Friday, October 18, 2013

Love Story Part 6: Learning to trust (warning: serious and long)

After I briefly met Frank’s family in Princeton, I thought the expedition had been kind of pointless, but Frank’s family did not. Their interest was piqued. For the rest of his visit they bugged Frank with questions: “Who was that girl Tess?” “Are you dating her?” “Well, are you going to date her?” They thought his “we’re just friends” claim seemed fishy.

I love Frank’s family.

The next weekend fate brought us together again. The Shamrock Series came to DC and we both went to the Notre Dame-Maryland game Nov. 12. Frank wasn't sitting near my friends and me but he came over near the end of the game to get a picture together.

In mid-November Frank was hanging out with his guy friends and the talk turned to what lady of their acquaintance they would most want to ask on a date.

To his surprise the answer was easy.

“Tess,” he said. “I would want to go out with Tess.”

Frank didn't dwell on his response after the topic changed. He had no plans to ask me out at that point—but the idea had entered his head for the first time.

At the same time, a funny coincidence gave me second thoughts about Frank. I was on my way to a party with my friend Lee when we stopped at a liquor store to get a hostess gift. As we browsed the shelves, I saw a bottle of Bombay Sapphire—the same kind Frank had given me.

I was curious how much he had spent on it, so I checked the price tag. Um, wow—that bottle was expensive, especially for a poor law student. Why would he get such a nice gift for a girl he wasn’t interested in?

Lee confirmed my suspicions. “Dude. I wouldn’t spend that much on a woman unless I was married to her,” he laughed when he heard the story. It aroused my suspicions, but I tried not to think about it too much.

That whole fall, Frank was a giant mind-trip for me. I just didn’t know what to make of him.

But fortunately I didn’t have a whole lot of brainpower to waste on Frank. I was going through a lot of changes that fall. It’s hard to explain everything that happened, so bear with me as I try to tell it in a way that makes sense.

When I had turned 22 that September, soon after graduating college and moving to DC, I took a hard look at my life and decided to make some changes. Specifically I thought I’d wasted time hanging out alone with guys instead of letting them pursue me. One thing that particularly caught my attention was that the guys I’d liked in college, guys I’d wasted time and effort on, were no longer part of my life at all.

I resolved to redirect my energies, making a list of “life priorities” in order to spend my time more deliberately. The list included things like, “Prayer, Reading, Writing, Spending time with girl friends,” and at the very bottom I wrote “Guy friends.” I planned to spend a minimum of my time on those latter relationships.

This might sound a bit drastic to you, but I had good reason for this choice. In college, I repeatedly let myself get too close to guys I was interested in. By spending time with them on one-on-one dinners and outings, I made myself too available. Now I realized that didn’t work. While I still had close guy friends, I cut back on solo hang-outs and prioritized my time with female friends. Much of what I learned at this point was channeled into this blog post.

At the same time I was working hard on learning to trust God’s plan for me. I still didn’t know if I was called to marriage or religious life, or something altogether different, but I wanted to be open and ready no matter what. Above all I wanted to practice “radical trust.” Instead of calling the shots and trying to plan my own future, I tried to relinquish control and accept that I was not the author of my life story.

One small way I manifested this change was making the deliberate switch from saying “When I get married…”, as I’d always done, to saying “If I get married.” This tiny semantic change had a big and positive impact. While I wanted to get married, I wanted more to be content and happy with whatever life brought me. That little switch helped me accept that I might not be called to marriage, and that that would be ok.

One thing kept bugging me. I was able to accept that I may or may not get married, but I could not shake my desire to become a mother. I had wanted that for as long as I could remember.

In high school, I used to see the following quotation framed on my friend’s mom’s wall:

“The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body…. The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God's creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation…. What on God's good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”

Those words would not leave my mind. To serve as “a dwelling for an immortal soul”—what an honor. I couldn’t give up longing for that.

One day in Mass, God gently answered my longing. Because we Catholics believe that Christ became man and that the Eucharist is Christ’s “body, blood, soul and divinity,” we believe that Christ is truly present inside us when we receive the Eucharist. That means that every time someone receives Communion, they are serving as “a dwelling for an immortal soul” besides their own. I realized that day that I was bearing Christ inside me much as a mother bears an unborn child. This realization gave me peace about the future, and I wrote a blog post about this epiphany that remains one of my most popular.

I told my dear friend Alex about a lot of these internal changes. At the end of November we decided to pray a novena together for the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.* We offered the novena for each other’s vocations and futures. I made a joke that we would pray for “hot, holy husbands”—I was very mature, ha—but in truth we prayed for the patience and trust to accept God’s plans for us. I also decided to offer the novena for my good friend Matt, who was suffering through a very bad case of pneumonia.

Months later, Alex revealed that she had secretly prayed the novena for Frank and me. She could see that I felt differently about him than about anyone I’d met before, and she thought we were a perfect fit. Of course, I didn’t know she was doing this—at the time I would have been very annoyed with her!

I had prayed the same novena the year before, as a senior in college, but with a crucial difference. In college I had asked to meet my husband soon—I was impatient. But this time I asked instead for patience and acceptance. Of course, if my future did include a husband, I asked God to keep an eye on him.

Life threw me a major curveball during that novena. Two days after it started, I received the devastating news that Matt had died. It wasn’t a complete shock, since he’d been in a coma for over a month, but somehow I never thought he would actually die. For a long time afterward I found myself crying suddenly without warning. My nice boss let me take a few days off from work to recover.

The day Matt died, Frank texted me to ask if I was doing ok. I was grateful for his concern, but the feeling was bittersweet. Frank always seemed to have a sixth sense for understanding and sympathizing with me, which made it even more painful that my crush was one-sided.

Somehow in the midst of this I didn’t stop the novena. I clung to it like a lifeline, a piece of hope in a world that seemed to be falling apart. I printed out the prayers and carried them around in my purse. Alex and I would text each other every day to remind each other to pray it. It was a great comfort at that time; in fact it’s the only novena I’ve ever been able to pray every day (normally I miss a day or two).

A few days after Matt died, his family announced plans for the funeral. It would take place the morning of Wednesday, December 7, in their hometown, which was a few hours’ drive from DC. This was a problem for me, since I didn’t have a car and didn’t know how I would get there.

Before I could even ask, Frank sent me a thoughtful Facebook message. He was planning to go to the funeral, he said. Did I need a ride? I gratefully accepted, figuring I could break my ongoing avoidance of Frank for this occasion.

The morning of the funeral was the day that everything changed.

*A novena is a prayer repeated over nine days, creating a period of deepened prayer and devotion while the novena lasts. We prayed this novena.


  1. I'm stumbling on your blog today and I just finished reading all your love story posts. (I spent a couple summers working in Princeton so it was fun to imagine you there!) I'm thoroughly enjoying your writing!

    Looking forward to Part 7!

  2. Isn't it amazing to look back and see all these little things falling into place to make up the whole picture? And I agree with Kate -- waiting for part seven.

    1. Oh, and I first saw that quote about being a mother on my friend Kathleen's wall. I love it.