I’m so glad my wedding day is over. Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful day. Perfectly imperfect. I could go on and on about details of the day: so many loved ones in the same room to support us and love on us, professing lifelong vows to my best friend. The list goes on. But what my husband Nick and I loved was the journey that it took to get there, and, even more importantly, that it was all preparation for our marriage. And now we get to enjoy the fruit of that labor: the vocation of marriage. Living regular, everyday life with a man who shares the same goal: to get us both to Heaven.
Now let’s back up eight years. I was 23 and living a worldly lifestyle. From the outside, my life seemed full and abundant, like I had it all together. I was working full time, dating a man, and practically living with him for over a year, and partying it up each weekend. My life seemed fun and exciting. But there was an ache in my heart, an emptiness all these worldly things could not fill. Deep down I knew I was missing Jesus, but I didn’t know how to get to Him.
The Lord sent me people who invited me to different young adult events. My sister gave me a book on the Theology of the Body. I learned that the Lord created man and woman for a love that is authentic and sacrificial. I realized that what I had with my boyfriend at the time was lustful and superficial. I didn’t know that I was created for more until that moment, and I decided that I didn’t want to settle for anything less.
It took me a few months, but I decided to break it off with my boyfriend. And man, was that painful. All I could do after the breakup was fall on my knees, cry, and tell Jesus, “This hurts”. But I knew the pain of losing Jesus and choosing the world over Him would ultimately be worse. It took some time to heal, but I could feel a new spirit within me prompting me to fall in love with Jesus and His Church. I started reading about the Church and asking holy people striving for sainthood questions on how to become authentically Catholic and live an abundant life for the Lord.
I couldn’t stop talking about Jesus, even with my friends who didn’t really have much of a faith. I told them how much I wanted to live my life for the Lord. Even so, I still had one foot in the door of the world and the other trying to live a Christian lifestyle. One of my best friends who wasn’t Catholic called me out on it. She said, “You know, Steph, you say you want to live your life for God, but the way you’re acting, talking, and dressing doesn’t really match up with that”. Dang. She was right, I wasn’t being authentic. But I wanted to be.
Sometime during that chapter of my life, I met another guy who was a charming sweet-talker and soon found myself in a relationship with him. Shortly after we started dating, we realized that we both were Christian and that it must be “meant to be”. We went down the fast track and got engaged quickly. Even when he proposed, I wasn’t excited. It was the weirdest thing. I thought, “I should be happy, right?” My then fiancé would talk about Jesus in one way and act the opposite, especially when it came to purity. He said that he wanted to wait to give himself fully to his wife in marriage, but then would behave in a completely different way. I was torn and confused. I did not feel peace at all. I felt called to break off that relationship, too. Deep down, I knew this man wouldn’t lead me to Heaven. When I did find the courage to end the engagement, a rush of peace and freedom came over me.
Man, was the Lord patient with me. I kept telling Him that I wanted to live my life for Him, but I wasn’t making a firm commitment. Something in the world would seem a little more glittery or charming than Him. My sister brought up being a missionary with NET a few times. She said, “Steph, you’ve been thinking about this for a while.” She was right. It had been in the back of my mind for two years, but I truly thought that I wasn’t good enough or holy enough to be a missionary. I decided to let the Lord set these lies straight. I decided that if NET would accept me, I would let the Lord turn my world upside down and teach me how to live fully for Him.
Seven months later, there I was, on the first full day of training at NET. It was the same exact day that would have been my wedding day with my ex-fiancé. This was the time I decided to let the Lord rewrite my story, from the habits that I had built up for so long to the lies that I had believed – that I wasn’t good enough, worthy enough, beautiful enough, you name it. Serving as a missionary for two years, and then on mission staff as a supervisor for two more years, the Lord untangled those lies and told me the truth:
You are my daughter.
I have loved you with an everlasting love.
I am proud of you.
My prayer as a missionary was to fall deeply in love with the Lord. And man, did He hear that prayer! I started praying every single day and immersed myself in Scripture. Daily Mass became the norm and regular monthly confession gave me strength to root out habitual sins. I also learned that being single was not a time to be selfish and do whatever I wanted, but a time to be a gift to others, to serve all those that surrounded me. The Lord was slowly transforming my heart to be more like His. My time as a missionary rocked my world. It set a solid foundation for the rest of my life and taught me to put the Lord first.
Speaking of putting the Lord first, that was a must-have on my list for my future hubby. Others included: humility, a good work ethic, a deep love for his family, and a desire to serve. Fast forward to early 2017 when that man appeared in my life (via Catholic Match – who knew I’d find him on the internet?! Super unexpected!). Insert Nick. When we were first dating, Nick asked me what I was looking for in a guy, and I started listing out those traits. In my head, I was thinking, “You have that, yep, that too, and that, oh wow, you have everything I’m listing off. I would be a fool if I didn’t keep dating this man!”
Nick quickly became my best friend, after Jesus, of course, and time would just fly by with him. He reflected Jesus in the way He loved me and led me to a deeper relationship with the Lord. I could be completely myself around him and know that I was known and loved, which is the deepest desire of every human heart. Don’t get me wrong, my hunny isn’t perfect (he’d definitely say the same thing about me!), but after all the past heartbreaks, it makes our relationship that much sweeter. It’s really freeing to find someone that you can show the weirdest part of your personality to and he’s not annoyed or weirded out. He delights in it and joins in on the weirdness. And he brings healing to my heart when my hair is a mess, I’m not wearing any makeup, I’m dressed in sweats, and he looks over at me and simply says, “You’re beautiful.”
I want to remind you that everything leading up to vocation matters. Even beyond that, everything leading up to Heaven matters. Waiting is a gift (Still learning that one!). It’s necessary. Everything, the good and the bad things, mattered and brought me to the Lord, who presented me with this beautiful vocation that will ultimately lead me in a deeper relationship with Him.
I’d like to end with some practical ways we prepared for marriage. Preparation. That was one of the most important parts of our engagement. A few key things that shaped our preparation included: a general confession, a 54 day novena, picking a patron saint to pray for us (Saint John Paul the Great!), surrounding ourselves with a wonderful community, and asking advice from those who have more wisdom than us to share how to have a solid marriage.
- General confession. A friend recommended a book called “The Whole-Life Confession: Four Weeks of Awakening to Mercy, Healing and Peace” by Rev. William M. Watson, S.J. We read this book for a month in preparation of giving a confession of our whole lives (Seems daunting, but it was beautiful!). We asked a holy priest friend to hear our confession (It took us each 45 minutes!). So much peace in all those healing tears we shed! Nick and I agree that this was one of our favorite parts of preparation.
- 54 day novena. Here’s a list of our intentions: 54 Day Novena. We prayed 27 days of petitions and 27 days of thanksgiving in expectant faith for answering those intentions. We had a few intentions for engagement and our wedding day, but we decided it would be most important to pray for our marriage, so that was the bulk of our petitions. We ended on a day that was really important to us: Divine Mercy Sunday.
- Beloved Series. This is on Formed, the Catholic version of Netflix. That’s some good stuff.
So there you have it, a bit of my journey so far and the preparation it took to get us there. These lyrics are come to mind from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “God blessed the broken road, that led me straight to you.” Know that I’m praying for you as your story unfolds, in whatever vocation the Lord is calling you, and wherever He has you right now.
P.S. Check out our wedding video below!