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 café. 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.

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 5 of 13 - Two Years Pass

Part 1 - Life Before Love
Part 2 - When Thomas Met Genevieve
Part 3 - Thomas Falls in Love

Part 5 - Two Years Pass

Visiting the volunteer community on Camiguin for a Confirmation

Every year after Thomas was posted to India, he would get to visit the Philippines for a mid-year retreat and would have at least one great conversation with Genevieve. He fell deeper in love each time he met her. He was attracted to not just her physical appearance or beauty, but the way she was allowing God deeper into her heart. One of the big moments when Thomas felt like she was ‘the one’, was when they were hiking up the mountain on Camiguin Island in the Philippines, and she was talking to another volunteer. She told him, “I can’t go back to my past life. This is a lifelong thing.” That was Thomas’ desire too, so her words resonated with him. He saw her start to go to daily Mass, and was more and more drawn to her holiness, not just her spontaneity.

But Thomas assumed it would never happen because he still wasn’t healed from his brokenness. Over that time he still considered going back to the priesthood.

In 2015 Thomas was with Genevieve and their friend Rebecca on Camiguin Island, sitting on the pier sharing about their lives. Thomas shared that he thought he was called to be a priest, Rebecca shared that she felt called to stay on Camiguin for the rest of her life, and Genevieve shared what the Lord had been speaking to her about her wedding day. As she spoke, that same inner deep desire sprung up in Thomas’ heart, a deep desire to be her husband, to honour the way she had been following the Lord by giving her his life, to say ‘You are worthy of a good man’s love’.

Thomas shared all these stories with his spiritual director and he asked him, “You seem to like this girl a lot. Why aren’t you doing anything about this? Put yourself out there!” When Thomas returned to India, he remembered Genevieve once saying, “If you ever want to Skype, I’d be open to that.” She gave him the open door to catch up with her. So he emailed her and said “Can we Skype sometime just to catch up?” But on the scheduled day it didn’t work out, and it never happened after that. He emailed her twice saying, “Can we reschedule?” She never responded.

During those two years, Genevieve had absolutely no clue that Thomas liked her. To her, they were just friends, and they had fun together. Also, she thought her husband had to be taller than her, so she didn’t think of him as a romantic interest. But every time Thomas visited her team in the Philippines, they had a blast. She viewed him as a good, solid, trustworthy friend, and she saw none of the attraction or interest. Instead, because she knew other people who liked him, she kept hoping it would work out in that direction. Several times she was tempted to talk with him about other girls. The big question on everyone’s mind was, “WHO THE HECK WAS THOMAS IN LOVE WITH?” Genevieve was outraged on everyone’s behalf: “This kid comes in here, and he’s talking about marriage constantly, and when he finally can move forward, and the dating commitment is over, he’s SILENT!” She felt like they were good enough friends for her to ask him, “What’s going on?” But it never really felt like it was right, and in the end, she never did.

Thomas felt some doubts about whether she could be the right person for him because of her height. He felt that he needed a woman smaller than him. But the attraction remained.

Back in India in November 2016, Thomas had another moment that prepared him for Genevieve. He was on a train with another good friend, and they were talking. He had been struggling with intense fears the whole year, and he felt like he was far from being ready for a relationship. She asked him, “What if God wants to give you that gift even if you’re not ready?” Thomas felt the Lord’s mercy and goodness, as he prepared to return to the US a month later.

Next - Part 6 - Time for a Change

Friday, 17 November 2017

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 4 of 13 - God Makes Genevieve Some Promises

Part 1 - Life Before Love
Part 2 - When Thomas Met Genevieve
Part 3 - Thomas Falls in Love

Part 4 - God Makes Genevieve Some Promises 

In Genevieve’s second year back in the Philippines, she faced a time of struggling to let go of her ex- boyfriend. She hadn’t talked to him in over a year, but there was still a temptation in her heart. As she brought all these feelings to the Lord, He spoke very clearly and told her, “You are never getting back with this guy.” God showed her a passage from Jeremiah 3. Verses 14 and 15 said ‘Return rebellious children, says the Lord, for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.

Genevieve felt the Lord shutting one door, but promising her another. But she was confused. “Is it marriage, or am I called to be sister because maybe Jesus is the shepherd… or is it a husband?”But she felt sure that if God was calling her to marriage, her future husband would be a shepherd after the Lord’s own heart. It gave her an idea of who she was looking for, someone very different from anyone she had dated before.

During another prayer time, she was in front of the Divine Mercy picture in a church in the Philippines and the Lord told her, “You don’t trust me, that’s why you’re holding on to the past.” She realized that she was holding on to a misconception that marriage and an intense faith life were incompatible, that the deep faith life she had as a single would not translate to married life. But the Lord told her, “No, it’s going to be more about Me, and I’m going to give you someone who draws you closer to me.”

There was another hidden fear. Would someone God picked for Genevieve be boring and serious? It had seemed like sinful relationships were the most fun, because that was all she knew. “A chaste relationship, Lord? I can’t even imagine how dull that would be.” But God was able to combat that fear with the fact that her first year of volunteer life was wonderful, not miserable like she had expected it to be.

Any time Genevieve wanted to date or liked anyone in the Philippines, she would bring it to the Lord and He pointed her to Isaiah 26. “A strong city have we, he sets up wall and ramparts to protect us. Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith, a nation of firm purpose you keep in peace, in peace for its trust is in you.” The Lord told her, “Genevieve, you are the city, and I’ve set up walls and ramparts to protect you and no one is getting through until it’s the right person!” For some reason, it would never work out. And she knew God was waiting for the right person.

Next - Part 5 - Two Years Pass

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 3 of 13 - Thomas Falls in Love

Read Part 1 and Part 2 first.

Part 3 - Thomas Falls in Love 

After one year of serving God in two different Asian countries, Thomas and Genevieve returned to the base for Year in Review, the year-end retreat. One of the talks was about personalities, and as the speaker mentioned “Opposites attract”, Thomas started dreaming, “Who is a very opposite person to me?” His thoughts immediately went to Genevieve. As he began to think more of her, he realized that he was attracted to her.

During the three weeks at the base, Thomas made no move to act on his feelings, but surprisingly God set up a bunch of ‘dates’ for them. Once Genevieve invited him to go to New Orleans to drop off their friend, Rebecca, to the airport, and it was just the three of them hanging out. They had a great time together, realizing they both liked Christian rap. As they walked around the city, Thomas glanced at Genevieve and thought, “I really like this girl. Maybe I could ask her out sometime.” But as they were talking, their recently completed dating fast came up, and Genevieve said, “I realize I’m not ready to be in a relationship. I need some time with just the Lord.” To Thomas’ surprise, he felt something deep inside of him say, “I can wait. I can wait years.” This had never happened before. He put his feelings on hold, and just continued walking and listening and taking in a lot of information about her.

Another time a couple they were friends with had four tickets to go rock climbing, and they invited Genevieve and Thomas to go with them separately. Thomas was thrilled at all these opportunities to spend time with her. Genevieve had no clue at all that Thomas liked her. She was her usual frank, open, friendly self. Strangely enough, she said a few things at that time that prefigured what God was going to do two years later.

Once when Genevieve’s mother was visiting the base, Genevieve went up behind Thomas and jokingly mouthed to her, “Mom, I’m going to marry this guy!” Later as she was introducing him to her mom, she said “This is Thomas, my fiancé.” It was the first time Thomas was meeting her mom and he was speechless. Genevieve had no idea why she said those words.

At one time when they were both at an inner healing retreat, Genevieve looked at Thomas and said, “I really want to know your heart.” She had no ulterior motive, but felt comfortable saying random things to Thomas because she thought of him as a really safe and prudent guy who would never read too much into her words. Thomas was aware that she didn’t see him that way, and responded to the heart-knowing invitation by just patting her on the back, thinking, “I really want to share my heart with you, but… let’s take it easy.” After the inner healing retreat they went out to a yogurt place and Genevieve invited him to marry one of her sisters. Thomas was a little hurt.

Next - Part 4 - God Makes Genevieve Some Promises 

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Thursday, 16 November 2017

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 2 of 13 - When Thomas Met Genevieve

Read Part 1 - Life Before Love- here.

Part 2 - When Thomas Met Genevieve

Thomas arrived at the base out in the swamps of Louisiana, a week after everyone else. As he began to meet all the new volunteers, he noticed a tall and vivacious young woman who was completely bald. Genevieve was always the life of the party, and whenever she met the guys, she would greet them with a forceful punch in the arm. They were on the same chore team and Thomas noticed that Genevieve would often be having so much fun talking to people that she would forget to do her chores. She also had a very direct way about her, which Thomas found challenging, but attractive. 

Meanwhile Genevieve wasn’t sure exactly how to relate to the new men she served with. They were new and strange beings— young men who were cool and normal but also following the Lord. Pretty soon she was able to accept them as brothers, and friends, which was helped by the fact that they were all on a dating commitment. Genevieve and Thomas had a great connection, easily laughing and having fun together. But from girls’ trailer discussions, she found out that there were a lot of girls interested in him (despite the singles commitment), he was fresh on the market, and Genevieve was not into that! But she thought he was great, and he should marry her sisters, which was her favourite compliment for guys she liked but wasn’t personally attracted to.

Intake 2013 headed out to their first posts in January of 2014, Thomas to India, and Genevieve to the Philippines. During that year they had very little contact apart from a mid-year retreat in the Philippines, where their great friendship and camaraderie continued.

Next- Part 3 - Thomas Falls in Love

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 1 of 13 - Life Before Love

This is a story I wrote for my friends, Thomas and Genevieve, describing their romance. It's long- 13 parts, but it's worth it! If it doesn't sound a lot like me, it's because I recorded them telling their story, and used a lot of their phrasing.

How did this

Become THIS?

Part 1 - Life Before Love 

Genevieve and Thomas came from very different worlds. Growing up in DC in a divorced Catholic family, Genevieve had spent most of her teenage and young adult years constantly in a relationship and living the party lifestyle. The strict judgmental God she knew had no place in her life except for Sunday mornings. “Maybe one day in my thirties or forties I will prioritize my faith. But I’m young now!”

But in 2013, Genevieve hit a low point in her life. She had just recently gotten out of a relationship and everything felt empty. School, job, having a skinny body, and the party life no longer fulfilled or satisfied her. She found herself depressed, but couldn’t believe that a relationship was really the answer. “I don’t want a man! I don’t need a man! I was born without a man, that shouldn’t complete me!”

In January 2013 she reluctantly went on a mission trip in Mexico with her sister’s organization. She had a question burning in her heart, “What IS going to fulfil me?” On that trip, everyone told her, “It’s Jesus!” To her surprise, Genevieve found that clichéd answered was true! The lives of the full-timers burned with joy and authenticity. They weren’t the Jesus freaks and hypocrites she had thought they would be. On that trip, Genevieve decided to give her life over to Jesus, and respond to His invitation to enter full time ministry too. She signed up for Intake, and in September 2013 moved to Louisiana along with a number of other Catholic singles and families for a three-month initial training. In preparation for her transition to this new life, she shaved her head completely bald. 

Meanwhile Thomas, a young seminarian from Kansas, was struggling with his desire for marriage and family. He had always had this desire, but he also had a deeply wounded perspective of God as a demanding God who wanted him to sacrifice everything he desired in order to win His love. He also had a fear of marriage because his parents separated when he was very young. He spent two and a half years in seminary, but one day on the feast of Saint Joseph, God spoke to him clearly through the story of Gabriel appearing to Joseph and saying “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”

God showed Thomas that he was in seminary for the wrong reasons. He invited him to let go of his fears, and follow the desires of his heart. “I am good and I want to give you good gifts! I don’t want you to sacrifice your desire for marriage to earn My love. I want you to receive it as a gift!” For Thomas, this was his biggest conversion moment, when God began to slowly bring healing to his heart.

He left seminary, and kept hoping God would bring the right woman into his life. Six months after seminary, two options opened up. One was life as a foreign volunteer, serving the poor and sharing the Gospel, and the other was a position as a youth minister. “If I want to get married, it makes more sense to take the youth minister position, I’m sure I could meet any number of eligible young Catholic women!” he thought. Going to a foreign country on the other hand seemed to limit his options. Not only that, but the volunteer organization had a one year no dating commitment, which made no sense to Thomas. “I’ve just spent two and a half years in the seminary not dating, and many years before that too! No more singles’ commitments!” But his spiritual director helped him see that his deeper desire to spread the Gospel and serve the poor was a call from the Lord, and he was able to trust that He would be faithful to His promise.

Coming soon- Part 2 - When Thomas Met Genevieve

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Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Avoiding Eye Contact and Other Ways to Kill Your Soul

Are you a good person? Yeah, me too. I’m basically a good person. Aren’t we all? Most people think of themselves as good, as their particular sins as somewhat excusable and insignificant, and everyone else’s as shocking and reprehensible.

But in my walk with Christ, I have learned a life-changing truth. And that is, that each of us is capable of becoming either a monster or a saint by the little choices we make each day. God created us good, but He put in our hands this powerful tool or weapon— free will, by means of which we can either disfigure ourselves, or place ourselves back in the hands of our Creator who transforms, shapes and moulds us into the masterpieces we were meant to be.

‘If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line separating good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being,’ says Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

There are so many ways we can slowly consume the poison that eventually kill our souls. The little lies and insincerities that become second nature, the glib excuses for our apathy and lack of involvement with the poor, the hours of mindless entertainment that become indispensable, the compromises with the truth, the comforts that we swathe ourselves in until we feel nothing anymore. But today I want to address a lesser talked about way to kill your soul—avoiding eye contact with people you don’t like.

I grew up in a huge Catholic parish, surrounded by all the ‘good church people’. You know, the ones who fill the parish committees, run the Sunday school, the parish events, the prayer groups, the church office, etc. My family was very involved with the parish, and then eventually with a lay Catholic charismatic community. I was in the youth group, the youth choir, and helped run summer clubs and youth events.

As an awkward teenager becoming aware of the world around me, I began to notice something that everyone in any parish probably knows—that church parishes are not immune from division, from slander, from enmity, and from people falling into an us vs. them mentality. Shocker, I know. But how did this play out? Usually it just meant that I could see a certain coldness from certain people in the parish. When we passed each other, they would get really busy talking to someone else. Their eyes would slide over me when group of people socialized after Mass. I realized that people who didn’t like my family, (or didn’t approve of their choices) also didn’t like me. I heard second hand of people who had talked about us. So what did I do? I shrugged and said “Fine, if you don’t like me, I don’t like you.” I would also look the other way, present my polite but insincere smile when I had to, and was quite content with the way things were, because I had plenty of people I DID like, and who liked me. Our parish was big enough to avoid people without it being noticeable.

But when I turned 24, I left my hometown to be trained and serve as a full-time volunteer. One day as I was far from home, I read the Gospel of the day. It was the one about loving your enemies:

'You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?' Matthew 5: 43-47 [NRSV]

 For the first time, those words hit home. These divisions were a little way that Satan had a foothold in our parish, and I like a fool, had not put up much of a resistance. How could I love God who I had not seen if I could not love my neighbour who I had? What real difference did my relationship with God have if I had closed my heart to my brothers and sisters? I asked God’s pardon, and resolved to do better when I got back home.

Little did I know I would get a good chance to put that resolve to the test when I returned. I landed up serving in my parish, spending most of my Sunday mornings running a programme, and often there for extra meetings. (Who knew that serving God involved so many meetings?) During that time, I came back with fresh eyes, and a better perspective. But the people I left remained the same. It began to happen again. Certain people just wouldn’t meet my eye.

But this time I responded differently. I refused to play that game. I pulled a God—I persistently refused to give up on them. Every single time I saw them would smile brightly, look directly at them and say loudly, “Good morning!” It’s a little harder to ignore someone when they do that. There was one particular person who would somehow get afflicted with blindness when I was around. Even if I was the only person within eyesight, he would ride past me apparently without noticing me. And still I would call out, or look directly, smile and nod. What an idiot I felt like sometimes. But I was convinced that I had to overcome evil with good. I tried to see each person as a good, if flawed, human being who had their blind spots as I had mine. I tried to forgive those who I knew had spoken against my parents.

And the crazy thing is, it worked! Slowly, people began to nod back, at first reluctantly, and eventually with real warmth. That’s when I realized that they too had been deceived. They had thought that I was the enemy, that I was the ‘other’, that I didn’t like them. But with that persistent love, they couldn’t buy into that lie anymore. They had visible proof that I was trying, that I was open to them. And their souls, which were made for love, responded!

Too many of us allow these subtle lies to control us. A small misunderstanding can turn into bitterness and judgment. Little by little, our hearts start hardening, and we start turning into uglier versions of ourselves. Resentful, angry, bitter people don’t start out that way. Bitterness grows. But there is still a chance for freedom. It starts with a dash of honesty, where we ask ourselves, “Is there someone I am avoiding, someone whose eye I refuse to meet?” No rationalizations or excuses. Add to that some humility, as we beg God, “Give me some of that unconditional love, Lord, because you know I’ve got nothing but judgment in here.” Top that with one small effort, one small decision— “The next time I see that person, I WILL smile no matter what it costs me.” And slowly the transformation has begun. The venom is being extracted from our souls, and we may yet live. 

Disclaimer: This does not mean that you need to seek out someone who is deliberately trying to cause you harm, or trust someone who has proved themselves untrustworthy. Yet, you can still love, will the good of, pray for, refrain from gossiping about, and show kindness to even the worst and most malicious of enemies.