{Today} 11.7.18

today

JMJ1

A quickly written post to capture raw memories of the day . . .

Today, I got up at 5am, showered, left home shortly after 6, had my two sisters to the orthodontist-carpool-rendezvous point before 7 (our orthodontist is an hour away, so the families involved take turns driving), and then I went to meet The Dash at Chick-fil-A for breakfast at 7:20 ❤

Recently, due to lack of chaperone availability, our courtship’s ongoing principles have allowed for us to be out in public places without my siblings, as long as I keep in good touch with my parents, which is something of a new dynamic . . . Let’s just say this was the best chicken biscuit date anyone ever had 😉

We both had breakfast as we woke up together (I was groggy!); he showed me some of his mobile development project on my phone, we talked about how our morning had gone thus far, and then we stepped back out into the beautiful November sunshine and returned to our cars. Yes, I was following him to campus because I had time to kill, which meant I could sneak into his classes for the first time ever . . .

Software Engineering was at 8am. We scurried up three flights of stairs (I always take stairs two at a time, possibly due to combined impatience and a sense of fun . . . this makes The Dash laugh, but this time we had to do it together) because traffic had made us a little late. We arrived at the right hallway and it clearly dawned on me that I was about to walk into a college class for the first time ever, without the professor knowing I was coming; so I lagged behind The Dash’s quick footsteps with some trepidation.

“Just play it cool,” he instructed me.

“Do you want me to wait outside the room?”

“No, just come in! It’s fine!”

I put my eyes on the floor and followed him with the loyal obedience that comes from sheer love. The professor was engrossed, and The Dash and I sat down in the second row, and I got a free class without a problem.

I loved it! Not that I’m at all fluent with the syntax of things–most of it was over my head–but I got little bits of it here and there. Plus, I’d heard about this professor from The Dash and so was delighted to see his personality in person! He loves what he does. There weren’t too many students, so the atmosphere was laid-back and fairly quiet, and I loved the experience of listening to the lecture and the students’ occasional questions/interjections, and absorbing that this was and had been a sliver of The Dash’s reality for these past semesters. To step inside his world for a morning was such a gift to me!

Class wrapped up just after 9; now we really had to run, because the next was across campus and The Dash has a ten-minute window. We moved our cars and I was forced to reluctantly inch into one of the only free visitor parking places on that side of campus. (I hate parking. It is the bane of my existence.) It was not a job well done, which would be proved to me later. We half-ran towards the gym, The Dash carrying his shoes (this class was Social Dance, from which I’ve vicariously learned so much!).

I perched on the bleacher and watched The Dash and his classmates learn a sequence of steps for the tango, plus a cha-cha review. Of course, he was the best dancer there, but it was no surprise to me. The instructor was very kind to let me sit in and watch!

We returned to our cars, I narrowly pulled out of my dreadful parking job, and we both began driving towards a nearby Perpetual Adoration chapel, hoping for a few minutes of prayer together before I had to pick up my sisters again. That’s when I saw it; the dreaded slip of paper tucked under my windshield wipers, fluttering in the wind . . .

We got to the chapel and I stepped out of the car. “What is that?” I moaned to The Dash, gesturing in despair. He squinted, searched, pulled it out.

“Are you serious?” he says in that perfectly mastered tone of, My girlfriend never does anything wrong! But yes, it was a $15 parking citation 😦 He bundled it into his pocket, said he would take it to the office, and that I shouldn’t worry about it. Being that we only had about five minutes to spare, we hurried into the chapel and I put it from my mind for the moment.

Beautiful silence. The Presence of Our Lord. Inestimable treasures in five short minutes.

We walked back out again, and with The Dash so gallantly leading the way for me again (I’ve never driven in that part of town, and while I had written down some form of directions, he’s just awesome and selfless that way, as well as being committed to always driving the most efficient route . . . which I hadn’t written down . . .), we drove to where my sisters were waiting to be picked up.

At that point, when he and I and I were saying goodbye, the sky was appropriately overcast and ominous, and I reluctantly approached the topic of the citation again. I’ve never gotten a citation in my life and, due to my ignorance on the matter, was fretting about insurance impact, possible stress or trouble for my parent’s (it’s their car) . . . The Dash was reassuring and said he would find out more about it, and it certainly wasn’t that I didn’t trust him, but I just felt so bad about the whole thing and that I’d made it happen when my parents had let me use their car. Feminine emotions can blow things somewhat out of proportion (ahem) and I, for one, have a tendency to take things like this too much to heart behind my brave-ish face . . .

I drove the girls home through a mournful downpour of rain and, ridiculously, I was blinking away tears the whole time, not really from frustration or even embarrassment as much as anxiety and regret. We three Donellan girls arrived back to our homestead and piled upstairs, back to our welcoming family . . . my sisters described their ortho appointments while I nervously waited for an opportunity to bring the citation up . . . that opportunity not being immediately forthcoming, I finally followed Dad back to the master bedroom, tried telling him that I got a citation, and after I got out the wobbly initial explanation of my awful parking job, I started crying like a fourteen-year-old (well, really, a twenty-two-year-old who’s just gotten her first citation) and telling him I was sorry.

However, all this did was give my sweet father a burst of paternal joy, and he laughed and hugged me and told me I was being silly and that there was nothing more serious about it than the fact that I was out $15. Hugs from Dad cannot be replaced or outgrown ❤

The above picture was taken by my brother (who somehow is ingenious at locating and using my phone) while I lay tiredly but contentedly on Mom and Dad’s bed, after having cried my eyes out for two minutes over my first citation, and feeling much more rational and calm about the whole business.

All in all, it’s been a wonderful day. Spending time with The Dash is worth all the parking citations in the world ❤

Sig

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Rooted & Grounded in Charity, Vol. 8: What I wish I’d done earlier in courtship

Charity

JMJ1

Perfection.

It’s a beautiful thing . . .

Unfortunately, it’s not me.

One distinct lesson I’ve absorbed over the past few years is that, to varying degrees, most people (including me) care about what other people think of them . . . and yet caring too much is a recipe for nothing other than interior pain and confusion.

Holiness, in fact, lies along the path of losing one’s inordinate fear of human respect. It lies along the path of humble honesty and charity; a lack of duplicity.

And yet I’ve grown up a people pleaser. I’ve liked to be thought well of. Of course, I’ve tried not to be egotistical and to cultivate humility instead, but my temperament in particular is one that likes to entertain and cheer, and yet is non-confrontational; one that is more naturally supportive and doesn’t like to ask much; one that likes to please others, if possible, just for the sake of pleasing them.

I like to be liked. I like to be thought of as sweet-tempered and generous. Certain people may relate more strongly to this than others, but for me, it’s entirely true.

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In the kitchen, back in fall 2016

For my temperament, I’m aware these tendencies can sprout beautiful virtues if I use them correctly. If they become inordinate, however, they choke my abilities to be honest.

Which is not good . . . and has happened plenty of times. Including (or should I say, especially) in courtship.

Being a woman means . . .

. . . being miraculously, mysteriously complicated. Especially when you’re courting.

I know that, for myself, it’s been so very tempting, so many times, to want to be “that perfect girl” who is an angel to her Prince Charming, as if somehow this can be only accomplished by never really expressing that I’m upset, hurt, anxious, or confused because of something he or someone else has said or done, or of a situation we find ourselves in. I think it’s part temperamental weakness, part pride.

Earlier on in our courtship, nearly every time I found myself feeling upset, anxious or disappointed about something in the context of our relationship, I convinced myself (because of my fear of confrontation itself) that I was supposed to ignore those feelings and “be selfless.” This was never demanded of me (quite the opposite!)–rather, I was demanding it of myself. I was loath, LOATH to talk about these kinds of emotions. I was downright afraid of disagreeing or expressing the fact I didn’t like a particular decision or overall situation. I wasn’t terrified of The Dash. I was just terrified of being honest about unpleasant things. The Dash would sometimes have to literally pry it out of me, poor guy.

The only problem was that I would convince myself out of feeling a certain way, communicate that I was fine, and then later on usually have to go and cry somewhere without really understanding why.

In The Privilege of Being a Woman, Alice von Hildebrand writes quite truthfully:

Because of “the meld of heart and mind” which characterizes women, they are more likely to be wounded than men, whose power of abstraction often shields them from negative feelings. Women have much less control over their emotions; they usually have a greater sensitivity, they are more intuitive. Their bodies are mirrors of their psyche and seem to be more closely connected than in men.

In any relationship, there is a difference between being mature and being a machine. Of course, you don’t want to be the one who’s self-centered, always complaining, always crying, always voicing their opinion without any filter whatsoever. You want to be a virtuous and strong woman! But there is a real difference between calmly, honestly expressing and discerning one’s emotions (by which I mean negative emotions), and just stifling them for the sake of being “selfless,” “humble,” or “liked.”

A serious error I’ve made time and again in both of my courtships, but one I’m working to slowly grow out of, is that of emotional dishonesty, because of my fear of possible conflict, disagreement, or even hurt. It’s caused me more distress and anxiety than I needed to bear. It’s caused communication difficulties that need not have happened. It’s possibly extended painful and confusing situations in our courtship. And no one has made me do it other than myself and, when it comes to it, my lack of courage and my fear of human respect.

In courtship, emotional honesty is essential. It sounds so dumb and basic to say, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s very hard for some temperaments and personalities, depending on the situation.

At the start of a courtship, I think it’s hard to fully realize (although you intellectually acknowledge it) that both you and your young man are imperfect, are very different (just by being a man and woman! Men are so different!!!), are going to have misunderstandings and miscommunications, etc. and that you’re going to have grit your teeth a little (or a lot) and work through these things.

(I hear married couples laughing everywhere.)

But it happens.

Women need men whose mission is to help them channel their emotions, to distinguish between those that are valid and those that are tainted by irrationality, those which are legitimate and those which are illegitimate.

The Privilege of Being a Woman

Let’s be honest; sometimes I really, really don’t like to be the one with a legitimate negative emotion. It’s embarrassing. It makes me feel weak to feel upset, confused, or stressed when The Dash is cruising along more or less calmly, considerably less emotional than I, in large part because he’s a man and that’s part of his nature. This is where the rubber meets the road of me humbly accepting my feminine identity: my meld of mind and heart that makes me more emotional than The Dash.

The Dash, of course, isn’t playing the role of a counselor, but he is my loyal companion and friend–not to mention, God-willing, my future spouse and the future head of our family. His essential masculine gifts are intended to bless our courtship, to bless my womanhood. I have never once been disappointed when I’ve swallowed my pride and brought my current emotions into the open air, however afraid I am of just saying them. Simply telling him makes them clearer. Having him listen to how I truthfully feel is calming. He presents a willingness to listen (even if I’m just crying and baffling him) and talk about it. If I’m honest, we pursue a better understanding of one another that would be impossible without such honesty. And it brings such peace and strength to our relationship.

So I wish I would have had the courage to be emotionally honest earlier on in courtship, especially in the times when it proved hardest for whatever reason. But then again, I have a feeling God knew it would take a courtship to teach me how to step past my fears and start tilling the very rocky soil around my little plant of honesty. So I’m very grateful for that!

Sig

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).

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.”

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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

I didn’t expect . . .

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Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one!”

-C. S. LEWIS

We made it to ten months! Ten months since he asked me to court him!!! Courtship flies when you blog about it constantly . . .

Also, as of this post, I think I’ve finally exhausted our (rather large) resource of six-month courting milestone pictures, so we’re really going to need to take a new batch of couple pictures over the next month or two. (Yay!!!) I can hear The Dash now . . . When it’s not so hot. And I can only agree (it’s bad) . . . still, I’m itching to drive out to some prime local location and let my brother take new pictures of us. Our six-month photos are precious, but they were a long time ago and reflect a stage of our courtship that we’ve moved past as we’ve matured, been challenged and continued growing together.

But anyway. Back to the present moment ❤

Ten months . . . that’s over three hundred days . . . and that’s a long time! Needless to say, I’m even more head over heels with this amazing, amazing man than I was to begin with. (Did I mention that he was amazing?)

Ten months has been an ample amount of time to discover how much I know him, and how much I still don’t. Because a person is always going to be sacred, always a mystery . . . always going to be God’s in a way they can never be mine.

With that in mind, I’ve spent ten months now of being slowly introduced, by God, to The Dash on a daily basis, so often being allowed to go deeper into his heart than I did before. It’s been such a privilege. And through God’s gift, The Dash has had the same privilege (ahem) of coming to know my colorful and messy heart, and so many of my quirks and inclinations and deepest thoughts.

I write a lot here about the fundamentals of courtship. Because yes, courtship is about rationality and discernment, self-control and direction (dancing, and chocolate truffle ice cream . . . I digress).

But above that irreplaceable foundation flowers other things. The “chemistry” as some people call it. But really, it’s the chaste sweetness of close friendship and, yes, romantic love. The affection, excitement, sheer happiness, and peace you are given in their presence, as well as the naturally growing desire for marriage. Those intangibles become (permit me an amateur’s metaphor) a thriving ivy that flowers around the indomitable castle of faith and reason in courtship.

You see, courtship is the prologue and early chapters of initiating a beautiful unity of heart and mind with another person, rooted in Truth: a unity that will, God-willing, last for life (and eternity, because everyone in Heaven is totally unified in mind and heart! Won’t that be sublime?!).

But even so, it’s unity with an adopted son or daughter of God, who ultimately belongs to Him and is destined to adore Him forever with all his/her body, mind and soul. This beautiful unity (in Truth) that comes through courtship, and eventually betrothal and marriage, is simply a means to an even more beautiful end: the Beatific Vision . . . union with God. It’s such a gift.

In thinking over these past ten months of courtship with The Dash, it struck me that it would be a lot of fun to write about ten things I didn’t expect about courtship. (I like it when I can make significant numbers align.) However, each one became so long and rather multi-faceted that I felt six would do.

I assure you, ten months of being in a wonderful relationship is ample time for a girl to encounter things she didn’t anticipate. More than six, actually, but this post can’t go on forever . . .

I didn’t expect . . .

1. God uses our courtship to draw my heart to Him

The other day, I was reading an interesting quote from an article (unfortunately, I can’t remember the source . . .), stating how marriage isn’t difficult, per se: rather, life is difficult, and marriage (because of its obligations and responsibilities) simply limits where you can run to when things get hard.

Courtship is somewhat similar. It forges an intensely specific perspective within you, especially when you go through hard times, because you’re already in the stages of growing in unity of mind and heart with another person. The emotional stakes of your heart are simply far bigger when you love someone else in that way. It’s how Our Lord made things to be. And, ultimately, He uses that as a tool to bring you closer to Him.

In courtship, you begin suffering together. Occasionally sufferings arise that wouldn’t arise at all if you weren’t courting, because you encounter and care for the other person’s difficulties and sorrows as well as your own. But that’s a part of life. Embracing suffering is part of the Catholic life, and is part of Catholic courtship, too.

As a matter of fact, when you desire to do something amazing, such as 1) have a pure pre-marital relationship 2) intellectually, spiritually, emotionally & materially prepare to begin a holy family, and 3) one day to live in chastity and charity as a married couple for God’s glory while raising children to be saints . . . it’s very likely you’re going to fall under attack, even during courtship, and/or Our Lord is going to send you suffering to refine and strengthen your love for Him and your readiness for marriage. Even during courtship. Especially during courtship! You will be challenged as an individual and as a couple to put God first and to cling to Him during confusion, worry or pain.

Only, I didn’t expect this to manifest itself so clearly during our courtship, with the result of me being forced to rely on Our Lord in ways I hadn’t before. Because it’s all about Him.

The ten months I’ve spent in our courtship have experienced stretches of intense growth, pain, fear, and necessity for sacrifice unlike any other time in my life. I didn’t expect that. Of course, the patches of pain have been far outweighed by joyful times and happy, loving moments.

But the suffering has helped me the most, because (in spite of my weakness and spiritual complaining), it has thrust me (and, collectively, The Dash and I) back onto God, back onto prayer, and back onto the reason of our courtship: God’s glory.

2. “Being myself” in courtship still sometimes means being awkward

I liked The Dash from the very beginning. I fell in love with him early on. By the time he asked me to court him, I was more than ready to say yes, and yet I had all the natural shyness and butterflies that came from being attracted to a wonderful man and friend who I, nevertheless, had so much left to learn about. Not to mention figuring out how to help him get to know me.

Ten months in, and it’s hard to recognize the nervous, bashful girl who started courting The Dash. Most of the time, that is.

But . . . building a relationship takes time, work, and patience. It occurs gradually and gently over a long span of time. When I compare the (still relative) newness of The Dash and I’s love for one another with the seasoned love of, say, my parents–the closeness doesn’t compare. And The Dash and I are close. So often we are natural and ourselves with one another . . . but even seeking to be completely and always “ourselves” around one another (in the normal, healthy sense of the term, like giving our honest opinions and not being a little awkward from time to time) is still a learning curve that will continue even after we’re first married!

So for now, in our courtship, there are still times when I get awkward, don’t know what to say, don’t know what to do with my hands, or just giggle bashfully. I didn’t expect that, ten months in. You marry your best friend (or so the saying goes), and I know that will certainly be the case for me. The Dash is already my best friend. But at the same time, I know The Dash and I have so much room to become far better friends than we are now. There is a richness, knowing-ness, and peace that we are still waiting and working to attain, and that, honestly, we’ll be cultivating for the rest of our lives.

And that’s entirely fine with me.

3. Routine is a deeply integral part of our courtship

Routine! A beautiful and necessary aspect of an ordered life in general, I really didn’t expect how much routines would factor into the healthiness and growth of our relationship.

Most specifically, our normal routines are: attending Mass every Sunday together; attending Adoration usually once a month together; talking on the phone every day; praying specific daily prayers together; seeing one another one or more times a week; setting aside time for at least one in-depth talk per month; making a point to acknowledge and celebrate each new month of courtship . . . these are the prime examples of the routine The Dash and I have built our courtship around.

Yes, spontaneity is beautiful, too (and we have definitely had our share of fun, spontaneous moments!). But routine becomes the skeleton around which you can contribute to the order of your courtship. And sometime, spontaneity gives birth to a new routine, like when The Dash, on a whim, invited Lena and I over to his apartment for lunch after First Saturday Mass and choir practice a few months ago. That quickly became a tradition ❤

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4. My biggest struggle has been patience

No, my biggest struggle hasn’t been waiting to do things like holding hands (although that’s hard sometimes, too…). It hasn’t even been learning how to communicate well (although that was and is a huge learning curve!).

Rather, it’s been patience, and humbly surrendering to God’s timeline for our courtship.

The intentionality of courtship, in its traditional sense, means that it’s going to be a relatively streamlined relationship that won’t last long as a courtship, either way. Because, after all, it isn’t appropriate to simply linger in a romantic relationship that either 1) isn’t right, or 2) has all the earmarks of a potential successful marriage, but without pressing forward to betrothal and marriage, if you don’t have a valid reason for waiting.

However, at the same time, I’ve learned that courtship isn’t a race to see how little time you can spend discerning marriage and preparing for betrothal, either. It’s important to have a workable timeline for your courtship (“by around this {reasonable} time, we should plan to decide if we think we’re ready to get betrothed, if we need more time, or if this isn’t working”).

The Dash and I set such a timeline from the beginning, and it gave us the purpose and sense of direction we knew was important. But at one point, Our Lord saw fit to show us we needed to extend our original timeline for our courtship. And so, I learned it’s important to have a healthy and humble attitude of surrender to God’s Will as to when you’ll actually move forward to betrothal–especially if you’re of the naturally impatient type. (I believe sanguines are numbered among these. Ahem.)

When confronted with the need to extend our timeline, I quickly realized how interiorly possessive I’d become over what I thought would be the “end times” of our courtship. But when I was reminded that The Dash and I’s courtship was God’s possession, not mine, then things grew spiritually clearer.

However, I will note that, for a woman, patience is very difficult (really, nearly impossible) if you don’t have clear and consistent communication about your timeline and where you both are in regards to it. Especially as a female, I think it’s far easier sometimes to be patient about a “known” than an “unknown.”

5. Expecting him to always make me happy equates to turning him into an object

Now, there hasn’t been a decisive “learning moment” for me in relation to this, but rather, there have been numerous small realizations of this truth along the way. I didn’t necessarily expect to have to learn this.

But while you should rightly expect emotional health out of your relationship, and a caring reciprocity of love and selflessness between one another, that still doesn’t mean you should look to the other person to always make you happy and at peace. The Dash, as miraculous a creation as he is, can’t make me happy and at peace all the time.

He wasn’t made to do that. Only God can do that.

I have seen how I have needs The Dash can satisfy, and needs that God alone can satisfy. I must approach The Dash with selflessness. Now, this doesn’t mean that I refrain from being honest about if I’m feeling upset, blue, sick, or what have you, and accepting his compassion . . . quite the opposite!

Rather, this means that I resolve to be honest with him about my needs, accepting of his love and help, but always turned towards God to reach the places only He can penetrate within me.

It’s a real womanly temptation to expect a man to know how she’s feeling and to feel resentful if he doesn’t pick on things. Now, if he’s the right man for her, he’s often intuitive and can pick up on the fact that something’s not right (The Dash is great at this, by the way). But this doesn’t always happen. Or it does, and perhaps he doesn’t know the best way to probe deeper. For my part, I’ve learned that if I interiorly expect The Dash to know how I feel, but avoid telling him, it always tempts me towards resentment that he doesn’t know how I’m feeling and, therefore, isn’t helping me. (Nonsensical Award, anyone?) While I’ve never done this consciously, I have noticed it as a recurring female tendency I have to combat.

This kind of irrational, instinctive expectation on my part demands that The Dash be a “Make-Me-Happy-At-All-Times” object . . . but even more deceptively, it also demands that he somehow be omniscient. Hmm, that sounds like God, doesn’t it?

It’s irrational but very real, and it can become a vice if I’m not careful. However, if I commit to communicate to The Dash whenever I’m not feeling right, and receive whatever love and help he can give, that opens my heart to loving him selflessly and valuing his compassion as a treasure: because I’m no longer expecting him to be God.

6. Maintaining our physical boundaries is both easy and hard

It sounds contradictory, I know . . . but I really didn’t expect how easy it would be to maintain our physical boundaries . . . and I didn’t expect how hard it would be, either!

I’ve mentioned our guidelines for physical boundaries here and here, but suffice it to say that any exclusive physical expressions of affection shouldn’t be a part of Catholic courtship (for surprisingly coherent moral reasons listed in those aforementioned posts). The Dash and I have brief hi/bye/thank-you hugs like we would with family members. But as long as our courtship lasts, we’ll refrain from anything else.

I didn’t expect how easy it would be, but I attribute this to several things:

1. Courting a virtuous man who is loving but self-controlled. I have to brag on The Dash here. There is a deep, mutual agreement between the two of us as to these boundaries; I’ve never been in doubt for a moment that The Dash is leading us both in these commitments, simply because of how he conducts himself. The security and peace that comes from that is beyond words. He’s amazing!

2. Regular prayer and special consecrations, as a couple, to Our Lady and St. Joseph. We pray every day to Our Lady to “keep our courtship pure and chaste.”

3. We both belong to the Angelic Warfare Confraternity and without a doubt receive huge graces from it.

4. We maintain the use of chaperones, and we keep to our commitment of not being completely alone together for more than brief, unavoidable moments of time (like Chaperone has to go to the bathroom when it’s just the three of us . . .) — although, again, this doesn’t preclude private conversations.

And on the opposite side of the coin . . . well, it’s still hard. Concupiscence means you have to keep custody of your thoughts and desires whether you’re in a relationship or not. When you are in a relationship, the responsibility to take care is doubled (at least)! And I couldn’t have expected how hard it is, sometimes, to abide by our boundaries, because of the natural affection that’s there. You want to express your love for the other person physically; and one day, in God’s good time, you’ll be able to. In the meantime, the waiting is beautiful, because sacrificing for something good is beautiful.

Anyway . . . I think that’s enough of my rambling for one post. (My wordcount informs me that I’m at nearly 3000 words. Yikes.) But it’s not every day that you get to celebrate ten months of courtship with your best friend, so I think that warrants something . . . well . . . rambling 😉 I have the feeling I delivered!

In reflecting on all the beautiful and unexpected things that happened to bring The Dash and I together into our courtship (which I do quite a lot), I think my favorite quote from Pride and Prejudice sums up my side of it quite eloquently. Although The Dash is my Mr. Darcy (though he never seemed pompous and he did dance with me at our first meeting) . . . Mr. Darcy’s words are my words.

Elizabeth’s spirits soon rising to playfulness again, she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her.

“I cannot fix on the hour,” he said, “or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

-Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

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God bless, and a very happy feast of the Seven Holy Brothers, Martyrs!

Sig

Eight Thoughts (after eight months, naturally)

JMJ1

Above: I got inspired to put together an image for the Holy Names and pin it to the top of my posts from now on! The lovely floral wreath kindly came from http://www.karenswhimsy.com/public_domain_images

Wow, I hate to have been gone for so long! Right now, life is hopping . . . but today, a post must happen because it’s The Dash and I’s eight-month courting milestone! And, needless to say, one doesn’t have to twist my arm very much in order to coerce a courtship post out of me . . .

8monthsLately I’ve been thinking back to the kind of person I was, shortly before I met The Dash . . . the events that led up to our meeting one another for the first time . . . it’s mesmerizing how things can change–most especially, how I can change, particularly in my perspective! God has been so merciful and good to help me grow throughout this courtship.

With all this having been said, I thought it would be fun to put together a post describing eight lessons I’ve learned in these last 240-ish days/ 5,760 hours of courting the wonderful, amazing Dash. And then I’ll get back to working on the things I need to be doing 😉

1. God knows who you really need

Exactly this time last year, I was on my knees before St. Raphael every day, begging for him to guide my future husband into my life and to inspire him to deliberately pursue me. (Be careful what you pray for . . .)

In the realm of relationships, I had been spending several years knowing what I wanted . . . and then realizing it wasn’t what God wanted for me and that it wasn’t bringing me peace, or was even subtly damaging myself and others. This process repeated itself multiple times, and in various situations.

I desperately wanted to do things right: to meet the right person, and to go about a future relationship the right way. I wrote multiple journal entries, made lists of traits and temperaments, and had long conversations with my parents and siblings. Many of those listed traits were and are indispensable: mature, hardworking, devout, reliable, respectful, pure.

But apart from these, I also became ridiculously convinced that I was best compatible with certain temperament types, and equally convinced that I could never be as genuinely myself (in the way that’s necessary for courtship) around others of a different kind. I found a face-value security in this determination and embedded myself in this mindset for months.

And then . . . I met The Dash.

He was amazing. During the first full day we spent with him and his family, I was increasingly attracted to his admirable traits (all the ones listed above, and more!). And yet . . . he was an entirely different temperament than what I was convinced I needed in order to be complemented and to be myself.

How was it that my hair was a horrible mess from swimming and air-drying; how was it that my makeup was mostly washed off, and yet none of these things bothered me? I liked him, I wanted to talk to him, and he had a maturity and intentness that guided our conversations and made me feel both engaged and respected.

As time went on, and my admiration grew, I was naturally a little shy and nervous around him–but also, I was myself. I was able to talk easily, and it eventually grew to flat-out rambling (Heaven help him). We started courting, and we grew increasingly more adept at laughing and teasing and conversing and understanding one another. I know it’s a journey we’ll always be on, but it started out on such a solid foundation, the beauty of it was undeniable to me.

So, Lesson #1: I learned how to be surprised by God. I learned He knows who I need. And I am so incredibly grateful for the way He chose to show me this!

2. Courtship takes time

You know . . . it really does.

Of course, it’s so important to have a plan for growth, especially in your initial intellectual and spiritual understanding of one another, and to follow that plan — in The Dash and I’s case, it meant spending the first few months going through a list of vital conversation topics, like finances, family structure, tradition, healthcare, corporal punishment, etc. — but at the same time . . . courtship is something that needs cultivation and patience as you discern.

Even if you are the two best people in the world, you are still going to run into snags and tricky situations in your courtship. Even though you are both striving for virtue and having frequent recourse to the Sacraments, you are still going to encounter one another’s imperfect humanity. Courtship doesn’t prevent this. In fact, it most likely enables this more sharply than a dating-style relationship would. This happens because the underpinning principles of Catholic courtship seek to cultivate a healthy realism between the young man and woman that will imitate how they will communicate and work together during a future married life. If you adhere to refraining from exclusive physical signs of affection during courtship, communication comes to the foreground, with all its fun and inherent challenges.

There will be times when, as a courting couple, a weakness will be exposed and you feel unequipped, afraid or frustrated. Maybe you don’t communicate as well in a given situation as you hoped you would. Maybe your feelings have been hurt. Maybe scheduling time together becomes difficult for a spell and things feel stagnant.

Each courtship is unique, and each couple who’s courted possesses their own story and timeline. One thing I’ve learned, however, is with courtship being so counter-cultural and so marriage-focused, in the face of so many modern relationships that sadly avoid commitment . . . the temptation can arise to where you want to figure out if you’re meant to be married, and to achieve it, as quickly as possible.

There is a lot of good behind this intention. However, there is also so much value in a courtship taking a prudent amount of time. You see, there are the kinds of problems that are red-flags and should stop a courtship from continuing. But there are also the (more numerous) kinds of problems that are merely yellow-flags, and simply mean, take your time and work it out. While you should be discerning a potential marriage with this person from day one of your courtship, if you feel too rushed, you might inhibit the very foundation you are trying to build together.

This doesn’t mean you should be trying to find and resolve every potential problem before you get married. (That would be impossible and would surely drive you insane!) Rather, it means discerning the fertile middle ground between too fast and too slow, and letting your relationship flourish there, with the help of God’s grace.

3. Laugh

Courtship should be taken seriously . . . most of the time. It’s a time of purposeful discernment, and intentional conversations. But . . . having fun is so very necessary. Levity is necessary.

I’ve learned that shared laughter (over good and wholesome things) builds joy, as well as a pure fondness for one another. Whether it’s come from an expertly aimed splash while washing dishes, or just playing a game with a little kid, memories of The Dash and I laughing are some of my favorite memories of all.

If God intends your relationship to bloom into the kind of friendship that dwells in a marriage, you have to be able to laugh together, both over the funny things, as well as the hard. Laughter refines your perspective. It shrinks your problems to their legitimate size, and it elevates your gratitude to where it should be.

Even yesterday, The Dash and I were on the phone at the end of long, somewhat frustrating days. And even as we communicated the frustrations and our mutual drained-ness to one another, we just started laughing. (I’m sanguine . . . I may have started it . . . ) We came away a little more energized, and certainly much happier.

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This is one of my favorite-ever pictures of  us 😀

 

4. You will never regret telling the truth

Truth can be given with charity and tact–but it needs to be true nonetheless. Especially if something is genuinely (and not pettily) wrong . . . don’t hide it. It may make things more difficult momentarily, but truth has to be your courtship’s foundation because Our Lord, Who Is Truth, has to be your foundation. Otherwise everything will crumble to ruin. The Dash and I are both conflict avoiders by nature, and this resolution has been so important for me to embrace.

Because, after all, there is a difference between complaining about everything and simply being truthful when necessary. The latter makes a courtship succeed. It builds a precedent of truth, and truth builds trust; trust builds openness; openness builds love and being cherished.

5. Pray, pray, and then pray some more

Masses, Novenas, Rosaries, Adoration, patron saints, special daily prayers you pick out together . . .  because marriage is forever. Marriage is also under attack and in many places has been destroyed. By seeking to go about a relationship in a pure and noble manner, you are under attack. Satan hates what you are doing; the spirit of the world hates what you are doing; the flesh hates what you are doing.

Pray! Go to Our Blessed Mother. Go to St. Joseph. Go to patron saints who are special to your courtship. Depending on how things are going, you may not feel like you need protection. But you always, always do!

6. Waiting is worth it

Again, if you wait to engage in exclusive physical expressions of affection during your courtship (as is just), I’ve learned that these things become enshrined in your mind and heart as incredibly special. Think The Princess and the Kiss.

Once you become betrothed and moderated expressions are licit, and of course once you’re married, these exclusive expressions of affection are, no doubt, an amazing privilege.

I can say with all honesty that to be on the threshold of a not-yet-enjoyed privilege brings incomparable feelings of excitement and peace. To be able to look forward to doing something like holding hands in conjunction with the unity and blessed promise of betrothal is deeply heartwarming . . . and undeniably just. I have never been happier that we have waited on expressions like these than now, when we are eight months in, and have more love and affection for one another than we ever did previously.

7. Don’t try to do it alone

Everyone’s courting situation is going to be a little different; I’ve mentioned before that The Dash and I have been blessed to have a courtship that is deeply family-oriented. But I’ve learned that even if a courtship can’t be quite so family-oriented for whatever reason: in some way, shape, or fashion, and depending on the people God has surrounded you with, it isn’t wise to try to make your courtship work alone.

Of course, after God, the two of you are the essential elements of your courtship . . . but God has placed others in your lives for a reason. They often have a wisdom you don’t yet possess. At this point, you are a fledgling couple and you aren’t on a metaphorical island–in fact, it would be dangerous on multiple levels if you were. If you are blessed with wonderful parents and siblings/ married couples/ priests/ friends you trust . . . listen to their intuitions (with prudence, depending on how much trust they’ve merited. Parents are always at the top of the list).

If they offer you advice and guidance, consider it humbly. If you are blessed with good parents, it will be a very rare occurrence–indeed, if it ever happens–that you know better than they do. If they sense something is off-kilter in you . . . it probably is. If they suggest you talk about something in your courtship . . . you most likely should.

To this day, my parents have never been wrong 🙂

8. Finally, count the months

Because you’re doing something really special, and every new month is worthy of celebration and gratitude! If God intends your courtship to flourish and eventually turn into something greater, you will be amazed at how quickly time goes by and how much you have been blessed . . . just as I am amazed today 😉

Sig