There is a framed picture that I keep in my bedroom of Darren and I perched high atop a rocky formation in the mountains, immortalized in a reckless embrace, photographed by my brother during a brief respite on one of the many hiking excursions we so enjoyed while we were dating. Young and in love, the sky was our limit, and we had lofty hopes and aspirations of a fairy tale life together...
Darren was thirty and I a mere nineteen years old when we first met at the university we both attended. I was a sophomore, still living at home with my parents, very active in the Catholic community, and had never been involved in a serious romance. Darren was a "non-traditional" student, having recently been discharged from the army after seven years of service (four of which were spent in Germany). He was divorced. And an atheist. And was, to this small town girl, deliciously sophisticated!
To some we seemed doomed for disaster. We were, however, inexorably drawn to each other, and it wasn't long before we were absolutely, irrevocably, head-over-heels in Love. And because I cared so deeply for him, I was troubled greatly by his thoughts on God. There has never been a time in my life when I didn't know God, and certainly I had never wavered in my belief. I desired, with all my heart, for Darren to know the love and peace that comes with believing, and trusting, and knowing God. Often we talked about our different beliefs. There came a point where, despite being a "cradle Catholic", I just didn't feel I had adequate answers or arguments to rebut his interrogations. So I began inviting him to Mass with me. He came, week after week, to the Life Teen Mass at which I was involved as a member of the Core Team. And then, after continued prayer and conversation, we began attending RCIA meetings together at my church, where he had the opportunity to learn even more about the faith he knew was so important to me, and which was beginning to mean more to him, too. His change of heart was gradual. It came with much prayer, many tears, intense periods of doubt and longing, but ultimately culminated with his full reception into the Church at Easter, 1998. He was radiant, transformed by Christ, and I had never loved him more.
As the season of Lent approaches once again, I've been reflecting on how far Darren has come in his spiritual journey...and how far I, along for the ride, have come as well. In the nearly nine years since Darren joined the Church, he has proved himself time and again to be truly devoted to knowing and serving our Lord. The man who once insisted that he didn't want children is the most incredible father to our precious children. He's a better husband than I deserve. He loves us and guides us and strives always to prayerfully discern God's calling for our family.
We really are living our happily ever after, but the sky is no longer our limit. We're working together now towards a destination much further, above and beyond, where we hope to enjoy an eternal reward long after we've passed through the beautiful light of this life.