|Sonia Lee, a parishioner at St. Matthew Church in Franklin, displays a “Shoebox Man kit,” a companion to one of her songs by the same title. The idea behind it is to encourage women to reflect on and write down the values and characteristics of an ideal mate.
Who would guess that a shoe box under the bed could be a helpful tool in finding the right guy to spend your life with? Sonia Lee and her husband, Chris Cavolo have a pink shoebox filled with tools they believe will help women of all ages make positive choices for relationships that will last – with the help of God.
The Shoebox Man Kit contains a little pink pen and paper pad, musical CD and little book, “A Girl’s Guide to Choosing the Right Man.” It guides the reader with reflections on the values and characteristics of the perfect mate, such as kindness, honesty, generosity, tolerance, humility. And it begins with the exhortation that you are “so special that God has made someone just for you.” Broken hearts may be part of the journey, it advises, but every experience will bring lessons and strengths that will lead to the right man.
The pen and paper are to be used to write down the positive things most loved about the other person along the way. These slips of paper are folded and put in the shoebox and entrusted with a prayer to God.
Hidden within the simplicity of the shoebox is a glimpse into the life experience of Lee, a recording artist and songwriter who wrote the song “Shoebox Man” about eight years ago while on a flight without her customary guitar. She was traveling between performances at healing conferences for women in recovery.
“A lot of people wonder if it was my grandmother who did this,” said Lee, a parishonier at St. Matthew Church in Franklin. It was actually a co-worker during her teen years as a waitress in New York who planted the seed. The teen told of a grandmother who advised her to write down the good qualities from each relationship as she journeyed through life and to keep them in a shoebox under her bed. One day, the grandma advised, she would find all those in the person meant for her.
“I thought that was pretty profound, except that I never did it,” she said.
Lee said her own grandmother in Canada encouraged her during summertime visits as she was growing up that she would know when the right man came into her life. But there were many years of poor choices and consequences along the way.
“It wasn’t until years later, I hit a turning point. I had to go either left or right, and I chose the right path. I got sober and my life started changing for the better,” she said.
An older mentor encouraged her to take note of the qualities she liked most in the men she had dated and the choices she made. And she began to write them down. “It hit me so strongly, I never thought I had a choice in the matter.” She said the process of discerning and writing helped her get grounded and stay focused. And she did eventually find her Shoebox Man, Chris, whom she married in 2001.
John Bosio, who with his wife, Teri, created SIX DATES for Catholic Couples, a nationally recognized marriage enrichment program, said the Shoebox Man’s aim is realistic.
“Approaching dating as a process of learning about oneself and about the qualities we would like the person we hope to marry will have is very healthy,” Bosio said. “To expose young people to this discernment process is important, especially in light of how many are approaching marriage today.”
The Bosios, married for 42 years, are also working on a new marriage preparation program for Ave Maria Press. Bosio, who writes the Faithful Marriages column for the Tennessee Register, noted the importance of not just letting emotions and feelings guide a relationship, especially amid contemporary society’s message to “follow your heart.” Rather, “We need to let our mind and our faith guide us,” he said.
And, according to Dr. Crystal Morgan, it’s important to keep in mind that there really isn’t a “perfect” partner with all the qualities on the Shoebox Man list. Morgan, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Dickson, said, “Love requires one to both feel and think. It is a decision, and many people forget to think and not just feel.”
This is where it is helpful to have another person, perhaps a friend or family member, help take a more realistic look at the other person, she said.
Katie Veit, director of Symmetry Counseling Services in Nashville and a licensed clinical social worker, also emphasized the role of mutual communication. “It’s important to be clear with your potential partner about what you need from them in order to make the relationship a healthy one. But at the same time, it’s even more important to actively listen to what your partner really wants,” she said.
Lee included the song “Shoebox Man” in a CD called “True” that she recorded a few years ago. It received a lot of feedback from people who liked the approach and told her they planned to recommend it to friends and relatives grappling with rocky relationships.
The actual kit came about after her husband, Chris, an actor and writer, suggested she do something with the idea so people could actually follow the song’s advice. He wrote all the material except for the song and Lee’s personal message in the kit. “He believes that if you raise the bar high enough, then the men are going to step up to it a little bit,” she said.
The Shoebox Man kits are available at St. Mary’s Bookstore and Logos Bookstore in Nashville. Lee will also be an exhibitor at the Catholic Women of Faith Conference at St. Philip Church in Franklin April 18 and at the Southern Women’s Show April 30-May 3 at the Nashville Music City Center. Her website is www.shoeboxman.net.