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.