Ditching Bikinis

I´m a student at a public college, so modesty is not something I frequently hear talked about in a positive light. Nor did I initially think of it as something good. Something that I fought about with my mom? Yes. Something that I should do as a good Catholic? Sure. But something awesome and to be embraced? Nah, modesty is just an annoying set of rules on how to dress, right?

Over the past six years, my opinion has changed quite a bit on modesty. Don´t get me wrong, I never dressed incredibly scandalously; I usually tried to follow the rules. But now I view modesty as more than just a set of annoying rules. I have come to realize that modesty is a virtue that I want to be striving for. Modesty is something beautiful that can show off my femininity. Modesty can even be stylish!

So how did I come to change my mind? It started with this book that I read at the end of my sophomore year of high school called For Young Women Only. It´s a cute little book, and it´s all about how boys think and how their brains work – fun stuff! And it turned out to be full of information I´d never heard before, important information to know if you have to deal with males on a regular basis, which almost every woman has to do. I learned that boys are incredibly visual and that their temptation to lust after a woman is almost automatic; they have to try extremely hard to control this urge. Well, that was a bit hard to believe, but when I talked to my guy friends about it, they confirmed that it was true. This was something that my friends, really great Christian men, struggled with whenever they came across an immodestly dressed woman. And to think that I had been adding to this temptation!

I remember shortly before I read this book, there was this really nice guy in my high school who came up to me one day (when I was wearing a rather short pair of shorts) and asked me in a kind of frustrated and confused tone of voice “Why do girls always wear such short shorts?” At the time, I didn’t get why this was a problem, but looking back, I understand. He was trying to be a good guy and show women the respect we deserve, and I was unintentionally making it harder for him to do so. I finally understood why modesty was a good thing and short shorts were the first thing to be purged from my wardrobe.

My freshman year of college, I was blessed to find a wonderful group of friends in the Catholic Campus Ministry. The upperclassmen girls quickly became my role models, and they helped me to learn and grow more in the virtue of modesty. From their examples, I saw that it was definitely possible to dress in a way that was both attractive and modest. One girl described her reasons for dressing modestly in a spiritual way that really moved me: Mary carried Jesus in her womb and in doing so, sanctified all wombs. We veil things that are holy and beautiful, like a bride on her wedding day or the Holy Eucharist in the tabernacle. And since our wombs are so beautiful and awesome, we veil them in the way we dress. This particular example was especially helpful when I made the decision to ditch bikinis in favor of classier one piece suits. (And there actually are some really cute “vintage” one pieces out there!)

I dress modestly to respect myself and the men that I know, but more importantly, I dress modestly to respect God and the dignity that He gave me. I don´t claim to have it down 100%. If modesty is a virtue, all we can do is to continuously strive for it, and sinners that we are, we´re going to mess up. Sometimes I want to wear a dress or pair of shorts that are a little too short for me. But that´s why I´m grateful for the community of girls I call my friends and sisters in Christ. We´ve got each others´ backs; we are all striving together towards holiness, and we consider modesty to be a part of that. We pray for each other, advise each other, and charitably call each other out when necessary. We´re all women and we´re all in this together. We can show our love for ourselves, men, and God all through the way we dress! Isn´t that both crazy and wonderful?

Put Out into the Deep

“Duc in altum” are the words Jesus spoke one day after speaking to the crowds from Simon’s boat.  He encouraged the Apostle to “put out into the deep” for a catch (Lk 5:4).   Mine is the story of listening to that small voice that calls you to trust entirely on God and the plans he has for your life.

We were twelve years into our marriage.  We had three beautiful children (all spaced according to our plan).  After the third child was born, we felt the responsible thing to do was to have my husband get a vasectomy.  We had our “perfect” family.   We thought three kids was plenty to handle and to think of having more in this day and age would be crazy.  As Catholics, my husband and I were not well educated on the Church’s teaching regarding contraception.  We both felt it was not a big deal since we had after all been “open to children” in our marriage and were being responsible parents in caring for the gifts God had already blessed us with.

When we relocated from Baltimore, Maryland to Northern Virginia in 2004, our youngest had just turned two.  Our other two kids were 6 and 4 years old.  To say I was busy getting settled into new routines with the kids, the community, and feathering a new nest would be an understatement.  My plate was very full but I was enjoying the time home with my children.   However, despite my “perfect family,” I felt a deep restlessness in my soul.  Contentment within my marriage eluded me and I didn’t know why.   I was becoming a regular on-line reader and poster at the Catholic Answers forums.  I enjoyed and felt drawn to apologetics and learning to defend the Catholic Church’s teachings.   I asked a lot of questions and contributed to many discussions.  Time and time again I was amazed at how the Church had an answer to every objection!   When properly presented, the Church’s teachings proved not only biblical but very reasonable and sound.   As one of my favorite authors, Matthew Kelly, is fond of saying, “There is genius in Catholicism.”  Little did I know that God would use apologetics to open my heart to the beauty of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

For more than a year I continued to read and immerse myself in the teachings of the Church.  During this time my husband and I had the chance to attend a talk at a parish not far from ours.  Scott Hahn was the speaker and I heard for the first time his exegesis of The Lamb’s Supper.  All the pieces of salvation history were beautifully put into place and I walked away having an even greater appreciation for the gift of faith and my love for the Catholic Church — ­­especially the Eucharist.  I also knew that my lack of understanding of the role that the Pope and the Magisterium play in handing down the authoritative teachings of Christ contributed to the way I thought about contraception/sterilization.   I knew that my conscience had not been formed properly growing up and for this I felt very sad.

My sadness practically turned to despair after I completed a six week course that was offered at my parish on Christopher West’s Introduction to the Theology of the Body.  About three weeks into the course, I felt like the Apostle Paul as the scales fell from my eyes and, for the first time in my life, I understood the beauty of the nuptial meaning of the body and how marriage so perfectly mirrors the selfless love of the Holy Trinity.   The total, free, faithful, and fruitful gift of self in marriage embodies the gift of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.   When properly understood in this context it is clear how contraception/sterilization disrupts God’s intended meaning of marriage.   For more on this I highly recommend reading Introduction to the Theology of the Body.

Realizing the mistake/sin of sterilization and how it was most likely affecting the lack of contentment that I was feeling within my marriage, I had a long talk with my husband.  I knew we had to repent of our sin and ask the Lord for forgiveness of our pride, selfishness, and lack of trust in God where our family was concerned (which is what contraception ultimately boils down to).  Fully aware that reversing the vasectomy was NOT required by the Church to be forgiven, I began reading how other couples who had gone through a vasectomy learned NFP and practiced it as though they were fertile.  The purpose of this was to instill a sense of sexual discipline where none had been before.  It also allowed the woman to become aware of the signs her body gives off during her monthly cycle.   Although I could see the merit in this, I felt like the Lord was calling me to “put out into the deep.”   I read a book titled Sterilization Reversal – A Generous Act of Love edited by John L. Long, which detailed the stories of couples who reversed their decision to sterilize their marriages.   As I read their stories I could feel my sense of despair change to a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, my husband would be open to considering having his vasectomy reversed.   I prayed a lot at this time asking only that the Lord’s will be done.  I had this burning desire to restore what never should have been broken in my marriage.  I wanted to restore the fertility that my husband and I had taken for granted and had thrown away.   Knowing now what an integral part of marriage our fertility was designed to be, I longed to live out my vocation according to God’s plan and not my own.

To my glorious surprise, after much discernment and prayer, my husband agreed to have his vasectomy reversed.  We did our homework on the urologists who specialize in vasectomy reversals in this country.  This is a procedure that MUST be done by someone who specializes in this delicate surgery.  It was going to be expensive since our insurance would not cover the cost.  The waiting list was over five months long!  During this time we chose not to tell our extended family what we were planning on doing.  We knew that our decision would be met with bewilderment and that we would be called “crazy” for doing such a thing!   I can still hear my mother’s words ringing in my ears after my third child was born (and suffered terribly with colic): “You’d be crazy to have any more kids.”  Besides, there really was no point in sharing our decision unless of course we ended up becoming pregnant down the road.   Pregnancy wasn’t our goal.  Restoring my husband’s fertility was.

The reversal surgery was scheduled to take place in September of 2006.  It was also a month before I celebrated my 40th birthday.    I participated for the first time in St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary which was beginning in early November at a local parish.   This consecration helped me to better understand the role that Mary plays in dispensing our Lord’s graces as Mediatrix.  I grew very close to our Lady during this time since I felt I couldn’t confide in my own mother for wisdom, comfort, and support with all that was taking place in my marriage.  Mary’s “Fiat” became my daily prayer.  The consecration also allowed me to see how easily influenced I had been by the “trappings of the world” and the falsehoods of the father of lies where my marriage was concerned.  I was so attached to the things that the world offers that I slowly stopped trusting God.

About a month after the vasectomy reversal was complete (no complications, thank God), we renewed our marriage vows with our parish priest.  We felt this was fitting since we were celebrating our 12th year of marriage.  For twelve years we used contraception.  Now we were embarking on a new chapter of our marriage.  We had been reconciled to the Catholic Church.  We had restored my husband’s fertility and we were committed to living out the teachings of the Church.   Saying our vows at this time had so much more meaning for the both of us than on our wedding day.   I sent away for material on Natural Family Planning (NFP).  I read the book and started keeping track of my temperature each day.  To my surprise, it wasn’t as complicated as it seemed.  It was very empowering to understand my body’s cycle and get in tune with the different changes that take place each cycle.  I kept thinking “Why didn’t I learn this stuff BEFORE I got married?”  I wish an NFP class had been mandatory for my husband and me before we got married.  I struggled not so much with the mechanics of NFP but rather with the reasoning for using NFP.  I kept asking myself and my husband the question: “Do we have a just reason to avoid a pregnancy at this time?”  The selfish part of us came up with all the typical excuses why having another child wouldn’t be a good idea, but these reasons quickly dissolved under serious scrutiny.   Our age was an issue (my husband is two years older than I am).  I often thought of all the older women in the bible that God blessed with children despite their “advanced maternal age.”    At the end of the day, it came down to trusting God with this decision.  We surrendered our wills completely to God’s.

I’ve heard it said that you can never out-do God in generosity.  Whatever you give to God, He will multiply it one hundred fold.   Only a few weeks after having our marriage vows renewed, I found out we were expecting our fourth child. As a 40-year-old woman I knew that my pregnancy would be treated as “high risk” for advanced maternal age.   The world tells us that there is a certain age beyond which women should not be having children.  The world provides all the remedies to make sure that we keep those things from happening.  It felt liberating to turn down the volume on what the world was telling us and instead to “let go and let God.”  I often contemplated the Annunciation and Mary’s total trust in God for her life (even if she didn’t fully understand it at the time).   Contemplating Mary’s total surrender to God’s will and her dependency on His love for her helped me to humbly see our own cross of bringing another child into the family in proper perspective.

We gave birth to a healthy baby boy in July of 2007.  He is our constant reminder that nothing is impossible with God.   I believe God calls each one of us to realign our boats, put out into the deep, trust in His love and mercy so that He can show us the true beauty and genius of His eternal truths.

 Submitted from Virginia