Let's face it. There's a lot we can learn from each other, but on a recent field trip to Hsi Lai Temple, the Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, I was enlightened by what I learned. Of course, my mind was flooded with so much more curiosity, and I was amazed by how many similarities there are to Christianity. As we got in a little Buddhism 101, two things struck me deeply as lessons we Christians could and should learn if the Christian community, particularly the Catholic Church's goal, is to create unity among Christians.
I went to Shabbat service at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple as part of an educational "field trip" for the Ecumenical & Inter-Religious Studies course I'm taking. We learned about Judaism and Catholic-Jewish relations, and it was such a revelation. I had been to temple once before, back when I was thirteen for a friend's Bat-mitzvah, but I don't remember what it was like. My mom remembers it being long, and she was right. Our Catholic mass is 1 hour long, this service we were at was two and a half hours! Although, that's also because there were two bat-mitzvahs at this service.
My husband once said to me, "You know, everything you're saying and a lot of what you believe goes against the Catholic Church." I was quick to respond, "Maybe some of the PEOPLE of the church, sure, but NOT the Catholic faith." Where we have seen the church fail, we have seen man fail, not God. All I know is that I am here to love and be love, and that is the basis of Catholicism...or at least how I have learned and understood it.
I lead the Children's Liturgy at my church about once a month, and part of me was thinking of giving up because often times when there's a big group, the kids get out of hand and I struggle to get them to listen to me or not speak and scream over each other. I spend more time trying to get them to be quiet and listen to one another, teaching them about respect and how to show respect, than doing what I'm actually supposed to be doing. I don't how teachers do it. Honestly, I have so much more respect for pre-school and elementary school teachers now.
It's only 20-30 minutes each Sunday though, and I always just think that if I can make even the slightest impact in these kids' lives, then AWESOME. Children's Liturgy is meant to go over the readings with the kids in a way that their developing minds can understand, and let's face it, the Bible can be complicated and boring if you're just reading it straight. So, I try to try to relate it to their lives, and also try to make church less boring for them. I also have them help me read it and sing the psalms and alleluias, so it's more fun for them for sure.
This Sunday, I was hoping there would be a small group, and what do ya know, it's like God heard me and only three little kids ran up to the front when it was time to lead them out of church and into the children's room. Well, two kids ran up, and one, very timidly led by his grandmother, also came to join.
The timid child, who we'll call A, was new to the group and he is just four years old. The other two are brothers, one eight and one five. The eight year old, whom we'll call G, as much as I adore him, is usually the one that drives me nutso; however, while not much less rambunctious today, he really surprised me in a way that reaffirmed what an innately sweet child I know him to be.
As I finished the first reading, I looked up at A and noticed he looked terrified, so I asked him if he was okay. He said, "no." So, I asked him if he was scared. He said, "Yes." I asked if it was because of the reading and he shook his head yes. The reading talked about fires and earthquakes and so I told him not to worry, Jesus was just showing us that no matter what, he will be there for us and he will protect us, even when we can't see him. We have nothing to fear.
What really impressed me and warmed my heart was that G noticed, too, and tried to comfort him and show him there's nothing to be scared of, too. He said his first time in this class, he was scared, too, because he had no idea what was going on and didn't understand anything. The protective brother came out and I just wanted to hug them all.
This occurred throughout the rest of our time together this Sunday, and it was a reminder to me that there is a reason I'm here with them every few Sundays. As much as I hope to touch their lives, they also very much touch and teach me so much. By the end when I was walking them back inside the church, A clung to me, held my hand, and almost wouldn't leave me. After mass I saw him and his family at donuts and coffee, and the way he lit up when he saw me just melted my heart. I wouldn't have been surprised if there was a puddle of heart at my feet. He kept wanting me to go back into the class with him, and had I not also signed up to volunteer to help serve the coffee and donuts, I would have ran in there with him. When he was leaving with his family, he ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug.
He has no idea how much his love meant to me, and I'd chase all the beetles and lions and everything else that scares him away if I could. G also has no idea how big his small gestures to make A feel safe were today. Kids, when you nurture them, they in turn learn how to nurture. They need to feel safe, because when they feel safe, they also learn to be free.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
I heard that Archbishop Jose Gomez, the archbishop of the Los Angeles diocese was passed up for Cardinal by Pope Francis, because Pope Francis wanted to bring up some of the "smaller" guys. It would have been easy to appoint Archbishop Jose Gomez, because he runs the largest diocese in the United States, which naturally means having great influence. However, Pope Francis decided to show everyone that the guys covering small diocese, the ones who may go unnoticed, are just as important. You can never forget the "little" people, because they too make up our community.
I don't know how true this is, but it sounds like Pope Francis, and it made me think about the state of our country. There's concern that those being appointed to lead our country will only look out for the big guns. Right after our election someone told me, "Justine, you have nothing to worry about, because none of this is likely to affect you. You're not a minority. You're privileged." My mouth dropped a little and I was deeply offended. I'm American-Asian and I'm a woman. How am I not a minority? I understood what she meant though. But regardless of how any policy directly or indirectly affects me, this is my country, my people, my world. These leaders are supposed to stand up for our values and work for the people. Have we all forgotten what the very first line of the preamble to our Constitution says?
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
I started thinking a lot about these words as our country continues to feel more and more divided. WE are the PEOPLE of this great country. If we are to always works towards a more perfect Union, we cannot reject parts of the union, and parts of the people. Having a difference of opinions is one thing; but taking action that most certainly disturbs domestic tranquility and divides the people is another. If we don't work to support ALL the people of our country, then we are only allowing ourselves to fall greatly and fall far. True, times were different when our founding fathers drafted the Constitution, and many of them may have been racist and slave owners, but the preamble to the Constitution does not refer to any specific kind of people like "We the white male People of the United States." Nor does it say, "We the some People." No, it says, simply, "We the People..." Our founding fathers drafted and implemented the Constitution on behalf of ALL Americans.
I keep repeating those words to myself, and I keep thinking about my friends' families who are affected and would be affected by any sort of ban on Muslim countries. How are "We the People" able to split up families, upstanding American families, because we are driven by fear? Many of my friends' families fled dire and perilous situations, came here, worked hard, and lived out their version of the American dream. They embody the American values our forefathers laid out to protect in the Constitution.
The sad part is, this sort of anti-immigrant attitude is not new to our nation; but we live in a time where we shouldn't have to fight this. It's the Muslims today, it was the Italians, Irish, and Chinese before, who will it be ten or twenty years from now? It should be no one, if we remember our Constitution, if we remember what is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”), and if we remember that refugees are people, too. They're escaping the horrors from which we are trying to protect our country. So, we're on the same side.
How can a nation ever be strong if it preys on its most vulnerable links? If you want to fly, you must lift those who helped build your wings.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
Last night, as my mom stood in church taking pictures of Chris and I receiving our Confirmation, I laughed, because it took me back to when she'd take pictures of my brother and I at our school functions, Boy and Girl Scouts events, recitals, and various other activities. More importantly, I felt the unconditional love of the sweetest and fiercest woman I know.
It's not easy getting my family to church these days--I usually have to find an excuse of a special occasion, or travel to other parts of the world and make it part of our itinerary. So, last night was one of those special occasions. It was Easter Vigil, and a very important night for Chris and I, as well as hundreds of thousands of people around the world doing the very same thing. I even got my brother into the pews, which meant the world to me.
I see my mom get antsy when we're in church these days, because she rarely goes, so she gets anxious about remembering what to do. I tell her, "Mom, God loves you like you love me. He doesn't care if you mess up. In fact, he probably loves you more when you mess up, because you still show up with love."
Knowing how she feels, I was deeply warmed when it was time for Chris and I and our thirty or so friends to stand up in front of the church, and she had no anxiety about standing up in the pews to snap pictures of us. That was my mother, continuing to capture the big and small moments in our lives with her love and her ginormous iPhone.
This week has been so special, and we continue to receive SO MUCH love. This morning, we woke up and opened the gifts and read all the cards we received from Confirmation. I started to tear up when I realize that many of these cards, prayers, and kind words came from folks we don't even know. Yet, we know they are our family, not just because we belong to the same parish and the same faith, but because humanity means loving each other as brothers and sisters. Chris and I are truly blessed to know this kind of pure and unconditional love. We put all the cards and gifts in a box we've labeled our "God Box" so that we may open it whenever we want to or need to feel the power this incredible love.
May YOU always remember that you, too, are deeply LOVED. You may think it strange that a stranger could honestly love you and wish for your well-being, but I promise you it's true.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
Without humility, there is no charity...
Over the last weekend I was frustrated when a Turkish football derby was cancelled due to a “serious security threat,” and the national team also postponed its training for some international matches coming up. When you cannot play or watch a friendly sporting event, then your freedom is being taken away. What kind of evil feels the need to get in the way of football?
Tuesday morning I woke up to news of a terrorist attack, that occurred in Brussels, and my heart sunk. I immediately checked in with friends there, and thankfully they’re all okay. For the first time, I felt sort of defeated, like okay, this is the life we face and the world we live in--you never know when you wake up which part of the world might be attacked. It's bound to hit my city soon, isn't it? I know that there are parts of the world accustomed to regular bombings and violence, but now instead of trying to help certain parts of the world, it seems as though we all most stand on guard. Still, I have to believe that through love and education we can conquer hate…or can we?
A long, long time ago, say about a couple thousand years ago when folks sat on the floor to eat, it was important to have clean feet, because it would be embarrassing to come to the table with dirty feet. So, usually when you entered someone's house, you would have your feet cleaned--typically by a servant.
At the Last Supper, Jesus asked us to love one another, and then he washed all his disciples' feet. This was a symbol of his love, and an incredible gesture of great humility and service, because without humility there is no charity. By bringing himself down to the level of a foot-washer, Jesus showed us he is one of us and we must love one another equally.
This week is Holy Week, the most important week of the year for Christians, and the tradition of foot-washing continues every Holy Thursday. At my church, we too, carry on the tradition of foot-washing, and last night I participated for the first time. It was a beautiful experience, because not only do you wash someone's feet, you must have your feet washed, too. The beauty in that is that what we give, we must be able to receive as well. Often times, the latter can be more difficult than the former.
No matter your religion, or lack there of, the significance of this tradition is but one powerful and universal message--love.
So, as I think about the terror that continues to plague our modern society, I pray that we all remember to be foot-washers. Throughout mass on Holy Thursday, as I watched people wash others' feet and get their feet washed, I thought how much more love and peace there might be if we all were foot-washers. That doesn't mean going around washing everyone's feet every day. Even something as simple as letting the person behind you in the grocery line go ahead of you, because he only has one item to checkout is being a foot-washer. It shows you are aware of others.
Pope Francis also continued the tradition, and he washed the feet of Muslim, Hindu, Orthodox, and Catholic refugees. As Jesus did, he reminds us that love knows no boundaries and sees every colour.
Be a foot-washer. Remember to be a foot-washer.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
You've shown me incredible pain, only to give me more incredible strength. For this I am grateful. Thank you for blessing me with this beautiful life. I've felt the greatness of your love through my parents, my grandmothers, Chris, my family and friends who've walked with me through rain and sunshine, and even strangers.
When I was lost and alone, you hugged me tightly. When it was dark, I felt your warmth. When I fell the other day, you kissed my head as my father did when I fell from my bicycle when he taught me to ride. I saw your beauty in the dandelion I made a wish on yesterday, I heard it in the words of a stranger, and smelled it in the sea air.
Because of you, I know my heart is unbreakable, because you made it wholly with your love, which is untouchable. Because of you I know I am never alone. Because of you I know not fear.
I pray my mother sleeps peacefully knowing I live with her love. I pray my father sleeps peacefully knowing I live with his wisdom. I pray my brother sleeps peacefully knowing I'll never leave him.
I pray all my loved ones know your love, too. I pray my enemies find peace in their hearts. I pray that those who hunger get bread, and those who have bread feel hunger.
I've learned to live in your time, and throughout my time on earth I will honour your love in what you've so blessed me with. May those who come to me always feel your love, which is my blood.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
Love, Justine was started to inspire folks to love themselves, and thus be able to love one another. Well, I have a confession to make. I'm not always good at practicing what I preach. If you ever heard the way I've criticized myself and how I have judged myself, you might think I'm an awful, miserable person. It's truly terrible and so unhealthy.
As I've been preparing for Lent, which is finally upon us, I thought very hard about what I was going to do and give up this year. I pondered this for a few months, and one day a light suddenly opened up in my head as if the sun were rising out of it. I said to myself, I am going to give up fat shaming myself, and hating on myself in general. While I'm not berating myself daily, it's not an uncommon thought that crosses my mind, thinking things like "Oh, I hate my body," "I'm so ugly," "Why are my hips so wide and my legs not longer?" and the list goes on.
The level of consciousness I have regarding my body is something that was drilled into my brain as a small child. So, I don't think ever in my life, have I looked at myself and thought, I love my body. Whether I was a size 0 or 4, or a 6 (and I've been all those sizes), there was always room for improvement. It's really sad not to love your body.
Thankfully, when I was in law school I learned how to take care of my body and treat it well. I learned how to eat clean, and not only do workouts that I enjoy, but workout because it makes me feel good and strong, not because I needed to be "skinny." I learned that taking care of the one body I've been blessed with is so important, because I only have one life to live and I need this body to work properly for as long as possible, so I can do all the things I want to do in life.
Still, I've found it very difficult to speak kindly to myself, and to speak to myself with the kind of respect I command and expect from others. When my fiance tells me I'm beautiful, and I have a hard time knowing whether that's true or not, then something is very broken inside. There are a multitude of reasons for this, and I'm not always sure of the starting point of it all, but what I do know is that I don't want to hate myself. I want to love myself wholly, because I know that if I don't then I am robbing myself of love and robbing my loved ones of love they deserve. Moreover, if I ever have a daughter, I would never want her to speak to herself the way I have spoken to myself. It breaks my heart thinking of anyone hating themselves so much.
So, for Lent I am giving up saying the words "I'm fat" and "I'm ugly." Anything that would constitute verbal abuse if it were said to another person, I am refraining from, because it's time to stop verbally abusing myself. Lent is a time for spiritual growth, and that growth requires me to love the way God my made me. I am a confident woman, so I should learn to speak to myself like a confident woman.
Of course, the inevitable question is, "Well after Lent, will you go back to calling yourself fat and ugly?" No. My hope is, and I pray that, during this blessed season, I will build a habit out of loving myself and really learn what it is to love myself. There are other things I will also do to help me really come to my center, like taking Sundays off. For the next 6 weeks I will not check emails or work on Sundays, because this will allow myself to fully rest and be ready to work like a high speed train the rest of the week. More importantly, it'll allow me time to truly be with myself. Giving alms is an important aspect of Lent, so I will also be giving alms in various ways to spread love and joy throughout this season. I am dedicating the next 6 weeks to mending what was broken so long ago and I'm excited to see how I grow in this time.
Observing Lent the way I have set out to do this year is my way of telling God, thank you for creating me, I truly appreciate what you've blessed me with, and I love you. It's also my way of telling myself, "I love you." I cannot keep doing what I'm doing if I do not learn to wholly love myself.
It's time to escape my demons for once and for all.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
As part of marriage preparation many engaged couples who wish to marry in the Catholic Church attend a weekend retreat, where they have the opportunity to think about and discuss things they've not discussed before--perhaps finances, what values and traditions from their respective families they want to bring to their new family, and even discuss issues they had not completely addressed or resolved previously. It's an opportunity to open up like you never have before, and is sort of a foundation building weekend that has you digging deeper into yourselves as individuals, as well as yourselves as a couple, and thus falling deeper in love with your partner. Even when you think you know everything about your partner, you'll learn something new.
The weekend is led by a priest, and married couples who share their experiences of getting through good and bad times, how they learned to communicate with one another, and how they make the decision to love each other everyday, even when it seems difficult. Ideally you'll have a couple who has been married many, many years, and a couple that is relatively still in the earlier part of their sacrament of marriage. These presenting couples don't just give you broad and surface level examples of the topics you cover, but they really dig deep into their personal lives to share their stories with you.
Last weekend, my fiance and I attended such a retreat, and we are most certain this was single handedly one of the most important things we'll do for our marriage. Before we were required to go, we knew it existed and I don't think either of us cared to go. One couple we know did an abridged version that was one day instead of an entire weekend, and we were hoping to have that option. I think for us we thought, we talk about everything and tend to have the same values, so why go away on a retreat just to talk about the same things and affirm what we already know about each other.
After we signed up, I started hearing how helpful it was for some couples. I even Yelped it--though that was largely with the intent to find out how the accommodations were going to be. I was surprised to find out how enthusiastically people responded to their experiences on the retreat. Many said this was the most important three days they've spent together, even for couples that had been together a decade. So, that got me excited and curious.
We attended the retreat at St. Mary's Seminary in Santa Barbara, which is tucked high up and away in the Santa Ynez mountains overlooking Santa Barbara. It also happens to be in the middle of Rattlesnake Canyon, so I was very conscientious of all the critters around us.
When we got there Friday evening at 7.30pm, we signed in, put our water in the refrigerator and our snack contribution on the long table littered with all kinds of goodies. Each couple was asked to bring water or other refreshments, and snacks to share. Already, we knew this was going to be a very communal experience. Not to mention, we were sleeping dorm-style. That was the one thing I dreaded most, because I can't stand communal showers.. They gross me out and I was hoping I had left those days behind me when I moved out of the dorms after my freshman year of university.
We had no idea what was in store for us for the evening...or the weekend for that matter. No agenda was ever provided, only instructions to get to the Seminary, and what to bring. After we were all checked in and settled, the evening finally began. I figured we'd get a quick intro then be off to bed, but no, we dug right into what would turn out to be a most incredible experience.
Father Norm was the priest with us for the weekend. This man is the jolliest, goofiest priest I've ever met, I thought he was Santa. He even had a big belly and beard. I'm so glad to have met him. Only twice have I ever met someone and thought, this is an angel on earth--once was when hanging out with one of my colleagues, and the second time was this weekend meeting Father Norm. Next we met the two presenting couples. One couple has been married 50 years, while the other 25 years; so, in our case, we had two couples who have been married for quite some time.
The way this weekend worked was that there were 16 "chapters" to cover, and we spent an hour on each. Each hour consisted of about 20 minutes of the presenting couples sharing with us their stories related to the topic and Father Norm speaking on the topic as well, 20 minutes of us responding to questions on the topic in a journal provided, and 20 minutes discussing what we wrote with our partners. What was so special about the way this works is that we're asked to write throughout the 20 minutes--just keep writing even if you think you've got no more to say--and we wrote as if we were writing a love letter to our fiance. Also, the men and women alternated leaving the room to go write. This prevented distraction and pressure while writing. When the 20 minutes to write was up, we regrouped with our fiances and traded journals. After reading what each other wrote, we talked about it. There's really something magical about getting to write our deepest feelings and thoughts down on paper to share with our most beloved.
Sometimes you were able to answer all questions, and many times you did not answer the questions in order. What was interesting for my fiance and I, was that we tended to answer the same questions. We addressed them similarly, though with different depth and often answering each other's questions. I won't speak for him, but for me that was always neat to encounter, because I didn't have to ask him, and he answered my thoughts. Things I've tried asking him about before, but never could get a proper answer, or conflicts that were never fully resolved, were addressed and resolved.
Logically, the weekend started with us taking a look at ourselves--what kinds of personalities are we and thoughtfully examining our own upbringings. We are clearly two different types of people and come from two different families and upbringings. We took a quick personality test at the beginning, and one of the presenting husbands happened to be the same type as my fiance: T-type. A T-type is one who tends to be fact/detail-oriented, a perfectionist, careful/conscientious, and diligent. I am largely a P-Type though a bit of a mix of a P and an A. P-Types are sociable, emotionally expressive, talkative, and persuasive. Neither of us were surprised when we saw each other's results. The presenting husband who is a T-Type told us about how his T-Type personality has affected his relationship with his wife, and in what ways he's learned to tone it down some, or alternatively, use it to enhance their marriage. I don't remember his exact words, but as he was talking about how he and his wife deal with conflict based on their personalities, a light went off in my head. He was describing my fiance when he was describing himself. I thought, o my gah, it all makes sense now. Sometimes I feel like my fiance is so hard-headed and closed-minded when it comes to certain arguments, it frustrates me so badly. Some might call it stubbornness, but in fact what he is, is a fact/detail-oriented person, and he supports his arguments with facts/details he believes are correct. So in the past, I'd feel like he would not even hear my side. Often, I'd say, "I don't need you to agree with me, I just need you to understand where I'm coming from." It felt like I was being unheard. There is a certain hard-headedness to this T-type personality, and a need to always be right. Realizing this helped clear a road block in my head and made me laugh. I realized I wasn't being unheard, it was simply that he was insisting on his correctness. After we discussed this, I felt I would now be able to better handle arguments knowing what he is "really saying," and he also promised to be a better listener and not so hard-headed about being right all the time. Just in that first hour, I felt I was already understanding my fiance better.
The first night ended late at 11pm, and we were told we had to be in the chapel at 7.30am for mass. I think everyone's mouths dropped when we heard that. This was the most "boot camp" aspect of the weekend. Breakfast was at 8 though, so I was looking forward to the fastest mass I've ever experienced.
The first topic the next day was about communication. I was completely caught off-guard when my eyes started to water a bit in our discussion after we read what we wrote to each other. It wasn't necessarily the words he wrote that moved me, but what he said when he elaborated in our discussion. He opened up in a way that he does not normally. I still had to dig it out of him a bit, but it was not such a battle as it sometimes can be. I have no doubt that this weekend showed us both how to better communicate with each other, and while the presenting couples examples were certainly helpful and comforting, it was really us digging deep into ourselves and sharing ourselves completely with the other that got us there. They didn't give us any secret tools or formulas. It goes back to us knowing ourselves, knowing the other person, and uniting ourselves like pieces of a puzzle. Of course, it certainly helped that we were in a setting where we were supposed to be talking about everything we were talking about, and communication was not only welcomed, but an integral part of the weekend.
One of my favourite parts was when we talked about "a Life-Giving Marriage." There are those who are life-draining, and I call them energy vampires; then there are those who are life-giving. Being a life-giving person can be as simple as doing a simple chore that you know will help your partner out and the s/he will appreciate it. There was a day once when he stayed home while I went to work, and when I came home, the entire apartment was tidy and clean. I was in such joyful shock I practically jumped into his arms. So, over the weekend we were asked to think of one thing we would like to ask our partner to do in any given week. He wrote, "I would like you to REALLY watch the Rugby World Cup coming up." DONE. That made me smile and grateful he truly wanted to include me in this beloved activity of his. I've always tried to be interested in his interests, but I never realized it meant something to him for me to actually take interest. I on the other hand, took my chances and asked him a couple things. I asked him to cook once in a given week, and draw on my back...everyday of the week 0:). The reason being life-giving is so important is because it shows generosity, support, sensitivity, and selflessness. Those things add up to a fuller life. On top of that, it's the little ways we're able to show our loved ones we love them. The husband of the older couple joked, "Unfortunately for me, what makes her feel loved is when I do the dishes."
Overall, this weekend was so significant, because it taught us that love is a daily decision, not just a feeling. Our modern society may try to tell us differently, but the illusion is not that marriages are forever; the illusion is that marriage is easy. Our two presenting couples told us about troubles they had with miscarriages, making difficult decisions related to giving up on a lifelong dream for the betterment of the family, and even dealing with a child that came out to them as a lesbian. I'm so grateful to these presenting couples for the deep honesty they shared with us over the weekend. They're examples of the love our faith teaches us, and I believe even the non-Catholics got a lot out of the weekend, because it all just comes down to love. That's all.
I learned things this weekend I never even thought to ask. For example, my fiance and I were both baptized Catholic as babies, but neither of us had very deep religious upbringings. I was definitely the more "practicing" Catholic of the two of us, and my faith is very important to me. He is Catholic and he believes, and that was always good enough for me. He'd go to Church with me, only because he knew it meant a lot to me. What I never expected was that my faith would influence his faith. I never pushed it on him, nor did I ever think about it. However, I learned for the first time this weekend that his faith has grown because of me, and I never knew how much that could mean to me until now. To be united in our faith and in our love is a strength like no other.
We covered other topics like financial fidelity, forgiveness, how will we raise our family. Something I bet most couples don't talk about is, what if we can't get pregnant? An interesting one was thinking of the traditions and values each of us have, and then which we wanted to bring into our new family, and which we wanted to leave out. There was a lot of working together in decision making. My fiance and I have known that we have communication skills that we need to work on, but I don't think we ever really knew how that would happen. We figured it would just happen with time....and a LOT of patience. Now I'm confident it will happen with time, because all weekend we communicated as we need to with each other and really listened to each other.
Towards the end of the weekend, we learned the difference between "engagement" and "betrothal." A betrothal is a promise, it's a pledge that "I will be there for you." It doesn't end like an engagement does. We were given 30 minutes to write a betrothal to one another. I wrote and I wrote trying to pour everything in my heart out, ignoring how poorly written it was. This time, instead of trading journals, we each read what we wrote to the other. As he read his betrothal to me, my eyes became a bit misty. When I read mine to him love flooded out of my eyes in tears like a sudden southern summer storm. I could hardly look at him as they kept coming, because I was afraid they wouldn't stop and I wouldn't be able to read what I wrote.
I had no idea the true impact this weekend would have on me and us, and now I wish that every engaged couple was required to go on this retreat--perhaps there'd be less divorce and discord in the world. Heck, even couples who aren't engaged should do this. In fact, there was one couple there that was not yet engaged.
I started the weekend taking notice of all the mushy gushy couples around us, thinking this all felt a bit silly. I left the weekend feeling like there's hope in the world, because these couples will remember to choose love everyday, even when they don't feel like it. I even felt bonded with some of them, which is such a nice feeling. I feel connected to them, even if it's just remembering them in my prayers.
Something really key to this weekend was how raw and real it was. There was nothing idealistic to fill our romantics hopes and wishes about love and marriage. There was nothing preachy about it--though I think Catholics in general are not a preach kind. We're taught to just live as an example of Love. Something Father Norm said really brought it all down to earth, and made me feel grounded even when I felt like I was flying, because I was filled with so much love. Never have I heard anyone say that there are days you do not want to love your spouse, but because we've made this commitment and betrothal, we choose to love our spouse everyday. To hear Father Norm say that was like, "Wow." Some of us, including myself, grow up believing in fairytales and live for good love stories--even when we become jaded, we want to believe that love exists. What no one tells us is that even in the greatest love stories, there are days when the tank feels empty. This one statement suddenly made love and marriage a real, tangible, human experience--not a fairytale that takes work, not centuries old tradition, or an old-fashioned notion that a few of us still believe in.
More importantly, WE left this weekend with a renewed and affirmed confidence that we are truly a united team that has chosen and pledged to one another to decide on love every single day for eternity, that our union is a blessing from God, and that through God's love, we love, and may that love spread throughout the world. It has only been a week since the retreat, but we can already see and feel how it has helped us become a stronger couple. At the end of our prayer service Saturday evening, they asked us to face each other and hold each other's hands as Father Norm said a prayer. Something he said towards the end of his prayer rang loud and clear with us. He said, "Your hands are the hope for humanity, because your hands can change the world." We hope that our hands, as a team, will in fact change the world.
Thank you, Catholic Engaged Encounter, for a most enlightening weekend.
BIG LOVE & HUGS,