Saturday, September 27, 2008

All my life, I dreamed it in my head. Once, the whole thing unfolded on a beach, the waves lapping at the shore. Another time, the event occurred in a five-star restaurant, while everyone looked on. Slowly as I grew, the location became secluded, quiet, just the two of us. In college, my imagination pictured the moment on a small bridge located off a rough path on my campus. Of course, when the man I fell in love with finally asked me to be his wife, the location could not have been more perfect: in a chapel, in front of God.

As he sank down to his knee and asked me to be his bride, a thousand thoughts crashed in my head at once: "Is this really happening?" combined with, "I've waited my whole life for this." and, finally, "Am I ready for this?" I said yes. My dreams were coming true.

Now that two months have passed, reality has begun to quickly set in. I have a giant list of things to do. Find a dress, decide on flowers, pick the music, the list goes on. I have a great many desires, as well. I want some new clothes for my Honeymoon, I'd like to replace some shoes that are worn. I really want a nice trousseau, complete with items any housewife would love. I yearn to tweak his home, to pick out bedsheets and shams, curtains, and other items a bachelor's home lacks.

Suddenly, though, I have been overcome by a much different desire. Immaterial and almost inexplicable, this is by far the strongest one I've had since he gently placed a ring on my finger. Recently, I have been stunned into silence by this man. As my life takes directions I hadn't planned, Richard has stood strong. Always affirming and praying, he's held me as my world spins out of control numerous times. Humble and gentle, he's full of advice when I want help and exudes patience as I irrationally spout my fears and worries. This man is my hero.

I have a strong and ardent desire to be the best I can for him. More than the spoons and rugs I want for his kitchen, more than the daisies and cake I hope are at my wedding, I want to humble myself before him everyday for the rest of my life. Never have I met a man for whom I've wanted to scrub his floors and massage his feet. I wish to be the serving wife, the quiet mother, the constant best friend.

In college, I vowed no man would stand in the way of my hopes and dreams. As I watched girls seemingly put their dreams on the shelf and follow a man, I told my friends that this would not happen to me. I would get my Master's and I would teach college and live in my own place. When I was ready, I would find a man and settle down. He could wait. Then, appropriately, reality hit me in the face like a train.

Now, I am preparing to spend the rest of my life with this insanely loving and gentle man. Honest, caring, selfless, he puts much of my spiritual life to shame. As it should be. I want to be to him what Mary was to humanity: a selfless, quiet, serving woman who daily martyrs herself for her family's salvation. I want fervently to use every moment, every word, every action to further Richard on his path to salvation. I must be ready for this immense vocation. I am reading voraciously marriage-prep books, praying for virtue, and cultivating my spiritual life. I want to be his Mary.

I adore this man. I wish that I could be what he is. I am humbled to watch him, honored to know him, and stunned by the vital vocation of aiding him to Heaven. I must be ready. This is my call. I am preparing for our life together. With all the tasks to complete before our wedding, all the household items we could register for, with all the new clothes and accessories I dream of, none of these hold a candle to my burning desire to be the best servant for him possible. Everyday, I pray I can stand up to the challenge, that I can daily die to self for love of him.

Lord, make of me a servant; help me to forget myself for sake of him. Aid me in being the best woman I can be. Guide me in becoming an image of Mary, ever selfless and humble in her service for her family. Please help me in fulfilling my vocation that, when you call us both to your home, we both may enter and praise you forever. Amen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Greater love than this no man hath,
that a man lay down his life for his friends." Jn 15:13

I remember once sitting in Mass at Christendom, my alma mater. Father Hiesler was giving the sermon. As a highly involved campus chaplain, Father always knew the current happenings on campus and tailored his sermons appropriately. I remember during this time that many girls were going through tough times with boys and vice versa; Spring Fever had hit. As such, he was preaching about dating and marriage. Speaking of women, he said that females should be ready to imitate Mary, loving and serving in a way that was completely emptying. For men, he advised they wait, until they were ready to spiritually die for thier loved ones. Men, he said, were ready to seriously date and marry when they had an ardent desire to place thier lives daily at the mercy of their family. Like Christ, men should be willing and ready to die spiritually and physicall for their family.

I remember many more things about Christendom. The campus, the snow, the camaraderie. I remember the president, the chaplains, the students. Faces, names of faculty and staff pictured clearly in my mind. I remember one man, quiet, steady, constant. He was always there, on campus, talking to the guys and chatting with the girls. He was at all the sporting events, smiling, encouraging, teaching. This man did not lecture in a classroom; he did not have an office in Coeli. Rather, at the back of the campus, in a small room in the gym, he inspired the young men and women to do their best on and off the soccer field and gym court. He developed an intimate relationship with each of his athletes, causing them to grow and become deeply committed and resolute in all areas of their lives. He gave his all in that office, each day. He spent each day spiritually dying for his athletes.

I remember something else about this man. As tough as he was, he had such a soft heart. Always at his side was his youngest son, disabled by Down's Syndrome. This man went everywhere with his son, letting him ramble around campus and make new friends. He always knew what his son was doing and where he was going. Oftentimes, when I was leaving workstudy, I would see these two, walking and talking as if there were nothing else in the world. Totally absorbed in his son, he would see me at the last second but always greet me with such kindness. I looked forward to seeing them on the way back to my dorm; he and his son always left me feeling better than before. I noticed his face was lit up each time his son was rattling about his thoughts. He loved his son dearly.

I was deeply saddened to hear the loss of this man on the Feast of Mary's Nativity. Diving into a septic tank without a second thought, he held his son up for twenty minutes, so as to save his life and in the process he lost his own. Leaving behind a large and greiving family, he also leaves behind other things, as well. Athletes both from Seton High School and Christendom College, whom he watched develop during the most critical time of their lives. He leaves behind his son, Josie, who was the apple of his eye. A college and high school mourn the loss of man who martyred himself daily.

But, more than that, Mr. VanderWoude left behind a legacy, woven with inspiration and humility. News stations have covered his life; newspapers writing lengthy articles on his kindness and love. This man lived his life for others and, in the fulfillment of who he was, he laid down his life for his family. He truly was the pinacle of fatherhood: giving his life spiritually to ot his children daily and, finally, dying to save his son's life. While many people grieve his sudden departure, Heaven rings out welcome for this Saint. A martyr, mirroring Christ, has come home to be with his own Heavenly Father.

Praise God for Thomas VanderWoude; glory to God for his complete selflessness. While we naturally mourn his loss, let all who knew him thank Christ. Thank Him for this gift of personified kindness, love, and strength. Thank Him for a living example of Christ's love. For all the sadness I feel at Mr. VanderWoude's death, I am astonished at what an amazing, Christ-like man I was gifted in knowing. Thanks be to God!

Eternal rest grant upon him, O Lord, and may the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Our Selfless Soldiers

My childhood memories are quite different from many people I know. Talking of their childhood, many of my friends speak of one house, one town, one life. Picket fences, gardens, and old trees exist in their memories. Names of long-time acquaintances roll easily off their tongues while thousands of memories dance simultaneously through their mind. My childhood was different. To date, I've lived in seventeen homes, resided in thirteen towns, and have lived many lives.

The colors brown and olive drab have always made me stand a little straighter; I still find myself listening at five o'clock for that bugle to warble through the air. When I enter grocery stores, I still reach down for my wallet. I feel right at home surrounded by large gates and barbed wire. An American flag waving in the wind still causes me to stop a moment and stare. Airport security and travel are second nature to me. Out of all my friends, I can pack a suitcase fastest: for a thirty day break from college, I was always ready to leave within half an hour. The majority of my language consists of acronyms and I still get the itch to leave every two years.

Despite the incessant moving and changing of scenery, there is one constancy burned in my memory. The PX's and Commissaries were only secondary to this monumental source of pride. As a child, I was almost constantly surrounded hundreds of men in military uniforms, supposedly creating a homogeneous effect. However, there was one man who, regardless of the weight he carried or the workload on his shoulders, walked a little straighter and a little more dedicated than those around him. He always valued every soldier as a person and extended respect to each one. This man always left an office full of women crying in the wake of his PCS's and unknowingly left an unsurpassable legacy behind him. Watching him operate always left me silently stunned. He spent 22 years as an Army Officer, a shining example to every soldier he worked with. And I had the honor of calling this amazing soldier, my father.

I am now grown up, but still find myself silently stunned by this man. As such, I have a profound and abiding respect and pride for the military. I now stand a little straighter at anything American. I try to thank every soldier I meet for his or her service in honor of our country. And God has now given me the honor of having another amazing soldier in my life.

Maybe this is why my blood runs cold when people, especially Catholics, criticize the military. In their minds, soldiers are "over-eager to go to war." Our service men and women are, supposedly, trained for war only. They are not at all capable of attaining and instituting peace. I was appalled recently when one young Catholic suggested we had made a mistake entering war, because maybe Iraqis were better off before Hussein was de-throned.

I understand and bear no hard feelings when people debate and disagree on the current war. I myself am not completely thrilled our soldiers are over fighting in such horrific conditions and risking their lives everyday. But, my patience ends when debate occurs over our soldiers.

After finishing twenty-three years as an Army Officer, my father retired and began working full time for the Veteran's Healthcare System, so he could "serve those he served with." Oftentimes, my family will go and join my father for lunch in the Canteen. Anyone questioning the price the service men and women pay should do the same. Men slowly moving along in wheelchairs without legs, women writhing in pain waiting patiently to see the doctor. Blindness, deafness, death.

These brave men and women leave so much behind to answer the call. Saying good-bye to their towns, homes, and families, they deploy from six months (Marines and Navy) to fifteen months (Army). And some, they never come home. I have to face this, as my fiancee is a Captain in the Army. I have to understand that I may lose the man God gave me before it's time. But, that is what God calls him to do.

Are my fiancee and father war-hungry? Not a chance. Rather, they heard the call to defend their country and it's freedom and risked all to do so. Are they killing machines, only trained to shoot people? No way. The two most inspirational, calm souls I have met are my father and my fiancee. Do they thrill at the chance to deploy? Absolutely not. That is where their selflessness lies. They don't do it because they want to, but because they are needed.

Thousands of men and women have perished in our Fight against Terrorism. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers. Some left behind babies and children. So, when my husband inevitably deploys, will I stand by happily and watch him go? No. I will feel as though my heart and soul are being ripped out of my body. But, I, too, will make my sacrifice as an Army wife. I will watch my soldier go. I will keep my home and family safe. And, God-willing, I will see my soldier come home. That is when my Captain will be eager. This is when I will be excited.

Whether or not you agree with the War, I ask you all to stand behind our troops. As Catholics, we are creatures of charity and love. Support these men and women who are fulfilling their God-given vocations. When you pass a blind or lame veteran while walking into Wal-Mart, do not look away. Stop, thank them for their service. They did not have to fight. They did not want to leave. But, they answered the call and kept our nation free. May God bless them for that.