Thursday, September 18, 2014

From a Woman Widowed Too Young: How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some

Cyndi Marlow married Steve when she was 19 years old, stayed married for 24 years, and became a widow unexpectedly at age 43. Cyndi tells an honest and real story of two people who shared life together through "lots of good and lots of bad times and tried to make the best of things most of the time." Many days, she experiences "regret and longing to go back and fix it all...if only I could."

Steve, Cyndi, and Sean Marlow in a memory pillow created at a grief workshop

Even though Steve suffered his first heart attack at 44, his medical recovery was excellent and they mistakenly thought that all was going to be just fine. They looked forward to sharing their future twilight years together and began talking of taking a cruise to celebrate their 25th anniversary. But, Cyndi laments,"the cruise never happened. On April 26, the day before my birthday and two days before our son’s birthday, we came home and found him. He was dead of a massive heart attack at the age of 48. The past several years have been very rough. They have been hardest on my son. I have come to accept the beautiful tapestry of inadequacies that have been woven and revealed through this entire experience. I have come to understand the trials of life are truly God's mercies in disguise."

Here is Cyndi's advice on cherishing the years that you have together, because they may be cut short far sooner than you imagine.

1. How many years have you been married and how many kids do you have?

Steve and I were married 24 years when he passed, and we have one adopted son.

2. Name 3 things that helped you to stay married that long.

Faithfulness to each other, no matter the storms. No matter the trials. No matter the struggles.

Commitment to family and what it means to be a family.

Pure Taurus stubbornness.

3. What role did faith play in your marriage?

I have only God and our deep sense of commitment to each other, no matter the pain or cost, to credit those 24 years together. For it was not an easy one for us. We were not married in the Catholic Church. Neither of us was Catholic. He was Baptist by up-bringing; I did not have a church affiliation. We somehow managed a Christian wedding. Many years later I would become Catholic on my own.

Grace is the glue that held us together when we did not have the strength to do it ourselves. God had a plan for us. God has a plan for you. Trust that.

4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?

Don’t pay attention to what the media or the world tells you about relationships and marriage. It couldn’t be further from what is real and is not the model you want to emulate.

5. What advice would you give newlyweds?

Don’t run away from the bad times. Don’t run away from each other. Say I love you all the time, because you never know when you won’t get the chance to say it again.

6. What advice would you give new parents or couples who are trying to have children?

We were never able to have children of our own. Infertility is a terrible, destructive force in a marriage. We tried for 13 years before we looked at adoption through our local Catholic Charities. Although Steve had to be convinced to give adoption a try at first, once he was committed, he never looked back and was a truly wonderful and caring father.

So I am only going to speak to the couples that are longing for children and experiencing any type of infertility. It is not an experience that every marriage can survive. Dealing with those pains and disappointments will be a challenge. Stay faithful to each other. Stay committed to each other. Together and with your faith to guide you, you can and will get through it all. Infertility is cruel and devouring monster that is eager to destroy if you let it. Don’t let it. Husbands, sometimes she just needs to be held and allowed to cry her eyes out. Wives, do what you need to do to get through each day. If that means staying away from baby showers, and avoiding the baby aisle of the store, then that is what you need to do. Couples, please just don’t suffer this alone. Find others who are or have experienced this pain and find some friendship and comfort there.

I still carry the scar of my infertility. There are times when it hits me that I have never known the joy of carrying a child in my womb and now, due to age and a complete hysterectomy, I never will. There is an ache that permeates from the soul when you long for a child and you cannot have one. I wish that I could tell you that the ache goes away 100% ...but it doesn’t really ever leave. With faith, the pain can and will undergo a metamorphosis to become that blessing of mercy. I promise.

God bless you in your union, now and always.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Why and How Natural Family Planning Works for Us: New Interview Series!

Even though most Catholics have heard of natural family planning (or NFP), they don't use it. Some people don't trust that it works to avoid pregnancy, some people can't find a reliable source of information about it, and most doctors sneer at it. Dioceses rarely have the funding to make NFP classes widely available, and many NFP instructors are territorial, insisting that their way is the best and there's no point in researching alternatives.

Although stereotypes abound, the truth is that every couple that uses NFP has a slightly different experience. Couples use NFP for different reasons at different points in their marriage and in their faith journeys. Each encounters a unique set of  pros and cons. Many couples will try out several different methods before finding one that works best with their lifestyle and the woman's particular biology.

If you're considering using NFP, someone else's experience can be your best teacher. That's why I started an interview series for couples to share the knowledge they've gained and the best resources they've found on natural family planning. This new interview series will be posted once a month. Several couples have already signed up to be interviewed, including:

  • Ben and Tina Butera, married 14 years with three children (you might know Ben from his writing at Two Catholic Men and a Blog), 
  • Allison and Kevin Gingras, married 25 years with three children including one who is adopted (Allison is part of the CatholicMom team and also writes at Reconciled to You), and 
  • James and Karen, married 12 years with two living children and one in heaven (James writes at RealCatholicLoveandSex)

Each couple in the series will answer the following questions:

1. Why do you use NFP?

2. Which method of NFP works best for you?

3. What are the biggest pros and cons of using NFP, in your experience?

4. What NFP resources does your diocese have?

5. What NFP resources have been most useful to you?

6. How do you think your marriage would be different if you used artificial contraception instead of NFP?

If you use NFP and would like to share your experiences, please let me know in the comments or by email at If you have specific questions about NFP that you would like answers for, send them along, too! Regardless, please be sure to check back later for posts in this great new series.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Offering a Warm Catechesis on Catholic Marriage

Our local diocesan magazine, The Long Island Catholic, just featured our family and marriage ministry in their September issue. Some excerpts on our ministry:
"Their marriage vocation, as it should, centers first on their own family -- their love for each other, for their six children, and for Christ as the center of their marriage and family. But for Karee and Manuel Santos of Garden City, married 14 years, their Catholic marriage vocation extends much further, to their ongoing efforts to help others understand and live out the sacramental nature of Catholic marriage. ...
'Marriage should last a lifetime,' [Karee said], but many couples 'don't see, don't connect the dots' as to how marriage preparation is going to help make that happen.... 'Jesus loves you forever, and wants you to love each other forever,' she said. 'This is all bound up in the sacraments of the Church.' ...
As a psychiatrist, Dr. Santos explained, when he works with Catholic married couples in crisis he often finds that they've had 'an inadequate formation in the faith. This leads to an inadequate understanding of the meaning of marriage.'"
Some excerpts on the Pope Francis' upcoming Synod on the Family:
"Manuel and Karee Santos have high hopes for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, to be held in Rome in October. ... Most of all, they are enthused about what Karee calls 'the Francis Effect' -- from the Holy Father's convening of this synod, to his influence on the information-gathering process, to his near-universal popularity that might help the synod's work to be received positively. ...
'The pope is aware' of what she called 'cultural Catholicism,' Karee said: 'people who love their parish, love their Catholic school,' but lack an awareness -- or even a desire to become more aware -- of Catholic doctrine. ... 'Pope Francis really focuses' on such 'Catholics of good will,' she said. 'If anybody can bring them more deeply into the fold, it's him.'"
For more information or to order copies of the article, you can visit the website of The Long Island Catholic by clicking here. For more information on our other media appearances, click here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Secrets of Turning Water into Wine: What Our Marriage Advice Book Offers

As we announced last week, Ave Maria Press will be releasing our Catholic marriage help book in 2016. The working title (although publishers always change the title!) is Secrets of Turning Water into Wine. Why are we writing the book? What can you learn from the book? Read on to find out!


Divorce rates for Catholic marriages have almost tripled since the early 1970s, proving that Catholic marriages are not immune from the terrible epidemic of divorce. Catholic couples today desperately need a transfusion of spiritual truths combined with solid practical advice. Secrets of Turning Water into Wine offers a warm catechesis that illustrates how God’s plan for marriage can free us to experience deep, lasting, and soul-satisfying love in our everyday lives.

Weekend or one-day marriage preparation programs might not give couples all the information they need or want. Secrets of Turning Water into Wine shows how Biblical principles can provide trustworthy solutions to the most common problems facing couples today. The goal of Secrets of Turning Water into Wine is to inspire couples to stay in love with each other, in love with Christ, and in love with the wisdom of the Catholic Church. The book accomplishes this by teaching couples how to:

Become united to one another in body, mind, and soul
Welcome children with joy
Find a Natural Family Planning style that works for them
Accept special-needs children with open arms
Raise children to be successful saints
Learn to love their in-laws
Be a family at the service of other families
Become wise financial stewards 
Work for the good of their family and God’s kingdom
Stay together through praying together
Imitate the example of the Holy Family

The end of each chapter provides five bonus features to stimulate in-depth conversation, greater understanding, and positive change: 1) Discussion Questions; 2) Action Plan; 3) Catechism Corner, with a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to think about or even memorize; 4) Papal Pointer, which contains wisdom from recent popes; and 5) More to Explore, which suggests additional online and print resources.

Secrets of Turning Water into Wine is ideal for couples to read and discuss on their own either before or after the wedding. It is also a perfect choice for small groups like book clubs, pre-Cana programs, and marriage enrichment programs. Two appendices in the back of the book provide a sample six-week and twelve-week curriculum, and free downloadable worksheets will be made available online. Leaders can customize the curriculum by adding their own personal stories to illustrate the key topics. By encouraging couples to gather together in community to learn about these issues, our book motivates people to help themselves and help each other at the same time.

If you are interested in receiving updates about the book plus news and tips about Catholic marriage and family, please subscribe to the blog by email. If you are involved in pre-Cana, marriage prep, or parish or diocesan ministry and would like to incorporate our book into your program, please email me directly at

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

big, Big, BIG Book News: We Have a Signed Contract!

My husband Manny and I are thrilled to announce that the excellent Catholic publisher Ave Maria Press has offered us a contract to publish our marriage advice book, and we have signed on the dotted line! Read what the publisher had to say when they offered us the contract:

"Your book is artfully put together, passionate, and has spiritual depth."

Wow! We are overwhelmingly humbled and happy about this chance to help others in forming God-centered marriages. And because this seems like an Oscar speech moment, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our family and friends, new and old, who have helped us get to this point:

  • our parents, whose long-lasting marriages have given us so much reason for hope
  • our siblings, who have listened patiently to us talk about this book for years
  • all our pre-Cana students, especially those who have kept in touch (you know who you are)
  • our Garden City-area friends Connie, Cathy, Shawn, and Christina who read over early drafts
  • Author Lisa Hendey of, who was the first person to welcome me to social media
  • Author Sarah Reinhard for showing me how to blog
  • Author Lisa Mladinich for teaching me how to write a book proposal and for taking all my late-night phone calls
  • Gary Jansen of Random House for his unfailing support and encouragement
  • Popular theologian and speaker Chris West for being a constant inspiration
  • Author Jen Fulwiler for being my muse
  • Prof. Susan Windley-Daoust and Prof. Michael Hoonhout for their deep theological wisdom
  • The amazing editors and producers I’ve worked with including Kevin Tierney, Patrice Fagnant MacArthur, Chelsea Zimmerman, John Burger, Susan Wills, Michael Cook, Robyn Lee, Barb Szyszkiewicz, Mary Kaufmann, Brenda Schmitt, and Frank Russo, and
  • All the awesome priests, deacons, writers, and bloggers who agreed to help spread the word when the book comes out 

So grateful to you all. Stay tuned here on the blog for more announcements!

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