The Words of the Stewart Family
Blessing Testimony from Michael Stewart
February 20, 2003
Michael Stewart and Elizabeth Bonini, blessed on December 7, 2002, Washington, DC
This is my testimony, of how I came to be blessed to Elizabeth Bonini (now Stewart). I hope that this can help people who have yet to find their way through the process, which can seem daunting at times. While Iím sure each person and couple have a different path to walk, I know from my experience that if you have the right heart, God will see you to where youíre supposed to be.
It wasnít always a foregone conclusion that I would choose to go to the Blessing. There was a time in high school where I became very skeptical of the church. While I never lost faith in True Parents and their message, I felt really hurt and confused by a lot of things in the church. Primarily, it was the whole attitude of "outside people" (a term I still hate to hear used) and how they are viewed, since I was really close to my friends in high school.
Regardless of my reasons, it led to a string of decisions and experiences that my life could have done without. I ended up having a girlfriend during the latter part of high school, not because I was actively seeking one but because I didnít know what I wanted and really didnít have a reason to say no when the opportunity came.
While I regret that it happened, the experience did help me in a way. It forced me to think about everything, and it was as if debates were going on in my head constantly. While this was happening it felt like the flow of my life, the feeling that says youíre in the right place or going in the right direction, completely froze. The whole thing left me in a perpetual state of unhappiness and exhaustion. Ultimately, I got to the point where I had to make a choice, and I knew that I couldnít deny things I knew to be true.
After that relationship ended I was at the lowest point in my life. I realized that I was in a place I had never wanted to be, but didnít really know how to find my way back. It took a long time, to rebuild my relationship with God and with my parents and to decide where I wanted to go. As a result, I had to really make a conscious decision to find these answers.
Time passed, and while I knew I had come a long way back from where I was, I still felt like I wasnít "in" the church. I was living the lifestyle, but didnít know if I fit into the church life. So my goal for the summer of 2002, before my senior year of college, was to find out where I fit, or if I fit at all. Instead of working (as I had done every summer since sophomore year of high school), I went to a CARP workshop at UTS. After that, Joe Leonard recruited people to come to DC and help with Service for Peace, and I packed up the car and left. It was in DC that I met Liz for the first time. She was working out of the Maryland Carp center, and I went there to watch the Service for Peace videos, in which Akiko Ikeno explained the vision and purpose of SFP.
When I met Liz, I definitely felt something. I wish there was a better word to use than "something". It wasnít the same as attraction (believe me, I would know). It was closer to the feeling you get when something important is happening. Like every part of you is waiting for something to happen. Anyways, she ended up getting sucked into the media office (which consisted of Michelle Myers and myself) for 3 days. Liz and I worked together running errands, making phone calls, etc. so I got to know her fairly well, and the whole time this feeling did not go away Ė much to my concern. Shortly after that, I was praying about it and God and I came to an understanding, which was as such: I had no clue what this feeling was about, and therefore would never say a word about it, and whatever was supposed to happen would happen.
So a couple months went by, the Summer of Service ended and I went back home and school in Albany, and had forgotten about all this. My parents and I had started a prayer condition over the summer, after I had gone to a Blessing workshop, and we decided to start seriously talking about the Blessing. By the time school started again, my parents were starting to "talk" to other parents. While there were some discussions, I found it difficult because every family, and every person was really nice (how many "mean" church families are there, anyway), but I didnít feel pulled in any direction. This was not a decision I wanted to make analytically, and without the feeling that I was supposed to go a certain way, I knew that I couldnít commit to someone for eternity not knowing or feeling that this is what God wanted me to do.
Things were sort of at an impasse until a few weeks into the semester, when I had a dream. In this dream I was walking up a mountain, covered by woods. I eventually came to a stream, with a number of bridges across it. All of them were wooden, except for a single stone bridge. The wooden bridges were in various states of repair, some rotting, others brand new, while the stone bridge was neatly carved and stood next to a huge mossy boulder. There were BCs all around me, mostly STF'ers from the summer, but none of them came close to me or talked to me. I went across and was standing on the other side (although I donít remember which bridge I took) where there was an old cemetery, surrounded by the forest. It was peaceful, and all the monuments were old and covered with tall grass. I continued up a trail with big stones until I came to a spot where I could see a waterfall and the river in a valley below. It was really peaceful, and I remember praying or meditating, and just feeling really happy. When I came back down, Liz was sitting on the side of the path. We talked for a while, and while I donít remember any of the conversation, I had the feeling that she was sad in the beginning but happier at the end. When I remembered the dream the next day, I definitely thought that if there was ever a sign, this was it. However, I decided that I had made a promise and that it still stood, and it wasnít my place to do anything because I had a dream.
It wasnít until a week later, when I was having a conversation with my parents that the decision was more or less taken out of my hands. We started talking about dreams, and I told them the vivid one I had, minus the detail of who the girl was. I didnít want them to do something crazy, say calling her parents and see if I should get Blessed to her, which was a strong possibility if you know my mom. My dad started saying what he thought everything meant, and totally picked up on the fact that I was hiding who this person was. They got it out of me eventually, and just as I had predicted my mom started wondering what she should do and if she should make some calls. However, this time I told them explicitly that they werenít to call Lizís family. I said that if they started having dreams, or something that told them that this was what they were supposed to do, then they could, but not before that.
So a few more weeks went by, and my parents were thus far dreamless. There was a Blessing in NYC on Saturday (Sept 14), which my mom had asked if I would go to with her. Kotune Kieley was getting Blessed, and she was going out to dinner with the Kieleys afterwards. However, I was getting started on a 21-credit semester and planned to spend the day doing work. I went to bed at 2am Saturday morning, with no intentions of going to New York. I guess with life in the church, things have a way of changing rapidly and unpredictably, so I should have been expecting this all along.
At 6:30am, I sat up, wide awake for no apparent reason. I was sitting there wondering what was going on when I heard distinctly "if you donít go to New York today, youíre going to regret it". I was really freaked out, and while I was thinking of what I should do, I passed out again and fell back asleep. Five minutes later, I had vicious leg cramps that woke me up. At this point, I just said "Fine, Iíll goÖ", and called home to tell them I was coming after all.
We watched the whole Blessing ceremony, during which I told my mom that I was glad that I came, and got to spend the day with her, but had no clue what the big deal was. After the ceremony, as everyone was milling around the lobby, Mereth Heumer approached us, saying the Boninis were here (apparently my mom had asked Mereth about them, just an exploratory information gathering exercise) but had left already. I was kind of relieved since I didnít particularly want to be around if any discussion between parents should arise. However, about 15 minutes later, I saw Mereth heading towards us with two people that were undoubtedly Lizís parents. This was a little much for me and I was trying not to panic, as I saw what would probably be the most awkward situation of my life walking across the lobby towards me. So I turned around and started talking to someone else, until my mom realized I wasnít next to her and in the conversation. By the time my mom introduced me to Bruce and Betsy Bonini, I had calmed down enough to talk coherently. I told them I was a 21-year-old senior in college (at which point Bruce looked ready to leave), what my major was, the whole 2-second biography. Bruce had to leave quickly to go to a meeting (or just had to leave in general) but agreed we should exchange information and see what happened. After he left, I basically explained to Betsy that the only reason we were having this conversation was a really vivid dream that I had. She seemed to be receptive to that, and told my mom (in a whisper, so I didnít hear it at the time) that she had actually had a similar experience a few days earlier. We only talked for a few minutes, since she had to leave as well.
When my mom and I walked out of the Manhattan Center, it felt as if everything was in its right place, and that God was just laughing, mostly at me. So a few weeks, two letters and several phone calls later, we went to visit the Boninis (minus Liz, who was on STF in Chicago) in the Poconos for a weekend, to see what, if anything, should happen next.
Before the visit, I was nervous about meeting her brothers and sisters and talking to her dad. Luckily, her brothers and sisters were really nice and I got along with them almost instantly. Her dad, on the other hand, was not very sold on the idea of Mike. After a thorough grilling session, he determined that I could at least stay in the house. By the end of the weekend, he decided that things could go forward and that Liz and I should start talking.
So began the emailing, and eventually a few phone conversations. It was really great, to get to talk to Liz, but at the same time it was difficult. I didnít want to lose my objectivity or get attached to the situation, or start hoping that this would happen. I really didnít want to do this based on what I wanted. Still, how do you talk to someone like Liz and be in this situation and not hope? It was a delicate balance, but what had gotten me this far was believing that whatever is supposed to happen will happen, and I repeated that to myself whenever I started thinking too much.
It was decided that over Thanksgiving break we would come down to the Poconos again, to meet and talk face to face. Also, my parents had never met Liz, and although they were ready to go ahead on references alone, they wanted to meet her as well. Over the break, we talked more, although rarely alone. With two parents, and five siblings, alone doesnít really existÖ especially when a conscious effort was made to ensure we werenít left alone.
After the weekend, everyone felt good (well, I didÖ hopefully everyone else did too) and wanted to submit the application to see if this was going to happen. Since the next Blessing was in a week, we figured that if the match was made official, we would go to the one after that. However, once again things took a turn for the unexpected.
On Wednesday night, I had a conversation with three ladies: Cynthia, Myra and Dorothy, who were in Albany to see Mrs. Byrne after Mr. Byrneís passing. My mom had told them briefly about the parentís matching, and when they met me they wanted the whole story. After hearing it, all three said, "You should just go to DC, and get Blessed on Saturday." At first, I was startled but told them that I had decided I would do it if it was supposed to happen, whether it was a week or a year away. So they made some calls, and a few hours later my mom called me, and asked "if my head was spinning". The Boninis agreed that we should go ahead, so we took pictures, sent them with the applications via e-mail, and got clothes in case we needed them.
We had expected to receive word back quickly, on whether the match was approved, but as it happened we got to DC on Friday without an answer. Even on Friday night, after we met up with the Boninis, there was no answer. Instead, Rev. Yang said that it was a good chance, but we were to come to Hoon dok Hae early the next day and sit in the front row. True Father would call us up afterwards, and make the decision. So we went to bed on Friday, not knowing if we were going to be Blessed the next day.
As it happened, Lizís family didnít stay in the Sheraton, where Hoon dok Hae was held. The plan was that they would arrive at 4:15 AM so we would have ample time to get into the room and have a place at the front. Unfortunately, they didnít arrive until 4:50 and the place was packed wall to wall with Japanese missionaries by the time we got there.
Never have I received so many dirty looks, as when we elbowed our way through the entire apartment to get to the front row. I actually had to climb over two ladies as the service was going on, to get next to Liz. By this time, True Parents had noticed the 6-foot tall white kid squeezing his way between and over Japanese missionaries to get to the front and were staring directly at us. At the end of the service, Rev. Yang pushed us out in front as True Father was getting ready to leave the room. He told True Father that we were 2nd gen, and that I had studied in Korea, and (by the way) asked if it was all right if we went to the Blessing today. True Father was laughing, and asked how old we were. I said I was 21, Liz replied with 18, to which True Father said in English, "Ah.. too young." As he was walking out, he said quietly to Rev. Yang that it was all right. When he announced this, the whole room of Japanese missionaries started clapping, and people came up to congratulate us.
The rest of the day and the weekend was amazing. We were asked to present a gift and flowers to True Parents at the Blessing and at morning service the next day. Some of my friends from school had driven down from NY that morning, even though they werenít sure whether I was actually going to get Blessed. The one downside was that all of this happened in the middle of finals week, which I had to return to after Sunday morning.
Now itís been about two months, and it still feels really incredible that all of this happened. Just the way everything unfolded, it felt like walking in a dream. While it was suspenseful, and somewhat stressful to get completely prepared for the Blessing and go down to DC while not being sure if it would actually happen, I am so grateful that it took place the way it did. With each step, it was like God was asking how far we were willing to go to see if this was meant to be. Sometime on Friday, I think I told Liz that I redefined the word "faith" on an hourly basis. And while this happened, I got a new feeling of how much God really loves us, and how close He is around us, and how incredible things can happen if youíre willing to find out where you want to be.
For people that are getting ready to make the next big step, and are looking for advice I would offer a few things. The first is to keep an open mind. Even as things started to point me in this direction, I kept thinking that Liz was 18 and an STFer, while I was a sketchy 21-year-old college student. Thinking of yourself, and thinking of other people superficially may mean that you ignore signs that you should pay attention to. People come from all different backgrounds and experiences, and ultimately it comes down to what kind of heart they have, and how you compliment each other.
The second point is to try and make conditions to focus on finding out what the right path is. I know that the experiences that led me to this couldnít have happened if I wasnít making a dedicated effort to be guided. The final piece of advice would be to stay objective, and not get attached to the situation. Liz and I were definitely both really anxious the day before we got our answer and got Blessed. However, both of us were also ready to walk away if thatís what we were supposed to do, and I think that added to the bond rather than taking away from it.
I hope this helps you; I just feel really grateful for everything and want to share that with everyone. I hope that this can make everyone happy while their own story unfolds.
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