What Backpacking the Grand Canyon Taught Me about Love

Adventure.

Most of us, in some fashion, crave adventure. For us women, we long to be swooped up and carried on a wonderful adventure with the man of our dreams. For men, they long to: lead, protect, and serve the women who join them on their adventure.

Women want to be captivating.

Men want to be captivated.

What is all the adventure for? Does it actual exist? How can we find OUR adventure?

“I may not be there yet, but I am closer than I was yesterday.”


I want to tell you a story of this one time when I backpacked the Grand Canyon….

I was asked to go with Tim and his family to hike the Grand Canyon, and although I was nervous, I said ‘yes’. As the months flew by and March was approaching, my excitement grew. I finally understood the excitement of Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit when he yells, “I’M GOING ON AN ADVENTURE.”

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What made this more exciting? I was going on it with the man of my dreams.

The thing is? Adventure is great but we just don’t realize how much suffering we may have to endure along the way. If any of you have seen or read The Hobbit, this is definitely true for Bilbo.

The same was also true for me… I wasn’t prepared for the pain I would feel from carrying a backpack and hiking down 8 miles. I wasn’t prepared for the pain in my legs as each day exhausted every muscle in my body.

We always think we’re ready! Right? We think that “our plan is best”, “we know everything”, “we have it all worked out”. Yet, when we make our plans… God laughs.

The first day of the big adventure was amazing! I did much better than I thought! After making it down to the bottom and celebrating by washing our hot and sweaty feet in the cool creek by our campsite, Tim and I shared a victory beer and stayed up late to see the sky glittering with thousands of stars. It was like a dream!

The dream slowly fizzled when the pain of the ascent began. I was hurting in every muscle of my body, no joke.

The climax of this pain came on the very last day, on the steepest part of the canyon, and filled with over 40 switchbacks. I stared in fear at the distance we had to travel and could feel in my legs a soreness from my pack. My silence was piercing and I could tell that Tim was stressed to see me in pain. Tim would look behind to check if I was OK, I would give him a little nod and continue praying my rosary. Hoping that no one would notice how much pain I was in.

Unfortunately, Tim knows me better than that. He kept asking and asking; “how are you doing? Do you want to take a break soon? How does your pack feel?”… I was embarrassed and frustrated so I would just give him the “I don’t want to talk about it” look and continue on very slowly.

It seemed like forever until we could see what remotely looked like the top of the canyon! I hurried as quickly as my slow feet would go and hiked up the remainder of the canyon, with Tim following shortly behind me.

WHAT A RELIEF. I wanted to cry, but I was way too exhausted.

The ride to the airport was filled with quiet music and heavy breathing. Tim’s sister was asleep in the back seat and Tim could sense I was still agitated from the last few miles up the canyon.

My insecurities have always led me to believe that I’m not “enough”. In the silence of the car ride I was telling myself, “you are so weak. He probably would rather be with someone stronger. You aren’t adventuresome enough for him.”

To break the silence, Tim said: “Hey, thanks for coming! I feel really lucky that you would do this with us. I know it wasn’t easy.”

He continued….

“Don’t worry… I’ll always be there to lift your pack and give you a lighter load.”

Immediately I broke down into tears. I was confronting head on the selfishness of my actions. See, we hadn’t talked about it but while we were hiking up the last 4 miles I would occasionally feel a weight lifted off of my legs… during those brief minutes I would feel such amazing relief and couldn’t pin down exactly what it was until we had almost made it to the top.

While behind me, Tim was lifting my pack so that it wasn’t as heavy and I could lift my legs more easily.

I felt SO guilty! While I was consumed in my own pain, Tim was fixated on me.


This is where it gets real….

My brothers and sisters in Christ,

I learned while backpacking the Grand Canyon the true authentic depth of love. I learned that to love another person isn’t just simply the butterflies you feel around them. To love someone is to suffer for them and the ultimate love is to die for them. Christ shows us the depth of His love on Calvary and Tim shows me the depth of his love in both the little sufferings of the Grand Canyon and the big sufferings when he dies to himself in chastity.

I started out as Bilbo Baggins anxious for my adventure, I ended as Frodo being carried by Sam up Mount Doom.  We all take turns in the different roles.

I am not strong enough…. neither is Tim. We need each other to get to Heaven. 

Throughout the past year I have witnessed couples thrive, barely survive, and fizzle out completely. The couples who thrived, always had their sights set on Christ. The couples who fizzled out were relying on the perfection of each other to get through life. Hate to break it to you people- we aren’t perfect and we never will be. 

Christ is perfect.

As I reflected on my plane ride home from the Grand Canyon I came to a major realization…

Only one man other than Tim has ever selflessly lifted my baggage up a mountain… This man cried for me, was whipped because of me, carried a heavy piece of wood stained with my sin, and died upon that same stained piece of wood- for me. 

I understood, finally, that if I am “enough” for the God of the universe to die a painful death for… I am enough for Tim, even in my brokenness and embarrassment.

“Finally, I realized that love includes every vocation, that love is all things, that love is eternal, reaching down through the ages and stretching to the utmost limits of the earth.” Saint Therese of Lisieux


On August 15th, the feast day of the Assumption, Tim got down on one knee and asked me the most important question of my life, “Kileen Ann Willis, I love you. Will you marry me?”

It was truly the best day of my life (so far) and I gladly accepted his request!

Before he asked me this pivotal question he wrote me a series of 3 letters and on the second one he included these words in big bold letters.

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My sisters in Christ,

Please don’t settle. Ask the Lord who will bring the best out in you and wait for His response. When you grow tired of waiting, rely on Our Lady. Please PLEASE don’t give up! I desire this for each and every single one of you! To grow old with someone who seeks to bring out CHRIST in you is the greatest adventure of all.

It is WELL worth the wait.

“And so it was that she, after having waited long and endured patiently, realized and obtained what God had promised.” Hebrews 6:15

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Catholic, Single, and Trying to Navigate the Dating World

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Having a young Catholic try to navigate the dating world can be an intimidating thing especially with terms like, “hook-up, courtship, casual dating, chaperones, and casual sex” floating around society. So what’s the big deal? How does a young Catholic date while remaining both physically AND emotionally chaste?

There are two big words that have been coming up recently in the Christian dating world and that is courtship and casual dating.

First thing is first.. Let me explain what both casual dating and courtship is.

Casual dating (from what I understand) is trying to bridge the gap between courtship and the hook up culture. It tells young single men to go ahead and ask out a girl but “don’t worry, it’s not a commitment… It’s just a date!” Girls should be open to these dates but feel free to let the guy down easy if it isn’t “right”. Which could get you in a tailspin of continued dates just because you feel too bad telling the guy that the relationship isn’t going anywhere. I, like many young girls, didn’t know what the heck casual dating was until I started dating my boyfriend. I remember my sisters all anxiously awaiting to hear about my new relationship and I told them exactly what I was told…”We’re casually dating”.

My older sister looked at me with confusion and asked what that meant and the only thing I could reply was the matter of fact… “I don’t know”.

We were all puzzled. Exclusive? Not exclusive? Committed? Not committed?

I was lost.

Finally about 2 months later we decided to leave all the casual stuff behind us and commit to dating exclusively. I’ll explain why this was the best thing that could have happened to us in the end.

Now courtship looks a bit different.

The Duggar family from the hit TLC Show “19 Kids and Counting” includes in their courtship rules not only an emphasis on maintaining a pure relationship, but they do this through chaperones and strict physical boundaries. The young couples are to have chaperones with them at all times in order to keep them accountable for their guidelines in purity, and the physical touch between the couples are kept to occasional side hugs and getting to hold hands while they’re engaged.

Sounds great and dandy and all….

But for those of you that watch 19 Kids & Counting you may have noticed one thing… These courtship relationships move FAST.

They are barely in courtship for it seems like a month and they’re already planning their wedding.

It might be easy to figure out my issues with each but I’ll spell it out anyway…


Casual dating

1. The definition is unknown.

No one really knows what casually dating is. It’s this weird middle ground between the hook up culture and courtship. Due to its lack of definition many people can just kind of make up what it means. Also, there’s a widely known phrase that goes around in our culture known as “casual sex”. Doesn’t that sound kind of close to “casual dating”? Some people may get confused that they’re the same thing. Which might make for a pretty awkward date if those definitions get crisscrossed.

2. Commitment phobe?
You may snag a few of those commitment phobes trying to turn from their old ways and join the dating scene. The whole casual dating stuff would seem like a good step in the right direction! Casual dating sounds like it allows for people to start dating but in no way requires any true commitment. Personally? Dating shouldn’t include writing an official commitment on paper but it also shouldn’t be a hobby someone would rather do than have the usual “date night with a bowl of popcorn and Netflix” sort of thing.

3. “I don’t see myself marrying him, but it’s just a date!”

Casually dating sometimes doesn’t emphasize the idea of ‘dating with the intent to marry’ enough. They stress just going out on casual dates… Yes that’s great and all. But be realistic! If you can’t see yourself with the guy later in life, why continue dating? It is more selfless to let go than to hang on to another woman’s (or man’s) spouse. Now I’m not saying to go crazy and start picking out your wedding colors or anything but acknowledge whether or not you could picture that person in your future. Then either let go or commit to FULLY dating them and leave this “casual” nonsense behind.

Courtship

1. Physical Chastity vs. Emotional Chastity

Setting physical boundaries to help in the battle for purity is awesome! But let’s remember the less understood word of emotional chastity. The heart is sacred… Don’t give it away too quickly but require that the person God set apart for you seek your heart in the sacred heart of Jesus.

2. Too much pressure

From what I know about courtship it can be a process that involves solid commitment right from the get go. The person that you court IS the person that you will marry. Talk about pressure, goodness. This would leave little room for mistakes. I found that while part of me would want to erase the embarrassment of dating some unfortunate fellows, I would never do that because it was through those lessons I was able to learn about the man I would actually want to marry. There was a freedom and new-found-strength by having those learning experiences (notice I didn’t say failure… it isn’t a failure if you learn from it).


So I propose this…. We date with a purpose.

Dating with a purpose allows for young singles to remove the pressure of courtship but also directs “casual dating” to be more purposeful. Don’t date just because it could be a fun past time. Discern the relationship and if it isn’t fulfilling the purpose to which you intended, then be brave enough to end it.

Dating with a purpose can and should include a vow to practice the virtue of chastity. Until that couple says “I do”, nothing is set in stone. Leave room for the Holy Spirit to direct your relationship and either build it or break it in order to lead you to something else far better. Chastity in a relationship is like the boundaries in a river. Those barriers are what keep the river flowing both quickly and naturally to its destination. For the chaste couple the boundaries which they place in their relationship allow for them to naturally flow towards their destination, which is Heaven. Chastity isn’t meant to make the couple miserable. It is meant to be a joyful struggle. Yes. Struggle with it. Chastity was never meant to be easy but always meant to be worth it. Lift up those struggles for the glory of God and He will give you the joy you seek.

My boyfriend and I about one year into our relationship had to have a serious talk about our future. (Personally- I recommend having this 6 months into your relationship). I told him that if at any point he feels that I am not what is best for him, who he could picture in his future, or who could lead him to Heaven then he should absolutely break up with me. 

I wasn’t saying this to be mean or rude, I was saying it because I didn’t want to be selfish with him. We had to both feel the same way or our relationship was going to end in heartbreak. Remember how I said that the best thing that happened to us was leaving the casual dating shenanigans behind? This is the reason! It allowed for raw honesty between the two of us and a careful discernment as to whether or not we should continue our relationship.

Lastly: (& the most important piece of advice)

Pray and discern whether or not to begin dating. A relationship with Our Lord is the most important thing and sometimes we idolize relationships and put them in the place of our relationship with God. To prevent this from happening make sure that your prayer life is heavily intertwined in your dating life or future relationship. Discernment isn’t just for the future Priests or Nuns, it is for every single vocation. And yes, marriage is a vocation to lead you to Heaven and you can attain the same holiness as someone who enters religious life. There are TONS of holy Saints who were married. Look ’em up.

Holiness begins in the earliest stages of your dating life… actually it begins before you even start dating! Dive into your prayer life and Our Lord will ready your heart as you date with a purpose. 

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Put A Ring On It…Or… Forever Alone?

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Last Thursday I just happened to pick up CSU’s newspaper ‘The Collegian’ on my way to my 9:30 AM class. This was just plain out of the ordinary… I never read the paper. But on this certain day I decided to open it up and read through what ‘compelling’ news they had to report on.

I opened up to the Opinion section on page 4 and immediately my eyes were drawn to this title, “Not having a ring by spring is okay”. Of course being the girl that I am I knew exactly what the topic of discussion was going to be… engagements and marriage. If you know me you would know that it would almost be a sin NOT to look at what the article had to say.

This particular column began with a person who signed themselves off as ‘forever alone’ while asking the writer, “Rams’ Rede”, about whether or not marriage and relationships should be something they should be focused on in their final semester of college. Ending with the fact they are single and bothered by it, concluding with the already mentioned ‘forever alone’.

My immediate reaction to what Rams’ Rede began in saying, ‘you will not be alone forever. Take heart.’ Was a sense of happiness to see this advice was starting out very well! Of course immediately following this my enthusiasm for the advice went down the drain… and fast. Rams’ Rede began the third paragraph with this…

“So you haven’t found your soul mate yet. So what? I can almost guarantee you that these friends of yours that are getting married haven’t either. Let’s face the facts: In our early twenties, we don’t know what we want to do with our life professionally, so how are we supposed to know what we want to with our lives personally?”  

Then they continued further saying…

“You should count yourself lucky, then, that you only have yourself to worry about. You don’t have to worry about finding a job in the city that your fiancé’s career has taken him or her to, and you don’t have to worry about braving through the rough waters of long distance. You don’t have to worry about getting pregnant too soon or after your career gets started, and you don’t have to brave the looks of people trying not to judge you for getting your ‘MRS’ degree.”

This enraged me.

First of all, facing the ‘facts’ that those in their early twenties don’t know what they want to do with their life professionally is a lie. That is not a fact. To a fault I am a planner. I have loved being able to sort through and, with the help of Our Lord, sort out what I would like to do professionally. I may be in the slim margin of people who are confident in their career at twenty one but I sure can attest to being a part of the few who know and are confident in their career pathway.

Unfortunately, I feel like there’s some unwritten stigma that is telling people they should be ‘perfect’ before they meet the person they will marry. If that’s the truth? I would have never met the man I will eventually marry. I am no where NEAR perfection, but praise God I have someone who loves the imperfections in me so perfectly. I am growing in love, communion, and holiness with this amazing, yet also imperfect, man. Yes, I am a mess. I sometimes don’t have things figured out so perfectly in my personal life. That doesn’t make me any less apt to love, or him any less capable of receiving that love. What Rams’ Rede was doing was discounting the fact that people are fully capable of attaining true and lasting relationships in college. This doesn’t mean that every relationship is meant to be when you’re in college. There are definitely a few things that are essential for the relationship to last and if you would like a list of some tips on “how to survive the first year in a serious relationship” take a look here for some do’s and don’ts.

The next fundamental thing that I took away in disagreement with this persons advice is that selflessness is required in any relationship. If you don’t believe me, take the time to read this. If Rams’ Rede considers themselves to be lucky to only think of themselves then quite honestly I don’t think they are ready for a serious relationship. Marriage will bring sacrifice but also immense joy. Especially in the creation of a new life.

I wholeheartedly believe in what Rams’ Rede says in that, “There are people that want to graduate and have someone to face uncertainty with- an ‘us versus the rest of the world’ mentality”. I am that person. Not because I am afraid of the uncertainty or can’t handle the world on my own, but because as it is said in Song of Songs 3:4, “When I found the one whom my heart loves, I took hold of him and would not let him go”. I just can’t imagine not going through those big moments without him.

It’s not easy. Love will never be easy whether you are old or young. The word “compatible” comes from the latin word “compati” which means to suffer with. To love someone is to suffer with them. Although decisions and the future are very overwhelming and scary… it’s an adventure that makes the immense sacrifices and suffering worth it. When I was younger I dreamed of adventure, but never imagined I would actually do adventurous things. I never imagined I would actually climb a mountain or try exotic food, but I did it! You want to know why? God gave me the person who brought the adventure out in me. I would not trade that for the world. I will gladly take all of the difficult moments if it meant I had just that one moment of adventure with the guy I love. It might be easier to think of only myself, but it doesn’t give me as much joy. Plus, I don’t doubt that God will give those who have faith in Him the grace to make these decisions with joy and excitement!

For those of you that feel you are ‘forever alone’. You are not! My advice to you? Instead of saying that you should think only of yourself during this time, like Rams’ Rede suggested, I propose the opposite. Think of others, not just yourself. Be praying for your future spouse and asking God to give you the patience to wait for him. If you have Our Lord constantly on your heart and you are thinking of His will and His desires for you, it will make the time go by a lot faster. That is what I mean by not focusing so much on yourself, focus on Him who created you.

Trust me, even when you have found ‘the one’ you will still see rings and hear wedding talk everywhere. It is a beautiful thing to be in love but it is also beautiful to trust that God was the writer in your love story. Allow Him to be! Have the faith that He will bring the person into your life at the proper time and in the proper place!

Simply remember this.. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

 

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