A Story


Carolyn Shields         

Written August 2013  

I’m twenty years old. I’m sitting in my college apartment and consoling my roommate whose boyfriend just broke up with her, watching Lord of the Rings. Last night we just threw a big Thanksgiving Dinner—complete with Pilgrim and Indian hats (all the men called us females squaws). In the middle of the night, we started playing music and my friend disappears for a minute and comes back with a spare amp that he keeps in his car. After sneaking into his brother’s seminary (also on campus) and stealing his converter, we blare Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A” out the window and dance on the picnic tables and fire pit outside, still wearing our paper hats, and students draw up their blinds and watch us.

This isn’t the first successful party we’ve thrown. I love entertaining, but I hate socializing. I've decided I'm the most illogical person: yes to cigars, scared to death of lighters; worked at a cafe, hate coffee, ok with traveling across the world, balks at having to give a speech. But with a house just a few miles off campus, I've had countless parties. There was the cookie baking party in February, cue memory of my friend playing CeeLo Green on the piano and twenty college kids circling around him and belting out “Forget You.”

The Pringle Mingle, cue memory of then-freshmen Carolyn swooning over all the senior boys who came just to sample the forty-some Pringle flavors displayed on our table.  The Fall Y’all party, cue memory of dance party in basement, bonfire, and outdoor movie of the Blair Witch Project in my woods. (I may have dropped about $250 on a party once…that’s a secret). And it’s all because I have great friends who want to come to this stuff.

College is awesome.

I studied abroad in Dublin my sophomore year and planned three-day trips to Scotland, England, France, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Spain and mini-excursions all over Ireland for my two best friends, David and Emily. I write books, I’ve gone on weeks long camping trips all over America, and my faith is the center of my life. I own one purse and got new specs—thicker rims—and suddenly everyone has started calling me a hipster. :| I know my life is insanely beautiful.

So why, at moments like this, do I feel so terribly, brokenly, exhaustively unwanted? What’s wrong with me that no guy has ever asked me out before? Immediately I think it’s because maybe I’m a little shy. High school was hell for me. My dad was in Iraq for the first few months, and I was so sheltered in my childhood and suddenly found myself surrounded by people making out against lockers. I had paper thrown at my head, was rammed into a locker, managed to make three friends in four years, but ever since coming to the Mount all of that has been far behind me. That’s just a splinter in my past.

I still blush at every emotion I feel, but that doesn’t seem to be the reason why no man has ever pursued me, has ever wanted to date me. Ever. Or at least that I know of. So what’s the freaking reason then? It’s definitely not the being-too-perfect. If you could only be in my confessional. I skip classes too often (to buy cupcakes, watch the Hills, perfectly sinful reasons). The other day I took a pair of dirty socks out of my laundry to wear them again. I’ve worn glasses for six years now and still sometimes forget to take them off before a shower. Apparently I committed a capital offense in London, and I accidentally set myself on fire once.  

I’ve gotten worked up with the men in this generation too about never asking out some of my closest friends. Obviously I’m not the only one who’s alone, but I sure do feel it sometimes, because the beautiful truth is, a woman’s deepest desire is TO love, not always to BE loved. I can’t pretend to understand God’s timing. I just learned in philosophy that God is outside time. Time has absolutely nothing to do with God. Maybe God is saving someone special for me after I knock out all of my crazy dreams. After graduation I intend to work in Cambodia for a few months with the Salesians in the VIDES program, and I can’t really ask a guy to wait for me through that, can I? I’ve seen how pained my mother was when my dad went to war. I could never ask a man I’m not married to to wait. I think.

A response written a few months later

Now I’m sitting in a dormitory room in Paterson, New Jersey, a town whose streets sparkle with broken glass, doors have snowflake patterns where people threw rocks at them, and colorful trash roams the streets at will. I’m twenty-one now, and I’m waiting for the most beautiful man to call me, and all day I’ve been weepy, pms maybe having only 30% to do with it.

What I didn’t know just eight months ago: I would date the man I’ve had a crush on for two and a half years in just a few months.

I’m working up in New Jersey right now at a summer camp to complete my VIDES training, a program that the Salesians have established to offer young adults the chance to work with impoverished children internationally. Between the last time I wrote and now, a lot has changed. A whole heck of a lot. For one, I no longer feel called to work in Cambodia for three months. I went to China for two weeks in May. I climbed the Great Wall, I fell down the Great Wall (freaking steps). I ate a live scorpion and experienced my first real spiritual attack and it was hell. God graced me during this trip with the knowledge that no, I’m not meant to be in Asia for three months, and he showed me this in this two week opportunity than placing me in Cambodia after I committed myself to three months there.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a little, because in January, just weeks after I wrote that passage above, I called my friend, panicking about my recent decision to graduate a semester early and about missions work in general. He gave me his brother’s phone number who is a missionary, and it was the most fruitful conversation I’d had in months. He and I started talking again a bit. When I say I’ve liked him for two and a half years, I don’t mean there was never any other crush. Of course there were, I would not allow myself to cling to a guy for three years without any sign of deepening our relationship. Ultra unhealthy. But still, every time I would see him at a party the highlight was always hugging him or seeing that unbelievably beautiful smile. Or dancing with him at my friend’s ballroom dances. (I always wore a sample bottle of perfume I got from Paris whenever I knew I would see him).

Then we saw each other at a party at College Park where kids were doing drugs in the bathroom and other kids continuously broke our conversation by hitting us with stray pingpongs from Beer Pong or whatever, but nearly that entire night we sat together talking. He donated money for my trip to China, and I wrote him a thank you letter, saying how I’m at adoration, and mom asked me how I ever fell in love with adoration, and in the letter I explained to him how I couldn’t tell her the truth because it all had to do with my old freshmen crush on his senior self. Confession: I started going to adoration during his time slot just to see him pray. I love watching people pray. I sit in the back corner of our school’s chapel for daily mass. It’s something about watching people humble themselves, fall to their knees, and bow their heads before the Host. He indirectly introduced me to divine love, and I started to return multiple times throughout the day.

So continuing this story, this spring I kept reminding myself to see him as nothing but a brother in Christ. That’s the other thing he didn’t know he did to my heart…one of the many reasons I was so drawn to him as a freshmen is because he had such a beautiful life, and beautiful stories to share, and it made me realize that I’m attracted to men who seem to be living a fulfilled life. So reflecting inwardly, I realized that I should stop this incessant ‘spouse hunt,’ and I needed to stop seeing every man as a potential future husband, because I want the man I marry to live a beautifully sweet life before me, and believing this, I need to let him live on his own for a while. Likewise, I need to make my life as beautiful as I can so that one day, when we fall in love and marry, I can offer him a life that I’ve tried to make as beautiful as I can. So he can share in it and partake in it. And become the crown jewel of it, for Christ will be the gold that holds it all together. So because of this guy, I guess, I started to really try to see guys as brothers in Christ. And I failed majorly sometimes, but it helped cool the heat of my lonely heart.

Soon after, he wrote me a letter and asked me out. That was the happiest hour I've ever spent in the chapel before, rereading it a thousand times.

To say the least, the past few months have been beautiful. I wish I could go back and tell my November Self to shut up, to keep trusting Christ. I’m not saying that this story is so perfect that I’m marrying him, that he’s the One, that He will be the one at the end of the aisle. I’m afraid, naturally, that I’ll just be a girl on his list, and I HATE thinking of that list of all those girls he’s dated, the ones who really hurt him and the ones who just held his hand. I try to remember to draw a cross on his hand whenever he holds mine, because after several months, my heart still races a bit when our fingers interlock.

Here’s the thing, too: it’s supposed to be simple. Life is, I guess. And I’m just not sure why it’s not a lot of times. There’s no set reason, I’m sure, but looking back, I guess personally I’ve always been the one who complicates my life, but when I strip away the pride, the fears, and get to the heart of it, the problem presents itself rather simply and the solution too.

I’m sunburned while writing this, wearing a tshirt and yoga pants that I forgot to throw in the wash today. I walked six miles yesterday in 95 degree heat for an iced coffee at McDonalds. I won’t even give a backstory because it’s not worth it. Anyway, I have to wake up at 6 tomorrow, and just face another day of having 7yr old, sweaty girls hanging off of me for nine hours. And I love every minute of it. Where am I going with VIDES now you ask? I think VIDES is out of the picture, actually, and instead I’m looking at Kenya, August 2014 with the Vincentians. But Fulton Sheen wrote that when our will (horizontal) and God’s will (vertical) intersects, we draw our crosses, and I am tired thinking too much about what I want. I just want to do His will, you know? But it’s still hard trying to figure out what that is. It’s like thinking, “God, why CAN’T you let me date this guy because he’s good and holy? It’s a good thing. Why can’t I have him?” Or “God, why CAN’T you let me want to go to Cambodia. It’s a good and holy thing, it doesn’t make sense for you to not want me to go there.” But he has His reasons.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55:8,9)

I’ve got my retainer goin’ on, night prayers accomplished, and will fall asleep probably thinking about my boyfriend and my last conversation or our last kiss, thanking Christ for this beautiful life He’s blessed me with. And in a few months, when I stumble across this document on my computer and cry rereading this because his hand hasn’t held mine since a break-up, or because I’m finishing up my last few days of college life in December, I need to go back to my old mantra from freshmen year: love, trust, surrender.


Bray, Ireland

Another response written a few weeks later

I don’t know. I’m sitting in my favorite café downtown, the Ragged Edge, and I’m surrounded by a film crew and young girls getting their hair and makeup done for a movie or something, and I’m just tucked in a corner nursing a little, wounded heart since the breakup. I keep thinking about that letter tucked in my journal from him, the one he told me to only read when I’m sad. The one I read in a closet-chapel in an underground church in China during adoration, praying for his heart, and in the first few lines he called me out on reading it when I’m not even sad. Which was true. I just missed him. Like now. But in this letter, he said one of the things he admires most about me is seeing past the grittiness of people and finding the good in anyone, and loving them for it. Even though I’m at my saddest in months, I can’t bring myself to reread that letter. Not yet. And I know there is good somewhere in this pain, but I kind of just don’t want to find it yet. It would be acknowledging that this all happened, you know?

It goes back to what I wrote about earlier, about not understanding why God wouldn’t want this good thing to happen. That’s what I kept saying to him too. “I don’t understand why God wouldn’t want this. It’s so good and pure and simple. Why why why.” And here’s what I’ve learned recently: the answer to every single ‘WHY’ question can be found in Isaiah 43:4:

“Because you are precious in my eyes and glorious, and because I love you.”

I knew we might not be forever, but I thought we would be for a lot longer. I've also got this spiritual exhaustion thing going on, post-NJ. I just kept thinking of what I should do, what I ought to do, what I want to do, how it’s not about me, it’s about Christ, and how I just felt so useless not being home for him when he had a terrible week, and how the only thing that got me through all that discernment and spiritual exhaustion was knowing I’d return home to him in a week. A woman's unhappiest moments in life is when she is unable to give herself to another; Fulton Sheen extends this by saying, her most hellish moments are when she refuses to give. It was and is hellish not to be able to give myself to him the way I want to anymore.

Jacques Philippe writes in Interior Freedom, “Usually, if we seek God’s will with a sincere heart, we will receive the light to understand it…If we were always sure we were doing God’s will and walking in the truth, we would soon become dangerously presumptuous and at risk of spiritual pride. Not always being absolutely sure we are doing God’s will is humbling and painful, but it protects us.” And we need divine protection for our hearts.

There’s no need to go into the details of the breakup, but I feel like hell. I keep praying that God numbs me from this pain, but I keep thinking of that stupid line from Fault in our Stars by John Green: Pain demands to be felt. So I went home, and Mom held my hand until I fell asleep on a damp pillow. In the middle of the night I woke her up, and asked her to sleep with this 21yr old child. The next night I went to my friend's house where my big brother greeted me at the backdoor with the longest hug of my life, and held me as I cried. And then he prayed over me.

“It doesn’t make sense,” I kept whimpering.

“Crucifying Christ didn’t make sense either,” he said gently.

And the practice of perfecting simplicity with ze old boyfriend is what I’ll miss most, even though in that breakup I learned that for him, our relationship wasn’t simple. But in honesty, I suppose I'm not making the breakup simple either. Dating is discernment for marriage. He discerned his half, and now, in a way, I must do my part in this aftermath.

All of this though, it was worth the risk. Life is all about taking risks. Jacques Philippe wrote that by never making a choice (because we see this as a loss of freedom, which it isn’t), we refuse to live. Likewise, by refusing to take risks, we get nowhere. The worst thing that could ever happen to us is to have everything go according to our plans, because how would we ever grow? Why would we ever grow?

By not understanding what is happening when we are undergoing some painful trial is sometimes just an inability to fully abandon ourselves trustingly to God and to surrender all to Him. Christ has our best interests at heart, for He who is All said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7). Sometimes not knowing why I’m going through this pain is a lot harder than the pain itself. Nobody deserves pain, but St. Therese said there is no such thing as unnecessary suffering.

So I’m acknowledging that I’ve never felt shittier. I never curse, but this breakup has limited my verbal communication and anesthetized my vocabulary. I hated not knowing that I was on the final page of Chapter: Him, just like I hated not knowing the final line of Fault in our Stars was just that, the end. I turned the page and there was nothing more. But this isn’t the end of the Story of my Heart. I refuse to believe that.

Christ told St. Faustina that in a single moment, He can give us more than we could ever desire. I know I’m sad. But I also know it will be ok. And I know that Christ will continue to cradle my heart, which just feels so tired right now on this road to Calvary. But I want to make something beautiful from this pain. I do want to see the good in it.

Womenfolk, that’s why I created this site. Because I want to find that goodness again. It’s not just the breakup, but the spiritual exhaustion, this debacle at work I’m going through, these anxieties about the future which is teetering on the edge on whether or not I need medication…I want to mold this merkbluckness into something beautiful. We all need to believe not just with our minds but with our hearts that a Greater Good exists. And I want this site to serve as a reminder.

May 2015

It's strange to have such an outdated heart's testimony on here because a world has happened since this first relationship. But I believe that where this ends is all that a lot of women need. You don't have to hear about the hardships or joys that happened since, because oftentimes, our Holy directs us to read only what we need to read, hear only what needs to be heard, experience the pain that is necessary, and I think that's where this testimony stands. It's certainly not the full picture, but it's a chapter of my life that stands alone. The darkest chapters of my life followed it, and I've emerged from them, stronger than ever. And thank you for reading.