My Trip To Rome

-How My Trip Came About-

I have to say that the reason my trip to Italy came about is because I seriously have the most considerate husband on the planet.  Months ago, Joe informed me that he had a couple of big work trips come up that would take him out of the country again. (One trip to India, one to Australia).  We engaged in a familiar conversation, which once again had me working hard to hide my jealousy and swallow any sign of resentment.  I mean, it’s his job after all.  I am incredibly thankful for all his hard work, and that he has a great job to support our family.  It’s also pretty amazing that he gets opportunities to travel the world once and a while.  However, when the really big trips come up I have to fight against having the “I wish I could do that” look in my eyes.

This last time around, I think I took the news quite well!  I had a hard time when he left for his first big trip (to Tokyo), primarily because Lucy was still so little.  But now that we are in a good family groove, the news was a lot easier to take.  We left our conversation about the matter on a good note, so it was big surprise when he came to me the next morning telling me that he thought I should go to Italy.  I was quite shocked.

What?!  Where did that come from? Me? Got to Italy?  What about the kids?  What about your work?  What about the cost, and the time away, and the fact that I have never traveled alone to another country by myself??  What about the fact that these kids need me!  What ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

But he was dead serious.  He explained how he thought it was important for me to go because it has been a dream of mine since before we were dating.  He told me that now is a good time, before our family begins growing again (God willing). He told me that I needed to have this for myself, and assured me that everything would be fine and taken care of on the home front.

I couldn’t believe it.

Since he caught me so off guard, it took me a good couple of months and a lot of prayer to actually decide to go.  I had so much anxiety and fear of leaving my babies behind.  I also felt incredibly guilty about doing something so amazing without my family.  I thought the decision to go would make me selfish and a bad mom.  How could I leave my babies?  How could I leave all this behind for my husband to take care of on his own?

After A LOT of prayer and deliberation with people, especially other moms I respect and admire, I felt closer to saying yes to the whole idea.  But I needed God’s help.  I prayed that he would help me make the decision because it was too much for me to make on my own.

And he did!

The day after I prayed that prayer, I spoke with one of the women in need of a roomate for the pilgrimage.  She was also trying to decide if she should go, and her decision hung on whether or not she could find a roommate.  The only thing, she told me, was that she needed to know by the next morning, because if she couldn’t find one she planned to go on a cruise with her friends.  She had to know the next day because that was the deadline for the cruise her friends were going on.

Her deadline made the decision for me.  We both decided, I’ll go if you’ll go.  

Prayer answered.

-When I Leave-

In just over a Week! I really can’t believe it is that soon.

-Who I Am Going With-

Dr. Ted Sri!  Funny story, not long after I booked my trip with him I was sorting through a few old files from college for a talk I was giving my RCIA class.  As I was sorting, this sheet fell onto my lap:

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I completely forgot that when I was in one of Sri’s classes he handed out these flyers to all his students.  I remember wanting to go on this pilgrimage so badly back in 2009.  I remember praying to God that if he could just make this happen somehow, how eternally grateful I would be.  It turned out it just wasn’t a possibility at that time.  In the end I was okay with that, but the thought that I would someday get to go never left my heart.

I forgot about that pilgrimage, but God didn’t.

It’s amazing how he answers prayers in their due time…

-Where I Am Going-

Saint Peter’s Basilica

Santo Spiritu Church

Many tombs of the martyrs

The Pantheon

The Church of the 12 Apostles with the tomb of the Apostles Philip and James the Less

The tombs of St. Ignatius and St. Catherine of Siena

To see Pope Francis

The Catacombs of St. Calixtus

The First Century Roman Coliseum

The Vatican Museums

Assisi

*So much more.

-How I Am Feeling-

I am feeling a lot of things.

+Pretty anxious about leaving my babies. (Pray for me?)  I’ve never been away from these beautiful faces more than 3 days since both of them were born.  The idea of it has me in knots and up late at night.  Overall, I know they will be well taken care of and loved while I am away, but I am more afraid of the pain that will come with being so far away from them.  Praise God for Facetime.

+Sad that my husband can’t go with me.

+Nervous for what it means to navigate my free time in a foreign country.  My roommate (whom I’ve never met before) doesn’t know it yet but I am going to cling to her and never leave her side…ha

+Fearful of being in the air for 7 hours.  As the years have passed, I’ve gotten more and more afraid of flying.  I find a lot of comfort in the divine mercy chaplet whenever I take off and land, and especially when we hit a lot of turbulence…but the idea of flying for so long in the air really scares me.  Pray for me?

+EXCITED. JOYFUL. READY! I can’t believe this day is almost here…it won’t entirely hit me until I am in the air, but I am so excited for this pilgrimage! When we had our group meeting conference call a week ago, I found myself in tears! The whole experience is something I look very much forward too, and though I am nervous about leaving, I also can’t wait to take off! I’m excited for the experience, the friends I’ll make, and for the opportunity to pray at so many holy locations!

-What I Am Doing to Prepare- 

Honestly, right now? Pretty much just making lists.  Lots and lots of list.  But the packing and prepping will begin asap.  I plan on starting my meal prep grocery shopping tomorrow.  I want to make sure that my family has some good meals while I’m gone and that Joe doesn’t have to worry about it after he gets off of work.

 

-Purchases I’ve Made-

+Superga Shoes.  I’ve been wanting these forever, so it was a good excuse to get them.  Am I right?  They say it’s good to have really comfortable walking shoes and I prefer not to be in my nike’s all day.  Hopefully these will do the job.

+Straightner/Curling Iron.  This is a dual voltage iron.  I’ve heard that using a power converter can still fry your electronics, so hopefully this will work well.  It doesn’t heat up as fast as my usual straightener, but it accomplishes the job well enough.  (Especially for the price.)  It is super compact and perfect for traveling!

+This umbrella, because I hear it often suddenly rains in Rome.

+A scarf for Church visits, just in case I need it.

+This book was assigned reading by Sri, to help prepare our minds for all that we will be encountering on our pilgrimage.

-Things I Am Most Excited For-

+Being so close to Pope Francis

+Visiting the tomb/relics of Saint John Paul II

+Visiting the tomb of Saint Monica

+My trip to Assisi

+Vatican Museums

-My Hopes For the Trip-

+That everyone stays safe and healthy.

+That my babies are happy and adjust well to me being gone for 8 days.

+That my husband and my other awesome helpers have an easy time with the kids while I’m gone.

+That this trip becomes a source of prayer and hope that I can carry back to my home and especially to my family.

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Though I am extremely nervous to leave, I am so glad I decided to go.   Since God answered my prayer so immediately and so clearly, it changed from feeling like an opportunity, to that of a calling.  Our faith—our beautiful, rich, Catholic faith–is steeped in tradition, and I am so thankful that God is calling me to travel on this spiritual pilgrimage to Rome to experience that tradition on a whole new level.

A pilgrimage is very different than a vacation because it is a journey made with the purpose of honoring God.  As I gather all the prayers of my family and friends, the reality of honoring God with my trip becomes all the more clear.  I get to take their prayers along with me and offer them up at all the holy places in Rome.  When I visit the tombs of so many holy men and women who fully lived the faith, I get to ask them to pray for my loved ones.  In that way I get to experience the community of faith (both here and in heaven) in a way that is so new to me, yet so familiar because that is what our faith is built upon; it is a tangible, sacramental faith built upon a rich history and tradition that leads us to Christ himself.

Though I am scared and nervous to leave, I have high hopes that God will bless me on this journey, strengthen my Catholic faith, and bless those prayers that I bring along with me.

Please pray for me and I’d love to pray for you! If you have any intentions you’d like me to take with me, please send me an email at byloverefined@gmail.com so I can pray for you in Rome! 

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It’s been a while…

Since it’s been almost two months since I was last consistently writing, let’s catch up a bit!

  • Here is what I’ve been reading lately–I will give you another update next month.   I’ve had my head in some really good stuff recently and I can’t wait to share.
  • This  was one of my most recent popular posts.
  • I recently wrote a whole series on marriage: the purpose of marriage, the freedom in living chastly in marriage, how marriage requires a total gift, the importance of fidelity, and the call for life giving love.
  • I know you have probably been hearing this from everyone lately, but I was one of the lucky ones who got to see Garth Brooks this year!  I went on a road trip with my parents and sisters to see him, and the whole experience was nothing short of awesome.  It was kind of a whirlwind because we ended up driving to Lubbock, TX to see him (a six hour drive from NM), which included me flying to NM on Friday, road tripping to TX on Saturday, seeing the concert, staying over night, road tripping back to NM on Sunday, then flying back home to KS later that evening.  Though it was a lot to cram into one weekend, everything went easy breezy since I didn’t have my kiddos with me. Now don’t get me wrong…I LOVE my kids…but flying on a plane without them is significantly better than flying with them! Ha. The whole trip was great, and it was the first time in around ten years that my family was together again, just the 6 of us!    20170401_143041The concert was more than I could have hoped for.  It was SO good.  20170401_153634SO good that I am going to see him again next week here in Kansas City with Joe!
  • Lent is over and Easter has begun! Hallelujah, He is Risen! Our experience at the Sunday Easter Mass, however, was pretty not-good. Every once and a while the kids just decide to gang up on us and give us an exceptionally hard time at Mass.  That Sunday was particularly hard.  There was crying and fidgeting, which escalated into screaming and timeouts in the back hallway. It was a mess.  BUT we pulled through and  had a wonderful rest of the day with family.  And lucky for the us we didn’t have to skip after-Church treats due to naughty behavior because…well, Easter!  IMG_0069IMG_0123
  • Big News: I am going to ITALY in less than two weeks! Yes.  I am going on a pilgrimage to Rome–my first ever!  The story of how it happened and all it took to decide to go deserves its own post, and I will share that with you soon.  I’ll also share a bit about my journey leading up to the trip, and stories from the trip itself, so stay tuned!  I can’t believe it is just around the corner.  We will primarily be in Rome, so if you have any suggestions on where to go in my spare time, tips for packing, or great places to eat, please let me know!
  • I’ve been working a lot on giving my day and schedule over to God, especially as a stay-at-home mom.   I started realizing how incredibly overwhelmed I was feeling on a day-to-day basis, and I started to ask myself, Does God really want me to live this way?? I have everything I could possibly want or need, yet I was feeling like I was living day to day with just my head above the water.  A few of my friends were talking a lot about the book “A Mother’s Rule of Life,” and the idea of creating a “rule” for your life as a mother.  I read it and found it tremendously helpful!  I plan on talking about this in depth soon, but wanted to share it with you now in case you have been feeling the same way.  Check it out!  It’s helped me establish a sense of reason and order behind everything that I do which has calmed a lot of the anxiety I have about my daily “to-do” list and responsibilities as wife, mom, and primary care-taker of our home. I highly recommend the book!

I have to admit that I have been sitting on this little post for a while now.  The first post back after a long break is always so hard for me!  I get complacent with not putting in the work it takes to write something worth reading, and start to doubt that it’s even what I should be doing with my time.  However, I know it’s a lot like my experiences when I stop praying on a daily basis, or even exercising.  Getting back after things that are good for me and that I love is hard! I’ve stared at this post so many times wondering if I want to hit publish.  It’s not the content in this post, but what I know I want to accomplish after it.  I have a lot of big ideas for what I want to do around here at BLR and pushing publish is me stretching out my legs, so to speak.  And it hurts! I am putting this out there so I can get this thing going again!  (Coincidentally, my husband Joe is exercising downstairs to “Eye of the Tiger,” which is really pumping me up right now! haha)

I know what I have been encountering is what I have spoken about in the past.  It’s that darn Resistance again.  I just recently finished reading Matthew Kelly’s book, “Resisting Happiness” and it was a great reminder that Resistance is a real thing.  It’s a real thing seeking to keep you in your chair, or knock you over the second you get up with hopes of accomplishing something great or worthwhile.

I love this little reminder from the book:

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It makes me happy when I pray.  It makes me happy when I exercise.  It makes me happy when I write.  So why stop?  Matthew Kelly reminded me how vicious Resistance can be: it strikes directly at those things that make us truly happy in life.

So, I am going to push through and get back after it with this blog of mine!!  I’m looking forward to sharing all of my ideas with you!

Once again, thanks for reading!

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What I Read: Quarterly Review

Hi Everyone!

I took a little break from my blog for a while.  While I love pouring my thoughts out in writing, it definitely takes a lot of mental work and effort!  In keeping with my lenten observance (to focus first and foremost on resting in God), I found myself a bit freer to put my energy towards my family and some of the other things I love to do, like reading! 

One of my New Years resolutions was to actually finish the books I start.  I’ve always had a terribly bad habit of picking up a book, only to get pulled in by another, and another.  Before I know it, I end up reading multiple books at once and as a result so many remain unfinished.

Since I made this resolution, my reading has improved dramatically. (Go figure!)  I’ve read some really great books, and have decided to share what I’m reading with you on a quarterly basis!

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“John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father” by Peggy Noonan

If you know me, you know I love just about anything Saint John Paul related. If a book acknowledges the greatness of the man in its very title…well, you know I am in.

My dad gave me this book, and I quickly threw myself into it.  I couldn’t put it down!  I obviously loved all of the stories about John Paul, but the thing I loved about this book was the author’s particular perspective.  She was a woman touched personally by this Saint and his life deeply impacted her conversion of heart.  I loved hearing how he touched her life personally (as he did so many people) and how her encounters with him helped shape and strengthen her faith.

I also loved that, as a convert and journalist, she kept things real.  She talked about some of the deep and hard realities that faced John Paul in the his time as Pope, and she didn’t water anything down for the sake of her readers.

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“No Greater Love” by Mother Teresa

I don’t know why, but I have never read anything by or about Mother Teresa before.  It is shameful to admit, but I’ve always just chalked it up to the fact that I already kind of knew who she was.  She’s Mother Teresa after all! 

I was really wrong.

Hearing about Mother Teresa’s life (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta)is entirely different than hearing about it in own words.

Some of the stories I’ve heard about her work came to life in this book, and it was so special to read about all she did through her own words; reading this book was truly humbling, to say the least.  Saint Teresa was not extraordinary in any superhuman sense; she was an ordinary person accomplishing simple acts of love for the sake of human dignity.  Through her life and her actions, she reminds us that loving authentically and responding to God’s will oftentimes means taking care of the weak, suffering, and needy who are already within our very midst.

Her words on the Eucharist, prayer, love, holiness, death, and Jesus were all very moving.

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“On the Other Side of Fear: How I Found Peace” by Hallie Lord  

I flew through this book!  After reading two books from a couple of spiritual giants, breaking open this one was a bit refreshing.  That’s not to say that Hallie isn’t saintly, but rather that her book felt a bit more familiar.  Reading it felt similar to sitting down with a friend for a cup of coffee, chatting about our thoughts on motherhood and marriage, while our kids play in the background.  She shared a lot of wisdom about what it means to shed fear and learn to rest in God, amidst the chaos of marital and parental life.  Her book was a sweet reminder that all of us are called to holiness. 

 

temperament“The Temperament God Gave You” by Art and Larain Bennett 

This book was recommended to me by a couple of friends in my women’s group at church.  They kept talking about it non-stop, so I thought, I’ve got to see what this is all about. 

It didn’t take me long to become enthralled with this book, either.  I took the test right away and discovered my temperament to be a very close combination of the sanguine and choleric temperaments (sanguine being the slightly more dominant). At first, I wasn’t convinced that I entirely fell into either categories, but after reading the synopsis of the combination of the two, I was amazed that it described me almost to a tee.

This book has been beneficial to me in so many ways.  I have taken some of the other personality tests out there and found some to be pretty good (I am a ENFJ-A Protagonist), but what I really loved about this book was that it was written from the perspective of the faith.  It shined a light on the fact that God made each and every one of us uniquely different, but at the same time, he stuck to a sort of template.  There are four basic temperaments that everyone falls under, each referring to the natural tendencies and reactions we all have.  I found that especially helpful in coming to understand myself a bit more, and how I relate to other people.  The things that mark my temperament have always sort of been the things I want to push down and wash over.  The book described my combined temperament to have the tendency to be overly talkative, brassy, opinionated, loud, rash, swift to jump to conclusions, and forgetful.  Who wants to be any of those things? What I began realizing, though, is that with all the negative qualities of particular temperaments, there comes a lot of good and unique characteristics.  This book helped me understand that God created me with the temperament I have, and I have the ability to use that temperament to glorify him with my life.   Reading this book is helping me own who I am.   A lot of the things that I’ve always been ashamed of about myself are actually ways in which God wants to use me for his glory!

This book is also beneficial in coming to understand how we relate to others in our differences.  It was eye opening for me, because it really allowed me to see that the things I often dislike about others are due primarily to a difference in temperaments.  Understanding that has helped me to be more patient with others, and to respect that when they do and see things differently, it’s because they are different–and that’s okay.  It’s also helped me respect and come to understand my husband and my kids on a deeper level!

I definitely recommend this book!

 

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“The Atheist Delusions” by David Bentley Hart

This was the only book that I got through in February.  That kind of tells you what kind of a book it is.

It was super chewy and took me forever to get through! 

David Bentley Hart’s thorough review of the Christian revolution and analysis of the many misrepresentations of the Christian past was incredibly revelatory and sophisticated.  The ease with which he poured out his grueling assessment of the cultural challenges we face today, as well as his brilliant knowledge about Christianity’s influence on the Western Civilization, was impeccable.  He dismantled so many of the modern-day arguments for atheism, simply by explaining and laying out historical facts that have been diluted and distorted to fit a certain “narrative” against Christianity.

If you have the gumption and the energy, this is a fantastic read.

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The Life of Christ in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”

I am currently (slowly) working on obtaining my certificate in the Catechism of the Catholic Church from Catholic Distance University.  In my last course I was assigned the Life of Christ portion in the Catechism.  I know it’s kind of cheating to include this in my “What I Read” list, but it was a huge portion of the reading I did in March (about 200 pages).

You guys…the Catechism is so rich! (I know I am stating the obvious.)  It is not a book meant to collect dust on your shelf.  It should be read hand in hand with Scripture!  It reads really well from cover to cover, and I highly encourage you to pick it up and start reading it today. Read a few portions a day, or follow a plan to read the whole thing in a year!

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“The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis 

The Screwtape Letters was another sort of assigned reading for me this month.  It was picked by my women’s group at Church, and I was excited to participate in this one.

 

I’ve read most, but not all, of this book before, so I was so glad to finally finish it.  It was so good, and so applicable for every day living.  It was a great reminder that the devil and his demons are always at work, seeking to distort and twist God’s plan for love and for our lives, and to distract us from our ultimate goal: eternal life with the great Enemy of the devil, Our Lord, and Our God. 

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“Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton 

It’s a bit hard to say which was my favorite read since the year began, but if I had to choose…it would be G.K’s Orthodoxy.  

I was listening to one of Bishop Robert Barron’s podcasts on G.K., and he describes Orthodoxy so perfectly.  He described it to be the kind of book that is so rich and so sparkly that, like champagne, you just want to sip on it slowly, savoring every delicious taste.

While reading this book, I found myself  time and time again placing it on my chest, closing my eyes to really relish all that he had to say. It is a great read, and one which will both inspire and awaken your faith–in God and in the Church.

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“Padre Pio: Man of Hope” by Renzo Allegri 

This book was one I was really into about a year ago, and for some reason (again, probably my incredibly bad habit) it ended up on my shelf, half read.  I still had it bookmarked where I left off, so I picked it back up and read the second half I still had left to read.

So much of the profound beauty of the life of Padre Pio came in his being rooted to deep suffering and pain.  Padre Pio endured so much suffering in his life–physically (with the stigmata and his failing health at the end of his life), mentally (with the constant scrutiny and opposition he faced), and spritually (with his frequent battles with the devil)–but it is in and through that suffering that he exemplified his great love for God and hope in His plan for his life.

Reading all the stories written by his personal friends had me wishing I was one of them.  He took such loving care of the people he was fond of, and any closeness to him meant being closer to God.  What an incredible gift we are given in the lives of the Saints.  It is such a blessing to be able to develop and grow in friendship with these people who are already in the company of our Lord.  Though I wasn’t one of those blessed to call him a personal friend in this life, I know that I can still grow in friendship with him, and come to him for intercession and prayer.  Since he endured such spiritual and physical sufferings, he is a powerful ally to have in this cosmic battle between good and evil that we all face.

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“David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell 

After reading so many books from the perspective of the faith, I wanted to change things up a bit.  My husband Joe read this book a couple of years back and really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d give it a go.

I really liked it!  The book examined the lives of certain underdogs, misfits, and “nobodies” who ended up accomplishing amazing feats in life.  His idea was that those who appeared to have disadvantages, really had many advantages because of the difficulties they had to endure in life.  He showed how the difficulties, pain, and suffering lead people to accomplish great things that they otherwise would never have even thought of if they hadn’t been handed a tough load in life.  He also described how sometimes, what we think to be advantages in life, often turn out to be the things leading us in the wrong direction.  Sometimes it takes someone who offers a different perspective, or shoots from a different angle to make things happen.

Though I thought the book was really good, I couldn’t help but think that something was nonetheless lacking.  In all the author’s talk about great “underdogs” and “disadvantaged” players in history, there was no mention of Jesus.  No matter if you believe in him or not, it is undeniable that the historical Jesus had a profound effect on Western Civilization.  He is one of the greatest examples of someone who defied people’s expectations and challenged the societal norms of his day.  And all of that is just the beginning of the impact he had on man throughout history.

Also, while I thought the book was a good read, the idea that great things can be accomplished through weaknesses, suffering, and disadvantages is nothing new.  In fact, that is God’s m.o.       

It was a good book, but for me, it left something to be desired.

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I am also working through my read-the-bible-in-a-year plan and loving it!  It’s just a few chapters a day and it organizes my scripture making it easier to get through the more difficult books.  Check it out!

My next read is Fulton Sheen’s, The Life of Christ. I am already loving it and looking forward to digging into some more great books!

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Have you read any of these books? What are you reading right now?  What are some of your favorite books?  

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Let’s Talk About “This Is Us”

Every week, since September 20th, I have looked forward to cozying down on my couch after the kids go to bed to watch NBC’s new hit show, This Is Us.  

I’ve always had a longtime love of Milo Ventimiglia (always have been on Team Jess), and have admired Mandy Moore since I was a kid. The fact that they are in the show, as well as the fact that the show is produced by the same people who gave us Parenthood, well…I was intrigued from the beginning. It didn’t take me long to really fall in love with This Is Us and with the characters in it.

There is so much I like about This is Us, but I think the one thing that makes it particularly special is that it’s about life.  It’s about people and the beauty that can be found in the messiness of every day living.

This is Us draws us in by introducing us to typical characters, allowing us to make initial judgments about who they are and the choices we think they will make based on their state in life.  At the same time, This Is Us shows the audience again and again that these characters are much more than they first seem to be; they are complex, and rich characters who cannot be defined merely by their appearance or their present state in life.

(Warning, some spoiler alerts!) We meet Rebecca, a sometimes high-strung and selfish woman, yet we see her time and time again prove to be an incredibly selfless and devoted wife and mother.  The Patriarch, Jack, is a kind and compassionate husband and father, but at times we are shown his weaknesses, such as his struggle with alcoholism.  Despite his struggles, he works hard to remain steadfast for his family. Kate is a woman who struggles with her obesity, self esteem, and depression.  Yet, at the same time, she is beautiful, smart, headstrong, and loyal to her family.  As we get to know her life story, we realize her pains run deep, both physically and spiritually.  Though her inner pains have the ability to get the best of her, she nonetheless continues to work hard towards becoming a better version of herself.   Randall is the one who seems to have it all together: he has the perfect wife and family, and is successful and driven.  However, he often crumbles under the weight of that perfection, and has to learn to slow down and appreciate the little things in life.  Kevin is one of those characters that in real life we’d both love and loathe to be around; pretty to look at, but not a whole lot going on upstairs.  Yet, the beauty of his character is his whole journey towards selflessness.  As we see him progress through the show, we witness him grow; he learns, overtime, what it means to love authentically by dying to self, and as he grows, we begin to see his true depth.  William, the biological father of Randall, is a character who is full of life, but at the same time on the brink of death.  His terminal illness is a constant reminder for his son, as well as for the audience, that life is precious.  Though William is an all around good-humored and kindhearted man, his life was shaped by a few really big mistakes he made.  At one of his lowest points in life, we see him drugged out and abandoning his newborn baby on the step of a fire station.  Yet, as we follow his life story, we come to learn about the pains he endured that led him to those mistakes, and how despite his losses and addiction, he was able die a dignified death, through the power of love.

Through detailed flashback scenes the audience learns that, oftentimes, preconceived notions of who these characters are and what led them to their present state, are not only wrong, but miss the point of personhood altogether: that humans are intricate and complex beings, worthy of dignity and love—no matter their walk in life.  This is Us is a great show because it presents characters who are real; characters who mess up, sin, fall short, and fail.  At the same time, the show exemplifies what it means to grow through these shortcomings, without sacrificing the pain and sorrow they have to go through to get there.

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As the show progresses, I come to appreciate more and more the meaning of “us” in the title of the show.    The “us” in the title of the show points, of course, to the characters in the show, but also to a more profound beauty–one that resonates so deeply in our faith as Christians.  It’s a beauty premised on the great reality of life: that we are all in this together!  From man to wife, sister to brother, parents to children; from the mailman, to even a stranger on the street: ware all in this crazy, chaotic, joyful, painful reality of life…together. I think this show is great because it pushes us beyond our own comfort zones to realize that people–all of us–are frail, weak, and broken.  Though the show is not primarily a faith-based show, by presenting the frailty of humanity–in the family life, in mistakes made, in times of trial and suffering, and even through death–the show is able to exemplify a certain depth of human beauty.  God meets us in our imperfections and in our frailty, and there, he teaches us what it means to love.  We are both dependent and interdependent creatures; all dependent on the love of our God, and all interdependent on the love of each other.

I love this show because it is a great reminder that everyone has a story.  No matter how you encounter someone or what you think they are going through, the reality is that you have no idea what lead them to be who they are today.  Perhaps if you get to know them a bit better–get to know their stories–you may even fall in love with who they are.   As Christians, this is what our faith demands of us! It demands us to recognize that no man is an island and every man is worthy of love.  We are not solitary beings, but rather, we are all deeply connected. 

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I can’t wait for the finale tonight!  The previews always have us guessing one way, but end up throwing us off track.  I can’t wait to see how the story unfolds, especially since, so far, they have been really kind to their audience.  I have a feeling the finale will do justice to Jack’s life, and that his death–no matter how tragic it happens–will come together in the end with meaning and purpose.

Who’s watching???  Comment below with your ideas on what will happen tonight! 

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7 Quick Takes: A Movie, a Storm, and Resting in God

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This past weekend was a pretty lazy one.  Sometimes those are the best, but it definitely requires me to put in the effort of relishing the slow.  I am always go, go, go…looking for the next thing to check off my list.  I think this is what God is calling me to give up this lent.  I feel like he is calling me, not so much to cease working, but to do everything for his glory, to worry less, and to take time to rest in him.

One thing that I have been doing for 3 weeks now is really paying attention to how I spend my Sundays.  Usually, I don’t merely reserve the day for just worship and family, but for tackling a lot of my “to-do” list around the house.  It’s been a nice change of pace to really try and relax, pray, and focus solely on my family on Sundays.  Giving that time to God has shown me, yet again, how truly wise he is.  Resting on Sundays has better prepped me to tackle the rest of the week with love and joy.

The one thing that is a daily source of annoyance and work is laundry.  I never feel like I am on top of it! We’ve already worked really hard at paring down everyone’s wardrobe, but I still find myself bathing in socks and clean underwear on a daily basis.

In an effort to lighten my load during the week, and quit using Sundays as my laundry day, I decided to try something new: I’m doing all of our laundry on Saturday!  My rule is, if I don’t get through it, I don’t touch it until Monday.

This has already lightened my load incredibly because clothes are no longer piling up and we always have what we need, folded and ready to go in our closets.

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This week Father Jim Sichko came to the parish where I teach RCIA for a parish mission.  He was commissioned by Pope Francis to go to parishes all over the country to talk about mercy, the gospel, and Catholicism.  He was really enthusiastic and charismatic, and he did an excellent job of sharing the faith through the context of his funny and heartfelt stories, as well as through song.

My absolute favorite part of his nightly talks was his ability to get the whole church singing!  I mean it, everyone who was there (and there were a lot of people there–the Church was overflowing!) was singing loudly.  Together, the Church felt so very alive and thriving.  Though people mostly sing in Mass, to hear everyone excitedly singing out a lenton hymnal was incredibly beautiful.  It made me tear up, so very proud to be apart of this Church.

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Monday, Joe and I ventured out for a much-needed date. In a thunderstorm. A severe one.  With a tornado warning.

For me, going out in this weather is just crazy talk, but my husband and my 14-year-old babysitter assured me, it’ll be fine! We never see tornadoes around here!

Though the weather was pretty bad, it wasn’t that bad, yet poor Joe had to spend the evening with me twitching and checking my phone every few minutes.  We made the mistake of sitting at the bar, so I had a perfect view of the weather.  At one point, the wind picked up and slammed a chair into a window.  I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest!

In our part of the city, all ended up ok.  We made it safely through our whole date, and by the end of it I was forced to reflect on Matthew 8:24.    I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s disciples on the boat in the storm.  Most of these men were skilled fishermen, so a storm that would cause them much fear must have been an awful one.  Yet, when Jesus comes out from his slumber, he asks them: Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?

These big storms are big reminders for me to give myself to God with reckless abandon, especially when I am shaking like a leaf in fear.  He is always with us.  We need not worry when he is at our side.

Also, we need not go on dates when the weather’s so bad,  but that is neither here nor there.

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Joe and I saw “Logan” on our date.  It never takes any convincing for me to go to an X-Men movie because I always know I’ll like it.  They are almost always good, or at least always entertaining.

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The one thing that was different with this particular X-Men movie was that it was rated R, which is different from the usual PG-13 rating X-Men movies normally get.  We didn’t think much of this change, especially since the movie got a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Yet, as the preview for the next “Deadpool” movie came on—which was altogether graphic and lewd—I started to realize that Logan was going to be much different than we anticipated.

Though the X-Men movies always include some level of violence, Logan was packed with scene after scene of explicit, realistic depictions of violence.  It was incredibly hard to watch, more or less to stomach.

(Warning: Spoiler Alert!) The movie followed a dark and hopeless Logan, walking through life wishing to accomplish nothing but abandoning himself to obscurity and a life of loneliness.   Early on in the movie he is forced into taking care of a little girl, whom he soon finds out is of his daughter.  Though he doesn’t want to love her (because all of his loved ones end up dead), by the end of it we see Logan learn what it means to love again, even at the cost of his own life.

Not a terrible story line, but it absolutely wasn’t something I enjoyed.  When we walked out of the theater I felt like I had been through the ringer.  I spent half the movie hiding under the veil of my shirt!  There were many moments throughout where I thought, we should just leave, but I never said anything to Joe.  Honestly, though, we should have walked out.  The glorification of graphic violence is not art, and really isn’t entertainment.  As one Catholic reviewer put it, it was nothing more than a “dreary killing fest.”

Next time, at least for rated R movies, we’ll resolve to visit a Catholic Movie Reviews source as opposed to a secular one like Rotten Tomatoes.

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This week we went to the zoo with a friend of ours and her little girl.  It was a really great day!  Noteworthy event: I got attacked by a Gibbon!  Well, sort of.  We were watching the gibbons in their cages, who were especially hyper that day, when all of a sudden one swung towards my back slamming his feet into the window.  I turned around to see this ornery monkey looking straight at me as I let out a scream.  Pretty funny!

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Right after we made good and became friends. 

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Joe went out of town for a few days,  so my bed had been a little colder than usual.  In the morning, Eli likes to wake us up abruptly by knocking on his door saying, “Mommy, I need to go pooottttyyyy,” so I decided to leave his door slightly cracked so he could come in my room whenever he needed.

Well, at 4am, I woke to what I thought was the baby monitor.  When I went to reach for it I found a foot instead!  It took me a second to realize that the noise I had heard was actually my sneaky-ninja son snoring next to me.  How did I not hear him? I don’t know.  But I just rolled over, hugged him fiercely, and went back to sleep thankful that I had him to cuddle.  

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This girl is still cutting her molars.  Poor baby, I can feel how swollen her gums are so I know that’s what is causing all her extra fuss and pain.  She is kind of a wreck at times.  She’ll go from laughing, to fall apart crying in an instance.  She’s had a harder time eating, and some days she is completely inconsolable for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.  All I can do is hold her and caress her little face.

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It kind of reminds me of when she was little.  I sometimes joke that I have a bit of PTSD from her colicky phase, or rather, post traumatic colic disorder—but I really do think that I have some slight form of itWhen she resorts to full on screaming now, I still find myself wanting to recoil, then rushing to give her what she wants because her cries trigger something inside of me.  It’s silly, because she is nothing like she was when she was a newborn, but still, whenever she screams for long periods of times I am automatically taken back.  However, since we got through that awful 5-month phase a long time ago, things really are much easier.  It’s nice that she finds comfort in her mama.  I don’t mind that at all.

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I’ll hold her all day if that’s what helps her feel better. 

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7 Quick Takes: Links, Lent, and Putting on Love

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted a 7QT, but back at it this week, joining Kelly of This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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In honor of World Marriage Day in February, I dedicated a lot of time to writing about marital love.  Here is a link to each of my posts:

What is Marriage?

The Freedom in Living Chastely Before Marriage 

Giving a Complete Gift of Self in Marriage

The Marital Call for Fidelity

The Marital Call for Life-Giving Love Part 1 and Part 2

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We kicked off Lent with Ash Wednesday yesterday.   Though it is a somber time in the Liturgical year, it’s always one of my favorites.  However, Ash Wednesday Mass was a pretty tough one for our family.  Things started out great, but slowly got out of control with constant wiggling from both kids, proceeded by urgent pleas for snacks and milk.  (Have you ever tried to open a snack wrapper in Mass?? So embarrassing!)   After communion, as Mass neared to an end, we had to head to the back of the Church because I had a screaming toddler and sleepy baby on my hand.  (12 pm Mass with kids is not for the faint of heart.)  When we got to the back of the Church, I found myself resolved to letting my toddler cry-it-out while I angrily tried to finish my prayers.  This didn’t last long, though, because my son only grew louder and more inconsolable as time passed, and I knew it wasn’t fair to others trying to pray in the back as well.  As I was getting more upset with him, I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the large entry windows.  I saw the dark ashes on my forehead and thought: what a real way to start off Lent.  I was frustrated and sweaty, having to deal with fussy kids while all I really wanted to do was pray.  I saw those ashes on my head, and heard him say to me, just put on love. 

I realized he didn’t want me there–fresh from receiving his body–dealing angrily with my kids.  He wanted me to take a breath, turn my attention to them in love, and to cease worrying about having everything perfect and all put together.  I think this is a lesson God is trying to teach me through motherhood: to pray by loving, even when it is hard.

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#ashtag “Put on Love”

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Have you decided what you are doing for Lent?  With your help, I put together a list of some ideas for Lenten fasting, praying, and almsgiving. It’s never too late to make the commitment!

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Have you seen this video by Audrey Assad?

I can hardly get through it without crying.  I’ve seen it before, but watching it now makes me realize how applicable it is for lent.  The girl in the video carries the light of Christ with her as she journeys into a wilderness-type setting.  As she encounters demonic forces who try to distract and pull her in different directions, she is able to forge ahead, unaffected by their draw.  As she moves ahead carrying the light of Christ with her, she is able to spread that light, igniting a bonfire that illuminates in the desert.

I think this is what Lent is all about.  It is about journeying into the wilderness of our hearts, to strengthen ourselves with the Holy Spirit and light of Christ.  As we gain strength through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are able–when Easter comes–to carry his light with us wherever we go, and set the world on fire by putting on his love, inspiring others to do the same.

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This Lent I chose a fast that is a bit different than normal: I chose to fast from staying up late.  I decided for the next 40 days to set an early bedtime and wake up time.  That might sound a bit odd, but I was so touched by what Father Mike Schmitz said in this video:

One of the things about motherhood that I have yet to accept and embrace is how very incarnational it is.  At all times of the day, both my kids want to be all over me.  If we are watching a show, they want to be in my lap.  If I am cooking dinner, they are either clinging to my ankles or crying for me to hold them.  You get the idea–it’s exhausting. 

Since it is so incarnational, by the time their bedtime comes around (no matter how tired I am) I get a second wind. I get to read, write, clean, watch a show…all hands free and individually.  It’s so liberating that I end up staying up way too late–and wake way too grouchily. 

I love what Father says about staying up late, and how it is vanity to not give yourself sufficient time to rest.  In this bad habit, what I am saying to God is: I don’t trust you to provide for me tomorrow.  I don’t trust you to give me the strength, or the love.  

This Lent, I am giving him my time, and so far…it’s been amazing.  I wake rested and ready to tackle the day (and my kids ;).  I think it is a great reminder this lent for me to rest in God and give my worries and anxieties over to him. 

What are you giving up or doing this lent?  Comment below! 

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See, now I can even use their need to be on me as exercise!

Metaphorical “before lent”:

Metaphorical “after lent”:

Joe laughed at me saying, “Honey…that’s not a push up.”  But in my book it counts!  ha

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My friends, that’s all I have for you this Friday morning.  My kids are running amok, as they sense I’m distracted and that my defenses are down.  Cheerios are all over the floor, they are taste testing random candy they are finding (Lucy finally figured out we have chocolate chips in the lazy susan), and I’ve got to go mop up all the spilled milk.  Time to go “put on love”!

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Ideas for Praying, Fasting, and Giving Alms this Lent

A couple of weeks ago when I hosted a Lenten journal giveaway, so many of you commented with wonderful ideas for fasting, giving alms, and praying during Lent.  I gathered all these ideas for you and am adding a few just in case you need some last minute ideas before Ash Wednesday!

For Strengthening Your Prayer Life:

-Daily 10 minutes of silence to spend with the Lord

-Pray daily with Scripture

-On Fridays, pray the Stations of the Cross

-Participate in Lenten Gospel Reflections with Bishop Robert Barron

-Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3pm, the hour of our Lord’s death

-Spend your lent “Consoling the Heart of Jesus”

-Pray with St. Francis de Sale’s Introduction to the Devout Life 

For Mortifying Your Senses:

-Fast from alcohol

-Fast from sweets

-Fast from coffee

-Fast from cheese

-Fast from TV

-Give up wearing make-up

-Give up foul language

-Give up gossip

-Give up excessive shopping

-Give up amazon prime

For Praying in Your Vocation as Wife/Mother, or Husband/Dad

Morning Offering with Toddlers

– Rosary with “A Mother’s Bouquet”

-Pray a Rosary with “A Father’s Heart”

-Pray nightly as a family

Making Room for Silence in Your Life:

-Limit time on social media and the internet

-No music in the car

-Don’t use TV as background noise when doing chores or cooking

-Don’t look at your phone to fill in time (in the bathroom, at the dinner table, when alone, etc.)

-Leave your phone downstairs when you go to bed

For Strengthening Your Life Through the Sacraments:

-Go to Confession every week

– Get to Mass early every Sunday to pray and prepare, and stay a few minutes late in thanksgiving and adoration

-Go to an additional Mass per week

– Go to Eucharistic Adoration once or more per week

– Get Active in the Community at Your Parish: lector, cantor, become a Eucharistic Minister

-Pray after receiving Holy Communion; don’t watch people in the Communion line

For Growing Closer to Christ Through Mary

Consecrate Yourself to Jesus Through Mary

-Pray a daily or weekly rosary

For Growing in Knowledge and Love for Christ and the Church:

-Participate in Dynamic Catholic’s Best Lent Ever

– Participate in Catholic Answer’s 20 Question Challenge

-Pray with Daily Reflections in Blessed Is She’s Put On Love journal

– Read a Church Document like Gaudium et Spes, or Evangelium Vitae 

– Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church daily

-Read a spiritual biography or autobiography like “Padre Pio: Man of Hope”, “Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Great Loves”, or “The Story of a Soul: St. Therese of Lisieux”

For Developing Charity Through Almsgiving:

-Participate in the Lenten Rice Bowl Project

-Volunteer at a soup kitchen or with a desired charity

-Spend time with the elderly and/or infirm

-Donate goods to charity

-Donate your time and help at your parish’s Friday Fish Fry

-Make dinner for someone (a family you know, or someone who doesn’t regularly have a cooked meal) one night each week 

-Increase your tithe amount each week

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During Lent, we are called to pray, fast, and give alms.  Picking one thing to do in each of these categories will ensure that you have a great lent, and will help you prepare your heart for Easter!

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The Marital Call for Life-Giving Love Part. 2

In Part 1 of “The Marital Call for Life-Giving Love” I discussed the primary means of “fruitfulness” in marriage, which is mutual acceptance of new life. Today, I’m discussing the Church’s plan for fertility.  

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A big question people often have upon hearing the Church’s teaching on contraception is the following: Does the Church seriously think that married couples are always called to engage in the sexual act with the intent of having children?

The answer: Absolutely not.

Being open to life in marriage is not to say that a married couple cannot responsibly and prayerfully regulate the size of their family, but rather that husband and wife do not thwart God’s design for sex, love, and marriage by artificially blocking fertility during a naturally fertile time.  Mirroring God’s love in the marital act means never rejecting (or placing barriers between) the possibility of bearing forth children.  Openness to the possibility of new life is key; not specific intention to procreate in every act. Through periodic abstinence, a couple is able to have control over their bodies and make a total and complete gift of themselves to each other.

This is why the intrinsic goodness of marriage isn’t altered or changed when couples are unable to have children, for reasons of age or natural infertility.  Unintended infertility is not an impediment to marriage; intended infertility is.

When Procreation is Entirely Excluded from Marital Love

When man and wife intentionally reject the possibility of children, the fundamental character of their sexual relationship drastically changes.  Openness to new life means being readily accepting of the expansion of love through parenthood.  When this openness to new life is removed, the will in the sexual act may no longer be wholly concerned with the other person’s good, and affirming of their inherent value.  Rather, the spouses (intentionally or not) begin to look at the other person as something to use and be used by.  Contraceptive love is not entirely concerned with the good of the other, because it excludes an entire gift of self.

The contraceptive mentality is not constricted to the medicated realm alone.  This similar mentality is taken in marriages that seek to remove the procreative aspect of their union through coitus interruptus (i.e. the “pull out” method), mutual masturbation that does not lead up to the sexual act, and the avoidance of children through abstinence for an unjust reason.fruitful

The Call for Chastity within Marriage 

This is why chastity in marriage is so essential. Chastity in marriage is not merely abstaining from sexual intercourse during periods of fertility.  It means following God’s plan for sex, love, and marriage.  This is not a negative thing, but it is an entirely positive thing motivated by authentic love.  As Jason Evert says, “Chastity gives you clarity of vision.”  It trains faithfulness, and frees us to love with full hearts so that we can make an entire gift of ourselves to our spouse.  Chastity does not mean oppressing all sexual desires, but calls spouses to properly order their desires so that they may be able to make a full expression of love and unity.

Living a chaste life in marriage opens up a deep level of communication and respect, and prompts man and wife to work together as a team, in all areas of their marriage. It also calls them to realize that there are more ways to express love than just the physical.  During periods of abstinence, they are called to get creative, finding ways to express their love to one another in different ways: through words of affirmation, spending quality time with one another, and performing acts of service for each other.

Seriously, the Solution is Natural Family Planning?

Natural Family Planning  is the means by which couples can avoid pregnancy if they have a just reason to do so.  So many people argue against NFP, claiming it is an old-fashioned, oppressive, and unworkable solution to human sexuality, but these claims are primarily based on misconceptions of what it is.

NFP is a means of regulating birth, through the observation of the woman’s natural fertility.  It relies on the science of a woman’s body, helping a couple identify when a woman is fertile or not.  This is not to be confused with the outdated, calendar “rhythm method,” but is an effective (99% method effective, and 96% user effective) and reliable means of avoiding pregnancy, and also of achieving it.   During fertile periods (in the case when a couple is trying to postpone pregnancy), man and wife are called to abstain from sexual intercourse.

NFP is different than contraception, because it isn’t a barrier method, meaning nothing is being done to prevent conception.  The sexual act is left the same–man and wife do not frustrate God’s plan for love in the act–and nothing changes in either of the spouse’s bodies. By watching the woman’s basal body temperature, cervical fluid, and hormone levels, the couple is able to identify when a woman is fertile or not, in order to achieve or postpone pregnancy.

Doesn’t This Method Have a High Failure Rate? 

Method effectiveness in each of the different methods of NFP is incredibly high (99% effective), but user effectiveness does vary.  How a person typically uses these methods vary in circumstances, and all of these play a huge role in how effective their method of choice is.

For example, a couple who isn’t following protocol strictly or is lax about keeping track of their signs of fertility will have a harder time postponing pregnancy than a couple who is very diligent.  Also, a woman who has irregular cycles or lower/higher levels of hormones than most, will probably need some assistance (an NFP instructor) to help guide her through her fertile periods.

The Strange and Difficult Way 

Many people think the Church’s stance on contraception is oppressive, but in reality, ordering sexuality according to God’s plan is actually entirely freeing.  This reality is hard to explain, because the nitty gritty of practicing NFP really does require a lot of work, discipline, and sometimes even heartache.  In all honesty, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that practicing NFP wasn’t hard.  It can be very difficult at times.  It calls for discipline in charting, open communication with my husband, periods of abstinence, and learning to live chastely in marriage.  It means asking ourselves, before entering into the marital embrace, the following: Are we prepared at this time (financially, spiritually, physically, etc.) to bring another life into the world, if God so wills it?  If we are, and I am fertile, then we are free to engage.  If we aren’t, and I am fertile, we have to hit the pause button on expressing our love bodily for a few days.  This requires a ton of self-control, and also certitude in our love.  NFP doesn’t require me to ingest chemicals or insert devices into my body in order to achieve sexual “liberation” in my marriage.  In our times of abstinence, we are reminding each other of the great responsibility that comes with marital love–and this is incredibly freeing.  As Jason Evert said,

“NFP beautifully contradicts such a [contraceptive] mentality, because it does not treat a woman’s body as if it needs to be subdued by drugs or shielded behind barriers in order to function properly; it just needs to be understood.  This invites the man to treat the woman’s fertility with reverence instead of disdain.   He learns that his wife’s body has been perfectly made.  This is true sexual liberation.”

Following God’s plan for sex, love, and marriage is very counter-cultural, and oftentimes very difficult.  Practicing the love God has in mind for marriage puts marital love to the test, calls man and wife to give a total gift of themselves to each other, and reminds them to always put the promise of their love in God’s hands.   In this way, love is not harmed or oppressed, but rather, strengthened and freed.

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The Marital Call for Life-Giving Love

Out of all four elements of marital love, I think it is the “fruitful” aspect that is the most difficult for people to accept, understand, and live out.  Being fruitful in marriage means joyfully cooperating with God’s will for children, and openness to life in shared love.  This requires a lot from both spouses: total openness in their relationship, teamwork, willingness to follow God’s plan for love and sexuality, living chastely, and accepting life when it comes.   Spouses are called to acknowledge that children aren’t merely an addition to their marital love, but rather, are born from the heart of the mutual self-gift between the spouses.   To love entirely, means withholding nothing.  Not even fertility.

When this essential element of marital love is entirely removed or barred, the full gift of marital love is diminished.  This is a hard reality in today’s culture to swallow.  The mentality today is that openness to children is unnecessary, and limiting children or having none at all is ideal and good for the sake of personal freedom and spousal love.  Contraception (as well as abortion) are widely understood to be acceptable forms of limiting the reproduction of children, and on a whole, the modern world struggles to understand the Church’s teachings on contraception and procreation.

The primary reason this teaching faces so much opposition today, is that our modern world misinterprets the true definition of “freedom,” and also misunderstands the inherent purpose of sex.

Is sex merely about pleasure, and having the freedom to do whatever we want and like with our own bodies?

As I mentioned in previous posts, the sexual act is meant to go much deeper than personal fulfillment and pleasure; it is meant to make the marital vows known in the flesh.  The beauty of the sexual act is that it is the physical expression of the indissoluble, unbreakable bond between man and wife, and is the means by which they express to one another, “I am entirely yours.”  The true definition of freedom, then, lies not in “doing what we want,” but in doing what we “ought.”  In marital love, this means always offering an entire gift of self; a gift of full mind, heart, and body.

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The Rejection of Fertility 

People, more often than not, are way more accepting of the other three elements of marital love.  It is in this particular element that people struggle the most.

Why is this?

Well, I think reasons are vast in number. However, the primary reason usually boils down to this:  Parenthood is hard. It requires selflessness, and a total change in life-style.  It effects work, daily priorities, and relationship dynamics.  It includes many sleepless nights, bodily changes, and years of self-denial.  Since it requires all of these things, people choose rather to live their love out, without the “burden” of children.

However, being open to life in marriage is ultimately the consent to love as God loves.  For all eternity, the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father.  Their love is so great, that it literally embodies a third person: The Holy Spirit.  Then God, in his infinite love for his people, pours out his Spirit in love through Christ to his children, so that they, too, can go forth and bear great fruits.

Thus, sex is a unique reflection of the Holy Trinity, and of Christ’s love for the Church because it is the means by which a man and a wife can be simultaneously unified and procreative in their bodies.  So, when it comes to the bodily expression of love, we are called to ask ourselves: Is this act truly an expression of God’s love?

Free, authentic love, is a love given entirely.   Saying yes to the possibility of children is a profound expression of this totality in marital love.  It doesn’t just look towards the present “we,” but allows the mutual self-gift to overflow, pouring itself out into a third person.  In this way, as Edward Sri says in his book Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love,

“Not only do husband and wife merely stand face-to-face, enthralled with each other and enjoying the good of their own relationship, but they also stand shoulder to shoulder, looking outwards together at the potential new life that may come from their love.”

Fruitfulness in marriage pours out in many different ways, but the primary way is through the mutual acceptance of new life.  This is ultimately what God meant when he said, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

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In Part II, I am going to be talking about the Church’s plan for fertility, whether or not all are called to have big families by necessity, what it means when procreation is entirely excluded from a marriage, and about the marital call for living chastely!  Please check back in for Part II tomorrow!

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The Marital Call for Fidelity

As human beings, we are comprised of both spirit and body.  Thus, the bond of marital love is ordered to a complete fidelity in both of these aspects.

Faithfulness in the Spirit

In marriage, man and wife are called to be faithful to each other in their thoughts and in their words.  They should always take into account the dignity of the beloved, and this means that they are called to avoid becoming personally overcome with any grievous feelings with the one they love.  Throughout the years, it is certain that man and wife will encounter obstacles in their marriage (both big and small).  However, a true testimony to authentic marital love is a union that withstands these obstacles and burdens, remaining faithful, especially when love is put to the test.

Marital love requires always willing the good of the beloved, and this begins first in the mind.  The way one thinks about their spouse and handles interactions with them is extremely important.  In marital love, both spouses are given the great gift of unity, and that unity requires cultivation and nurturing.  If the mind and heart are not willing to see the beauty of the other soul (especially in difficult times and moments), it will be incredibly difficult for love to flourish.  When faced with confrontations and disagreements, both spouses should always work on ridding themselves of feelings of resentment, interior aversions, and unjust anger, always remaining faithful in spirit to their spouse, ready to communicate and give the other the benefit of the doubt.

Also, man and wife are called to temper their inner passionate desires.  Impure desires begin in thoughts, and require proper ordering.  When they are not properly ordered, the object of love will quickly turn into utility, lustfulness, and even infidelity.  Both spouses must always remember each other’s dignity, and never treat the other as an object to be used, lusted after, or discarded for another.  Healthy sexual desire is a great thing, but when it is removed from the inherent purpose of sex (i.e. for unity and procreation)–even  in thoughts–the object becomes a distorted and false image of love.  Anything less than the authentic expression of love (that it is free, total, faithful, and fruitful), is in essence, infidelity in our calling to love as God loves. faithful

Entertaining impure thoughts, in whatever form, robs the spouses of the ability and readiness to deny themselves for the sake of their beloved, and it denies each spouse of their dignity in order to satisfy lust.  Fidelity in marriage calls for fidelity in the mind, and living in the world of fantasy is merely a means of escape from reality and the demands of authentic human love.

Faithfulness in Body

With regards to faithfulness of the body, it is important to remember the inherent purpose of human sexuality.  Sex is a gift given by God, and it is the means by which the wedding vows become flesh.  Thus—since it is the physical expression of the invisible, unbreakable bond between man and wife—it should not be separated from this union in any way.

This is why complete fidelity of the body is essential in marriage.  Our world tells us that we need to constantly be looking to fulfill our sexual “needs,” but sexuality is meant to be a gift between man and wife alone.  When the inherent purpose is removed from the act, it ceases to be a real gift.  For example, both adultery and masturbation are acts primarily focused on the “I” (i.e. selfish desires) rather than the “we” (man and wife, united in love in marriage).  In each of these examples, the gift of sexuality is misused for the sake of selfish and lifeless pleasure.

Lifelong Commitment to Fidelity

As Alice Von Hildebrand once said, “Marriage is a great thing: the most complete, the most intense, the most beautiful relationship possible between two human beings.”  As such, marriage calls for lifelong unfailing loyalty, and requires consistent practice and dying to self—regardless of extenuating circumstances.  It is through complete fidelity in marriage that two people are able to grow together, and offer a mutual gift of self to one another.

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