Northern Texas, October 2010
The Texas prairie sped past my car windows, giving way to the wide open fields of Oklahoma. Bright golden sunflowers dotted the sides of the country road. The speed limit was set to 75. I didn’t dare go beyond it. My friend Jim had warned me how tightly it was enforced.
“I got pulled over for going a few miles over the limit,” he’d told me. “When I asked about it, the police officer just shook his head and said, ‘75 is fast enough.’”
I was like my friend Jim: even with such a generous speed limit, I wanted more. Not so much miles per hour, but more out of my life. I was tired of living by halves—loving Jesus and the world, too. I wanted to change. To at last become the person who God wanted me to be.
My first struggle was letting go of Charles. Since I was leaving Texas for good, our physical separation had been easy and natural. But my mind and heart also needed separation, and healing. Charles had betrayed me, and then I had meddled and made things worse. I felt smaller and lower than the tiny pebbles cast along the sides of the highway.
What is wrong with you, Mary? A voice in my head snarled. How could you have let this happen?
My inner critic replayed scenes from my last night with Charles, and from the morning I saw him walking out with another woman, as if insisting that somehow I'd known these things would happen all along.
I sighed, then glanced at my printed Google directions. I was still on track, heading north on I-35. Six hours down, eighteen more to go.
“But I didn’t know all that was going to happen,” I whispered, a bit defensively. I rubbed a shirt sleeve over my eyes. “I didn’t know he was going to lie to me.”
My CD player whirred and hummed as it moved to the next track. A Christian tune played over the car audio.
“He is jealous for me. Love like a hurricane…”
The lyrics continued, speaking of God’s tremendous love. Its unimaginable depth, and its shocking tenderness.
My ruminations on Charles slowed, then stopped. In their place, I entered that little green valley again, gazed upward into an expanse of Texas stars.
I was leaving everyone in the Lone Star State behind, driving onward into unknown country. But I wasn’t alone. The Lord was with me.
My fingers clenched the steering wheel with an iron grip.
Jesus wasn’t worried about my failures and mistakes. He'd known I would make them long before I ever stepped foot in Texas. He loved me, anyways. Even more, He was chasing after my heart.
He was jealous for me.
His interior gaze rested in my soul like a balm, healing, cleansing, and purifying it. The transformation didn’t happen all at once. Not in a day or a week. No, the change came slowly.
For ten weeks, I trained at Defense Information School in Fort Meade, Maryland. I made friends with civilians and military personnel from across the country. We learned the importance of crafting good talking points during a crisis, getting our facts right the first time, and never taking the swivel chair for video interviews. (It's a trap!)
After class, I’d wander the neighborhoods of Fort Meade, savoring the taste of autumn on my tongue, and praying my daily rosary with the setting sun. Fallen leaves gathered in clusters across the quiet streets.
I didn’t think much about Texas, during the day, while I was at school. But at night, I reflected on where I’d been, and where I still wanted to go.
He is jealous for me.
Five staggering, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping words. Jesus, the Son of God, was jealous. Longing, aching, thirsting…for me.
It was crazy. But also true.
The Lord wrapped me again in His loving presence. I felt sore and tender on the inside, as if my heart was slowly mending from an unseen wound. As I healed, I tried to show Jesus I loved Him by taking small steps forward. I started reading The Imitation of Christ. I made a new pledge of purity, and kept "Skyping with the Lord" in my journal. I went to Mass and Confession, too.
And I prayed the simple prayer a college friend had once taught me:
Jesus, help me to want to be, who You want me to be.
Fort Meade, Maryland, December 2010
I was enjoying my public affairs career now. I could speak and act quickly and with confidence, instead of just pretending I knew my trade, as I had often done as a Texas intern.
I had a new wardrobe, new friends, and a bigger income for enjoying the good things of the world. I had a guaranteed job as a public affairs specialist, as long I completed my training.
After 15 months of job searching, and another 15 months of internship training, I was apparently going somewhere. Gaining a lucrative career, with income, respect, and even a little prestige.
I had fought hard for this career; now I wanted to truly embrace it. There was still so much to learn, so many new ways to grow. New people to meet, and new places to discover.
I had a glorious future ahead. No need now for any back-up plan. No need to look elsewhere for happiness.
But at night, I still heard Him calling, tugging at my heart, embracing me in His Love.
He is jealous for me.