Unequally Yoked

When my husband and I got married we were both Catholic, but we weren’t fully practicing the faith. Not only were we not well formed, we didn’t know it. My husband and I went to Mass on Sunday occasionally, if it was convenient, and also on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, and Easter.

One Sunday, we arrived at Mass and found there was a new pastor. This pastor’s homilies were like nothing I had ever heard before. In fact they made me angry! I didn’t speak to the pastor, didn’t even shake his hand on the way out the door, but for some reason I felt like I was arguing with him and so I started going to Mass every Sunday to continue the argument.

Each Sunday I would go to Mass and I would leave angry because I had just been informed of yet one more thing that I was doing wrong. I was overwhelmed with all of the rules. I was also skeptical of the pastor. I thought, “He can’t possibly know what he is talking about. He must be some kind of Catholic wacko.” I started researching and I didn’t have to dig very far to find that my pastor knew what he was talking about.

As I sat in that pew week after week I discovered that there were many areas of my life that were not in line with Church teaching. I had walked in the door pro-choice, pro-contraception, the list goes on. I found out that I was wrong.

Many other parishioners left. Several of our neighbors started shopping for a new parish with softer homilies. Some went to neighboring parishes; others went so far as to leave the Catholic Church. My husband found the difficult homilies amusing. When I tried to engage him in discussing our faith and what we should do, he would say, “Whatever you decide is fine.”

I decided we would stay. Somewhere deep inside I knew that this wasn’t about shopping for the right message so much as it was about finding the truth. My only explanation for this is that God, in His great generosity, must have given me a huge dose of grace. I began to change. I studied Catholicism. Everything I learned made so much sense that I couldn’t help but to grow in my faith. I fell in love with Holy Mother Church. I began going to daily Mass and volunteering in earnest. I was disappointed that my husband wasn’t interested, but I didn’t let that hold me back.

My new faith and his disinterest started to put stress on our marriage. It became really clear to me one Valentine’s day, when I received a Valentine’s gift basket from a girlfriend of mine. When my husband saw it I asked him to guess who had given it to me. “Probably Father Jones or Deacon Smith or the Youth Minister,” he said and walked out of the room. I was stunned. He proceeded to tell me how tired he was of my life revolving around God and the Church. He thought at first that it was a phase and that he just had to wait it out, but it was pretty clear that it wasn’t ending any time soon. He was tired of it and he wanted it to stop. I was no longer the person he had married.

unequally yokedI was devastated and yet it was clear to me that he felt jilted, like I had dumped him for God. I could understand that. My husband had been the center of my universe and now God was, and rightly so, I thought.

I sought counsel from a priest during confession and he told me that perhaps my cross right now was that I needed to tone things down a little. He didn’t mean for me to be less faithful. He meant that I should tone down my outward expression of the faith to give my husband a little space. This was my cross to bear. I left the crucifix on the wall but pulled the holy cards from the refrigerator. I cut back on my volunteer responsibilities. As I considered my primary vocation as wife, I realized that God didn’t want me to neglect my spouse in pursuit of my faith.

There was however, one area in which I couldn’t compromise. We were contracepting. Very early in my conversion process I stopped contracepting and at that point my husband chose to continue. This was very painful for me. I had learned of the beauty of the marital embrace and all that God had intended for it—that it be a complete gift of self. I yearned to give myself to my husband. And yet each time we came together I made my desire to be open to life clear and each time he denied me. The act that was supposed to be unitive was tearing us apart. I found myself wishing for a marriage “do-over”. It was humiliating to go to confession and confess my participation in my husband’s contraception. I was hurt and angry at my husband.

I finally realized that my wish for a do-over was nothing more than a pity party. I started to treat my husband with charity, not because I thought he deserved it (to the contrary, I thought he was being quite a jerk) but because I loved God. I began Natural Family Planning (NFP) on my own. My husband would have nothing to do with it. I began to refuse him on fertile days (not because I was opposed to conceiving but because history had proven that he would contracept). He continued to contracept on the other days but I found much peace in my own practice of NFP.

This went on for 3 years until I became pregnant and subsequently miscarried. My husband had surprised me by welcoming the pregnancy, and then was greatly disappointed and saddened as well. This loss was a turning point for me. I was done. I told my husband, “No more contraception. I won’t participate.” I had been patient and prayerful for 3 years but now I was done. I prayed for God to please pick up the pieces of my marriage and hold us together and mercifully He did.

Since that day my husband has never contracepted.

Several years have passed. I am at peace because my husband’s concession has allowed me to live in alignment with my faith. I continue to tone down my outward expression of my faith, and my husband is slowly but surely growing in his faith. We both have a long way to go, but praise be to God at least we are heading in the right direction!

Vasectomy, Reversal and Reversion

Sometimes when I think of my life and where we’ve been I think – awesome, crazy and wow!

With the announcement that we were expecting number 4, people mostly responded with a “that’s AWESOME that you will have a big family!” When they found out our 4th was a boy, it was, “congratulations, now you have your boy!”

With the announcement that we were expecting number 5, people mostly said, “CRAZY.” I think 4 is definitely the cultural threshold as far as an acceptable number of children goes.

With the announcement that we were expecting number 6… silence. People didn’t know what to say, except WOW!

So here goes… the story of how we came to be a family of 8.

Greg and I tied the knot on April 18, 1998, and like many couples we feared rather than welcomed pregnancy, so we contracepted during our first 5 years of marriage. We attended mass regularly when we dated but became more sporadic after we were married. We fell into a pattern of putting our faith to the wayside and putting our social life and worldly needs first. I did not seek God in prayer or the sacraments and Greg did not either. We did as we pleased with no regard for the blessings that were abundant in our lives. We definitely lacked discipline in our faith life. Sometimes a feeling of nagging would creep into my heart as I wished we were acknowledging God.

During our first 5 years, Greg completed graduate school, took a new job, our first daughter, Annie, was born and we moved 2 times. Soon after settling in Kansas City, Genna and Elizabeth were born 16 months apart. Greg’s job demanded that he travel weekly. The stress and pressures of a young family and the demands of our extended families took a toll on our relationship. We let any practice of our faith fall away. We just did what was easy and did not work together.

We faced a few difficult years having 3 kids under the age of 4 and all the demands of life, and we made the rash decision that we could not burden one another with another child. So Greg had a vasectomy. We were officially a family of 5.

After Greg’s vasectomy we entered a dark time in our marriage. We knew something was very wrong but we did not fully understand the consequences of our actions. We both turned from our faith and sought happiness in this world and its offerings. When I reached one of my lowest points, I decided I had to turn back to God and return to the Church. My faith had often been a comfort to me when I was young. As God would have it, when my oldest daughter started kindergarten at our parish school I made some new friends who were quite devout. I had daily contact with friends who were witnesses to living a sacramental, Catholic life.

Our_Father 2_redAround this time, I began to practice my faith again by seeking a prayer life and the Eucharist. But there was still a nagging feeling of emptiness in our marriage. I was carrying a heavy burden and did not know what it was. Through the faithful Catholic families I had met and their example I sought to further my faith through the sacraments and adoration. Greg and I vowed to respect our marriage and sexuality as we learned more about Pope John Paul II’s teachings of the Theology of the Body. We also read Pope Paul VI’s encyclical called Humanae Vitae. I began to read what the Catechism said about the sacrament of marriage and my eyes were opened to the importance of our vocations as mother and father. We were responsible for 3 souls and it was our job to lead them to heaven. We had taken for granted the power we had in co-creating these lives with God. I could see more clearly the beauty of my call to motherhood. I began to realize I needed to offer up my children in prayer.

We believed God had led us out of a very dark time and now that we were beginning to grow in faith and honor our marriage, I was devastated that we had made the decision to have a vasectomy. I longed to be in a life-giving marriage. Ironically, the promise of freedom through the vasectomy was now a heavy burden for me. I carried this burden for 2 years without ever speaking of it. I finally found the courage to tell Greg how deeply I regretted this decision we had made. I could not imagine going through the rest of our marriage and not being able to welcome any more children. As our marriage became renewed, I believe God showed me the value of my vocation as a mother. I began to ask God daily how I could be healed of the pain this decision had caused. I wanted to accept God’s will in my life and accept my part in having rejected that.

We sought reconciliation with a parish priest for the wound we had caused in our marriage. At about that time, the Holy Spirit led me to a website called One More Soul, where I learned that there are doctors who reverse vasectomies as a ministry and at a cost that was affordable. We started discussing whether this would be possible.

Greg’s reversal was completed in February of 2009. Greg vowed to lead our family spiritually and we hoped and prayed the reversal would give him strength for that.

We have had one miscarriage and Peter, Natalie and Henry since Greg’s reversal. When Peter was born, the first child since the reversal, we felt God’s presence strongly as we watched our 3 daughters stand over the baby’s bassinet and spontaneously sing Happy Birthday to him. All the healing we had prayed and hoped for came to be in this very moment. It was truly one of the most powerful and joy-filled moments of our lives. We had strayed so far from God and our faith that we almost lost our marriage. We found our way back and experienced healing both physical and spiritual.

The additional children do make practicing our faith challenging at times, but the joy they have brought to our older children and us is immeasurable. Most days Greg and I pray together for the strength to grow in the face of our challenges. It feels like leaps and bounds from my days of despairing about my marriage. No longer do we turn away from our sinfulness, but rather we try to acknowledge that we need Christ on a daily basis to lead us on our path. We actively seek God’s will in all areas of our life now and are on a continual journey of renewal and as we seek God’s grace through the sacraments.

Editor’s Note: While it is admirable that this couple took the steps to reverse their vasectomy, the church does not require this. The church asks for sincere confession, contrition and absolution. A couple with this issue can also be guided by a priest in their journey of healing and openness to life as they look at their unique situation.