Gwen: The question of my vocation had always been a big one for me, for I was never certain about what it was. I’ve always had the tendency to worry about whether or not I’m doing God’s will. Since my teens I’d felt deep down that I was called to the religious life. For some reason, I resisted tooth and nail the idea of becoming a nun. I wanted to get married and have a family. I liked guys too much, and I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life with a bunch of women! I continued with my education and a period of discernment. I went to college, though I was unsure about what to do with my degree. My original plans hadn’t worked out, and since getting married didn’t appear to be anywhere on the horizon, I was considering going to medical school and just throwing myself into a career.
A friend of mine was discerning a religious vocation, and I accompanied her to visit a couple of convents, trying to be open to God’s will. It was very difficult however, because I was afraid that I would be called to join her and I didn’t want to. Finally one night, I remember breaking down and just crying and crying to God by myself in my room. I told him how I didn’t want to become a nun, so if he wanted me to become one he was just going to have change my will. Why did he give me such a strong desire to get married and raise a family and yet not send a wonderful man into my life?! It was SO frustrating! Finally I calmed down and resolved to make an appointment with a priest whom my family and I had known for a long time and whose advice I trusted.
Making the appointment was difficult, but I finally did. I went to see him and told him my struggle. He told me that at that point in time he didn’t think I had a religious calling, but instead to just be open to God’s will. He told me that if I met a nice, CATHOLIC (and he emphasized Catholic about 10 times) man, to be open to a relationship. Yet he didn’t tell me to forget a religious vocation, just to keep praying on it, be open to whatever God wanted, and God would lead me. I stopped worrying so much because I realized that if God wanted me to call me to religious life, he would make it the desire of my heart. Not long afterward, my mom suggested me joining a Catholic singles website. I dismissed the idea at first, thinking I would meet only freaks over the internet. However, meeting guys at school and among friends hadn’t led me to the one who could be my husband. I decided that being open to God’s will meant giving Him the opportunity to use whatever means He wanted to show me His will. I had to conform my ways to His, not the other way around. And thus I gave the free trial period on the website a shot.
Jimmy: Only in fairytales. That’s what I had come to believe concerning True Love amongst Soul Mates. You know, that love where two hearts beat as one; where one Soul Mate speaks the thoughts of the other before he can put them into words; where a silent expression or glance conveys a deep and meaningful conversation; where sacrifice becomes sweet; where “I” and “me” becomes lost in “we” and “us”. Oh, I was the eternal optimist in thinking I could partake of such wonderful love.
After my “third time’s a charm” turned into my “third times a crash ‘n burn,” I decided that maybe I should be paying a little more attention to that little voice in my head that kept reminding me of the priesthood. So I “threw in the girl towel” and started to entertain the idea of Fr. Jimmy. A wonderful vocation, I do admit! I practiced many “sermons” on my way to work and back. I stressed the importance of the Sacraments, Daily Mass, frequent Reconciliation, the Sacredness of Marriage, etc. I imagined myself calling down the Holy Spirit to turn the accidentals of bread and wine into the Flesh and Blood of Christ. I thought I’d make a good priest, if that’s what GOD wanted me to do. But why such staunch resistance? “God, if you want me to become a priest, You’d better grab me by the hair and kick me in the butt; close my law office and find me a seminary!”
It wasn’t too long later that my uncle told me about a Catholic website he’d be frequenting. It had a free trial period and it was “safe”... no commitment; I could really just be myself for a change and not really care if anyone liked me or not. Sound like an issue of fear of rejection? Could have been.
Gwen: It was fun looking at the different profiles. When I came across Jimmy’s, I immediately thought he was the cutest guy on the site! However, I didn’t write to him at first because he was a lawyer and I figured that also meant he was a slime ball. Toward the end of my trial period I decided to write to everyone who seemed interesting to me, and that still included Jimmy. I sent him a brief letter introducing myself. He didn’t write me back for over a week, but I was really excited when he did. He actually seemed like a nice guy! After several letters, his personality came out more and more, and it complimented mine beautifully. He was smart, but silly. He had values and morals, but was no stick in the mud. He was challenging, intriguing, and I just found him irresistible! I could be myself in my letters and didn’t have to "impress" him. There was an attraction that couldn’t be put into words. Perhaps it was a “soul sense” that quickly made him very special to me. It would brighten my whole day when I saw an email from him.
After several months of writing back and forth, we decided to meet each other. He and a friend came up to the mountains where I lived to go hiking with a friend and me. Jimmy was not at all what I expected, and hardly seemed to be the guy I had written to for so many months! To this day I’d say that wasn’t really Jimmy that I met. He had a fortress up so high and thick and reinforced that no one was bound to get through it! I think he subconsciously presented his worst side to me, figuring if I could handle that, then he would be safe when he showed me who he really was. Even though I still found him attractive in an odd sort of way, I was definitely turned off by his lack of manners, tact, and a shower (Just kidding!). Thus, I wrote him off the list of potential marriage material and started looking elsewhere.
Jimmy: It was kind of fun and good for the self-esteem to get all sorts of email from ladies telling me how cute and wonderful I was. Only problem was that most of these ladies were twice my age and divorced with 6 kids. Most except one, that is. She had written me in a style that no other had. She had spoken to something deep within me that created a spark among the kindling. Something started smoldering deep in my soul; something that I thought was either dead or non-existent. What was it about this girl? For the first time in my life, I felt I could be myself and let my guard down. But I still hesitated. Was I afraid of being wounded again? I think I had a preconceived notion not to do anymore long-distance relationships, so I perhaps that’s why I was kind of aloof at first. Then I took Tony up to the mountains and met Gwen for a hike in the woods with her friend. She seemed like such a sweet girl; innocent and pure. Tony and I drove home that night with a new outlook on life; there were good, sweet, wholesome girls left in this world, and I had met a really neat and fun one! Now, if I could only let go of the past and look toward the future...
Gwen: After our first meeting we almost lost contact with each other. I had stopped my membership on the website, finding it to be frustrating. (Plus, I was still a poor college student and couldn’t afford it)! We didn’t talk on the phone any more, and hardly ever emailed each other. In fact I deleted him out of my address book several times, but it seemed as soon as I did that I would get a letter from him. The main reason we kept in touch was because I still enjoyed his letters so much. It was worth writing to him once in a while to get an enjoyable letter back when he finally got around to responding.
In January of 2000 the reliquary of my patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux was traveling around the world. It happened to come to a city not too far away and my family and I went to visit it. A priest there talked about her intercessory powers and how God was showering down his blessings from Heaven during the Jubilee Year. I had gained much more peace about my vocation, though still not positive about what it was. I still was more attracted to marriage than a religious vocation, and figured since it was the jubilee year I might as well ask God through St. Therese for what I wanted. Therefore since the doors of blessings were open and God was showering down his blessings upon the world, I asked him to “shower” me with a husband. As I approached the reliquary of St. Therese and touched my scapular to it, I asked her to find the husband God was going to “shower” me with and bring us together. For my part, I promised to pray a novena every month during the year for that intention, though I never mentioned this whole incident to another soul.
The next month, I received a more serious email from Jimmy asking what I looked for in a husband and my opinion on several important matters of faith and morality. Oh – and because it was an email only Jimmy could send – included was a request for me to submit my resume for his review. While I "knew" that he wasn’t what I was looking for, I enjoyed expressing my opinions and "concocting up" my ideal guy. It’s always fun to dream. As for the resume, I made up a funny one that highlighted my talents of ego busting the arrogant! After that he started to email me more frequently and eventually asked for my phone number again.
Jimmy: After finally closing the doors and locking the dead-bolts on my past relationships, and after some serious introspection, and after going out on a few dates with some local floozies, I realized that no one was as fun and easy to communicate with as Gwendolyn. She was always so full of life; cheerful, funny, and cute. She was never cynical or sarcastic like a former friend of mine. She was completely trustworthy. She was fully genuine. She was real. I needed genuine and real. I was drawn to something deep within her; some unspoken presence within her, which spoke louder to me than any words ever could. She was a living, walking Tabernacle; full of the Holy Spirit. My soul longed to be near hers; to be with hers.
So, to get to the point, I sent her an email asking for her “resume” and what she looked for in a guy. I figured that I didn’t want to waste any time trying to speculate about what her positions were on topics of importance to me. So I flat out asked her. And she flat out told me. And I was flat out happy with her replies. No sarcasm, no lies; just the truth... which happened to be “The Truth.”
Gwen: After talking on the phone again and emailing each other regularly, my attraction to Jimmy became stronger and stronger once again. One day he asked me if I’d like to go for a bike ride along the beach. That’s something I enjoy doing and since I needed to clear up my feelings for him, I agreed. I drove to his house that Sunday morning, nearly a year after I first wrote to him. We went to Mass together and for the bike ride afterward. The weather was gorgeous, the bike ride was great, but the best part was Jimmy’s company. We had so much fun together and I really enjoyed talking with him and learning who this person that had been in both the back and forefront of my mind for so long really was. After that day, we became inseparable. We started out seeing each other every couple of weeks and eventually as often as we could. We share a thousand wonderful memories in which we got to know each other more deeply and build our relationship spiritually.
Jimmy: How can I forget that bike ride?! We were riding those funny recumbent bikes. Hers had a squeezable ducky on it that served as a horn. I kept reaching out and squeezing it as we rode down Coast Highway. Then it happened; Gwen slammed her bike right into mine and she went down hard! OK, well maybe it was my fault for getting too fresh with the ducky. My heart sank, and I thought for sure I’d be calling an ambulance. I stopped my bike and turned around to see her lying on the ground, tied like a pretzel around her bicycle. But she was a trooper and got up and rode all the way home, blood pouring out a hole in her knee. Then, once we were home, I was giving her first aid and about to put a band-aid on her ouchy when she SCREAMED! Made me jump 5 feet! Then she laughed. I laughed. I liked this girl. She was neat. She was fun. She was real. She lifted me up to great new heights. She was my beacon in the storm of life; my lighthouse. She was my inspiration. She held the key to my spirituality and unlocked the door. She enabled me to grow in my faith by leaps and bounds, in such a short period of time. I found myself calling her more and more, and seeing her every chance I could. From Tim Staples, to the Catholic Family Conference, to Mass at Guasti, to walks in the Forest and Rosaries on the beach, I was falling; free-falling, not only did it feel good, it felt right.
Gwen: By September of 2000 I had graduated from college, and began teaching Kindergarten. One morning a student brought me a rose from his garden. I remember just staring at that rose on my desk and thinking of Jimmy. (You know, nothing like a silly girl in love)! I wrote him an email that afternoon, telling him how to me he was my rose. Just as a rose is beautiful and "lovable" because of the attributes God gave it, not for anything it does on it’s own, so was Jimmy to me. And the more our relationship "bloomed", and he unfolded himself to me, the more beautiful it/he became - just like a rose. Then I laughed and said he probably didn’t like being compared to a pretty flower, but that’s how I saw him.
A friend gave me a novena to St. Therese that was going to be prayed in union with all the Carmelite sisters from September 22nd to 30th in preparation for her feast day. I’d been trying to pray a different novena every month and wanted to do one to St. Therese in October when her feast was, so I put it aside. However life was very hectic trying to establish my teaching routine, commuting, and balancing everything. The 22nd of September rolled around and I hadn’t come up with another novena, so I decided to pray the one to St. Therese.
By the end of the September, I was ready for a break from everyday life. On the last day of the month I decided that I would surprise Jimmy with a romantic candlelight dinner. We met that day and went hiking. On the way back he asked what I wanted for dinner. I told him I didn’t feel like going out to eat, but maybe I could find something around my house to fix for dinner. He was exhausted from the day and went downstairs to clean up and take a nap. While he was doing that, I whipped the fancy dinner I had prepared out of the fridge, cooked it up, lit a ton of candles, and turned on romantic music. Everything came out perfectly! I went to go get Jimmy and brought him upstairs to the table. He was so surprised (and my surprises for him are always foiled - even to this day)! We talked and laughed and just enjoyed being together.
Then for some reason, I had the feeling that the conversation was headed toward marriage. My hair was a wreck, I was still in my hiking clothes, and this was not how I had envisioned being proposed to, so I tried to change the subject. But Jimmy looked soulfully into my eyes, gently brushed aside a strand of hair from my face and said softly "So when do I get to marry you, Gwen?" I couldn’t believe what I had just heard! Even though he had just “proposed”, it still wasn’t how he was "supposed" to ask me, so I sat in silence trying to figure a way out of that one. Then he asked me again "Well, will you marry me?" I said, "Are you asking me?" He said, "Yes, I am." I had known for a while that he was the man I wanted to marry so even though it wasn’t what I planned, I replied with a huge "YES!" This little word has made me happier than I ever dreamed possible. It wasn’t what I had dreamed of all my life. It was better! Everything was just “right!” We laughed and cried and hugged and danced the night away until my sister came home.
He left for the long drive home, and I remembered that I had to go pray my novena before midnight, since it was the last day. As I sat down to pray it, realized that the intention for which I had been praying those novenas had just been answered...on the ninth day of the ninth novena, which just happened to be one to St. Therese. Since it was a novena to St. Therese, I stopped to think about the rose by which she often answers prayers. Then it dawned on me that Jimmy was my rose! I called Jimmy up to tell him the whole story, since I had never mentioned my request to St. Therese or the novenas to him. We were both thrilled and overjoyed almost to the point of disbelief because it all was so wonderful. On a side note, I always thought St. Therese died on October 1st, her feast day. However, she actually entered into her eternal reward on September 30th, which unbeknownst to us at the time, is the day Jimmy asked me to marry him! Coinkidink? I think not!
Jimmy: What Gwen forgot to mention was that she first compared me to an onion. But then, she says, after you peel away all the layers, you’re not left with anything more than a mess with tears. Whereas with a rose, she says, when its layers unfold, you’re left with a beautiful and fragrant reminder of the creator thereof (or something to that effect). I believe my reply to Gwen was that I was comfortable with the comparison as I had already reconciled my masculinity with my “inner woman”. I never told her this, but I actually cherished the thought that such a sweet girl would compare me to rose. She was the only girl I’ve ever known who had the ability to set me so at ease; she was able to get me to put my guard down and become vulnerable without fear of retribution.
On September 30, 2000, Gwen turned down my offer to take her out for dinner after a rigorous mountain hike and instead offered to heat me up a can of “Dinosaurs” (some sort of Spaghetti O’s for kids). I didn’t offer any resistance because I was beat from the altitude. So, I took a nap and was later awakened by Gwen tickling my neck with a feather. I had been dreaming that spiders were crawling up my neck! But something smelled really good, and when I made it to the top of the stairs, I found a beautiful candlelight dinner complete with sparkling apple cider. Not long thereafter I was finishing up dessert and feeling mighty full. But it wasn’t only my stomach that was full, for my heart was even fuller and the love could no longer be contained. I hadn’t planned to ask her to marry me that night, and I even resisted the thought. After all, I had not planned some unique and special event. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Nevertheless, some Heavenly prodding caused me to ask Gwen when I got to marry her. She seemed a little confused and asked me to clarify myself, so I did. And she said, “Yes”. And we were so happy together. And everything seemed so wonderful.
On my way home that night, she called me and told me about the Novenas and I was in awe. I still am.
Gwen: We were engaged for exactly nine months and were married on June 30th, 2001. This wasn’t the original date I had wanted, but when both church and priest were available. I wasn’t that nervous, but mostly excited and couldn’t wait to begin our new life together. I can truly say that I have never been happier as I was on that day. I thought I was going to burst with joy! I remember hearing the organ start to play the bridal march and it hit me that "WOW, this time, I’m the bride!" As I walked down the aisle, all I could see was Jimmy at the end. Everything disappeared as I approached him and my father placed my hand in his. I had never experienced such happiness! It was beyond anything I ever knew was possible. To this day I still lack the words to express it. We both choked up a little during our vows, but I don’t think there was a dry eye in the entire church. It was the most beautiful wedding I’d ever seen in my life! I thought I was a bit prejudiced, being that it was MY wedding and all, but all of the guests said it was the most beautiful wedding they’d ever seen in their lives and they were so touched. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day! We had a reception outdoors, overlooking the valley below. Toward the end, karaoke was set up for everyone. Jimmy started it off by turning to me and changing Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World to Wonderful Wife. It’s still one of my favorite songs, and I stop and cherish that memory each time I hear it. The only change I would make would be from Wonderful Wife to Wonderful Life - for that is what ours truly is!
Jimmy: I don’t mean to sound arrogant or biased, but it was in fact the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever witnessed, too. And what made it so extra special was that I was the groom and my honey, the bride. I can still see her now, walking down the aisle, ever so elegantly, with such a great big and peaceful smile on her face. I thought for a moment that she might turn into an Angel and fly away. I have never before felt my heart beat in my throat, and I thought my eyes would start streaming uncontrollably if I allowed the first tear to fall.
The entire ceremony has been burned into my memory forever, and I shall never forget kneeling before the altar, with Christ hanging on the Cross above me, and Our Blessed Mother peacefully standing amidst the flowers and pine trees outside behind the altar. Such sweet images of love spoke to my soul and commanded me to love my Bride in the same fashion Our Blessed Mother loves Christ, Who loved us so much as to die for our salvation. The joy that filled my heart, the power of the Holy Spirit swirling around the Church and through my soul, my beautiful Bride at my side, my favorite two priests witnessing our vows and offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in such a reverent and holy fashion, the warmth of my family and friends, the prayers my honey wrote, the ambrosial angelic voices of the girls of the choir, the merry organ, the emotions, all combined in a climactic nexus of perfectly ethereal harmony, unlike any symphony man has ever produced, and, well, let’s just say it was my “happy moment”.
Jimmy: As I write, two and a half years have passed since our epic exchange of vows. Two and a half years sounds so short, yet it feels like we’ve been married much longer. I think this is because our love has grown so deep, so fast. We have been more than abundantly blessed with our relationship, and now our newest addition to the family, Maddie Rose, has taken us to a new and more profound level of the family. God has inspired and made possible for us to be able to attend Daily Mass nearly every day. That, along with a daily Rosary, has filled our lives with grace, enabling and helping us to be all that God planned us to be in our marriage as husband and wife, and now as parents as well.
Gwen: My journey is one to learn to trust in God. For when we do that completely, we live in love and peace and all fear is dispelled. It is something that I still struggle with whenever a trial is placed before me. Sometimes I make progress, and other times I slide backward five footsteps. Trust and confidence in God our Father were some of the great teachings of the Little Flower.
I recently read a book on Mother Teresa (whose patron was the Little Flower), and learned to appreciate some of her wisdom and insights. She said, "Wherever God has put you, that is your vocation." For so many years I was so worried about my vocation and what I was supposed to do, when all I needed to do was relax and trust in God. A vocation is not a far off, distant reality. We live our vocation every single day, being called where God has put us at the time. She also said, "Joy should be the compass by which we make our life’s decisions. If the thought of doing something brings us great joy and a deep sense of peace, then that is what God is calling us to do. If, on the other hand, the thought of doing something brings us anxiety and sadness or fills our souls with fear and hesitation, then most likely that is not what God is calling us to do." Unbeknownst to me at the time, following this compass of joy, and the wisdom of the priest who told me to be open to whatever God may call me to, gave me peace and eventually led me to Jimmy.
We have the most beautiful marriage I could ask for! It isn’t perfect, and we certainly encounter our trials. But when we do encounter difficulties, they are merely speed bumps in the road rather than insurmountable mountains. That is because God is faithful to His promise to us in the sacrament of Matrimony to give us all the graces we need to make our marriage work. Spirituality is the breath of our marriage, which keeps it alive and healthy. We constantly have to make an effort to develop this spirituality because sometimes everyday life seems to get in the way. God rewards our little efforts greatly however.
Jimmy is truly my soulmate! We share such a deep, unconditional love. I can open my heart and bear my soul to him without ever having to fear rejection. I never knew such a love was possible. He brings me the greatest joy I think one can experience this side of Heaven. It is truly an honor to have been entrusted with such an amazing person to be my husband and salvation partner. The key is to love him each day, unselfishly and completely; to give him 100% no matter what I get in return, and to show him in the little things each day how much he means to me. This generates a beautiful marriage. Granted, my selfishness gets in the way more often than I’d like. I put myself first or get lazy in giving to him. This is when things tend to get a little topsy turvy. But as we try to keep God at the center of our marriage, He always straightens things out and orders where we make disorder.
We have now been blessed with a little girl. She is a new joy in our lives and piled on "buckets" of happiness and love where we didn’t know it was possible to have more. In fact, some time we call her "Buckets" for short! We are still at the beginning of the beautiful epic poem of our life, which God has written. We look forward to each new adventure that His pen has inscribed. There are days of rejoicing and days of weeping. In spite of it all, we are most grateful that we rejoice and weep together and that we now travel down the dusty road of life hand in hand...forever.
Gwen and Jimmy live in Southern California with their three children.