Our Story: In Pursuit of Love

THE CHASE: June 24-December 31, 2004

Dedicated to Gary Rosete Dyogi

The man whose enduring perseverance and faith graciously made his way into my heart

With much love and prayers,
Marianne (2005)

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June 24, 2004

I didn’t know what to make of him. Surprised? As God would have it, yes. He just came out of nowhere, but at this time of my life many other people did as well. A little over a year ago, Gary Dyogi made his appearance in the screen of my reality show. I’d say it was more like a movie but this was a story you had to follow one day at a time to truly appreciate.

All it took was a random email through an online network called MySpace. I used to think this website was a joke because some people would use it to market themselves in the internet dating scene, drawing an image much more glamorous than they actually had in real life. But I would soon learn that the Divine Matchmaker can use whatever means He thinks best (or most amusing) if He so chooses people to meet.

Never did we expect that such an eccentric yet humble beginning could lead to something that would blossom into a miracle. Gary seemed harmless. He just wanted to say hi…that he noticed my faith and our common ties from college. I looked up his profile just to get more background on him. A Catholic. A Zeta Phi Rho fraternity brother. He knew the same people I did. It couldn’t hurt. So I said hi back…

We wrote each other back and forth fairly regularly. Being very prompt with his replies, I grew in gratitude for the budding friendship. He expressed himself very well in writing, and rereading the emails I sent back to him, I was also pretty candid in how I interacted with him. It helped that we did not yet have direct contact with each other and I felt the distance quite comfortable.

I did extend the invitation to him for our Life in the Spirit weekend seminar at my home parish. He seemed the type to be open to spiritual growth, so I figured that I’d give it a shot and throw it out there. He wasn’t able to make it because he was going out of town with his family, so then I asked him if he wanted to go to our Tuesday night prayer meeting. My sister Emeline would be getting married in Maui in July, so we made arrangements for him to come by when I got back on the 27th.

The development was becoming quite intriguing, if not for the fact that I couldn’t completely redirect my focus down this path with a person who was more than willing to walk with me in faith – more secure in the Providence of God than I had ever been in my whole life. His confidence had me taken aback and left me wondering what he was there for. Where did his faith come from and what brought him here now? In no position to question much amidst my own emotional chaos, I left it all in the hands of God.

Sometimes I’d wonder if I’d ever choose to love again, but I wasn’t sure anymore of what I was looking for. I’d met a few guys since my last relationship ended. Some of them grew to be very good friends and nothing more, but as far as letting someone into my life to share it with – it wasn’t going to happen unless his heart was set on winning mine.

I didn’t feel this way because I knew I was a great catch. Actually, I was never one to be bold or confident when it came to romance. I just had to know that he knew what he wanted, and pray that he could find it in me. ” ‘Til death do us part” is a long time. If he was someone committed to giving me the rest of his life, I hoped that he would also know how to hold the broken pieces of my heart together, as fragile as it already was.

It might seem strange that I should hold such a view and be so blind to the effort Gary showed in getting to know me. He was exactly what I needed but never really recognized.

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July 27, 2004

After checking our schedules, I was in ink on Gary’s calendar for the prayer meeting. It wasn’t difficult to go along with the flow because he was incredibly polite. He manners reflected an admirable amount of respect he had for people, and I figure that he would also be appreciative of whatever came out of our meeting.

Was I excited? I was – as much as I could be about meeting a complete stranger. I didn’t have a whole lot of expectation attached to him, but I was looking forward to it.

I was scheduled to give a talk that Tuesday night. The topic was “Growing in Faith” and I remember having a faith-related crisis period the weeks prior to the talk. Honestly, it was more like spiritual desolation…where God felt so distant and out of reach. I asked Gary to pray for me, and of course he did. Funny that while the subject was something I constantly struggled with, it was the gift he would bring to my life months later.

Busy. I was so busy. Arranging the room in preparation for prayer meeting, I went through the routine motions of setting up when I should have been praying. I just didn’t know what else to do with myself. Gary said he’d probably be arriving a little late from working football practice so I didn’t expect him to walk in so early, but there was his smiling face at 7:00 catching me by surprise.

Early. Surprising. With a big smile on his face. That’s Gary for you.

Now this is when I’ll admit to feeling a little flustered. The moment I saw him, I noticed something very unique – a glow, I call it – that attracted me to him as a person. He presence was strong…that’s the best way I can describe it. A little wowed (okay, maybe a lot) yet I didn’t know exactly why.

We said our hi-nice-to-meet-you’s and exchanged hugs, a different greeting than I was used to because I’d never met someone online before, with arrangements to see them this way. Thankfully, this was my “territory”, so it helped me be more at ease. The church community had been my home for a number of years and these people were the family I’d grown up with in the faith. They knew nothing about Gary, though, because I didn’t feel it necessary to mention him. There was too much already going on in my personal life, so I was pretty quiet about the whole situation. We all invited people to join us, and it was nothing out of the ordinary. Kinda.

My responsibilities didn’t allow for much hostessing, so I left him praying the rosary with the group while a few of us prayed in the back room. Before we began, I felt moved to lend him my rosary, but I had the pleasure of seeing that he already had his own in hand when I pulled mine out of my pocket. If I could skip and do a dance at that very moment, I would have. One of the shortcuts to my heart is devotion to Mary and I was highly impressed as I walked off with a smile.

The prayer meeting went on as it always did, with praise and worship, the welcome, and the talk following. It didn’t bother me that Gary was in the audience, though every time I saw him I wondered what he thought of this whole experience. I hadn’t given him much background on the Charismatic Renewal and what would be happening there, but he seemed to enjoy it, nevertheless. Open mind, open heart. Good signs.

We talked briefly after it was all over. I can hardly remember what the conversation was about, but it was nice because he was nice. I introduced him to everyone and then went on my way home, grateful that I had finally met this new friend of mine. Still carrying no expectation, I just enjoyed the moments as they came.

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July 29, 2004

After having an enjoyable prayer meeting experience, Gary asked me out to dinner. I wasn’t sure if he was asking as a date or a “hangout”, so being the non-dater that I was, I had to clarify that…I didn’t date. I’m sure it sounded weird, and I probably put him in an awkward position as upfront as I was, but he handled it gracefully.

Yes, I had my single life all figured out. Friends first, then somehow we’ll just know (me and whoever it would be) that God meant for us to be married. It had to happen a certain way and the guy had to have some sort of heavenly inspiration in order for this to work. I was open, but then I wasn’t. Could it be Gary? It was too early to say.

I proposed my alternatives to dinner but lo and behold, circumstances weren’t working with my plan, so I agreed to meet him at a nearby Chili’s. He was patiently waiting as I walked in ten minutes late, and once we got seated and talking I was glad I was finally there. It was like a breath of fresh air to be with him and to have someone outside of my regular “circle” to interact with.

We shared stories and faith journeys over our meal and I remember periodically pausing to think out loud saying, “It’s just a lot.” It was the first time I told him about going from the breakup of my last relationship to the discernment to become a Carmelite Sister and then being diagnosed with lupus. I vaguely mentioned that I had to deal with some complications following all of that, but I stopped there as I always did. The second half of my story never really ended so I could go no further.

He listened so well…very attentive…very compassionate and understanding…somehow knowing where I was coming from even if he came from a different place with different experiences than me. There was something in his eyes that left me comforted, feeling that I wasn’t alone in my healing process. I wasn’t fully aware of this back then but in retrospect, there was a good amount of trust being built between us as we revealed some of our deepest struggles to each other – “testing the waters”, as they say.

The conversation would not have reached the depth that it did if we hung out with other friends. It was my intention to go the group route as much as possible – and I tried- but I was glad that we had the one-on-one time. I invited Gary to the following prayer meeting to hear my cousin’s talk on “Dating the Catholic Way” since I was curious to see how an “outsider” would take our views, hoping that it would shed more light on why I “kissed dating goodbye.”

In an email on August 1st, he did mention that he thought he’d be meeting a potential girlfriend but realized that he met “a great friend who has fortified the meaning and reason for his life and his faith.” Since Gary was so respectful in the way that he talked to me, it was a wonderful compliment, and because I was so friendship-focused I let him know that he was a blessing to have in my life as well. Interesting that I made the comment, “Anything’s possible with God, if you really think about it,” not really knowing what I meant by it. I wondered why God brought us together because I knew He had a purpose for every person He allowed us to meet. Maybe I was trying to tell myself that I should be open to whatever came out of this, but for the time being my present-moment-orientedness didn’t allow me to think past the next few days. It’s just how I programmed myself. I figured that if I didn’t dream about the future so much, I wouldn’t be left disappointed.

And so life went on…

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August 3, 2004

Seeing Gary again that Tuesday made the rest of my week. I gave him a few CDs to listen to on his drives to and from Buena Park, and in return he took me out to his car to give me an Angels hat with a note in it.

Hey, Marianne,

If you are reading this right now, that means you found it. But to answer the million-dollar question, “Why did God allow us to cross paths and meet?” Simple, God wanted me to meet and “angel”. (No pun intended, haha!)

Go Halos,

Gary

Very cute gesture on his part. It definitely left me happy. I briefly questioned whether he was trying to say something through it or not, but I soon pushed the thought aside because I wasn’t prepared to entertain it. He was just really nice and easily “racked up the points” in my book, at least as a great person to meet so randomly.

Gary had a style extremely atypical to most guys our age. He claimed to be shy but I thought he was friendly enough to make new friends. It took a lot of courage to take that leap of faith with us, not to mention coming out to our prayer meetings and hanging out with the crowd afterwards without me. As I got to know him, he reminded me of “pieces of people I knew”, similar but never quite like them…likening him to the saying: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

As a Zeta, he was still involved in his chapter at LMU, at least in the advisory sense, so I knew he had a heart for what he helped established. He cared for his brothers and for everyone else in his life, and I later discovered that his care for people was his greatest strength. We had much in common as leaders and in the kind of relationships we had with our sisters/brothers. Here was my equal, not so much in position per say but in love. He served and taught as best as he could with all that he had.

These mutual ties let me to invite Gary to Junior Arnaldo’s going-away party. Junior was one of his fraternity brothers and a friend of mine from Cal State Long Beach. He was moving to Hawaii to work on his Master’s degree, and when I got the email about the party I was looking forward to the reunion. Since I assumed I wouldn’t be going out with Gary anytime soon after our dinner, I figured it would be a chance to see him again among our friends.

Even though we had only been talking a little over a month, I felt very safe at this time asking him to come along to whatever events I was going to. We still wrote back and forth…that never really stopped…and most of our conversation and email topics were sparked by God. The familiarity of our college backgrounds also made it more comfortable for both of us. How could it be that a complete stranger should waltz his way into my life like this and somehow fit right in? It wasn’t something I could ever fully explain.

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August 7, 2004

V2O. This particular outing was a very surreal experience, especially for someone who didn’t get out much anymore. I went with my best friend Jenn and her fiance Dave, not really prepared to come back to the scene I had left years ago.

Only for the good of Junior’s bon voyage.

It wasn’t too harsh when we arrived since we got to the Pike pretty early. Our names were already on the list, so we didn’t have to worry about waiting in line too long. Once we got in, we ran into a few of our sorority sisters from Kappa Psi Epsilon – Meg, Angie, and Arlene. I hadn’t seen Meg since we started KPsiE and Angie since she was pregnant with her first daughter. The catch-up was nice and it helped me warm up to the atmosphere.

A good hour was spent trying to get into Junior’s part of the club, and that’s when I was thrown back into memories of my college days. We happened to run into Francis Baylen and stuck with him most of the time, just talking about whatever we could as people pushed and shoved to get by. How could I have done this for so long? I asked myself, relieved that I finally opted out for the quieter things in life.

Once we got in, we chatted briefly with as many people as we could. It was really nice seeing more Kappas and Zetas who were all out in the patio for the going-away shindig. It’s funny how years will go by and some people stay the same. Most of the Long Beach “characters” were there and after making rounds, I couldn’t help but miss old times.

I caught Gary coming in and motioned to Jenn that he was there. I introduced them to each other and talked to him for a little while before he left again to find his friends. Jenn had taken off and I was left to wander about, now getting the claustrophobic what-in-the-world-am-I-doing-here feeling.

Some guy asked me to dance. I said no. Bad vibe. I recognized another guy I needed to avoid. Bad vibe #2. At that point I see Gary outside and he asks me to dance.

If the sequence of events were different, maybe I would have been more enthusiastic, but Guy #1 was looking over Gary’s shoulder the whole time we were dancing. I didn’t party anymore for a lot of reasons and that was one of them. I wanted to go and hide. I didn’t have enough time to acclimate to the environment. Add a couple of strange people to the mix and I’m off for the rest of the night.

I belonged in church…at adoration…in my car…at home…in my bed…anywhere but in that club. If only I had known that the person who could keep me strong was standing right in front of me. Literally.

He knew I wasn’t feeling the moment, so he asked me if I wanted to go outside. I gratefully said yes. And then he took my hand.

It was the natural thing to do as one is leading another off the dance floor, but the last time someone held my hand was…

I hoped it didn’t mean anything. I liked him but I couldn’t let myself…I couldn’t let him in. Not now.

That, however, would not be the final time I’d be at that club with Gary nor would it be his last dance with me. Gary doesn’t do last dances.

Who would have ever guessed?

Sometimes things like this hit you when you least expect. Maybe it’s more like a creeping in or sneaking up…maybe catching you by surprise. Whatever the case may be, I’m glad Someone else had it all under control.

Praise God…

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August 9, 2004

He asked me to be his church buddy. Wow, this guy was everything I ever wanted but at the wrong time. I didn’t do church buddies anymore, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to invite him to Mass at my church anyway and see how he liked it.

So there I was, sitting in my usual spot in front of Mama Mary and here he comes to join me. It had been a while since anyone other than my family or girl friends had sat next to me during Mass. I know this shouldn’t be a big deal but it was for me. I didn’t know if I was ready for it, even if he was only a friend.

It was weird. I didn’t know if it was a good weird or a bad weird, but nevertheless it was definitely something I couldn’t do. The way everything was set up that day in that church pointed to letting him know what my rule was. He was going to think I was crazy. Either that, or he’d just stop coming.

My heart now goes out to him as I write this because he was trying. He wrote to me…he visited me…he totally went out of his way to go to church with me. At the time I had no idea why.

But he was still there.

We went to Starbucks afterwards and hung out. This was the second time since dinner at Chili’s. It wasn’t as easy as it had been the first time, maybe because by this point I started getting scared. Of what? I don’t know.

What was wrong with me? I was the one initiating the invitations. There wasn’t anything wrong with him or with the way he treated me. I couldn’t find any reason to say that he shouldn’t or couldn’t be there.

That night at Junior’s party. He was so comfortable being there, and I knew it didn’t have anything to do with me. It was where he was coming from. Church was my scene. That club was his. I assumed that I couldn’t have been the kind of girl he wanted. I couldn’t go back and forth between lifestyles. I left for a reason. I left for good.

And I was fine with him being around until I remembered him holding my hand. I had felt something. Feelings? No, it was deeper than that. I knew I wasn’t being fair to him. Everything I was doing from the outside looked like I was interested in him, but if I wasn’t sure or didn’t have any intentions to date him then maybe – as innocent as I thought it all was – I should stop.

Because when he held my hand for the few moments that he did, I knew that buddy status wasn’t his end goal. And more than I am willing to admit, it wasn’t mine either. The timing was way off for us. But then maybe it wasn’t.

I don’t know if we’ll ever understand why we met when we did. Maybe someday God will explain why the next three months would be some sort of hibernating season. I knew there would come a someday when I would finally feel ready to move on. I just didn’t know what to do with him in the meantime.

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August 16, 2004

Mass again today – this time I invite Jenn. It had been some time since we went to Mass together, so I imagined it would be good for her as well. And if you know anything about our friendship, you’d understand why I needed her to come along. Ever since we met in PAC and worked together in KPsiE, she’s been my rooting section…head cheerleader…moral support in times of worry or doubt.

This time she serves as my ice-breaker. I wanted to hang out with Gary again, but in case we ran out of things to talk about, she’s a good one to pick up the slack. Besides, as my best friend, one of the greatest things about her is that she can make anyone and everyone feel comfortable…friend or stranger.

We go to eat at the LBTC Food Court. Very laid-back…as casual as you can get. Gary goes to the restroom and in five minutes, she tries to cram in twenty questions about who I still talk to…have I seen so and so…what about Gary?

What about Gary? He’s just my friend.

She asks how I feel about him. I deny as much as I can.

She doesn’t get my hangup.

He comes back to the table and I pray he doesn’t pick up the sense that we’d been talking about him.

Jenn’s always been the go-for-it kinda gal. And then she remembers how much I still have to deal with. But she still roots for Gary.

I wonder what I got myself into…but inside I’m secretly delighted that she likes him. I cover it up with looking a little annoyed. She doesn’t notice. If she does, she plays it off very well. I think she just found this new guy situation pretty entertaining. Guess you can’t blame her. I would too…

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August 22, 2004

The school year begins and I have zero time to do anything. I’m not as prompt in responding to Gary’s emails because I’m so busy, so he starts up with his “5 Questions” game so we can get to know each other better. He asks me five questions…I answer the questions…then I come up with five questions that he has to answer about himself.

I love the idea. Must be one he hadn’t used on anyone else before since he didn’t have a name for the game at first. But then he probably never had such a hard time staying in touch with another person, either.

He also mentioned that he had gone to his cousin’s wedding at Mission Carmel that past weekend. Appreciated artwork…loved the history…joined in on the Rosary before the wedding. It was his first time telling me that he wanted to cry.

If other people had read our emails, they would have smacked me and thought me crazy not to fall in love with this guy. It couldn’t have been an act. I never thought it was. I just didn’t stop long enough to see how truly amazing he was.

What if I did? What if I knew then what I know now?

And then we remember that God has His order…His own “when” and “how”.

Distracted. I was too distracted. Everything seemed to be hanging in limbo for me…this state of uncertainty where there never was anything solid for me to hold on to. Not even my faith.

What was it going to take? Gary was probably wondering the same thing. I was drifting away little by little, so distanced from my own storm of confusion. The free-spirited openness he saw just earlier that month had begun to wane as it was slowly sapped by the emotional vacuum I found myself in. Not sure of who I could trust or turn to, I lived to watch the light of love in my heart flicker and die out, waiting for the day when someone or something would come along and set it on fire again.

********************

August 30, 2004

I told Gary I’d be at Mass that night, and sure enough he was there. He had something for me afterwards – a plaque of St. Therese that he bought at Carmel.

She was my favorite Saint.

He paid attention.

I didn’t.

They say sometimes you can go through life with rose-colored glasses. I, on the other hand, was wearing a blindfold and earplugs. My heart was by no means ready to open up. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t let go of the past…of what had happened and what would never be.

By mid-September, I started to figure things out for myself. Would it change how I felt about Gary? I didn’t know, but the consideration had to wait. I wasn’t about to carry him into my mess. His heart was too good. Better if he didn’t know what was happening. Better for him and for me.

This was the last time I’d see Gary in about 2 1/2 months. Because of his travel schedule and my work and Confirmation schedule, it was a challenge to meet each other…something that we both chose to accept.

There would be random phone calls just to say hi…some from him, a few from me…but not many. It was more the emails that kept the friendship going.

I really appreciated Gary’s effort to stay in touch. Besides work, family and prayer, he was the one constant in my life that I looked forward to. No one else knew it…not even my closest friends. They’d ask about him, but I would just number him among the rest because I couldn’t assign him to anything more. Still just a friend. He wasn’t going anywhere. Everyone knew it, and it was a very curious situation to follow.

Come November, if more than a week went by without contact, I’d be compelled to write, even just a short email how-are-you.

Why?

I spent so much energy trying to convince myself and all the people in my world that we weren’t fit for each other. Why did I need to know he was still there?

Confused as the next person, I told myself that I just enjoyed his presence even if it was as a pen pal. In his own way, he opened up a window to life for me, letting the breezes flow and the sunshine in.

So after numerous attempts on his part to get me to come down to his part of town, I decide that he deserves a visit for once. We try to coordinate Christmas break schedules and agree on a date. December 23rd. We’d hang out then. Great!

But could I wait that long? How one month seemed so far away… So I thought I’d sneak some time in before then. It couldn’t hurt. The friendship was becoming much too one-sided that Gary’s end of the scale needed some balancing out.

********************

November 27, 2004

As I had hoped, he picked up his phone.

“And for what do I have the pleasure of getting this phone call from you, Miss Marianne?”

I had emailed Gary late last night letting him know that I would be at work but that I had a few more CDs to share. Was he free?

No. Shucks.

He had to work that afternoon, so he couldn’t come by. Nevertheless, we were making some kind of plan.

There was the idea of me going to LMU to catch part of the Women’s Basketball game but since the weather wasn’t great, he thought it might be better if he drove down to see me. He’d be done after 6pm, so I suggested that we could get something to eat at Downtown Disney since he’d never been there before.

I wanted to take my four-year-old niece Leilani out and asked him if it was okay that I brought her. She was always my sidekick on good days and my comfort whenever I was down or unsure about anything in life. They’d never met before, so I thought she’d make a good buffer for that night, too. I wasn’t shooting for a date – just some hang-out time – so having her there might help set the tone. When in doubt, bring a little kid along.

We had dinner at Rainforest Cafe, but I felt bad that Leilani was so scared of the thunderstorms inside the restaurant. She did like the the fish (thanks to Finding Nemo) and the big gorilla, and I managed to get her to eat some calamari so the meal was a success in my eyes.

The time was peaceful for the most part, as we window-shopped through the stores and stopped for ice cream when we were done walking around. I know Gary must have been tired, having worked earlier that day, so I was very grateful that he came all the way down to see me.

We talked about places he’d never been to in Southern California since he grew up in San Francisco…movies I haven’t seen yet…life as we hoped it would be for each of us later on in the future. Had I seen the Broadway show Les Miserables yet? No. Did I want to see it with him? Sure, why not?

Once I relaxed some, it was fun. I think I just had to get used to being with him in person again. It had been so long and it was much easier for me to write than to talk out loud. Call me shy? I was that night.

Most of the conversations I had with people for the last four or five years had only been about our walks with God or what was happening in the Church and prayer communities. I didn’t associate much with people who weren’t involved in ministry, so I lost the art of knowing how to talk to someone who wasn’t like me in that sense. I could have guessed that there wouldn’t be much of a spiritual connection between us because of the difference in background, but I had forgotten how open he was to the prayer group and Mass at my church months before.

The picture my mind had painted of Gary wasn’t a totally complete one. I had bits and pieces of him but they were clouded by assumptions and it was difficult for me to put it all together. He was like oil on canvas where you had to step further away to see the beauty of the work. If you looked too close, all you would notice were thick chunks of paint that were waiting to dry. He wasn’t finished yet…that’s why I didn’t want to touch him. But when the Master Artist would later give yield to the finished product, I’d hold in my arms a rare masterpiece of a man created especially for me.

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December 23, 2004

“Our special day”…we have a lot of special days, but this one is the day that kicked it all off.

I went to drop off Christmas gifts at my cousin’s house and spent the morning talking to Jaymee and Maurice about how this friendship with Gary was unfolding. Actually, I’d been sharing with a few people because I felt it was taking an interesting turn, but I honestly didn’t know what to expect.

A few nights before, I had dinner with my friend Leo and told him about Gary’s plan to take me to see Les Mis. Leo was absolutely convinced that Gary liked me. I told him he (Leo) was crazy. I laughed it off, saying it wasn’t true. If it was, I had no idea how to react if he tried to let me know. If it wasn’t, we could continue on as friends without any intention to take it further, and I could go on with my life and not have to worry about it. I liked the way things were, and I wasn’t sure I could handle anything else.

As I write this, I remember as if it were yesterday. Leo called just to see if I was okay. I was nervous…so nervous that I didn’t know if saying yes to the date was a good idea anymore. He told me just to enjoy the night and have fun. I told him I would try.

Perhaps I was working myself up as a reaction to the pressure my family and friends would put on me (in the lightest manner they could) to get into a relationship. For over a year, there was always someone they could point to and say, “What about him?” I’m rebellious by nature so I fought it every single time. As nice as Gary was, I didn’t imagine myself ready.

And there was that HUGE leap of faith.

Was I willing to take another risk? Not just yet.

Eventually I made my way over to Westchester that afternoon. Gary didn’t tell me what we were doing…all I knew was that I had to dress up, but I had a good idea that it had something to do with Les Mis. See, he asked me if I wanted to go, but he never told me when.

After greeting me at the door, Gary let me into his living room. To my surprise, there was a card waiting for me on the coffee table with a plate of crackers and fruit. I opened it and smiled as I read it because the idea was very creative, not to mention incredibly thoughtful. It was my birthday/Christmas present from him and everything we would do that day was dedicated to me.

Dear Marianne,

If you are reading this right now, then that means you have arrived.

Welcome to Westchester, as you will enjoy the sights and entertainment that the Westside has to offer, courtesy of Gary’s Westside Tours.

Since your birthday has passed and Christmas is just two days away, this day will not only be a day of hanging out with yours truly, but it will also be designated as Marianne’s Day (at least on Gary’s 2004 calendar), a gift from Gary to you. This day begins by choosing a hand behind Gary’s back. What’s hiding behind Gary’s back will determine how the day will be spent. Choose wisely.

If there is anything Gary can do for you, let him know, and he will do almost anything for you during your visit.

I hope you have a great and blessed day today.

Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Sincerely,

Gary Dyogi

C.E.O. and founder of Gary’s Westside Tours

The first item on the day’s agenda was the musical, so we headed out to Hollywood for the show. We ran into some traffic on the way there, but Gary handled the time crunch really well. A little late, but that wasn’t about to ruin his plans. When we got out of the car, he said I looked really nice. I told him he did, too. He looked great.

There was something very eye-catching about him. I noticed it when we first met in person the previous July. Gary is very handsome, but the way he carried himself attracted me more than anything. Magnetizing, I can almost say, Other guys I’d dated were very much the same way – most of them very well-known in the circles I ran so I wouldn’t be the only one awed by their presence. Gary, however, came out of the blue and without me knowing a whole lot about him, he had that same kind of confidence…yet he brought with it an air of chivalry that I’d never seen before.

If 21st century society recreated modern-day knights, he’d be one of them.

When we arrived at Pantages Theater, the show had already begun at the first few scenes. The ushers let us in during a scene break but it was pitch black in the theater. It was going to be impossible to find our seats, but we somehow made it and took in the story as best as we could without knowing what happened in the beginning.

I thought it was the coolest thing that he was into Broadway musicals. It had always been a hidden passion of mine since I was little because Mommy would have us watch Sound of Music and The King and I with her, and whatever dinner shows we could get to. That’s why I loved the time I spent in Savanna High School’s Swing Choir because for a few years of my life, I could experience what it was like to entertain on stage the way they did. When I graduated and moved on to college, it had become a thing of the past for me since not very many people I knew had the same interest.

More points on the board for Gary.

The talent and the stage set impressed me, but I think the storyline was what really hit me. The plot centered on the themes of love and sacrifice, and all I could think about after the show were my own memories of letting go.

Over the course of my young life, I had the best relationships one could ever hope for. But due to unfortunate circumstances, many of the ones most meaningful to me had to end, often with much sorrow and heartache. Daddy, Papa Jon, good friends…too painful to realize how many empty spaces were left by those people I loved so much.

I tried to communicate this to Gary as we were driving to dinner, and I think he might have translated it to our friendship as well…or what he wanted it to become. I didn’t want to say it, but in the back of my mind I knew that the only way he could be that close to me was if I actually married him. I figured I would just let the thought go and cross that bridge if we ever got to it. The statement would have sent the wheels in his head spinning way too fast.

Killer Shrimp, Marina del Rey. I had never been to the west side of LA and ended up really liking the area a lot. There was lots going on but it wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be. The restaurant we went to was nice. The ambience said quality, yet not too romantic…but like I know a whole lot about romance. I guess the title of the place just meant the food was good.

And it was.

At this point, I was still trying to absorb the events of the night. Trying to keep things comfortable for both of us, I tried to keep conversation going as much as I could. Ironic how we emailed each other so often and shared so much with each other at Chili’s for that first dinner and I was fishing for topics to talk about. It wasn’t that Gary was hard to talk to. I just felt like I had to protect my heart and his from any potential heartache down the road. Keep it on the surface…don’t get too deep…maybe it will stay that way.

Small talk. I was never good at small talk. But I tried. Kappa…Zeta…movies…ghosts…how did that come up? He shared how he helped a few people recently, that the way God had molded him is who he is now…someone always reaching out to others in need. In that sense, he reminded me very much of my dad. I don’t remember if I told him that, but that’s what I was thinking.

Yes, Gary was your typical nice guy. The kind of guy that does things unnoticed and doesn’t ask any recognition for it. He was a little on the shy side – not at all aggressive, but assertive enough to make things happen when they needed to. But he lived his life for others…not for himself. According to him, that’s not how he always was, but his past was something that contributed greatly to the man he was becoming,

After dinner he took me to the LMU campus, which I had never visited before. It was beautiful, at least from what I could see at night. We toured the athletics facilities and he showed me where his office was. Since we were talking about ghost sightings on the way there, he told me stories of workers seeing shadows, people walking by and then disappearing, basketballs bouncing in the gym with no one there. Spooky.

Then we walked over to what they called the Sunken Gardens and he showed me the Sacred Heart Chapel from a distance. I asked him if that’s where he wanted to get married, and he hesitated a bit – out of shyness, I think – saying yes. He explained how alumni can marry there but it needs to be within two years of their graduation date. Since he now works there full time the time limit wouldn’t apply to him.

To the left of the chapel was a statue he wanted to show me. It was Mary holding up to the sky the Baby Jesus, one of the most beautiful statues I’ve ever seen. Gary took out his cell phone to light it up and showed its title “FIAT” to me because he knew that’s what I named my blog after.

Then he took me to a bench and we sat down overlooking the bluff. We talked some more, mostly about shadows of my own past and the complications that have come with them. It wasn’t really helpful to his objective for the night – so I assumed – but he had to know if he wanted to further the status of our friendship. I didn’t go into detail because there was too much of it that was unexplainable, especially because it was only recently that doors were being closed. As always, he just listened and tried to reassure me that I wasn’t weird or “too much”. I could only shake my head and think to myself that he just didn’t understand.

I wondered why he didn’t have a girlfriend. On the way back to his apartment, I told him that it was the only thing missing in his life. He had his degree and landed his dream job. He had his own place. Everything was set for him. That’s when he got quiet. That’s when I felt that he wanted to tell me something.

I didn’t know what he was thinking but something in his countenance changed. I couldn’t see his face because we were still in the car, but his mind started taking a trip to a place I couldn’t reach. Maybe the girlfriend thing wasn’t such a hot topic for conversation. Maybe he had something he’s been carrying, too. Whatever it was, I decided to leave the issue alone.

Chocolate-covered strawberries and Oreos for dessert. Apparently another sign that he liked me…that’s what everyone had said, anyway. Funny how food can say so much. He showed me the alternate ending of What Dreams May Come because I’d never seen it and it was a movie that we both liked (from the dinner conversation).

Then he asks, “What about you, Marianne?”

And I ask back, “What about me?”

He wants to know if I’d be ready for a relationship.

I laugh and say no. How do you know if you’re ready for a relationship? It was something I didn’t really want to have to deal with. My friendships served me well, as did my family. No strings attached, no hearts broken. I was done with trying to figure out other people’s games.

By this time of the night, he was a little sad or tired or both…but definitely even more reserved than he had been all night. I couldn’t calculate how to react to all of this because my heart didn’t have what he might have wanted from me. I could only be grateful for the day and for the effort he put into creating this wonderful experience for me.

So he took his last shot. Out he comes from his room with a teddy bear to give me. It was very cute…a little black fluffy bear with a t-shirt that read “CUDDLE with someone from Loyola Marymount University”. I was flattered but told him that he needed to stop giving me any more gifts. He could only smile his beautiful smile and say that it was all I would get from him.

Every guy I knew would not go the lengths Gary had for me. To work that hard to not only keep in contact with someone but to plan every detail of an entire day without any indication of mutual feelings is absolutely unheard of and just short of ridiculous these days. This was courtship at its finest.

The only thing he didn’t do was serenade me with a love song. That would have pushed it over the edge. Only in the greater Plan would there be a better opportunity for it as things progressed in God’s time.

“How was it?” my sister Roselynn curiously inquired when I got home.

“It was nice,” I replied very nonchalantly. “We went to see Les Mis, he took me to dinner, went to LMU, had dessert at his apartment, and he gave me this bear.”

“Awww, that’s a cute bear,” she commented, taking it from me. “Ooooh, look what it says – he wants you to cuddle with him…hahaha!”

Leave it to Lyn-lyn…always the playful instigator.

“Oh, stop,” I said, a little irritated. “It’s not like that.” She was always pushing someone in my direction. The scary thing was that most of the time she was able to foresee what was to come.

It was a great night but at the end of it, I was left with a big question mark. Later on I’d find out that he was left with one, too. What was he doing in my life? We didn’t have a whole lot in common other than a similar college experience and the friends we knew from Long Beach. Faith was important to both of us but we lived it out differently from each other. I just figured we wouldn’t mesh very well. I’d wonder over and over, but it wasn’t until I decided to give him a chance that his purpose would be revealed.

I went to sleep as I did every other night, yet I had the sense that something in my life was about to change.

********************

December 25, 2004

Two days later, I’m back to my old routine. Much of my vacation was spent catching up with friends – I hadn’t rested like I should have but I figured that I’d get my chance later. I also needed to spend time with my family because my first semester at Verbum Dei kept me extremely busy most of the time.

This Christmas we went to Mass and had lunch at my sister Emeline and her husband Robby’s house. It was fun having our potluck and opening gifts, hanging out and watching 13 Going on 30 with my sisters. The movie was so touching because there was this childhood best friend that she had, a guy that did everything he could to show her how much he cared for her. Other priorities sent her in a whole new direction as she wished for the life that she could only dream of, and he was left forgotten because he didn’t fit into her world. When she realizes that he’s the foundation of a past that had fast forwarded twenty years of her life, she begins to see that he’s what she really needs and wants as part of her future.

I always felt bad for the love story underdog but I would come to the conclusion that he (or she) would be okay in the end. My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Wedding Planner, The Notebook (the underdog won in this one)… And I’d ask myself if the main character who had to make the choice would regret not choosing their best friend or the one who just would not leave him/her alone.

At the end of 13 Going on 30, I thought of Gary. Whatever quality made those love story underdogs endearing could be found in him…in the way that he looked at me and wanted to hold my hand but didn’t. The way he bore his love so courageously even though he knew he could be shot down. He wanted to be there because he thought his girl was worth it, and maybe…just maybe she’d see how great he was after some time.

I didn’t want my movie to end with regret…or my reality show to be cancelled. The ball was in my court. What was I supposed to do?

He’d be leaving for Miami on the 26th. I could give him something…but what? And should I wait until he got back? There were no plans made to see each other after the 23rd, so things were very up in the air.

That’s when I found the story. It was called “The Secret of Love” written by Max Lucado in a collection of true life stories of couples who got married – A Match Made in Heaven, the book was called. That should have already told me something about the way I was feeling if I was going to reference a book with a title like that.

It was perfect. The story was the answer to one of Gary’s million-dollar questions, one that he asked me on an email and I attempted to answer a number of times: “How do you know when you’ve met The One?” Once when we were chatting online, we referred back to 50 First Dates…”You know he/she is The One when they make you dance around in circles after you meet them.” Classic.

I wanted to give him something meaningful but not too showy because I didn’t want to say more than what I was ready for at the time. So I printed it out and put it in my car, hoping that he might be home that night after I dropped Em and Rob off at the airport.

I called his phone. No answer. Just go over there. It was worth a shot. His car was parked out in front, so I got out and rang the doorbell. The door opened to reveal a very surprised Gary. His smile lit up the night for me, and he gave me a hug as I greeted him Merry Christmas.

“What are you doing here?” he wondered, still in shock.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I just thought I’d pass by to say hi. I tried calling your phone but you weren’t answering, and something told me just to come by and see if you were home.”

“Yeah, I went to the 8:00 Mass and my phone was off,” he said, inviting me inside. “Good thing you came by.”

“Well, I have to stop by my cousins’ house to drop of their presents, but I have something for you.” I sat down and took out the story, “It’s the answer to your million-dollar question. The other night I said that you had everything you need in your life and the only thing missing was a girlfriend. Since I can’t give that to you for Christmas, I thought this might help you out.”

Taking it from me, he asked, “Did you want me to read it now?”

“I can read it to you, if you want.”

Handing me the letter, he said, “Okay.”

He pulls up a chair and sits in front of me, and I read the story to him.

~~~~~~~~~~

THE SECRET OF LOVE

The face is the mirror of the mind,

And eyes without speaking

Confess the secrets of the heart.

These words are ancient jewels minced from the quarry of life. Read them only if you dare treasure them, for it would be better to never know than to know and not obey. The hand that writes them now is old, wrinkled from the sun and labor. But the hand that guides them is wise – wise from years, wise from failures, wise from heartache.

I travel from city to city. I buy jewels from the diggers in one land and sell them to the buyers in another. I have weathered nights in stormy waters. I have walked days through desert heat. My hands have held the finest rubies and stroked the deepest furs. But I would trade it all for the one jewel I never knew.

It was not for lack of opportunity that I never held it. It was for lack of wisdom. The jewel was in my hand, but I exchanged it for an imitation.

I have never known true love.

I have known embraces. I have seen beauty. But I have never known love. If only I’d learned to recognize love as I learned to recognize stones.

My father taught me about stones. He was a jewel cutter. He would seat me at a table before a dozen emeralds.

“One is true,” he would tell me. “The others are false. Find the true jewel.”

I would ponder – studying each one after the other. Finally I would choose. I was always wrong.

“The secret,” he would say, “is not the surface of the stone. A true jewel has a glow. Deep within the gem there is a flame. The surface can always be polished to shine, but with time the sparkle fades. However, the stone that shines from within will never fade.”

With years, my eyes learned to spot true stones. I am never fooled. I have learned to see the light within.

If only I’d learned the same thing about love.

But I’ve spent my life in places I shouldn’t have been looking only for someone with beautiful hair, a dazzling smile, and fancy clothes. I’ve searched for a woman with outer beauty but no true value. And now I’m left with emptiness.

Once I almost found her. Many years ago in Madrid I met the daughter of a farmer. Her ways were simple. Her love was pure. Her eyes were honest. But her looks were plain. She would have loved me. She would have held me through every season. Within her was a glow of devotion the likes of which I’d never seen since.

But I continued looking for someone whose beauty would outshine the rest.

How many times since I have longed for that farm girl’s kind heart? If only I’d known that true beauty is found inside, not outside. If only I’d known, how many tears would I have saved?

True love glows from within and grows stronger with the passage of time.

Heed my caution. Look for the purest gem. Look deep within the heart to find the greatest beauty of all. And when you find the gem, hold on to her and never let her go.

For in her you have been granted a treasure worth far more than riches.

Seek beauty and miss love.

But seek love and find both.

– Max Lucado

~~~~~~~~~~

I wanted to stay but I had to go. I promised myself that I wouldn’t stay long, so after I read him the story I got up to leave. Just as I was walking out, the doorbell rang and it was his friend, Marie, who he had been helping out for a couple of months. I had met her at our Imagining Reality play on the 19th and was happy to see her again, even for just a second.

It’s good that they’re together tonight, I thought to myself as I drove off. At least they won’t be spending Christmas alone. Convinced that my story might have something to do with Gary and Marie possibly getting together down the road, I was quite proud of myself that I could have been an instrument in some other plan that could have been unfolding.

There, that was my good deed for the day. If I felt anything for Gary, it had fallen to the wayside because I didn’t imagine being the one who would fit him best. There was someone else who needed him more…someone else who could see in him what I couldn’t…someone else who could do for him what my wavering faith could no longer offer.

But this is why God is God and I’m just me. He knows much better than I do what will work for the greatest good in our lives. It would only be a matter of time before I’d see Him start to orchestrate the most amazing love story I’d ever known.

********************

December 26, 2004

Gary set out for Miami and I started to miss him. I thought I was losing my mind because he’d gone on other trips before… we actually went three months without really spending time together…and all of a sudden there was this emptiness inside of me knowing that he was so far away.

I just woke up that morning and started reading our old emails to each other, from the time he first contacted me to the recent days wishing me Happy Birthday and such. For six months he had tried to get to know me and to open himself up to me as a friend. He wanted to spend time with me – asking me to go the Student Mass at LMU, suggesting that I could come over and watch 50 First Dates with him, or just sit on his front porch and watch the cars drive by. All offers refused or overlooked because I was distracted…stubborn…scared…cautious…all at the same time.

It was all so overwhelming to take in…to try to grasp that he really might want to be with me, and maybe…just maybe there was a possibility that I could finally admit liking him in return.

So when I wasn’t out with my friends during the rest of that week, I was thinking about him.

I don’t know exactly what I was thinking about. I don’t remember any concrete thoughts…only knowing that I wanted to see him again. There was no real strategy. I wasn’t planning to tell him that I could have feelings for him, too. I could only spend the free moments I had reflecting on the generosity and goodness he had been offering this whole time.

No, he wasn’t the kind of guy that I thought I’d end up with. I guess I always pictured myself with someone just like me – perhaps coming out of seminary realizing that God did not make him to be a priest…someone who decided to continue his education at Steubenville and come back to St. Peter Chanel to somehow be involved in starting a ministry of some sort. He’d be an intellectual and a mystic at the same time. The kind of person you’d meet and say off the bat, “You’re going to be a Saint.”

But see, God being Love has a 100% track record in matchmaking when you leave everything up to Him. The glow within Gary had been hidden from me…his striving for holiness only recognized by those he was given to help.

If he was helping me, maybe I would have noticed it earlier. But it was his love he wanted to give…a love that was committed and faithful. In his heart lay everything I had tried to learn from the writings of my favorite saints. What I knew, he actually lived. I had books upon books to read, while he had a wealth of experience from simply living life. Why it took so long for me to realize how valuable he was, I cannot even begin to say.

The story I had given him on Christmas night wasn’t so much for him. I believe that I was the one who needed to cherish the treasure I had in Gary.

********************

December 30, 2004

I called him. I had to. Gary told me that he’d be arriving today, so I thought I’d call to say thank you.

As good timing would have it, he answered when they were all at the airport already. He was pleasantly surprised, as he was any time I initiated anything, and he asked what pleasure he had of receiving the phone call.

“I just wanted to say thank you for everything you did for me last week,” I replied. “I had a really good time.”

Though I couldn’t see his smile, it shined through the line straight into my heart.

“You’re welcome,” he said. “I’m glad you liked it.”

If my memory serves me right, I asked him if he wanted to go to Mass the next day at 6:30. Danny had assigned me to lector at St. Peter Chanel and my mom would be coming with me.

Gary said yes. I was happy.

All this felt like I had cast myself in this real-life screenplay and was watching it happen to someone else. As ordinary as it seemed, the experience was very surreal. Come to think of it, my whole life was lived very much like this but some moments were more ethereal than others. Grace-filled, you could say. Heaven was undoubtedly watching, too.

The progression of this friendship threw my family for a loop. They didn’t know why the tide turned so suddenly…why now I was giving Gary a chance when just a couple months before I wanted to keep him at arm’s length.

If romantic love goes through periods of conversion, this was it for me.

People who refuse the love and mercy of God can go a whole lifetime rejecting His proposal for Heaven. But something happens that brings about a complete change of heart, and they are set on fire from within with a new radiance in the discovery that they had been loved so greatly.

That’s what happened to me.

I discovered how greatly I was loved by Gary.

He didn’t say he loved me, but I knew there had to be something deeper than a mild infatuation or case of puppy love.

And because he was giving so much of himself, I wanted to make it worth it for him. I knew what it was like to want to pour out your whole heart for someone and have them turn away because they did not know how to receive it. It hurt…yet it was a heart wound that you could only look at and somberly smile upon because that person had no idea how much you wanted to love them.

God was helping me to see Gary’s heart more clearly now that mine wasn’t so clouded. I would have been foolish to continue walking with him so blindly without recognizing who he really was…

********************

December 31, 2004

We met at St. Peter Chanel. I told him he could sit with us during Mass, and he did. The Mass was beautiful, as always, but afterwards I had the itch to go to the Sacred Heart Retreat House for the Evening of Thanksgiving New Year’s Eve Eucharistic Celebration. I had invited everyone I knew who might be interested in going, but they all had other plans with family and friends so it ended up to be just me and my mom.

We weren’t sure if we’d make it down there because it had been raining, but the sky cleared up that afternoon and I told Mommy that I wanted to go. After Mass, I asked Gary if he was doing anything that night and he said no, so I invited him to come long with us. And he did.

So he followed us to Alhambra and joined us for the talks and prayer in the Chapel. After some time, I was getting hungry, so I told my mom that I was going to get a banana in the car. I asked Gary if he’d like a tour of the grounds, and we walked around through the hallways and gardens of the retreat house.

It was cold that night, but I didn’t seem to notice. All I felt was this profound sense of peace, not just when we were kneeling in prayer but also as I showed him around my Rivendell. I never told him that I called it my place of refuge – my Rivendell – because I thought he might think me a little strange, but he knew it was special because this was the community I would have joined had it not been for the lupus diagnosis in 2003.

As we moved towards the front yard near the statue of the Sacred Heart, a woman called out to us from the street asking how she could get in. The gates were closed off of Alhambra Road so I told her to come around the side entrance and I would help them find their way in.

On our way to the parking lot, we saw this man struggling to get up. He was on the ground next to the Chapel and it looked like he was having trouble.

“Sir, are you okay?”

He had a cane but it wasn’t serving him well at the moment. “Uh, yeah, I just need to get up here.”

Turning to Gary, I said, “Why don’t you help him, and I’ll go find the lady out there. I’ll meet you back here later, okay?”

I left them and walked out to the side gate to meet the woman and her friend so I could guide them to the Chapel. When I returned, I saw Gary gently walking the man down the corridor from the restroom. The scene made me stop and pause…there was something very angelic about both of them, most especially in Gary. He was so patient and kind with him, and I knew in my heart that God had introduced me to someone very special.

Melting point.

It didn’t happen on the day of Les Mis, like Gary had wanted it to, but here it was as God intended Himself.

My heart turned to mush and I knew it.

I could hear the people coming out of the Chapel reciting the Rosary, so I knelt next to them both as they sat on the bench. We prayed with the procession as it moved through the walkway, and as soon as the crowd had left, the man takes Gary’s hand and reaches out for mine.

“Are you two together?” he asks.

I take his hand and sit next to him on the bench. Smiling, I say, “No, we’re just friends. We came here together, though.”

“Well, you should be,” he said with a chuckle. “I thought the two of you were married.”

I laughed. “No, no, we’re not married. Looking up at the sky, I could almost see how amused God must have been. Then my eyes turned to the steeple of St. Therese Church and wondered if He was trying to tell me something here.

“I’m Marianne.”

“Hi, Marianne. I’m Chip.” He’s still holding our hands. “This here is a good guy. He helped me get to the bathroom and cleaned me up. See, I had back surgery last month and haven’t got all better yet. So I’m thankful that he was here to help me.”

“Yeah, Gary is a good guy.” He really was.

Chip wants to keep talking so we just listen to him go on. “You know it’s cold tonight, but I don’t feel it right now. When my wife and I went to Fatima, that’s what would happen. We’d be praying the Rosary and while we were praying it, we wouldn’t feel cold even if it was. You ever felt that before?”

I nodded. “I have.”

It was one of those times that God shined His light on that moment…on the three of us sitting there holding hands.

The story continued as he told us about his wife – Amada, ”the beautiful one” – and showed us his wedding ring. He had kids and grandkids that lived with them, and his life, though simple as it was, was filled with many blessings.

We waited with him until his wife finally found him, and after introducing ourselves to her, we left them on the bench. I wanted to go inside back to Mommy in the Chapel, but there was something I had to give him. I took Gary to the side and told him that I had a gift for him. It could be a late Christmas/early birthday present…I actually wanted to wait until his birthday to give it to him, but now was a better time than ever.

He would question his vocation in life and seeing him that night helping Chip gave me the answer. I had found a rose petal on the pathway that they were walking and I explained that sometimes St. Therese leaves us rose petals to confirm something about our lives and God’s will for us. I also wore something very special that helped me remember that everything we did in life was for God, and it was His grace that allowed us to do what we do. I had made this ring in Hawaii last summer as a reminder of that, and I had lent it out to a few people for strength in difficult times.

Taking off the Grace ring and placing it in his hands, I said, “I want you to have this because God is going to use you to help people – many people – for the rest of your life. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with how much we have to give of ourselves to others, but we just have to remember that He’s the one doing it through us. Let it be a reminder not of me, but of Him.”

Gary is left speechless. “I don’t know what to say.”

“It’s okay. You don’t have to say anything.”

“Are you sure?”

I nodded. “Uh huh.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He pulls something out of his pocket. “I have something for you, too. I was kind of hesitant to give it to you and I wasn’t sure if I should wait, but I could just give it to you now and you can read it later.”

It was an envelope with letters in it. Heart-shaped letters.

I thanked him for them, and after a few moments he decided that he wanted me to read them right then and there. I moved towards a light in the courtyard so I could see and opened up the thickest one.

The something that was weighing on his heart was finally shared – a remnant of his past that he had to let go of and had to yet heal from. He needed to know that I would still accept him as a person and as a friend, and he knew that as dark as this something was, it served as a life lesson that would help him accept me in my illness.

It was his turning point. God bringing the greatest good out of the greatest evil he could imagine for himself. It was a testament of grace, mercy, and extreme love.

Then he needed to know. He needed to know if I felt for him even just a little of what he was feeling for me.

This is some of what his letter said:

…In you, I found the perfect gem. When I first saw you and talked to you, I was very intrigued. I can actually sympathize with your pain of “What am I going to do with my life?” “What kind of life am I going to live?” “How long am I going to live?” and “Can I love again?” At the same time, I understand how you changed and found new life through and with God. I guess that’s why you did not lose me when you told me your condition. Although back then, I did not have that gut feeling, part of me was excited, part of me wanted to hold on to this, part of me wanted to take a chance, and part of me wanted to be patient. At the very least, I would have made a good friendship and learned along the way.

Thinking about it, the people you meet and the sequence of events that happen occur for a reason. There’s no such thing as random acts. So maybe the things that happen in my life happen for a reason, and the people I meet are for a reason, too. All of which might be preparing me for someone or something, like someone special, a better life, and heaven.

Basically, this is how I feel about you. I like you a lot. I’m fortunate to have developed an awesome friendship with you. I have a feeling in my heart and my gut that is so strong for you that I cannot mentally phase it out. Believe me, I tried.

I know you’re not ready and you’re busy with work, Confirmation class, family, and God. That’s understandable because you know I’m busy, too. So in a sense the timing may not be right yet. But like your excerpt says, to “hold on to her and never let her go.” Well, I’m following my heart and giving it a try, probably not now, but when you’re ready. I know the circumstances and I’m willing to “dare to move,” “take a risk,” and “make that leap of faith.”

You might think I’m crazy to write this, but I just need to know if you like me that way, even just a little bit. Then at least I’ll know the wait will be worth it. But if you don’t like me in that way at all, then let me know.

A year and a half ago I did not care to love again. I just wanted to live my life and fulfill what God had planned for me. Now someone has come along in my path that can be the “icing on the cake.” For some reason my heart is big and ready to give. I hope you are the recipient of what my heart has to give.

Sincerely,

Gary

Then there was a second note. On the front of the heart was written:

This is what I would do if I was your 6th grade student

MARIANNE,

DO YOU LIKE ME?

YES NO

GARY

How could I refuse him after that? His timing was perfect. It always was.

Looking up at him, I said, “I’ve met many people in my life. Some of them know a lot about God and can talk about Him for hours but don’t have the actions to back it up. You don’t talk much about Him and maybe you don’t know as much as I do, but you are a living Gospel. Your faith shows through your actions and that’s what I saw tonight. So I’ll give it a shot.”

I don’t know if that was the reaction he was hoping for, but it was the best I could give him that night. I knew that if I had said no, we would have still been friends. He would have stayed in my life and I would have stayed in his, but something told me I would have regretted it if I turned him down. In the blink of an eye, I could see what our lives would have been like apart: I would watch him give his heart to someone else and know that it was the kind of love my own heart needed all along.

“You know who you have to talk to, though,” I said, informing him of Step One.

“Father Ed.”

Nodding my head, I said, “You can usually find him in his confessional at church.”

“What’s Step Two?” There he goes, knowing that he’ll pass with flying colors.

I smiled. “I don’t know. I never figured that anyone would get past Step One. I guess he’ll tell you.”

“Okay.”

We walked back to the Chapel entrance and he left to go home. I was gone for quite some time and I was praying that Mommy wouldn’t be upset with me for leaving her there. I just told her that we had to help some guy and we waited until his wife came back to get him.

That’s how my 2004 ended. Mommy and I drove home and walked up to the front door to the sound of fireworks ringing in the New Year. My cell phone started ringing as I put my key in the door. It was Gary.

“I just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year.”

Warm, fuzzy feeling inside that made me smile. “Thank you.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow?”

“Okay.”

And life as I knew it would never be the same.

THE END (of the beginning)

+AMDG+

Gary and Marianne 12.23.05

One year anniversary of “Our Special Day”

December 23, 2005

2 thoughts on “Our Story: In Pursuit of Love

  1. Beautiful!! What a wonderful witness of true love, a love that draws from God who is love itself! What an inspiration for single women to trust in God, seek God and allow Him to choose the right man for us , the one who will help us be the saintly women we are called to be. God bless u both!

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