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

Have You Ever Been Truly Loved?

I tear up every time my daughter watches Frozen and gets past all the blockbuster songs to the climax of the movie. What gets me is the scene where Olaf the Snowman explains, “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.” Within minutes of this epiphany Anna is willing to sacrifice her life for her ungrateful sister, who in turn finally realizes that perfect love drives out fear. It must be the most profound and Christian 10-minute segment ever found in a Disney princess movie.

Maybe part of the reason this movie chokes me up is because, by that definition, I can’t think of any human being who truly loves me.

I grew up in a broken home and my parents are still a mess. My husband has changed dramatically since we married and no longer even goes to church. My closest friends have moved away and I struggle to build new friendships.

My children do love me, for which I am very grateful. But I long for the self-giving love of adult relationships.

I do not write all this because I am looking for pity, though I admit self-pity is a constant temptation that I fight. I write this to personalize the painful situation that I believe most souls face!

Large swaths of the population have families just as broken and often much more so than mine. Thinking globally, it’s possible that the majority of the 6 billion people in this world probably go through their adult lives never feeling “truly loved” by another.

In a recent confession I was told that God calls some people to heroic sacrifices to make our hearts larger. And at the start of Lent Pope Francis warned us that those who are comfortable often forget about others and breed the “globalization of indifference.” So I am learning to give thanks for these challenges because my heart has more space for God’s love and can be more sensitive to the suffering of other souls.

In Scripture, God often explains himself to us by analogy to family relationships. God our Father, Mary our Mother, Christ our Bridegroom, fellow believers our brothers and sisters. But what happens when our experience of these earthly relationships is one of emotional pain far more than true love? Is it still possible to experience God’s true love?

I write to witness that you can know the infinite wonder of God’s true love in the Eucharist, even without having the experience of being truly loved by any other person. Many times after receiving the Eucharist, I have mystically and ecstatically felt the Real Presence of Christ flood my heart. Fed by the Bread of Angels, I am not empty – I can share this true love with my family and others.

At the prayer vigil before the opening of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, Pope Francis spoke of the importance of sharing Christ’s love in today’s culture:

“[Evening is] the most weighty hour for he who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of broken dreams and plans: how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes was the wine of joy less plenty, therefore, the zest – and the wisdom – of life….

“To search for that which today the Lord asks of His Church, we must lend our ears to the beat of this time and perceive the ‘scent’ of the people today, so as to remain permeated with their joys and hopes, by their sadness and distress, at which time we will know how to propose the good news of the family with credibility…

“Grant us this creative charity which consents to love as Jesus loved.”

Have you ever been truly loved? If you have, challenge yourself to share that love with the hurting souls around you who have not been so blessed, and consider prayerfully how to “propose the good news … with credibility” to those who lack an experience of human love.

If you haven’t ever been truly loved, know that God does truly love you, and He can fill your heart even if nothing in your outward circumstances changes. Go with your empty heart to the Sacraments and let it be filled with the Grace that surpasses all understanding.

smaller ice love

Editor’s Note:  This story was originally posted in March.  It was lost due to some technical difficulties.  I reposted it today, April 8, and have tried to repost as many of the comments as I could find.

Dreaming of my Daughter

I was 24 years old, performing at a dinner theater. I had a graduate degree and a whole life ahead of me with aspirations of becoming an actress. That summer I was free as a bird and full of high hopes and dreams. It was sometime in April that I slipped up and spent the night with an old ex-boyfriend, who was no longer in my life. I had always had irregular periods, so I didn’t give it a second thought that it had been a couple of months since my last period. But something inside me made me go to Planned Parenthood to have a pregnancy test. The result was positive. I drove home from work to look in the yellow pages for “abortion.” Since I was close to 12 weeks along, I had to make a quick decision. I made an appointment for the next week, called my ex-boyfriend, told him he needed to come with me and spend the night to take care of me after the surgery, and pay for half. That was that.

Fast forward. Throughout my twenties, I anxiously wondered if I would ever get married and had a few relationships, but none were Mr. Right. I had become irritable, and I came to see that around June 1st of each year I was especially ornery, and I had developed a pretty bad temper – easily agitated, impatient, and intolerant. Constantly keeping busy to numb a guilt I had suppressed, my life was full. But the busy-ness was a mechanism to survive – suppressing the truth of the damage I had done to myself, my baby, and my relationship with God. I was a strong feminist – it was the 80’s after all, and women had rights.

After meeting and dating for four years an exceptionally kind man who respected my intelligence and independence, I married happily, looking forward to a life filled with blessings. He was not ready to have children and I had another four years of waiting. We ended up blessed with 3 boys, but somewhere along the way I was overcome by a great depression. I had visions of a beautiful little girl coming to me in mind’s eye. I knew I was meant to have a baby girl. She was going to be talented, maybe an actress, a dancer, a singer, or a writer. I yearned for her with excruciating pain. My desire for her to arrive was filled with angst and frustration. Why is God punishing me with only sons? Was I destined to live without the life-giving bond that happens with a mother-daughter relationship? Who would truly understand my needs and care for me in my old age?

I sought out other women in my church, to find solace and intimacy in a life filled with diapers and talk of babies. My faith began to grow and I attended a Cursillo, (a weekend retreat of faith talks, confession, and mass). It was there that the Holy Spirit revealed to me the true source of my pain, an unresolved death – I had killed my baby girl 17 years earlier, and she had been coming to me all these years to reveal her existence. She wanted me to know that I only needed to seek her out, come to know her, and I would be forgiven and peace would finally be granted to me. But first I was to undergo the deepest despair and depression I have ever experienced. I attended a Project Rachel retreat, where forgiveness and healing finally began. It took one full year of psychological and faith-filled counseling, several confessions, and much prayer, before I achieved any ability to reconcile what I had done with my faith.

I had been a victim of a society that had taught me that there are no hard values of right or wrong – our rights are a matter of personal choice, and we were to respect any choice. But what those lies don’t tell you is that when you commit a wrong, your conscience beckons until you ask for forgiveness, and then sometimes the hardest part is forgiving yourself.

It was the Catholic Church that provided me with the only true solace I could ever receive, the merciful and tender love of Christ, who took me right where I was and held me in His arms. Once I had embraced the cross with Him, and understood it would be my testimony to witness for His mercy and glory, I began to see a purpose in my suffering and have hope.

Today, with 3 grown sons and the joys and sufferings of their trials and tribulations, I rely on my faith to get me through each day. It is only by trusting that the Lord, in His infinite mercy, wisdom, and love, will work through my daily labors to provide the grace to see me through each day.

 

***EDITOR’S NOTE: If you or someone you know has been involved with abortion, or is having an unexpected pregnancy, please contact Project Rachel post-abortion healing or Gabriel Project pregnancy help for confidential support and assistance.

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

We Contracepted – I Was Ignorant

I am a cradle Catholic, from a large family in the mid-west.  I grew up going to church on Sundays, CCD classes once a week, and confession once in a blue moon.   We were one of the only big families that I knew of, and it seemed to me that like dinosaurs, big Catholic families had become extinct.  Neither my parents nor my parish were teaching the faith.  At my parish they talked about Jesus and God and love, but not about doctrine.  At home we said grace before meals and that was it.  On some level I knew that our large family had something to do with church doctrine, but I never learned about that doctrine at church or at home and I just never thought about it.

I stopped going to church when I entered college for a couple of reasons.  For one, there was no one there to make me go. The other reason was that I didn’t know the truths that would compel me to go.  The truth is very compelling, but I was ignorant.

I met my husband on campus, he was also a cradle Catholic.  After college we sought to be married in the Catholic church out of respect for tradition, ritual, and a desire to not rock the boat.  I don’t think either of us really understood what we were choosing.  Getting married in a Catholic church was just what you did in our families.  We went through pre-canna counseling during which the priest told us “the church asks that you be open to children to keep you from being selfish.  My married friends tell me that children have a way of doing that…keeping you from being selfish.” That was it.  I perceived this comment as a “oh by the way the rules are that I have to say this” comment.  Had I been better catechized I might have perceived it as an invitation to ask about church doctrine, but I wasn’t and I didn’t.

We contracepted.  Fifteen years into marriage we had 3 wonderful children, but something was wrong.  I was miserable and my husband and I were often fighting.   For Lent I decided that I would start attending my parish mom’s group meeting.  At one of these meetings a couple of moms started talking about NFP.  I was shocked.  By this time we had moved to Virginia and I knew that the church was against contraception but I didn’t know why and certainly didn’t realize that anyone was actually living this teaching.  I was so ignorant.  I really thought that no one could possibly be living this teaching in today’s world so I was floored that these women were living it and talking about it.

The next meeting I went to, a friend of mine was passing out Janet Smith’s CD entitled “Contraception Why Not?”  I was not interested.  I thought that even if the church was teaching it and some people were living it, it would still be impossible for me.   I ended up taking the CD and agreeing to listen to it, just to please my friend.  I thought to myself “there is no way that anything on this CD could change my mind and it would really please my friend if I listened to it, so I’ll do it to please her”.

A funny thing happened that day.  I listened to the CD and completely changed my mind about contraception.  For the first time I heard the church’s teaching and reasoning on contraception and I was blessed with the grace to recognize it as true, good, and beautiful.  I was done contracepting.

The next few years were a little bumpy as I began making significant changes in my life.  My refusal to contracept required my husband’s cooperation and it was a few years before he was on board.  Those years were difficult for me, having embraced the truth but not being able to fully live it yet.  I spent much time in those years praying and offering up my suffering in reparation for the years that I had lived in deliberate ignorance.  I began going to confession frequently and starting learning about my faith in earnest.  What I found is that at first glance church doctrine looks difficult if not impossible to live in today’s secular world.  However, as I began learning what the church taught and then living it, my life and my marriage kept getting better and better.

Living my Catholic faith can be a struggle at times but it is a joyful struggle.  I’d choose this joyful struggle over my previous ignorant misery any day and every day!

Submitted from Virginia