This is the last installment of our "How We Met" series. We recommend that if you haven't read parts one, two, and three yet, you should start there (we've linked them if you just click on the number part you're looking for). And if you have have read them, and maybe you have the time and want to see how God intelligently knit things together and brought everything back full circle for us, we suggest you refresh your memory by also reading those earlier posts before you start this last one.
Ever since the night that Dalton and I spent all evening driving and talking, I could picture him as my husband. Never before had I ever been so comfortable with someone outside of my immediate family.
In the years that make up our youth, we get a lot of advice about how to recognize someone as "the one." I'm not sure how useful all of this marriage advice we receive is, particularly the phrase "you'll just know," but I would like to point out one specific thing that helped me to realize Dalton was the person I wanted to marry.
Kath and I were living together with our roommate Jessie (shoutout- miss those days of popcorn and wine and The Office) while we were dating Jonathan and Dalton. In previous relationships, I had always rushed home before a visit from a boyfriend- to shower, straighten/curl my hair, tidy everything in the house, make sure there was nothing about myself or my living situation which might cause him to stop liking me.
I never wondered if Dalton would stop liking me. He was perfectly clear about his intentions all along, and I knew that his affection for me went beyond whether my hair was perfect or there were dishes in the sink. I think part of me always wondered whether my need to be perfect was my own compulsion or a symptom of just being with the wrong person, and after I met Dalton, I was certain that finally, I had found someone I would never have to wonder about. I had a hard day at work and needed to cry, and he loved me. I came back from a run looking like a sprouted beet, and he loved me. I was hangry- he loved me. I had PMS- he loved me. I was mad at him about something that wasn't even his fault, and he -patiently, kindly- pointed out that I was taking out my frustration about something silly on him. And he loved me, without fail. I still fight to keep our house clean and my hair looking decent, but I know that when life gets crazy and I inevitably fail, I have a man who will love me always. Sister, that's how you know.
When I realized that, my heart was spoken for. The finding of my St. Joseph list was magical, but it had nothing on what was actually happening in our blossoming relationship. Dalton exhibited increasing levels of maturity and wisdom. I forgot our age difference. "I hadn't loved him as long perhaps, but now I loved him equally well, or better."
(That part is from one of my favorite books. I couldn't resist.)
We never discussed getting engaged in any certain terms, even though there was always an understanding between us that we were dating with intention of marrying. One day, I got a phone call from Jonathan Finney. "Oh look, it's Jonathan," I announced to Kath and Jessie. "I wonder why he's calling."
He was calling to find out what kind of engagement ring Kath might want. Kath looked up at me briefly as I took the phone call to my car. I couldn't believe this was happening. I was a frenzy of mixed emotions. Mainly, I was thrilled, because THIS IS WHAT I WAS TRAINED FOR. Kath and I had given each other exacting ring instructions in case of this very event. I was somewhat nervous about what Kath's response would be. There was also a little disappointment that my younger sister would be getting engaged before me- I always liked to be the first to do everything so that I could confidently dispense advice to her afterward. On top of all of those feelings was extreme annoyance at Kath as she opened the door to the apartment, saw me in my car, and narrowed her eyes suspiciously at me.
"What was that about?" she demanded when I came back inside.
"Nothing. He had a question about breastfeeding for one of his patients."
"One of his rehab patients? You're lying," she said. "I know what you were talking about." She did.
I told Dalton that Jonathan was going to propose, and he seemed slightly surprised but otherwise unfazed. "Do you know when?" he asked casually.
I did know- he was going to propose on JPII's feast day. I felt my excitement growing as the day approached. I went with Jonathan to choose the diamond and to lunch to discuss his plans. My birthday was on Sunday, October 19th, three days before Jonathan's planned proposal. Dalton and I made plans to go to Mass at St. Joseph's Church since the 19th was also our seven month anniversary (we started dating on St. Joseph's feast day, March 19). On the way to Mass, something was weird about Dalton. He would laugh normally, but then abruptly stop. He seemed distracted. When we got out of the car at the church, it was chilly. I was wearing short sleeves, so I looked at Dalton's suit jacket. "Are you going to wear that?"
"Yes." He quickly shrugged it on.
Now THIS was weird. Dalton is always warm, but even if he were freezing, he would give his jacket to me if I wanted it. I glanced at the pockets. My heart started pounding.
During Mass, I had trouble focusing. "I'm not ready," I thought. I had waited my whole life for what may or may not be about to happen, and I felt scared. "It won't be just us anymore," I prayed during Communion. "Jesus, it won't be just you and I anymore. I don't want that." Maybe I should be a religious sister after all?
Immediately, the consolation came, and tears (which I think I successfully hid from Dalton) with it. The three of us would be a team. We would be stronger together. Then I started to imagine all of the moments in life when Dalton and I may disappoint each other. Jesus would always be there, waiting for me to run to him. No matter how wonderful my marriage might be, he was the only one who would never disappoint me.
Dalton suggested we go pray by the St. Joseph statue together after Mass. I looked over and saw red roses on the kneeler. That's when I knew for sure. We knelt down, we prayed, I read a letter from Dalton, he proposed. His brother, who had been hiding during Mass the whole time, took pictures. Dalton looked at me after and asked what I wanted to do.
"Let's go get coffee." We did.
We later took our engagement pictures at that coffee shop. We got married at St. Joseph Church a little over a year later. “A Place Only You Can Go” was our first dance. We went to Disney World for our honeymoon. We named our first baby Patrick Joseph. Clearly, we’re into nostalgia.
As a little girl, I knew with fervent certainty that I was going to meet my future husband in Disney World. He is not Rupert Grint. He is so much better. God knows me, and he took even this small, silly detail from my childhood prayers for my vocation and transformed it into something true and beautiful. I like to think about this little mustard seed even now, whenever I pray for something that seems impossible.
“Delight yourself in the Lord: and he will give you the desires of your heart.” - Psalm 37:4
Gen got engaged on her birthday, October 19th. Before that point, Jonathan and I had talked about the possibility of getting engaged, and we both agreed early on that we felt as though we had found the “right person” in each other.
But after Gen got engaged, it felt like life was getting too real too fast. It’s hard to really express how I was feeling when she got engaged. I was absolutely thrilled for her; I love Dalton and knew he was absolutely her perfect match, and I knew that Gen was more ready than ever for this step in her life. But it still hit me really hard - we aren’t kids anymore. And one of us is getting married.
I had thought about our futures and possible weddings for years leading up to this point. And here it was, and all of a sudden I felt scared. I felt totally not ready for marriage, not ready to make this huge commitment, and all of a sudden the thoughts and memories of discerning religious life came flooding back to me in a roaring panic.
The night Gen got engaged, I sat down with my her and our roommate (Jessie) and told them how scared I was, that I wasn’t sure I was even called to marriage. (Side note: my engagement ring was hidden in Jessie’s dresser drawer at the time, and they both knew full well that Jonathan was preparing for a proposal.) They listened to me, told me not to stress and not to expect a proposal because Jonathan wouldn’t propose unless he knew I was ready. They also advised me to tell Jonathan how I was feeling. (Translation: they were PANICKING and freaking out and were putting on a reeeeeally good act of calm, cool, and collected for me.)
I remember that night so well. I was sitting in my room with Jonathan and crying, telling him how happy I was for Gen but how not ready I felt for that step. He sat and listened. He held me. He comforted me. And then he told me what he was thinking.
He never told me he was planning on proposing (three days later, mind you). He just asked, “How do you feel when you’re with me?” My response, “So happy. So free and so much more myself than I’ve ever felt.” He told me from there that those feelings, that freedom, that peace is what God wants for us. And he asked me what I felt about religious life. I couldn’t say I felt that same freedom and joy when I imagined myself without Jonathan.
I should mention here that Jonathan was formed under the Ignatian spirituality, where discernment is very practical, easy, and straightforward. I was not formed like that. For me up until that point, discernment was very heady, very stressful and full of abstracts, waiting for signs and wanting God to just speak words to me in prayer to answer all of my questions.
So when Jonathan told me that it doesn’t have to be complicated, that God is actually on my side and wants me to be really happy, I felt freedom in discernment for the first time probably ever in my life. And I felt so much lighter and able to move forward to the next step in our relationship. Let me be clear: Jonathan in no way forced me to stay with him. In fact, he told me that if I wanted to leave then and there to join a convent, he would support me 100 percent. And I know he meant it. But his words about God’s love to me were so anointed, so appropriate for my particular heart that I knew it was God speaking to me through him. And it was then that I decided that for the rest of my life, whenever I’m afraid, whenever I’m discerning something, whenever I needed reminders of God’s faithfulness, I wanted Jonathan by my side to be the one speaking those words to me. I wanted him to be the one to lead me to God.
So, three days later (CRAZY, I know), on the feast of John Paul II, Jonathan proposed. Here’s how it happened:
A few weeks prior, I received an email from the young adult events coordinator for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, inviting everyone to a holy hour at St. Louis Cathedral in honor of John Paul II (who visited that same cathedral in the 80s). There was to be a reception at the cathedral rectory afterwards. So when I got the email and saw that first it was an event in honor of JPII (one of my favorites) and that there would be adoration and food afterwards, I was already ready to go. I forwarded Jonathan the email about 3 minutes after I received it.
Fast forward to the night of Gen’s engagement (October 19th). Jonathan and I were looking forward to the JPII event that Wednesday (the 22nd), and he mentioned it as I was getting in my car and about to leave to go back to my apartment. He told me we should dress up for that event. “We’ll get a cocktail in the French Quarter and really celebrate the feast day,” he said. That’s when I started getting suspicious (cue conversation with Gen and Jessie with me freaking out about my future).
At the time I worked at J. Crew on Wednesdays, and Jonathan had called to ask them not to schedule me that Wednesday the 22nd (JPII’s feast day and the day of this alleged young adult event). I started to get really suspicious after the “dressing up” comment and when I realized I randomly wasn’t working on this Wednesday when we’re supposed to be dressing up, I started to do some serious research. I snuck onto Gen’s and Jessie’s computers to see if they had received the email about the young adult event as well. Because if they hadn’t (and they had been on the mailing list so they would have if it were an actual event), I would know it was a setup for a proposal. But that only ended up confusing me and not confirming my suspicious, because I did see the email in both of their inboxes (Jonathan had gotten the young adult coordinator to send me and all of my close friends a fake email so that in case I got suspicious, I’d know the email wasn’t just sent to me. Y’all, he thought of everything.)
Then on the morning of the 22nd, I called Jonathan and wanted to test him. I said, “Do we really have to dress up tonight? I don’t want to be the only ones looking fancy at this thing.” I just wanted to hear his reaction, which was not what I anticipated. He said, “No, we don’t have to dress up. I just thought it would be nice.” Then I was ticked off. Because now all of a sudden I’m not so sure he’s going to propose (and at this point I was ready for him to propose!) (Side note: Gen tipped him off that I was suspicious, so he was playing it super cool so I wouldn’t find out.)
That night he came to pick me up and I stubbornly didn’t do my hair or put on makeup. I also almost wore this really frumpy brown outfit but when I saw that Jonathan looked nice, I decided to change into a dress. But it definitely wasn’t going to be my prettiest dress (since he basically told me he wasn’t proposing, so I wanted to stick it to him - I’m literally five years old). But just in case this was the night, I put on the dress I wore on our first date.
We got to the cathedral at the start of the “event,” and there was no one else walking in with us, which was the first indication to me that the “event” I was about to go to was not the same type of event I read about when I initially received that email. When we got into the cathedral, I could hear chant playing in the background - not too suspicious, since it could have been pre-holy hour. But then Jonathan stopped in front of the statue of St. Therese in the narthex of the cathedral, and he told me we should pray in front of her statue. This was weird to me, because we never stopped and prayed in front of St. Therese in any church. Like, we like her, but she’s not one of the people we just stop in our tracks for. And when he prayed, I could feel his hands and hear his voice shaking. It made my heart start to race.
When we walked into the church, no one was there. There were two kneelers on the steps leading to the altar, and I could see flowers on the ground and a letter on top of the left kneeler. I was shaking. This was it, I thought. As we walked down the aisle together, I prayed that Jesus would give me peace and that I would do only what he would want for me.
When we got to the kneelers, Jonathan had me read the letter. I honestly couldn’t read it; it was such a sweet thing that he did, but I was so nervous that I just pretended to read and skimmed it. (I did actually read it later, and it is, of course, such a lovely and meaningful letter.) Then he was on his knee. He asked me to marry him, I said yes, and then we knelt down to pray. Jonathan’s brother who’s a priest silently came in the church and without saying anything to us, in order to keep the intimacy and prayerfulness present, exposed the Eucharist for us. It was just what we needed during this monumental time in our lives. Having Jesus there to speak to and adore once we said yes to preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage was everything to me. I also couldn’t stop smiling and giggling during adoration. I don’t know what it was, but I felt overcome with joy and just had to laugh. Some might find this creepy, and maybe if I were watching it as a third party I might have wondered what was wrong with that future bride who couldn’t keep her ish together, but to me, it was nothing but pure joy.
When we left the cathedral, Jonathan told me that all of our close family and friends would be waiting for us at my apartment. It was such a wonderful night. We toasted, we took pictures, we marveled at my new bling, and we rejoiced, knowing that we had said yes to this new stage of our lives together.
It was a long and very, very emotional journey to that point, but I believe that God used every element of my vocation discernment and led me to Jonathan through those experiences. Through the fear, the heartbreak, the good and the bad, God led me to Jonathan, and I have never looked back since I made the decision to marry him.