Rooted & Grounded in Charity, Vol. 6: How did you know marriage was your vocation?

Charity

JMJ1

Friday, October 10th, 2008 . . . I am thinking . . . about how it would be to be married and have kids . . .

Nearly ten years ago, I wrote this down on a sheet of daybook prompts. I was twelve. I can assure you that my hopes to be married had begun long before that day, though.

Growing up, I was absolutely, always, undoubtedly the girl of typical feminine fiber who adored romance and wanted marriage and babies, amen, from the time I was old enough to think about it with relative seriousness (and old enough to have desperate crushes, too, but that’s a story coming up in a moment . . . blush).

roses1

Lena (who has a beautiful story of her ongoing vocational journey, by the way) was the one who continuously thought about being a nun. She pen-pal-ed with a nun (God rest her soul!). When we were children, she would garb herself in bedsheets and would have loved to live outside in a hut, Rose-of-Lima style.

This line of thinking never appealed to me. Marriage and babies, please.

From ages 11-14, roughly speaking, I had a few successive crushes on several altar boys/parishioners at our then-current parish. Some of them lasted for a good year or two (or three). One crush in particular was tall, dark, and handsome, approximately four years older than me, and totally fatal to my glasses-wearing self. It was the real deal. Although, more or less, I genuinely was striving to grow in faith and love of God . . . shallowly speaking, he was the reason I went to Mass.

Maybe he would look at me this time . . . Lena nicknamed him Abraham Lincoln. Maybe it was because he was tall.

One winter Sunday, while all the parish kids were streaming outside after finishing PSR classes, my dad (with whom I was standing) and his dad were casually chewing the fat about where our respective families got Christmas trees. Before I knew it, he walked up and listened quietly on the conversation, offering the name of the place when his dad couldn’t remember. I nearly died with ecstasy. It was the closest thing to a conversation I ever had with him.

‘Twas not meant to be, of course (thank Heavens . . . no one remotely compares to The Dash!!!) but during that time, all I did was daydream about Mrs.-hood. And attempt to be productive with my life by writing stories, in which, of course, heroes and heroines fell in love.

Around the time I was fifteen or so, I sobered a little and realized I needed to stop frittering away my time (and heartstrings) on crushes and instead be at peace with where I was in life. I still wanted to be married more than anything, but I was striving to be reasonable. After all, I was fifteen, and by that time it had clicked that indulging in imaginative crushes were at least remote occasions of sin at that point in my young teenaged life, so for prudence’s sake, I should cease and desist.

18
Me at 18! Yikes, flashback!!!

We moved homes, changed parishes, proceeded on with life. I finished high school at 17 and prayed a novena to St. Anne that she would help me find my future husband. Because, after all, I was done with school for the foreseeable future and about to turn the legal marrying age. There were a few decent fellows (one was noticeably devout and my age) at our current parish, plus the possibility that some handsome stranger would walk in for Mass one day. It was perfect timing.

I entered my first courtship (although it was missing some key factors of courtship I now know to be essential; it wasn’t our fault, we just didn’t know!) when I was 18; it was long-distance with a good young man, but ended when I was 20. Just like any relationship, it is heartbreaking to have something like that end after the investment of time and heart with another person. I made a lot of mistakes. Looking back, I see with undeniable clarity how very, very much I had to learn–God knew this!

19
Me at 19

During that time, I totally consecrated to Our Lady. Immediately afterwards, I went through a period of regrouping, journaling, prayer–all the things that are perhaps natural to do in that situation. It felt like everything I thought I knew was turned upside down–in the sense that you come home after a long journey, and are tired and stunned to silence and just need to think.

This was when I went through what I consider intentional vocational discernment.

Up until then, I’d known what I wanted. But I hadn’t been silent. I hadn’t unclenched my fists. I’d been consumed with the desire to be married and to be a mother. I’d been inwardly terrified that maybe God would be calling me to the religious life instead.

In the summer of 2017, I wrote in an article that was published at OnePeterFive:

When I was a teenager, and when it came to considering the state of life to which God was calling me, I had strong, gripping hopes and dreams for what I wanted to do – but an even stronger, more gripping fear of letting my soul be silent. A fear of simply listening.

In my own imperfect way, I loved God and the Catholic Faith and was trying to grow in holiness…but I was, nevertheless, terrified of letting my soul be still, to the point where I could let go of my desires and wait to hear Our Lord’s voice telling me His designs for me. That might have required me giving up everything I wanted (that is, marriage and motherhood in the home). And that felt physically impossible for me at the time.

If I ever sensed a type of spiritual silence descending on me (whether it was in Adoration, at Mass, or in bed), I would panic and chase it away. I was so immersed in this fear of God’s will that, now, I can only imagine how worn and unhappy I must have been, without even realizing it.

I desire you to be a consecrated virgin. I ask you to be a nun for My sake. Fantasies of hearing those phrases ring out clearly in my soul were paralyzing. If I felt “a silence” coming, I would immediately begin convincing myself – “I’ve always wanted to be a good wife and mother. That means God gave me the desire from the beginning – that means it’s my vocation.” Essentially, I had my spiritual hands clapped over my spiritual ears.

That description is unfortunately very accurate. I was afraid. Terrified that I wasn’t meant to be married.

Being introduced to the Latin Mass, particularly Low Mass where silence reigns for much of the time, brought me into a “courtship” with silence and with liturgical awe of God. It was something of a gradual process, but my fears eventually died down and I began trying, on a regular basis, to make acts of perfect surrender to God’s Will. I can’t recall if I’d ever previously done something like that in the context of my vocation. Time and time again, I renewed my efforts to, in prayer, completely let go of what I wanted my vocation to be, and to tell Our Lord that all I wanted was what He wanted.

grayshirt
Me at 20

I still had the same desires to be married, although they were calmer and softer (for lack of better words). I still noticed and thought about some great Catholic guys I knew. But I also took time, for example, to go out and thoughtfully look at the website for the Nuns at Ephesus and read about their spirituality. It was beautiful and entirely different from anything I’d considered before. I didn’t feel an urging to explore beyond that, but I made these kinds of deliberate acts to combat my old terrors of Anything Other than Marriage. In my mind, I termed this period of a few months as “living in the quiet.”

Now granted, I didn’t go and visit any communities; not because I felt repulsed by the idea, but because opportunities didn’t really open up, nor did I feel a strong stirring to go. I spoke to a priest about my journey over the past few months, including my desires for marriage, and he encouraged me to bring all my desires to God and prayer, to trust Him like a Father, and to be at peace. During this time, I was praying to St. Raphael for my future husband, but I also wondered if I should stifle any desire for marriage altogether so as to truly give God my interior silence as part of my discernment.

This brought me back around to another novena to St. Anne . . . already, it was summer again. I wrote a post here called The Rose (Or, Desires and Analogies), which was a pivotal “diary entry” in which I tried to express myself and my calmer, still existing desires for marriage, as well as my desire to give God my total “vocational openness”; and immediately after that, I also wrote about my novena to St. Anne and what happened on the last day:

At the end of my novena, I’d been given the gift of clarity to see that I should be giving my Lord what I have–and not emptiness. I saw that giving Him my desire for Marriage as an actual gift was not closing myself to His will; but rather, it meant trusting Him all the more with my life, my future, my salvation.

The relief and joy was palpable; it was a moment of true grace. I feel I can now embrace whatever God’s will is for my life, and also yet embrace my hope for the Sacrament of Marriage wholeheartedly, and to pray for my future husband, as I believe now there is one. There is no longer a contradiction between my two desires.

It was at this point that I was able to indeed embrace the hope of marriage as my vocation, having finally gone through the silence and surrender. My love and perception of marriage as a vocation was purified and distilled in a way it had never been before. Although my courtship with The Dash has matured me in ways I couldn’t have anticipated, that time of “living in the quiet” and coming to these realizations through God’s grace was a time of unique and intense maturation that will always stand out to me.

And it was during these formational weeks that I first met The Dash and began spending time with him (and began gently, happily falling in love with him). The timing was something only Our Lord can achieve!

Us

And so, now I’m here.

The Dash and I have been blessed in our courtship for over a year, and Our Lord has used this wonderful man in so many ways to enrich, improve, and support the woman I’m still becoming. He truly is my best friend and I’m immeasurably blessed by his heart and his virtues every day ❤

18-21 were chiaroscuro years; up and down, adventurous, intensely formative. To be 22 and to have been blessed with the graces necessary to make that surrender and then be showered with gifts beyond my imagination . . . it’s a sweet and precious place to be!

However, the surrender doesn’t stop. I’ve learned that, just because I made acts of surrender way back when, I’m not exonerated from the need to do so now, in countless situations. Just because I’m peacefully assured that I am being called to marriage doesn’t mean I’m still not asked for daily vocational surrender. Surrender in the little things; surrender of my selfishness. Sometimes that is far harder to do than just surrender my ideas about my vocation!

One of my favorite quotes from St. Faustina’s Diary (Our Lord is the one speaking) sits on top of my desk, and has done for years:

Entrust yourself completely to My will, saying, “Not as I want, but according to Your will, O God, let it be done unto me.”

haircut
A recent haircut . . . it doesn’t happen often, so a picture was in order 😉

I pray that I will be able to surrender to the Will of God more perfectly with each day that passes, especially now as I wait to enter the vocation of marriage. Again, it is a sweet place to be.

Sig

Advertisements

Rooted & Grounded in Charity, Vol. 5: Answering more questions

Charity

JMJ1

What are your best tips for someone about to enter into a courtship?

Wow, what a good question! Sigh . . . as I’ve said before, I’m only half of the courtship equation here, and who knows, maybe one day The Dash and I can write a post together that will be immensely more helpful and enlightening than anything I can write on my own! The Dash is my better half here . . . which means you all are missing out on my better half . . . for which I apologize . . .

But in the meantime, these are things I personally feel someone about to enter into a courtship should be prepared to do:

1. Make time for daily prayer together. Pick a patron saint (or multiple patron saints), and pray to them that God’s Will is done in your relationship. It sets the tone, right from the beginning. Pray for specific graces; obviously for chastity and purity, but also for graces to be truthful and wise, and to be able to seek the other person’s good as you discern your compatibility as potential spouses.

2. Make sure your intentions are clear and mutually expressed. It’s a simple thing, but courtship is fundamentally about discerning marriage with a specific person. The pacing of the relationship is up to prudence and God’s timing, but that presence of mutual interest and the solid intention of discerning whether or not to marry one another should definitely be clear and mutually expressed, because it gives direction, purpose, and exclusivity to the relationship. These elements are just, and should absolutely be present. If it seems too much to enter into something so serious, then the couple should really consider extending their friendship and waiting on courtship until they both are ready.

3. Take it slow when advancing in romance/emotional intimacy. I realize this can sound like advice straight from Johnny Raincloud . . . but it’s so important! Whether the courtship is going to last three months or eighteen months, it doesn’t need to start off heavy on the emotions; it honestly needs to be the opposite to ensure that you’re thinking clearly while discerning your compatibility. Every couple’s journey is different, but The Dash and I’s courtship lasted 3-4 months before we started using endearments or telling one another “I love you;” that was the pacing that seemed appropriate for us and how our relationship was progressing.

But with that being said, trust me when I speak from experience as the (sanguine, emotional) girl in this courtship . . . a little goes a long way! You will be so happy even if things are emotionally low-key to begin with. Having experienced both sides of the fence (rapid and slow emotional progressions in two different courtships), I can truly say that a slow, discerned progression of emotional intimacy is so much healthier and brings much more peace and long-term stability for both the man and woman. And it’s still fun and exciting! You’re still a couple and you’re growing together!

The very fact that a good man is exclusively pursuing you with the thought of marriage brings so much happiness and excitement already. The better you get to know one another, something so small as a little compliment, a smile, or a shared joke enriches the bond you’re forming more than you might guess at first. When the time is right and more significant amounts of romance and emotional intimacy start emerging in their proper order, they will be infinitely worth the wait.

4. Talk about important things as well as small things. Try to be intentional in keeping conversations well-rounded early on; make sure that you’re investing time to get to know one another’s thoughts and convictions on anything that could potentially impact you as a married couple . . . finances, children, child-raising, homeschooling/public schooling, family backgrounds, family mindsets, family differences, liturgy, healthcare, balancing work and home life, technology in the home, etc. etc. The list goes ever on and on. These should take front-seat early on in the courtship (because otherwise, to be frank, what’s the point?) while still leaving time for laid-back conversations about little things that still help you to get to know one another better.

There are lots of other things I could expound upon (such as spending time with one another’s families, etc.), but I feel those are the most important things to start out knowing.

Did you ever have a list of necessary requirements for/in a future spouse?

Oh . . . you bet I did! 😉 Often I wrote them in conjunction with Lena and we had endless conversations about our lists . . .

While I can’t remember every detail from every list I made, I do remember recurring elements like Catholic (naturally), mature, has a hard work ethic, humble, chivalrous, manly, intelligent, good with kids, someone I find attractive, someone who makes me laugh, someone I can be myself around, someone virtuous who upholds and respects the Faith, and who is open to life, homeschooling and the traditional lifestyle. Things like that 🙂

If only I knew who I would be getting! ❤ Do I need to mention The Dash checks every box? Plus he cooks and dances . . .

However, a pitfall I sometimes fell into with these lists was overthinking personalities and temperaments and making some sweeping generalizations for myself that just weren’t necessary. Of course, you’re not going to have chemistry with every person. But for a while, I assumed that I would not be inclined to be in a relationship with anyone quieter than I. (Insane. How would we function??) This came from a profound lack of self-knowledge of just how chatty I am. Sigh.

So while I would certainly encourage others to make lists of requirements for a potential future spouse, I would also encourage open-mindedness when it comes to the potential temperament or personality of their future spouse. This isn’t to say that you are just as likely to get along well with two wildly different people. But rather, it’s just to be open to the possibility that all the necessary qualities and virtues you’ve listed can be present inside a temperament you would never have guessed you would find so attractive; one that enchants and completes you in a way you didn’t think was possible. Ask me how I know.

Do you have a “true love waits” (or similar) ring?

Yes! I received one for my 16th birthday from my dad, so I’ve had one for six years now. In fact, Lena and I both do. The funny thing is, we switched our rings a few years ago, because due to a fluke of nature, we discovered each other’s rings fit our hand better than the one we had 😀 Mine says, “True Love Waits” and I’ve usually worn it on the fourth finger of my right hand. It’s been blessed as well.

ring

Ironically, it’s reminded me just as much of the necessity of overall patience as well as chastity in our courtship! “True love patiently waits until it’s the right time to get engaged . . . true love patiently waits until I get to see The Dash again . . . true love patiently waits until we get to talk on the phone in approximately four hours . . .” Yeah.

Do you have a favorite future spouse prayer?

St. Raphael to the rescue!!!

Dear St. Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings, lead me by the hand towards those I am waiting for, and those who are waiting for me. May all my movements, all their movements be guided by thy light and transfigured by thy joy. Angel guide of Tobias, lay the request I now address to thee at the feet of Him on Whose unveiled Face thou art privileged to gaze. (Mention your request.) Lonely and weary, deeply grieved by the separation and sorrows of earth, I feel the need of calling out to thee and of pleading for the protection of thy wings so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy.

Remember the weak, thou who art strong, whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God. Amen.

And . . .

St. Raphael, loving patron of those seeking a spouse, assist me in this supreme decision of my life. Find for me as a helpmate in life the man whose character reflects many of the traits of Jesus and Mary. May he be upright, loyal, pure, sincere and noble, so that with united efforts and with chaste and unselfish love, we both may strive to perfect ourselves in soul and body, as well as the children entrusted to our care.

St. Raphael, angel of chaste courtship, bless our friendship and our love that sin may have no part in it. May our mutual love bind us so closely that our future home may ever be most like the home of the holy family of Nazareth.  Offer thy prayers to God for the both of us, and obtain the blessing of God upon our marriage, as thou wert the herald of blessing for the marriage of Tobais and Sara.

St. Raphael, friend of the young, be a friend to me, for I shall always be thine. I desire ever to invoke thee in my needs. To thy special care I entrust the decision I am to make as to my future husband. Direct me to the man with whom I can best cooperate in doing God’s holy will; with whom I can live in peace, charity and fidelity in this life, and attain to eternal joy in the next. Amen.

These prayers brought me so much consolation back when I was wanting so much to meet my future spouse. And through them, St. Raphael brought me The Dash. The timing was inarguable and beyond wonderful.

Sig

Rooted & Grounded in Charity, Vol. 4: Musings after a year

Charity

JMJ1

I didn’t mean to be gone for quite so long . . . things have been so busy, and having been sick for the past few days also means that I’m just now getting onto the blog again! 😉 But let’s delay no longer!

Last Saturday (on the Nativity of Our Lady) was The Dash and I’s one-year courting anniversary!!! And what a lovely day it was! ❤ We occupied ourselves with going to the football game (the tickets for which I got on my birthday . . . we brought Lena and my youngest sister; it was blazing hot [all of us girls had to roll up our sleeves by the end, not for style!] but so much fun!), doing a little on-campus sightseeing, plus lots of driving and talking and listening to all our special music, and being so grateful and overjoyed that God has blessed us with a whole year together!

He brought me roses, too . . .

roses

Happy sigh.

A year of courtship leaves me realizing just how much I’m at the very beginning of my journey towards virtuous womanhood. While I entered into our relationship already fairly certain that marriage was my vocation, the process of courting The Dash and seeking to grow in unity of mind and heart with him, while encountering all the things I must change and improve in myself in order to do so, confirmed it in my heart . . . it’s drawn me to be a better woman, but simultaneously, I’ve needed so much grace. And often failed to pray for it. (The results of which should be obvious!)

I’ve learned so many things I didn’t know before: one of which is, of course, the importance of good communication and of acknowledging that you must be purposeful about pursuing it if you want to get anywhere. Accordingly, I’m already convinced that our journey towards better communication will never cease; the work will never stop!

And that was one highly important realization for me–if you can accept that your relationship (healthy and happy as it is!) is always going to be a work in progress, no matter what stage you’re in, you’ll stop feeling perturbed out of proportion when there’s a difficulty, and instead acknowledge that there will always be things to work through and improve upon, and so it’s time to get back to work once again. We’re both human, and while there won’t be perfection this side of Heaven, there will be as much beauty and grace as we’re willing to put in work and prayer for. That has been one of the largest lessons I’ve learned, a year in.

rose1

I see more and more how Our Lord has been using our courtship to guide me into greater awareness of my failings. This is a great treasure, one I’m so undeserving of. I did not realize so clearly how much I struggle with patience and humility towards God’s Will until my relationship with The Dash, in which I’ve wanted so much, so often, to happen exactly as I was hoping for. I’ve experienced much interior frustration (that is, pride) on all sorts of levels whenever my hopes or plans have been forced to change, and I’ve realized with increasing clarity my lack of humility, patience and docility towards God’s Will and His timing for things. Prior to our courtship, I really thought I was better in these areas than I actually am, and it truly took our relationship for this fact to make itself evident.

Across this past year, The Dash and I have had to surrender of a lot of plans, everything from little plans such as to go to a hoped-for event; all the way to more cherished plans, such as to move on to the next level of our relationship and be betrothed. Each time, on different levels, it’s been a struggle for me to surrender and give the Fiat asked of me. In these instances, I have been blessed so incredibly much by The Dash’s leadership and prayerful attitude. It has taken teamwork to encourage one another and allow these surrenders to happen, and I trust that this necessity of our mutual assistance was in the mind of God from the very beginning.

It’s been humbling to realize these areas of my weakness; and yet there have been times when I’ve been amazed and deeply grateful to God that very difficult things have been made easier through His grace.

But perhaps the most important lesson of all I’ve learned over the past year is that I have the capacity to take everything for granted. When you’re first starting out, I think it’s natural to feel that this is impossible. “I’ll never take him and our relationship for granted! I’m going to be the best I can be, every day!” I was certainly there. I was never going to take The Dash or our courtship for granted!

rose2

Nevertheless, you grow used to having someone in your life. This, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing; in many ways, The Dash and I are still getting to know one another, but there’s a beautiful comfort and ease of companionship that descends, the longer you know and cherish a person and the more time you spend with them. The Dash and I’ve experienced much of this and it’s been so enriching!

But there’s the accompanying trap of growing so comfortable that you take what you’ve been given for granted . . . and consequently start asking less of yourself (in terms of your relationship), and more of your loved one. I’ve been guilty of this at various times. This mentality of “what am I getting?” saps peace away quicker than anything, because it becomes selfishness instead of love. If selfishness becomes my prime motivator, I am constantly restless and rarely satisfied.

The Dash has an amazing capacity to make me feel deeply loved and cherished, but he is not, because of this, simply “my reward” who can fix my emotions if I’ve had a bad day. He is a person, a soul, a heart that’s been entrusted to me for a time; he isn’t God. Instead of focusing primarily on my desire to be uplifted, I should be endeavoring to be his reward. How can I uplift, inspire, comfort, encourage him? To preserve this mentality is to preserve peace and joy in my soul, even if I’ve had a bad day.

This doesn’t mean I should ignore the places I’m legitimately hurting, troubled or stressed, and not allow The Dash to do what he can to comfort and help, or vice versa; neither does it mean either of us should avoid talking about any problem areas in our relationship. This isn’t healthy at all. But rather, it’s viewing the times we’ll spend together (whether in person or on the phone) not as times to primarily make myself happy, but rather, as opportunities to practice selfless love towards him, wherein my prime motivation is to please God and to contribute to The Dash’s happiness and well-being. True selfless love doesn’t compromise one’s own emotional and spiritual health; accordingly, these times of mutual joy can only occur if we’re being healthy, selfless, truthful and virtuous in our relationship. If all these things are acting in concert together, though, this is where we find the greatest peace and deepest happiness in our courtship. When you’re striving to make the other person happy out of love, you’ll find more joy than you thought was possible!

Sig

 

Rooted & Grounded in Charity, Vol. 3: Answering some questions!

Charity

JMJ1

Answering some questions!

I have to point out that I’m writing about these courtship topics as best as I can, from my point of view . . . but I’m only half of the actual courtship 😉 Hopefully one day I’ll be able to insert The Dash’s wise observations into any current or previous posts about courtship! He has a special talent for providing clarifying thoughts to my often rambling brain . . .

Best/favorite marriage prep books?

So far, my favorite marriage prep books have undoubtedly been The Wife Desired by Fr. Leo Kinsella and By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride by Alice von Hildebrand. I highly recommend them!

From the titles, one would draw the obvious conclusion that these are both geared towards the woman, but that’s no bad thing. Marriage is, of course, a profoundly beautiful partnership, but neither is it a 50/50 reality! As a woman, I need to be learning how to give 100% of myself in a future marriage by training my heart and mind now in selfless, virtuous, feminine love.

Each book opened my mind to the true role of a wife in ways I consider absolutely necessary. They are simple, profound, insightful, humorous, and easy to read.

A more serious intellectual read would be The Family Under Attack: A Philosophical and Theological Defense of Human Society by Don Pietro Leone. It’s been a few years since I read it, but it’s a masterpiece in many ways, and its chapters on marriage from a traditional Catholic viewpoint are highly worthy of reading.

How did The Dash know that you wanted a courtship kind of relationship?

The Dash and I both grew up in families that cultivated a different approach to romantic relationships than that of dating. Taking into account that we grew up mostly on different ends of the country, and that our families didn’t meet until around a year before our courtship, we were definitely spoiled by Providence (well, not that one can be “spoiled” by Providence, but still . . .)

This similarity gave us a much easier start than if only one of us had been familiar with the idea and were trying to convince the other! It really was a tremendous blessing from God that I know we’re both thankful for.

However (to the best of my memory), we didn’t concretely find this out about one another (at least not in direct conversation) until we began emailing as friends. This was due to the fact that The Dash had lent me a book called How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk and it sparked conversation between us, in which I mentioned how many of its points coincided with the value of a courtship kind of relationship.

He agreed, and went on to ask how I’d even come across the idea of courtship, since in his experience, his family rather stood apart in that mindset. I explained and poof! we both knew that we were on similar ground when it came to romantic relationships. Of course . . . this was all safely in the realm of abstract conversation 😉

How did you first discuss rules/relationship ideas?

We first discussed rules and relationship ideas, as they pertained to us, the day after we started courting. We were driving up to his family’s house with my sisters in the backseat. It was my first time in his car and I was exhilarated 😉

In my memory, it was a pretty simple exchange; initially, I think we both took the time to ask one another about our expectations (or something to that effect) for the relationship, and made that a springboard for discussion.

We agreed we wanted to have chaperones . . . we agreed we weren’t going to hold hands, or anything similar, during our courtship . . . I can’t remember if we explicitly talked about holding back on terms of affection until our relationship matured, or whether that was more of an implied reality . . . maybe The Dash remembers . . . oh, yes, and both of us communicated that we’d been saving our first kisses for our spouses and that was going to remain a priority–it sounds slightly awkward to talk about, and it was, but it was also like music to exchange that simple truth! You wouldn’t believe what a treasure it is to know something like that.

It really was our first intentional conversation in which we knew we were starting out in a relationship, discerning marriage. It’s a unique memory to me because, at that point, we had so much to get to know about one another (a never-ending journey!), and it really was the start of “us.”

Have you found that your prayer routine has changed now that you are in a courtship? If so, how?

Hmm . . . that’s a really good question! Speaking just for myself, I would say that my prayer routine has morphed and changed somewhat, although maybe not specifically because of our courtship, as much as an indirect result.

The Dash and I have a special set of prayers we pray together every day (and a few we pray after every time we’ve been to Mass together), and we weren’t doing that before courtship 😉 Also, there are prayers I pray specifically for him each day that weren’t present in my routine before I knew him.

Different events and intentions that have arisen throughout our past year of courtship have often taken me to prayer and altered my prayer life in ways that might not have happened, had I not been courting. I doubt that the 54-day Rosary novena to Our Lady of Pompeii would have come into my life had we not been courting, and that was a significant alteration to my prayer life, one entirely for the better!

Overall, though, I would say that while there have been significant and special additions to my prayer routine, there hasn’t been a whole new routine that’s arisen because of courtship. Rather, I can look back and see how Our Lord has been gently using the reality of our courtship and the presence of The Dash’s heart to guide me towards making improvements in my prayer life.

How do you guys make decisions about each other together?

In my opinion, this has definitely been a large factor in our pursuing better communication skills. If there’s a development, difficulty, or potential change that’s in direct relation to us, we’ve almost always made time to talk about it intentionally (ideally face-to-face, but if not, on the phone) in as much privacy as possible, while we seek to clearly understand one another and arrive at a reasonable and positive outcome, based on that understanding.

Also, we try to remember to pray first (if not first, then during or after 😉 ). We are both peacemakers by nature and so, at least for me, it’s very difficult for me to walk away from such a conversation without feeling secure that I understand The Dash, that I’ve presented myself as honestly as possible, and that we are both peaceful (at least rationally) with the decision, even if we’ve both had to give a little (sometimes, more than that) to make it happen.

How have you let him take the lead?

I love this question! However, it’s tough to answer. The Dash and I have talked about this, actually, and how it’s difficult to quantify specific details . . .

Of course, The Dash took the lead right off the bat by intentionally pursuing me and asking me to court him, and perhaps that’s the most important thing of all! He’s responsible for me when we’re out, he’s chivalrous, he buys me my food, etc. . . . everything you would expect.

But delving a little deeper . . . By God’s design, a married woman is meant to support and assist her husband however she can, influencing and preserving the moral order in their home through her feminine virtues. This interaction can begin in courtship in a smaller sense, although it can’t really be full-fledged.

As a young woman being courted, I’ve made it my object to keep in mind my own femininity, and the role I’ll one day be called to live in marriage as helpmate to my husband: the man who will be my head and the head of our family. I try to let the anticipation of this role inform my current behavior as much as it can.

For now, I naturally seek out and respect The Dash’s thoughts and opinions; I respect his manhood and look to him for an often clearer and more logical perspective than my emotional female brain can achieve . . . but I will give him my thoughts and opinions first if he’s actively seeking them as a means of gathering information . . . it’s a fluid interchange, and one that’s based also on our temperaments and how we naturally approach decision making. We’re still working on a daily basis to achieve a smooth complementarity of communication and decision-making in our courtship.

We both firmly believe in the ordered roles of manhood and womanhood, but in courtship,  rather than the man being the official leader and the woman his helpmate, the man is technically the pursuer, and the woman the one being won. (Say that fast five times . . . 😉 ) So, in a certain sense, by pursuing, he is leading in courtship. But the leading/helpmate roles are still growing in courtship and aren’t full-fledged yet; they become more established in betrothal and beautifully finalized in the Sacrament of Marriage.

As an aside . . .

Although it’s not the main element, I do believe that The Dash’s regular small acts of chivalry have extended into other aspects of our relationship and influenced its proper order. The Dash is amazing at this, and while I have loved receiving his acts of chivalry, I’ve also had to grow more intuitive in letting them happen. (I’ll explain in a moment.) He regularly:

  • Opens and closes the car door for me
  • Pulls back my chair if I’m going to sit at the table
  • Puts down the kneeler for me at Mass
  • Takes things out of my arms if they’re full
  • Asks me if I need something to drink
  • Looks out for my general comfort
  • (a tiny but, I feel, important detail) Is the one who calls me for our daily conversation

I realize it may be harder for some women to accept these acts (especially if you have a more independent or assertive temperament than I, sanguine/phlegmatic).

But even if you’re a woman who can naturally appreciate and desire chivalry (like me) with great ease, I’ve still found it’s very easy to automatically resist, not out of direct I-can-do-it-myself-pride, but because I don’t want to be any trouble. (Which is still pride, but a subtler form 😉 )

Classic examples of wrong responses:

The Dash: Do you need anything to drink?
Me: Oh, thank you, I’m fine!

The Dash: Is the air too cold?
Me: Oh, make yourself comfortable!

I am still learning to notice the presence of The Dash’s servant’s heart, and his offers of chivalry, and to accept them, because these small acts do enrich his courtship-sized role of pursuer/leader and mine of receiver/follower. It’s so beautiful every time it happens!

Sig

Rooted & Grounded in Charity, Vol. 2: And now we get to chaperones . . .

Charity

JMJ1

And now we get to chaperones . . .

Okay. Here we go. Chaperones.

This is the topic I’ve written least about here . . . because, frankly, it’s the most complicated. It just is. However, Lena requested I write about it, so I can only obey 🙂

It’s relatively simple for The Dash and I (not saying that it’s always easy! Sometimes it involves frustration and sacrifice–though not directly at the chaperone, of course, but rather at the situation!), but usually difficult to articulate to other people.

I’ve heard very good reasons for and against the idea of having chaperones in a relationship. There are so many potential implications and feelings bound up in the whole business . . . which makes it, again, complicated.

However, for better or worse (and we believe for the better), The Dash and I’ve been committed to having chaperones with us since day one of our courtship. We chose this. I feel like it’s very important to emphasize this reality, because the alternative assumption others might make is that, “Those poor kids! Their families don’t trust them and won’t ever let them be alone together!” Which is quite far from the truth!

I suppose this beckons the question:

Q. What is a chaperone?

A. A chaperone is any competent, of-the-age-of-reason person who keeps us, an unmarried couple, from being entirely alone/unseen together in the same physical location, and is aware of the fact that they’re doing so.

Agh! So cold!

Now . . .

_MG_7312 (2)
“Chaperones were your idea!” “Nooo, they were your idea!”

I could dissect this definition a hundred different ways and go down all sorts of rabbit trails. However, your eyes would glaze very quickly . . . so I’ll refrain.

I think it would be simplest to talk about 1) How, and why, The Dash and I’ve chosen to have chaperones in our relationship; 2) To describe how it’s hard (a hugely important section!); and 3) To detail how we’re held accountable to that decision

So let’s break this down, starting with . . .

How do chaperones work in The Dash and I’s courtship?

First, “the how” :

For The Dash and I, a chaperone is present . . .

On car drives
Whenever we’re in the same place or room

Now, car drives are pretty self-explanatory. Once we’re married, the fact that we can drive off together alone will be wonderfully delightful, but for now, we prudently deny ourselves that privilege. (I’ll explain more as to why below.)

As for being together in other places . . .

Most often, The Dash and I spend time together at my family’s house. While we enjoy hanging out with my family and spending time with everyone, if we want more privacy, our commitment is to at least keep in sight of someone.

For instance, we can technically be ‘alone’ in the kitchen (doing dishes, let’s say) as long as someone is on the living room couch (since our kitchen and living room are adjacent) and can glance at as from time to time. Or, we can go out onto the back deck as long as someone’s occasionally peering through the window, etc.

Also, we have a fun system of rigging a little camera that is connected to a display screen. Let’s say we’re together at my family’s house, but we really want to be completely alone to talk (it’s usually about something serious 😉 ). We set up the camera and give the display screen to a “remote chaperone” who can go about their business in another room of the house, meanwhile glancing at the silent and insanely boring video of us talking and nodding for an hour while sitting on the couch.

Now, with all this having been said, we have run into logistical problems. Let’s say The Dash and I and a lovely chaperone (who is almost always one of my siblings . . . and, by the way, I can understand how a chaperoned courtship might be much more difficult or even impossible if you don’t have siblings) are all hanging out in his apartment’s living room/kitchen area. And then . . .

The chaperone needs to go to the bathroom.

Gasp of terror! What to do?!

Well, we don’t panic. In those situations, the chaperone goes to the restroom without worry. The Dash and I don’t flee to opposite sides of the building, but rather go calmly about our business, keep talking, etc. while remaining at a conscientious amount of distance from each other until the chaperone returns a minute or two later. This isn’t a super regular occurrence but is something we’ve learned to handle pragmatically.

If this happens at my family’s home, however, where there’s more space, he and I step into different rooms until another family member can be around (which never takes long).

Chaperones, however, are not present . . .

When we’re talking on the phone

Now, I don’t lock my door, but The Dash and I do have time to speak privately every day, and we know we have the responsibility of keeping our conversations on the track of virtue. It’s our special and intentional time to connect; to share about our day; to communicate with honesty; to keep the intellectual, spiritual and emotional aspects of our relationship healthily growing; and most of all, to pray together.

In nearly every situation I could think of, I feel it would be incredibly hampered and unhealthy to not have this regular time of private communication, and I would never recommend otherwise.

Why on earth *do* we have chaperones?

All right, so I’ve spelled out the basic function of chaperones in The Dash and I’s relationship. Now comes the why.

The Dash and I have chaperones in our relationship because:

  • it’s a layer of vigilance for our mutual purity and chastity
  • as far as it can, it protects one another’s reputation and honor
  • we can make it work without sacrificing intimacy in communication and the healthy development of our relationship

In other words, it’s a choice of love for one another.

In its essence, willingly having a chaperone is the same as the young man saying to the woman, and her to him, “I love you, your purity and your reputation more than I love my own will (which strongly desires to have the joy of being alone with you), and more than I trust myself with my concupiscence. You are my treasure, and I would rather be overcautious in defending you while we are unmarried than take your purity for granted.”

That, my friends, is an ideal. Not an “ideal” as in a nice idea, something unachievable that can never be realized; but rather something noble, something difficult, born out of love, that can be realized only in love.

Yes, it takes into account that random passersby might still assume we’re cohabiting, even if we happen to have someone else with us. It takes into account that we may very well have the ability to go chaperone-less and still hold to all of our physical and moral boundaries.

But it makes the sacrifice anyway. It chooses chaperones to protect purity and reputation as much as it can in today’s culture. Again . . . that is the language of an ideal. The Dash and I cherish the ideal of a holy marriage in our hearts; and that ideal can only flourish by our adhering to noble ideals of behavior and love in courtship.

I also think of having chaperones this way.  Neither The Dash or I believe that, if we were to go somewhere without a chaperone for the day, we would immediately fall into sin or break all the standards we’ve held to for a year.

We both believe that, were such a thing to occur, we would co-operate with God’s grace, be mindful of our standards, and live up to the trust we’ve placed in one another, and that our family, friends and community have placed in us and our example.

However . . . we would also, at least marginally, grow more comfortable in being alone together. It’s just unavoidable. I clearly see that potential in myself, in my own emotional life, and no one has used this reasoning with me other than myself.

We would have the happiness of having been completely alone together and no battle having been lost. So why not continue in that new dynamic?

The comfort would steadily grow, even if in small increments. And the more we had the privilege of being alone together, the more we would naturally start resenting those who intruded on that alone-ness, even if it was for our own good.

Maybe this would lead to sin; maybe it wouldn’t. Either way, reason states that it’s inherently dangerous for an unmarried couple to feel they have the right to be physically alone together at any time they wish, if they want to remain pure before marriage. This alone-ness has the potential to build a particular defensive vision of themselves that they share, one that might make it increasingly difficult for them to uphold their standards of behavior. It doesn’t spell out failure; but it makes failure easier. By choosing chaperones, The Dash and I are trying to show one another that we’re not willing to take that chance.

But, of course . . .

It’s not always fun or easy. Ahem.

Sometimes, it stinks.

The requirement to have a chaperone sometimes means I can’t join The Dash for certain events, however much I want to go. It means my logistical ability to meet up with him at the drop of a hat is hampered if I can’t bring someone with me. We can’t go out to dinner alone; we can’t go walking without taking someone else.

It can’t be sugar-coated that sometimes, logistically and emotionally, having a chaperoned courtship is downright annoying. And it only makes it more difficult when other people feel like what we’re doing is already kind of silly–that, essentially, we’re causing ourselves needless pain.

At times, coordinating chaperones feels like an extra layer of clumsy awkwardness. You have to consider how not to make them feel entirely like a third wheel, but instead lovingly incorporate them and make them feel wanted, even though the whole point of the event is for you two to spend time together. And then you have to remember to be grateful to them, because in the end, they’re doing you a service that you need but don’t necessarily want. Chaperoning may not be the #1 occupation of choice for my sibling who happens to be with us, either. They are sacrificing, too.

There have been a few situations in particular that have made our decision for chaperones very frustrating for us, because it’s rendered us unable to be together at certain times. As in, I’ve been at the point of tears. And sometimes, with a year of our relationship under our belts and with our “track record” of boundaries still spotless, it can feel a little needless that we can’t even be in the same room alone together, since we’ve proven so much self-control.

This very quickly leads to . . .

Who holds us accountable?

As soon as we shared our choice for chaperones with them (as well as our other physical boundaries), my parents agreed to hold us accountable. They are in the prime place for that, after all, since I still live under their roof and my father will one day give me away to The Dash. And so, it’s a mutual pact that we still hold, a year later.

Human nature dictates that, at some point, it is tempting to reverse the table and feel as though whomever’s holding you accountable is the bad guy you have to approach. I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve asked my parents if we could make an exception. They’ve looked at me with love and said, “We’re holding you to what you chose.”

This doesn’t exclude the possibility of The Dash and I seriously discussing a potential change in our chaperoning situation and having a reasonable exchange with our “accountability partners” to arrive at a new standard. But it does exclude spontaneous deviations from our commitment. Spontaneous decisions of that sort aren’t going to be well thought through, and they enable exceptions to become the rule. The Dash and I have come so far, we owe it to one another to not alter on a whim things that we’ve held to for a year.

In the end . . .

_MG_7305 (2)

It may not be possible for every courting couple to have regular chaperones. Again, siblings seem to be prime material, and if they’re not available to help, you may have to do the best you can, in other ways, when it comes to protecting one another’s purity and reputation.

But, in the end . . .

In the end, if the chaperoning system is simply set in place by the parents, and if it implicates a lack of trust for the young man in particular, it most likely will fail. This isn’t to say that parents do not have a right and duty to only bless a certain code of conduct, especially parents of the daughter if she still lives under their roof. However, successful chaperoning is not, can NOT be rooted in an exterior display of parental distrust. It has to be rooted in the courting couple’s mutual love, prudence and willingness to have their everyday actions guided by a pure and noble ideal. The concept of chaperoning can be supported and encouraged by the parents, but it can’t be (healthily) enforced until the couple themselves choose it.

Otherwise, frustration and potential emotional rebellion by the courting couple will ensue in some way. Consider that The Dash and I are both, in many ways, pleasers, non-confrontational, go-with-the-flow types of people . . .  and even we have been frustrated by our own choice at times, and have been inclined to resent those holding us accountable. However, our frustration doesn’t necessarily indicate the choice we made was wrong. Rather, it might indicate our fallen human nature 😉

In the end, if chaperoning absolutely prevents the couple from having healthy and private communication, to the end of growing in unity of heart and mind, it needs to be re-evaluated and adjusted.

In the end, if chaperoning is not a mutual choice made by the courting couple; if the benefits are not rationally perceived and discussed by them, and then adhered to as a good, it most likely will fail.

And most important of all . . .

If the courting couple loses sight of the ideal that made them choose chaperoning to begin with, and instead, they start impatiently “enduring” it as a necessary evil . . . then submitting to the presence of chaperones ceases to be a pure act of love between them and there’s less merit in it.

However, if it remains an act of love between them, having chaperones until marriage becomes a deeply beautiful thing, even if it’s largely misunderstood by others. It becomes sanctifying and ennobling, an effort that God will bless because it’s a sacrifice of love. I pray that The Dash and I will be able to hold onto this ideal, and choose it willingly as an act of love for one another, every day that we spend in expectation of marriage 🙂

Sig