Lauren Sullivan has called Pleasant Valley her church home for her entire life. She and her older brother ran through the halls as children while their parents served throughout the church. As Lauren grew into a middle school and high school student, she continued to be involved in church and was baptized at Summerfest in eighth grade alongside her friend, Lauren Simoneau.
While Lauren was active and involved in student ministry, she wasn’t incredibly vocal about her faith.
“Everyone knew I went to church but I wouldn’t go around professing the Gospel.”
While Lauren was growing up, falling in love with Jesus and deepening her relationship with Him, Spencer Hamilton was attending PV as well, although far less involved.
“I first accepted Jesus in kindergarten, but it didn’t become my own thing until later in life. Sports were important and church went to the wayside. Going into high school, I fell into this pit of an image I needed to maintain. I wanted to get more involved in student ministry but I was afraid of what it would look like in high school, so I was ‘too cool’ for church.”
It was in college for both Lauren and Spencer that the Lord began to really move in their hearts. Lauren recalls:
“I went to college and freshman year sucked. It was really hard. In high school, I was towards the top of the social ladder. I was really involved with lots of friends, but when I got to college, Mizzou was just so big. It was hard to get involved, and I didn’t have friends. People only wanted to drink, and I didn’t want to do that. My faith was rocky there for a bit.”
Change for Lauren began towards the end of her freshman year.
“I got a really good small group, and the leaders were my small group leaders for three years. They gave me the spark I needed and the friendship I needed that pointed me to Jesus. That is the reason my faith is so strong today – they pointed me to Jesus. They had really hard lives, but their faith was amazing. They pushed me to read and study my Bible. I hadn’t read it as much in high school. This helped me to see the Bible as His whole story, His whole redemption story.”
Spencer recognized that the Lord had been moving in his heart for a while, but he finally responded when he got to college.
“When I went to college, the Holy Spirit had been doing a work in me for a while. I remember sitting with friends and just realizing that something wasn’t right with my current college situation.”
For Spencer, after hearing the Holy Spirit speak to him, he changed paths immediately.
“I had a complete 180. I came back home and began attending UMKC, then I got really involved at 20-somethings and interned at PV. This opened the door to friendships I could’ve had in high school. It was this creation of a life I thought I was too cool for, but the life the Lord intended for me to have all along.”
It was their mutual friend, Lauren Simoneau, that helped bring their two stories together by suggesting they give dating a try in their sophomore year of college. Lauren remembers:
“Lauren Simoneau put us together, but it didn’t go well. You can’t build a long-distance relationship without a foundation of friendship. So we broke up, which is a story of God’s timing. We weren’t ready yet, and we needed to grow.”
Their breakup didn’t go well, and Lauren’s heart was pretty bitter towards Spencer.
“That’s a huge part of our story. The Lord had to change my heart towards him, but He can change our hearts. And God was able to do that in our story.”
Their friend, Lauren Simoneau, had a kidney transplant during their junior year of college, so Lauren came back to Kansas City to support her friend. Lauren Simoneau’s insistence on having Spencer at the hospital as well brought Lauren and Spencer into proximity with one another. Lauren laughs as she says,
“Spencer’s dad was telling him, ‘You need to start dating again and get off the couch.’”
Spencer recalls that bizarre afternoon when he went to visit their friend in the hospital.
“I was going to get a haircut, but when I found out Lauren was with our friend, Lauren, at the hospital,I drove to Liberty Hospital instead. They weren’t even there. She was at Research! So we sat with our friend, and sparks were flying between Lauren and I. I thought she liked me.”
But Lauren wasn’t feeling those same sparks and kept telling herself, “No. I’ll never date him again. Not after what happened.”
The next time they were at church, however, Lauren asked Spencer to sit with her.
“Then I tried to ask her out in the lobby of Pleasant Valley. But I couldn’t get the words out and by the time I started to, her mom came out and asked if she was ready to go eat at Margaritas.”
Eventually, they did start dating. But their stronger walks with the Lord was a steady foundation for a relationship with Christ at the center.
After they graduated from college, Lauren began teaching elementary school while Spencer began a career as an analyst during their engagement, and they wed right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. With a twinkle in his eye, Spencer comments:
“We got married in June of 2020 and had a reception in August. I like to say that my 60 day free trial was up, and it was time to renew it.”
When asked how they’ve seen Jesus in their marriage, Lauren responds:
“The sacrifices you make when you’re married point to Jesus’ sacrifices. It helps us to be less selfish with everyday life. We try to read the Bible more together and focus on praying together, which makes intimacy so much better. We also have a cool opportunity to model marriage well since none of our other friends are married. We do our best to show them a healthy, God-honoring marriage.”
“When people see our marriage, we want it to point towards Jesus. We serve together in the nursery and getting to serve alongside my wife is one of the cooler aspects.”
Spencer goes on to talk about the transformation he’s seen in Lauren during their marriage.
“I’ve seen her confidence grow. Finding a job out of college was not easy for Lauren, and there was a lot of discouragement there. I knew deep down that she was worthy of whatever job she was going to get. But it was hard for a long time. And when she finally got a job, it was harder than she anticipated. Seeing Lauren find a way to bring that discouragement to the Lord and her faith in the Lord to get through all of that was incredible. For her heart to be so burdened and feel so inadequate, but to see her go to the Lord was just really cool. I truly see this year is the fruit of that time with the Lord for her. She has one of the best classrooms in the school, and the principal has picked her out to have people shadow her. I’m so proud.”
Lauren’s face if full and beaming when she turns to Spencer and says,
“I’ve seen redemption in the way you love others. I’m much more extroverted and when we were first married, you didn’t always want to call a friend or hang out with people. But I think the way you love people now – it is evident you go out of your way to show love. You see hanging out with people as a way to love people, and a way we can show them God’s love, especially with our friends who aren’t Christians. You’re bold with your faith. You’ve always loved people, but the way you do it now is so much greater. You love people well by calling them when they have a bad week. You’re not extroverted but you’re pushing yourself to be intentional about relationships, and you’re so intentional with me.”
While transformation for people who have grown up in the Church can look more gradual, a definite change from the apathetic high school student Spencer was and the bitter heart in Lauren is proof of God’s transformation power in Lauren and Spencer, and their marriage is a beautiful picture of how God is always moving and working, even when we can’t see it. As Lauren ponders, she cocks her head to the side and says:
“You know, this world will never satisfy us. I can’t put my hope in Spencer or my parents. They’ll never live up to my expectations. God is worthy of my praise and love, and He’s more than enough for me. Jesus is enough.”
Spencer nods is head in agreement, and adds:
“Throughout explaining my journey and faith, when I was being a knucklehead, He was still pursuing me. And when I decided to go all in, He was still there, even as I’ve had to course-correct at times. Jesus is constant.”