Marvels of marvels and miracles of miracles, something happened this morning that I never thought I would see. Never. Because I did not have as much faith as I should have had.
Donnie and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary on March 20. Complications, however, have arisen in celebrating it. First, March 20 is the only time that the university students in Lithuania can do the review session for the course I taught there the last two weeks, and they need one. Moreover, March 21 is the only day that they can take their final. Given the 10-hour difference between our countries and the plan to have the students do the final review over Skype and the final (monitored by the department chair) in the computer lab, emailing me immediately their answers, my presence is required in both instances in the late evening hours, ending at midnight. So, while I can be free during the day, I need to be at home, with the proper computer equipment at night. Any plans that Donnie and I would have liked to have had to take a trip (we have dreamed of a special trip for our 40th anniversary for some time, entertaining a number of different exotic locations, among which it had been difficult to choose) cannot be accomplished on the actual date. Second, with Shane unemployed, I would prefer to use trip money to pay the next unseen number of months of his COBRA fees, which at $800 a month are well beyond his ability to pay on unemployment compensation, and provide smaller amounts to help with the kids and food. (His umemployment amount covers his rent only.)
So, seeing that our local St. Francis Retreat Center, which is no more than five minutes up the hill from our house, is offering a two-day retreat on Franciscan spirituality March 20-21, I decided to sign up for it. Donnie has agreed to come! We will try to sneak away on the evening of March 20, during the dinner hour, for a private anniversary dinner at our favorite local restaurant.
The process leading to this decision began when Donnie returned from Jordan, an atheist as I had always been, to find that I had had a remarkable conversion experience and was now pretty dedicated to following in the path of Christ and obeying God at all costs. It was not the kind of thing one emails to one's spouse of 30+ years or relates on a phone. So, I had waited until he had completed his contract there, which ended eight months after mine, and then, when he arrived back in California, I shared with him all that had happened.
To say that he was in shock would be an understatement. For nearly a week, he could not even speak to me. He would look at me and mutter, "I cannot get my head around it."
Doah, on the other hand, was delighted. He had been a believer perhaps before he was even born. Who knows, given his significant retardation, what and how his beliefs were formed, but he always exhibited them. However, from the time that he could speak, he evinced not only strong belief but strong connection with God, saying things like "God told me" X or Y. One weekend soon after Donnie came home, Doah was in the car with us, driving to a nearby city for grocery shopping, and spontaneously said a prayer that momentarily got Donnie's attention, "Dear God, Thank you for bringing Mom to You, but You forgot about Dad."
Unfortunately, the effect was minimal and shorter than temporary. I wondered what would reach Donnie, and I knew that he was not the type to be pushed. Moreover, he was still in shock. I had been such an outspoken atheist.
A few months later, a friend visited from Nebraska. We spent every evening walking around Old Mission grounds, a little of it together but most of it separately praying and communing with God. It was during that time that I started begging God to help with Donnie and was told that eventually he would come to believe but that first I must frequently pray with him.
Pray with an atheist? I knew how that would have gone over with me, and I had a pretty good idea how that would go over with Donnie. Nonetheless, convinced that this was the path that God had chosen to bring Donnie to Him, at our very next breakfast together, I insisted that we say grace together. We have continued that pattern for two years now. I have also upon occasion, as I sensed his atheism turning into agnosticism, asked him to say grace (just in case), and he has acquiesced.
Then, last spring my torn rotator cuff was healed instantly during Mass. Doah was there and sensed the same presence on the kneeler with us that I felt touch my arm. When I returned and showed Donnie the totally free movement I had in my arm that had been impossible to move than 30 degrees before I went to Mass, he was again shocked. With the healing confirmed five days later by MRI, his agnosticism began to turn toward a "just in case, perhaps-perhaps not" kind of potentially emerging belief.
Still, he has been unwilling to step closer. I go to Mass alone or with Doah, Noelle, or Lemony (my daughter-in-law who was gladly my sponsor), when they are visiting, or even sometimes with a friend.
Nonetheless, Donnie has spent time with Fr. Ed and Fr. Barry, when they have come for a family or other event. They don't push him, either, and I try to follow their model of just being an example. I have also tried to be steadfast in praying for him and, as God urged, with him, relying on God to take care of the rest.
And so today, I am the one in shock, pleasant shock. (The shock pricks me, though, in thinking that had I had greater faith, there would be NO shock. Nonetheless, I am happy, indeed. Yes! A spiritual weekend together! What better anniversary gift could there be?A