Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Steve and Shaina Purves decided to refrain from sex during the 19-month period when their former marriages were being investigated.  
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Steve and Shaina Purves decided to refrain from sex during the 19-month period when their former marriages were being investigated.

TIGARD — Steve and Shaina Purves don’t consider themselves heroic. They say they simply lived out what the church teaches — and it was fantastic.

For 19 months after Shaina entered the Catholic Church, the civilly-wed couple refrained from sexual contact while church authorities looked over their past marriages to see if they could be declared null. According to church law, a declaration of nullity, or annulment, of those past attempted marriages would be necessary before Steve and Shaina could be considered married. Not wanting to risk serious sin, and wanting to receive the Eucharist, the couple lived a life of abstinence while awaiting word.

“God is more important than sex for us,” Shaina says.

It took longer than they hoped, but the period proved a boon to their relationship.

“It helped us realize what is truly important,” Shaina says.

“My mind went crazy sometimes,” admits Steve, who was in “total agreement” with the abstinence plan. “But you’d be amazed the strength God gives you. It was not that bad, and in a way we got to start all over again as a couple. When we came out the other end, we saw that this idea that sex is so important to relationships is a lie.”

The couple continued to hug and kiss, but not in a lingering way.

“We had to find other ways to show affection for each other,” Shaina says. “We would pass in the house and say to each other, ‘Hey, brother!’ and ‘Hello, sister!’”    

German Cardinal Walter Kasper this year wrote a proposal suggesting that it may be too much to ask average couples to “live as brother and sister” while a nullity investigation is ongoing. The cardinal said those who do so are performing “a heroic act.”

Being tortured and killed for the faith — that’s heroic, Shaina says.  
“What we did seems minuscule in the grand scheme.”

There was paperwork and waiting. The couple felt a longing, both for physical closeness with each other and for more children. They already had two and wanted more. They admit to some fear that the tribunal would not find evidence for a declaration of nullity.

“I knew we were following the path of truth,” Shaina says. “I knew we were doing the right thing.”

Steve grew up Catholic, but had stopped practicing after the death of his brother. After a 30-year period of atheism, he bought a used truck that had a Bible on the front seat. He began to read.

Eventually, he joined an evangelical church in California and became a youth group leader, even teaching chastity to boys.

That’s where he met Shaina, who had grown up Lutheran but lost connection to faith as a child. They bonded over faith and triathlon training and admitted to each other that previous marriages had been a mistake.  

A Protestant wedding ceremony came in 2006. They later had a son, David. The couple moved to Oregon and Steve noticed his mother was attending St. Cecilia in Beaverton. He wanted to reconnect with her, so his family came to St. Cecilia and Shaina liked what she saw. The couple volunteered to help with the youth group and religious education and Shaina eventually joined the RCIA, thinking to herself that so many smart and good people can’t be wrong.

Then came another son, Joseph. Steve started a home renovation business, Northwest Home Renovations.

Shaina was received into the church in April 2011 and spoke to Father Ysrael Bien about the past marriages. The young priest explained church teaching: stop taking the Eucharist or live as brother and sister. The couple investigated canon law, saw that it made sense and decided to live in accordance with it.

They say the process at the tribunal, while demanding, was “cathartic” and a blessing.

“That process is what is truly needed to heal the wounds that so deeply affect all of us who have had that marital intimacy with someone and then tragically lost it,” Shaina says.

Some friends could not understand why the couple needed to postpone their sex life.  

“Good catechesis and relying on God’s grace should make this more possible for more people,” Shaina says.

Teens in the St. Cecilia youth group were fascinated. The choice sparked a lot of conversations.

The waiting ended in November 2012, when the declarations of nullity were issued. Father Pat McNamee convalidated their marriage at St. Cecilia. Shaina admits she was excited to wear her wedding dress again. Ten months later, she gave birth to Hannah.

The benefits of 19 months of abstinence abide, the couple say. Steve and Shaina are not so worried about their own needs and know that small kindnesses and intimate conversations are good ways to love.

Steve says their marriage now is “tremendously better.”

“Sex is not a need,” Shaina explains. “It is a wonderful gift God gave us. We don’t die if we don’t have it.”