The summer before my freshman year of high school, I attended a Steubenville Catholic youth conference. At the last session of this conference, the topic was vocations. They wanted everyone who thought they might possibly be called to the priesthood or religious life to come up for a special blessing.
My 14-year-old self-said internally, “Yeah, right,” not because I was certain I didn’t have a vocation, but because there was no way in heck I was going to go up in front of everyone in a silent admission that I’d thought about it and felt slightly drawn.
But what happened next stuck with me. The speaker, Franciscan priest/rapper Fr. Stan Fortuna, told everyone, especially those who thought they might be called, to pray every morning when they woke up, “Holy Spirit, command me to do Your will.” He guaranteed that if you did, God would take you on a wild, amazing ride through life.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgZbP8nddhU
Well, I went ahead and started praying it every morning, and it turns out that Fr. Stan knew what he was talking about.
The Silent Nudge Grew Stronger
By late high school, there was no denying anymore that religious life was something I needed to at least think about.
I didn’t want to think about it though, because of boys. Specifically, one particular boy named Luke.
Luke and I attended the same parish and had older siblings who were friends, so I knew long before I actually knew him that he was discerning the priesthood. But somehow, despite that, we became best friends and fell in love.
Was it okay for us to date if we thought we might be called to religious vocations? Most people told us (almost rather flippantly) that yes, it was fine. We were just kids, after all, they said. Relax, have fun, they said. I feared it might be terrible advice, but it was the advice we wanted to hear so we took it.
And we became an annoyingly happy Cory and Topanga-type high school couple, already assuming we would get married in a few years. But all the while, we knew we would both eventually have to face the discernment question in earnest and address the nudge we had each been feeling for years.
The Long Distance Brought New Challenges
I went halfway across the country for school at Franciscan University, and Luke stayed in our hometown. But we didn’t let that phase us and embarked on a difficult but worth-it long-distance relationship.
On my part, though, I took the opportunity of being at a hardcore Catholic school to do some mild discerning, kind of hoping I’d discover immediately that religious life wasn’t for me. That didn’t happen.
Instead, by Thanksgiving break of junior year, I was going on a retreat at the Nashville Dominicans’ motherhouse, determined to settle the matter once and for all. God was merciful to my conflicted soul, and the retreat did settle the matter.
Being inside the convent, the one convent that had attracted me the most of all the ones I had looked up, I saw clearly that I would not thrive there. I tried to stay open to it for the duration of the weekend retreat, but I soon realized it was very much not for me. And—I breathed a sigh of relief.
Our Discerning Wasn’t Over
Luke, for his part, had not been sitting idly by on the discernment front. He was attempting to find a priest willing and able to help him on his discernment journey. When he finally found one during the fall of my senior year of college, this spiritual director advised him to break up with me, give it six months, and if all was going well to then enter the seminary.
At the time, I was studying abroad in Austria, so the breakup happened via early morning Skype call. And while it didn’t come completely out of the blue to me, it was not what I expected.
I struggled with letting go of him for love of God, learned a lot about a little concept called holy indifference, and cried my eyes out on the beach of Normandy while trying to hide my tears from my carefree companions.
It took some time, but I started thinking and praying about what my life was going to look like without him in my future. And the pull to the convent did not come back. Small consolation, but at least I knew I had been sincere in my own discernment process.
Now, I was feeling a pull to some kind of mission work in a third world country, and also a stronger desire to pursue my lifelong dream of writing movies—trust me, these two pursuits are not really as dissimilar as you might think.
So I started making plans for these things, plans that included the possibility of a mission trip somewhere in the summer post-graduation and grad school for film producing in southern California.
Once Again, God Took Me by Surprise
Though there was this planned six month trial of alone time in Luke’s discernment, I mostly only expected to hear from him when that time was up, saying he was seminary-bound.
So I was shocked when, two months after the painful breakup Skype call, I saw his name on my phone in an in-bound call one afternoon while I was milking cows with my sister on our parents’ dairy farm. “It’s Luke,” I told her, rather stunned. She immediately chased me out of the noisy milking parlor to go answer it.
He was calling to tell me that two months was all he needed—discernment complete. It had become very clear to him, and his spiritual director agreed, that he was not called to the priesthood but was called to marriage with me.
Needless to say, I was overjoyed.
Our Happily Ever After (and Beyond!)
My other plans, the ones I’d made in the meanwhile without him? Well, I didn’t abandon them and God took care of fitting the details into place —details that included a mission trip to Kolkata, India, where I missed Luke terribly but grew in ways that prepared me for marriage. Then there was a move for both of us to southern California that took an insane number of pieces fitting together just right in order to work, and it did work.
Honestly, life right now is not easy, not even a little. We have two energy-vacuum little kids, difficult finances, and a bunch of crazy things happening right now to stress us out so badly that we’ll probably go prematurely gray. But as I’ve said to him often, the one thing that continues to consistently be pretty darn good is our marriage.
And I have to think that that’s largely because we gave God the first chance. We did our best to keep our hearts open even when He threw us the most unexpected curve balls.
Probably not everyone who gives God first dibs on their life will have a story as outwardly rollercoaster-ish as ours. But I have to think that what Fr. Stan said was true —when we intentionally pray for God to take over our lives, He will not let us down.