Weathering the Good and the Bad with this Man

I have written before about my marriage and the fruit of obeying the Church in being open to life. Now I am at the stage where I am getting too old for more babies. This has made me look at my marriage in a different light. I would still love to have another baby…my kids remind me that many women in the Bible were over 100 and I am just half of that! But the reality is that I am entering a new season of my life, of my relationship with my husband.

3238440598_46f82f4b75_mGod is so good! He has done so much for us. I have always thought I had a good marriage. But I am seeing that after almost 24 years, my love for my husband is growing. Weathering the good and bad with this man has yielded many blessings. When I look at him, he is still the dashing hero with whom I fell in love. I look at photos of days gone by and see how we have aged, but I don’t see it when I look at him.

I also see a gift of marriage that is not talked about for good reason. It is private and intimate. God has healed us from our past sins against chastity during these past two decades. Memories of sinful days before we met are faded, sometimes erased. It is in the marital embrace where I feel young. Maybe not young, but perhaps out of time. It is free and beautiful. I feel God intensely. There is no longer an embarrassment or disconnect between our lovemaking and God. He is there with us. I have read much about Theology of the Body and understood it in my mind. But in the past few years, I am understanding it with my heart. I wonder if couples who enter marriage chastely have this gift from the beginning. I hope so.

At the same time, I have a renewed strength to love my husband as best as I can. I want to forget myself, my aches and pains, my tiredness and ask him about his. I get up to make him his favorite breakfast. When he comes home from work, I want our home to be a respite for him. I want to cheerfully ask him about his day. I look for ways to serve him as my spouse, my best friend.

I realize that this flies in the face of our world. But I know this is pleasing to God. I know my husband lays down his life for me every day. We serve each other, as we do God’s will. All the years I wasted looking for how my husband could serve me, listen to me, help me! I know being self-centered is sinful. I asked God to show me how He sees me – and my eyes were opened to my selfishness. Now when I am grumpy I try to remember to say to myself, “Don’t be selfish, don’t be selfish. How can I serve others?” Suddenly, I am feeling at peace. God is good!

Photo Credit Liz West

Healing Through an Annulment

My husband and I recently celebrated the first anniversary of our marriage in the Church – even though we’ve been married six years. We were originally married civilly in a small ceremony in October, 2008. But this year we had our marriage convalidated, which is the official recognition of our civil marriage by the Catholic Church, elevating it to a sacramental marriage.

4641589345_a74996f89f_qMarriage means so much more to me now than the first time I said “I do.” I now know that marriage is a gift from God, and not to be entered into lightly.

Most of my friends and family know that I was married before. My ex-husband and I had dated for five years before we married. We lived together beforehand, and although we were both cradle Catholics, neither one of us lived a very religious life. We attended the required pre-cana training for months, had a Catholic wedding ceremony, and then continued on with life as we always had. Nothing we learned or experienced changed our thoughts or values, or what marriage meant to us.

We divorced civilly less than two years after our wedding day. We chose to do this as amicably as possible. We had no children and didn’t share any bank accounts or property, so the separation was easier than many couples experience.

Within two weeks of the finalization of my civil divorce, I was diagnosed with leukemia, which made me question my life, death, and what was important to me.  I received the Anointing of the Sick and spoke with a priest who said that God loves each of us, even if we are divorced. At one time during my treatment, I felt a deep sense of peace that I was loved by God and that everything would be all right, even if I died because of my illness. It greatly affected how I viewed my life from then on.  I met my second husband shortly thereafter.

I didn’t begin the Catholic process of annulment until two years after that, when I was already civilly married to my second husband.

I had been back and forth with wanting to be “whole” in the Church for a few years before I actually sought an annulment. The process of civil divorce is quite different than the process of annulment in the Catholic Church. Depending on the state you live in, civil divorce can be mostly about filing the correct paperwork and paying the required fees. But divorce doesn’t exist in the Catholic Church. An annulment means that your marriage was never actually valid.  It was missing one or more of the required aspects that make it binding in the first place.

Many people believe that if you offer the Church enough money, you can get an annulment no matter what. This is simply false. I paid nothing to the Church in the process of my annulment. Some people may offer donations, but there is no guarantee what the results will be. You have to wait and hope throughout the process.

And what a process it is. You are required to meet with a priest who is part of a marriage tribunal and verbally recount your story.  You also do this in writing. Your ex- spouse is also encouraged to participate. Other friends and family on both sides are asked for their testimony.  It can take years. Mine took two years from start to finish. Every piece to this process is inspected closely to come up with a final determination. There is a back and forth with the responses to each inquiry.

It is a challenge to wait, especially if you have already moved forward with another relationship in your life. I often questioned all the “rules and regulations” that the Church had for marriage and living one’s life.  I would try to become comfortable with the philosophy that my father and many friends had, that if you were a good and loving person, you were OK with God (if He even existed) and everything would be all right; that sin really didn’t exist as I had learned it. But there was something so deep and eternal about the Church and at mass that seemed to go beyond the feel-good philosophies I was trying to adopt.

Our parish priest met with me frequently during this time and helped me to understand what I was feeling, and why an annulment did indeed matter for me.  He helped guide me to start the annulment, and redirected me at the times I drifted away again during the process. I also couldn’t receive communion during this time which made me feel like I was missing out on the grace that might help me get through the ordeal.

I may not have made it through without his support. But it was totally worth it. There were many times I simply wanted to give up and tried to convince myself it didn’t matter whether the Church granted me the annulment. But deep down I knew it did.

My husband and I celebrated when my annulment was granted, and then began the next step of having our marriage recognized. Since then we have been blessed with a son and are currently expecting our second child.

To those of you who are divorced and ready to start dating, begin the annulment process, and finish it first before they begin dating.  It has a healing quality that may be helpful before you date again.  It helped me to understand just how important and sacred marriage is.  This is essential to understand for any faithful Catholic who is considering dating. The waiting is difficult, but ultimately is a wonderful time to draw close to God, to discern his will for our lives, and how we are to live moving forward.

To all those contemplating starting this process or who are already in it, stay the course! No matter the result, you can find consolation and healing. Pray often and ask Mary for help and courage to make it through. I will be praying for you as well.

Until Death Do Us Part

Until death do us part.
We repeat these words, and we think we understand what they mean. Marriage is an earthly state. We get that. And we don’t really want to think about that stuff anyway–richer, poorer, sickness, health, that’s hard enough. But death is what happens after the kids are grown and you get through the other hard stuff, like potty training and teaching the kids to drive. And besides, you’ll grow old together, and you’ll have time to talk about all that end-of-life stuff together.

Somehow “death” means our own death. When I die, we will be parted.

But what happens when we’re the ones left behind?

And what does it mean “Until…”? What happens after that?

I’m 47 years old, and a widow. Even writing it seems strange. My marriage ended on August 26, 2011, when my husband Britt died, “suddenly and unexpectedly,”  as I’ve learned to tell people. We had met when we were teenagers, and were married almost 23 years. I had never lived without him my adult life. His death parted not only us, but 6 children who were 5 to 19 years old. The days and months, the first year, afterward are a blur. I really don’t remember a lot of what happened. I was cared for by my parents, 8 siblings and their husbands and wives (and if ever there was a case for a large family, this is it!), neighbors, and sometimes total strangers who signed up on a school signup sheet, who cooked for us, carpooled my children, mowed my lawn, cleaned my gutters and prayed for us. It has only been the last few months that I have been able to begin to contemplate, what next?

A lot of well-meaning people tell me “He’s an angel in heaven now,” or “He’s watching you from heaven.” Well, to say he’s an angel in heaven is no different than saying he’s a squirrel in a tree watching me. As Catholics we don’t believe that. But for the first couple years I did wish that I would “feel” him somehow, get some sign from him that he was indeed watching me, from heaven or anywhere. In my widow support group others shared stories of finding coins just when they were thinking of their husbands, or being able to have conversations with and dreams about their husbands. I had one very well-timed dream that I do believe God gave me as a gift, but other than that I don’t feel Britt with me, and it has really saddened me. Maybe I’m not listening, maybe I’m not trying hard enough, or maybe he really has just left me. Where the heck is he, and does he even care about us anymore? Is that it? I have no connection to him anymore? Just days after his death one of my daughters asked the question, “Does Daddy miss us?” How do you begin to answer that one?

I used to go to bed at night and reword the prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep” and instead ask God to take my soul. I wondered, if Britt is in a “better place,” why can’t I be there, too? If our hope is to be united with Christ, why do I have to wait? You’ll be glad to know I don’t wonder that anymore. I have a theory now, and the best way for me to explain it is in book terms. I’m a reader, a librarian, so this works for me. I have gotten such peace from this.

The rest of my life is like a book that Britt had already read. He finished it a while ago, but I’m still slogging through. It’s a great book with a great ending, and he can’t wait for us to be able to talk about it together, maybe see the movie when it comes out. But he’s letting me finish it first. He’s not tapping my shoulder every few pages asking me how far I am, what’s happening. He’s quietly letting me savor the pages. He knows what happens, so he’s not bothering himself with watching my page-by-page progress. He has much better things to do, and I can forgive him for that!

So that’s the way I imagine him. He knows we’re all here; he sees the end; but he knows this isn’t the important stuff. When I get to a really sad part, he is sad I’m going through it, but he knows it gets better. Even the big stuff–my daughter’s first date next weekend, the father-daughter dance–yes, I’d love for him to be here, and I’m so sad for my kids that he’s not– but I don’t think he’s “missing” it.

And maybe my relationship with the saints and with Christ is the same way. Maybe I don’t need to worry that I’m not “feeling” God talk to me, or I’m not getting the answers to my prayer requests. On the very worst days, when it seems God has forgotten to look out for me, I need to remember He’s there. A priest told me that when he offers mass he imagines all the saints and souls of the departed are at the altar with him at the moment of consecration. The Communion of Saints. Britt may not be a saint, but he’s another voice up there for me. If I can think of him this way, then I can feel closer to the communion of saints and to God. I know they’re all waiting for me.

We believe that marriage should bring us closer to God, that our spouse will deepen our relationship with God, and that God is a partner in our marriage. Even though my marriage has ended, my spouse can continue to lead me closer to God, just as he did in life.

I just need to finish the book.

An Emptiness I Tried to Fill

I got pregnant at age 17.  Roe v. Wade was not yet the law of the land. However, a lot of girls were sneaking off to get illegal abortions or going to states where abortion was legal.   Who knows what I would have done if abortion had been legal, convenient, and presumed by all of society to be a “right.”  But since it was not, abortion never really entered my mind.  My choice was between keeping the baby or giving it away.

It was mostly family expectations and the sheer impracticality of raising a baby at my age that forced my decision to give it away.  But with every week that passed I wanted just the opposite, to keep and raise my baby.  I was extremely depressed for my whole pregnancy, an experience made much worse by the isolation and silence that surrounded my decision.  In those days there was little counseling on how to work through our thoughts and emotions, or on how to evaluate decisions. The only counseling I received was to bury this reality of my depression deeper and deeper inside, to deny its very existence.  I was sent away to a “home” where well-meaning Lutheran ladies tried to keep us busy (I hate crafts to this day) and gave us talks about how to keep our pregnancy secret from everyone, including our future husbands.  After giving birth we were not allowed to see or hold our babies.  They were trying to prevent bonding, but bonding actually starts during the pregnancy and in the delivery, so not being able to see or touch my baby only left me with an emptiness that I tried for years to fill with various addictions.

By the grace of God, however, I was freed from my addictions and brought into the Catholic Church.

More than 40 years after giving the baby away, I made a general confession and had many subsequent confessions with a wonderful priest. I was finally able to let go of that 17-year-old girl’s isolation and understand the whole experience as one of the mysterious ways God called me to Himself.  A few weeks after my general confession (no coincidence I’m sure), I received a call from a social worker who had been looking for me for a long time on behalf of the son I had given up.  Again, no coincidence I’m sure, the social worker had finally located me through my father’s obituary.  I have this picture of my Mom and Dad finally meeting up in heaven, saying to each other, we have some unfinished business.

My son’s first letter to me began simply, “I’m so glad I found you.” We have now been in contact through letters for over a year.  I can tell from his letters what a good and stable family life he has with his wife and children, and how much his adoptive Mom and Dad loved him.  I could never have given him that kind of stability.  He sent me a copy of the obituary he wrote for his Dad’s funeral recently and the closeness and intelligence and love of that family came through loud and clear.

We are making plans to meet as soon as possible.  I am blessed.

submitted from Virginia

Bountiful Graces

My husband and I have been married for 26 awesome years. We have been blessed with ten children. From the beginning, we have been open to whatever God decided to send us. It wasn’t always easy to accept, at first babies came close together. For me, nursing wasn’t a natural spacer for children. I always tended to wish I had lost a few more pounds before the next pregnancy came! Before we knew it, we had six kids under the age of 8. I have to be honest. When I became pregnant with my seventh and my youngest was only 6 months old, I complained. “How can I do this!” I was overwhelmed. As always, my husband put everything in perspective. “It’s what God wants. Let’s just pray for a healthy baby.”

Our seventh baby changed our lives forever. During labor, my uterus ruptured wide open. My son was delivered fifteen minutes later by C-section. He had been without oxygen for fifteen long minutes and was severely brain injured. He would never swallow, sit up by himself, crawl, talk or walk. I don’t remember very much after I was rushed into surgery. My amazing OB took two long hours to repair my uterus. It had split from top to bottom, bypassing all major arteries. The residents and nurses in the operating room questioned him, “Why are you saving her uterus? She already has seven children!” Knowing my husband and I are devout Catholics he replied, “I know she would want me to.” Because of his heroism, we were blessed with three more miracles. The first few weeks of our son’s life the medical profession did everything possible to convince us to “let our son go. His life will never be worth anything. He’ll be miserable. You’ll be miserable.” Each day I came to the NICU, I was barraged. My husband and I stood firm and continued to defend his beautiful life.

Our son was only with us for four and a half short years. Every day brought immense challenges, yet he was such an incredible blessing for our family. He taught our children to give of themselves and to think of others first. They truly learned the meaning of joyful suffering by watching our son suffer every day with a smile. He taught our whole family the unfathomable depth of God’s divine mercy. We had no alternative but to trust in Our Lord. It became very obvious we were not in charge. Each time we were faced with an overwhelming obstacle, God truly did provide. He taught us how precious each and every life is and to be genuinely thankful for both our crosses and our blessings. Right now he’s in heaven arranging it so we’ll all be together someday. I feel his presence in our family, continually watching over each and every one of us. Bountiful graces have been bestowed upon our family because we were open to life. God really doesn’t ever give you more than you can handle.

Submitted from Virginia