Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Story of Our Relationship, Part Two: Abroad in Austria

Where were we? M and I had just broken up after a crazy, intense beginning of our relationship. All of July and August I struggled to let go of him, because he was trying to figure out his vocation. Yet, every time I prayed about him I knew that there was something more for us. I felt deep inside that we were supposed to be together.

Behind the wall in Gaming, Austria.
In trying to remember that time, I recently reread my prayer journals from when were broken up, and I asked my mom why I had such a hard time letting go of M. Again and again in my journals I talked about how young and foolish I was, at just 19 years old. But somehow I felt that this was a crucial relationship in my life, and it turns out, it was.  My mom pointed out that I really did know, that God was showing me in my heart, that M and I were meant to be together, and that watching me that summer, she saw what was going on.

During that summer I decided that I should also revisit my own discernment of whether I was called to religious life. I prayed a lot about it, and eventually I spoke with a nun that I had known in high school. During the last conversation that I had with her, I came to the realization that while the call to be the bride of Christ was beautiful and wonderful and so, so attractive, it was not where I was being called. My heart was still being drawn to M, and I felt that it would never stop tending towards him. I was right.
The Kartause where we lived, studied, and prayed. Of all the places in Europe, this is one I'd love to be in again.
At the end of August I saw M for the first time after our break up. We were at Dulles International airport in Washington, D.C. And he claims that I was giving him longing looks, but I can tell you that he was giving me the same looks (accompanied by his brown eyes and long dark lashes). On the overnight flight to Vienna for our semester in Austria, I could not handle my desire to talk to him and tried to get him to talk to me. This is pretty much the story of most of our semester abroad: I could not handle my desire to just talk to him and tried desperately to not to. We traveled together in the same group of friends, snatched hours of conversations, gave each other longing looks, went for walks together. All the while I tried desperately to let go of him, and could not. 
We took a lot of pictures of each other.

But few of just us. So here we are in Spain.
I spent the semester praying a 56 day rosary novena for a number of intentions, but the biggest prayer breakthrough for me was when I realized that it was not a selfish thing to pray for M to finish discerning. I prayed that he would finally know one way or the other. I realized that it was not actually selfish for me to ask God to show M His will for M. I had been resisting, because I felt like it was selfish to want the discernment to be over.

This path around Gaming was a favorite haunt of ours together and separate.
It took nearly a whole semester of waiting, praying, and trying to overcome my attraction to him. A whole semester of traveling all over Europe, slipping off to take walks together, late night talks on overnight trains, praying at Masses in every language, and spending hours (separately) in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. As the weeks went by, it became slowly more clear to both of us that he was going to eventually ask me to date him again. (As far as everyone who was on Austria campus with us were concerned, we were definitely an item.) And for him the discernment of his vocation was not just to be a priest or not, but he already knew in his heart that if he discerned to date me again and to not pursue the priesthood, that we would eventually get married. For him, discerning the call to marriage was about the call to marry a particular person, and I suppose in the end it was the same for me. I did not settle on marriage as my calling until there was M in my life.

The most significant trip of our semester was when we went as a study abroad program to Rome. All of the students in Franciscan's Austria program went on a school sponsored 10 day visit to Rome and then Assisi. In Rome I finally worked on overcoming my desire to be next to him whenever possible. We would go on walking tours of the city and I would often stand next to M. Yet, I slowly stopped myself from doing that. I resisted. I also had several emotional meltdowns while praying in Rome (we went to daily Mass as a school and had daily prayer times). I cried a lot, and was so thankful for my good friends who supported me in my weepiness. A few days into the visit in Rome, I noticed that while I had not gone to stand by M on our walking tours, he was starting to stand by me. See the difference? He was seeking me out. Then we went to Assisi for a couple of days, and again I was successful in resisting my desire to be close to him; I even enjoyed spending time with other people and letting go of my anxiety about the waiting. I do not know why I found it so hard to wait.

The view from the hermitage outside of Assisi.
One of the days in Assisi, it was a chilly afternoon, we walked up a large hill to the place of the hermitage of St. Francis and his friars. I began walking alone, but M appeared next to me, walked beside me silently as we prayed our rosaries. He even carried my jacket for me when I became warm and took it off. When we reached the hermitage, we parted ways and wandered alone in the paths of the woods. I found another friend to walk down with, but I had again found some freedom from my desperate longing to be called his.

Thanksgiving was few weeks after our return from Rome and Assisi (which we did through the mountains in a snowstorm), and there was a Thanksgiving Ball after the dinner. A few days before the ball, M asked me if I would dance a most of the dances with him at the ball. I immediately said yes, seeing his desire as a good sign. Then I slowly realized that I did not want to just half be his partner at the ball, I wanted to either go with him or not dance with him at all. So, I went to his door, knocked on it and told him so. (I have never been subtle with guys I suppose.) And to my surprise, he immediately asked me to be his date for the ball, and I, in my astonishment, accepted him.

It snowed in the mountains the night we bussed back from Rome.
Then the ball was anticipated with much trepidation. Was he going to tell me his final decision there? Were we going to be officially a couple again? I put too much weight on what would happen at the ball leading up to it. During the ball, we stepped out to go on one of our evening walks around Gaming, and when he clearly did not ask me out again on that walk, I made a decision to just have fun with him there. We went back into the ball and just enjoyed being together, with a freedom we had not had together all semester. We were there as a date, so we could enjoy being together as on a date. And I realized that I was not over him, and he was not over me, but that we had been falling in love with each other again all along.

These are the very pines.
And then two days later, in due time, he took me on a morning walk. We walked one of our usual routes, rounded a bend, and under a row of tall pines, in the snow, he asked me to date him again. And of course I agreed to it.

We spent our last 20 days in Austria as an official couple, free to spend time together without fear of impeding M's discernment; he had chosen to pursue a relationship with me. We had chosen it together, and as we went back to American I joyfully anticipated our future together.

And I can't really stop here. I will have to tell you the rest another time.

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