Thursday, March 5, 2015

Don't Put Each Other on a Pedestal: Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some

Christina and Al Weigand live in Pennsylvania where Jesus fills their home with love. They have four children and three grandchildren.  Chris has written three Young Adult Christian Fantasy novels; Palace of the Twelve Pillars: Book One, Palace of the Three Crosses: Book Two and Sanctuary of Nine Dragons: Book Three, as well as Women of the Bible: A Study. Helping children develop a love for reading and writing is her passion.

Chris & Al with their teenage daughter Anastasia

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

We will be married thirty-seven years on July 8, 2015. We have four children -- three grown and one teenager.

2. Name three things that have helped you stay married this long.

First, a commitment to each other and our marriage. When we got married we said that divorce was not an option for us.

Second, a willingness to fight for our marriage, to not give up when things got tough.

Third, a willingness to let each other grow. We are not the same people we were thirty-seven years ago, and at times that has taken a great amount of love, patience and understanding from one or the other of us.

Son Nicholas with his wife Christy

3. What role has your faith played in your marriage?

Although married in a Catholic church, we were quite young and I don’t think we thought about our faith as playing a part in our marriage.  It was only as we grew and learned that we realized what an integral part our faith held in our marriage. Our marriage has three people in it -- the two of us and God. That needs to be at the forefront of everything that we do. Not saying it always is at the forefront or that it’s easy to do, but God should be a part of everything.

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

Save yourself for marriage. Don’t let your partner convince you to do things you aren’t ready for. And whether you are male or female respect the other person, don’t abuse their love and trust, don’t put them on a pedestal, because like you they are only human and will invariably fall from the pedestal at some point in your relationship. Be willing to forgive and to ask forgiveness.

Oldest son Scott with his wife Stefanie and youngest daughter Arya

5. What advice would you give newlyweds?

Pretty much the same as for those dating and considering marriage. Have a lot of patience and understanding. You will be learning  a lot of things about your partner in this stage, and some you may not like. Just remember the reasons you married him/her, the things that made you fall in love. You are embarking on an incredible journey that, if nurtured properly, will grow beyond that first rose-colored phase of falling in love to blossom into a long-lasting love.

6. What's your top parenting tip, or advice for couples who are trying to have children?

Our oldest will be thirty six this year and we don’t feel as if we have this parenting thing down yet. Every phase of a child’s life is so different, and your parenting has to change as they change. So be willing to grow with your child. Don’t become locked into a system, but embrace the fluidity of life and the idea that things will change. And if you have more than one child, acknowledge that each is different and what works with one will not necessarily work with the other.

Hold on tight, but be willing to let go when the time is right. Don’t smother them. Don’t force them to live inside a box of your creation, but let them make their own box. Let them be kids. In today’s world parents strive too much to get their kids grown and living like adults, and then everyone suffers because the kids didn’t have a chance to be just a kid.

Share your faith with them. Let them get to know God.

Most of all, love them. Most days that’s all they want from you.

Daughters Katie & Ana, Daughter-in-law Stefanie, Granddaughters Andi, Lily & Arya
& exchange student Freya Boehm

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Marriage Rx: How to Get Your Husband to Go to Mass

Question: We go to church as a family every week, usually on Sunday morning. One time hubby worked all Saturday night. I needed the Sunday morning free -- don't remember why -- so the kids & I went to Mass Saturday evening. My hubby slept late on Sunday. When I noticed that afternoon Mass was approaching & he was just watching TV I asked him if he was going to church. He said "no." Then I asked why, and he said" I don't want to." I never expected that answer from him. He said that he wasn't a child and that he didn't like how I was treating him like I was his mom. To me it was my duty to ask him & advise him to go because he had no valid excuse. Is it wrong to check or ask hubby if he's going to Mass? And if the answer is no to ask why & advise that he should go? -- Patricia

Answer: Patricia, that's an excellent question. You'll often hear that the purpose of marriage is to get your spouse to heaven, but only God can really accomplish that. At best, we can help lead our spouse to heaven through prayer and example. We are not our spouse's spiritual directors.

First of all, give your husband the benefit of the doubt. If he worked all night on Saturday, he might still have been feeling exhausted and disoriented by the change in his sleep cycle. If he was genuinely feeling unwell, he had no obligation to go to Mass (CCC 2181).

Not everyone knows that skipping Sunday Mass without serious reason can be a mortal sin, since this doctrine has been dramatically under-emphasized in recent decades. Some people learned as children that we have to go to Sunday Mass, but never gained a mature understanding of why. If your husband attends Sunday Mass more as a habit or a family custom, it makes sense that he would not want to go except with the family at the regular time. His feeling that you were treating him like his mom signals that he may not have developed an intense personal appreciation and love for Jesus in the Eucharist. Pray to God daily that your husband will be granted the gift of a deeper and more mature faith.

In the meantime, thank your husband for working overnight to support the family and ask how you can help him and make it easier for him.  See if he has anything on his mind that he hasn't shared with you yet. He might be angry about something at work or something at home, and this anger may be keeping him away from God. You can suggest that the two of you pray a rosary for his intentions, spoken or unspoken, or you can arrange a family rosary night with the kids. Making a habit of praying the rosary together as a family is a great goal for this Lenten season.

Many people begin Lent by watching Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ, which graphically depicts the suffering that Christ freely underwent to save us. There are other movies with subtler Eucharistic themes such as Rocky II, Rudy, Cinderella Man, and others listed here. Depending on how old the kids are, they can join you for a family movie night. While your children learn more about their faith, so will your husband.

Next Saturday evening, if your husband doesn't have to work all night, you can go to confession with the kids and gently invite your husband to come along. No need to push it -- remember that he might really have been feeling ill when he skipped Mass. Try to go to Mass at the regular time as a family on Sunday morning.

Becoming one with our spouses is hard work and takes time. We yearn for physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy in our marriages, but spiritual intimacy may be the last thing to develop because it happens at the deepest level of our hearts. Keep loving your husband and praying for him.

God bless you and your family!

We welcome your comments. And please email us at if you have a question or idea for a future column!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When Infertility is a Gift: Why NFP?

Liz and Kent Gilges have experienced great joy and great suffering through their six children. Their eldest child, Elie, died at age 10 of an incurable brain tumor, which Kent chronicled in a heartwrenchingly beautiful memoir called A Grace Given.  In this latest installment of Why & How Natural Family Planning Works for Us, Liz and Kent explain how infertility -- which they detected by using NFP  -- can sometimes feel like a great blessing.

1. Why do you use NFP?

We had many reasons to use NFP, and they changed along the way. Although I believe it's what God wants, Kent wasn't Catholic when we got married and he wasn't fond of Natural Family Planning. He called it Natural Family Having.

I always wanted to get married and be a mom. When we got engaged, I started using NFP to track my cycles just as a matter of course, not to avoid or achieve pregnancy. I wanted a big family. But then we reached the point where we had four children under the age of 5 (including a set of twins), and our oldest child Elie was severely mentally and physically handicapped because of her brain tumor. It was a big strain on our marriage. Still, I wanted to have more children.

A priest told me to be grateful for what we had instead of wanting more. So we used NFP to avoid another pregnancy. That worked on my husband's heart to appreciate the kids that we had, and then he wanted more kids. It was a role reversal. We had two more children, and when our littlest was 11 months old, Elie died.

For years after that, we badly wanted another child, because we felt that our family was empty. We were actively trying, but the babies just weren't coming. Seven years after Elie died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through a mastectomy, chemo, medication. I absolutely was not supposed to get pregnant while on the medication. At that point, I figured that God knew we were open to life, so we were definitely the exception to the rule against artificial contraception.

When I asked a priest what we should do, he didn't suggest artificial contraception, which was kind of shocking to me under the circumstances. Instead, he said to learn a new kind of NFP since the old way wasn't working due to how the medication affected my body. The new way of NFP showed that I wasn't having any cycles at all, the hormone levels just weren't rising or falling. I told my doctor, and even though he resisted the idea since I was only 44, he finally ran a blood test on my hormone levels. The levels were consistent with someone who had been in menopause for 5 years already.

I felt God had answered my prayers by giving me the gift of being infertile so I didn't have to worry about my health, the intimate part of our marriage, or about following God's will by remaining open to life. It was a win-win-win situation.

2. Which method of NFP works best for you?

In the beginning of our marriage, we used the symptothermal method because I was very regular. It really fit my lifestyle -- take my basal body temperature once in the morning, and done. But after the cancer, I wasn't cycling at all. My temperature was always low because of the drug, and in the symptothermal method that's an indication that you're fertile, so we couldn't have relations.

So we switched to the Creighton method, which tracks mainly cervical mucus, and the method itself was nearly unbearable for me. It required constant checking, always paying attention, and we had to pay for lessons with a Nurse Practitioner. Not everyone can do that. I thought God was asking too much. But it was the Creighton indicators that revealed my infertility and convinced my doctor to confirm it with a blood test.

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

The biggest pro is that God really knows better. He's the best planner. I had two miscarriages after our eldest daughter Elie was born, but she got so sick so young. She needed me. We also wanted another child very much after Elie died, but we actually needed time to grieve and the cancer was coming.

Using NFP to avoid pregnancy after the twins were born helped Kent to appreciate the good in our kids and to want more. The first babies were my choice but then later he really had a desire for us to have more children.

Cons: The culture tells us we can do whatever, whenever, and it's very countercultural to act with self-control and self-discipline. We're not one of those couples who say NFP's been great for our marriage and we love it! It's been challenging. It takes sacrifices, especially for the man.

But when you're sick with breast cancer and lying in bed for 6 months, you also abstain. At that point in our lives, abstaining wasn't something completely foreign to us. So NFP taught us how to sacrifice early on.

4. What NFP resources does your diocese have?

We live in the Diocese of Rochester, and there's two teachers for the Creighton method and two teaching couples from the Couple-to-Couple League. The new bishop is wonderful, and we hope he will put even more NFP resources in place. [Editor's Note: The diocesan web site also provides links to two short YouTube video testimonials on NFP, as well as downloadable brochures and bulletin inserts.]

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

We love the newsletter from the Couple-to-Couple League. Also, we used a very old book called The Joy in Sexuality and Fertility Control. We used it for more than 20 years.

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

I can't imagine it would have been better. I don't know if my husband would have been as wonderful as he was accepting all the changes in my body and sacrifices in our intimate life that came with the cancer.  I think it would have made it much more difficult. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Finding Truth, Goodness and Beauty in Hollywood: #ShowUsYourList

I could never resist a challenge. So when novelist Erin McCole Cupp asked for a list of entertaining, well-crafted alternatives to the 50 Shades of Grey movie that critics are loving to hate right now, I said, "I'm in!" In addition to the good, clean romance Old Fashioned that's playing in theaters right now, here's my list of three awesome Hollywood movies with excellent messages.

1. The Giver (2014): This dystopian science fiction movie draws us into a peaceful world where every minute of the day is controlled. All knowledge of war and murder has been erased from everyone except the Giver and Receiver of memories. People receive daily injections to keep them from feeling desire, so they won't have sex and get pregnant. Pregnancy is relegated to the profession of birth mother. Babies who don't gain enough weight within a few days after birth are cleanly and compassionately dispatched, placed in plastic boxes, and tossed down garbage chutes. The teen hero realizes, "They haven't eliminated murder, they just call it by a different name." Devastating indirect critique of the contraception-abortion industry. According to my teen daughter, the book was even better.

2. The Island (2005): The Island was 2005's version of The Giver. In a dystopian future, rich people create and warehouse their clones on the Island. When a rich person needs an organ transplant, a clone is killed and the organ is harvested. If a rich person wants to get pregnant, a clone is artificially inseminated. After labor and delivery, the "real parents" take the baby away and the surrogate clone is killed. The clones have full consciousness and no idea that this is their purpose in life, until two clones discover the truth and escape the Island. Rollicking adventure with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. You'll never look at surrogate pregnancy or human cloning the same way again.

3. A Walk to Remember (2002): Bring a bucket for your tears. My husband and I both love this movie, which is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. The female lead is caught between her overly repressive father and the ne'er-do-well who wants to be her boyfriend. With gentle grace, she teaches both the meaning of true love before dying of cancer. Sobs galore.

Are you up for the challenge? Show us your list! Keep spreading truth, goodness, and beauty.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Five Things You'll Learn from Our Radio Appearance on "Finding God's Grace"

My husband Dr. Manny Santos and I

Our recent 30-minute radio interview with Tony Agnesi from Finding God's Grace covered a lot of ground, touching on marriage preparation, my husband's psychiatric practice with couples, my conversion to Catholicism, and my choice to give up law to be a stay-at-home mom. Along the way, we dispensed as much as advice as we could, of course! Here's five things you'll learn from the interview:

1. how the Hollywood image of marriage contributes to the lack of marriages that last
2. how important it is to rely on the example of couples who model good marriage
3. how good marriages need to be nourished by spiritual and practical truths
4. how to deal with time famine, like juggling the demands of day jobs, six kids, and writing a book together
5. how writing our Catholic marriage advice book has strengthened our own faith and our own married life

Special bonus feature -- you get to hear how I knew Manny was "the one" (Hint: it involved me kicking a piece of furniture across the room!!). To listen to the show, click here for Segment 1 and here for Segment 2.  Enjoy!