Ed note: Sometimes I come across something beautiful that makes me want to do a few things. First, toss up my hands and say “why do I bother to put pen to paper?” followed quickly by wrapping my arms around said thing and squeezing until it is somehow part of me and I part of it. This piece by thinker, doer, and writer Melissa Joy Kong, a friend who went on her own journey of love, is one of those things. Enjoy.
In 2013, my friend Nate and I traveled around the country for three months to capture the stories of 100 of the best couples we could find. We thought that, by interviewing joyfully married couples, we could shed light on and share lessons about whatever kept them together.
Once this journey started, I quickly began to accumulate more questions than I did answers. We’d traveled halfway around America, interviewing dozens of couples, and still — no clear patterns. I had to honestly ask myself,“What am I actually searching for on this trip? What is my heart really seeking?”
And then it happened. In the middle of November, Nate and I made it to Omaha, Nebraska. I don’t remember every detail of every day during the journey, but my memory of this particular day is very clear.
It was the day I met Ty and Terri Schenzel.
We were only planning on being in Omaha for a day. But, a friend of ours exclaimed that our project wouldn’t be complete without meeting Ty and Terri. (I am forever grateful for you introducing us, Nick Huff.)
Graciously, the couple made time for us. “Come by at 10pm tonight!,” Terri exclaimed. 10pm. On a Saturday night. When most people are getting ready for bed. I could already tell I was going to love these people.
When we got to their doorstep, I remember feeling the crisp November chill in the air — simultaneously piercing and awakening. A moment later, Terri swung open the front door, and I was blasted with the most intense warmth. It poured out of their home and swirled around Nate and I, inviting us into what would become the most impactful conversation with the most personally meaningful couple I’d meet on that journey.
Before we even sat down, it was clear there was something extraordinary about Ty and Terri. You could feel it in the way they ushered us into their home, almost dancing with one another while they did. You could feel it in the way they embraced two perfect strangers. The air was thick with their love for one another — with their deep care for everyone they meet, including us.
For the next four hours, Ty and Terri poured their hearts out about marriage, commitment, forgiveness, hope, and love. You can listen to part of our conversation with them here:
They began with the story about how they met. Ty delightfully recounted it all while Terri gazed on with a proud, knowing gaze (and corrected Ty’s story when necessary, of course). Her eyes were gleaming as though saying,“This is my husband. This is the father of our incredible children. This is my best friend. He is my greatest love.”
They talked about resolving conflict healthily. They talked about the power of true forgiveness — for the pain others cause us, and the pain we cause ourselves. They talked about what it meant to pursue one another fully — to commit to one another more deeply with every passing year.
Ty has been a pastor in Omaha, as well as the founding Executive Director of The Hope Center, for over three decades. Terri helped him build it from the ground up. To say they are the rich heartbeat of Omaha would be an understatement.
Their marriage is one centered around their love for Jesus. Whether you’re Christian or not, Ty and Terri are the kind of people who love so fiercely and deeply that it makes you want to know more about this guy named Jesus if it means getting to be a little more like the two of them. Lots of things are broken about the Christian religion, and the Schenzels are the best brand of stitches the world could ever ask for. They make God and Jesus make a lot more sense. They make faith and forgiveness look brave and cool.
As the hours passed in their home, it became clear to me that Ty and Terri’s 27 years of marriage were filled with deeper joys than most of us allow ourselves to experience — joys born out of adventure, hardship, conflict, commitment, and a deep shared love for God.
I wanted what they shared. I wanted a lifetime of the warmth and excitement and joy I experienced in those four hours with them at their home.
Toward the end of the conversation, Ty said, “Love is like a bank account. Every interaction you create is either a deposit or a withdrawal. If you keep making deposits, your love always overflows. You never go bankrupt.”
Ty and Terri embody this idea completely. If their love was a bank account, they’d be crazy rich. I want a bank account like that. Don’t you? I want to love like I’ve always got more of the stuff to give. Because I do.
Ty and Terri were teaching me that.
The road trip ended a few months later. I learned something beautiful about the meaning of love and marriage from every couple I met.
But of them all, Ty and Terri stuck with me the most deeply. I thought about them constantly. They became the road map I never had, leading to a greater kind of treasure than I thought I’d ever find: a heaping pile of compassion, grace, forgiveness, and zeal like I’d never experienced before. They became part of my heart — their story, their kindness, their brand of love.
I have been fortunate enough to continue learning from them over the past few years. I’ve learned what it means to take good care of my heart (Terri taught me that); to feel a father-like love in my life for the first time (Ty showed me that); to not be afraid to fall in love with life and with people — one day with my own great love, whenever I get to meet him (Ty and Terri both etched in me a vivid picture of how beautiful a committed love can be).
I carry a piece of them with me wherever I go these days, and I’ve become a significantly stronger, kinder, more loving woman as a result of them being in my life.
I got the news early Friday morning.
While on a road trip with two friends whom they also mentored, Ty and Terri died in a horrendous, fiery car accident the evening before. Warm, salty tears began to trickle down my face. My heart sank. I fell to the floor.
It couldn’t be true. They cannot be gone.
As the reality of this heartbreaking news set in, I could feel the gaping hole they were leaving in their wake. I thought about their children and grandchildren; their church; their community; and the world of people still hurting who would never get to experience the healing quality of Ty and Terri’s abundant love.
It felt like the world had cracked, broken open. But knowing Ty and Terri, they would say, “That’s how the light gets in.” They were like that — finding the silver lining even in the worst clouds of tragedy.
Ty and Terri set the most incredible example of what God’s love for each of us looks like. Even if you don’t believe in God, Ty and Terri would still tell you, “He loves you more than you’ll ever know, no matter what.” And with that understanding, the heart in me knows this remarkable pair is somewhere breathtakingly beautiful right now.
But for those of us still here on earth? The loss is indescribable. The grief, immense.
On my plane ride back to Omaha to say one final goodbye to the sweetest couple I’ve ever known, I listened to the recording of that very first conversation I had with Ty and Terri a few years ago.
At one point, Terri said, “It brings me to tears thinking about this, but I hope when Ty dies, he’s able to say that I was the greatest gift he received on this earth. That is my goal. I live to make him feel that way every day.”
I have a feeling that’s exactly how Ty felt when he was breathing in his last breath. Based on how he loved her, I have a feeling the last thing he did was outstretch his hand to invite Terri to join him wherever he was going. And she took him up on the invitation because that’s what their love did; they were always reaching out for one another. They were always holding hands trough the crazy, amazing journey that is this life.
Tears trickled silently down my face as I stared out at the sky from the tiny airplane window, thinking about the extraordinary love these two people shared and gave away abundantly.
Today, we said “goodbye,” and “thank you,” and “we love you” to Ty and Terri Schenzel. Thousands of people showed up. Thousands. That’s how deep and vast their love spread.
Ty was known for joking, “Jesus loves everyone…but I think he loves me more!”Which is perfect, because that’s how the two of them made everyone they met feel. Every interaction was important. Every moment they spent with people was so breathtakingly intentional.
There are thousands of us who have been infected with their overwhelming love. Each of us who have gotten to know them has experienced a piece of heaven on earth.
They live on in their four gracious, loving, beautiful children, who inspired thousands today with their touching eulogy — with the immense love they have for their parents, and for each other.
They live on in each of us who got to know Ty and Terri — however long or short, whenever the season.
I miss them deeply. I’m always going to miss them.
If you’re reading this, it might feel like a story about their death. But it isn’t.
It’s a story about their life.
A collective life that was, to borrow the words of author and movement-maker Jamie Tworkowski, “a living, breathing, screaming invitation to believe better things.”
So many of us wait our whole lives for happiness.
We wait the whole year for summer.
We wait the whole week for Friday.
Not Ty and Terri. They never waited.
Every year, every season, every week of their lives was bursting with love, grace, and intentionality.
While incomprehensibly bittersweet, it is fitting that they left this earth together on a warm, sunny Thursday afternoon.
Because they were the kind of people who never waited for Friday.
If you’re reading this and you never got to meet Ty and Terri, I think they’d want you to know that they really wish they could have met you.
That they believe in you. That they are proud of who you’re becoming. That they want you to live a life full of joy and hope and love.
They’d want you to know that you matter.
That your life was given to you so you could do something breathtaking with it. That you are a gift, and the world wants to break you open, pour light in, and encourage you to share all you have to give with as many people as possible.
They would tell you to pour love into, and squeeze as much life out of, every single day. As much as you can.
They would tell you that there’s a question inside each of you that you were born to help the world answer. A problem you were built to solve. A pain you were meant to heal. They’d tell you to go pursue that deep calling in your heart.
They’d whisper to you, “Don’t wait for Friday.”
Don’t wait for Friday when every day was made for you.
They’d tell you if they could.