Saturday, 30 December 2017

New Year’s Resolutions for the Motivationally Challenged

You’re trying to avoid it, but you just can’t. Why yes, it is indeed that ‘New year, new me’ time when everyone starts posting inspirational messages about the new year, making resolutions, and setting goals. But not you. You know it’s all a gimmick, just another way to set yourself up for failure. Whose new year’s resolutions last past the first week of the brand new shiny year? Not yours, by George. So why bother? Let’s just post a couple of witty but cynical New Year’s memes and move on. Realistic is your middle name. Any of that sound familiar?

Well I’m here to tell you that’s a load of baloney. Cynicism and negativity don’t look good on Christians. The very concept of new beginnings and second chances is at its heart Christian, the reason Jesus came at all. If we scoff at new beginnings, there is no place in our hearts for salvation. 

Here’s the truth. People CAN change. You can change. I am one of the laziest, least motivated people I know. I could lie on a couch all day every day and do nothing. I am full of faults and weaknesses. (I won’t list them all here, that’s what Confession is for.) I still struggle with many of them. And yet, I too have grown and changed. Change is possible! You can do this!

Here are some tips that might help you.

1. Make a resolution: ‘You’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?’ If you aim at something, you may fail. But if you don’t aim at anything, you’ve definitely failed. ‘And you ask “What if I fall?”Oh but my darling, what if you fly?’

2. Small, achievable goals: You can’t change everything overnight. You don’t have to try to do everything that sounds like a good idea. “I’m gonna eat healthy, and start exercising, and go for daily mass, and read the Catechism and all the works of Shakespeare, and be patient and spend less money and help the poor and start volunteering and DO ALL THE THINGS!” Don’t be crazy! Pick one, two or three resolutions, and then break them down to manageable, specific chunks. So rather than saying “I will be a more positive person”, decide to say one encouraging thing to somebody every day whether it is in person, or by text. Instead of deciding to ‘grow in your faith’, decide to read a spiritual book every day before bed for at least 15 minutes. If it’s achievable, it gives you the satisfaction of success which is enough motivation to keep going. It’s okay if it’s so small that it sounds stupid to someone else. You do what you need.

3. Tell someone: The only way I know for sure I am willing to change is when I am willing to humble myself and tell someone the decision I have made. It helps with accountability, and it uses your pride to your advantage (you’re more likely not to take seconds if you’re eating with someone who knows that that is what you have decided). Tell someone to check on you and ask you how you are doing. Or get together with a small group, and share your goals, and decide when you are going to re-meet to share your progress. Just knowing I have to tell someone helps me stay motivated.

4. Remind yourself why it matters: I have a picture of Saint John Paul II on my cupboard in my room. It says, “Are you capable of risking your life for someone? Do it for Christ.” Sometimes when I don’t want to get out of bed, I see it there, and tell myself, “Do it for Christ.” I used to mumble to myself during one challenging Lenten sacrifice, “Remember what you really want.” Ask yourself why it matters, and when you feel like it doesn’t, remind yourself why it did. “Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods,” says C.S. Lewis. Growth and discipline need that kind of faith.

5. Be patient with yourself: “Always forget the past and never worry about your falls, many as they may be. So long as you get back on your feet, no harm will have been done; whereas, a great deal of harm will occur if you lose heart, or if you berate yourself too much for your failures,” says Ven. Francis Libermann. You get a new chance every time you fall. Just don’t stay down. Don’t give up the fight. If you are fighting for holiness until your last breath you may be assured of heaven, even if you failed that very morning. If God is patient with you, you can afford to be patient with yourself.

6. Be around the right people: Choose to spend your time with people who will help you become the man or woman God has called you to be. If your friend circle or social circle are the ones doing all the stuff you are trying to avoid, or mocking your efforts to grow or change, perhaps you need new friends. '

If you’re still a little nervous about this, here are some ideas for small achievable goals. Don’t forget- don’t pick more than three!

1. Go to sleep on time. Set an alarm for 30 minutes before you want to go to bed, and put away anything that tempts you to stay awake longer- cell phone, books, laptop.

2. Switch off your phone data for a specified amount of time each day (perhaps 10 pm to 8 am).

3. End your day by writing your goals and to do list for the next day, with tasks written in order of importance.

4. Delete time-wasting apps from your phone. Instead, choose one book to read every night before bed. Make a list of books to go through, and make sure they are easily available to you- put them on your bedside table, or on your kindle. (I have plenty of recommendations- Something Other Than God, Searching for and Maintaining Peace, He Leadeth Me, Time for God, Sober Intoxication of the Spirit, the Prayer section of the Catechism, Fill These Hearts.)

5. Every time you catch yourself criticizing someone, or complaining, force yourself to say three good things about the person or situation.

6. Start a prayer journal and write three things you want to thank God for every day.

7. Memorize one bible verse every day. Send it to a friend, or illustrate it it or write it on a white board so you can see it all day.

8. Visit an Adoration chapel for 15 minutes every day before or after work.

9. Go for weekday Mass every day or twice or thrice a week (on pre-assigned days, and tell someone you’re going. It’s too easy to change your mind last minute if you don’t.)

10. Draw a picture every day. Or write every day.

11. Do some Zumba every day.

12. Go for a walk with a friend three times a week.

13. Plan to meet up with or visit one person every week- a friend, family member, or someone who needs a friend.

14. Add Confession to your monthly calendar.

15. Do an Examen at the end of each day.

You have your life ahead of you. It is full of possibilities, full of potential! You CAN become the person God has called you to be! Let us begin.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Five Christmas Gifts- Stories of Hope

As we fight the good fight against negativity, and strive to not just survive but thrive this Christmas (yes, I really just did that), it helps to notice and share the little and big signs of hope that we see. I constantly see signs to panic, signs that people are weak and judgmental and cold, that the world is going to hell and I want to scream, “Stop the earth, I want to get off!” But that’s not a true reflection of reality, is it? Love continues to fertilize and water the dry earth, and wherever it does, the seed that God plants sprouts and grows, and I catch a glimpse of hope and beauty. These signs of hope are my Christmas gifts to you.

-The Gift of a Birthday Sacrifice- 

A young wife and mother that I know comes from a humble and far from wealthy background (she recently moved out of the slum where she lived with her husband and his family). Most people cling to their hard-won privilege. But this young woman heard that we were raising money to send groceries to poor families from a school we work with. She texted me and told me, “My birthday is this month, so we plan this year that I will not buy new clothes and we will not have a party at home, and that money my husband wants you to give to two families which will help them for Christmas.”

Wow. I had tears in my eyes as I read her message. Mother Teresa said, “Love to be real, it must cost – it must hurt – it must empty us of self.” I don’t think I give very often with that real sacrificial heart.

-The Gift of a Home- 

Another friend and relative casually mentioned last month that she had practically adopted a young boy who they had rescued from the streets in the town where her family lives. Her family had befriended and tried to help his mother who was homeless and troubled, and they gave this young boy a part-time job around their property, put him in a better school (than the public one where the teachers never showed up), and eventually he began to sleep in their home, sharing a room with her son. He adores her, and follows her around.

Again, wow. I know lots of people who want to help the poor (as I do), and come up with projects or programmes or make donations. But how many of us are willing to care enough about anyone enough to be personally inconvenienced by them, to open our homes to them, and love them? I’m inspired. I think the key seems to be open your eyes to the people in front of you, and start there.

-The Gift of Literacy- 

I stopped by my great-aunt’s home the other day to drop off something. She lives next door to us, and we have a very friendly middle-aged maid who cooks for her and stays with her during the day. But when I opened the door, I saw my mother and the maid sitting side by side, heads buried in a notebook. That’s when I realized my mother was teaching her how to read and write. She practises in her notebook when she is free. Again, what a simple and small way to love someone, without a big fuss or drama about ‘look at me HELPING THE POOR’. Part of my work requires that I share the projects that we do, because our benefactors need to know what the volunteers are up to, and it helps people get involved. But it is a very simple and beautiful thing to love and serve without taking a photo to share on Facebook.

-The Gift of Music in the Slum- 

A couple of weeks ago, a friend’s brother texted me. He told me that his group of friends and their spouses and kids go carol singing every year to an orphanage. He asked me if there was any group of people that we volunteer with whom they could do it for this Christmas. These are all well-to-do professionals, who have every excuse to make their Christmas wholly about themselves- parties and gifts and good food. I’m sure their schedule could be filled up with decorating their own homes and buying their own families gifts. They don’t belong to any group that requires them to do any social service activity at Christmas. And yet they choose to make this a part of their lives and schedules. 

When I was a teenager I was part of the church youth group that went carol-singing to all the areas of the parish. But for us, it was mostly about having a good time, flirting with each other, and hoping the areas would provide good snacks. On the days when we visited the wealthier areas, all the youth would show up, but on the days we had to go to the poorer areas of the parish, the group would be a little scantier. Yeah, we were pretty shallow.

But this group of young families headed to the slum where our local parish has a tuition class, and made a fun evening for a bunch of kids who probably appreciated it far more than our little rich kids would. They brought their kids too! I once invited a teenager to help with a summer club we were doing in the slum and she told me her mother wouldn’t allow her to, because she thought it wasn’t safe. We can’t help people if we don’t go to where they are, and meet them there. And we can’t teach our kids to be different if we bubble wrap their existence so that they don’t even have to ever face other people’s sufferings and difficult lives.

-The Gift of a Family- 

A Salesian sister, a friend of my sister, came to visit two days ago. She was warm and kind and friendly, and chatted easily about her life. As she shared, she mentioned two young men, brothers, who were orphans and who she had met some years before. They were Protestant and had grown up in a Protestant orphanage. She said that she decided to befriend them. She took them home to her family, and over the years her family became their family. When they married, her family were the ones to buy the brides sarees and gifts as representatives of the young men’s families. She told us how much the young men loved them. The younger one told her, “You are an answer to my prayers for many years. I told God that everyone else has someone, except for me. I told Him, please send me someone to be MY family. It wasn’t a coincidence that we met, God sent you to me.”

Those of us come from warm, close-knit families often take it for granted. Or we feel bad for those who don’t have anyone. But how many of us are willing to open up that circle of love, and draw others into it? This Sister and her family did it. Now that Sister is posted in a different state, her family continues to love and welcome the young men who have become a part of their family.

There are probably many, many more stories like this. Not everyone is gossiping and slandering and criticizing and complaining. There are many, many souls who have opened themselves not just to the true 'spirit of Christmas', but the true GOD of Christmas- the God of love. Like Jesus, they give priceless gifts- gifts of love, mercy, kindness and acceptance. If He comes back today, I hope I may be counted among them.

Finding Myself in Each Downton Character

For the Downton fans. Everyone else, move on.

I've been re-watching Downton Abbey, and going through all the emotional upheaval all over again (though I cheat and fast-forward through the unpleasant bits). But while feeling all the feels (why did you die, Matthew?), my INTJ brain was identifying with several of the characters, and not always in the most flattering light.

Am I Lady Mary with her cool, calm, emotionless manner, a T (of Myers-Briggs) with all a T's faults and strengths- logical, the opposite of a drama queen, keeps her head in every circumstance, and capable of expressing her thoughts forcefully and confidently. She seems to be unable to resist nasty digs at her sister's neediness and weakness, flowing no doubt from the biggest flaw of an extreme INTJ- a lack of empathy. But she has a streak of softness brought out by love, and a battle between her softer and harder sides.

Or am I the Dowager, a very similar character to Lady Mary with her biting wit, her sarcastic tongue, her skepticism, and her boundless confidence? No slip will go unnoticed or unremarked when the Dowager is around. There seems to be nothing that would shake her, no social situation she is not in command of. And she will ALWAYS have the last word!

Or am I Lord Grantham, with his authoritarianism, his love of the way things are, and his dislike of change? He likes to get his own way, always thinks he knows best, and is rather high handed about making decisions for others. He gets annoyed when people challenge him, and doesn't give in very gracefully. Not that much of a team player.

Or how about Mrs Crawley with her high-minded idealism, wanting to not only save the world, but be personally involved with every aspect of saving it? She has a knack of trying to making people feel guilty, not hesitating to point out injustice, and people's complicity in it, regardless of tact or diplomacy. But she truly has a good heart, and would never shirk an unpleasant duty if she believed it to be right. And if ever anyone was in need, everyone knew she could be relied on to help, and to fight for the underdog.

I'll tell you who I'm not- Lady Sybil with her sunny, sweet, kind nature, unruffled by other people's nastiness. Or Lady Grantham also with a sympathetic and warm manner, quick with a friendly word and a charming smile to bridge awkward silences, a little gullible in her sympathy for Thomas and O'Brien. I don't think I'm like Thomas, who is just needlessly nasty all the time, and loves plotting and weaving webs of deception.

I will say I'm occasionally like Miss O'Brien, when I feel sour and bad-tempered and want to pour cold water over everyone else's enthusiasm. But hopefully I control myself a little better. Most of the time. I don't feel at all like Edith, who just seemed bitter and resentful most of the time, because she hasn't received the love and affirmation that she craves. I'm not like Bates, he's far more of a brooder than I am, and seems to have an anger problem, even though he is a man of integrity.

But who would I really like to be like?

I wish I could be a little more like Matthew- he's just kind, down to earth and wholly himself. He believed in Mary, and loved her into the best version of herself. He wasn't overly dramatic in his love, but just HAPPY and unashamed to be so. He was balanced, good-tempered, and while he wanted to do what was right and just and helpful (like asking Tom to be his best man, and encouraging Edith to write for the papers), he did it with a much lighter touch than his mother.

I wish I could be a little more like Anna, who is truly kind, dependably so. She had a genuine good-will to all, and was willing to get involved to be kind. She never seems to be moody and rarely has an uncharitable word for anyone. I would consider my life well- lived if that could be said for me at the end of my life. She went through so much suffering, but it sweetened and deepened her goodness, instead of turning her bitter.

But you may be surprised who I think the real hero of the show is- Mrs Hughes!

To me, she embodies one of the most central maxims of the Christian faith- mercy triumphs over judgment. She has a strong sense of right and wrong, but that never makes her judgmental or unmerciful. On the contrary, she has such a strong sense of mercy that she innumerable times gives second chances to those who have done nothing to deserve it. She always offers a way out, a way to move forward. Unlike Carson, she won't rub it in when someone messes up, nor will she dole out quick condemnation or a word of blame. What a gift! If only more of us were like that! Compassion does not require that we betray or water down the truth. But love for truth does not require that we be harsh, cold or rigid when it comes to people. The sooner Christians learn that lesson, the sooner the world will be transformed.

Also read: The Downton Abbey Episode That Made Me Bawl My Eyes Out

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Eight Tips to Surviving Christmas

You may be one of those crazy people who starts counting down to Christmas from October, who gets dreamy at the thought of Christmas gifts and traditions, hot chocolate and carols, Midnight mass and fluffy socks. But most likely once the season is upon you, that illusion comes crashing down. You suddenly have too much to do, too many commitments, nothing to wear, you’re tired, and everyone expects too much of you, and more and more corners of your house need cleaning. Your family members still push your buttons, and the more tired you are, the more you remember everything in your life that is going wrong, like the fact that you’re STILL single, or your marriageable children are, or your marriage is not picture-perfect, or you are childless or you just lost someone close to you… and it’s all too much to handle, and Christmas is not dreamy and charming, but frustrating and exhausting and can we go back to normal life already?
So is there any way to avoid this cycle of pain? Is there any way to redeem Christmas? Here are my best tips:
1. Make room for silence: Somehow or the other, prayer is relegated to the way way bottom of our to-do lists during Christmas. “Hold on, Lord, I know, I know, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ etc, but really it’s super-important that I spend another few hours online shopping for the perfect gift for everyone I know, I’m sure you understand.” 
Just put it all to one side, put your phone in another room, quiet your heart and your mind, and be with the One who loves you best. 
“The best time to make a holy hour is in the morning, early, before the day sets traps for us,” said Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Schedule it in, or it won’t happen. Personal prayer is important, and so is family prayer. I remember a Christmas Eve a few years ago when my family was in the middle of all the typical bustle of decorating, gift-wrapping, looking for matching clothes, shoes and jewelry for Midnight Mass, fighting over the one ironing board… and then we stopped everything, switched off all the lights and sat quietly before the crib, with its one light on, and prayed together. It was exactly right, but how easily we could have missed that moment.
2. Make room for love: Plan a visit to a poor family, or an elderly relative. Those are the kind of plans that won’t automatically happen unless you choose them. Christmas dances, family parties and big meals will happen one way or another, but the less glamorous appointments must be deliberately prioritized. But it’s not just the big gestures of love, but the little ones too. Plan each day to something encouraging or kind to each member of your family. Wash the dishes for your mum. Thank your maid. Tickle your kids. People over tasks.
3. Don’t over-commit: It’s easy during Christmas season to want to do it all. And there’s usually a LOT to do - parties, visits, home-decorating, errands, cooking feasts, an array of different types of sweets. But if you’re tired, it’s okay to say no. If you don’t have time to pray, it’s okay to say no.  if you’re over-stimulated, your room is a huge mess and you’re surviving on five hours of sleep every night, it’s okay to say no. It doesn’t really make a difference if you make three types of sweets instead of five. It’s okay if you skip a few social engagements to spend a quiet evening at home. make good choices. Don't spread yourself too thin.
4. Don’t over-eat, drink too much or spend too much: It’s embarrassing that Christians celebrate the birth of our God in the dwelling of a poor and humble family by reveling in the sin of gluttony and alcohol abuse and greed. Of course, celebration and feasting is good - Catholics love their feasts! But feasting is not equal to gluttony or drunkenness. Plus you know you feel bloated, unhealthy,  lethargic or hung over after overdoing it too many times. Why not enjoy the good things of life without letting them destroy us? Maybe you could give away the extra food, or the money saved by eating leftovers or buying less alcohol or other stuff, in the true spirit of Christmas.
5. Feed yourself with something satisfying: Read a good book. Read the bible. Listen to a good podcast. Do some art. Feed your soul and your mind, don’t just put them on hold while the body takes over. The bubble of this life is going to burst one day, and what will you have left on that day?
6. Play some beautiful music: Not just poppy Christmas-themed music, but music that calms you and feeds your soul, helps you remember who you are and who God is, that there is more to life than this frenzied pursuit of pleasure. Do your chores to the soundtrack of beauty.
7. Go for Confession: I have never failed to have my soul-cobwebs cleared out each time I have been to Confession. Yes, it’s hard, yes, I don’t feel like doing it and can think of any number of other things I would rather be doing, and yet I go – because it clears out the junk and once again I see myself and the world with the eyes of Truth… and hope. I went for Confession three days ago, and it was about time.
8. Fight the urge to compare: Envy creeps in at times like this, a dissatisfaction with the way things are, with the imperfect life we have been given. Nostalgia, an imperceptible sense of “If only…” pervades everything, and steals our joy. Reality doesn’t seem to satisfy. Wake up, friends - it’s a lie! No one has that perfect life. It awaits us in heaven, when every tear will be wiped away. Meanwhile, the imperfect, messy life you have been given holds beauty. But you might need to stop and look for it. And when you find it, give thanks!
I pray that each person reading this article finds joy this Christmas, that you may judge wisely the things of earth, and hold firm to the things of heaven, and that you may find your security in the gentle arms of our Lord who gave up heaven just to be ‘Emmanuel’.

Friday, 8 December 2017

The Poison We All Breathe

I live in a big Indian city, surrounded by pollution-saturated air. We breathe it in as a matter of course, and consider it normal life to regularly get sick, to have skin break outs and  grimy hair after being out in the traffic for a while, to have breathing problems, especially in the winter. But a couple times a year, my family heads to the hills, and suddenly everything feels different. Our bodies start feeling healthy and energetic again, we breathe deeply of the fresh, clean, pure, cool air, and our sleep is sounder, deeper and more refreshing.
This is not an air pollution blog post. I want to talk about another kind of poison, one that has insidiously affected everything in my world. Most people I know in India have been affected by it, but most seem unaware that it is not normal, or healthy, or even that it exists.
I’m talking about the poison of negativity, the darkness that has influenced most thoughts, ideas, conversations, interactions, relationships and even decisions for the future. You may say, “Who, me? I’m not a negative person! I do know some people like that. But I’m not one of them!”
Well here’s a checklist to find out if you are one of ‘those people’:
1. Which of these topics are you more likely to talk about when you meet up with friends, family, or random acquaintances?
a. How corrupt the government is/ how bad the traffic and pollution are/ how the world is going to hell/ how hard your college course is/ how tired you are/ how busy your life is/ how mean and unfair your boss is/ how stupid/judgmental/annoying people in your life are/ dramatic retelling of the latest annoying/frustrating thing that happened to you
b. The latest cool thing that happened/ a blessing you experienced/ an unexpected thing that worked out/ an achievement you’re proud of/ an answered prayer
2. When someone talks about a plan or dream or new idea, are you more likely to say:
a. Oh, but have you thought about (all possible obstacles to their plan)/ But have you finished working on your last project yet?/ You’re a bit of a dreamer, aren’t you?/ I don’t think it will work, because…
b. Wow! What a great idea! You can do this!/ How can I help?/ That’s exciting! I’ll pray that it all works out!/ That’s really interesting! How do you envision moving forward?
3. When someone makes a mistake, how are you most likely to respond?
a. I TOLD you not to do it that way!/ Next time be more careful./ You’re always like this- too hasty, too distracted, you don’t think things through./ You asked for it! You should have thought about it before getting into it. Now don’t expect me to save you.
b. It’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes./ I’m sorry that happened. How can I help?/ Are you okay?/ It’s not that bad. We could fix it by…
4. When YOU make a mistake, how are you most likely to talk to yourself?
a. Idiot! I can’t believe you did that again!/ Ugh, I’m such an idiot. I’m never trying that again/ Aargh, if only (so and so) had helped me when I had asked none of this would have happened/ I suck at life.
b. (Calming voice) It’s okay, calm down, everyone makes mistakes./ It’s not the end of the world. We can figure this out./ Jesus, please help me fix this.
5. When you are talking about other people, are you more likely to be talking about:
a. People who annoy you- Their annoying habits and their weaknesses/ the unsatisfactory interaction you had with them/ the way they behaved that didn’t meet your standards/ why they are the way they are
b. People who inspire you- Their gifts/ the kind or creative or thoughtful acts they did that you noticed/ why you like them and are glad they are in your life/ the way they inspire you
6. When you hear about someone doing something new, something that hasn't been tried before, how are you likely to react?
a. Talk about how they are probably going to fail/ feel vaguely resentful or irritated/ talk about how their efforts are most likely going to backfire and negatively impact existing structures and efforts/ watch and wait skeptically
b. Feel inspired and excited by what they are doing/ hope for the best and pray that their efforts are fruitful/ offer to collaborate or help/ encourage them 
7. When thinking about your upcoming day/week/month/year/life, what do you usually think of and feel?
a. All the possible things that could go wrong and the reasons why they probably will/ A vague sense of doom and disaster/ What people are probably thinking and saying about you, and why you don’t measure up to where they think you should be/ A sense of failure because you’re pretty sure you’re not going to be where you thought you would be
b. All the potential that the future holds/ a sense of anticipation and excitement for the surprises around the corner/ a sense of purpose and determination as you think of goals you plan to work towards/ “I don’t know, but it’s going to be AWESOME!”/ A sense of peace- “I don’t know what my future holds, but I know Who holds my future.
8. How do you talk to or relate to children?
a. Constantly tell them to be careful or they will fall or get hurt/ watch them and critique every action and word/ constantly remind them to say thank you, say sorry, be polite, be respectful, study hard, study harder, do well in their exams/ only talk to them when you are correcting them or giving advice
b. Ask them about their interests and listen to their answer/ tell them things that you noticed about them that you really liked (I love how you are playing with your little sister, and watching out for her!)/ make funny faces at them and play with them
9. What kind of expression does your face usually hold?
a. Gloomy/ serious/ little frown between your eyes/ preoccupied/ RBF
b. Quick to smile/ pleasant upturn of your lips in moments of repose/ interested and alert
I could go on forever. So… mostly As or mostly Bs? Be honest! With a lot of us, it’s an overwhelming chorus of As. So do you believe me when I say we have a problem? The easiest way to bond with people is to share a common grievance. It’s almost like we don’t know anything else that we could talk about. We see the world and its events through a lens of sadness or hopelessness, as if everything and everyone was doomed to failure. That is all we have heard from most people in our life. 
Why does it matter? Can't we just enjoy our shared negativity as this quirk of our society and world?
The truth is negativity is silently destructive. It brings us down, and brings everyone else down with us. It makes us less likely to try new things, to take a risk, to do good. Every act is seen as a possible disaster. And if everything is doomed to failure, why try anyway? Negativity is a prison that prevents us from becoming the people we are capable of being. It prevents us from changing the world because negativity whispers that it is incapable of change, and what do we have to offer anyway?
Negativity is catching. I’ve been both a recipient of other people’s negativity and a sharer of my own. Is that all there is? Are we doomed to standing around until we die huddled in little circles repeating all the reasons for despair?
No! We need something new, and it is within our reach! Especially for those of us who are Christian, we have a reason to hope. We need to live as people of hope. How many Christians do you know who you could describe as people of hope and joy? Not as many as you should, right? So how do we detox? How do we move out of this poisonous atmosphere, and start breathing the pure, sweet air of hope?
1. Choose hope: It is a choice! It’s not just that some people were born sunny-tempered and optimistic and the rest of us are genetically predisposed to be grumpy grinches. The action often comes before the feeling. You can FEEL bad-tempered and still choose not to ACT bad-tempered. You can train yourself to hold your tongue when all you can think of is negative or uncharitable words to say. You can train yourself to speak words of hope and encouragement (take another look at all the ‘b’s above.) Speak the truth aloud and eventually you will internalize it. Make a list of things that you are grateful for every day, the positives in a difficult situation.
2. Surround yourself with people who are choosing hope too. If there are negative people who often bring you down, speak to them and tell them you need something different in your life. Speak words of hope to them, and be persistent even when they are resistant to change. I went through a period of life when I struggled with anxiety and negative thoughts, but I had people around me who told me again and again, “You’ve got this! Everything is going to be okay!” I was like, “No! It’s not! I can prove to you why everything is NOT going to be okay!” But they didn’t give up on me. And eventually I began to hope again too. Hope and joy are catching too!
3. Go for regular Confession: This seems unrelated, but every time I have been struggling in a bog of negativity, and then gone for Confession, the darkness lifted. It was like drowning and then reaching the surface and taking a big breath of air. It is probably because negativity is related to the spiritual realm; despair, accusation and hopelessness the favourite language of the Prince of Liars. It takes weapons of light to fight weapons of darkness.
4. Face your fears: Spend time in prayer, and be very honest about the things that you are afraid of, the people who are negatively influencing your life. Journal about it. And then read the bible. There are some powerful hope-filled words in there! ‘ALL things work for good, for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.’ ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?’ The truth is that God has won the victory already, so no suffering in our life in permanent; no person has the power to steal my peace and joy. My future IS full of hope, because I am headed for heaven. Life on earth is short, and that is not something to be afraid of!
5. Do things that make you happy: Sometimes our lives ARE hard, and we carry heavy burdens. We may live with people who are difficult, or maybe we are stuck in a job that does not satisfy. Maybe we are at a time of transition, where a lot of things are uncertain. Maybe we have big battles we are fighting at this stage in our lives. This is ALL THE MORE reason to make place in your life for joy. Sing songs aloud, do some zumba with a friend, paint a picture, go for a walk, watch a (non-depressing) movie, do some praise and worship. Don't wallow in idle pits of despair. Remember why life ISN’T sad and bad and scary.
6. Make a change: Some things about our life we can’t change. But some we can! If you’re stuck in a depressing job with negative co-workers, look for a new job! If you live in a negative environment, look for a new home, with new roommates. Make new friends. Read new books. Listen to new music. Spend your leisure time in new ways- serving others.  If the negativity is more deeply rooted, go for counselling. Pray, ask God for guidance, and act! Don’t be afraid to try something new.
In the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, 'I plead with you--never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.'

Monday, 27 November 2017

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 12 and 13 of 13 - The Proposal and The Future

Start the love story here. 

Part 12 - The Proposal

On July 30th, 2017, which was their 6th month anniversary, Thomas came up with a plan to propose to Genevieve on a pier on Camiguin Island that overlooks the ocean. His reason was that the pier was the spot where two years earlier Genevieve had shared about a beautiful moment of prayer where the Lord told her about her future spouse and her wedding day. Thomas remembered the deep desire and longing to be her husband that rose in his heart that day. So his plan was to play a song that he wrote for her, tell her that story from two years earlier, and propose to her there.

So he told her that he had a story to tell her, and wanted to tell it at the pier. They got there that evening at about 9 pm, but to his chagrin, a group of young men had beaten them there. They were obviously drinking. They decided to walk around for a bit, and pray that they would leave soon. They prayed the emergency novena— nine Memorares, feeling sure that they were going to leave. But when they got back, even more men had joined the group for their festivities. Thomas was upset and confused. “Lord, my plan isn’t working! I ASKED You to clear the way to make this proposal happen! What are you doing?”

Genevieve could see Thomas was upset, but asked, “Do you HAVE to tell me the story tonight? Why don’t you just tell me another day?”

“No, it has to be tonight.”

“Okay, we can go up to the church.”

So they walked up to the church, which was a short walk away. But the church was locked. All the neighbourhood dogs were barking like crazy. Thomas’ irritation rose. This was not the right mood for a proposal. But he hadn’t given up yet. He thought of asking the priest to open the church. One of the young men who helped out at the church came down and opened the side door for them, and they entered the church. Genevieve could see that Thomas was still frustrated, so she thought, “Let me defuse this.”

She told Thomas, “Hey, I’ve been wanting to tell you something. Can I share with you this story before we begin?”

He reluctantly said, “Okay.”

”Two years ago I had a prayer time in this church. At that time I was struggling to trust the Lord with my future spouse. I thought that I really needed to take control. I was before the Divine Mercy image and the Lord told me, ‘You don’t trust me, that I’ll provide someone good for you, and that’s why it’s so hard for you to let go of your past relationships, and so hard for you to surrender this to Me.’ It really hit me, so I walked around the church just letting that soak in. I realized that I had thought that being Catholic was lame and boring, therefore my husband was going to be lame and boring. But as I walked around the church, I realized that was not true because everything in my life got better with Christ."

"I was at the back of the church, and I started to walk down the aisle towards the altar, and the Lord really spoke to me again and said, 'If you pick out your own husband, Genevieve, he will lead you to the altar, and you guys will leave the church out of the side door, and that’ll be it. But if you let me pick out your husband, he’ll bring you closer to Me.' And that point I walked up to the tabernacle, past the altar. It was a very profound moment."

Genevieve led Thomas around the church as she shared her story, and they walked down the aisle together. As they reached the tabernacle, it suddenly hit her that the Lord was bringing her full circle. He had promised her a spouse that would lead her closer to Him, and there she was, with a man who was doing just that.

She was overwhelmed. “Can we pray here for a bit?”

“Pray together?”

“No, individually.”

So they knelt down to pray before the tabernacle.

Thomas had been caught off guard with the story, because at first he felt like Genevieve was hijacking his proposal. But when they got to the tabernacle, and she needed to spend some time in prayer, it allowed him the chance to surrender to the Lord, and to allow Him to do what He was trying to do.

They finished praying and came down from the sanctuary. Then Thomas told her the story he had wanted to tell her at the pier, which was inspired by the same prayer time she had just told him about in that church. Then he played the song for her, and brought her back up to the tabernacle. They knelt down and prayed three times, “Jesus, we trust in You. Jesus, we trust in You. Jesus, we trust in You.” Then they stood up. But Thomas got back down on one knee before her, and right in front of the Lord, asked her, “Will you marry me?”

Thomas wasn’t sure exactly what to do with the ring—if he should just take out the ring box, or take the ring out and put it on her finger. So he took it out and almost put it on her finger, when he realized she hadn’t said yes yet. So he waited.

Genevieve had a friend who told her, ‘The proposal goes by so quickly’, so she wanted to fully take in the moment. As she looked at Thomas’ upturned face, she thought, “I’m not going to say yes yet, let me just take it in.’ Moments passed. Suddenly she realized it had been a while, as she saw the change in Thomas’ facial expression, so she quickly said, “Yes!”

Thomas and Genevieve were engaged! They remained in the church for a while, rejoicing in God’s goodness. Thomas was able to see that none of that had been his plan, and that his plan hadn’t worked at all. But he saw that it was the Lord’s faithfulness to Genevieve that had brought Thomas to that island and to that church, to ask her in front of the same tabernacle where He promised to provide him to her. It was the Lord’s faithfulness to Thomas that He had planned the perfect proposal that would bless Genevieve and him the most.

Part 13 - The Future

On the 14th of April, 2018, Thomas and Genevieve will be joined together in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. They are excited to begin their life together. Both have heard God’s call to serve Him for the rest of their lives. They are open to go wherever the Lord calls them. They both want to be holy, and they are excited to learn how to be saints together. What unique witness will their marriage and family be to the world? Only time will tell. Pray for Thomas and Genevieve as they begin this adventure together with the Lord.

- The Beginning -

Thomas and Genevieve meet Pope Francis on their honeymoon

A Real- Life Catholic Love Story - Part 11 of 13 - Reunion

Read Part 10 here.

Part 11- Reunion

Thomas was a little nervous about seeing Genevieve again, wondering if he would still have the same feelings. He flew to the airport she was arriving at (in a different city) to surprise her.

Genevieve wasn’t nervous to see him again. She was just excited! As she stepped into the airport and saw him, she had a moment of shock. “This person I know so well on the phone is a real person!” But it was a joyful reunion.

They spent time in the places Thomas had served. They went out on a date in one Indian city. They both dressed up Indian style, and went out to a restaurant. Feelings of awkwardness and nervousness hit them both at the same time, so Thomas asked, “Can we pray together?” As they prayed at the restaurant, the Lord inspired them to remember all He had done in the previous four months of their relationship.

The next night they cooked together. Thomas had planned to talk to her that night about their future. He had never even mentioned the word ‘marriage’ before, because he was scared that if he did, he was going to set her up for disappointment if it didn’t work out. But his mother and his spiritual director both told him, “Get over it! Push yourself and take a step forward!” So they had a beautiful conversation, where they both felt called to step forward, to serve together in the same country. They talked about engagement. It was the first time Thomas had ever talked to a woman about the possibility of spending his life with her. They didn’t have any great signs, but they both felt called to move in that direction.

The rest of their time in India was a blessed time of everyday interactions, seeing how they worked together, in the moment and not over the phone. Genevieve even enjoyed the small disagreements they had, because they were learning to work through them. In their last few days in India, they prayed and talked some more about where they should be for the rest of the year. They felt peace about Genevieve joining Thomas in India to help with the volunteer training programme, and then returning together to the US.

In June 2017, after a month together in India, it was time for Genevieve to fly back to the Philippines. Thomas stayed to help with a program in India he had committed to, and then joined her there three weeks later.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 10 of 13 - Long Distance Relationship

Read Part 9 here.

Part 10 - Long Distance Relationship

Genevieve and Thomas entered into their relationship on January 30th, and they both had tickets to leave for different countries on February 5th… just six days later! Genevieve was worried at first because it was a new relationship, they were both leaving, and she had already committed to leading a team in the Philippines. But the Lord reminded her that she did not need to worry about this relationship, because He was the one who had initiated the whole thing. 

It was the Lord who had brought her home that year (she hadn’t been planning to go, but she was told to come home), He had brought Thomas into her life, and when Thomas asked her on a date, she felt like the Lord has asked her on a date (because she had never imagined herself with him). God did it all. He told her “Just seek My Kingdom, do not worry about anything, I am taking care of everything else.” God gave them this gift, and He was going to be faithful to it. So she was sure that they were supposed to go back to do His work. She told Thomas, “My service to God is first, before you. God has called me to it, and I know it, and I have to remain faithful to it.”

They went to Mass the next day and consecrated their relationship to Our Lady of Guadalupe. At that Mass, the priest spoke a lot about the call to be share Jesus with the world. This confirmed their desire to continue the work He had already led them to—her leading a team of girls in the Philippines and Thomas back in India. They rejoiced in the fact that they were putting Him first in their relationship, even though at that time they didn’t realize how tough it was going to be.

The months of being in two different countries were hard for Thomas. But God kept reminding him, “She’s the one, have no fear. Don’t be afraid to move forward, you don’t need big signs. I will bless this.” He felt the Lord’s love through her acceptance of him, with all the dark parts of his heart and mind. Like a Bethel song that he heard, “Love is unafraid. It is not blind, it sees the whole thing”, he realized that Genevieve was a woman who saw all the crap happening inside of him, and she still loved him. He had never felt that kind of love before in his life.

For Genevieve, the months of long distance relationship were very healing. Not being able to have any kind of physical relationship was a grace from God, because in the past when she felt inadequate in a relationship, she would just get physical with the guy as a way to fix the feeling of inadequacy. Even though she was sure they wouldn’t have fallen into that sin, she could see the temptation more clearly.

Feelings of inadequacy arose during that time, fears that she wasn’t what he wanted, that she didn’t measure up, she wasn’t a good singer, she wasn’t super Catholic, and she didn’t know the Catechism. Thomas would tell her, “That isn’t what I want.” But the Lord had to speak that to her, and He did. It was a beautiful new experience for her—being in a Christian relationship with a holy man, where she could show him her wounds, her insecurities, and he wouldn’t run away, or think her too complicated. He knew that the Lord wanted to heal her in those areas. She often wondered, “Why does Thomas like me?” because her wounds told her that she had to give him a reason to like her.

But in those months apart, she was able to realize he just loved her because the Lord had given her to him. He didn’t care about her singing ability or knowledge of the Catechism. She grew to love being in a relationship, serving the Lord, and valuing chastity. Even when they faced struggles, it taught them to keep the Lord at the center. They regularly had long phone conversations where they shared and prayed together.

God continued to draw them into a deeper understanding of the kind of relationship He was calling them to. One day in March Genevieve was reading ‘Fill These Hearts’ by Christopher West and she told Thomas, “I just realized— you’re not my everything!” He was blown away. He had never heard of a woman saying that to the man she was in a relationship with. He romantically told her back, “You’re not my everything either.” Their time apart convinced them that they were meant to be in relationship with each other.

But the question that soon arose was— what next? They couldn’t wait to be in the same place, and move forward in their relationship.

When Thomas had been visiting the Philippines a year and a half earlier, long before they were in a relationship, he had been praying about his desire for Genevieve. He had asked the Lord, “How on earth is this going to work? Genevieve loves the Philippines, I’m committed to India. How is it even possible?” The Lord showed him two streams of water—a waterfall coming from one side, and a river coming from another side, joining and flowing together. And He said, “If I want it to happen, it will happen.”

And it did! Genevieve felt called to join Thomas in India. But before they reached that decision, she came to India to visit and co-lead a short term trip.

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 9 of 13 - Entering Into an Intentional Relationship

Part 1 - Life Before Love
Part 2 - When Thomas Met Genevieve
Part 3 - Thomas Falls in Love
Part 4 - God makes Genevieve Some Promises
Part 5 - Two Years Pass
Part 6 - Time for a Change
Part 7 - The Pre-Date Date

Part 9 - Entering Into an Intentional Relationship

After the date, Genevieve remembered someone telling her, “It’s either a yes, a no or a maybe.” She felt like it was a maybe. She didn’t know if she liked him just because he was a guy who was pursuing her, or if she liked HIM. He asked her out on another date pretty soon. He surprised her again by taking her to her favourite place to eat in the States, Chik-Fil-A. Genevieve was really nervous because she wanted to be very honest with him. 

She told him “I don’t know how I feel. It’s not a yes, it’s not a no.” But Thomas was okay with that. It seemed like they were both on the same page. Thomas told her the only thing he knew was that he liked her. He didn’t know if he was supposed to marry her. They realized that they didn’t have to have things figured out beforehand, but that they could figure them out together.

Genevieve headed for a retreat, and Thomas headed home. They were apart in the US for a month and a half. Before Thomas left, he asked Genevieve, “Can I call you?” So during that time, he would call her at first once a week, and then twice a week. Once he told her, “You can call me too.” Genevieve would get excited and wait for his phone calls. But she still wasn’t sure. Part of the problem was how she felt about the height difference. But she had a prayer time on January 3rd that changed everything for her.

Excerpt from her journal:

‘God wants a husband for me that will every day draw me closer to Him. God’s desire for my husband is NOT so I can take glory in how perfect we look together because my identity is not my husband, but in being a child of God. God doesn’t want a husband for me so we can be a power couple, rely on his parents’ wealth, find my status in his degree or job, look to him for strength. No, God does not want my identity coming from my relationship but from Christ alone. So my husband may not be a Division 1 athlete or wealthy. Good.

My husband will have weaknesses, he will struggle, he won’t complete me, and he will not make up for all my weaknesses. That’s not God’s plan. My husband WILL draw me closer to Christ every day, that’s God’s perfect plan. What I used to desire in a husband stemmed out of things I wanted to get my identity from. They were not pure. I planned on using my husband to make me look better, feel better about myself and have everyone think more highly of me. I did not have pure intentions. God disregards the ridiculous desires that draw me away from Christ and He has given me Thomas to show me He desires a pure and holy man after His own heart that will lead me closer to Christ. That is God’s end goal, not for me to be the envy of my friends or to get more Instagram likes.’

In the past she thought she had to give her boyfriend a reason to brag about her. So she used her body, she felt like she needed to be the hottest girlfriend, she wore immodest clothes, she had expensive shoes. She would cry sometimes from all the pressure she put on herself while getting ready for dates. But now something had changed—she was finding her identity as a daughter of God. That prayer time helped her realize that her criteria for choosing a husband had changed. With this shift of perspective, she was now able to accept Thomas as he was rather than needing him to make up for her low self-esteem. Genevieve realized he could be his own unique person and she could be hers. She was able to let go of the hesitation because of the height difference. (She also noticed that a lot of celebrity women dated men who were shorter than them.) Now Genevieve knew that she liked him, but she didn’t want to tell him on the phone. She decided to wait till they were back at the base.

Meanwhile Thomas was having his own struggles at home. Initially he was overwhelmed by God’s goodness as he realized that God had prepared them for a relationship by giving them four years of a solid foundation of friendship. But soon after, the fears attacked again... fear that he didn’t like her enough, that she wasn’t the right woman for him, that he was leading her on. He started sharing some of his struggles with his mom. She listened, and then told him, “You should tell Genevieve about your struggles.”

Thomas knew that that was the right thing to do, God had been telling him that for a while. But he was reluctant to because he had once shared his fears with another girl years before and she had kicked him out of her car. “If I share my fears, maybe this whole thing is over.” But God kept telling him to have hope.

So one day he called her. “Could I could talk with you about something?”

Genevieve got a little nervous, wondering if he was calling it off. But as Thomas shared, she was able to respond with peace, “Your fears don’t bother me at all.”

Genevieve could see that God was doing something good with their relationship already. “When I shared with my friends and family how you had told me I was worthy of being pursued, it touched many of them in a deep way. I don’t know if we’re supposed to get married, but we don’t have to be afraid of that because I can see that right now God is being glorified by our relationship.”

Thomas was relieved and wowed by Genevieve all over again. “This woman is awesome!”

It was a game changer for him. Each time fears attacked him, he was able to share it with her and she was able to calm him. He also realized that the Lord was telling him, “You have to date her in order to know if marriage is what I’m calling you to. You can’t know for sure without dating her.” So he had peace about moving forward. He also realized that as he grew closer to her, his concerns about her being taller than him faded into the background, and became a non-issue.

They returned to the base in the last week of January, and the same night he asked her on a date. The next day they went over to JP and S’s house which they lent them for the date, and he made Genevieve her favourite dinner. After dinner, they went to a waterfront and she told him that she liked him.

Thomas had heard from JP and S that Genevieve didn’t like the term ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ because it had a bad association for her, so he picked his words carefully.

“Will you be in an intentional relationship with me?”

Her answer was a peace filled “That would be awesome.”

Thomas smiled back, “It would be.”

That night they went to the Adoration Chapel, and thanked the Lord out loud for their relationship. It was the beginning of a new season of their lives.

Monday, 20 November 2017

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 8 of 13 - The First Date

Part 1 - Life Before Love
Part 2 - When Thomas Met Genevieve
Part 3 - Thomas Falls in Love
Part 4 - God makes Genevieve Some Promises
Part 5 - Two Years Pass
Part 6 - Time for a Change
Part 7 - The Pre-Date Date

Part 8 - The First Date

Genevieve went back to get ready alone. As she dressed, she began to think “Whoa, that was really intense. I bet Thomas is going to take me somewhere really intense where we will sit and talk all night. I need to look up things to do.” In her past relationships, Genevieve was usually the one who planned the dates. So she got out her phone and started looking up ‘Fun things to do in Lafayette in the wintertime’. The results started coming in, when she stopped herself.

“Genevieve, if you do this, then you’re taking him on a date. He needs to take you on a date. And you know what? If it’s intense and it sucks, then it’s intense and it sucks, and that’s him. But you cannot take over.”

So she stopped and continued getting ready. Dressing for the date was tricky because she didn’t know what they would be doing. I thought “I can’t wear a skirt, because what if there’s some activity we’re going on?” She settled on jeans and a cute black top which she borrowed from another volunteer without telling her why she needed it.

Thomas picked her up at 6.45 pm in the Ford Taurus. He had a surprise planned. He had printed out directions, but cut out the name of the place they were going. He handed them to her and asked her to guide them with the edited directions. As they got in the car, he told her, “You pick three songs and I’ll pick three songs, and we’ll keep rotating who picks songs.” She was impressed with his directness and decisiveness when he directed their music selection plan.

But the cut-up directions made Genevieve a little nervous. They were labelled ‘dinner’ and ‘fun’. He asked her “Fun first or dinner?” Genevieve responded, “I want to EAT!”

But as they were driving, he pulled into their organization’s convent turned retreat centre, where one of the volunteer families lived.

Genevieve’s heart sank. “Oh my gosh, this is ridiculous, he’s taking me to a convent for DINNER. It’s probably some other volunteer cooking and this is going to be so awkward.”

But they pulled in and he said, “Just wait a second.” And he came back out and said, “We’re taking the white truck.” The volunteer family had a big truck that someone had donated. Genevieve was blown away because she liked new cars, and a week earlier she had been with a group of people and seen the truck and said, “Whose truck is that? I want to drive that truck!” She realized that Thomas had listened to that and arranged to use it for their date.

They drove off, following the instructions, and pulled into a quaint French cafĂ©. They had a great dinner. It felt like friends, talking and sharing easily. At one point Thomas tried to make it date-ish by asking her questions like, ‘What’s your favourite color?’, but Genevieve wouldn’t have it. “Forget those! We talk so naturally, we don’t need those questions!” she thought, and redirected the conversation back to the easy, informal way they usually talked.

Genevieve went to the bathroom and thought, “This doesn’t feel like a date. It just feels like friends.” So she thought “Let’s make this a little awkward.” So as they were walking to the car after dinner, she said, “So, what do you talk about on dates?” She wanted to point out that they were on a date, and it didn’t feel like they were. So he just laughed and said “I don’t know.”

They got into the truck and then Genevieve asked, “So why did you decide to ask me on a date?” She wasn’t sure if asking this was a good idea, but she just wanted to know where the heck it was coming from, so she decided to take a chance and ask.

He said, “Huh. I was wondering how I was going to tell you this, but you’re so direct that you just asked me. Well, first of all, why? Because I’m attracted to you, I feel like we have a connection, and I want to see if God has something more for us there. Secondly, I have seen you continually say yes to the Lord, and I want you to know that you are pursuable, worthy to be pursued by a good man.”

Then he told her a story of a time when they had been in the Philippines eating with friends, and one of their friends was upset about something. He saw how she handled the situation, directly talking to their friend, and asking what was going on. They talked it out right there. Thomas shared that he was impressed with how direct she was, and told her how attractive it was to him.

Genevieve was touched by the fact that he asked her out and had a reason for why he asked her out. He was being so intentional. She had never really experienced that in the past. She was taken aback, and had no response. She hadn’t even expected him to have an answer. They left the parking lot, and went to the next surprise location which was a bowling alley. Genevieve was a little worried because usually she got pretty aggressively competitive and angry when she bowled, but thankfully that didn’t happen at the date.

The whole time they were there, she kept looking at him and thinking, “Could I date you? Do I like you? Are you more than a friend?” They were both scoping each other out. When they left, Thomas asked her, “Do you want to drive the truck now?” She didn’t want the night to end so she said “Could we go get milkshakes?” She drove them to Wendy’s drive-through and they got Frosties. They left and had to return for something, and instead of going back on the highway, Genevieve drove the truck over the grass divide. Thomas was really uncomfortable because he usually followed rules to a T. He got a glimpse of the more free-spirited Genevieve for whom rules were more often seen as suggestions. “We’re in truck. Why not? This is what they are made for!” Thomas once again noticed how different they were. They sat in the parking lot for a while catching up, and before they knew it, it was 11 pm. “We have to get back!”

They drove back, and Thomas was a little nervous that he wouldn’t get her back before midnight (her sister Teresa lived at the base too). When she realized what he was worried about, she told him, “I’m a grown-ass woman!” The look that he gave her at those words was priceless!

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 7 of 13 - The Pre-Date Date

Part 1 - Life Before Love
Part 2 - When Thomas Met Genevieve
Part 3 - Thomas Falls in Love
Part 4 - God makes Genevieve Some Promises
Part 5 - Two Years Pass
Part 6 - Time for a Change
Part 7 - The Pre-Date Date
Genevieve began to freak out, because she was pretty sure the date wouldn’t lead to anything. She had heard that dating in community was hard, so she didn’t want anyone to know about it, so they could just be friends without becoming the latest news.

The date was planned for that Saturday, on December 10th. Meanwhile they were able to relate to each normally. They would keep going over to JP and S’s house for advice, individually, and later found out that they were using Genevieve’s insights to help Thomas prepare for the first date. JP told Thomas to keep it fun, to not keep it too serious, instead of being a super-intense Catholic guy. This was great advice, without which their relationship would have ended before it started. But before the date even happened, God had a little surprise pre-date date planned.

A new couple had arrived at the base, and Genevieve had wanted to get together to get to know them. Thomas had told her earlier that he was going over to spend some time with them, and she had asked if she could join them. It turned out to be the same Saturday they were going on their date, but at lunch.

They went over, and it was mainly the couple and Thomas talking, and Genevieve listening. It was a really intense conversation because some of the struggles that they had were EXACTLY the struggles that Thomas faced.

Genevieve sat quietly in a corner, thinking, “I invited myself to this. They had this planned out, and here I am just barging in. I can’t believe Thomas is sharing this in front of me. I’m not supposed to be here.”

But for Thomas, it was one of the moments where he saw God’s hand. He felt that his struggles were really important things for someone who was going to date him to know about him, especially since they were so recent. He felt like he was being a hundred percent honest. It was also an answer to Genevieve’s desire when she told him ‘I just want to know your heart’. The conversation happened in a non-threatening way, in a community setting, which made it easier for Genevieve to take it in without the pressure of having to respond at once. Five and a half hours of intensity later, and they finally left.

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 6 of 13 - Time for a Change

Part 1 - Life Before Love 
Part 2 - When Thomas Met Genevieve 
Part 3 - Thomas Falls in Love 
Part 4 - God makes Genevieve Some Promises
Part 5 - Two Years Pass

Part 6: Time for a Change
In December 2016, Genevieve and Thomas both returned to the base. 
Thomas was almost ready to make a move, but not quite. His spiritual director encouraged him to do something, but he still didn’t think it was the right time, partly because he had just said a 30 day novena to Saint Joseph and he didn’t send any kind of sign. Thomas was frustrated, because the desire still burned in his heart, but he was still too afraid of making mistakes. The Lord had to stir up that desire.
The previous year Thomas had talked to another volunteer, JP,  about the situation, but received no clear guidance. But as he returned to the base, it seemed like many people from the community encouraged him.
One night Thomas was talking to his roommate, and he shared with him for the first time that he liked Genevieve. He told him, “You’ve got to do something about that.” The next morning Thomas woke up and said to himself, “I’m going to ask her out!” By the middle of the day, his courage and confidence waned. “I’m not going to ask her out.” 
That night at the dinner after the community celebration Mass, Thomas was holding open a door when S, JP’s wife, walked in and said meaningfully to him, “Now is the acceptable time.” 
Thomas had never told S anything about his feelings, so clearly JP had shared with her. Thomas played dumb. “What are you talking about?” 
She said, “You know,” and walked away. 
Later that night she came over to him again and said, “Genevieve really deserves a good man. And you deserve a good woman. You don’t want somebody else to get a chance before you.” 
Her words lit a fire under him, because about a month earlier when they had met in India, Genevieve had told Thomas about a Filipino guy whom she was interested in. It was the first time Thomas had heard about Genevieve liking someone, and it cast his hopes down.  He had told God, “I’m just going to let this go.” But as he prayed about it, the desire to be with her was fanned into flame. So when S spoke up, Thomas knew that he didn’t want the other guy to get a chance. 
As he considered her words, S added, “It only takes twenty seconds of insane courage.” 
Thomas took a deep breath. “It’s now or never.” He walked over to Genevieve that night, at the first chance he caught her alone. 
“Genevieve, can we talk for a second?” 
“Yeah, I got lots of seconds.” 
As he was getting ready to speak up, he got slightly dizzy. Then he said, “I would like to take you out on a date.”
Genevieve was shocked. Her legs went numb. She was taken completely off guard, because it was the last thing she thought he would say.
But she immediately blurted out, “Yes!” 
Why? Well, she didn’t like awkward situations, she was an impulsive answerer, who didn’t always think before she spoke. But there was another reason.  A few weeks before she had made a decision— “If a man is going to work up the courage to ask me out on a date, I’ll say yes. I don’t care who it is. Well, as long as he isn’t a bum on the streets.” She had been thinking about returning to the base, and wondering if something would happen.
When it did happen, Genevieve’s heart jumped at the thought of Thomas asking her out on a date, that someone would ask her out on a date. Earlier in the night he had told her she looked beautiful. She felt beautiful when he said that, because she had forgotten for a while in the Philippines that she was truly beautiful. 
So she said, “Yes!” 
Thomas wasn’t ready for such a quick answer. “You can think about it, you know.”
But she repeated, “No! I already answered ‘Yes’.” 
Then she said, “Can we sit down?”, because her legs had gone weak.
They sat down on a bench in the hallway, 
He said, “Okay. When?”
“When are you going home?”
“The 14th.”
“Oh, then we have plenty of time.”
Thomas gave her a look. “Let’s not do that.” 
Genevieve was impressed, because she had not thought of Thomas as someone who was persistent or direct. So she got out her phone, looked at the calendar and said, “I can do Saturday night.”
He said “Okay, good. What do you want to do?” Then he said. “Wait. Never mind. I’ll figure that out.” Again, she was impressed because she didn’t expect him to handle things in that way. 
Now that the official business was completed, they just said, “Okay,” and walked away from each other, back to the party. Genevieve grabbed her sister Teresa, brought her straight into the bathroom, made sure there was nobody else in there, and said, “GUESS WHO JUST ASKED ME OUT ON A DATE?” 
She said, “Who?” Perhaps she guessed, but Genevieve said, “THOMAS!” 
She said, “What?” But then she said “I remember JP mentioning somebody likes you.” Apparently he was in the office one day and told her, “I know somebody who likes your sister!” But she never mentioned it to Genevieve. But she told her, “You should talk to JP and S, I feel like they’d be able to help you out.”
They went back in, and the party was still going on, but Genevieve was so nervous, she didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t dance, she couldn’t even look at him. 
Thomas was watching her after that, seeing how she was relating to people. Instead of heading home, they landed up at an after party at the one of the volunteer family’s homes. They sat almost next to each other, and drank their beers, but kept stealing glances at each other. It was the beginning, awkward, nervous stage of their relationship.