Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Loving in the Face of Death

My Hot Summer Nights post is about that uncomfortable reality that we all have to face sooner or later -- the death of our spouse. My husband's recurring brain tumors have made us face this issue a lot sooner than we expected or wanted. Fortunately, the saints have something to teach us about dealing with it all.
St. Thomas More knew that it does no good to rail against death as if we could prevent it entirely. We all need to deal with the reality that our loved ones will die. This reality has special poignancy for me and my husband.
Read the rest on Jen's blog here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why We Still Use NFP When We're So Bad at It (Guest Post)

In celebration of Natural Family Planning Awareness Week (July 21 – 27), here’s a guest post from James B at James B is my new go-to guy for NFP. His blog, which he runs with fellow blogger Kate, is chock full of useful and frequently very entertaining posts.

When James’s wife recently got pregnant although they were using NFP to avoid pregnancy, James wrote this post to come to terms with it all. But then James’ wife K lost the baby in one of worst ruptured ectopic pregnancies the hospital staff had ever seen. In the immediate aftermath, they were just grateful that K was alive. They realized that if they had not been watching K’s fertility through tracking the signs using NFP, they might not have raced to the hospital so quickly when she began to experience abdominal pain. NFP was a real life-saver for K. But James and K are now struggling to deal with the grief from the loss of a baby they had just begun to cherish. Please pray for them!

We’ve had not one, not two, but three surprise pregnancies while using Natural Family Planning to avoid pregnancy. It’s fair to say that some people may be wondering why we still believe in it and why we still plan on using it after this pregnancy. The reason is not "because the Church says so." We would still use NFP no matter what the Church says. Why is that, you might ask?

Reason #1
We Weren't Being That Careful.
Yes, we were surprised, but we weren't being that careful. We selected a method that had the least abstinence and the smallest margin of error. We ignored obvious signs of fertility. We bent some of the rules.

In other words, we could have avoided this if we really had needed to. NFP CAN be highly effective if you need it to be, but that requires more abstinence, and, really, who likes abstinence?

I could have avoided this -- but that is just the thing when you practice your faith while using NFP. You can plan and plan but when it comes down to it -- if you don’t have a good enough reason to abstain then you won’t be abstaining very well for very long.

My wife K and I really are in a good position to have a baby. I have a good job. We got a fantastic deal on a much larger house than we could have normally been able to afford. It's something we were starting to talk about, but we just didn't feel ready to do quite yet. Having a child is a big deal and both of us are super-planners. We're overcautious only children. If we waited until we were ready to have children, we probably would never have any.
Reason #2
NFP Gave Us the Correct Data (…we just ignored it).
We tried NFP earlier in our marriage and gave up on it. A big reason why is that despite taking several classes in two different methods, neither K nor I was sure about her fertility. Not knowing why we had a surprise pregnancy was as stressful as the surprise pregnancy itself.

This time around, while there is always room for improvement in any NFP instruction, we are very satisfied with the instruction we received. The classes were very informative and allowed us to gain an excellent understanding of K's fertility. This understanding allowed us to know exactly why we ended up pregnant (and, yes, we do know what causes that) and how we really can prevent it if we need to.

The reason I shared why we think K got pregnant is not to blame the method or our teacher, but to help others in similar situations who really do have very serious reasons to avoid. I see this as consistent with my purpose in life. So, please take note – no matter what your NFP instructor might say, not every method of NFP works equally well for everybody. If one method doesn’t help to gauge your fertility accurately, try another one. And once you find a method that works for you, don’t ignore the data unless you’re willing and able to take a risk and accept whatever happens.

Reason #3
We're Really Looking Forward to Our Baby
No, I can't say we were happy about it from day one. It took some time for us to get used to this unexpected blessing. But now that the shock has worn off and the crazy pregnancy hormones have settled down, we're looking forward to welcoming another child into our family.

Our older children are thrilled that they are going to be big sisters. Although we have an extra bedroom, they have already decided that the baby will stay in their room when he moves out of ours. Our older daughter can't stop talking about "Baby Bean." She's fascinated with what it looks like and how it's growing.

Our extended family is happy as well. We haven't told many people in real life, but everyone we have told has been overjoyed.

It's also brought my wife and me closer together. Having two unexpected children in our early 20s was stressful on both of us and stressful on our marriage. We were young, immature, and selfish, and had a poor understanding of Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality. But we've been able to see that we're not the same people we were back then. We grow up. We change. We learn. Seeing the difference in our reactions to this pregnancy has been very healing in our marriage.
Reason #4
We're Not Going Back to Contraception
When we had unplanned pregnancies from NFP earlier in our marriage, we figured contraception must be the solution. Having used contraception in our marriage, we know that "the grass is just as complicated on the other side". Contraception doesn't make your problems go away, it just causes new problems, from side effects of the contraceptive to the bad relational habits you develop when sex is (in theory) always available.

I think what most couples find when they give up artificial birth control to space children naturally (especially when they involve God in the process), is that the high level of personal sacrifice involved is a feature, not a bug. NFP is not just another form of birth control; it’s an entirely new lifestyle. It makes you see yourself and your spouse and your children entirely differently. It makes you see the meaning of life differently. It even makes you see your relationship with God differently. And once you’ve spent a while living that kind of life, you don’t want to go back.

Our marriage has gotten so much better since making "the switch" that we can't imagine going back either. (Even if we outgrow the minivan!)

Problem solved.

Reason #5
I Love Unplanned Parenthood and So Should You
The biggest change is the change that this has had on K's view of children and pregnancy. K was raised Protestant. She was taught that family planning was something responsible people did and that having unplanned pregnancies was a sign that a woman had not "taken precautions".

Her view of the Catholic Church was that requiring NFP with complete abstinence during the fertile period made it extremely difficult for women to properly plan their families, because, let's face it, while NFP is highly effective under perfect use, it can require Herculean self-control to use perfectly. But when we started talking about it, we both began to realize just how impossible it is to "properly plan your family" under any circumstances.

Surprise Pregnancy: It's not just for Catholics who use NFP!
  • We know plenty of "Pill babies".
  • We know a few "condom babies".
  • We know a "NuvaRing baby".
  • We even know a "tubal baby".
Every method of birth control has a failure rate, and the real world failure rates of contraceptives aren't that low. This is why half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, despite widespread contraceptive use.

Reason #6

It’s OK for Married Couples to Have Babies
The Catholic idea that babies are a part of marriage and that you shouldn't try to prevent them without good reason isn't a burden on couples, but a relief. Maintaining the link between sex and procreation means that if it's OK for married couples to have sex, then it's OK for them to have babies. Catholic married couples can have as many babies as they want, planned or unplanned, without apology or excuse.

The difference between an NFP "oops" and a contraceptive failure is that with an NFP "oops," nothing failed. We may have underestimated our fertility, but we didn't do anything wrong. Instead, we were doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing as a married couple and having an incredibly fun time doing it! 8-)

We don't know if we will have more children after this. We do hope for a bit more spacing than the 19 1/2 months between our two oldest. But we don't have any "plan" for our family, and that's incredibly freeing.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Half-Way through Hot Summer Nights

Today is the half-way mark for Hot Summer Nights: Share the Love, where bloggers share their ideas for hot dates, passion, marriage, love and faith. Here are links to the posts so far, in case you missed them.

  • July 1: Stages of Marriage by Sheila Garcia, USCCB Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, & Youth
  • July 2: Do You Want More Love and Intimacy in Your Marriage? by Mary Jimenez, Marriage & Family Therapist
  • July 3: Preparing for the True Marriage by Mary Pearson, Young & Catholic
  • July 4: 10 Stay at Home Date Night Ideas by Heather Bowen, Upside Down Homeschooling
  • July 5: The Mystery of Marriage by Scott Means, Journey to Surrender
  • July 6: The Gift of a Marriage Encounter Weekend: Love One Another as I Have Loved You (John 13:34) by Kevin & Patty Vogelsang
  • July 7: Date Night Link-Up Review by Our Readers
  • July 8: Displaying Christ's Glory in Your Marriage by Melinda Murphy, Christian Educator
  • July 9: Cross-Cultural Marriage by Andra Kariithi, The Goretti Group
  • July 10: Marriage & Faith by Noreen Johnson, Rosary Mom
  • July 11: What Do You Mean My Husband Isn't a Mind Reader?!? by Sarah Reinhard, Snoring Scholar
  • July 12: "Intimacy & Authenticity" --- Building an open, trusting, loving, and growing relationship by Bill Nichols, Christian Counselor & Life Coach, The Onesimus Connection
  • July 13: Keeping the Fires Burning after Kids & Minivans by James, Real Catholic Love & Sex
  • July 14: Date Night Link-Up Review by Our Readers
  • July 15: Keeping the Empty Nest Warm by Lisa Hendey, Catholic Mom

  • If you have a favorite, let me know in the comments! My post will appear on July 22.

    Hope you're staying hot this summer. ;)

    Friday, July 12, 2013

    New Post on Comencemos en Caná

    For readers who are also interested in my Spanish-language blog, there's a new post there. It's translated by my husband's cousin Tony José, who has a reputation for mellifluous Spanish. Think Shakespearean, if Shakespeare spoke Spanish. The new post is the Spanish version of Letting Your Child Go with God: A First Communion Story. There are links so you can compare the two versions. Enjoy!

    Thursday, July 11, 2013

    My first post on!

    I'm so happy to join the talented group of educators and writers at! My review of 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator, by Jared Dees, is up on the site today. Please take a look. And if you're a catechist, let me know in the comments below. All suggestions for further posts are welcome.

    Wednesday, July 3, 2013

    Sexual Self-Determination Is the New Self-Evident Truth

    On this July 4, one truth could not be more evident. Sexual self-determination is fast becoming the most important legal right in the nation. Whether the issue is same-sex marriage or nation-wide health insurance coverage for abortion and contraception, the scales of justice are now tipped in favor of an individual's right to choose with whom to have sex, in what family arrangements, with what contraception, and disposing of any resulting pregnancy however they wish.

    This development seems reasonable. What could be more personal or private than sexual choice? But it comes at an expense. Legal niceties aside, what the U.S. Supreme Court did in its recent decisions on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 was to choose between two competing classes of rights -- sexual rights and religious rights. In siding with same-sex marriage and against traditional marriage, the Supreme Court elevated sexual rights to a more important level. This is clear from Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in the Windsor case, where he characterizes the religious and moral arguments behind DOMA as illegitimate and discriminatory.

    The new supremacy of sexual freedom is equally clear from the on-going fight over the implementation of the Health and Human Services regulations, which require nearly all health insurance plans to cover abortion and contraception, with limited exceptions. So, on July 2, the U.S. Catholic bishops joined with Southern Baptist, Jewish, and Mormon leaders to call for greater conscience rights protections under the HHS regulations. At stake is whether the government will allow its citizens to act on their religious beliefs in their daily lives. If someone can act a certain way based on sexual preference, why can't someone act a different way based on religious preference?

    Whether the majority of Americans agree with the religious view in question shouldn't matter in deciding to grant conscience protection. Why would a religious view need protection from government encroachment unless it was unpopular and disagreeable? As the July 2 joint letter states:
    Many of the signatories on this letter do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraception. Yet we stand united in protest to this mandate .... Whether or not we agree with the particular conscientious objection is beside the point. HHS continues to deny many Americans the freedom to manifest their beliefs through practice and observance in their daily lives. 
    Decades ago, the Supreme Court found a right to abortion in part stemming from the unstated right to privacy existing in the penumbra of the Ninth Amendment. Days ago, the Supreme Court stopped just short of finding a right to same-sex marriage in the penumbra of the Fifth Amendment. But there is no need to search for penumbras when it comes to religious rights. The Constitution states clearly that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." To protect sexual freedom at the expense of religious freedom turns the Constitution on its head.