I never dated anyone until I dated my husband.
Isn’t that crazy? It’s not like I wanted it to be that way, it’s just how it worked out, really. I went to a relatively small high school, and I had been going to school with many of my peers since kindergarten. Quite frankly I wasn’t really interested in dating them. When I went to college, I attended a school rich in tradition for teaching, which translated to the majority of the student body being female. I got pretty involved in campus ministry right from the get-go, and dating just wasn’t huge on my priority list.
Then my senior year of college the Diocese of Peoria agreed to have Fellowship of Catholic University Student missionaries come to serve at Illinois State’s campus. The summer before that school year I was having a student leader get together at my parents’ home, and two of the missionaries ended up coming along. My husband was one of those missionaries.
That year we essentially worked side by side serving students and attempting to grow closer to God. In that year, he applied to seminary, and I started visiting convents. We were really the first from our little community of believers to travel down the road of convents and seminaries, so we drew close to one another in friendship. As our discernment process continued, it started to get muddled by feelings for one another, which was confusing and scary.
As we each continued on our own discernment process, it became clear that seminary and religious life was not the path to continue down. Almost exactly one year after we had initially met, Joey had quit FOCUS, applied to seminary, withdrew from seminary, got a teaching job, and asked me to date him. That was my first of many “yes”es.
I will admit: I was terrified. I was excited, of course, but we were 22 and 23 years old, and we were serious about living a life devoted to God. I knew we weren’t approaching dating in a casual way. We really wanted it to be a discernment process, much like we had discerned a religious vocation. In many ways our dating experience was like every other couple: movies, drinks out on the town, dinner, mini golf, and what-not. But we also prayed together a lot. We received the sacraments together. We focused our future plans around God’s will in our lives. If was fun, and exciting and peaceful. We dated for about seven months, and we were married another six months after that.
Every year the local Catholic high school invites my husband and I to come give a talk of our choosing to the sophomore class. This is the story we tell. It’s fun to reminisce and focus on the miracles that took place to bring us together. But I think that in reminiscing, what makes me most grateful are the things that don’t always get directly articulated in the story:
Joey treated me well then, and he treats me well now. And I don’t just mean he would get me flowers from time to time. I mean, he saw in me what God sees in me. Even now, despite my cranky mood from sleep deprivation, and the peanut butter crusted to my shirt, and my non-washed greasy hair—he still sees the best in me. He desires what is good for me. I don’t want you thinking we always see eye-to-eye, because like any two individuals, we are bound to see situations differently, but overall, he treats and loves me like I deserve to be loved and treated. And when he doesn’t he apologizes. This is God’s greatest gift to me.
Joey challenges me in the ways that I need to be challenged. This can be tricky, because I think that we are called to refine one another, but it must be done in a way that makes us more fully who we are created to be. Joey doesn’t confront me in ways that are out of selfishness, but in ways that encourage me to see things from a different perspective, or to consider approaching a problem from a different standpoint. He invites me to step out of my comfort zone into a place that will unite us, our family, and my relationship with God.
Joey invites me to participate in the sacraments and holy conversation. I really love this about him. He has a more naturally contemplative spirit than I do. I am more of a “do-er”—a Martha if you will. As in, “I will become holy by organizing mom’s group, and the Confirmation retreat, and a date night for church couples, etc.” But Joey is the type to sit and read the catechism and reflect on it. And to make time for reconciliation. And to pray the rosary. If it weren’t for him, I might very well spend all of my time creating holy opportunities for others instead of growing in holiness with my spouse. And it’s the latter that is what I am called to. (The other things are good, too, but balance, people, balance.)
There is a lot to be said about the person that I have been called to live this beautiful, challenging, and mysterious life with. Even after writing almost 1,000 words about our love story, it just doesn’t seem to capture the full essence of what we are about. I suppose that’s because we are still figuring it out ourselves. Even after almost ten years of marriage, we are still working to know each other, to see the best in each other-to love each other.
I think that no matter the situation or circumstances of your love story, there are things to be cherished and learned from and shared. Love is a mystery. It’s a mystery that is fascinating and exciting and confusing and challenging. It’s also personalized. My love story is beautiful because it is unique to me, and your love story is beautiful because it is unique to you. Every love story has significance. Your “yes” to your spouse means something. It is changing the world in its own way. We must challenge ourselves to respond to love in all its forms, and to pass on the love we ourselves have received.