Monday, January 12, 2009


Mary and I sat out on the picnic table in front of the church. We had planned to spend the day together, to have some fun and refresh ourselves in the mountains of Yosemite. But now there was a heaviness in the air, at least for me. I had something I needed to say. I'd come to a decision two days earlier, and it was time to tell her about it.

We'd been going out for a couple of months. We'd known each other for a few years, and had long had a fun and easy-going relationship with each other. There were a couple of "safeties" that helped keep it that way. I was seriously considering the priesthood, and she was safely in a relationship with somebody. Of course, he lived a few thousand miles away, but it kept a nice cap on what was expected and allowed in our friendship.

But then, one November night, she told me that she and Whatsisname broke up.

Safety seldom lasts.

I was still discerning what God might be calling me to in regards to the priesthood. Considering that I was not yet Catholic, things were still a little unclear. And now there was this beautiful, funny girl, who loves God and laughs with me, who is suddenly and inconveniently... available.

Why couldn't she have just stayed with Doofus? Things would have been much simpler.

Priesthood, huh? You know, there are many ways to be a priest. A husband is the priest of his house. Perhaps this is the kind of priesthood you're called to. But does that mean I've totally misheard everything? Perhaps God was just seeing if I was willing to give all that up, so that he could give me something better. I really like Mary. She's nice in all the right places. I need some time to think.

So I went home to Canada for a month.

I wrestled this priesthood thing to the ground. I pinned it. I was as done with it as I could be. I sat alone in an empty church, kneeling before God and asking him for direction. What do you want me to do? What should I do about Mary? I did the thing that I would never recommend, but everybody's done. I opened my Bible randomly.

When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.
Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.
She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life....

She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy....

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come.
She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel....

"Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all."
A good woman is hard to find.

In retrospect, perhaps I was not so much asking for direction as much as permission. Whatever the case, I knew God was telling me I was free to pursue this relationship. After that, I cried with my pastor.

Soon I came home to California, determined to have a little talk with this Good Woman. One evening, as we drove home from Escalon, I knew the time was right. I took a deep breath and swallowed my nerves.

"Well, Mary, I think it's time we had the I.R.C." I said.

"Oh yeah... What's that?"

"The Inevitable Relationship Conversation."

She laughed. I did, too.

We knew it was time to let this relationship have a chance. I told her that I let go of the priesthood stuff, and that I wanted to see if this friendship could become something more if we let it. She felt the same way. We began to date.

Over the next few months, we spent a lot of time together. It was awkward at first, leaving the comfortable security of being "just friends". After all, once you cross the Kissing Bridge, there's no going back. (And cross it, we did.)

We had some very sweet times together. She continued to shine. But eventually, something crept back into my thoughts. The damn priesthood. I didn't want to admit to her that this was nagging at me, but eventually I had to include her in this struggle. I think I had let go of the priesthood, but it hadn't let go of me. Of course, because she is who she is, she handled all this with grace. Full of grace.

We forged ahead, seeking God together. Praying for one another. Holding one another.

Finally, one Saturday, I had it out with God. Please, God, I pleaded, if I just knew that you told me, I would never have to ask for another sign. I would never question you any further if I just knew that you spoke to me. I prayed hard. If I was going to let a woman like Mary pass me by, it would have to be God who told me to let her go.

Finally, in the stillness, came a voice. Clear, inaudible except to my heart and mind, but unmistakable. It cut like the word, past skin and marrow, into the deepest place of my heart.

Marriage is not for you. I have other plans.

I have often thought in the years since that I didn't just need this voice to be as clear as it was for the sake of possible future relationships. I needed it to be that clear for this one. If God hadn't been the one to tell me, I would simply be insane to let this one go. Every time she made me laugh, I'd wonder if I really did the right thing, if I really heard.

But he did speak, and I knew this was right. Few things in my life have ever been this clear, and I knew that this was what God was asking of me. It took 30 years, but I was finally ready to hear it. It's a strange thing, that when your will becomes his will, his command feels like freedom.

Two days later, I found myself sitting at the picnic table with Mary. I told her everything.

We cried a little. "I'm not just saying this," she said, wiping away a tear. "But I'm truly happy for you. I know you've been looking for answers."

We sat there for a minute in silence, letting the moment remain with us. Finally, I spoke.

"So... you still want to go to Yosemite?"

"Hell yes!"

We laughed, jumped in the car, and had the best day we'd had together in a long time. We bought an old tape at a thrift store, cruised into the mountains, and listened without prejudice. We came home late that night, knowing the joy that can override the sadness of doing the right thing.

There are a few moments in your life that mark something significant. There are people that mark those moments with you, the ones that were full of grace at the moment you needed it. You remember how God revealed himself through these people, and you come back to those moments like buried treasure. This is the place where grace was revealed to me.

Mary marks a time and a place in my life in which Grace was revealed to me as never before. She lives her life full of this grace, obedient to God, clothed in humility. She brings Life into impossible places.

And I'm honoured to say, she's my X.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Captain's Log, Supplemental

Yes, it's incredibly ironic that my last post before not posting for months was about how I should write more often. Of course, that was just before "X", so give me a break. I did, however, want to write a little bit about an event that happened the other day.

Chris and I were asked to be a part of a "pastor's prayer summit", a 3-day retreat for senior pastors and youth workers from the Modesto area. Chris and I know the youth workers well, and we were to facilitate their track of the retreat. I knew only one or two of the senior pastors, though, and had perhaps very briefly met a few of them.

I usually approach situations like these with some trepidation and caution. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is I'm naturally kind of shy. Really I am.

The other is that I became Catholic a few years ago. I'm often found in situations many Catholics would not find themselves in. I walk in evangelical and protestant circles most of the time. Sometimes, when it's discovered that I'm Catholic, I can be met with forceful ignorance (people who don't know anything about anything but think they know everything). Fortunately this rarely happens. More commonly, I may be met with well-intentioned ignorance. This is the person who looks at me and wonders how this nice guy could be a Mary-worshipper. Questions ensue, and if the person is cool I tend to hear "Oh.... I didn't know that" or "No one's every explained that to me." The forcefully ignorant, however, care nothing for facts or understanding you better. They just like being right, and you can only be right if the other guy is wrong by any means necessary. The means necessary for that is to forcefully ignore truth. It's very frustrating.

I don't like to hide who I am or be untrue to myself and my beliefs, but I do proceed with caution. Perhaps I cross myself less noticeably (a little cross on the forehead as opposed to the full "spectacles, wallet, and watch" version). I know it's dumb, but it's me.

So here's me, with 22 evangelical pastors and youth workers. Some know me, some don't. A few know I'm Catholic. All seem to love Gaither-era choruses (for which I also feel a warm nostalgia). They bust them out regularly in the prayer meetings.

Proceed with caution.

I love the disciple John. Recently, I've been developing something in which I present John 13-15 in storyteller form, in the character of John. In the piece, I wear a priest's cleric. Well, I shared this piece with the group one night, and everyone loved it. So, over meals and in conversations with people curious about my inspiration, I share some of my story: I am called to the single life and may one day become an actual Roman Catholic priest.

Word gets out, and one of the pastors, an older pastor, Michael, full of kindness, asks me about it. He says he'd like the group to "pray for you before you go..." I wince for a moment before he finishes his sentence, wondering if it will be prayer for me to be delivered from the Catholic Church or something, " bless you in that."

Wednesday morning comes, and as the 20-odd pastors from churches of just about every denomination in town come to the end of their retreat. Pastor Michael announces that he'd like the group to pray for Aaron, who is seeking the Lord regarding a call to the Roman Catholic priesthood. I very briefly share my story, and then am suddenly swarmed by pastors.

I honestly can't remember their specific prayers, because I was simply overwhelmed by the beauty of what was happening. A group of Protestant and Evangelical pastors gathered around a Roman Catholic and blessed him in his calling to the priesthood. Simply incredible.

What will be forever etched in my memory, along with this almost unheard-of laying on of hands, is when Pastor Michael began a rendition of "Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on... Aaron." The beauty of what this awkwardly-phrased rendition of an old gospel song will forever remind me of what love is.

And love expects the best.