Thursday, December 30, 2010

Letting God be First

The first two years of marriage were difficult. The first year of marriage was very difficult. I can say that with ease because our marriage is quite the opposite now, and it isn't because of books read or the sweet baby I just put down for nap time.

Fights have turned to a fuzzy remembrance in my mind now. Difficulties which seemed impossible to overcome now are daily gains of strength which draw Paul and I closer together. So, in reflecting on 2010 and all our/my blessings I couldn't help but think: Why? What changed in Paul and I? What clicked?

I've talked to friends on the phone or in person who, when asked about their marriage, claim some unruly beauty and peace in their home, some kind of magic happily ever after.  They effortlessly obliterate my lingering belief that, to some extent, newlyweds face the same struggles Paul and I did. When I listen to their honeymoon bliss of past or present my initial infantile reaction is You're just full of it!, and after I check my attitude exclaim some robotic, "Well, that's just great to hear!"  And, it is. I would never wish marital stress on anyone. For, marriage is almost always the greatest secret -- all around us people walk with a great secret living in their heart. Secrets of pure bliss. And some, unfortunately, of a great sense of hellish torment for marrying who they thought guaranteed that happily ever after.

My sister, Andrea, and my sister-in-law, Margery, will walk down the aisle next year to those men which make them feel down to their toes tingly with love. I can attest to the love and growth I see in both of these relationships. With great gratitude I will sit in the pew with my cuddly Thomas and my Paul and sing praises to God for pairing these couples together. What a grace it is to find someone to share the rest of your life with! What a blessing to marry that man who edifies and heals, loves, protects and provides.

But there's a very good reason we kneel throughout the Mass which unites us in marriage.  We kneel in reverence to the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist because He is first. We kneel in awe and gratitude for his abundant love which allows for our spouses to be what they need to be [in loving, protecting, providing] within the vocation of marriage. We kneel in humility because we know we can't be all to each other. We kneel in saying, God, you are always first.

The past six months, I have put God first, so that Paul can be what he needs to be for us and for himself. Our marriage is not a holy string of prayer and discussion about faith. It is not complete unity in our adherence to the Catholic Church. It is not a perfection or a lack of sin. I would love it to be this, but it isn't today. But, I do lay down my desires daily as wife and as mother, and I do say, God, you are first. Take my desires and fears. Imbue your will and direct my path. You are the 1st healer, protector, provider.   This is more sufficient than I thought it would be. My heart desires much more, but this, this is good!

Letting God be God, letting Him be first is the liberation a marriage needs. It is the independence we seek and can't find in distorted lies of independence like incremental increases in time apart or money multiplied.

Praise God for the graces He bestows on us when we are ready to accept them!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Post Office Perspective

I was staring at three white envelopes, fearing what those measured wrinkles and ink blots meant. They were definitely in my purse for an unruly length of time. I stood there, in the post office, at one of those chest high plastic stations sticking pine cone decorated stamps on our outgoing business.

I wasn't sending Christmas cards like the lady to my right or mailing gift packages like the lady pressing fifty-odd buttons at the stamp machine [that has a much more complicated name than stamp machine but will be called stamp machine because I don't know any better and all I could think two spots back from the lady with the package was stamps stamps stamps like a greedy addict seeing his fix just up ahead. I guess my fix is sending mail on time. Whatever. ] to create her customized postage.  When it was my turn at this said 'stamp machine', I saw options for 1 booklet of stamps, 2 booklets of stamps, 3 booklets of stamps, 4 booklets of stamps, and 5 booklets of stamps, and immediately thought that it was absolutely inconceivable that they didn't have a choice to purchase 177 booklets of stamps. Honestly, I settled for three.

Back to me breathing a happy goodbye to those piranha of guilt hiding in my purse for the past week... or two.  I could hear my mom's voice in my head remarking on the luck in scoring pretty stamps. These winter beauties are quite a steal of a stamp... I am and was digressing until she showed up.

I can always hear them before I can see them. All you momma's out there know exactly who I'm talking about. Those people who come close and celebrate the cute features of your babies. Those people who make smiley faces and look like their day just turned into a brighter realm all because of a little spittle or some flingings of baby arms and some indistinguishable baby babble. Well, those people are always a-okay in my book. Come one. Come all.  

"Aw. Look at that smile. Your boy is so precious."

"Thank you. That's very kind." Sometimes, those words go on auto-pilot. 

She went on to say more than the usual. There were a string of sweet comments, praising what a happy boy Thomas is. The lady wore a light gray coat, softened by the wear of time. When I looked to her face, I saw softness there too. I felt I didn't have the right words to match hers. 

Gesturing to Thomas she went on, "That is my Christmas wish. I wish so bad I had a baby."

The woman is in her sixties. Gorgeous skin. A glow from someone who's really living. Someone you meet and feel instantly comfortable around like an old friend. Joy in her eyes, and yet... I felt an odd sadness, like she didn't mean a grandkid when she spoke of her Christmas wish. And I was right.

She leaned in real close to me and said hushed, "We were never able to have kids. Oh, I wanted them so bad."

I was speechless.  Such a personal moment in this quintessentially public place. I contained myself. I felt my arms wrap around her and yet stay stiff at my sides. She smiled and said one last thing before going back into the cold.  And this one thing seeped straight into my heart as ink to paper.

"Have a very Merry Christmas with your little angel."

I hope the moment came across the lines here. I hope this really isn't just one of those you had to be there. That woman brought me back to life. I'm always wishing away this working woman gig. But it's not about what we don't have. It's all about what we do. I guess, sometimes with much pain, we have to offer up the rest.

Honestly, I felt a little [A LOT] ashamed of myself and my poor attitude as of late. She's right. At my right hand side, I looked down and saw a living, breathing miracle just crying out for my attention. He is my little Christmas angel. And she might be another angel, too.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why NFP?

I became familiar with Natural Family Planning at a young age.

My family knew private topics to be public issues. There was no taboo or fear in the subject of sex-- Sex is beautiful. It is holy. It is incredible! [And it could also be widely adulterated, misused, misconstrued and so on!] My parents took the situation of sex most parents feared and turned it on its head. They welcomed conversation, honesty, and forthrightness. I felt privy to an understanding [the glory and goodness of sex] that I strongly felt my peers were missing out on—even when I was literally the one “missing out.”

NFP was a familiar concept: birth control guided by the respect for and understanding of the body in its entirety. A common sense approach updated by the science and research available today.

Due to a medical condition likely caused by an abnormally low body fat percentage [I was a runner. Enough said.], I was enrolled in classes for NFP at the age of seventeen. There was no family-on-the-way of which to be “planning” for. I didn't need NFP as a means to secure a conception or to avoid a pregnancy. [At that age, I likely thought 'yuck' to both.] I needed it to chart my body's needs. NFP did just that.

I took classes in the Creighton method at the local hospital with one of the most gentle Christian women I know to this day. She is a nurse squarely competent instructing her patients in attending to fertility. She was careful with my need for reminders and my frustrating inattention to observances [a skill that's a must when you're in the role of knowing one's body].

Through the classes:

1. I understood my medical situation, but more importantly, the gift of my body: fertility.

2. I also knew that this whole big thing [NFP] would matter much more when I was preparing for marriage and for sex. Both marriage and sex [the greatest of gifts for those called to the vocation of marriage] came at the same time for me. This, only by the supreme grace of God. And only by rejection of Him do I lose His graces!

Much of what I learned in my NFP classes was forgotten between seventeen and the altar. It was buried in the hook-up culture of college. It was lost in my [seemingly endless] years of alone-ness.
So, [deep breath induced by some stingingly fresh humility] when Paul and I entered marriage and 'its reward' [all with the knowledge of two different methods of NFP in tow – (We took classes for the sympto-thermal method pre-marriage as well)], we still had little concept of what NFP was really about. Yes, we successfully used NFP to avoid pregnancy. Vice versa. And then came Thomas. But we didn't really know how to embrace it. NFP isn't a sealant, a fix, a mechanism of control. Natural Family Planning is an approach to the body with a pro-life vantage point and stewardship!

And being “pr0-life”, being pro-NFP, is not about quantity [or lack thereof], as I have seen myself and others confuse, but about quality. It's a much larger picture than a “yes” or “no” to children.

It is about showing reverence to the beautiful breathing miracles all of us are: all ages, aptitudes, and conditions applied! It's about the consuming awe a couple feels for the ability to take part in procreation. It's about the respect a couple shows both in self-sacrifice and in fully giving. It's about saying yes to that great desire each of us pines for inside ourselves– to fully and completely, body and soul, embrace and be embraced with total respect!

Once again I see it -- the great difficulties of marriage are the flip side of those great rewards. The ultimate intimacy is in the ultimate vulnerability. There is not a much more vulnerable situation one can be in than each day re-addressing, re-approaching, re-affirming the thoughts, feelings, and actions stemming from fertility [and infertility too].

And that's why NFP!
This post was written for several reasons both personal and public. A couple promptings I may mention here:
  1. The outpouring of resounding affirmation [and debate] which followed this very well-written post by blogger, Jennifer Fulwiller, who is 'atheist turned Catholic' mother of four.

  1. A response to my mother reading Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both of which I haven't read but am incredibly intrigued due to the overflow of my mother's impassioned reading.

  2. At the core, I needed to answer the question of “Why NFP?” for myself. It's an easy question to answer. It's an incredibly difficult answer to live by!

I welcome any questions/responses on this topic. You don't want anyone to know your business? –-- completely understood! Feel free to email me at

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Someone's Thomas

My teaching has changed since becoming mom. There is no doubt about that. And in a word, it would be that I have become gentle.  [Don't ask my students. They would argue otherwise. Really.]

There are two ways to motivate students. No. There are two ways to motivate anyone: Fear or Love

Everyone knows what it is to be motivated by fear. Don't miss a utility payment -- someone might turn off your electricity.  Turn in your assignment or you will receive a zero. Do what is expected as my child or I will not speak to you.  Fear traps us between a rock and a hard place, leaving us often in a situation to do what is asked but developing a poor relationship with the person and/or a negative understanding of that experience if it is only fear with which we feel motivated.

But to be motivated by love? This is altogether different. How many of us feel motivated in a way that is encouraging and life-illuminating, in a way that makes us feel whole and free to do so. And how do you motivate students to love literature [or history or math and so on]?

Well, that's not really the only question we have to worry about. It is this first: How do you teach to each individual student? For, the student who feels he/she matters is the student who feels that your subject area might. .... or does!

And this is how I feel when a student approaches my desk, raises her hand, answers a question, shares his prediction, listens to me:

 You are someone's Thomas. [or Thomasina]

You have a story, an experience, a life much greater [to you] than what I teach. And while I will wrap you in English for 50 minutes [and not one minute less] and expect from you great achievements and no excuses, I will look at you and see someone's Thomas.

I vow to respect my students, to show them what it means to matter, to be patient, understanding, and gentle. All while being firmly structured in a practice of sharing with them the great conversation we should all feel compelled to take part in: Literature!

And when I pause from the debate, the questioning, the directions -- they don't realize I'm in absolute awe that there are 21 miracles looking back up at me.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

She Works with Willing Hands

When I was in high school I was, at more than one point, fueled by some evangelization gleam I sought to tote.  I was quick to see how much greater our lives could be if we all reached this epic level of purity and holiness I had envisioned.

My mom didn't seem too keen on my notions of grandeur. Instead, she would remind me to do the dishes. In fact, it went something like this: "You want to be a Christian? Do the dishes."  The snide remark would echo in my brain as an abhorred notion. How dare my mother corner me like that!

My mom also told me to thank God that I had the opportunity to clean; I had dishes to eat from - I should be happy to scrub them, I had clothes to wear - I should be happy to hang them, sort them, fold them. Yeah, I'm grateful mom. Whatever.

My siblings and I like to joke about the seemingly endless Saturdays of scrubbing, washing, folding, hanging, and so forth. It's our version of the "I-had-to-walk-to-school-uphill-both-ways-knee-deep-in-snow".  "I-had-to-wake-up-every-Saturday-without-fail-before-dawn-to-clean-until-I-became-emaciated-or-sick." I would moan, groan, and curse deep into the linoleum while my knees hardened into a numbed mess of floor cleaner. I would roll my eyes and grit my teeth when I heard we had another load to put outside on the ant and walking stick [Hello - FREAKY!] infested line. I would pray to God and ask for His mercy for whatever I had done to deserve a cruel, cruel mother.  And I swore to myself while furiously rubbing cleaner into the abysmal white of the shower I will NEVER do this to my poor children.

A few years later and hundreds of cycles of clean and dirty in my own home, I've had quite the conversion.

Beauty abounds in the home which is simply clean. Attentive love multiplies when household duties are taken care of in a fierce, organized, efficient manner.  And hard work, well, hard work is a great secret wonderment which sets our gratitude on fire.

These days I'm eager to wake up on Saturday [and Sunday] mornings to clean the stove [the one which whips up Chicken Cordon Bleu and Lasagna], scrub the tea kettle [the beauty that serves me wild berry tea and tricks me into being relatively calm during stressful conversations with my husband], detail the Medela breast pump and its dozens of parts and pieces [the bridge I couldn't currently live without], and spray the romper [which covers a ridiculously adorable bottom of my Bam Bam, my little guy, our Booter Binkie from the land of Stinky #2, my Boo Boo Coo Coo, our Thomas]... the one who just a few years from now will be cursing into the dirty grout he's scrubbing while I smile on with an affection and sense of humor he likely won't understand [for a while].

So, when I started reading Kimberly Hahn's Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker's Heart [or what I would like to think of as my current guidebook to being an awesome wife, mother, woman] and I saw that the first chapter was titled "She Works with Willing Hands", I thought to myself ...

Heck yes she does!