It’s interesting to watch people’s reactions when they ask how my husband and I met. Some are surprised, some chuckle and some are just itching to ask follow-up questions. I suppose it’s rather unusual for a Peruvian and a Midwestern American to wed…
I was born and raised in Western Michigan, the middle child of a large Catholic family. I had a very active and mostly happy childhood which included games of kickball on the side street, obstacle courses in the yard, dress-ups, sleepovers, Barbie dolls, summertime reading and trips to the beach, and Sunday night popcorn and movie night. By the age of nine I was helping my brother with his paper route and by 11 I was babysitting. Once I hit 5th grade I played every sport that was offered and always got good grades. I attended Catholic Schools from Kindergarten through college and prepared for, and celebrated each of the sacraments in turn.
In high school I joined a youth group and became very involved in my faith. I went on retreats and attended meetings and eventually asked my mom if we could begin going to daily mass before school. I reached a point where I felt called to discern a religious vocation. In 11th and 12th grade I attended a vocational discernment boarding school in Rhode Island and after graduation became a lay consecrated missionary.
At 21 years of age, I returned home from a few years of missionary work in Mexico, and decided it was time for my first boyfriend. I figured since I had given some of my most tender years to God, He would immediately reward me with a husband, but sometimes what we decide and what God decides are two very different things. Although I immediately joined a Catholic young adult group, it took almost three years to land my first date. The relationship ended after three months, my heart broken. I dated a few others after that, all for short periods of time. I just couldn’t seem to find the right fit. I had even tried a couple dating websites, but to no avail. I wasn’t getting any younger and was bored and frustrated with being single, so I decided I needed a change of scenery.
I moved to Owensboro Kentucky in September of 2006 to work and finish my degree at Brescia University. My aunt and uncle lived in the next town over so I knew I wouldn’t be completely alone, and considering the well-known southern hospitality, I figured it wouldn’t take me long to find friends.
After spending the first nine months going to work and coming home, watching TV for a couple hours and then going to bed, I finally began to integrate into the community. I became friends with another bilingual gal and she introduced me to both Americans and Latinos alike and even helped me get a job with the Diocese.
Unfortunately, despite keeping busy with my studies, my work and my friends, my heart was still restless. I became involved with a string of different Hispanic men, much younger than myself, but more than willing to be with a blonde, blue-eyed American….for all the wrong reasons. At one point I even found myself engaged. I was 31 years old, I was confused, and I was so hungry for love and acceptance that I was literally “looking for love in all the wrong places…”
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit came to my rescue at just the right time. God gave me the strength to get out of the cycle of abuse and manipulation and cut off the engagement in December of 2010, just in time to spend Christmas alone, AGAIN (cue the waterworks). Thankfully at this point, I had very supportive roommates, family and friends who all assured me I had done the right thing, and motivated me to pick up the pieces and move on.
A few months later, my heart mostly healed and still hoping to find true love, I happened to notice an ad for CatholicMatch.com on the back of the church bulletin. I spoke with my aunt and she encouraged me to give online dating another try and even paid my membership fee. I went on the site now and then and met a few guys that peaked my interest but none of them quite seemed to click. Too desperate, too slow moving, too conservative… I was so over this.
Right when I was about to call it quits for good and attempt to show the world a false façade that I was just fine and dandy being the favorite single auntie forever, someone named Felix sent me a smiley face. I was so tempted to brush it off and completely ignore it, but I rolled my eyes and sighed, “oh, what the heck, I might as well at least read his profile.” It said he lived in Cincinnati, had studied computer science, was practicing his faith and looking for a serious relationship. Hmmmm…. interesting…. it was enough to move my fingers to type him a response…
Felix was born and raised in Lima, Peru, the oldest of three children. He attended a private school run by his aunt and graduated at the top of his class. He took karate classes as a child but found his true passion on the soccer field. Working his way up, he tried out in a semi-professional league and made the cut. Though loving the sport, he did not love the abusively competitive atmosphere, the foul language and the corruption that came with the game. He also realized that he would only be able to play for several years at best until his body surrendered youth, and then he would no longer have a source of income. One the most difficult decisions he ever made was to quit soccer and study a career.
While beginning college and working at a local hospital, he met someone who began to obsess over him. She was nice enough but just wouldn’t give up. More out of frustration than true interest, they began dating until he moved to the US in 1999. He made it clear that he was not interested in continuing in a long distance relationship and was rather relieved for the excuse to break up. She kept calling and writing on and off for a while, until she finally found someone else.
After moving to the US, he worked several odd jobs at restaurants and warehouses, washing cars and cleaning, first in Miami FL and then Cincinnati OH. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Northern Kentucky University in 2007.
After enduring many personal struggles throughout his life, working three jobs to pay double tuition without any financial aid and sleeping only 2-3 hours a night, and not finding his true love, he finally hit rock bottom. He couldn’t take it anymore and fell into a deep depression. At one point he didn’t shower for almost a week and talked only to himself. One day in December of 2010, he laid down on the living room floor, willing his body to move, but it wouldn’t budge. Something had to give.
Since he had not been able to find an employer willing to sponsor a work visa, he decided to return to his home country to try his luck there. He moved back to Lima in January of 2011 and lived with his aunt and uncle until he was able to land a job and find his own apartment. He found his country changed and different. He felt odd and out of place.
He rented an apartment within walking distance of a church and began the difficult but much overdue task of personal healing. He visited the adoration chapel at least three times a day for his spiritual breakfast, lunch and dinner. He felt the warmth of God’s love wash over him. He rediscovered the friendship he had shared with Jesus in his youth and began to feel human once again.
Although he had witnessed very few examples of happy, healthy marriages, he still longed for personal companionship and for love. He had signed up for CatholicMatch.com back in Cincinnati and decided to go back on. Since he had no home internet service, he had to take his chances at a café.
So the day we met, May 4, 2011, he was at an internet café in Lima and I was at home on my computer in Kentucky. He fell in love with me after seeing a picture of me holding one of my nephews. I fell in love with his profile. There was just one small issue, it still stated that he lived in Cincinnati. When I responded to his smiley face, I was assuming a short 3-hour drive would have us meeting face to face, not a 4,000-mile plane ride!
Nevertheless, he was open and honest from the get go, let me know he was looking for a serious relationship and didn’t want to waste anyone’s time or play games. Perhaps it was pure coincidence or just plain providence, that I had simultaneously been itching for a long-term foreign service opportunity, so I decided to continue the conversation to see what became of it.
We chatted for a couple weeks on the site and then exchanged phone numbers and emails. We talked on Skype for the first time on May 22nd and continued every night until he arrived almost a year later. After three weeks, he asked me to be his girlfriend and wrote my dad to ask permission to court me. Since we both had our sights on marriage, we talked about everything together. We shared about our pasts, our present, and our hopes for the future. We even discussed how many kids we might have and what their names would be.
Since things were going well and the relationship was progressing, I began planning a trip down to Peru to meet him. He first told me he loved me on June 1st by text. I told him in person on June 30th. I took a month unpaid leave of absence from work to get to know him and work at a rehab center for the blind. We ate Peruvian cuisine, walked through beautiful parks, prayed together, visited relatives, and simply enjoyed being able to be together. On July 29th, a few hours before he brought me to the airport to return home, he asked me to marry him! It was a simple proposal, no ring and no getting down on one knee, but our commitment to forever was no less strong.
The next several months were a blur of immigration paperwork, canceled and rescheduled wedding dates, new nieces being born and tears of gnawing loneliness. I felt like the fiancé of a serviceman who was deployed for an unknown and endless amount of time. I had to buy myself a giant teddy bear to cuddle with because I had no idea when that visa would come and in the meantime I couldn’t even give him a hug! I simply could not fathom how hard it would be to be apart from my loved one for so long.
Six and a half months and what seemed like an eternity later, things began falling into place. He passed his visa interview and got his passport back so I could FINALLY buy him that plane ticket that would have him in my arms to stay!
I purposely planned to bring him home on May 5th, 2012, because I had to give a Pre-Cana that day. I would be distracted and occupied with something else instead of feverishly pacing my apartment, staring at the clock for one more minute to pass by. He left his now-empty apartment late at night on May 4th, exactly one year after we met, leaving behind friends, family and his grandfather who had just passed away that morning. After finishing the Pre-Cana, I embarked on what was perhaps the longest two-hour drive in my life, from Madisonville, KY to Nashville, TN. We had agreed to meet in baggage claim, since he would be arriving before I could get there to pick him up. I went right and looked all over. A pit began forming in my stomach. I didn’t see him. Where was he? Had he even arrived? But before I could get too worried, I realized there were more carousels to the left. Finally, I spotted him! He peeked his head around a magazine rack and flashed me a smile. At last, at long last, my baby was back in my arms to stay! When we got home around 10:30 that night, my neighbors were all sitting out on the patio waiting to welcome him.
In order to stay true to our commitment to purity, he spent the nights in the neighbor’s spare bedroom downstairs and came up for breakfast in the morning. We had one week together, getting reacquainted, running errands, getting ready for the wedding and just enjoying each other’s presence. We got him a wedding band, a suit coat and a haircut for the big day and headed north.
On Friday morning, Felix and I went to the county building to pick up our marriage license. The clerk amiably asked us when our wedding was. “Today!” we said happily. I think she was rather surprised. We then headed over to the church with the family to begin decorating the basement gathering space where we would have our reception. After a light lunch, the girls headed to get their hair done, while the guys headed home to rest. We all met back at the church at 4:00 for a quick rehearsal and at 6:00 the wedding began!
Of course it did not come down without a few snafus. Two hours before the ceremony the organist told me he had a schedule conflict and some random lady I didn’t know would be filling in for him, we spilled makeup on my dress just minutes before Mass began, Felix froze during his vows, Dad forgot I was saying my vows in English, we dropped Felix’s ring, my nephew threw up right before he read his petition, there was a mix-up on who was bringing up the gifts, and we almost had to pay the caterer double because we were supposedly taking too long to start dinner. I’m not sure if God thinks we are strong and able to handle a lot, or if we are simply the unfortunate victims of bad luck, but we also had the wrong witnesses’ names on the marriage license. Because we had changed the wedding date, my best friend could no longer make it to be my maid of honor, so instead of going home with it in hand, Father Don had to bring it back to the county office to get corrected. We now and forever will have white out on our marriage license!! Ugh! Amazingly, I was able to keep my cool through it all and now get a chuckle out of it. In the end it was beautiful because our whole families and several friends were there (80 guests) and we participated in a beautiful sacrament!
Looking back at all the ups and downs and the rollercoaster of emotions, I can still see God’s fingerprints all over our journey. We got married on May 18th, a beautiful spring day in Michigan. It was during the month of our Blessed Mother, who had guided us and held our hand during the whole process with her motherly love. It was during the Easter season, and at 32 years of age, we consider our marriage our own personal resurrection after the Lent of life. People offered to help in so many ways, keeping things simple and the budget down. Our whole families were there and almost every one of them was able to participate in the ceremony in some way. And although one chapter of our journey that seemed so long was now closed, another one was just beginning…
We have now been married for 6 years, are expecting our fourth child, own the home I grew up in and are financially stable (sort of). We view it all as undeserved blessings from above and have learned that there is no point in making plans. We let God take the reins, and hold on tight to his loving Providence.