Marriage needs at least three different kinds of support: preparation, prayer, and practical advice. Through this blog, I'm trying to offer all three. Please join in the community and add to the conversation, so that we can all support each other.
James and Karen join us this month in a "he said"- "she said" explanation of why they use Natural Family Planning (NFP). Karen experienced bad mood swings on hormonal birth control, which wasn't good for their relationship. Although they originally tried NFP and gave up on it, they eventually returned. Karen enthuses, "It's like a health checkup every month!" and James says that NFP has given him a greater appreciation of Karen -- "not just sexually, but about all of who she is." For more posts in the monthly interview series Why and How Natural Family Planning Works for Us, click here.
Hello, we are Karen and James, and we have been married for 12 years. We tried to use NFP early in our marriage, gave up, then came back to it. Since then, we have been using it for about 2 1/2 years. We have two living children ages 10 and 8 and one in heaven from an ectopic pregnancy.
1. Why do you use NFP?
K: Health reasons. Birth control does not agree with my body.
J: Health reasons. She was having some health issues and we figured out that the birth control was the cause of it.
2. Which method of NFP works best for you?
K: Billings Ovulation Method, but with a basal body temperature cross-check. So Billings-thermal. [Editor's Note: The Billings Ovulation Method works by tracking the woman's production of cervical mucus. Cervical mucus looks and feels different during fertile times. A woman's basal body temperature rises noticeably after ovulation, so tracking temperature changes can confirm that ovulation has occurred and the rest of the cycle will be infertile days.]
J: Karen has also used some of the cheap over-the-counter pregnancy kits that you can get on Amazon at 50 for $10. I don't know how reliable the kits are on their own, but they do a good job at confirming the other signs.
3. What are the biggest pros and cons of using NFP, in your experience?
Pros: I'm not crazy or moody or with PMS half the month. When we do get to have sex, it's really good sex. It's nice to know what my body is doing when. It's like a health checkup every month!
Cons: We don't get to have as much sex as we want. It is extremely hard to learn while sexually active, especially if barrier methods are not an option during the learning curve. Girls should learn this as teenagers, before they are sexually active.
Pros: Karen's a lot healthier and doesn't have the crazy mood swings she used to have. It's good to know how her hormones impact her mood so that I can be better prepared. The sex has gotten better, too. It's no longer something we take for granted.
Cons: The abstinence, especially when you don't know how long it's going to be. Also, it can take time to find a teacher you work well with and a method that works for you.
4. What NFP resources does your diocese have?
J: The Diocese of Charleston (South Carolina) is large in area, but has very few Catholics. The Catholic hospitals have classes and some individual teachers teach. The diocese supports NFP, but because it's so spread out, that doesn't mean classes/support/etc. are always accessible.
5. What NFP resources have been most useful to you?
J: Kristin and her husband, Tim, have been extremely helpful. As for other resources, Google is your friend. And if you really want to get in-depth with the science, PubMed.
6. How do you think your marriage would be different if you used artificial contraception instead of NFP?
K: Since making the "switch" we have had better sex, but we don't always get to have as much sex as we want or when we want it. My birth control is no longer making me crazy, which obviously helps our relationship.
J: I have found that I've definitely gained a better appreciation of her, not just sexually, but about all of who she is. The sex is definitely is better—not only is it a lot harder to take for granted when you are using NFP, but the sex we do have is a lot more intimate. Although we don't have any plans for more children, I feel more open to the possibility and that was not the case when we were using contraception.
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If you're in the mood for mayhem, author Chéri Vausé has two new books for your entertainment. The first, The Truth and Nothing But Lies, revolves around the bombing of empty abortion clinics whose negligence led to the deaths of several women. The second, The Night Shadow, is a hard-bitten crime thriller, which lacks overt Catholic themes but contains a subtle redemptive message.
The Truth and Nothing But Lies
This issue-driven mystery novel falls within the tradition of pro-life novels such as Elizabeth Schmeidler's The Good Sinner, which centered around the murder of an abortionist. Considering how much the issue of abortion divides our country, it's surprising that more authors don't use it to dramatic effect. I suspect most writers are afraid or incapable of presenting the prolife viewpoint compellingly and compassionately. Vausé does an excellent job of presenting arguments for both sides through the characters, and then letting the reader decide. She avoids a preachy tone that would alienate or bore readers and keeps the tension high.
The book contains a great cast of supporting characters, including a modern nun, a corrupt politician, and an ACLU attorney. Descriptions of the abortionist's office will not appeal to the faint of heart -- they are horrifyingly reminiscent of conditions in the clinic of recently convicted real-world abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell. The novel also slips sometimes into overuse of extended metaphor and personalization, which detracts from the story's flow. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining and worthwhile read.
The Night Shadow
This film noir style detective novel stars a female, Catholic version of famous fictional private investigator Sam Spade (remember Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon?). She and her partner are hired to discover whether a young and talented ballerina was burned to death by arson or accident. Central to the story is a mysteriously beautiful blonde, who appears to be both victim and suspect. The setting shifts from steamy Los Angeles to mansions in the Hamptons to roach-ridden motels in lower Manhattan. Although the story lags in the middle and at 400+ pages runs a little long, the last 100 pages were absolutely riveting.
The main characters' Catholicism is understated and primarily cultural. For example, the p.i.'s Las Vegas marriage after a nasty divorce is certainly not sacramental. But it has the gritty realism of people trying to do their best with the sometimes lousy situations life has handed them. And the concluding scene of the extended family praying the rosary together in the hospital was very moving. Again, definitely worth the purchase.
My thanks to author Chéri Vausé for the free review copy. Both books are available at Amazon here and here.
My request for Catholic online and print resources on extreme parenting circumstances got an amazing response, so I'd like to share it with you. There's more on adoption than I thought, including an excellent new resource scheduled to be released by Pauline Books in 2015 (huge shout-out to author Jaymie Stuart Wolfe and the sisters at Pauline). But there's much less on fostering and step-parenting than I was hoping to find.
Please, please, please if you have more to add to the list, respond in the comments or by email to email@example.com. It's so important to support parents taking on this holy but often incredibly arduous work.
Adoption: Room for One More?, by Jaymie Stuart Wolfe (forthcoming from Pauline Books in 2015)
Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It, by Dr. Ray Guarendi (St. Anthony Messenger, 2009)
Longing to Love: A Memoir of Desire, Relationships, and Spiritual Transformation, by Tim Muldoon (Loyola Press, 2010)
While We Wait: Spiritual and Practical Advice for Those Trying to Adopt, by Heidi Schlumpf (ACTA Publications, 2009)
Little Lucy's Family: A Story About Adoption, by Eleanor Gormally (ACTA Publications, 2008) (for children)
Faith, Family, and Children with Special Needs: How Catholic Parents and Their Kids with Special Needs Can Develop a Richer Spiritual Life, by David Rizzo (Loyola Press, 2012)
A Special Mother is Born, by Leticia Velasquez (WestBow Press, 2011)
Ha Nacido Una Madre Especial, by Leticia Velasquez (Ediciones Rialp, 2013)
Be Not Afraid: peer-based support to parents experiencing a prenatal diagnosisand carrying to term, www.benotafraid.net
National Catholic Partnership on Disability, www.ncpd.org (includes resources onsacramental preparation for special-needs children)
Today we welcome Michael and Melanie Jean Juneau to the series How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some. Michael and Melanie live on a small family farm in Canada, where they raised their nine kids. I know Melanie from her excellent work at the Association of Catholic Women Bloggers and through her prolific writing. Today Michael and Melanie explain how suffering doesn't have to crush a marriage, instead it can lead to great joy!
1. How many years have you been married and how many kids do you have?
We have been married for 36 years, and we are still in love. Surprisingly, we really have become one, deeply in tune with each other’s spirits. Our tangible joy is inexplicable through secular eyes because from all outward appearances our life together has been a tough journey including poverty, nine kids, overwhelming chores on a small family farm and clinical depression.
One priest gently consoled us by explaining we have lived through “trials by fire.” Another friend, not given to dramatics, once pointed out to my adult children,“You do not realize it, but your parents have suffered deeply.” I have a running joke on the typical marriage vow about for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. I say, "Well, we’ve seen worse, poorer and sickness and we are more than ready for better, richer and health.” Then I dissolve into gales of laughter.
2. Name 3 things that have helped you to stay married this long.
The first key we discovered was found by accessing the power in the Sacrament of Marriage. The grace available in the Sacrament of Marriage is not some esoteric theology -- no, it is real and it is powerful. The power available in the sacrament is what kept us together through the rough years. And we both understood, beyond a doubt, that God had brought us together.We never questioned this basic call from God, our vocation together, even during the dark years.
My second key is a wicked sense of humor. When we could laugh at our foibles and not take ourselves too seriously, problems suddenly shrank and we gained perspective once again. Over-dramatizing conflict is deadly. This is simply a bit of cognitive therapy, taking a step away from each conflict and looking at the big picture, through the eyes of God.
Surprisingly, my third key to the longevity of out marriage is suffering. Suffering was a gift that unified us because it stripped away false pride and forced us to our knees in prayer. Honest prayer led both of us to self- knowledge, humility and compassion for each other. When I asked a priest what my life would have been like if I had not suffered, if I had married a well-off dentist, had 1.25 kids and lived in an efficient, modern house, he put on a phony, pious face, put his hands together in prayer, and said in a high, mocking voice, ”Oh, you would be a nice Christian lady, praising the Lord.” What he meant by that amusing bit of acting was I would be shallow, without depth and strength. Well, when I see the results of a bit of suffering in our marriage, I say bring it on!
3. What role has your faith played in your marriage?
The only reason we got married and stayed married is our faith. We are a brother and a sister in Christ, fellow children of God who seek His will together. We have always been on the same page, sensing the next level of growth in our spiritual walk and changing at the same pace. This has been a pure gift from God. A growth in maturity, in my faith, healed our marriage. When I quit demanding love from my husband, quit trying to control him, he was set free to love me in freedom and in truth, in the power of the Spirit of God.When I let go and surrendered to God, He blessed me with more than I could ever have asked for in our marriage.
4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?
Do you find yourself waiting secretly for your knight in shining armor to whisk you off your feet so you can live happily ever after? Or for a wonderful woman to lift off your depression and sense of aimlessness? Although we laugh at such ridiculous fantasies as the stuff of naïve, lovesick teenagers, we all must face the deep temptation within ourselves to seek out a future partner to fulfill all of our needs. We have been brainwashed by Hollywood's romantic movies.
If you want to get married, seek the face of God, trust Him and He will drop someone in your path because marriage is just as much a vocation and a calling as Holy Orders. My husband asked God to find him a wife and then forgot all about it as he dedicated a year to Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, Canada. Then he spent another year at his local parish where he lived in the residence with an ill priest. Travelling across Canada, stopping in to see a friend who was a parish worker, he read a note on the door explaining that Steve had taken his youth group on a picnic. Michael came over to my house to wait because I lived with Steve's fiance. As soon as Michael saw me, he KNEW I was the one. Michael swears by this method for finding a bride.
5. What advice would you give newlyweds?
Society does not prepare people for a Christian marriage. You have to actively seek out help and advice. Read insightful books, go to conferences, retreats, confession, make sure you pray, seek spiritual direction and counselling to help you mature and grow together as one in Christ. As a newlywed, I wish someone had explained to me that in marriage, partners irritate each other by pulling out each other's darkness, bringing their wounds to the surface. Once I understood this spiritual dynamic, I quit blaming Michael and pointing out his faults. The truth is, counter to what secular society would lead us to believe, only God can meet our core need for love.
Countless marriages end up in divorce because people have embraced the crazy notion that the man or woman of their dreams will completely satisfy and fulfill them. This is a lie. Before I understood this reality, I spent years as a pitiful, innocent victim, crying my eyes out over my plight married to an insensitive man.
Once I focused on myself rather than Michael, the Spirit of God could finally deal with my own sinfulness and need for healing. If I had thrown up my hands and divorced Michael, chances are the second fellow would have turned out exactly the same. My sinfulness triggered my husband's sinfulness. Period. I had to stop blaming and pointing out Michael's failings if I wanted a great marriage. Instead of pointing out the grain of sand in his eye, I had to allow God to show me the log of faults in my own eye. God designed us so that only His love will fill the desperate desires of our hearts. Once I understood this truth, I could allow real love, respectful love to grow between Michael and myself without making crushing demands on the poor guy to fulfill the role of God in my life.
6. What advice would you give new parents or couples who are trying to have children?
First and foremost, if you want to get pregnant, relax and trust in God and His timing. Numerous stories are told of anxious couples, desperate for a baby, who finally give up, adopt and then when they are relaxed, they conceive. My problem was the opposite, I could conceive days before ovulation. Yet the answer to both problems is the same -- Natural Family Planning teaches people how to understand their fertility cycles in order to conceive or not.
We read a homily by Pope John Paul II whose main premise was that letting go of control and trusting in God was not some abstract principle but a day-to-day practical call that included the surrender of our fertility by not using contraception. Although we could not imagine how large our family would become, his words continued to resonate within both of us. Guilt lifted off and a sense of purpose took its place. Many small experiences kept reinforcing the truth: God calls each of our children into being with our cooperation.We stumbled blindly at times but then a burst of clarity would shine light on our purpose as we lived out our pro-life mission.