One of the stories I tell the most to new friends is that of how my husband and I met. I like to think it's one of the more fascinating things about us these days, that and our 4 amazing little ones. We're a pretty normal couple, except that our rapid courtship led to an incredibly strong foundation that has seen us through our fair share of rocky times in our 5 years of marriage.
When we met, my husband was home from the seminary, where he had been studying for the priesthood. As for myself, I was going into my final year of my Bachelor of Arts, and had been seeking out a religious community where I could pursue the vocation to religious life. There was a community of Dominican Sisters in the southern United States that fascinated me. It appealed to my desire to teach and share my experience. I was even planning on going to meet the community to take my discernment to the next level. Around the time I was in talks with their Vocations Director, word was getting around that a new community of Franciscans brothers and sisters (monks and nuns) was forming here in our city. I felt drawn to the idea of staying home and doing good work here in the city where I had been given so much. When I was invited to join as one of the founding members of the community I agreed. Around the same time, my future husband was invited to be one of the two founding members of the men's side of the community.
Everything was going well and I was very excited that the next stage of my life was going forward. On August 21st, 2005, we had our first group meeting to discuss the charism, dress and plans for our new community. That was the first time I met my husband. Although I was still focused on the religious life, I couldn't help but notice him. He was quiet, kind, but also seemed very self-assured. I was so frazzled by him, which is unlike me at the best of times, I recall offering him my plate, and possibly my fork, when he showed up late to our casual dinner. I did my best to push back whatever strange thoughts were floating around my mind. I wasn't the type to go boy crazy, so I figured that this was some kind of temptation at the gates of my vocations, and tried to let it go.
Our community formally started the next month and we each moved into our brothers and sisters convent homes. Every day we would join the brothers at their house for mass and formation. As a former cantor, I was chosen to lead our community choir, and took great joy in this small responsibility. I wanted to dive into this duty whole heartedly. Things were going very well. I would stand at the front of our tiny chapel and teach our community new songs, pacing down the aisle to listen to the voices of my new brothers and sisters. All except one. He sat tight lipped at the back of the room, not even pretending to mouth along the words. I hadn't realised it, but my future husband wasn't comfortable with singing and didn't enjoy me standing next to him pretty much singing in his ear. I thought he didn't know the tune and was trying to help, but my excitment came off as a little judgemental. Once this came to light we had a great long chat, which developped into an amazing friendship.
Meanwhile I really wasn't happy in the community. I love the life: the prayer, the habit, the rhythm of the day that gave a perpetual sense of meaning to every detail great and small. The poverty of the Franciscan life still appeals to me now. It is a poverty of spirit that trusts completely in the Providence of God even through the storms of life. With everything I loved about the life, I couldn't find any spiritual peace. I feel dogged by the feeling that I didn't belong in the community. Even though I felt suited to the life, and I enjoyed it, I couldn't let go of the nagging feeling that God had a different plan for my life. If it hadn't been for the friendship of one of the brothers, I wouldn't have weathered the spiritual storm that stole away what peace I could find from the beautiful rhythm and deep spirituality of the Franciscan life. As it turns out, this same brother was being rocked by the same doubts and persistent feeling that God was calling him to something outside our beautiful little community. For many weeks, we innocently built a friendship that helped us to each support the other. We both stayed in the community, knowing that life outside the community would be meaningless without this friendship that we had no doubt was a gift from God. I knew the moment I took off my habit, I would be required to stay away from the community for a time, which meant I wouldn't have the support of my new friend who understood me in a way no other person ever had.
Even with the draw of his friendship, I knew I couldn't stay. It was clear my fellow brother was in the same position. His prayers and discernment had led him to the knowledge that this community was no longer for him. When we tried to explain to each other our intention to leave the community, we ended up telling each other that we had fallen in love each with the other. I'm not sure who said it first. I think it was him. Or was it me? However it came out, in that moment I felt excitment, peace, joy, fear, and a nervous shaking from the inside out. That was the scariest and most rewarding moment of my life. We both layed our hearts on the line and were given a gift for trusting so completely that God had great things planned for us.
The days after we left our community were difficult ones. We felt alienated by our former brothers and sisters, villified by those who didn't understand that we entered into our relationship in complete innocence and trust, and under intense scrutiny by those who simply didn't understand how hard we had fought to get where we were over a such as short period of time. It took a few months for us to get back on speaking terms with our superior and the rest of the community. I'm happy to say we are now very close with them. As we were leaving one of our brothers said that "If it is from God, it will bear fruit". Since then, he often reminds us of that saying, pointing to our flourishing little family.
Even though our relationship starting in an unusual way, I can look back and say that that beginning has formed a firm foundation on which we continue to build our life together. Our faith is so much a part of our daily life. We know that we can bare our souls to each other without fear of judgement. If we could sit, facing each other in our religious habits, and confess love to one another, every other conversation is easy. If we could handle the drama of leaving a religious community hand in hand (and my being called a "chalice chipper" by a random old woman, like I should be wearing the scarlet letter), we can handle anything.
Every day that I wake up next to my husband, I thank God that he led me to the Franciscans so that I could meet a true friend, a brother in Christ, and a man who I can trust in my heart of hearts. Although the path we took to marriage was different than most, I know that God's plan for both of us is good. He made us for each other, and continues to remake us every day as we face our future, still hand in hand.