Sorry Mario, but your princess is in another castle!
I know you guys out there probably remember this from your childhood….
….after jumping over the lava and dodging the flying fireballs, you get to the boss – Bowser. This is the part where true Mario gamers make-it or break-it. After either shooting him a bunch of times with fire, running under him when he jumped high or somehow running and jumping over him – you knock him into the firepit and win! Except not really……you see, the princess turns into this weird looking mushroom-headed guy who tells you “Our princess is in another castle!” and this happens at least 7-8 more times before you actually get to the real princess.
It seems like this happens to a lot of us out there. (Bear with me)
I’m sitting here at my computer in Manhattan, thinking back at how crazy and amazing life has been…..and what the Lord has blessed me with!
I was born in Virginia Beach, Virginia the oldest of 4. My parents met on the beach while working at their summer jobs – my father being a beach lifeguard and my mother working at a beach-chair rental service (the easiest excuse to be on the beach all summer long). There’s something about being raised at the beach….even though it’s been years since I’ve ridden a board, I still miss it everyday.
So back to the story – I was raised with my brothers and sister in Virginia Beach to a pretty tight-knit family. Not only were we surrounded by our friends, but growing up we were constantly with our aunts/uncles and cousins. It was definitely a blessing to have a stay-at-home mom, something that I didn’t realize until much later in my life. (I pray that if God provides for us in that way, Cristina will be able to raise our children full-time at home)
I feel like I had a pretty “normal” childhood (whatever that means) and remember doing all of the normal things that every little boy does – we played sports, watched cartoons and played capture-the-flag with our friends. Although I never learned to express myself as an artist/musician/writer, I do remember having a really deep and profound imagination. I recall at times imagining-up some really creative ideas that I never shared with anyone(like things from a fantasy story) while other times dreaming-up elaborate plans to create or build something (like a treehouse or fort)
Life was good….really good, but as I started getting a little older, (maybe around 10-12 yrs) I remember thinking that there HAD to be something more out there.
I was raised in church and in my childhood innocence I knew that I needed to pray to God. I would lay in bed at night thinking about how big the world was and how small I was….wondering about who/why I was who I was….why I was on this earth. Children truly understand God much more than we think they do (you can see this in how us adults treat children when it comes to things like going to Mass – “Oh, he/she doesn’t understand anyways”) and a very early age I somehow realized that there was more to life than just making money and being “happy”. As I think about those times that I pondered life, I know that it was God planting seeds. Throughout my life and up until today, no matter how complacent I get at times, this sense of not “settling” or going with the “status quo” is what has helped keep me focused on Him.
“With great power comes great responsibility”
Oh, how this became reality. As I started learning more about the faith that my parents had given me, I was then even more aware of the dragons that we’re out to get me. Christ built a strong foundation in my heart, and after confirmation and taking the confirmation name of “Anthony” (for what reason at the time – I had NO idea), the true tests of faith presented themselves on a daily basis. As I left high school and entered into college, I experienced an attack of temptations that seemed almost impossible to overcome. Don’t get me wrong – I had been surrounded in high school by sex, drugs and rock-n-roll….but never like this before. For the first time in my life, I was literally living next door to all of these things, and the enemy tempted me at every turn.
NEVER did I imagine that my attempt to wait until marriage and give myself fully to my future wife would be so publicly mocked….never did I expect to be the “goal” of the girls who wanted to steal my virginity. What a sad thing to see….the Lord really inspired me to fight for the dignity of women during this time…..for there are so many wounded on the battlefield.
As difficult as it was to resist falling in to whatever “EVERYONE is doing”, I felt His Grace with me each time that I was able to overcome temptation. In a strange way, (even though I had no idea what it was for) I felt that God was preparing my heart – preparing my armor – for a battle much bigger than myself.
In the summer of 2006, after my second year of studying in college and still not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, (like so MANY college students these days, unfortunately) I discerned that the Lord was calling me to serve the poor in Honduras. Through the Missioners of Christ, I raised money and packed my bags to head down to Honduras for an indefinite amount of time. By the beginning of June 2006 (while my wife-to-be was receiving her confirmation) I was down in Honduras, preparing myself for a new chapter of my life. God needed to mold my heart and yet soften it for what He had planned.
One of the greatest memories I have from Honduras (among many) was from a dream I had within the first week there:
I had been freaking out about what I could possibly offer a place like Honduras, what gifts I had to give in service to the poor. In a dream (which had to be from God, I know) I found myself in a small home of a family in Honduras – including a dirt floor, chickens and pigs running through and children naked and dirty screaming. In my dream I approached the mother of the children and as I looked in to her eyes, I said to her “Teach me”.
It’s amazing to think all of what God was doing during my two years (from 2006-2008) of serving in Honduras. Not only did a love for the poor grow within me, but a love for the Hispanic culture and language has brought me to where I am today.
As I left Honduras after those two years, my beloved Cristina just so happen to be going the opposite route….I picture it as if our planes had passed each other in the air as I headed back to the US and she to Honduras. God only knew that we were not yet ready to meet.
It wasn’t until 2 years later, after graduating and pursuing God’s will for my life, that He introduced me to the woman with whom I will become one flesh. Of course we had met before, but not at the time He had willed for us to meet. I still had dragons to fight, and each dragon that I killed brought me closer to the dragons that we’re trying to keep me from HER.
On June 13th 2010, I met Cristina and something in me said “This one is different“. For the first time in my life I was sitting and talking to a beautiful woman who I felt “GOT” me.I had met so many beautiful women in my walk with the Lord, so many who loved the Lord and had beautiful hearts….but at the end of the day, something never quite “fit”.
Were we from two very different worlds? Yes. Were we both raised in very different ways? Yes! But, at the core of our beings was the same heart, the same desire and love for God and His poor. I knew I was falling in love from the first conversations we had, for NOTHING within me felt that I was settling or compromising. The Lord granted me a peace and calm as He revealed to me this beautiful princess!
Lord, grant us the strength to fight that which is true and beautiful. In our weakness, inspire us in knowing that you “chose the weak” and grant us the Grace to lay down our lives for those you have charged us with protecting. May our masculinity echo the love of God the Father, our courage that of Christ Jesus and our voices that of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God’s Love Story or “Shoot girl, I ain’t settling!”
” God assigned as duty to every Man, the dignity of every Woman”- Blessed JPII
In case you noticed, YES! I am a New Yorker and I use “Ain’t” from time to time….(especially when I’m in a passionate conversation….and unfortunately, my Caribbean blood doesn’t help much!)
I sit here in awe as I think of ALL that the Lord has done in my life….I can honestly say that He has transformed me into a new creation.
So, just a little about my background – I was born in the Dominican Republic in 1986. My father (born in Puerto Rico in 1944 and later moved to NY in 1953) decided to study medicine during the 80’s in DR (or the Dominican Republic) and brought back to NYC a couple of different degrees: a medical degree, a Dominican wife and two children!
With my mother, we arrived in NYC on February 27, 1988 when I was only about a year and half old. There I was raised in the heart of NYC, a section of Manhattan(that definitely gives meaning to the term “melting pot“) called the Lower East Side, or by New Yorkers – “Da Lowa”. If you need to know, YES! I am a proud Loisaida! (Lower-East-Sider).
I grew up in between a few different places but my parents apartment (where we still live today) is located right between the government projects and a bunch of cooperative apartments owned by devout Orthodox Jews and other people with a lot of money.
Looking back, I feel like I was always stuck between two VERY different worlds. My grandmother lived in a government building that was sadly filled with cockroaches, where there was always pee in the elevators (only pee, on a good day) and my father would have to remind us “DO NOT LEAN ON THE ELEVATOR WALLS and PRESS THE ELEVATOR BUTTONS WITH YOUR KEYS, NOT YOUR FINGERS!!”
Those were the good ol’ days – I remember the smell of people barbequing in the street, the look of my grandmother’s house with plastic-covered couches and the park with metal slides (and the burn-mark scars we got from the hot metal)
But above all, I remember the joy and laughter of the children who grew up in this place that had made the best of their situations. My father was blessed with the opportunity to own an apartment in a very nice building in the same neighborhood (Remember- our neighborhood is split right between “the hood” and “those nice buildings”). TWO VERY DIFFERENT WORLDS
Now that I think of it, it was during my childhood that God planted within me a love for the poor…..
And it all begins… the journey to meeting my Beloved Lord and my beloved Andrew.
Okay so first off, let me say that it is pretty humbling to post this video! (Looking back I can notice how nervous I was when they filmed how much I was biting my lip, etc!) BUT, IT’S ALL FOR HIS GLORY!
This episode of “Too Blessed To Be Stressed – Rescued, Redeemed, and Renewed” was recorded 3 weeks before I meant Andrew for the first time again. (I say again because Andrew and I had met a year before we actually “met”, at a Catholic Underground) It’s funny because the first time I introduced myself to him I was very cold and people that know me say that I’m always pretty friendly…..I’ve come to realize that God allowed this because it was just not His time for us to truly meet. So like a good Catholic girl I went to a Catholic Underground to praise Jesus and I DO remember praying about finding “the one”…. and even though I had actually met him without knowing it, I left with this deep interior thirst to pray for him more and more from that day.
Back to my life…..and some of the parts that I left out during the interview above -
In 2005, I had hit rock bottom. I was a little 19 year old girl who didn’t want to live any longer. I was seeking my Heavenly Father through FAKE men that tried to quench my thirst with a poisonous drink that tasted sweet at first but at the end of the day, never fulfilled me. Instead it made me sick – literally (I remember throwing up) Oh! From within, how I desired that REAL living water….
On October 31, 2005 I made a decision that would forever change my life. It was that day that I remember FIRMLY deciding (and with the help from the prayers our friends in heaven) that I would no longer give of myself in any way to ANY other man until I married the one that HE had set apart for me. From within the depths of my soul, I knew that I desired to be truly loved and I knew that I had to abstain and to remain chaste until marriage.
On June 4th 2006 I made my confirmation in the presence of the Lord, confirming and CHOOSING the Faith that has molded every aspect of my life. I placed a ring on my left hand – ring finger that said, “ I will wait for my Beloved”. My dreams returned to me, and my childhood journey of being a Princess seemed to begin all-over again. (Ironically this is the same exact time when my Andrew was moving down to Honduras to serve for 2 years as a missionary)
I knew that I – His Princess – was meant to be fought for. You know, as a young girl I always loved movies about princesses. I remember dreaming of being a princess and having my prince charming fight the dragon to come and save me from my tower. I came to understand through the 5 years of waiting (and studying His Word, The Theology of the Body, the Lives of the Saints and Serving His people – the poor here and in Honduras) that I was able to become a real-life princess. I also learned that Tower wasn’t such a bad thing after all…. for the tower represented my time being alone with the Lord in His presence and trusting Him as He whispered into my ear -“Be still and know that I AM GOD”.
Sisters, KNOW that it is engraved within each one of us to be a princess, for a reason! For since we were small, a REAL MAN already fought the dragon for us – His name is JESUS, and He fought death and came back for US!
As I began dreaming of the beloved that God had created for me, the world/friends/family would constantly tell me: “Your standards are TOO high!” or “ You’ll never meet a guy like that…who wants to serve God and WAIT til marriage?!” and even some tried to help me by saying “ Don’t worry! You can just do it with him and go to confession” and the worst – “Girl, You have needs!” Oh how the evil one tried to keep me off track! My Soul, Mind, Heart and ENTIRE being was fighting against these dragons that were lying to me and keeping me from my beloved…..and it was a DAILY fight, believe me! But, during those 5 years I remember reading Crystalina Evert’s testimony and she impacted me greatly, for while reading it I said to myself, “Wow! I’m really NOT alone!” and this filled me with so much HOPE.
I felt my Saint friends in heaven so close to me and remember Padre Pio’s prayers for me – PRAY HOPE AND DON’T WORRY!
Seems easy right!? After the Lord did so much for me during my conversion all I have to do was pray, hope and not WORRY, right?! YEAH RIGHT! As a woman, I worried all the time that I wouldn’t find the One….and I would have to force myself to my knees because so many times I was tempted to settle!
I met so many Catholic- Christian guys, “Catholic – Christian” guys and even more non-Catholic-Christian guys that the enemy tried to confuse me with! Oh…..”but he is SO nice…”. It became overwhelming!
So I gave God a List of Qualities and Gifts that my heart truly desired in a man, in my future husband… and I didn’t hesitate in asking Him, for all that I was asking for were qualities that we would use to better serve Him!… I had to decide to not worry, to be still and to just WAIT. I remember having the image of me as as a flower that was waiting to bloom so that my bee would be able to come and get me when I was ready!!
As I get closer to the part where I actually meet my Andrew, I have to remind you of the power of prayer!
I remember as a Latina always hearing “Pray to St. Anthony and he will help you find your Husband”…..Hmmm….so obviously I began to have a devotion this great friend in Heaven. Every year I would pray a novena to St. Anthony asking his prayers for me finding my future spouse! Every year! And as you can imagine….as the years went by….no husband and I was a little frustrated.
On June 12th, 2010 I decided to go visit my brother who has been living in Virginia Beach, with my family and two close friends, one of them (Therese) I met through serving in Honduras with the Missioners of Christ. She insisted that she wanted to see her friend Andrew…..and ONLY because we were in his neck of the “woods”(Not the city), I settled and said “Fine, I’m down…” Before Anderw came over, I laid down to take a nap and let everyone else get stuff ready for a BBQ that we were going to have at my brothers apartment.
Once again, I found myself upstairs in my tower…while Andrew was fighting the dragons to come save me.
All of the sudden, the doorbell rings. Therese wakes me saying, “Andrew’s here, PLEASE don’t leave me alone with
him”. I respond with a little attitude – “Ugghh, fine. Give me a few” Remember, I’m thinking “I’ve already met this dude”
Like Rapunzel, I got my long hair together and walked down the stairs. My heart JUMPED out and something within my heart felt “BONE OF MY BONE, FLESH OF MY FLESH”…. He was sooo beautiful!
Right that very moment, I ran to the bathroom and forced myself to ignore it. I was so tired of obsessing and wondering like so many of us do “Is he the one?!” So I got on my knees and said, “NO Lord! I refuse to even over-think this right now, not my will but THY WILL BE DONE”
…What a fun night we had….
June 13th – the next day. Att Mass I looked into His eyes as the words “Peace be with you” rolled off of his lips and I knew there was something special about that day. So much Peace and Love about the WHOLE situation dwelled in my heart! St. Anthony of Padua from a distance stared and smiled with Jesus for my Prince found me!
The beauty of all of it, is that God KNEW how my heart works…..He chose to allow me to forget St. Anthony’s feast day….in order to keep me from obsessing over anything. It wasn’t until a month later that Andrew and I realized that we had shared that kiss of peace at sunday Mass on St. Anthony’s feast day!
At this very moment I present to you all of the women that may come across this blog. That each may know her dignity as the crowning of creation because you made us with such delicate detail. Help us to not settle for the lies of this world. For you give us the strength when we are weak! Help us especially in this CITY, guard our dignity and help us to stand for truth. For you are our King of Peace, help us to know that we are the crowning of creation and deserve nothing but You, THE BEST.
Our Courtship Story
I’m coming to understand what Courtship really means : “dating” with PURE passion for CHRIST and for each other. As I entered into this courtship, I remember that it was the first time in my life that I had truly entered into something that I knew God was calling me to. He was calling me to be pure personally and to be in a pure relationship.
1 Corinthians 6:13
” You say, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.’ The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. “
I remember that when we starting talking and “dating”, (discerning His will and what God had planned for us) Andrew was planning/preparing to leave to live in Honduras again at the end of that same summer in 2010. In the beginning I was constantly thinking, “Lord, if you are really calling Andrew to serve you in Honduras and leave me, then Amen!”… I would sit in front of the Eucharist for hours and all I could do was ask Him to prepare my heart for what was to come. Oh how I loved Andrew the very moment I saw him again and I knew that if the Lord was calling him to go back to Honduras, He would grant me peace.
But as a woman, the thoughts that went through my head were CRAZY (but human!) Like: “What if he meets someone while away?” or “What if someone confuses me here?” and even “NOW after 5 years, to wait all over again until he gets back?!”. But, the worst was the thought that something could happen to him while he was away from me!
I felt like our first pope when God was asked me “Do you TRULY trust and love me?”
As difficult as it was….(and I know that ONLY the Lord could have given me the grace) I responded like St. Peter: “Lord, you know that I love and trust you”.
As corny as it used to sound to me, I would sing to the song “JESUS, TAKE THE WHEEL!” And as I sang along with the words of “He makes everything Glorious”, I started accepting that He makes everything Glorious IN His time.
As time passed, Andrew and I grew so very close through our long distance relationship which we stayed apart for 3 ½ months. (Ha Ha! It’s funny to think that would spend about 5hours on the phone EVERY night….and ended up texting all throughout the day)
Looking back, I can now see that as painful as a long distance relationship was at the time, the Lord REALLY gave us that time for a good reason. I noticed over time that our long distance conversations grew deeper deeper, and so did my prayer life (Shoot, part of that was because in my mind, I was NOT trying to waste any time….I had ENOUGH guy friends)
Please don’t get me wrong! In no way was I ever pushy with Andrew or with God, because no matter the topic of our conversations, we were always pointing each other towards our ultimate goal – Heaven. BUT, I did feel a certain urgency of putting everything on the table from the start. The biggest question I would ask myself before and after each conversation was “Can this man bring me to Heaven? Can I do the same for him?”. It’s important to tell you that I was already keeping myself in check by asking these questions BEFORE I got emotionally attached to Andrew or our relationship.
Isn’t our goal in this life to get to Heaven?! Through our vocation we will be sanctified, and must help sanctify the other! Our vocations is what get’s us there.
If I look at my life and all of the men and women around me in the Catholic-Christian circle and non-Christian circle, all I saw was people settling! Left and right – young adults who committed themselves to waiting for their future spouses BUT got tired of waiting. Trust me! I was close to doing the same thing many times, but something within me (Now I see it was the Holy Spirit) reminded me when I got close to falling “Don’t settle!”
Even some of my Christian sisters around me were constantly falling into temptation of sex, or dating guys that they hoped that “they could convert”. Some of my friends settled with guys who were simply “luke-warm” or even “NICE” but did not help them grow in holiness…. and some of my sisters settled and ended up just living with their boyfriends instead of expecting something better like MARRIAGE!
Oh, how this made things even more difficult for me!
Without judging, something within me saw these relationships and would think “why are you wasting God’s time and your time?!”
(If this is your situation, remember – HE’S CALLING YOU TO SOMETHING DEEPER AND BETTER! TRUST ME!)
But with Andrew it was different, the center of our relationship was (and IS) Christ. I would attend daily mass and so would he, and even though we were far from each other, we would meet in the Eucharist – Our First Love. I still remember the first time he asked me on the phone if we could pray together before bed! I even vividly remember the day we first prayed a Holy Hour together. Oh how we enjoyed some of the most simple things. We would read books together. We would journal alone and then write to each other. We would fast together. We would so FREELY communicate all of what we wanted in life (like talking about how we desired to be true catholics, to know and love our faith, about our saint friends, living out chastity, dreams about marriage, desire to have children, dreams of living in the mission, how to live simply, EVERYTHING!)
It sounds like a lot, I know.BUT, I know that if we didn’t put everything out on the table from the beginning and without fear, we wouldn’t have been able to discern God’s will the way we did.
I had people telling me, “You guys are moving way to fast!!….shoot, I would just giggle and say “well, you could wait til later to talk about these things….but you might risk falling in love and being afraid of being honest and LOSING that special person” or you could live a lie for years and when you decide to be honest, it might be too late….
Some of those friends said “Why aren’t you sleeping or living with him? You guys love eachother!”
AND I’M MOVING FAST?! I would think to myself.
The world is constantly telling us the lies of the so-called “good” life….this “Sex and the City” life style…..but do we wonder why Carrie and the other 3 girls are single and STILL at the age of 40+?! These girls do not stop seeking love (REAL LOVE = JESUS). It’s so sad that we look in the wrong places…
Okay let me not get carried away!! I laugh because I get very passionate about this! Unfortunately, I was constantly lied to about this so-called “good life” and I suffered so much.
So….back to our courtship and how Andrew ends up in NYC.
Like I said earlier, Andrew and I were in deep prayer for our vocation.
Andrew and I both went through the same stages of what someone might go through when entering religious life. God made it clear that He was calling us to marriage. So what could I do when the one that I loved was going to leave for Honduras?!
One night under a full moon, Andrew tells me “Cristina, if I was called to enter a seminary to become a priest or to join a religious order, would I pospone my vocation? Is my vocation not my number-one prority?!” and then it hit us…
We knew that we had to take this time of courting very serious because it was a time to discern if were called to be each others sacrament!!
UNTIL DEATH! For marriage is for LIFE… not “for as long as love lasts”, like so many are watering it down to now.
Okay so now what? We both knew that we had to eventually live closer to better discern this.
My thoughts were “I can’t move to Virginia Beach because I don’t even know how to drive (haha I ONLY RECENTLY GOT MY PERMIT!) and I have a ministry that is dear to my heart.
Andrew is recent graduate with a Spanish Degree. LOTS of people in NYC speak spanish!
So why not come to the concrete jungle and discern with me here!!”
Honestly, the Lord provided and He did it so quickly! So many doors were opened.
Andrew found a job working with the Spanish Programs in The Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York!
This would mean that we could work in the SAME building. I worked for Catholic Charities as a case manager on the 6th floor and this job was open for the office on the 7th floor. We would be able to attend mass together PHYSICALLY everyday!
The Lord truly provides…. but we must choose to be still and listen. WE must choose to swim against the current of this world…..so that He can reveal His will to us (as He wants to at every moment)
Now the question I got (and still get) all the time is “How did you know he was the one?!” and I answered by saying “….I just knew”. But it WAS NOT an emotional decision…. I knew because it was a prayerful, grace filled and peaceful discernment. To be real about it – the moment I knew that my heart and soul were willing to be CRUCIFIED for this love, I knew Andrew was the one.
So….there you have it. My sooooouuthern boy moves to the big city.
“If we can make it here, we can make it anywhere!”
….NEW YORK CITY!?
Ok, let me put something straight, right from the beginning. I KNOW that God has placed me here in NYC for a good reason and at the perfect time. I don’t pretend to be un-appreciative about that whatsoever. I KNOW that I have met some of the most amazing young people in my life, and some of the most on-fire catholics in this world.
BUT, I do know one thing. New York City is CRAZY!
Of course, no matter how crazy things can get, this is God’s city! And no evil power will overcome Good. But right now, the battle is not going so well….we must pray hard!
So, my point is that I NEVER planned to live in New York….even the thought of it was a turn-off!
But, love makes you do crazy things.
So, today it has been 1 year since Cristina and I “officially” started this journey in God’s ultimate plan. A year ago, we sat on the sand in front of the dark ocean (at midnight!) and I asked her to enter into this journey with me. (But I should tell you, I knew I loved her from the first time we met again) Wow! How time has flown-by!
A year ago, I was graduating with my Bachelor’s degree in Spanish (2 yeas late….) and was planning my future…like any young man would do. Except mine was looking a bit different than the usual. By June of 2010, I was in discussion with Missioners of Christ about heading back down to Honduras to serve for another 1-2 years. That was, until I met Cristina.
A few weeks after graduation, I was working a summer job, preparing for fundraising and arrangements to head down to Honduras. All seemed clear that the Lord was calling me back down to Honduras, where I could serve and further discern my vocation. I had NO idea of what was to come in the following days.
On a busy saturday at the hotel on the beach (where I was working for the weekend) I got a phone call from my friend Therese about stopping-by to visit and meet some family friends in the neighborhood. I was exhausted, sweaty and had no desire to be “meeting” people at the time. Besides, having graduating and with the plan of leaving for Honduras, I wasn’t in the mood to go through the motions of telling people my “career plans/goals”. Therese being from New Jersey, was able to convince me and so I threw on a dirty grey t-shirt that I kept in the back of my truck. (This is important in the story because I was definitely in no way “showing off” or “trying to impress anyone”)
I remember walking into the house and seeing Cristina’s mother, who greeted me with a big smile and hug. Of course, the fact that she had been to Honduras and had the connection, things felt pretty comfortable from the start. I don’t remember meeting much of anyone else, because when I saw Cristina again for the first time, I was speechless. I don’t recall saying or doing anything, just kind of staring. She was GORGEOUS! I asked myself “Was this the girl I met a year ago?!” She walked in to the room with a certain grace/beauty/elegance that I can’t explain….and she was in summer-clothes!
Maybe it’s just because I’m a guy, but the rest of the day is pretty much a blur to me……I don’t remember much of what happened or what we did, I just remember looking for the opportunity to speak one-on-one with her. To really KNOW her. There was a sense of urgency in talking with her, almost like the feeling that a fan of a celebrity has in a large crowd – trying to break through to shake hands with the “star”.
I never said or did anything “smooth” that night. I was myself and even though I was attracted to her, I left it alone and remember specifically telling God “If it is your will that we become friends, then let it be.”
Oh, how the time flew by! Within the same week of meeting, we began talking on a regular basis. Every night, we talked for a few hours about any and EVERYthing!
It’s funny because for the first time, I had met someone that I felt like I could actually talk to…..someone that I could share my experiences in Honduras with, my love for the hispanic culture and my deep desire to live a simple life. It sounds crazy to say, but within the week, I knew that I loved her. One night during that first week, I met with one of my friends in Virginia Beach and told him about everything. He called me out – “Hey man, make sure that you’re not leading this girl on…..you better make up your mind and either go for it, or just leave it alone. She’s definitely already thinking more than you probably imagine.”
I prayed and prayed and prayed……and I knew that as a man I needed to keep it real with her, to put everything on the table. I told her my intentions, and shared with her everything I had planned for the future and my intentions in talking to her. Praise God! She took it well, but not only that – she allowed me to fulfill my role as a man.
It’s sad to admit that at many times in my life, I’ve led girls on by my actions. (This is something that we need to be accountable for, men) We even get to the point of telling girls “Look, I don’t like you like that” but yet we still spend time and share really intimate moments with them. This isn’t fair. I knew that this was my opportunity to really live up to my manhood and be real with her.
So, the weeks and months passed, and we had decided to entered into a courtship. We had decided that God had some sort of plan for each of us, and that we needed to discern what exactly our roles were supposed to be in each other’s lives. I knew that if we were called to be friends-only, I was ready to figure that out and MOVE ON! But God had bigger plans – and it wasn’t just a coincident that He brought us together at the perfect moment in our lives. He had a purpose for all of the experiences that we shared…all of the situations we found ourselves in, and the DREAMS that we both shared.
The only problem – I was leaving for Honduras in a couple months and that would take us VERY far apart from each other.
The U.S. is so far away, it’s not even in the picture!
I definitely need to emphasize here, how intimate our relationship was from the beginning. Not necessarily physical, but intimacy in the way that JPII and Christopher West put it – “In to me, see.” We truly bore-all to each other and shared EVERYTHING. Even as we started talking and started to have feelings for each other, I asked myself (and the Lord) – “Is this the type of woman I could marry, raise a family with….and even more importantly – could she get me to heaven?!”
Long-distance relationships are tough….but at the time and place in our lives that we were in last year, God knew that we needed an open and honest courtship/discernment. As frustrating as it was to be hours away from Cristina – God set it that way for a reason and He only gave us one-means of communication, talking. And WHOA, did we talk over those next few months! And you know, we STILL to this day have a beautiful ability to talk for hours….I never get tired of listening and expressing my thoughts/dreams/ideas with Cristina….for she is my best friend and will be my lifelong companion.
As the end of summer approached, I knew that decisions had to be made about whether-or-not I would leave for Honduras. I felt that my heart was split for I longed to be in Honduras, away from alot of my worldly attachments in the US, but this new love that God had given me caused me to start to rethink EVERYTHING. If I believed for all of these years that God had created ONE woman from all eternity to by my wife, I couldn’t just put that on hold! He spoke to us through many confirmations (So many I cant even begin to list them!), and He molded our hearts and desires SO closely that I felt the urgency (NOT to rush God’s plan) to fully discern our vocation and to be spiritually AND physically present for the coming year.
Just as we read, “Ask and you shall receive” – we had our faith in His will, and we asked the Lord to be SPECIFIC in sending us signs and opening doors. One by one, doors started opening. From one day to another, we went from looking for work (in an almost impossible New York City job market!) to Cristina getting an email about a job opening in the SAME office building. Once a job was amazingly lined up, we needed a place for me to live. Within DAYS, Cristina’s aunt calls and mentions to her that she had a room that she needed to rent for CHEAP and only a few blocks from her apartment!
We asked God to be clear, and He was VERY clear!
Of course, as a man it was difficult to commit and to “jump-in” to something so big and risky….but I knew that without putting my complete trust in Him, we would never know exactly where it was that He was calling us.
After prayer, patience and a WHOLE LOT of trust in the Lord, I was able to make arrangements to move to New York City and begin a new chapter in my life.
Without going in to too much more detail – I realized after moving to NYC and spending every day with Cristina’s family (both immediate and extended!) that this truly was the woman God had created for me, and I for her. The peace that He granted me was amazing, not emotional or like a roller-coaster (of course, there was romance involved!) but more of an interior peace that allowed us to move and flow with His will. As each day passed, and as we continuously SURRENDERED our plans to Him, He allowed that peace to grow and form. I NEVER felt at any moment that I was settling or that there could be someone out there “better” for me, or that we were in some way – rushing God’s plans. Things were so natural, in a way that is hard to describe until you find that one that you will become ONE FLESH with. I learned that the Sacrament of Marriage isn’t about compromise and each giving 50-50, but that in being FULLY who you are (without compromise) each giving 100% of themselves to the other, the two become one. God created Cristina and I for marriage to each other and in marriage, we both become FULLY who we have always been.
When God allowed us to understand this, the only logical next step was to make a SOLID and EXCLUSIVE commitment to Cristina Rivera, asking her hand (with her father and mother’s permission first) in Marriage. On December 19, 2010 I proposed to Cristina in the very same chapel that I first remember praying for her.
As I look back on this last year…..I am reminded of the Gospel in which a man goes and SELLS everything he owns to buy the pearl of great price. For the first time in my life, I felt a profound strength to truly fight for that which is TRUE and BEAUTIFUL and not look back. Cristina is called to be Christ to me in our marriage in helping me to get to heaven!
I really met my New York City Honey!
This is not some fantasy from far far away….You truly are my dream come true!
December 19, 2010
Man, was I exhausted from serving for two long days at a retreat with Corazon Puro in New Jersey. But as I sat in the chapel with my eyes blood-shot red from no sleep, the Lord showed me a river of amazing people – a beautiful group of 50 young people that were choosing to make a promise. A powerful promise. A promise to be chaste, obedient and faithful to our Lord.
Whoa, it hit me! There really is HOPE! I realized that New York really DOES have soldiers willing to swim against the current…. Oh, I wish I could show the world who each and every one of them are – for they inspire me to keep fighting! It’s NOT easy to live a chaste life in NYC….we are in (for better or worse!) the center of the world! These young people are the TRUE NY heroes!!!
But….back to the story….and MAN was I tired! (Yes, I am a complainer…. but I promise I’m trying to work on it!) It was around 10am and my honey-bunny came up to me and said “So baby, I offered to help set up the church and basement back in the bronx, so get your stuff ‘cuz we’re leaving in 20minutes…”
I looked at him with this – are you freaking KIDDING me – kind of face and said “What?!” But he repeated it…. I replied, “Babe, I’m EXHAUSTED, I don’t want to put up chairs…. ” and he said with his calm attitude – “Honey, let’s just offer it up!”
So I rolled my eyes and whipped my hair (the way I always do) saying “fine” but thinking to myself “Ohhhh sweet(and sometimes sour) submission”. And we headed back to NYC.
I got in the back seat, we said a prayer and drove off…… and there we were driving from NJ to ” Da South Bronx“…..and yet my heart felt very warm, but I did not understand why…..
Then we made it to the Bronx at St. Crispin’s Friary, down to set up tables in the basement and before we knew it, it was done! Ohhhh what JOY and “Hallelujah” that came out of my mouth! I yelled out – “Yes! I have time to take a nap. I am SO tired!” (but I promise I wasn’t complaining!)……or NOT!
Mr. Andrew(trying to be all sneaky) told us that he got a call to intercede for the youth/young adults that were on their way back from New Jersey… So of course Andrew and I volunteered to go up to the small chapel that the CFR’s have in their youth center. (A few floors above the basement we were setting up)
Ohhh my heart!….This was the SAME chapel where for so many days I cried my heart-out to my Beloved Jesus…… and now my Beloved Andrew and I together knelt before the ONE Love our hearts longed for……
My heart raced so rapidly as we both prayed together for all of the young people on the retreat…..and then Andrew praised the Lord for me…and all of the sudden, He gently stood me up as he looked deeply into my soul and he spoke gentle but very manly words of wisdom and LOVE that pierced straight to my heart, affirming me that I was/am loved. Then he knelt down on one knee to genuflect to Our Lord and then to me, while the words that I had always dreamed of, came out of his mouth begging ” Cristina, will you marry me?”
And then everything FROZE. For that very moment I had a flashback of my entire life…And finally it ALL made sense. This was not a fantasy.. I realized “This is real!” How I Praised Him, Our Lord, as I looked at Him through Andrew’s eyes!!!
I was in shock and answered him hysterically laughing, “Yes!! You had me at hello!!”
Oh, if I could only describe all that went through my mind and heart at that very moment!
After a while, we stepped out of the chapel continuing to hug and laugh… when all of the sudden, someone started singing a song to Our Lady as they came up the stairs (It was 12PM – the Angelus hour) What a beautiful song it was!!! As the voice grew closer and closer we realized that it was our dear friend Fr. Stan Fortuna!
He was the first to see us after we got engaged, and he asked us to give us our first blessing! As he prayed for us, he left us the words “That your YES to this ring and to each other in marriage be a YES to Our Lord. That through that Yes, you may say NO to the evil one!”
And now the countdown till the “two become one flesh”!!!
“Yes….I’m uhh…..here to buy a ring”
I would have NEVER thought that buying an engagement ring would be so complicated. I mean….expensive I can understand, but something I had to study?! Get out of here!
When Cristina and I started to really sit down and talk about marriage, (when/where/how) the engagement ring “topic” was something that came up on a daily basis. Actually, a few times a day if I remember correctly. I think it all started because I mentioned to Cristina “So babe….let’s say you were to get the engagement ring of your dreams….what would that look like?”
WARNING : Men! When women say that (Insert ANYthing here) is something they’ve “dreamed of since they were a little girl”, BELIEVE IT!
So the ring. No more than a day later – Cristina shows up to work with a packet of 50+ pages printed out about “How to find the best diamond”. Yea that’s right, I said diamond not ring, you can’t graduate to ring until you’ve learned the basics on how to find the right diamond. But don’t worry! There are plenty of low-interest rate loans for picking out diamonds!
I guess my point is that women are very complex….much more than we men can imagine. That’s not to say that we aren’t like that ourselves, but in general, when we want something – we go for it. So, being a man, even after we studied most of the engagement ring guide, I was still ready to go get the first one that I saw that I even half-way liked!
Cristina may be very complex, but within the depths of her being she is still very simple. After talking for a few weeks about different ring styles, # of diamonds, size and cost, she came to the conclusion that whatever it was it needed to be beautiful yet simple. Cristina is the Daughter of a King – and therefore deserved something beautiful….but we both knew that we had a budget. Also, in her heart-of-hearts, Cristina knew that she couldn’t desire something so expensive, for all she could think of was her missionary family in Honduras that could do so much with that kind of money.(This sensitivity and desire to be simple is one of the many things that I LOVE about my wife-to-be)
This was the one that I ended up getting. She loved it!
Once I had that complicated part of it out of the way, I had to come up with some way of proposing to her.
Cristina always nags me because she says that I don’t know how to surprise her….that I always end up getting to excited and giving the surprise away to her. So I was motivated to keep this one. I thought, “If I’m gonna successfully surprise her only ONCE in her life….this is gonna be it!”
A couple weeks before Christmas and we were finishing up a chastity/formation retreat with Corazon Puro out in New Jersey. I knew I wanted to propose that weekend and I was ready for every opportunity that could have presented itself…..
The last day of the retreat, I volunteered us to go help set up back in the Bronx for the big chastity commitment ceremony. Needless to say, Cristina was tired and not too happy about that….but I knew that this was my last chance to do it! I made a story up (I wasn’t lying…) about needing to go up to the chapel to intercede for all of the young people preparing to choose their chastity rings and to join the battle for their souls. After a little convincing, Cristina and I found ourselves in the very same small chapel that we had BOTH prayed in so many years before. (before we even knew each other)
While we were praying….I gently lifted Cristina up and whispered to her the very reasons why I would be honored and blessed to have her as my wife and to serve Our Lord together. I then got on my knees in genuflection towards the Tabernacle and then again to my beloved wife-to-be as I asked her hand in marriage.
As a man – this was the moment I had been waiting for! After fighting so many demons in and around me, I was finally at the castle, with the RING that I had to search so hard for (all of that studying was now worth it, I told myself!) – rescuing the one that I loved.
God’s timing is always better than our own! Because I never had an opportunity to ask her earlier that weekend, I was able to propose right before the young adults were returning to the Bronx to choose their own rings!
As the Holy Mass ended and Father Agustino placed a ring on each of the newly committed, he had a special announcement to make. “Not only did each of you receive a ring today that signifies the battle you are entering, but someone else here received a very special ring.” At that moment, with the Church packed with youth and parents, Cristina and I stepped up and announced that we were engaged.
With tears in her eyes, Cristina announced to all of the young women – “You CAN do it! It IS POSSIBLE and there ARE real men out there!” as if she was giving out this huge -sigh- of relief, like a racer who barely collapses at the end of the marathon.
Now begins the next stage of our courtship…..to help BREAK CHAINS of slavery from our pasts, and by being a TRUE man, playing a part of Cristina’s healing.
THIS is why we are writing this, and why we are even sharing our story. The plans of the Lord ARE real. Only in Him will we find true freedom from the slavery of this world!