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."
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?"
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.