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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No Longer a Hopeless Romantic

I've watched, over the years, as many of my friends in high school and college got into relationships and, later, out of them. Some high school friends of mine remained together and married. Some college friends of mine did the same. But the large majority of them found someone, was with them for a few months or a few years, and then found out it wasn't going to work.
A relationship is a lot of work. It's an emotional investment, a physical one (the level of which is totally dependent on how both parties feel), and a time-consuming one. I wasn't ready for such an investment in high school or college, for multiple reasons -- whether that would be my lack of confidence due to how I was the fat guy or my own personal questions about my faith or my own personal demons, I just wasn't there.

I wasn't there when I lost the weight over two years ago. I wasn't there this time last year, even though I tried.

It wasn't for lack of wanting -- oh, I wanted plenty of things -- but I simply didn't understand fully what I was asking. There was a key cog that wasn't there or a neuron misfiring or a thought process that got hung up. Something was missing. I don't know what, but, whatever it was, it just simply didn't exist.

Up until this November I considered myself a hopeless romantic because of my past. A card carrying, lifelong member of a fraternity of fools who believed that love was more important than anything and that it would conquer all. That belief isn't wrong, but the hopeless part? That was wrong. That's the wrong starting point.

Let me explain. During that crazy month of November I was hired at the job I currently work at (seasonal job at Target with decent hours). I dated an intelligent, witty, cute girl who, by all statistical measurements, should have turned me down on the first date. But she didn't and, in a week's time, she taught me a lot.

And then she broke it off. But something she said to me, the night before she broke it off, has stuck with me since. She told me not to be a hopeless romantic but, rather, to be "hopeful." That didn't mean much to me then, but it stuck in my craw after the break up.

Since the break up, I've thrown myself into the Catechism and in that, one thing has been reaffirmed to me over and over and over.

God loves us and, with his love, there is always hope.

That's a tough truth to swallow for me, not because I find it inherently false but because I find it hard to believe that there's hope for me. Hope and I ... we don't get along well. I tend to hope for things but don't get them. I think this is a fallacy on my part as I'm mistaking "hope" for "want" and when I don't get what I want, I feel burned.

For a week, brief as it was, I had hope and it was an absolutely beautiful feeling. It was a feeling of warmth that I hadn't had in many, many years. I can honestly say that, for that week, I was happy. I had forgotten what happy was.

And, as I continue to read the Catechism and learn, I find that there's hope for me in Christ. Yes, it's a trite phrase, isn't it? Sounds like I'm reading out of a pamphlet but something was proven to me in that one week; there was hope for me.

I have become more convinced of this the more I read and learn about the faith I'm calling my own. I am the unofficial-official-converting-Catholic and I'm not going to be unofficial after this Easter. I will, officially, be Catholic.

Right now, my lessons in the Catechism are focusing on the sacraments and their applications to the lives of Catholics. The Catechism, up to this point, has put off diving into full explanations of the sacraments because there's a lot there that needs to be built up before you attempt to understand it.

But I'm there now and, quickly, an explanation of the one sacrament I want the most is approaching: the sacrament of Matrimony.

It's no secret that I firmly believe -- and want -- to be married one day. I think it's my vocation, I think it's what I'm called to do. Realizing that hasn't been hard -- figuring out how to do it has been the issue. And, for what it's worth, I think I have arrived at some conclusions.

Surprisingly, these conclusions seem to be supported by Catholic teachings.

1. There's no need to rush.

Catholicism -- and other faiths -- throw out this word. It's "discernment". In short, it's the process one uses to come to a decision, taking into account the spiritual side of things, as well as the practical side of things, and looking to the faith (and God) for an answer.

The point of dating is to find the one you're to be married to (which the cute girl I dated for a week in November pointed out as well). Well, if you're going to be dating someone you might marry, you should take time to consider it. By my nature I like to analyze (and overanalyze) things, so this isn't a problem for me. I waited a few weeks before asking the cute girl out and it turned out all right.

2. Don't obsess. 

This one is easier said than done for me. I like to obsess. I like to overanalyze because it's just how I work, so not obsessing is tough, but as my best friend recently pointed out to me, the best things are unexpected. The last few years of my life prove this and my brief dating relationship in November also proved this. I wasn't actively, obsessively looking for a relationship -- I didn't want to be in Alabama in the first place, I wanted to get out as soon as possible. Yet, I found a girl that I liked and she liked me back. And it was random.

3. Pray.

It's seems stupid, especially to the logical side of me. Offering up prayers to a God about something like this. This isn't a practice I've done for more than a few days now and, yes, it feels weird. It's not like God and I dish on relationship gossip -- he's all knowing and such, so why does he need me to tell him what's going on when he's got a pay-per-view feed into my life 24/7?

Yet, the Catechism has driven home in the last few lessons how important prayer is. And, through various articles and comments I've read from this website, the idea that I should be in prayer over this very important issue doesn't seem so foreign to me. I pray about other very important things in my life -- the health of those I care for, the strength to make good decisions, the state of my soul ... why not pray for my hypothetical-future-theoretical-wife?

"It's presumptuous, for one," you say. Okay, I don't disagree with that -- it presumes that I do have a wife out there, somewhere and, yes, it presumes that we'll find each other in this life. Lots of presumptions, I grant this.

But, BUT, if I'm right -- which, being that I've had it in my head since 10 that I should be married, I think I am -- shouldn't I be devoting some time to this?

Yes, it's crazy sounding. It's weird to think and to utter aloud. Part of me feels like it's really dumb, but when is prayer ever a bad idea? I have days when I think that my prayers do more harm than good, I admit that, but even my doubt has to give way to reality: the reality, as I was unexpectedly informed the other night by a friend, was that people are praying for me just as I pray for them.

I was told I was being prayed for. Not just by my friend, but my friends friends (whom happen to be priests) and by their friends. Strangers I don't know and have never met are praying for me.

If they can do that for me, I can do that for someone that may only exist hypothetically.

4. Be Honest.

I'm not good at romance, let's be frank. In the one week experience I had in November, I was forgiven a lot for my shortcomings in that department. But I didn't try to be suave or overly confident -- I was honest with her that I didn't know what I was doing and I was a complete noob (and, as we all know, being a noob sucks).

And you know what? She didn't hate me for it. In fact, I think it was a good choice even if part of me doubts that (the part of me that says, "If only you'd been better at the romantic stuff you'd still be together!" and some days that part of me is hard to shut up).

Honest is the best policy and it's hammered home, repeatedly in the Catechism and in various online sites, that honesty is very necessary for a good relationship. It's a virtue and, going forward, I'm going to strive to continue to grow that virtue. Maybe it'll result in failure and, if that's the case, so be it. I can fail as many times as I need to at this. It's important enough that multiple failures isn't a bad thing to me -- it's not a desirable thing, but it's not bad.

5. Take a Shot.

I took a shot with that girl and it worked. It shouldn't have worked. It shouldn't have done anything except result in failure but it worked and I'm just as shocked as the rest of the world that it did. It was a risky proposition, one that should have resulted in an immediate failure and, instead, it gave me something that I will cherish.

I'm risk averse by nature, so I needed proof. I got that proof. I'm fairly certain that was God's way of saying, "See, Zach? You can put yourself out there and have success, you just have to try." It won't always work, of course, but I needed a success here. I got one. I don't think it was a reward so much as a bit of evidence to prod me into being less of a coward.

It worked.

6. God Has to Come First

I saved the biggest one for last and that's for the simplest reason there is: God is the source of all love. He started it, it's all his doing, from beginning to end. He showed us the ultimate love and that truth has been abundant in my life of late. Heck, it's been abundant in my life since I hit the low-point of desperation over three years ago. Every day since it has been abundant, it has been abundant in the forgiveness others grant me, in the trust others place in me, and in the love that is shown for me.

And all that love starts with him. I lose track of that a lot. It's so easy to say, "Well, person-x loves me" when that capacity to love, that ability, is granted from God.

The Catholic faith is based on love. The Bible is a story about love. Not a love that we can comprehend, mind you -- we try, we put it into words, but our understanding of it is minimal at best. Our expressions of love in this mortal life pale in comparison to God's expression of love he showed for us from day one.

And, so, God has to be at the center of it all. He doesn't have to be in neon lights, shining down from the sky. Your car, bed, room, ect doesn't need to scream "GOD" in big, bold letters that shower sparks and glow in the dark.

God doesn't have to be loud. He doesn't need to be. He works just as well in the quiet corners of our life. He works on us, little by little, day after day. You need to acknowledge him, yes. You need to remember him, yes. You need to honor him, yes. You should do your best to do all these things, yes.

You will fail to do him justice, just as I will and every mortal being before or since, yes. And God will forgive us for that failure because he loves us. His forgiveness is infinite. It doesn't mean we should take advantage of it and go wild, but we shouldn't think we're doomed when we sin.

We sin all the time. It's, unfortunately, our nature.

And, even in a relationship, that has to be acknowledged. But, in the same breath, you have to acknowledge that God will forgive. His is the ultimate expression of love and, as human beings, we are commanded to model ourselves after that ultimate expression. We will fail more often than not.

We are commanded to get up and try again. We are commanded to love as God loves and show a love of God to those in our lives, especially the ones we're involved with. Especially our spouses.

How can we show that kind of love without studying it? Without acknowledging it? Without letting God's example guide us?

Simply put, we can't. So, God has to come first. It doesn't mean you walk around with a shirt that says, "GOD FIRST" or that you constantly quote scripture or Church teachings to back every decision you make.

It does mean that you consider what the Lord would do in your stead, what the Lord would say or think. It does mean you look to God and say, "Hey, what would you do?"

And sometimes you'll get a hard answer. Jesus got a hard answer when God said, "You have to die in the most painful way imaginable." And we'll have days when we get hard answers.

Like Jesus, we'll have to accept those answers and trust.

Trust in God's plan. Trust in God's mercy. But, most importantly, trust in God's love.

Thanks for reading, folks. God Bless.  


Monday, December 29, 2014

Closing the Distance

Distance is a strange thing. It doesn't just apply in a physical sense, it can apply also in an intangible sense too. Right now, tangibly and intangibly, I've got quite a bit of distance between me and my goals, but not as much as where I was nearly three months ago.

If you recall, I was sent packing, tail between my legs, from my preferred location in Northern Virginia back to Alabama. It wasn't a pleasing experience on multiple levels -- the leaving, the turning in of my house key (I still miss the jingle), the tire blow out in Tennessee (and subsequent unscheduled overnight stay), the repairs to my car ... the list goes on. Circumstances dictated my exit, circumstances out of my control and out of control of those around me.

I ended up back in the Catholic deadzone that is the South and I was certain I would follow the same path everyone follows when they end up back here: stuck. Central Alabama has a way of doing that to people, though why I'm not sure.

But I'm not stuck and yesterday at work, after doing a bit of math, I realized I had secured the minimum seed money I needed to get out of the South. I had done it in two months time (as opposed to the three I estimated). I had done that while diving into the Catechism, while making a few more repairs to my car, and while not stressing out of my mind.

I've managed that and, over the past two days, I've been reminded that there are people waiting for me back in Northern VA. Family and friends who haven't forgotten my existence (and even a few children whom I was sure wouldn't miss me all but they remember me, too). 

It doesn't seem so far as I sit here today. It seemed like a chasm was between me and my goals when I got back here in October, a chasm that just couldn't be crossed -- my car was limping around, my pride was wounded, and my bank account was hurting. Now, I can see the other side.

And, as I look at the other side, I have to question a few assumptions I made when this journey started (and my journey is infinitely more exciting than the Hobbit's, I'm sorry to say -- Peter Jackson, take a break from Middle-Earth).


1. I'll make a good Catholic. 

Diving into the Catechism as I have has shed some light on things that I do that simply shouldn't be done when I become a Catholic. Quite frankly, I commit a lot of mortal sins on a daily basis and I'm only aware of a few of them. I question whether or not there is such a thing as a "good" but I definitely don't qualify as it stands right now.

For one, I'm poor at remembering all the Holy Days of Obligation -- I should have gone to Mass on Christmas but I was focused on just getting to the celebration my family was having in Florida (and the three hour drive to get there). I tend to forget to do some of the things in Mass (like kneeling before getting into the pew or the thing you do when the priest reads the gospel).

That's not to say I won't get better at it -- I will. I will absolutely get better at it because I'm better at it than I was when I started this over two years ago (good gracious it's been a long time) but I don't know if I'd make a "good" Catholic. I think my starting point is decent and I should work my way up from there.

2. That I'm not clueless about relationships.

I am totally and completely clueless. It's a fact. I had a brief, awesome week where I was involved with a great girl that showed how clueless I was. No amount of research or observation could have prepared me for how good (and right) that week felt.

This was probably an assumption I should have junked as soon as possible, but I thought I could do decently based on everything I'd researched and observed over the years. Not true.

Still, it was a learning experience (I hate to just call it that but it was, at the minimum, that) and I picked up some things that I hope should be applicable during my next relationship.

3. That I'm a lost cause.

I'm not, actually, and you're probably just as surprised as I am. I set forth goals and they were ambitious to say the least. I wanted to get back to Northern VA, I wanted to stay there, I wanted to be Catholic, and I wanted all that done by Easter. It's a pretty steep list of things when you consider how I failed to stay in Northern VA despite being there on three separate occasions, how I've missed being confirmed last Easter, how I keep missing opportunities in general.

But here I am, within sight of the goals set forth. It doesn't mean I'll accomplish them by the date given, life can throw a curveball my way and wreck all this -- I still need to find a place to live up there and still need to find a job up there, both things that will be challenging to do (especially during the early part of this upcoming year, where jobs that were around for the holiday season disappear in a puff of smoke).

Even more than that, I was lucky enough to have a pretty girl by my side for a week in November (and she liked me for being ... me!) and I proved that I can be in a relationship and not completely fail at it (even if the sample size was for only a week).

So, I'm not a lost cause. It's refreshing to know for once.

4. That I'm forgotten.

It's easy to feel forgotten, even in this digital age we live in where I can call/text/Facebook/Email anytime I want. But distance is distance, even with the Internet bridging the gap, and the people I care for in Northern VA feel worlds away from me some days. But over the last two, I've been reminded that I exist to them.

I like to exist. As much as I don't like the spotlight, it's still nice to know that I'm remembered and people are thinking about me, even if it's only a mention here and there. No one wants to be forgotten and it's especially difficult to feel not forgotten during the holiday season.


In conclusion, I'm not far away from getting back to where I want to be. I'm coming back. The dreaded fourthquel is approaching but, like Star Trek IV, I'll blow expectations out of the water (come on, let's be serious, who thought a movie about whales and without an Enterprise would really do that well?).

I'm studying. I'm preparing. I'm working at it.

It's all I can do right now and that's just fine. 


Monday, December 22, 2014

Suiting Up

So, today I went to get a new suit. This has been on my "to do" list for about two and a half years. Ever since I lost a 133 pounds and went from fat me to thin me (still weird to think that way and be referred to that). The last time I wore a suit I was in a size 40 at the time (in suit pants, anyway. I was still in 36 with jeans).

That suit can't possibly fit me anymore, so I went down to where I grabbed this suit in the first place -- the store is in a new building now, and it's run by different people, but it still has a great selection of suits at rather modest prices. 

Upon entering the store, I was greeted by the sales guy, and I promptly explained to him that I had no idea what I was doing as far suits were concerned. We tried on jackets first, just to determine what looked good, and I told him what was suggested to me and what I was looking for. 

I really, really wanted to grab something like this, just because it'd be awesome to have it. 

Sure, pinstripes were suggested as something I shouldn't get, but David Tennant pulled it off and, blast it, I think I can too. We weren't able to find a suit that quite looked like that or the blue one that Tennant always wore, but we were able to come up with a silvery one with pinstripes that I really, really took to. 

I spent nearly two hours trying on suits, trying to decide what style I liked and what things I wanted.

But the most interesting part of this adventure wasn't getting the suit, but the older gentlemen that was getting his suit tailored. The gentlemen, upon seeing me try on many suits and asking many questions, offered his hand and introduced himself. 

His name was George and, upon shaking his hand, George told me this. "I can tell by your handshake that women take advantage of you and men push you around." He smiled at me and then added, "But I can also tell you have a lot of integrity and a vitality for life. You just need to push back a bit, toughen up."

Not an introduction you get very often, right? George is in his late 50s, is a Navy veteran, and just recently lost 82 pounds thanks to karate. George and I hit it off (even if I was a bit stunned by his proclamations about me). I told him that I lost over 100 pounds about two years ago, and he was super-pleased by that.

George was a big fan of fist bumping; he did that a lot.

Anyway, George advised that I take karate from his instructor and told me that I just needed to be less kind; that it was okay to push back, it was good for people and good for me. I countered that I wasn't a push-over (at least I didn't think so), and that I was accommodating, but George was adamant that it was the same thing.

George was impressed that I had a job (even if it was Target, he told me it was good that I was working and not unemployed -- any job is better than no job), that I had lost over 100 pounds, and he told me he looked forward to seeing the change in me a year from now. We exchanged phone numbers (because when a random stranger introduces himself and reads you from a handshake you just do that, right?) but I don't expect to actually hear from him again. 

But his words were strange to me. I was there to buy two suits, things that looked good (or at least decent), hopefully to use at events in the future. Hell, maybe even to wear on a nice date (holding breath ... now). 

George's words made me think, though. Am I too accommodating? Is George right and I need to "toughen up" and "push back"? I'm not sure. It's never been in my nature to be the "bad guy". I'm not a hardass. Do I stress about things? Sure. But I try to make sure the people around me are good and taken care of. 

I don't see this as a bad thing. I don't necessarily think that being "nice" is a bad thing. I've never gotten the impression that "women take advantage of me" and "men push me around". I can be a stubborn SOB when I want to be. 

I wonder, though, if I should be tougher. Would me being tougher be more attractive to women? I don't know. Me being me worked for about a week in November with a pretty girl I liked. It ended, but it ended on good terms, but me being me worked. 

I think George made some sweeping assumptions. I don't see my kindness as a weakness or something that is lacking. But it's interesting to know what someone else thinks from the outside, even if it is a bit unflattering.