Few people say marriage is easy. Rarely do two people find dream-fulfilling, problem-free union in holy matrimony. But when you meet Greg and Lisa Hatteberg, you may truly believe you’ve found an exception to the rule.
Greg loves people. He’ll first clap you on the shoulder and pull you into a hug, and then he’ll ask your name. Once he knows what you like to be called, he’ll never forget. As the Director of Alumni at Dallas Theological Seminary, he’s had hundreds—if not thousands—of student names scroll past his eyes.
And he remembers every single one.
After you meet Greg, you’ll meet Lisa and probably notice her wheel chair. Lisa suffers from Multiple Sclerosis—a disease that has slowly robbed her of the ability to walk and talk. But the smile that still lights up her face when she whispers in Greg’s ear speaks volumes.
Greg and Lisa met while they worked together in a weekly ministry while in college. Friends at first, a romance bloomed during their shared walk to and from the ministry. After finishing college, he and Lisa married with hopes of starting their own farmstead. But when they couldn’t find a farm for sale, he and Lisa decided to move to Dallas so Greg could go to seminary.
In 1992, however, Lisa and Greg sat in a doctor’s office waiting on a diagnosis that would change their lives. The doctor pulled Greg aside and whispered out of Lisa’s hearing, “She has MS. This is when most husbands leave—while their wives still can walk, and they can excuse themselves.”
Greg remembers the moment well. “Though I can only see it now, I was too independent from God. Sure I had a godly wife, but I was still independent. When we finally realized we could do nothing, then we heard God say, ‘Now, I can use you.’” Greg and Lisa had torn the page of divorce out of their marriage book, and the diagnosis would put that commitment to the test.
Life got hard. As Lisa’s MS progressed, the couple had to constantly reshape the patterns of everyday life. And, as their four kids grew and left the home, Greg had to figure out how to care for Lisa and still work a full-time job. Lisa had to come to terms with failing strength and independence, and figure out new ways to build her relationship with Greg.
When asked what keeps them together despite their broken dreams and struggles with Lisa’s disability, Greg will tell you, “The spiritual life and marriage are both hard when done in our own strength. Either God’s given us the power to do both, or he’s not. But I believe he has.”
Instead of regretting the lost dream of a normal life, Greg and Lisa delight in the things God has already given them. “The best part of my day,” Greg says, smiling, “is going home for lunch to check on Lisa, and to see her waiting for me with a smile.”
If you ever have the privilege of meeting Lisa and Greg, you may notice one final thing. Greg sports sideburns that would earn respecting nod from the Union general himself. They come from Greg’s Norwegian-Lutheran heritage, where elders in the church grew the facial hair as a sign of seriousness of their office.
“These sideburns remind me of what it means to be faithful,” he says solemnly, “even if that faithfulness means sacrifice.” Greg and Lisa have endured significant hardship, the critical opinions of neighbors, and life-and-death scares. But in it all, they still smile. They still adore each other. And then wouldn’t trade their marriage for anything.