Standing in the security line at a Colombian airport, the last thing Cristian expected was to be recognized by the two women ahead of him.
“I knew of her,” Cristian says of his now-wife Gabriella. “But I didn’t really get to know her.”
Not until that fateful day at the airport, when Gabriella and her sister recognized Cristian as a friend of their cousin.
“We spent a lot of time talking before the flight,” he recalls. “It wasn’t like hi and bye. It was as if we were friends already. I just felt really comfortable.”
Gabriella was taken by surprise by Cristian as well.
“What drew me to him was his gentleness, kindness, and respect. He was really unexpected.”
Reflecting on the encounter now, Cristian asserts, “It felt like it was an important moment, but I couldn’t put it into words right then.” Then he laughs. “Maybe now that I know how this story went, I feel that way. Maybe I’m biased.”
But even if he is, who could blame him? In that moment, he met the woman who would change his life forever.
When their paths crossed again, while participating in a Christmas novena at Gabriella’s cousin’s house, “We were both really happy to see each other.” The two talked together for a while that night, and the conversation left a lasting impression in Cristian’s mind.
“I didn’t know it at the moment, but I felt pure. I didn’t feel like her intentions were bad at all. I had quality time with somebody without doing something bad, in a very sober moment. So that attracted me a lot.”
When he returned home that night, Cristian checked in with Gabriella to make sure that she, too, had made it home safely. At that time,
“I told her that I would like to get to know her better.”
But, though she was eager to spend time with him again, Gabriella challenged Cristian’s vague language.
“I was just using terms like ‘hang out,’” he reveals. “But she was actually the one letting me know that wanting to get to know her is going out on a date.”
For her part, watching her parents work through difficulties in their marriage had left a lasting impression on Gabriella, who had only recently allowed herself to entertain the idea of marriage at the time of Cristian’s invitation.
“Coming back into the faith, love was a big question mark for me,” she shares. “What it looked like, what it felt like, what it should be like…”
Though her parents’ marriage today is flourishing, thanks in large part to her father’s reconversion, the healing process is still ongoing. And, without a clear example of how to live in a holy, happy marriage from the outset, Gabriella began seriously considering entering religious life.
“I struggled with that vocation calling for a long time,” she says candidly. “I felt like I was too wounded to be in a marriage. I didn’t want to hurt someone.”
But over time, Gabriella began to meet other couples, both through the marriage ministries her parents became involved in and through the witness of online Catholic personalities, and, little by little, she found herself opening up to the possibility of marriage. By the grace of God,
“I truly accepted that God might be calling me to marriage. And I have to be okay with that. If I really believe in Him and in everything I profess in my faith, then He would make it good.”
After witnessing the fruits He bore in her own parents’ marriage, and experiencing a reconversion herself, Gabriella knew that she wanted a husband who would share the faith she loves so much. But Cristian, who himself had once considered religious life in high school, had strayed away from Catholicism when he left his native Colombia to attend college in the United States. Despite this, Gabriella was undaunted.
“I’m a big advocate of not trying to make decisions for God on who we’re supposed to be with,” Gabriella claims courageously. “If the whole point of our faith is to evangelize, then I don’t believe it’s right to be closed off to someone who might not be active in his faith.”
But she is quick to follow-up with a warning. “That being said, you have to be true to your morals and have that very clear in your mind before being open to a relationship with someone who doesn’t share your faith.”
So at the end of their first date, she clearly defined her expectations, concluding with five simple words:
“I date with a purpose.”
“At that specific moment,” Cristian reflects. “I obviously was a little surprised, and I knew I had to make a decision.”
“His answer to me was very honest,” Gabriella admits. “It was, ‘I’m not that person now, but I would like the opportunity to try to be that person.’ And how can I say no to that?”
Cristian insists that his answer was guided by the Holy Spirit. “If things felt right, I would just say yes to that feeling of holiness.”
Far from being a one-time event, this choice was something that Cristian would have to reaffirm every time Gabriella set another boundary. But the choice wasn’t very difficult to make.
“Of course, I’m going to respect her, because she’s being so upfront and so honest with me, and I get this sense of purity from her,” Cristian maintains. “I don’t want to do anything bad to her – who would?”
It was this process of continual yielding that gradually led Cristian back to the practice of the faith.
“If things felt right, I would just say yes, and step by step, you just keep committing, and all of a sudden, you’re going to Mass and actually paying attention.”
“I just think that’s God because there’s no way she could have planned that.”
Gabriella agrees, sympathizing when it comes to the topic of yielding trustfully. In the time leading up to that day at the airport,
“I believed that I had healed from so much. But actually dating someone exposed the wounds I still had in my heart, a lot of which were trust issues.”
It was at that time that Gabriella began to pray the Litany of Trust, a practice that she highly recommends.
“Because it takes a lot to trust that God is putting two broken humans together, and despite being broken, everything is going to be okay – better than okay!”
Gabriella also wants to encourage others to abandon the idea of perfection, which is something that she’s struggled with herself.
“Sometimes, I don’t think we even realize we have that expectation,” she says. “But every single step of the way, I have had to really check myself.”
That checking took the form of plenty of self-reflection, in which she would study her reactions and emotions and question why she felt the way she did in any given situation. Unfortunately, the pervasive drive for perfection made it difficult for her to voice her concerns.
“I felt like I couldn’t express some of the difficulties I was going through because it would be received as, ‘Oh, then this is obviously not the right thing.’ And I knew in my heart that Cristian was the right person that I’m supposed to be with.”
It was that conviction that kept her open and hopeful, trusting in the work that God was accomplishing in their lives.
“Any time I said, ‘No, this is it, I’m drawing a line, we’re done,’ God just came into the picture,” she acknowledges. “Either through Cristian or to me directly in prayer, or just by giving me peace.”
Eventually, she came to the conclusion that, “There are going to be hard times. Nothing is going to be perfect. I mean, our wedding was interrupted by COVID! But if you accept that there’s no such thing as perfection from each other, then you’ll go through those hard times and you’ll come out on the other side and God is going to be in the middle of that – and thank God, because He is the perfect one.”
Keeping God at the center of their relationship has been instrumental for Cristian in particular, who also knows what it’s like to be in a relationship devoid of Him. But, though he laments his time spent away from Catholicism, he is able to find a silver lining.
“I was able to see a contrast,” he says. “To see what it feels like to be with somebody that doesn’t put God as the first thing in her life, compared to Gabriella. So, no matter how crazy she drove me sometimes, I knew her priority was God.”
Despite having learned much from his past relationships, Cristian is quick to encourage others to pursue purity from the outset.
“It is so important to save yourself for the person that is supposed to enjoy you. I cannot stress enough how that would have saved me from so much trouble in my mind.”
Cristian acknowledges that such a lifestyle isn’t always easy, but offers these words of encouragement: “Sometimes you feel lonely, but had I known, had I trusted, then my mind would have been so much more pure than what it is.”
It seems strange to hear him say such a thing, because his own purity is so remarkably evident that it practically radiates through the computer screen – a testament to the profound changes wrought within him through his relationship with Gabriella.
“I just feel like I was saved,” he says plainly. “I don’t think at any moment she knew that she was saving me, but God revealed Himself through her.”
And that, simply put, is the beautiful reality of marriage.
Want more? You can read about Gabriella and Cristian’s journey to marriage in the midst of COVID-19 here