Note: This story is part of a series highlighting the 2019 Bishop’s Annual Appeal, which launches in February.
Just outside of Upsala, on a bright wintery day, several of Eric and Julie Jensen’s nine children, and their black lab, Daisy, might be found skating on the little pond near the family’s home.
Later, they might gather in their spacious yet simple family room they refer to as “the cabin” to swap stories, drink cocoa or challenge one another to a rousing game of backgammon. The room has no TV, just large comfortable chairs arranged in a circle with windows on three sides displaying wide views of the surrounding woodland.
This picturesque scene is one the Jensens have carefully and intentionally tried to create, a place of love and laughter, not only for them but for all who enter.
Their story began more than 30 years ago. Julie and Eric met in a hardware store in Baudette, Minnesota, where Eric was working. Julie, just out of high school, was employed at a nearby resort for the summer.
Fast forward two-and-a-half years. Eric had moved to St. Cloud, where he was studying law enforcement at St. Cloud State University. Julie, too, had moved to St. Cloud to attend beauty college. A mutual friend brought the two together again.
Julie’s Catholic faith had always been strong, while Eric had fallen away from the Church.
“She told me I had to go back to church to date her,” Eric recalled.
Julie admitted that it was important to her that he attend church, but she later realized it needed to be important to him, too.
“It needed to be because he believed this way, not just to date me. Now he is the one who leads our family in faith,” Julie said.
Early in their relationship, they talked about having children. Julie always thought four children would be nice, while Eric said two, maybe three.
“It just seemed like every year to year-and-a-half, we would talk about having another child and we would both be ready,” Julie said.
Natural family planning became a very important part of their lives. Not only did they use it in their marriage, they also became instructors. Julie also worked for a time on a part-time basis in the Diocese of St. Cloud’s Office of Marriage and Family.
“Building a strong marriage and family is important to us. Natural family planning has been a huge part of our lives. The meaning behind it and the way it fosters being a true team have been a big part of our married life. Through NFP instruction, we also met other couples and families who share our same values. Those couples are friends we still have today,” the couple agreed.
Twenty-seven years of married life haven’t always been easy. Eric’s work as a police officer came with its share of stress. Julie, home with nine children, also occasionally felt overwhelmed.
“There were times with nine children that I would get so involved in what was going on that I would put our relationship on the back burner,” Julie said. “And he would make us slow down and spend time together. He told me that the healthier we make our relationship, the healthier our whole family will be.”
“It’s better to walk hand in hand,” said Eric, who retired from the police force in 2018 due to an injury. “This last year, especially, we had a lot of stress going on. I was stressed. She was stressed. At one point, I said let’s just hold hands and be stressed together.”
“I think we both believe that if we are striving to do God’s will, we will be OK. You hang on to each other and forge through things and, because of that, we grew strong,” Julie added.
Eric said listening and asking questions have been important in their relationship.
“I’m big on perspective. In my job, I can talk to four different people on the same incident and get four different stories. They aren’t lying, they are just telling it from their own perspective. It’s the same in a marriage. I may perceive her doing something, but when I talk to her about it, I get her perspective and why she might be thinking the way she is. Not only listening to her perspective but asking for it is key in communication.”
The Jensens, who attend St. Mary Parish in Upsala, extend the same philosophy to their children: Andy, 27, Maria, 24, Joe, 22, Maggie, 20, Marta, 17, Katie, 15, Jimmy, 12, Jack, 10, and Nikki, 7.
“We hope that by praying at home, teaching our children their faith, living it out, going to Mass, being active and helping others, we will instill faith-filled values in our children,” Julie said.
“The way that Mom and Dad raised us has made us closer as siblings and I am so grateful for that,” said Katie. “I like how our faith is at the center of everything we do. Even if it’s volleyball, I pray before games. That’s what I want in life with my husband and what I want to teach my kids someday.”
“I just love knowing that our parents will always be together. Even though there are challenges, they have been an example for us,” said Marta.
The Jensens know everything they have has been a gift from God — a fact they recognize in the world around them, in the little things like skating together on the pond or spending time in “the cabin.”
“Our entire life is surrounded by the fact that we are on this earth for one reason,” Eric said, “to know, love and serve God and get to heaven.”
Today, families come in all different shapes and sizes, with all different spiritual needs. The Office of Marriage and Family seeks to reach out to families and individuals by coordinating conferences and offering programs that promote the Church’s teachings on marriage, family and the dignity of all life. The Bishop’s Annual Appeal supports ministries like men’s and women’s conferences, Honoring Marriage Day, EnCourage and natural family planning, as well as educational programs like puberty, chastity and pornography talks for youth and their parents. We hope you consider a gift to continue this meaningful work.”
— Janet Dusek, diocesan Office of Marriage and Family