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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Everything is a Gift
When I look back over the panorama of my life, it becomes incredibly clear how strong and ever present has been God’s guiding hand and protection throughout my life. I do not know why He has chosen to bless me so much. But He has.

Doug Gill and family
Douglas Gill and his family.

Normally, we associate vocation stories with those called to the priesthood or religious life. I am a married man with 6 children. Marriage is also a vocation a vocation to a person and I believe that no less than those called to a supernatural state, God chose my vocation for me and gave it to me as the greatest gift of my life.

I was born in the summer of 1962 in Columbus, Ohio, the firstborn of two Northeast Ohio Yankee Catholics. 10 months later, more than half a continent away, in the western tip of Texas, in the city of El Paso on the border with Mexico, a girl named Laurie Navar was born, the 5th child of a Mexican American rancher and a southern belle from Louisiana who had converted to Catholicism.

I believe with all my heart that way back then God said: I made these two for each other and I must find a way to bring them together. My story is of how God’s design not only made it possible for us to come together, but did so at a time and in a way in which we were prepared both to marry and to completely embrace the Catholic vision of life and love from the outset.

I have been blessed with many providential people and events throughout my life. First and foremost are my parents, who knew from the start that their goal was to raise responsible, Catholic adults. Our family quickly grew, and was complete by my 8th birthday, with four boys and one girl.

A defining moment for our family occurred before my 3rd birthday, when my brother Karl was born. He had hydrocephalus, and suffered significant brain damage. He is mentally retarded, and today at age 37 lives with my parents, works in a sheltered workshop, and mentally cannot come close to the level of my 6-year-old son, Michael.

Karl taught us many things, particularly that it is in weakness, in brokenness, in limitations, and in suffering that love is purest. He taught us that not everything gets fixed, and yet that there is no such thing as a life not worth living at a time when all the world was saying the opposite. He taught us patience and reminded us that everything is a gift. In college I decided to study engineering at the University of Missouri at Columbia. During my freshman year, I had the “time of my life” to that point. I suddenly found myself in a place where interest in ideas, in books, in intellectual debate on all manner of issues was the norm. This is what I had always been interested in, but until this point I had felt like a weirdo because of that. I was in heaven.

At the beginning of my freshman year, I met another one of the providential people in my life, a second year law student named Ed Peters. If you listen to Catholic radio, you may have heard him as a canon law expert on call-in shows. Ed is simply the clearest thinking human being I have ever met, a deeply committed Catholic and pro-lifer, and a friendly man of real virtue. I had the grace of exploring all manner of issues with him several times a week over my first two years of college. By the end of that time, I was thoroughly convinced that if you had good premises and thought clearly, reason, logic, and judgment inexorably took you to Catholicism.

However, the most significant thing that occurred during my freshman year occurred 1100 miles away in El Paso, Texas, absolutely hidden from my sight. Laurie Navar was completing her senior year in a very large public high school as the editor of the school paper. When a scholarship she had been awarded demanded that she name her college, she asked her journalism teacher what was the best journalism school in the country. She responded: the University of Missouri at Columbia. And Laurie chose her college with that little thought. It appeared totally haphazard. And it was totally providential.

Throughout our time in Columbia, I had fairly regular contact with Laurie, mostly through pro-life activities, and we became friends, even fond friends, but she had a long-term boyfriend. Then at the mid-point of my senior year, another providential event occurred. She and that boyfriend decided that they had to split up due to religious differences, and he went to another school to be sure they stayed apart. So I asked her out, two and a half years after our initial meeting. Obviously, I’m a little slow. But I knew because of our friendship that she was everything I was looking for in a woman, and that the only question was one of chemistry. Well, it was true love immediately, with the awareness that we both had met our destiny. Laurie says that in that first date, she went from viewing me as just a nice guy to the shocking realization that she was going to marry me. I had entered the date believing that was possible.

The next months were a sweet time, the springtime of love. I was in a position to concentrate on that and on finding a job. I finished my senior year with two job offers in St. Louis and an opportunity to go to California and work with Ed Peters on a new Catholic TV network. I decided to try that and let the rest of it work out. That was a blessing, because I got to live and work closely with a bunch of guys making it as professional intellectuals, a life I was still attracted to much more so than my technical field of computers. However, that experience demonstrated to me in an unmistakable way that those guys had qualities I didn’t, and that I was better suited for work closer to specific technical training. So after just three weeks, I came back to St. Louis and started my computer career at McDonnell Douglas.

Real work was a hard adjustment. My range of concern had gone from the whole world to a narrow set of technical issues. I found this oppressive. Laurie was still in school and we continued our relationship by phone and on weekends. During my middle college years, I had considered whether God was calling me to be a priest, but had not found a way to test that call. When Laurie and I had fallen in love, I thought I had left that question behind forever. However, after a few months of work, I found the question of whether God was calling me to be a Priest was again central in my thoughts and prayers. After several weeks of this and encouragement from a Priest, I opened up to Laurie on this and precipitated a painful crisis in our relationship.

I was wrestling with the question of why God had given me the perfect woman for me and there was no question whatsoever on that point and then revived this thought and desire for priesthood in my heart. I had better vocational contacts this time around. Somehow, I had made contact with this group in Connecticut that I had never heard of called the Legionaries of Christ, and had regular phone conversations with then Brother, now Father Thomas Bennett, who had faced the same issue I was facing, i.e. a specific girlfriend versus a call to the priesthood. There was something different about these guys from anybody else I had talked to. I had also found a good young Jesuit, Fr. Brian Van Hove, who was advising me. In the spring of 1985, I resolved to pray, decide, and act towards my vocation. Fr. Van Hove connected me with a good old Jesuit who gave me an individually directed 3-day vocational discernment retreat. I went into the retreat expecting to resolve to leave Laurie and find a seminary, and the Legionaries probably would have been my first try. However, God completely surprised me. He gave me the most unmistakable and beautiful vision of family life with Laurie, and made it very clear to me that he had not given me such a singularly perfect match just so I could experience true love and then walk away from it. He had made me for her and her for me, to be united in marriage. The message was shockingly clear and decisive.

Naturally, it took a little time to confirm the message of the retreat, and certainly to patch things up with Laurie. I had found my “pearl of great price.” I had to make the decision to be happy in my career as a software engineer and accept the cross of a severely curtailed intellectual life. These things happened, and within a few weeks we were engaged, and we married the following year in the summer of 1986. From the very beginning of our marriage, we were committed to the Catholic vision of life and love, were open to life, and hoped to have a number of children.

I think my vocation to Regnum Christi began during my vocational discernment struggle in 1984-5. A few years later, I heard a talk by Father Anthony Bannon, LC, in St. Louis and was very impressed. I sort of stumbled into the first Legionary directed retreat in St. Louis in 1991 at a time of spiritual openness in my life, with one child and several months after completing my Master’s degree and leaving McDonnell Douglas. Our retreat master was Father John Hopkins. His zeal, fire, charity, and spiritual depth were unlike anything I had ever encountered before. Very attractive. They kept talking about something called Regnum Christi. I didn’t have a clue, but a lot of the other guys seemed to. I continued making the retreats. When we moved to our current home in 1993, I met one of those men at our parish, St. Alban Roe. He was Chris Pelicano, yet another one of those providential people in my life. We got to know well him, his wife Sharon and their family over the next few years. To me, he is the model man of the kingdom and theirs an exemplary family. The single most attractive thing to me about Regnum Christi was the excellent formation it seemed to have given Chris.

Although I became a member in 1996, it took me a long time to identify fully with the Movement. For a long time, I felt that the Movement was basically for extroverted activists like my wife, and I wasn’t sure there was really a place for an introverted intellectual wanna-be like me. My family was growing rapidly at this time—we have 6 children ranging from 14 to 2 years of age and 4 of them are under 8—and that obviously had to be my first focus. At some basic level, I felt that I was already well educated, that I already prayed, that my life was already jam packed with commitments and that I didn’t want to do or commit any more. I really wasn’t looking for anything else. I did strongly believe that my wife had a vocation to Regnum Christi. For myself, however, joining Regnum Christi was largely a matter of family unity in spirituality. As to active involvement, I pretty much felt that the demands of my family and work left little or nothing for the Movement, and that getting involved would take me away from those primary commitments.

But over time, I have found that this is not so. Regnum Christi has gradually and profoundly deepened and shifted my spiritual outlook. Growing up in the crisis of the ’60s and ’70s, and later becoming aware of just how much had been lost and destroyed in that time, it was easy to fall into a negative, backward-looking, good guy/bad guy outlook. Regnum Christi has given me a very positive, very deep, very practical spiritual program, a true understanding of the human person and God’s desire for the salvation of all men. All men. Not just the good guys. And it has taught me the paramount value of the virtue of charity.

And that is the true essence of the transformation that Regnum Christi is working on me: it is taking me from my native critical/analytical faith perspective to the perspective of love. Real love is a hard and demanding thing. It took Christ to the cross. It causes my parents in their advancing years to care for their handicapped child. It has caused my extremely talented wife to lay down her own abilities in the world for our children and me. It is a battle. When I had as many as 4 kids, it was easy to think I could handle it all based on my own efforts and discipline, that struggle was a sign of ignorance, incompetence, poor judgment, or weakness. No more. God has brought me to a place where what is required is well beyond what the “self-sufficient me” could hope to do and shown me that my pride is foolishness.

Regnum Christi’s apostolates, I have found, assist rather than detract from our family and our efforts to raise our kids to be committed Catholics. With a family dominated by young children, Catholic Kid’s Net is a real help in our core project, and as our family’s apostolate, something that deeply conveys to our children that being active for Christ is a normal, important part of life. I feel that the Movement has extended me respect, patience, and grace. While in this busy season of life I have probably been one of the less “active” members of the Movement, I expect that to change in ways I cannot forecast as my children grow up.

And so, returning to the heart of the story, I cannot convey how perfect the match is between Laurie and me, in unity of mind, heart, and spirit; in purpose; in common interests, values and goals; and in complimentarily of temperament. I believe it is truly a match made in heaven. It is certainly way beyond my poor abilities to find or achieve. Only the persistent design of God’s providence could have brought us together. I do not mean to suggest that there are no issues or conflicts in our marriage and family life; any such implication would most certainly be false. But every single day for over 16 years of marriage, I have been blessed with the certainty and the peace that as Laurie’s husband and our children’s father I am with the exact person in the exact vocation God chose for me. I feel that is a rare and special blessing.

In living my life and fulfilling its responsibilities day to day, I seldom experience any kind of clear direction or guidance or communication from God. It is all very ordinary. I think that years ago, when God gave me the gift of my vocation to marriage and its duties, he showed me my main path, and that is enough. With my vocation to Regnum Christi, he has deepened that call. Of course in this busy life, in my large family, there are a multitude of issues and events. In the midst of the struggle, what I have to work with are the ordinary means of human and supernatural virtues, of prayer and sacraments, of work and fulfillment of duty. When I look back over the panorama of my life, it becomes incredibly clear how strong and ever present has been God’s guiding hand and protection throughout my life. I do not know why He has chosen to bless me so much. But He has. Today I am a very grateful man, a man deeply and quietly happy in the vocation God has called him to, grateful for my faith, grateful to be Catholic, grateful for Regnum Christi, and grateful for his most particular gift to me, that little girl born more than half a continent away who is now my wife.



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