How we met - Hugh's story
Note: throughout this site we are not using our true names. So for those of you who know us, don't be confused! :)
After experiencing the highest and lowest that North American society had to offer, I had a powerful experience with the Lord in 1988 which led me in a radically different direction from my previous bohemian life as a musician and performer who had been on Broadway and the US National Tour of Cats. I had no romantic relationships after that powerful and lifechanging experience with Jesus. I left music, and went back to University.
In 1997, during prayer, I spoke to the Lord about a couple of women in Church who were giving me "butterfly eyes", and asked ,"Lord, if you are calling me to marriage, I'm ok with that. I only want your will." I heard the words in my head "you don't want that, you want me." I thought this might be a call to the priesthood. I never got a "yes" when I discerned it after that so I just assumed the Lord wanted me to remain celibate and single. I started working with technology for people with disabilities and eventually returned to music as a Christian artist part time.
In March 2007, my friend Pam Howe said she wanted me to meet an Evangelical tenant of hers, who had questions about the Catholic Church. Within a couple of weeks Pam approached me with Diane. We spoke for a while and I gave her the name of my Catholic web site and we began emailing.
We met at Dow's Lake to talk about the Church one day, and I began to notice that Diane was not only beautiful, but also sensitive to the Holy Spirit. She loved Jesus, and had given Him permission to be Lord of her life, as I had done. This impressed me and as we were leaving, I found myself asking her if she had kids, to get an idea of what state of life she was in. She said something about not being in relationships. Hmm... she was like me. But I quickly dismissed my attraction as I reassured myself of my call to celibacy.
In November 2007, friends of mine created the Stations of the Cross in the back lot of their country home. Diane was going to join 20 others from our Church to celebrate it. We were all to meet at the Church. Diane was waiting out front as I drove up, but no one else was there. So I picked her up in the car and we looked around the back of the Church, which is where everyone was. Diane almost got out of the car to join my friend Dennis and Angelina for the ride into the country, but I found myself saying "no wait, you can come with me" as I put my hand on the door she was opening. So she ended up in the car for an hour. We talked about God and life. She provided great feedback as I finished writing a song called "Across." We arrived and got out of the car. She walked ahead of me and "BOOM!" I was struck by her looks (I'm being polite here). I quickly said "forgive me Lord" and tried not to think about her or look at her, which of course was a complete failure and we spent most of the day beside each other as I realized how much I liked her.
As I was leaving, I asked her if she had a ride. She joined me for dinner as I took out my nephew who I had to watch that night. It was a bit awkward because he was in a funny mood and not talking. I was clowning around trying to help him come out of himself, which worked reasonably well. Diane had great sense of humour about it all.
I drove her to the National House of Prayer (NHOP), where she lived and was on staff. They host teams of young people and prayer missionaries from across the country who come to pray for the government and meet their members of parliament.
We didn't get together in person much after that because I realized I was attracted to her, and was trying to keep my distance to protect what I thought was my vocation to celibacy.
I was traveling as a Christian recording artist to places like Guam, Guatemala, Dubai, India, Poland, Germany and across North America and was working part time over the internet to make web sites accessible to people with disabilities as I traveled. My emails with Diane continued. However, I just kept telling myself it was friendship with a bit of romantic undercurrent that I had to be a bit careful of. I could not imagine the life changing experience that was to come. I had many layers of defence crusted around my heart to ensure I would not fall in love.
I was surprised that Diane became Catholic in November 2007 and was at her confirmation party at Pam Howe's. I couldn't help but notice that there was still chemistry between us and I think many of Diane's friends noticed it too. But I was committed to my single celibate path in the Lord.
In February of 2008, I went to the Holy Land. It was incredible to see the places where Jesus actually walked, taught and lived. I was seriously into photography, taking pictures as I traveled.
While in Nazareth I visited the Church of the Annunciation, where historians say Mary responded to the Archangel Gabriel (Lk 2:38) with her "yes" to bear Jesus. I took photos and prayed in this beautiful place, but was a bit distracted. I checked into a room with the Sisters of Nazareth, then felt I should return to the Church. I sensed that I should not bring my camera this time, but rather, just have undistracted prayer. That is the first time I went anywhere in Israel without my camera.
There was a large hole in the ceiling of the lower level going up to the upper level where there was vespers and a beautiful choir singing. I was on my knees for about 5 minutes and then got a sense that I should sit cross legged on the floor. The few pilgrims that were around left and I was all alone in the dim light of this holy place, which was odd since it attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims a year.
I imagined Mary was in the same spot 2000 years earlier and that there was only time between me and her saying "yes" to bearing Jesus (Lk 1:38). I let go of my worries and thoughts as heavenly choir music drifted over me from above. Then I heard these words in my head:
"Hugh, look at me, look into my eyes... Hugh, I want you to marry Diane, I WANT you to marry Diane, I want YOU to marry Diane"
It was the same voice as my experience in 1997 where I heard "you don't want that [marriage] you want me." I have only heard a voice like that a couple of times in my life. I wondered if it was just my own internal conversation. Then I heard "I have spoken" and there was nothing more. Suddenly, I felt an incredible love for Diane released from deep within my gut. At the same moment, the choir upstairs stopped silent and the bells of the Church started ringing sounding like wedding bells. God loves drama!
Photo: Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel. Photo taken by Hugh one hour before the meditation. It is remarkable that the area around the Grotto, which attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, was empty.
I sat there for a few more minutes in silence, perplexed at this change of direction for my life. I returned to my room and dropped off my bags before returning to the Grotto at 7pm. I sat in prayer and got no sense that the Lord had changed his mind or that I was just hearing things. Then something I've never experienced before happened. The conversation continued, picking up where it left off, not just a few words like the other two times in my life that I'd heard a voice in my head (in 1988 and 1997).
I was hearing the words in my mind’s ear, "Diane can give you what I cannot give you, and I can give you what she cannot give you." The dialogue went on as I rattled off a litany of fears about marriage, and one by one I was told, "I'll take care of that" with a specific response to each concern.
I returned to my room and wrote in my journal:
"I thank you for this word, but I cannot make life decisions based only on things that happen in my head. I need a confirmation through spiritual direction and external circumstances. It's the way Ignatius (the founder of the Jesuits who wrote about proper discernment) would want it."
But nevertheless from that point on, I was totally in love. I thought of buying a ring but felt it would be too much. I bought a dress that was hanging outside a shop next to the basilica. It was the first time as a Christian that I ever did something like that. My heart was fluttering.
Upon returning to North America I left a message on Diane's machine from the Airport in Detroit, asking to meet and hear her story. I had been scheduled for an Ignatius discernment retreat the following week in Toronto, which was partially to discern my vocation about the priesthood, yet again. I wanted to connect up with Diane before it started, since it seemed I was being led in a different direction, toward marriage with her.
I told a couple of my close friends about my experience in Nazareth and that I felt God was calling me to marry Diane. They asked semi-sarcastically "don't you think you should consult with her, she may have an opinion about that?"
We met at a Starbuck’s on Rideau Street in Ottawa and talked for 3 hours. She showed much interest, which I considered a sign of confirmation. I listened to her story and asked her to pray for me while I was on retreat to "make an important decision," not mentioning that it was about pursuing marriage with her.
Before the retreat, I saw my spiritual director in Ottawa, and he encouraged me to follow the path of discernment for marriage based on my experience in Israel. He also discouraged me from revisiting the priesthood during my retreat because I had previously discerned that it was not my calling.
I arrived in Toronto. As I walked into the room prepared for me my jaw dropped. There was a picture of the Annunciation on the bedside table, identical to the picture below.
The Church where I heard "Hugh, I want to you marry Diane," was where the Annunciation actually took place.
There was also a large photograph on the living room wall of the exact spot where I was sitting in the Church in Nazareth during that experience. In the kitchen there was another picture of the annunciation. I started to think it was a waste of time to spend the rest of the weekend discerning it. The Lord had confirmed it!
The next morning I opened the Bible during Eucharistic adoration. My eyes fell on the verse “Foolish the man who says ‘Vow!’ and then only begins to discern." (Prov. 20:25) This troubled me greatly even though, in hindsight, I realize it was simply an invitation to make a proper discernment. It began an emotional roller coaster and nightmares that caused me to doubt. The Priest for the retreat said “You should not base your decision on the dreams and fears you’ve had this weekend. That's not what this process is about.” He was a spirit filled, Bible breathing priest but I didn't listen. My fear and desire to do the "right" thing drove me to write a letter to Diane:
"I was up all last night, and in the end We believe I received my answer. My call to celibacy has been reaffirmed. It is like a dagger, and its stinging edge is driving me to my knees with Jesus. In the end that is where I need to be in these fading days of humanity ... your transparency, integrity, beauty, purity and lifelong resolve to follow Christ are some of your many qualities that are amazing... I cannot tell you how much of a sacrifice this feels likeright now. I know you are a once in a lifetime gem. Yet, in my heart I truly believe this is the best thing for you and for me in the long run. I know that God has an incredible plan for your innocent spirit.”
As it turns out, I didn't send the email. Instead, I called her on the phone and said for our own good we should not remain in contact. I knew there was no one else that I could ever or would ever consider marrying and it was really hard to turn away. It reminded me of Kierkegaard's book "On Fear and Trembling" where he gave up that which was most precious to him, the one and only girlfriend of his life, Regina, to follow the path of faith.
I didn't show Diane the dress that I bought for her in Nazareth.
My Christian music touring continued and I saw Diane at the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City in May 2008, where I was playing music. I talked to her a couple of times. I tried not to show my attraction to her but hugged her when she came by my CD table with her friend Margarita. I could not get her out of my mind and kept looking for her in the stadium. Apparently, Margarita told Diane it was odd that a guy called to chastity should give her that kind of attention. She was right.
Several people suggested I buy a "Chastity Ring" for myself as a declaration of my commitment to celibacy. In July 2008, while I was on tour in India, I bought a nice gold one. During meditation after it's purchase, I sensed I should not wear it which confused me. So I put it in my drawer and never wore it again. I didn't understand why I shouldn't wear something that would be a reminder of my vocation to celibacy.
On that same tour, I caught a bad cold and blew my voice out completely at a concert for several thousand people. It was the return of an old injury that cost me my singing career in New York many years ealier. I was devastated. I have not been able to sing professionally since.
I returned to Ottawa and shifted my focus to my work with people with disabilities, and accessible web design. I thought Diane would be married to someone else in a short time, and it broke my heart.
My life started to unravel emotionally. The walls that I had built to protect myself and maintain my purity while touring started to crumble and more and more my love for Diane resurfaced. During this time I went through many layers of letting go and healing. It was very humbling.
During a meditation, I imagined myself in heaven. I saw Diane from a distance and ran over to hug her. It was like an incredible reunion to see her in heaven and rejoice that we both made it and could finally talk to one another. Then the meditation finished and I looked out at the cold winter day of my loneliness.
I found myself in a routine of work, daily Mass and prayer, and playing flute at Sunday 9am Mass. I knew Diane's bus always arrived at 10:47am for the 11am Mass and that I would see her if I was slow enough at leaving the 9am Mass. For the most part I tried to avoid running into her, so I would not put undue stress on her, or me. As the months went on, we hardly saw each other.
I was in the lobby of the church and I was talking to my friend Pam Howe, who had introduced us originally. As we were talking Diane walked by. I said "I still love her, I was thinking of asking her to marry me."
Pam replied, "why don't you ask her out."
I wasn't expecting her to say that. I gave my standard response "because I've been called to celibacy. We believe that is what the Lord has shown me."
Her eyes widened and she whispered "I don't think you discerned that properly, I think you'd be a great couple."
One day Diane and I crossed paths as she was walking to Church. My heart leapt as I stopped my bike and said "hi." She asked how I was doing, I said "Diane, it is the worst time of my life as a Christian, I am completely broken and am suffering incredible life changes. I can't sing, can hardly talk, and feel really messed up." She remembered a dream she had where the message was that I was suffering in order to learn obedience to our Lord. I wondered if the lack of obedience had to do with not accepting the invitation in Nazareth to marry her and I was beginning to question if I had discerned properly. I asked "are you thinking of returning to Calgary?" She said "No, I'll be staying here in Ottawa permanently." I was somehow relieved, even though I knew I would never have her.
During morning prayer I heard in my head "Why don't you marry Diane?" I said "Lord, it is cruel to let that come into my brain again when I'm called to celibacy." I was becoming more and more to the point where I wanted to call her. I almost invited her to the Papal art exhibit at the National Gallery Sat. August 22, 2009, but I held myself back.
A couple of days later, Monday, I was helping my spiritual director move. He said "Hugh, would you like this?" My eyes widened as he showed me a wood carving of the Annunciation (photo right). Thanking him, I took it home and put it on my mantle, missing Diane.
Three days later, Friday, August 28, I was tired and went to bed at 10pm, an hour early. The phone rang but I didn't get out of bed to answer. I woke up at 4am and began to pray. As I lay in the silence of the night, I felt what I can best describe as a mist above me. As it gathered, I got a sense that it was my love for Diane. Then I felt it descending upon me. It moved though me and around me. I was completely engulfed with it and I could not deny it. I loved her more than anything or anyone in this world.
As the sun came up around 7am, I looked at my cell phone, which I almost never do in the mornings. The caller ID said "Diane". My eyes just about fell out of my head. The call the previous night had been HER, which was very unexpected because she had only called me twice in her life and that had been 2 years earlier.
Photo: I took this of Diane, Sept 7, 2009
That was it, I had to do it. I called her. She answered, "Oh, Hugh I'm so sorry, you are probably wondering why I called. I made a mistake when dialing my friend Linda." I said "Diane that is not why I am calling. I cannot stop thinking about you!" She replied "ohhh, me too!" She said "Hugh you are like the tip of an arrow, running so fast for the Lord, I am afraid I'll hold you back." I heard myself replying "I think I would be running straight into a wall without you. I love you. Let's see what the Lord has in mind with us."
A long conversation followed and we began our journey as a couple. I brought her to meet all the people in my life including my family.
Without knowing anything about my experience in Nazareth, a good friend and mentor of 20 years, the most intuitive person I know, said “Hugh, you should ask Diane to marry you and you should do it very soon!”
Over the years, he has helped me make dozens of great life changing decisions. This struck me as another confirmation.
The next day Diane went camping with her friends for a week. During that time I spoke to my spiritual director in Ottawa. I called the guys in my accountability men’s group who I’ve known for years, and talked to friends and mentors. They were encouraging. I also tracked down a priest/author, Keith Clark who wrote the well known book “An Experience of Celibacy," a popular classic, which for many years was my manual of how to maintain celibacy. He graciously agreed to talkover the phone. After I told him the story, I thought he was going to say something like, “oh yes, there are many signs that you are falling from your calling to celibacy. Here's how to get back on track....” Surprisingly he said:
“Wow, that’s great that you are in Love. My book was written for people who’ve made a public vow like the priesthood, a community of nuns or religious brothers....you have made no such public promise. It’s perfectly OK to change your mind and get married.”
On the Friday before Diane’s return from camping I was contemplating what life would be like if I stayed celibate. During this, my mind drifted to the final scene of "2001, A Space Odyssey". I hadn't seen it since I was 10, so my memory was sketchy. But I remembered a man eating alone as the sound of the utensils echoed against the walls. I found it on YouTube and as I finished my own dinner, I was overcome with tears. (begins at 4:30)
I was usually content as a single person, almost never lonely, so the emptiness I experienced as I watched seemed all the more pronounced. It was as if the Lord was showing me that I would be very unhappy in my old age without her.
I went to over to the Church for adoration after I finished dinner. I said "Lord I only want your will in all of this." I closed my eyes in meditation and saw Diane standing in the tall grass of a beautiful field dressed in white. Her hair was blowing gently in the breeze as I went over and kissed her. Thank you Lord!
My friend Frances Wilkinson told me "you know Hugh, women want to be pursued." I had never heard that before because I grew up in an over feminized culture that discouraged men from initiating. I thought that if a man pursued a women, he was an aggressive type.
The night of Diane's return from camping we went to Mass together, then talked until midnight. I told her "I am pursuing you." Her face lit up. She liked that!
The following week I was to give my testimony at a "Life and Family" prolife weekend in Toronto, where Archbishop Collins was also speaking. I asked Diane to join me, and we told each other our life stories in the car in a very vulnerable, honest and transparent way. In Toronto, she stayed with nuns while I stayed with the priests. I asked the nuns not to keep her!
The day after our arrival, we were sitting together at the picnic table behind the Church, and our conversation became very deep. Diane was struggling with various parts of my story and was having serious second thoughts. She was wondering if this was just one more false start.
I found myself praying for her to be shown the right path, and to heal from any guy related pain she had experienced in her life. She welled up with tears and started crying profusely for about 10 minutes as I prayed.
Fr. Daniel Mentesana, took this photo on his cell during that conversation, not knowing it's significance.
I said, "I do not want to hold you back in your desire for marriage and family if you feel called in a different direction. Would you like some time to think about whether you want to continue." Through a flood of tears she said "I know the answer now." I fearfully and tepidly asked, "would you like to share that with me?"
She said, "you are the one for me!"
Everything in my peripheral vision disappeared and all I could see was her face. It was as if time stood still. A surge of courage and certainty engulfed me and I asked:
"Diane, will you marry me?"
She said "yes!" with tears streaming down her cheeks. We found a beautiful ring at a nearby jewelers and the next day announced our engagement during the event. There was a spirit of celebration in the crowd. We spoke together on prolife and chastity. It was amazing. As a partnership, our talks were much more successful than my talks had been alone. God's work in us began.
Here we are the next day, at the picnic table where I proposed, Diane wearing her ring.
Photo by Pedro Guevara Mann of Salt & Light TV
That was in September, 2009. I realize now that the Lord had kept me single for those 20 years to prepare me for this time and this incredible woman. We will be married Jan 1, 2011. God has given me the gift of resolve, and the certainty that this is his will, along with numerous confirmations. The doubt is gone, and the future is before us. We know that with the Grace of God, we will meet the challenges ahead.
Lord, with You at the centre of our lives and our marriage, we will march forward into the future storms that await Christians in North America. With faith, hope, and love we have the certainty that You will provide, and that love will conquer.