The ordination was at 6 on Friday, but Jason was doing one of the readings, so we had to be there at 5. We headed back to the Isle late in the afternoon to shower off our sweaty city stroll and change clothes. I laughed to Jason that my whole body clock was thrown off without my toddler to take care of. I kept feeling odd all afternoon and realized I was subconsciously anxious about not being home to put him down for the 12 oclock nap. 😉
The Cathedral was quiet and so tranquil when we showed up.
I felt self-conscious sitting up in the front row while Jason practiced the reading. Nearly everyone at Renaurd’s ordination would have been at Jason’s the year before that it would have been. Many of the other seminarians and priests had never met me, and had barely seen Jason since he left seminary. And it had disappointed a lot of people when he left because he really was such a catch. He was handsome, smart, the kind of guy you felt could’ve done anything with his life – and it was beautiful to witness a guy like that willing to give up everything to imitate Christ in serving the Church so selflessly. I remember myself feeling disappointed and sad for him when he had finally discerned the priesthood was just not his calling and left seminary!
What may be difficult for observing eyes to believe, since we began dating a scandalous 2 weeks after he left seminary… Jason and I had never had any kind of mutual “thing” in the years that I knew him before he left seminary. Never led each other on, never intimated to the other that there was the slightest potential of something happening. I had just… loved him. Unrequitedly, unflirtatiously, pretty much unconsciously of just how strong and deep my love for him was. He was so handsome, so strong, so disciplined and good. Everyone loved Jason. Our whole parish was so proud of him, so supportive of his sacrifice and his dedication to serve God. Over the years of knowing him, from the time I was 15, he had earned a special place in my heart that no other guy had ever held. He made me totally comfortable, he was never inappropriate, and yet his friendship was so kind and so genuine, and I felt protected by the boundaries that we both held to. There was this unspoken caution on both our parts never to cross any lines of intimacy.
One time, at the ripe old age of 18, I shyly asked Jason if, whenever I got married someday, assuming he was already an ordained priest by that time, if he would “marry me”. The words fell out of my mouth SO accidentally and awkwardly. I stuttered an explanation of “officiate the ceremony”, but I distinctly remembered he smiled and looked somewhat frustrated at the same time. Oh crap, I thought. I crossed a line – he probably thinks so much less of me! Jason told me later his exact thoughts were, No way she can just marry some other guy. She has to be a nun.
And I did actually really think I’d be a nun. I spent a good two years seriously discerning it. I went on several retreats at two beautiful convents. It is a truly romantic vocation – to give of yourself completely for Christ and for the Church. The nuns of today are hardly the unattractive old women with mancuts, pantsuits and a little pin announcing their nunhood. The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, for instance, are these radiantly glowing young women in white robes, true “brides of Christ”. But the answer came back clearly the summer before my Junior year of college: No. I was definitely called to marriage. Dating was a whole other story though. After more than a couple very-bad, no-good awkward experiences, I was beginning to wonder if I was the one with the problem. It took some soul searching. When I finally reflected on my romantic life as a whole (or really, lack thereof), there was one guy that jumped out in my mind as proof that I wasn’t just impossible to please. Jason Oakes. I thought, “Ok. I’m not crazy… If I can just meet a guy like Jason, I can be in love for the rest of my life and be happily married. So this is good. Now I know what it is I’m looking for. That’s probably why God put him in my life – to prepare me for a guy like him!”
A week after this private “revelation” of mine, Jason called my dad to say that after 3 years of seminary, and a whole lot of painful discernment, he had finally accepted that the priesthood wasn’t his calling. Upon being relayed this news by my ignorant parents, I experienced two swift emotional reactions. The first was panic. My heart would absolutely tear in two if I had to watch Jason fall in love with and marry some random girl. No one could be good enough for him! And he would never ever think of me that way – I’d always been like his little sister. There was no possibility in my mind that he had looked at me that way, ever. That is a testament to just how pure he was with me in our friendship, how carefully he protected my heart from ever knowing the special place I held in his. He would never have led me on, never have disrespected me with any kind of flirtation while he thought he was called to the priesthood. My second immediate reaction was sadness for him. He would have made such a wonderful priest. He was such a catch. And I could never begin to imagine him just sitting by himself in the pew at church, when he’d been up on the altar in his handsome altar robes ever since I’d met him 6 years before.
Despite a scheduling conflict and no gas money, I drove down to Greenville last minute because I wanted to see him at Mass that Sunday that he came back… I wanted to be able to look him in the eyes and smile and somehow make sure he knew everyone still loved him and was proud of him and wouldn’t drop him. I felt so shy giving him a hug after Mass in the courtyard. It was odd seeing him in a suit and tie – though he pulls that off like no other man. Its all in his manly broad shoulders. 😉
I didn’t get a chance to really say anything that I had wanted to say – everyone was crowding around him. I heard him get invited to someone else’s house for lunch, and so, realizing he was totally bombarded, I just made a flash of brief eye contact with him, smiled brightly and turned to leave. I fought tears as I walked back to the car. What place could I really have in his life now? I imagined him getting married to some random girl – in which case there would be no longer be an appropriate place in his life for a “little sister” who had never actually been his sister. I’d barely get to feel like his friend anymore. [Now everyone can get a glimpse into my over-thinking, over-imaginative brain in overdrive].
I was halfway across the church school’s soccer field to the car when he was by my side, out of breath from running to catch up with me. Instantly, all the tears I was swallowing were replaced by pure happiness and a racing heartbeat. He made some excuse for wanting to rush over to say hi. I expressed to him that we were all so proud of him, that it was amazing that he gave the priesthood such a shot, and that God must have a better plan. Then I invited him to come up to the Abbey for a Dave Barnes concert that my good friend was opening for the next weekend. I remember being shocked when he said he would definitely come.
The rest is, for now, history. We each found decent excuses to talk on the phone for hours in the next two weeks – and he sat next to me the entire concert, though I could barely look at him I was so nervous and in total denial that any of this meant anything.
We were like two magnets. I do truly believe we were created for one another.
Excuse our yellow faces – lighting in the reception hall at the Cathedral.
I felt nervous and more than a little self-conscious meeting so many people at this ordination – priests, seminarians and parishioners – who had also loved Jason as a seminarian and undoubtedly been sorry when he left. Gosh he would have made a good priest! The same qualities make him an unbelievable husband and father. He sacrifices so much for me and for our children. The same intense passion that made him pursue such an extreme vocation as the priesthood [and without an escape plan, either; he really was going to do it] make him a devoted and irresistible lover and husband. And friend. When we started dating and Jason was totally and completely broke living down in Charleston, delivering water bottles (which is a really physically taxing job), I couldn’t keep him from driving up to see me in Charlotte or Greenville every single weekend. The gas is one thing – the time is another! He would be exhausted from working a long and draining day on Friday, and get in the car to coming speeding up to see me at 6 o’clock in the evening – stretching his time out with me as long as possible, often not getting back to Charleston til long past midnight Sundays, ready to get up again at 5 Monday morning to get back to work. Such devotion blew me away. It still does.
Of course he isn’t perfect – he is totally human! – and I actually wouldn’t feel like our marriage was healthy if we didn’t bicker and get into silly tiffs; I believe that’s a sign of mutual respect and the desire to truly communicate rather than not even giving each other a chance. But I am his and this knowledge still gives me happy goosebumps of disbelief. I can’t get over how blessed I am, even after almost 5 years of being pursued with more passion and purpose than I could’ve ever imagine I’d be worthy of. I thank God daily for not calling Jason to the priesthood… for instead calling us to each other. For protecting our hearts for one another. For guiding us gently and irresistibly together, all in His perfect timing.
I was nervous Friday night for no reason, however. Whether or not they may have thought I had “stolen the lilies from God’s altar,” everyone was so lovely to me. And I experienced even more surges of adoration for my husband than usual seeing how everyone still just so deeply admires and respects him even now that he’s not set-apart by his pursuit of the priesthood.
The new Fr. Renaurd blew us away. Jason has known him since they were in high school, and I met Renaurd when he was 18. I can’t believe he is a priest on the one hand, but on the other he was so humble and natural, it was a perfect, perfect fit. It made sense. The ceremony was gorgeous. I cried, duh. And it gave me goosebumps receiving his first blessing.
The next morning, Fr. Renaurd offered his Mass of Thanksgiving at beautiful old Stella Maris, the tiny and breathtaking parish on Sullivan’s Island. Jason has spent a lot of time here, and my heart felt a familiar ache sitting there in the quiet morning, being surrounded by such hidden and powerful holiness. Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O God.
Jason and I spent the rest of the day back out by the beach, soaking in the glorious sunshine and each other’s company. I sat in the sand and couldn’t help praying that someday we could be out here for good. I love this place! It helps me see my husband with new eyes. It helps me feel close to my God. Maybe it will always just be my “Mt. Sinai” – the place God calls me to come up to periodically to refresh and renew my spirit before sending me back into the world to go about my own calling. But I sure hope not. We’re going back in a couple weeks (well, to Edisto which is about 20 minutes from Charleston in the opposite direction of Isle of Palms), and I am kind of counting the days.
My family moved about every 5 years due to my Dad’s work, and his father did the same before him, so the snobby Charlestonian love of their city and their culture and prideful suspicion of outsiders is so contrarily appealing to me. I’d never experienced this attachment to the “motherland” before.
Central Florida was a lot like Charlotte, actually… few people grew up there, everyone likes it alright but for many people its not quite the place they hold dearest in their hearts or anything. Its just where they ended up. Hardly romantic enough for me, you know… in case you couldn’t tell just how much romance I want in my daily life…
Meanwhile I was getting pictures of the Adventures of Will on his Big Boy Solo Trip. He went to the zoo for the first time (!) and I hormonally cried when I saw this:
Someone was spoiled rotten! He was in Toddler Heaven. He especially had a lot to tell me about the real live Yucky Nakes and Monkeys he got to see, in between me covering him with wild nonstop kisses upon our reunion Sunday morning.
Jason and I left Isle of Palms early Sunday, driving out enveloped by the most catch-your-breath-beautiful sunrise I have seen in ages.
The pictures can’t begin to capture it. It was the perfect parting gift from this most romantic place on earth.
My Babymoon gave me such waves of nostalgia for my husband… from back when he was an adorable seminarian altar-serving at St. Mary’s, giving me sage older-brotherly advice and always making me feel respected even as I totally looked up to him in his set-apartness and dedication. This Babymoon and the ordination made me step back and see him with such renewed pride and admiration. It made me realize afresh how deeply grateful I am that, thanks only to the grace and persistent urging of God, he is the love of my life and not the amazing priest he was set on the track to becoming.
Its a pretty good realization to have right before I have to deliver his second son through much blood, sweat and tears. Point of Babymoon, check.