I am so privileged to feature Catholic authors Katie & Mark Hartfiel’s love story... an excerpt from their book “Woman In Love.” I’m sure after you read this story you’ll want to purchase their book for yourself, daughters, nieces and friends at www.womaninlove.org. See you all next Friday.
My conviction began when I was selected to participate in a leadership and discipleship training week in Denver with a few of my friends. I joined 35 other teens for incredible spiritual formation, the Sacraments, and amazing fellowship. Some of the most memorable parts of the week were in the silent moments I spent with my journal in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It was here that I looked at the face that I wanted to gaze at forever. He consumed me more profoundly than I had ever consumed Him. I fell in love that week. I couldn’t get enough. The elation that He brought me was more indescribable than anything I had ever experienced. This Love came with a capital L. The Lord, Love Himself, was revealed to me, and there was no turning back. I came home feeling alive for the first time and all I knew was that I wanted more.
This experience opened my heart even more to the yearning for a man that would love Christ more than he could ever love me. The pages of my prayer journal began to encompass more and more prayers, asking that the man who would capture my heart would first be captured by His. It was during this week that I made my final resolve. My mission was to be a warrior for my future husband. I would arm him in prayer to the best of my ability.
So I hit my knees. Each night I would beg God for specific intentions for my Husband-To-Be (or as I began to refer to him, my HTB). If he was struggling with poor decisions, friendships, bad influences, or impurity, I pleaded with God to grant grace for conversion. I asked that God would reveal Himself to him, as I had been so blessed to experience Christ in my own life.
I wanted my HTB to be tangible in some way. I wanted to better understand him as a concrete reality, and not a lofty romantic idea. It was then that I started to put the longings of my heart on paper. I found myself falling in love with a young man who was unbeknownst to me. In his absence I expressed my loneliness, brokenness and struggles, along with the joys of my heart. I explained who I wanted to be for him and what I wanted to share. I told him the ways the Lord was working in my life and how He was challenging me to trust. The pages began to fill with my joys, my vulnerabilities, my fears, my hopes, my dreams, and ultimately my prayers.
Meanwhile, a senior teenage boy in a Houston suburb was unknowingly receiving grace from prayers being uttered over a thousand miles away…
My life throughout high school consisted of a few things: basketball, friends, parties, girls and beer. Not to over exaggerate, I wasn’t completely wretched, but I was just the typical “cool” kid. Popularity in high school came quite naturally to me, and I seemed to enjoy and take advantage of it. I will spare you from reading all the details of my personal sins, but I will define my attitude and lifestyle in one word...pleasure. If it feels good, do it. That is what my entire group of friends and I lived by. It is not unlike how much of the world still lives today. I certainly was not thinking about my wife-to-be or trying to prepare myself for my gift of self to her one day.
One miraculous summer night, my life changed through an incredible encounter. It was the summer before my freshman year of college, and I was on my way to play college basketball. Out of nowhere, one night, while I was taking a shower, something happened that I will never forget. I wasn’t in prayer. Nothing was out of the ordinary about this night, but what happened next changed my life forever.
In an instant, I felt the Holy Spirit rush into the room and into my heart. It was as if I was completely blind before and now I could see. The scales of blindness were removed from my eyes, and I could see with more clarity than any moment before. I experienced extreme sorrow and contrition, mixed with a supernatural joy. My sins rushed through my head and heart, while simultaneously I was given the grace to know God was merciful. In that moment, I understood with clarity a simple reality: Jesus Christ died personally for my sins. I had heard this statement many times before, but my heart had never been truly pierced by this reality. My God was personal. He had a name and a face. He lived, laughed, wept, and ultimately died on a cross...all for me. The clarity and grace I experienced that night was enough for me to change my life immediately and with urgency. I instantly fell to my knees for an amount of time of which I am still unsure. Before I left the shower that night, I realized Jesus Christ was worthy of my life and I promised Him I would change. I was struck with a sudden call to conversion, which seemed to have no natural explanation. I experienced a deep and consuming love that could have only been an authentic encounter with the Living God. I knew without a doubt that someone, somewhere was praying for me in a major way.
During my senior year my parent’s marriage suffered a horrendous divorce. My letters to my HTB were a rock of hope as I tried to stay afloat. After spending my freshmen year at a local college it was time for me to break free from the turmoil at home. From the time I was 16 years old, I had set my sights on Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. I felt that the Lord shared in my desire, and it was finally my chance to answer His call. I packed up and headed for the Midwest, hoping to find healing and freedom.
Near the beginning of the school year, I wrote to my future husband:
“I can’t help but wonder if you are nearby. I wonder if I know you, if I’ve passed you without even knowing it is you with whom I was exchanging smiles. You might be in a building nearby right now or even living in a building in which I have walked.”
I found that I was meeting tons of people in the first few weeks of school, but I was having a hard time developing real friendships. It was time to try a new strategy outside of the organized social minglings happening daily around campus. I decided that in each class I would try to strike up a conversation with the people seated around me in an attempt to form some solid relationships. In one class in particular, I found my seat-mates seemingly uninterested in being my friend, or at least uninterested in my small talk. I decided that the next time I came into the room I would pick a new seat in order to acquire a new group of potential friends fresh for the picking. I quickly scanned the class and found my golden opportunity, a seat next to a good looking guy toward the center of the room.
The seat change proved to be genius. I was soon making chitchat with my new crop of classmates in Principles of Biblical Studies 201…all except for the tall, dark, handsome type seated right next to me. I found that I was too nervous to venture into conversation with him and hoped I would eventually find some courage. What happened instead was much more uncomfortable than a simple hello during class. I started seeing my new-seat-neighbor everywhere on campus. The awkwardness grew during each encounter, as we both seemed to be aware that we recognized one another but had never spoken. I had an internal battle at each passing. Do I smile? Say Hello? Throw a head nod? Avoid eye contact? The result tended to be a graceless combination of all of the above in one distressing gesture of weirdness.
Shortly afterwards, I walked out the door to find the 6’2” unidentified student waiting outside for me in the hall. He smiled and explained that he’d seen me everywhere and thought it was time to make an introduction. I clumsily agreed, as we began walking together in the direction of the cafeteria. It turned out that Mark Hartfiel and I had eerily similar daily schedules. We had classes around the same time in the same buildings, tended to eat lunch simultaneously and even attended daily Mass at the same time each day.
Thus the routine was born. We would meet up in class, walk to the cafeteria and sit together at lunch. We would then pray or study together during our free period that followed and finish with Mass before afternoon classes. It wasn’t long before all of these factors budded into a solid and comforting friendship.
Months passed and we happened upon the first days of February. Five months of spiritual friendship had passed since we’d met in the fall. I still didn’t know what lay ahead in the future, but I did know that I wanted my best friend to be a part of it. I found myself in the chapel of my dorm on a gloomy mid-western day. Mark was heading up the hill to join me for the afternoon. I looked at the tabernacle in the simple room on the first floor of my hall. I was terrified but I knew what I had to do. I spoke frankly to the Holy Spirit that day. I told Him that I was ready to do what He wanted of me, but I needed His help. I explained that I didn’t have the strength to begin the journey on my own, but if He provided the opportunity I would be willing to take that step.
Arriving at room 314, he entered and removed his coat. After some moments of small talk, he turned to me and took a risk. Mark asked me if I ever prayed about “us.” Feeling the rush of anxiety flood in along with the strength of the Spirit, I answered. “Funny you should ask me that today.” I proceeded to unravel the revelations in the chapel. I expressed my remaining hesitations while simultaneously giving Mark permission to dive into the hope that he had been holding onto for months.
Our story continues as Mark and I arrived at end of the school year, and we both returned to our separate hometowns. One evening stands out in my recollection of that lonely summer. During our daily chat, I felt a sudden inclination to ask Mark about his conversion experience. I had heard the account several times but on this particular night I knew I needed to know the specific date that the Lord had shattered his world forever. Upon discovering the date, I went to the corner of my room and pulled a spiral notebook from a shelf. I turned to the date in my tattered prayer journal as my heart pounded. I knew with certainty that the Lord had something to show me. There it was. I began to quickly read the prayers that filled the journal during that pivotal week of discipleship training prior to my senior year. The very week that I had decided to climb into the trenches as a warrior for my HTB matched up with the date of Mark’s conversion to the Lord! I read the prayers of my 17 year old self as I begged the Lord to deliver my future spouse. I asked that should he be struggling with temptation in moral decisions, with parties, or with the opposite sex that the Lord would capture his heart and show him how much more intoxicating life in Christ promised to be.
On the summer night of this discovery, Mark and I found ourselves once again separated by thousands of miles. However, this time God revealed how He had rendered this distance insignificant when He united us spiritually years before. I began to read these passages to Mark over the phone, and we both wept in amazement and thanksgiving. I could not believe that God answered my prayers in this profound way.
In context of my conversion experience, it is easy to understand why I will never forget the moment I found out Katie was praying intensely for her future husband the exact same week of my conversion. It was one of those few moments in life when time seems to stop; the still-point of life at the intersection of grace and gravity. If you have ever had a such a profound God moment that you feel as if you are not bound to the Earth any longer, then you know what I am talking about. You feel as if the moment has transcended itself.
I always felt a strong sense that someone was praying for me in a major way. Of course, my mother had always been devout and a constant prayer warrior. I am certain that I have received grace from her prayers and love for me, but this was different. The Lord took the prayers of a 17 year-old girl in Colorado, who I did not know, and showered me with grace and mercy. The Lord took her sufferings, joys and faithfulness, and He turned my world around. Years later, he gave us the incredible gift of revealing His Providential plan to us. He opened our eyes to what He had done for both of us. He showed us the reality that Katie’s prayers helped transform my life. Nothing could be more powerful!
It was the day before my wedding, and every sentiment one could imagine was rushing through my veins. With the decorations, rentals, timelines and pick-ups confirmed, only one thought remained. This was it. It was my last night as a single woman. Tomorrow I would take on a new name, a new role and a new life. Just one week prior I had penned one of my last letters to my HTB:
“Writing these letters always puts me in awe of the miracle we are to one another. It’s just after midnight which means one week from today we will be one. I have been anticipating this for many years...the day this book will find itself in its owner’s hands. That person is you! During this past year, I have felt so many emotions: nervousness, impatience, excitement, and peace. Right now, in this moment, all I am experiencing is a genuine happiness. I know I am meant to feel this amazing delight and tranquility as I anticipate the mystical occasion that will occur so very soon: our Sacrament of Marriage. I will be yours and you will be mine. I love you, and I pray to love you better. God bless you. I’m always praying for you!”
The night rolled on and the rehearsal, dinner and toasts came to a close. Our guests continued to socialize, but Mark and I stole a few moments alone at the hotel before parting. The evening felt surreal for many reasons, but none compared to what I was preparing to do. My heart pounded with disbelief as I handed him a package containing that which was most precious to me. Mark opened the gift and revealed a simple three ring binder with a handmade envelope attached to the front. Confused, he looked my way for an explanation. Filled with emotion, I instructed him to open the envelope and read the letter. With my head on his shoulder I read alongside him as he came to understand the magnitude of that which he held in his hand. At the time, neither one of us would have ever dreamed that this letter would one day become the first page of our book, Woman In Love.
It goes without saying that I am profoundly glad that Katie was praying for her HTB. If you are ever feeling like there are no good and holy men left in the world to love you the way you deserve to be loved, don’t be discouraged and don’t lose hope. I was not even close to that kind of man. I was not capable of loving Katie the way she deserved. You could have called me any number of names, but none who knew me well would have called me holy. I can’t help but ask what would have become of me if it were not for Katie and her prayers. God is good, and He answered those prayers. Someone somewhere may be in need of yours...