Melissa Gutierrez and Trevor Hinshaw were both raised in Christian homes, and when they met she literally gave him the shirt off her back.
Granted, they were on a soccer field.
Mr. Hinshaw was filling in for another player on the team for which Ms. Gutierrez served as captain, so she stripped down and threw him her jersey to get the game underway.
The act was completely in character for Ms. Gutierrez, 28, a dedicated soccer player and spitfire known for her big personality, spontaneity and smart, quick moves, both on and off the field.
It was in September 2016 that Mr. Hinshaw, 25, also a keen and dedicated player, put on the very tight jersey — she’s barely 5 feet, he’s 10 inches taller — without registering that Ms. Gutierrez was then wearing only a sports bra and shorts.
At the time, he was in the middle of big life changes. He had just started medical school at the University of California, Davis, where he is now in his second year, and was facing the possibility of calling off his engagement to his high school sweetheart. His fiancée was unwilling to commit to a wedding date. He saw problems.
“I’ve wanted to be married since I was a 5-year-old,” said Mr. Hinshaw, who was raised in San Jose, Calif., in a Roman Catholic household with a strict moral code, a strong work ethic and parents, he said, who were “best pals.”
The decision to break his engagement was excruciating, especially for someone known for his honesty and adherence to rules.
(When he was a child, his older sister once used a curse word, an offense that so affronted Mr. Hinshaw that he wrote out the word, in lieu of voicing it to his mother. To his surprise, instead of a pat on the head, the family’s golden boy took heat both for tattling and for having spelled out the expletive.)
But as 2017 rolled in, a newly single Mr. Hinshaw, still in his 20s, entered unfamiliar territory: dating. With his boyish good looks and his reputation for kindness and brilliance, his female friends took notice. A physical relationship began with one friend, but after a while, he said, the “friends with benefits” arrangement was confusing and unfulfilling.
About the same time, Ms. Gutierrez’s life was also in flux. After earning an M.F.A. in creative writing in 2013 from the University of Arizona, she worked as a copywriter at Bukwild, a Sacramento advertising agency. She played adult league soccer up to four nights a week. Those parts of life were excellent, but the dating and relationship part, less so.
Her childhood had been steeped in an evangelical church where her mother was a pastor. As a teenager, Ms. Gutierrez had written a pledge to “save herself for marriage.” For her undergraduate degree in English, she attended a small Christian college, Biola University, where she said one of her roommates had her first kiss with her husband at their wedding. Ms. Gutierrez had rebelled against the Christian conservative mores, yet only so much.
“Men were either your salvation or you were supposed to have nothing to do with them,” she said. (Her mother, Janice Gutierrez, no longer employed as a pastor, runs an international nonprofit promoting women’s leadership. She said she regrets the ideas imparted upon her young daughter at church.)
“After becoming sexually active, I basically figured I should marry every guy who saw me naked,” Ms. Gutierrez said. “That didn’t really work out, to say the least.”
Despite her longing for a deep union, in relationships she had never felt matched. Stints of online dating brought adventures — some wildly fun and some marginally traumatizing — but the connections left her lonely. By last spring when she was running the field with Mr. Hinshaw she had sworn off men, even the cute soccer suitors, of whom there were plenty.
“Melissa put herself out there with guys, but they didn’t get her,” said Derek Gutierrez, one of Ms. Gutierrez’s younger twin brothers.
Ms. Gutierrez said she “came to the conclusion: ‘I’m awesome, so why were these guys idiots?’” Instead of dating, she focused on her career and many creative pursuits, including art and writing fiction. (Ms. Gutierrez is an accomplished sidewalk chalk artist, having won competitions, and is pursuing side projects in illustration and art therapy. Her fiction has been published online and in small literary journals.)
After a soccer practice in May 2017, Ms. Gutierrez skipped the team’s postgame burrito hangout in favor of buying healthy groceries; despite her athleticism, her diet default was often tacos and ice cream. Mr. Hinshaw asked to tag along.
At the grocery store, Ms. Gutierrez, who is fearless against players twice her size on the soccer field, confessed a secret: a fear of grocery shopping. As she snaked through the aisles of colorful food products, her anxiety would speak. “The choices! The packaging! Why are people dying of hunger with all this food! How much of this will I waste?” she said.
With her cart filling and her agony lessening, Ms. Gutierrez saw her sweet and reliable teammate in a new light: He possessed a dry wit and charm. Mr. Hinshaw, known for his steady demeanor, eased her angst with conversation that gradually revealed their many similarities. He had earned a degree in neuroscience from Gordon College, also a Christian institution. He, too, was passionate about great books.
Several nights later, Mr. Hinshaw texted Ms. Gutierrez to see if she had followed through on her healthy meal plan. Indeed, Ms. Gutierrez was doing just that. When Mr. Hinshaw asked if she needed help, she invited him to come over but wondered if “help” was a euphemism for booty call.
Well after midnight their conversation was still percolating when Mr. Hinshaw took leave without even a kiss. A shocked Ms. Gutierrez texted her best pal: Great conversation but no moves? A guy who genuinely wants to pet my dog and help me cook?
She inadvertently included Mr. Hinshaw on the text string, but the good-natured medical student wasn’t offended.
“I was just out of a seven-year relationship and not equipped with much game,” Mr. Hinshaw said. However, the next week after soccer practice, the two spent the night together. Talk of relationships, sex, soccer, dogs, careers, Christianity, God and their shared frustration with secular life lasted until dawn.
“Melissa was totally herself, she wasn’t trying to sell me anything,” Mr. Hinshaw said. Upon leaving the next morning, he said, “This is not just a physical thing for me.”
Ms. Gutierrez said, “Guys had said that before, but their actions didn’t bear it out.”
But the next night she was at a concert by herself when Mr. Hinshaw texted, “How’s the show?” which brought Ms. Gutierrez to an epiphany. “This is what it’s like when someone cares about you,” she said. “There are a lot of ‘three little words’ I’d wanted to hear besides ‘I love you.’”
Mr. Hinshaw even asked about the meaning and origin of the many bumper stickers on her beloved truck. “He cared about who I was and wanted to know my stories,” she said.
For two weeks, they spent every free moment together, talking through politics (socially progressive), deep beliefs like creation or evolution (both are possible) and Jesus (both a savior and a guy who lived in a way that puts life into perspective).
They also shared worries. Ms. Gutierrez, a fan of “Grey’s Anatomy,” wondered if Mr. Hinshaw may someday leave her for a nurse. (“Laughable,” Mr. Hinshaw said.) And how would Ms. Gutierrez handle the time constraints of his medical training and what if his residency was elsewhere? (She relished alone time and if a move was in his plan, she’d move, too.)
Inside of those two weeks Mr. Hinshaw floated the other what-if that was on both their minds: marriage.
“In my slightly heathen way, Trevor was the answer to my prayers,” Ms. Gutierrez said.
For a few weeks they kept their engagement private, knowing some might balk at the speed of their decision, but as they met each other’s families and friends, it was soon evident to all that this was a match made in heaven, or close to it.
Both sets of parents initially had concerns about the rapidness of the engagement of their 20-something children. “But they weren’t teenagers,” said Linda Hinshaw, Mr. Hinshaw’s mother. “They both had life experience and seemed to know what they wanted.”
Daniel Gutierrez said his daughter has “always been all-in about everything. But we quickly saw that Trevor was just as committed and serious.”
On Dec. 30, the couple married in a chilly tent in Sunol, Calif., outside the Casa Bella Event Center. With skies threatening rain, Ms. Gutierrez, on the edge of tears, walked toward her calm and steady beau on the arm of her father.
Many of the 200 guests raised their hands in a prayer of blessing and support before a ceremony that blended the couple’s quirky mix of secular and spiritual.
In her vows, Ms. Gutierrez admired Mr. Hinshaw’s “dedication to doing things well and wholly,” while noting the difference in their approach to a soccer match. She barely makes it to a game on time, and Mr. Hinshaw leaves early to allow for traffic snafus and a proper warm-up. While not quite promising to agree to his timing, Ms. Gutierrez pledged to “show up to everything, whether it’s our daily conversations or our biggest hard decisions, in a way that counts.”
Mr. Hinshaw lauded Ms. Gutierrez’s “dogged defending” and determination both on the soccer field and elsewhere, and promised to “always try again” when he doesn’t get it right in their relationship.
Kyle Cummins, a friend and pastor for Young Life ministry, gave the couple communion before pronouncing them married. “Every team has a coach, and yours is God,” he said.
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