Archive for Marriage

How Theology of the Body Impacted My Life

large family

My husband and I read a life-changing article thirty-two years ago when we were on a rare date night for our sixth wedding anniversary. Parents of four, we really wanted to remain faithful to Church teaching by refusing to use artificial birth control, but we already felt stretched to our limits financially, emotionally and physically. I am tiny and had never even held a baby before my first. Growing up in a Protestant home with only one sister, it had never even occurred to me that I would one day mother a large family.

After my conversion to Catholicism at nineteen, I earned a degree in English Literature at a Catholic College. Everyone thought I was called to the religious life, especially the Jesuit priest I worked with as a student chaplain. Everyone was shocked with my sudden vocation change, especially me.

I had moved east with Michael after our first baby was born which cut me off from daily contact with friends and family. Although I enjoyed living in the country, raising our own vegetables and later even all our own meat, it was an isolated existence. I felt like Ruth in a foreign land but without family support because Michael’s mother was busy with a huge extended family. In addition, my husband struggled with depression. Worldly opinion screamed that we should not have any more children.

Natural Family Planning

The question we had struggled with for years was, “How could we remain faithful to Church teaching when Natural Family Planning did not seem to work for us?” Intuitively, I already knew a call to trust in God could not just be an intellectual assent but included entrusting my fertility to God. Catholic teaching stated couples should space their children with abstinence but we slowly discovered I was one of those rare people who could conceive long before ovulation.

Of course, we did our best to remain faithful to NFP. However, each successive child after our third was conceived on the second, third, fourth and fifth day before ovulation. A couple of babies were created before I even had a first cycle when we thought I was still infertile. As my doctor said once, “Ah, I remember reading about a woman in New Zealand, two years ago, who conceived five days before ovulation.” I raised my hand and chirped, “Well, you can add me to that list!”

Theology of the Body

Then on our sixth wedding anniversary, sitting in a busy pizza place, I was flipping through our local diocesan paper when an article jumped out at me. I was excited as I read a statement by Pope John Paul II which stated that using contraceptives not only damaged a couple’s intimacy but also harmed their spirituality. We were both struck dumb, sensing a powerful Presence of God as this truth pierced our hearts.

Michael and I try never to let anything hinder our journey into God’s heart, so this truth now meant artificial contraception was definitely not an option. Of course, I cannot find the exact quotes we read that day but the following is close enough:

In the conjugal act it is not licit to separate the unitive aspect from the procreative aspect, because both the one and the other pertain to the intimate truth of the conjugal act…Therefore, in such a case, the conjugal act, deprived of its interior truth because it is artificially deprived of its procreative capacity, ceases also to be an act of love.

It can be said that in the case of an artificial separation of these two aspects, as real bodily union is carried out in the conjugal act, but it does not correspond to the interior truth and to the dignity of personal communion – communion of person. This communion demands that the language of the body be expressed reciprocally in the integral truth of its meaning. If this truth be lacking, one cannot speak either of the truth of self-mastery, or of the truth of the reciprocal gift and of the reciprocal acceptance of self on the part of the person. Such a violation of the interior order of conjugal union, which is rooted in the very order of the person, constitutes the essential evil of the contraceptive act. (Theology of the Body, Aug. 22, 1984, 398)

Love…is therefore the power given to man in order to participate in that love with which God himself loves in the mystery of creation and redemption. It is that love which “rejoices with the truth.” (1 Cor. 13:6) (Theology of the Body, Oct. 10, 1984, 406)

Although we could not imagine how large our family would become, the words of John Paul II , quoted in that newspaper article, resonated within both my husband and me. Guilt lifted off us and a surge of excitement, a sense of purpose welled up from within. It took time to really believe that none of our children were simply a failure of the NFP method. Many small experiences kept reinforcing the truth for us that God called each of our children into being with our co-operation. We’d stumbled blindly at times and then a burst of clarity would shine light on our purpose.

This Is Your Call

For example, twenty-five years ago, I once again slipped into panic mode, worrying if I was pregnant with my fifth child. Suddenly my whole body relaxed and I heard these words within me: This is your call. This is your vocation. This is your witness to the world.

All sorts of objections rushed into my head. “What on earth do you mean a witness, a witness to what? Stupidity? People don’t understand. They just think we are irresponsible or idiots.” Then unexpected joy bubbled within me and I sensed these words in my spirit, “I am with you.” Once again peace wrapped like a blanket around me. It was an actual physical sensation. My mind was calm and my spirit felt strong. That was it for me; I understood and I said, “Yes.” Though I still cringed under disapproval from society, I always understood my children were saving me by compelling me to dive deeper into my spirit, discovering the power of eternal Love at my core, a love that can stand strong against all opposition.

We have lived through years of suffering, surviving and even thriving thanks to the gifts of humor and faith. I can honestly say we are joyful because we answered a particular call to parent a large family. Thanks to Theology of the Body, I can proclaim with confidence that mothering a large family is my call, my vocation and my witness to the world.

What Does It Mean to Be Free and Brave? Reflections on Pope Francis’ Speech Before the US Congress

pope francis before congress

Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress today and amidst his profound and sensitive reflections were these words about the state of the family in the United States:

How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement!  Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable: the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse, and despair. Their problems are our problems.

Families are, indeed, being threatened from both within and without. We are aware of the many external threats, including the attempt by legislators and the U.S. Supreme Court to redefine marriage, a cultural disregard for strong, traditional families, and the intrusion of immorality into our homes through a flood of technology. It’s easy to forget the internal threats though — those forces from within that Pope Francis mentions.

Within our own families, seeds of darkness always wait to be fertilized. Selfishness, greed, jealousy, bitterness. The devil adorns these vices in lovely garments, so that we can tell ourselves things like “I don’t put up with any garbage” or “I am very ambitious and hard working” or “I always protect my rights.” Or we prioritize our reputations, bank accounts, and physical appearance over the relationships in our families. It’s so easy to do, so seductive. We protect our homes from the internal threats that Pope Francis mentions through our openness toward one another, our willingness to sacrifice our own desires for the needs of our families — especially the most vulnerable, and by our willingness to move outside ourselves to play, work, and worship with our families. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Building a community of love is simple, but challenging.

Pope Francis opened his speech with these words:  “I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’ ” I thought about what it means to be free, to be brave.  Real freedom requires the resistance of love.  I think many American are very confused about that; they assume freedom means they get to do whatever they want without limits, without boundaries, without responsibility. But that is not freedom; it is a prison.  The thing that confounds people about many Catholic families is our belief in self-giving love, in our belief that we can never be free until we grow to a place where we can give generously. This is very strange thinking in our culture. Sometimes reality look crazy; sometimes the truth is strange.

The truth about children — how they thrive, what they need to grow up into whole, joyful, contributing members of society — is uncomfortable for many people because it’s inconvenient and challenges them to be free and brave.  Building a community of love requires real freedom and real bravery, but it is how we express the image of God in ourselves. Being a mother has helped me become more free because I’ve come to understand the spiritual significance beneath simple acts of mothering, in particular, the way in which I am caught up in divine love when I stretch my limits out of care for my family. As for bravery, being a mom has helped me become more brave, too. I am more willing now to resist the status quo, to question popular views about children and families. Perhaps most importantly, being a mom has helped me face the truth about myself when I am not free, when I have failed to be brave — when I’m stuck or broken.

The Pope will have plenty more to say about the family during his time with us at the World Meeting of Families, but how wonderful that he expressed his love and concern for American families before Congress, 30% of them Catholic. The Holy Spirit is always working.

Image credit: Kevin Lemarque/Reuters

National NFP Awareness Week July 19-25


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is reminding us that this is National Natural Family Planning Awareness Week!:

God designed marriage as an “intimate partnership of life and love” (see Gaudium et spes, no. 48). In God’s design, marriage is a unique union of one man with one woman “for the whole of life” (see Canon 1055, The Code of Canon Law). Marriage is oriented to the good of the spouses and to the creation and nurture of new human life (see Gaudium et spes, no. 48). Making decisions therefore, about when and how many children to have in marriage is a sacred responsibility that God has entrusted to husband and wife. This is the foundation of what the Church calls, “Responsible Parenthood”–the call to discern God’s will for your marriage while respecting His design for life and love.

The Catholic Church supports the methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP) because they respect God’s design for married love. In fact, NFP represents the only authentic approach to family planning available to husbands and wives because these methods can be used to both attempt or avoid pregnancy. When learning about NFP, it is important to know that “NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of the child. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife” (see Standards for Diocesan Natural Family Planning Ministry, 23).

Here are some free resources for you as you prayerfully consider the role of NFP in your marriage.

1. Tender Tidings Summer 2015.

The summer issue of our free parenting magazine has a whole featured section on NFP written mostly by our own Charisse Tierney, who teaches natural family planning for the Couple to Couple League.  Charisse is very realistic, honest, and compassionate about both the blessings and challenges of a natural family planning.

 2. What Is NFP?

An introduction to natural family planning from the USCCB.

3.  Myths of NFP

In this article, the Couple to Couple dispels common myths about NFP.

4.  Dignitas Personae: On Certain Bioethical Questions

Released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this document grapples with a number of bioethical questions raised in response to modern technological advancements in the field of human fertility and infertility. Using the principles of Catholic moral teaching, the document brings clarity and truth to the debates surrounding both procreation and genetic manipulation.

Marriage Is Still Marriage and the Holy Spirit Is Still Working

Kim and Philip on their wedding day

Kim and Philip on their wedding day

Trying to respond to the idiotic, disastrous SCOTUS ruling which legalized gay “marriage” is very difficult.  The ruling is the most significant, dangerous, destructive decision — culturally, morally, spiritually, legally — since Roe v. Wade.  I haven’t been able to write anything, because I didn’t know where to begin. So, I appreciate this announcement by the Marriage Reality Movement because at least it gives me a place to start today:

“The Supreme Court ruled today that citizens have no right to define marriage exclusively as between a man and a woman. This effectively redefines marriage across the United States as an adult institution separated from the rights of children.  Regardless of the court’s decision, it is clear that marriage has already been redefined in the minds of a majority of Americans for some time, and that, according to Catholics for the Common Good Institute, is where we must now focus our energies to effectively take back marriage. . . The time to defend marriage is over. It’s time to take back marriage.  We need to know how to resist under this occupation by refusing to cooperate and using language that reveals truth instead of reinforcing lies. We start by reintroducing marriage from the beginning to our family and to all levels of education and society.  This movement will not rest until marriage once again becomes a privileged institution that unites children with their mothers and fathers.”

1.  Separating marriage from the rights of children.  This doesn’t seem shocking to many young modern thinkers, but the fact is, in the entire history of marriage as an institution, marriage has always, always, always been connected to the rights of children and the duties of parents to care for them. No more.  We can see the demise of children’s rights with the advent of no-fault divorce, then contraception, then abortion, and now gay pseudo-marriage.  Now marriage is about the personal feelings, inclinations, and URGES of adults.  The strength of any civilization has always risen and fallen by the strength of the family.  God help us.

Admittedly some pinhead might respond to me thus: Kim, you’re making a logical error.  Just because something has always been done doesn’t make it right or good.  We are evolving as human beings and a country and now our definition of marriage and family embraces the love of a beaten down, marginalized group who just want equal access to all the good things that marriage can bring. 

Show me how this more “evolved” vision of family has benefited children, families, or society.  As writer Anthony Escolen asks, are families healthier? Is divorce down? Do children live in stable homes where the vows of love between their parents last a life time?  Are families so supported and nourished that we are producing a generation of well-adjusted, creative, productive citizens? No.  Marriage and the family have disintegrated.  Children are suffering because their parents are consumed by their own importance and needs. The gay marriage decision is one more nail in the coffin.  It’s the biggest, ugliest nail since Roe v. Wade.  And children are the greatest victims in all this.

Gay marriage advocates point out that gay families already exist, that children already live in gay households, so we can stabilize their lives by legitimizing the relationship between the two women or two men who are raising them. Won’t this harm them even more?  If I start telling my kids that our dog is their dad, they will be confused.  But if the state legalizes my delusion, won’t they be even more confused? Kids aren’t dumb.  On some level, they are thinking “hmm . . . this is all kind of wrong . . .”  I am not sure how pretending that something is normal and healthy when it’s unnatural and chaotic will help these children.

2. What’s next?

The Marriage Reality Movement says the time for defining marriage is over, that now we have to take it back.  But how?  I’ve delayed making a comment on the SCOTUS decision because I should have something productive and positive to say as we move forward, but I haven’t read any realistic suggestions for taking marriage back.  I want that, but I’m just not sure how that can happen.

When we were still debating this issue at the state level, I had hope.  But now the Supreme Court has opened up a can of worms and I don’t think there’s any way to get the buggers back in.  I fear it will only get worse.  Because now anybody can claim that their private relationships are protected under the constitution and can be defined as marriage as long as their feelings are big enough.  Polygamy will absolutely, 100 percent, without a doubt be legalized.  Pinhead might say, nah, that is crazy, won’t happen.  Why not?  What is the argument against it?  Any argument against polygamy was made against gay marriage.  First cousins should be able to marry.  Heck, you should be able to marry your stand mixer if you love it enough.  Good job, Supreme Court.  Good job.

What’s really hard for me to understand:  I read that a majority of Catholics support the SCOTUS ruling.  If this is true, then it’s evidence of the success of the machine that has been driving the gay rights movement and the failure of our Church to capture the hearts and minds of young people.  What will happen in our parishes now, as we face one another and our disagreement on this issue?  Because we can’t just sweep it under the rug anymore.

So what’s next?  Can we really take marriage back?  I do not know. I’m perplexed and need to digest what others are thinking.  I need to remember two things as I’m mulling it over:  1) the SCOTUS cannot change the reality of what marriage is and 2) the Holy Spirit is still working among us and through us.

For me, right now, as the dust settles and I get my head on straight, I will just gather my family and love them well.  I think maybe that is the greatest act of defiance: raising healthy, loving, generous, virtuous children and cherishing my husband, Philip, and embracing his difference from me as a woman.  We celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary on July 19. One man. One woman. Real marriage.

What do you think our next step should be?  I would love to hear what you think.

Same-Sex Marriage: Getting the Conversation Right with Your Kids

“Perhaps there is no greater tragedy for man

than the sense of disillusionment he suffers

when he has corrupted or falsified his hope,

by placing it in something other than the one Love

which satisfies without ever satiating.”

— St. Josemaria Escriva

Frustration, anger, helplessness. These are all emotions that churn in my heart as I look about at the falsified hope penetrating our world. The SCOTUS ruling legalizing same-sex marriage is sweeping our nation, and I don’t want my kids to get swept up with it.

Here are a few thoughts for protecting our children from disillusionment and keeping them on the path to “the one Love which satisfies.”

1. Create the right first impressions.

flower-girl-663210_1280I remember attending weddings with my parents when I was a kid. The beautiful bride, the handsome groom, the flowers, the music…and always a church. When I recently received an invitation to a cousin’s Catholic church wedding, I realized how rare church weddings are becoming.

Our first impressions are powerful. We can create memories for our children that will form their consciences properly. When you have the chance to attend a Catholic wedding, seize the opportunity! My husband and I are looking forward to attending my cousin’s wedding with our children and allowing them to experience where marriage begins.

2.  Maintain a sense of order.

Clean your domestic church often! Revisit family prayer routines, sacrament schedules, and works of mercy plans. Remind your children that even daily chores are meant to be ordered towards God. Schedule regular “family fun” times that allow you to nurture your marriage and your relationships with your children. Spend time outside in the natural order God created, and practice detachment from material possessions. Live the Truth that it is God alone who fully satisfies.

From doing the dishes, to whom we choose to marry, there is a rightful order to everything–and it isn’t just based on our opinions or how we feel.

3.  Extend love and mercy.

 My parents raised me with a clear sense of right and wrong. They’re not afraid to point to a behavior and say simply, “That’s a sin!” But I’ve always admired their ability to separate the sin from the sinner. I’ve often watched them extend genuine love and kindness toward someone who I know has done something of which they don’t approve. This is something I continue to strive for–to show my children that God’s love and mercy is for everyone, even if we don’t approve of everything they are doing.

Getting the marriage conversation with our kids right involves languages other than our words. Speak to your children through the language of your lifestyle, your priorities, and your actions. When your children’s hearts are rooted in memories and habits ordered towards God, the guiding words that follow as they mature will make sense. We can raise children who will be warriors for God’s law and messengers of His mercy.

Image credit: Pixabay

Is Your Marriage Safe?

couple in loveI made my husband an apple pie the other day. It was a simple gesture, but it carried a lot of meaning. We’d been out of the house most of the day, so I wasn’t sure I’d have time to get it done. Slicing and peeling six cups of apples, getting the crust just right, and making sure I didn’t leave it in the oven for too long are all tasks that can become complicated and stressful when an active two-year-old is around to “help”.

But I felt compelled to do something just for my husband. It was his favorite pie. I knew the kids wouldn’t even eat it. But it had been too long since I’d done something special just for him–too long since I’d made the effort to recapture the romance and eagerness of our courtship days. As it says in the book Good News For Married Lovers: A Scriptural Path for Marriage Renewal by Charles Gallagher, SJ, and Mary Angelee Seitz, “How often do we fall into a lonely married holding pattern: we aren’t fighting, but we simply stop growing closer? Where is the eagerness for each other?”

We hear so often that marriage is under attack right now. But marriage has been under attack long before man-made laws and rainbow flags. The devil didn’t simply tempt both Adam and Eve that fateful day in the garden. He first tempted Eve, then convinced her that luring her husband into sin was a good thing. He drove a wedge between the two of them before they even left the garden. He pitted husband against wife, forever contaminated the purity of their love, and created a pattern of sin that plagues the offspring of even the best marriages to this day.

Oh, how the devil hates the institution of marriage! He gnashes his rotten teeth in his distress over something that images the Holy Trinity to our fallen world. He clenches his gnarled fingers when the love of husband and wife brings forth new life. He waits in eager anticipation for the moment when bitterness, anger, weariness, or passivity will open the door enough for him to worm his way in.

We are all vulnerable. None of our marriages are safe. In fact, it is the holiest marriages that he watches most intently, waiting patiently for a weak moment.

And so we must always be on guard. It is not enough to live with “good enough”. We must always be running toward our spouse. It is this eagerness, this desire to give all that we have to the other, that is our protection. And when we protect our marriage, we protect our children. A couple who is constantly growing closer can’t help but fill their home with love and kindness, compassion and trust. A couple who grows closer loves to extend that closeness to their children, and a pattern of virtue begins to replace the pattern of sin. In this way, a holy marriage has the power to change the world for the better. A holy marriage bears good fruit with exponential effects.

Starting today, take that first running step toward your spouse. It isn’t always easy, but it also doesn’t take much to please the one who loves us. Make a favorite food, sling the baby up and take a walk together, finally plan that date night you’ve been talking about, or just leave the housework for a moment and give your spouse a spontaneous kiss. Because when we fill our marriage with these kinds of gestures, we leave no room for the one who tempts us. We only leave room for the grace of God.

Resources to protect and strengthen your marriage:

When Divorce Is Not an Option and For Better Forever by Dr. Gregory Popcak

Image Credit: Getty Images (thinkstock.com)

REPORT: What’s Best for Kids? Traditional Families Who Attend Church Together

traditional familyA new study in the Journal of Family Psychology (Special Section: Spirituality and Religion in Family Life: Couples and Marriage) supports earlier studies in the following correlations:  1) Older kids and teens who attend religious services with their parents enjoy greater psychological well-being and 2) residing in a “non-traditional” family (defined as a single parent household or one with a step-family) in late childhood is associated with lower well-being.  Another interesting point:  attending religious services actually “amplifies” the positive aspects of the parent-child relationship.

This is good news for traditional Catholic families!  One could say “I told you so” but then one would just be rubbing it in. 🙂

Here is the pdf if you’d like to read the whole report: Religious Attendance and Child Well-Being and here is the abstract of the study:

Despite numerous studies on adolescent well-being, longitudinal research on the influence of religion on well-being is lacking, and limited studies have looked at how family and religion may work in conjunction with one another to influence adolescent well-being. This study addresses these limitations by using longitudinal data on 5,739 youth to explore whether family structure, changes in family structure, parent–child relationship quality, and religious attendance (overall and with parents) influence trajectories of psychological well-being independently and in conjunction with one another. Results support previous research in showing that parental interaction and attending religious services with parent(s) in late childhood are associated with higher psychological well-being, whereas conflict with parents and residing in a nontraditional family in late childhood are associated with lower well-being among youth. Finally, there is evidence suggesting that attending religious services with parent(s) amplifies the positive influence of parental interaction on psychological well-being, and overall levels of religious attendance over time are less likely to increase well-being among adolescents raised by single parents than for adolescents raised by married parents.

The Hardest Job in the World

“Being a mom is the hardest job in the world.”

I hear this a lot, both from people who are mothers, and some who aren’t.  I even read an article some time ago that said that if a stay-at-home mom’s jobs could be quantified, she would earn $115,000 annually.  When I first read this, I thought to myself,  “Wow! How validating!  My job as a mom is worth way more than any other job I’ve ever had!”

And yet, so many moms feel lost in these important, demanding “jobs”.  I have often felt this way myself.  Even though I knew that these jobs were part of the foundation of love and security that I was establishing for my son, my day-to-day tasks seemed empty.  I would clean the kitchen only to turn around to face a decimated living room.  I’d fold a load of laundry only to have another three appear in the hamper.  I’d finish the dishes from breakfast only to realize that it was time for lunch.  And as if that wasn’t enough, the management didn’t even have the decency to give me a solo bathroom break! I started to think that this job didn’t have the benefits that I had expected.  And where the heck were my vacation days?!

Oh yeah, and you can’t quit.  Ever.

Recently, I started questioning how I could make this job not seem so hard anymore.  I tried tricks for becoming more organized. I created activity schedules for my toddler.  I attempted to make more time for some of my hobbies that had taken a backseat.  And while some of these things helped for a while, I still could not shake the feeling that I was stuck in a really hard job.  Even when I was feeling appreciated by my spouse, and validated in what I was doing for my child, some days I felt like too much was expected of me. When we found out we were pregnant with our second child, and the thought of no maternity leave and more work loomed, I realized that I needed a change in the way I was approaching motherhood.

119559830I decided to stop looking at motherhood as a job, and start seeing it as a vocation.  So many stay-at-home moms, myself included, feel the need to justify what they do every day by labeling it as “work”.  My husband and I had made the decision for me to stop working outside the home soon after our son was born, and in a way, I felt the need to prove to myself that it was worth it for my family.  Talk about a high-pressure work environment!  I believe women who work outside of the home can also feel the need to justify the time they spend mothering by putting pressure on themselves to do it all both in the workplace and at home- or as I’ve heard it described, “two full-time jobs!”  For me, it was partly how I thought society was judging me, and partly my own ego that was causing the problem.  I wanted to be the hardest worker in my chosen field.

Unfortunately, that just isn’t how motherhood works.

When we think of vocations, we often picture priests or nuns, or maybe we think of the lifelong commitment of marriage.  True, all of these are vocations.  But as I started to ponder what it meant to commit to a vocation, the more I saw that this was how I needed to approach motherhood.

In my last job, I had the pleasure of working in a facility where an order of nuns lived and worked, taking care of elderly patients in a nursing home.  The work they did was physically demanding, mentally exhausting, and I’m sure, often felt thankless.  And yet each time I would pass one of these sisters in the hall or see them praying in the chapel, they seemed so joyful and full of peace.  A smile was quick to come to their lips and they were always kind and pleasant.  I often marveled at the serenity with which they did such hard jobs.  But in the back of my mind, I thought of them as being different, because this wasn’t just their job; being part of a serving order was their vocation.  This is what they gave their lives to.

So when I started thinking about a different way to frame my life as a mother and wife, they were the first people to come to mind. They didn’t look at each task to be completed as just another job for which they weren’t going to be paid.  They didn’t seem to be calculating how much they would be getting compensated if their circumstances were different.  They just kept working, for the glory of God and for love of their fellow human beings.

The more I prayed about this, the more certain I was that this is how God wanted me to view my days.  I am not a housekeeper, a babysitter, a cook, and a laundress.  I am a mother and a wife.  My main priority is to serve my family in a way that reflects God’s love.  Yes, on most days that will mean folding their laundry and cooking their meals.  But the clothes and the food aren’t the point- the love and servant heart with which I fulfill these tasks is the real goal.  On days when none of those things get done, I can still be peaceful knowing that my role as a mother is not wrapped up in my chores, but in who I am to my family.

Once I started trying to think this way, the effects became apparent pretty quickly.  Frustration at not being able to accomplish as much as I wanted to during the day diminished as I shifted my priority from “getting things done” to “doing everything with love”.  Tough days were a little easier to get through when I was able to reframe the struggles of life with a toddler as opportunities to offer up those struggles to God.  My relationship with my husband certainly improved once I stopped comparing how hard I worked at home to his work outside of the home.  And finally, I had to come to terms with the fact that God has called me to motherhood not to do chores and run errands, but to be a loving, consistent, and holy presence for my children.

Did you catch that?  Holy.

Yeah, that’s heavy, isn’t it?  In some ways, I feel like I’ve taken a big pressure off of myself only to put a bigger one on.  But the thing is,  God is generous with his graces when a mother strives to be a holy influence on her children.  The days when holiness seems just out of reach,  God can give us the grace to be just as holy as we need to be.

This doesn’t mean that being a mom is suddenly easy.  I still have to do all the things I did before.  (Although I don’t get quite as upset about a messy house or getting behind on the laundry the way I used to.)  But when I stop looking at parenthood as a job that has me on call 24/7, and instead look at it as the vocation that God has called me to,  my daily tasks take on a purpose that allows me to complete my work not only more gracefully, but sometimes even joyfully.  I still have plenty of room to grow; I am nowhere near perfect.  I am not always humming happily as I change yet another diaper.  But at the end of the day, more often than not, I am able to thank God for blessing me with the physical and spiritual ability to do the work he has called me to do at this point in my life.

And that sure feels like a job well done to me.

Choosing to Make the Coffee

God presented me with two choices this morning: to start the day without love or to start the day with it. Some days, it’s hard to force ourselves to begin the day with love. But, if we follow where God leads, it’s bound to lead us somewhere good.

This morning I did something that last night I promised I wouldn’t do.

164196725Because last night, I was angry with my husband. Our argument sneaked up on us seemingly from nowhere.  It had been a pleasant night. We enjoyed “family playtime”, as our son likes to call it, during which my husband and I smiled at each other over our son’s head as he said something adorable–something I can’t recall now.  We worked together to get our son ready for bed; my husband helped him get his pajamas from the top drawer and I read books with him in bed. We worked as a well-oiled machine.

But after our son fell asleep, our machine broke down. Maybe it was exhaustion. A running out of steam. It had been a long day for both of us, a slightly later than usual bedtime for our son, and it would be followed by another long day tomorrow.  My husband was probably stressed. Tomorrow he’d have another long afternoon of coaching after a full day of teaching teenagers, followed by parent conferences, and then a one hour commute home.  I wasn’t looking forward to him being gone for another full day this week. So how did we share these frustrations with each other? By getting angry.

We lay in bed, chatting casually, when I said something that got under my husband’s skin. I didn’t intend for it to; in fact, I didn’t even see it coming. But, there it was, out there and festering. And then he rebutted. And we kept it going, volleying cutting remarks, getting the occasional one-up with a spike, until, tired of it all, we went to bed – angry. Really angry.

I promised that I would not get up with him in the morning to do my usual routine of making his coffee, packing his lunch, and blending his breakfast shake. “I wouldn’t want you to,” he retorted, eyes shut and back turned towards me. When his alarm sounded at the usual 5:45 a.m., I turned over, pulled the blankets around me tighter and stubbornly repeated in my mind, I am NOT getting up. He does NOT deserve it. I am NOT getting up. He does NOT deserve it.

God has a funny way of talking to us. Sometimes, when things are going well and I really want to hear His voice, I don’t hear it. More often, when things are going terribly, and we’re just being awful, the times when I’m usually not even thinking about God, well, those are the times I hear Him clearly. And this morning, He made Himself heard.

As I lay there, repeating my “lacklove” sentences – a word I learned from Archbishop Fulton Sheen – a thought invaded my angry mind. Would I want my son to learn to be as resentful as I was being? Don’t I try to teach him that even when we think people don’t deserve our love, that’s when they need it the most? I sighed and loosened the blankets around me a little. Still, I determined not to get up – yet.

Then, another thought. I show my son love even when I’m frustrated, even when I’m not feeling very loving or very giving, so what message does it send my husband that I do that for our child but I won’t do that for him?

And the final, most powerful thought. I don’t deserve the love Christ showed when He submitted Himself to the Cross, but He did it anyway. He loved me anyway. And I certainly wasn’t very deserving of His love as I lay there, resisting. I sighed a heavier sigh and loosened the blankets a bit more.

I opened one eye and peeked at my husband, bustling around, pulling socks from his drawer, then escaping to the shower. I opened both eyes and looked at the crucifix above the doorway to our room. And I got up.

I trudged into the kitchen and plugged in the coffeepot. I pulled out the blender and mixed a shake. I took bread from the fridge and made a sandwich. And when my husband finally entered the room, he smiled. He put his arms around me and I hugged him back, the abrupt and stiff movements of my body softened.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “If my spouse won’t do for me, I won’t do for my spouse.” Of thinking we will give only what we get. But, what would happen if we all started giving even when we don’t get? Especially when we don’t get?

Back when we attended Engaged Encounter, my husband and I heard the truth repeated that “love is not a feeling; it’s a choice.”  An action, something we do. Generally, we do it pretty well with our kids. After all, they need us; they demand our attention in a real, in-your-face way. And we act. We do change that diaper, give them a drink, kiss their hurts.  But, our spouses don’t come to us with such obvious needs. Often we have to seek them out, and more often, we claim we’re too tired – or too annoyed – to do so.

At Engaged Encounter, my husband and I also heard that “marriage is not a day, it’s a lifetime.” As such, we must keep making our choice to love our spouse, day in and day out, on good days and bad. When it came to my husband, I’d recently forgotten these truths.

This morning, I went into the kitchen intending for my actions to affect some goodness in my husband. Instead, getting up, doing something for him when I didn’t at all feel like it, had a huge effect on me.

Before my husband got out of the shower, before he had a chance to discover that I was up as usual, and as I stood there, scooping coffee grinds into the coffeepot, I actually felt better. The anger I was holding onto, even as I made my way out of our bedroom, dissipated and I felt at peace. I no longer needed – or wanted – an apology from my husband. This morning, I understood the words read on our wedding day, that love “does not brood over injury,” because doing so not only hurts the ones we profess to love but also hurts us (Corinthians 13:5).

God presented me with two choices this morning: to start the day without love or to start the day with it. Some days, it’s hard to force ourselves to begin the day with love. But, if we follow where God leads, it’s bound to lead us somewhere good.

Image Credit: Nautilus Shell Studios (photos.com)

New Books Worth a Look

reading

Here are some wonderful new books available that deserve a look.  I’ll break them up by our “Building Blocks.”

Love/Discipline/Empathy:

Mothering and Daughtering:  Keeping Your Bond Strong Through the Teen Years by Eliza and Lil Reynolds.  This book reminds me a lot of Hold on to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld, in that it stresses the importance of the parent/child bond throughout all of childhood and that tension and hostility during the teens years are not inevitable.  This book is devoted to the mother/daughter relationship.  1/2 the book is read by mom and the other 1/2 by the daughter; the authors are a mom/daughter team.

Mothers Who Can’t Love:  A Healing Guide for Daughters by Susan Forward.  If you grew up with a distant, narcissistic, or abusive mother, you will benefit from this book — it will help you heal so you can become the mother you deserve to be.

Marriage:

Just Married:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Your Marriage by Greg and Lisa Popcak.  This is a much-needed guide for newly married couples so they can get off on the right foot, creating the kind of bond that will stand the test of time.

Radiant Faith:

Six Sacred Rules for Families:  A Spirituality of for the Home by Tim and Sue Muldoon.  This book gives great suggestions to real families, with real lives, in how to grow spiritually with our children.

 

Mary Is Living in My Heart? . . . Help!

What would be the absolute worst thing that could happen to a nice Protestant girl?

Why Mary, the Blessed Virgin, would do a little interior house cleaning, then make a home for herself in the poor girl’s heart, that’s what!  If that was not bad enough, this perplexed Virgin Maryyoung woman’s belief system would stay staunchly anti-Catholic for oh, about another 10 years, even though she had converted to Catholicism.  I mean what choice did she have?  Nobody but the Catholic Church even wants someone who craves the Eucharist and has a relationship with the Mother of Christ.

Obviously this young woman was and is me.  God has a peculiar sense of humor and now I can look back and laugh at my dilemma.  At the time, though, I was shook up.  As Pope Francis said at the Easter Vigil, God delights in shaking us up, or as I like to say, ripping the rug from underneath us.  Nope, God will not stay in a nice, neat little box of our own making.  Just when we think we have Him all figured out, He pulls another fast one on us.  Thank goodness; life is never boring when you give God permission to work in my life.
I was reluctant to turn to Mary; I couldn’t help but feel like a heretic somehow turning from Jesus as my only Savior.  Yet over and over, God only offered healing and peace when I turned to His Mother.  Finally a wonderful priest from Madonna House, the Director General of Priests, Fr. Bob Pelton, smiled at me compassionately and said something like this:
“Melanie, why don’t you relax for a few months and stop tormenting yourself with guilt? Simply relax into the bosom of the Church and Her teachings and allow your relationship with Mary to grow naturally, without fighting everything with your intellect.  Trust in your own heart as well.”
Even now, some 30 years later, tears are welling up and I could weep with relief all over again as I write these words.  Somehow I was given the grace to lay down my logic, reasoning, and Protestant theology, and simply throw myself into the arms of my Spiritual Mother.
Actually, we really do not have a clue what we are saying “yes” to in the beginning of our Christian walk.  At our wedding, 34 years ago, I sensed these words within my heart:
“I will change the way the two of you work and play, the way you walk and talk, the way you laugh and cry, everything about you, so that you will reflect the glory of my Father in Heaven.”
Foolishly we thought that this was a nice word from God!  Little did we know that 34 years later God is still turning us inside out as He transforms us.  I agree wholeheartedly with Pope Francis, God does seem to delight in shaking us out from our narrow little lives.  I could not live any other way.

Thank you God for not listening to my opinions or plans for my life.

Thank you for the grace to give You permission to take over and make me yours.

Clothed in Dignity

protect marriageI hung up the phone, feeling as if I had just caught a glimpse of some of the devil’s most triumphant work.  A place where bodies go who have been robbed of their dignity in a way that leaves their souls gasping for air.  A place where bodies go who have been dragged to hell and back because God’s vision of love was perverted into a crime of lust.  A place where bodies go to restore their shredded dignity and where their souls are seeking the fullness of the Truth.

I called our local safe house for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault to obtain a donation list of items that might help these women and children put the pieces of their lives together, beginning with their own personal dignity.

But how is this possible?  Where is the fulfillment in a world where the sin of lust has taught us that the desires of the flesh exist to be indulged in ways that only leave us aching for more?  Where is the hope in a world that has managed to separate the urges of our bodies from the true love that every heart desires?  Where is the source of light in a world where children’s temporal and spiritual needs are neglected because their parents’ physical cravings were so horribly misdirected?

The answer lies within each and every one of us.

“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God; he created them male and female.”  (Genesis 5: 1-2)

“The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.”  (Genesis 2:25)

Blessed John Paul II tells us in the Theology of the Body that “‘nakedness’ signifies the original good of the divine vision.  It signifies the whole simplicity and fullness of this vision, which shows the ‘pure’ value of man as male and female, the ‘pure’ value of the body and of [its] sex.”

It is within the sacramental marriage between a man and a woman that our vision is able to overcome the clouds of lust.  It is within the sacramental marriage between a man and a woman that God gives us the grace to be naked without shame–naked without the fear of being used or abused, confident that our spouse is viewing us as a dignified gift.

Charisse and her husband Rob on their wedding day!

Charisse and her husband Rob on their wedding day!

A married man and woman can see in each other bodies that complement one another perfectly, bodies that hold the potential to create new life, bodies that have the capacity to image the Blessed Trinity itself through their life-giving love.  This is how marriage in its supreme sacredness is truly “the way of the ‘redemption of the body’” (TOB 23:5)  This is how marriage allows us to “retriev[e] this dignity, in which the true meaning of the human body, its meaning as personal and ‘of communion’ is fulfilled at the same time.”  (TOB 23:5)

So let us clothe ourselves in the dignity of the Sacrament of Marriage, that we might be a light to others who have fallen prey to the skillful deceptions of the devil.  Live your marriage in the fullness of the Truth so that others will not lose hope in the reality of God’s love.

“Be fruitful and multiply” and teach your children well.  May the language of your body reveal the Truth of the ‘“divine vision” and an appreciation for the complementarity of your spouse’s body, exactly the way God created it.  Study the Church’s teachings on married love and pray with and for your spouse.  Have faith that God wants nothing more than to form your marriage into a beacon of hope for the world that will demonstrate to others the meaning of their desires and the answer to the deep longing in their hearts.  Be the witness that the world can’t deny, that the world can’t help but look to as it struggles to retrieve its trampled dignity and satisfy its craving for love.

This is what marriage is:  a symbol to the world of God’s great hope and love–a symbol of His life-bearing Spirit and total and faithful commitment–a reminder that we were all created with an inherent dignity that deserves to be respected by all.

Live the Truth of the real meaning of marriage and, in the words of St. Francis,  “Preach always.  If necessary, use words.”

RECOMMENDED READING

Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West is a great introduction to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

For Better . . . Forever by Dr. Gregory Popcak’s is a fantastic guide for married couples seeking insight into what it takes to create a loving, happy marriage.

Life-Giving Love:  Embracing God’s Beautiful Design for Marriage by Kimberly Hahn will help you discover the true design of marriage and the beauty of the Church’s teaching on procreation and life.