grace: What was it like to meet him-

Mandy Catto: He was a really cool guy. He didn't have a special accent then, it was just normal.

Chris Grace: You just heard the normal-

Mandy Catto: He was a good speaker always back then. He sounds a lot more American to me now.

Tim Muehlhoff: What?

Mandy Catto: Oh yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Really?

Chris Grace: Mandy, it's been awesome to have you on our program. So what a delight to get to know you and hear a little bit about your story. We'll do this again.

Tim Muehlhoff: Thank you so much for taking time out to be here.

Mandy Catto: Thank you.

Tim Muehlhoff: And good luck with teaching.

Mandy Catto: Thank you, looking forward to it.

Mandy Catto: We're glad you joined Tim and the other guy for today's podcast.

Chris Grace: See, that's just-

Tim Muehlhoff: That's a wrap. That's a wrap.

Chris Grace: That's wrong.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's good. I love it.

Chris Grace: That's messed up.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's a great change.

Mandy Catto: For more resources on marriage and healthy relationships, please visit our website at We'll see you next time on The Art of Relationships.

Chris Grace: With Chris