The Words of the Stewart Family
Blessing Story of Michael Stewart and Elizabeth Bonini
January 22, 2007
Blessing date: December 7, 2002, Washington, DC
Sidenote By Michael Stewart
I wrote this testimony recently after the Blessing had taken place. It's now 4 years afterwards. We have 2 kids, and Liz is going to school part time while I am working for an architecture firm in Arlington, VA.
I feel that is important to add a footnote to the matching story below (which I will leave intact and not edit), because of the conversations I've had with younger 2nd gen, and feedback from that I've received from some parents.
When I wrote this testimony, I felt that it was important to be completely honest about my background and my experiences. First, because I generally believe that honesty is preferably to lies, no matter how well-intentioned they may seem. Second, because I feel that there is a lack of honest information about the practical challenges and experiences that people have with the matching process. Looking back on this testimony I feel that I should expand on a few points.
I stated earlier that after having a girlfriend in high school I hit the lowest point in my life. While the external reason (having a girlfriend) was given, I feel like there were a lot of other things going on that created this feeling. I had never actively sought a girlfriend. Because I didn't feel that I wanted to go to the Blessing, I simply had no strong reasons to NOT have a girlfriend. So when someone that I was really close to initiated the relationship, I saw no reason not to pursue it. However, from the beginning of the relationship I never felt fully right about it.
During my internal debates I argued that it was simply because I had been raised a certain way, and I was going against it. Certainly this was part of it, but that still didn't get me past the fact that something felt wrong, but I was plowing ahead. This state of unease continued during the entire year and a half period that I was going out with her, but I never had the internal strength to cut myself off from the situation. It was like being on a ship taking on water, watching the water come in, but feeling like I couldn't move or do anything about it, so I just got used to it. In doing so, I was enormously unfair to the girl in question, since I wasn't honest about my internal conflict. It was only through the relationship imploding (since I didn't have the strength to end it) that I was able to break away.
Immediately afterwards, whenever I prayed it honestly seemed like God was saying (or feeling) "Whatever; do whatever you want." I don't think it was any type of punishment. It was the plain reality that I had proven to be selfish and untrustworthy, and had cut off my relationship with God and my family. Parents don't stop loving their child, even when their child hurts them. However, they will eventually stop trusting them, and will understand that their child may choose to hurt them. I think the same thing is true with God. I also felt like nothing mattered. In one sense I was free from anything that had bound me previously, but upon reaching that state I felt no joy in anything. I was just living, and that was it. I prayed every day, but felt absolutely nothing about it.
It took a while before I came up with a plan to get my relationship with God and my feeling about life back on track. I think it began unconsciously, and grew out of being sick and tired of not feeling anything all the time. I started doing Hoon Dok Hae (not exactly the same as HDH as we know it) and praying every morning and night. It didn't matter how late I went to sleep or late I got up -- I stuck to the schedule pretty strictly. It was not traditional Hoon Dok Hae. I read the Bible, Tao De Ching, and some Principle / TF's words. The theme of my prayers was usually, I want to do whatever I am supposed to do with my life.
This went on for about 2 years before I felt like I had some type of working relationship with God. There were a lot of ups and downs, but occasionally I had the feeling that I was doing the right thing. Interestingly, at the end of this time period, just before the summer when I went to Service for Peace and everything began to unfold with Liz, I was tested. It was the same scenario as before; a girl who I was close friends with was interested in me. However, this time I was strong about what I wanted, and cut off the situation before she could even bring it up. Immediately afterwards, for the first time in a long time I had the feeling that I was doing the right thing with my life. It sounds cliché, but there is a distinct feeling in you get from knowing you're the right person in the right place. If you feel it all the time it's easy to take for granted, but when it's been years since you last felt it, then it's more easily recognized.
I felt an impetus to add these details because I know that a lot of BCs are reaching the age when they will have to make these choices.
I have heard of people using testimonies like mine to justify dating - "Well this guy, and this girl, and this other guy did and now they are Blessed". This is true, some people date before they get Blessed. However, there are a lot of people who date and then do not go on to get Blessed. It certainly does not enhance the quality of the matching experience to have parents ask how much you have done sexually, or have to explain to your potential spouse (who very likely may not have dated) what you did sexually, and how many relationships you had. These conversations became a necessary topic in my matching experience, and were almost a deal-killer for Liz's parents.
If someone is looking for outside justifications for actions that don't feel right, then they will probably do whatever they want anyway, but for the record please do not use my testimony as an advocate for dating. While I do not think people who choose to date are bad, I think they are risking a lot for something that stands to gain them little, if anything.
Dating and sex get a lot of hype today, but it's all an image game. Dating is a facade -- you pretend to be the best version of yourself for someone pretending to be the best version of themselves while sharing as few vulnerabilities as possible. You do things like going to the movies, going out places, having a good time.
Dating is inherently selfish... you always need to be looking out for yourself, because the relationship does not have any foundation. If you make yourself vulnerable to someone who may not be there next month or next year, you will get hurt quickly and often. That is, until you understand that by looking out for yourself you won't get hurt.
Unfortunately, life is not spent entirely at the movies or hanging out with friends, and the only way to build a successful relationship is to make yourself vulnerable to the other person. I think the only way that dating can work is if a shift is quickly made from a selfish to unselfish relationship model. You can see this more in older couples - quick courtship periods before committing, or committing early on to marriage. I am not a trained therapist, but from what I've read and experienced this seems to be the case.
What I learned in rebuilding my relationship with God and later in building a relationship with my wife is that commitment is the most important thing. It was not important what I was reading / what conditions I was doing -- the most important thing is that I committed to what I wanted to do, and stuck to it. I should also mention the "centered on God" detail. When you commit to getting Blessed, you are making a marriage with your spouse and God - can dating do this?
And with sex... it is played up to be an amazing, wonderful, gratifying... insert your adjective of choice here... in movies and on TV. And it definitely can be. However, I think it is only possible to be that good in a committed relationship. And before you start writing me off as Catholic, here's why.
Sex as a purely physical act is not that great in and of itself. However, if you add to that feelings of uncertainty about who you're with and if they really feeling the same way as you it will be worse than awkward and pretty un-gratifying. I haven't experienced it, but I am guessing that keeping up the facade of dating is quite difficult when you're that intimate. If there isn't something backing up the physical relationship, it will be obvious that something's missing. Honestly, this was one of the major factors that kept me from having sex before getting Blessed... I imagined what it would feel like afterwards, and I knew I didn't want to have any regrets about it.
People in high school always asked me "If you don't have sex before you get married, how will you know that you're sexually compatible?" This is probably one of the stupidest questions I have heard. I thought so then, and I feel even stronger about it now. The first time you have sex, it will be awkward. But, if you are going to be with the same person your physical relationship will develop with your emotional relationship, and it's not like the process of developing the physical relationship is some arduous, undesirable task... "Darn it, do we have to again?". If the emotional commitment isn't there, it will always just be a physical act and it will be very hard to build anything greater on it.
I hope this helps some people. I am not trying to make the case that people who date are sinners and people who get Blessed have it perfect. Deciding to get Blessed is just the first step, and sometimes Blessings break. This is regrettable, but relationships are difficult, and I think they always will be. If they were easy, it would not be so valuable. While it is true that you can date and later get Blessed, if you know that you want to get Blessed, why do you need to date? I had to lose a lot of things before I learned to appreciate them, and I am glad that things turned out alright in the end. If you already appreciate something, why bother trying to lose it?
If you really feel like you need to go through suffering to find out what you want in life, there are many self-less ways to go through suffering instead of selfish ones. You will achieve clarity in your life a lot quicker, and you won't have to feel bad explaining it to your future spouse.
If you have any questions, please email me. I hope this helps.
Testimony from Michael Stewart
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 -- 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, "AhÖ 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
Parents' Testimony from Therese Stewart (mother of Michael)
We were overjoyed when Michael decided that he wanted to be Blessed. It really had not been clear in his teen years. He was intent on finishing school as soon as possible and also on working during vacation periods as he saw that finances were always a problem. But this meant that he never had time for STF, PLA, workshops etc. During the years of uncertainty regarding the Blessing we prayed for Michael to be protected and to understand the value of his position and responsibility as a member of the second generation and also offered affirmative prayers such as "I affirm Michael's Blessing to a woman God has prepared for him" over and over again.
Michael attended the Blessing Workshop at the Seminary in June of 2001 and then worked as a volunteer with Service for Peace in Washington DC preparing for the July rally. He found that a good experience and when he came home we began praying together every night for guidance regarding a blessing partner. Shortly thereafter Michael had a dream in which he met a young woman he'd worked with very briefly in Washington. Concerned that he might be exercising his own will rather than waiting for God so to speak, he rather reluctantly told us of the dream and eventually, who it was that he met and spoke with in his dream. When we learned her name and that of her parents we began asking who knew the Boninis. Mereth Huemer, a friend here in Albany, immediately recognized the name Bonini as that of her fund raising captain many years ago.
On September 14, 2001, Michael called from school to say that he wanted to go to New York to the Blessing with me. I was happy about that but only later in the day learned that he had had a push from spirit world to do so. After the ceremony we were in the lobby talking with people when Mereth Huemer suddenly appeared with a couple in tow -- Bruce and Betsy Bonini. Mereth introduced us, having told them briefly why we wanted to meet them. We talked for a few minutes and accepted an invitation to visit them in Pennsylvania. Elizabeth was in Chicago with STF at the time. Betsy suggested that we write each other about Elizabeth and Michael which we did. Soon after we visited the Boninis and talked about the possible match. We came to the conclusion that Michael and Liz were well suited to each other and then sort of turned it over to them. They e-mailed and telephoned each other during the next month or two and happily reached the same conclusion.
We finally met Elizabeth at her parents' home when we visited over Thanksgiving. We felt like we knew her already with input from her parents and friends as well as from Michael. It confirmed our feeling that they had been prepared for each other and will become a True Family and together continue God's and our lineage.
It was also gratifying to see Michael's growth in faith during this period which he talks about in his testimony. Neither he nor Elizabeth took it for granted that the match would be approved by True Parents and at times that was stressful. Nevertheless both Michael and Elizabeth wanted what God wanted.
We feel enormous gratitude to God and True Parents that things worked out for them and that they could be in the December 7th Blessing and since then in the February 6th Blessing. We continue our prayers, not just for Michael and Elizabeth but for all the parents in the process of matching their son and daughter. We pray that God will guide them as we feel He guided us.
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