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!

Adoption: A Miracle, Not a Last Option

I was fortunate enough to be raised in a great Catholic family. I was one of 8 children, so we did get the Catholic large family comments. I always knew that I wanted to have a larger than average family, too. I was also very lucky to meet my future husband who decided he wanted to join the Catholic Church.

My husband and I took a class in NFP before we were married, in spite of the offer my husband got from a friend to teach him about contraception for our wedding night (he knew we had abstained from premarital sex). We decided to use NFP in an attempt to postpone pregnancy for a year or two.

When we decided we wanted to start our family, it was exciting at first. After all, I thought, with NFP you can get close to pre-determining your child’s birthday. I had fun thinking about when our baby would be born and I even bought a grandchild birthstone charm for my mom’s collection.

After a year of trying to get pregnant, we were frustrated and depressed. My husband and I tried to work through it together. We both dealt with infertility very differently and it caused much tension in our marriage. My husband was optimistic and happy to keep doing his part to achieve pregnancy. I, on the other hand, dreaded the impending period every month and saw “achieving” pregnancy as a chore.

My married siblings were having children every 1.8 years and my husband and I spent longer than that trying to get pregnant. Friends were having “surprise” pregnancies. We heard all of the talk about IVF. One reason I didn’t tell people that I was trying to get pregnant was because I didn’t want to hear their recommendations about trying IVF or other methods not conducive to God’s plan for life. I just wished I could become a mom. Mother’s Day (which happened to be my birthday one year) was a little depressing. I even thought a miscarriage wouldn’t be so bad, because I would be a mom with a lovely soul in heaven. But I never saw that positive pregnancy test.

We sought infertility help from a prolife doctor and he was wonderful with us. We tried some medication and some natural supplements, but we still did not get pregnant. After exhausting what I saw as all of our viable options for a biological child, I wanted to proceed with adoption. When we got married we had talked about adopting some day, but we figured we would have biological children first. My husband wanted to keep trying to get pregnant, so we compromised and decided to try to achieve pregnancy for 6 more months and if unsuccessful, we would pursue an adoption. I was happy to have an end goal in mind. The monthly periods weren’t as depressing for me because they put us one month closer to an adoption. For those 6 months I became an adoption-information fiend and gathered information from wherever I could: internet, adoption agencies, and information sessions. We did not have any friends, family, or neighbors who had adopted so we had to look elsewhere. Adoption wasn’t a word we heard discussed at church and there wasn’t an adoption support group for Catholic families.

After 6 months of information-gathering and more failed attempts at pregnancy, we embarked on a new journey to adopt. We told close family and friends and they were surprised. I can remember telling my in-laws and the first response was, “Why would you do that?” We simply said, “Because we want to.” We didn’t feel that this was a back-up plan because our original plan hadn’t worked out. We knew this had been God’s plan all along, and we were now embracing it. I suppose He knew we wouldn’t adopt if we had started by having biological children.

We chose to adopt a child from Korea. We filled out the piles of paperwork and met other couples who adopted or were waiting to adopt. Right after our home study was completed we received a picture of our future son. He was beautiful! We told people we interact with regularly about him. People were happy for us but weren’t quite sure how to react. Do you throw a baby shower for a mom who is about to adopt? Do you keep asking if she has heard anything about when the baby comes home? I went to baby showers for pregnant women and expecting fathers at work. I didn’t look like I was expecting and we were hesitant to buy many baby things.

Life got very exciting when we received a surprise phone call that our son was ready to come home two months earlier than expected. A day later we were on an airplane to Korea. Meeting our son for the first time was the recognition of a miracle. Though we didn’t witness the medical miracle of birth, we knew that God had called this child to be in our family.

There wasn’t anyone to meet us at the airport when we arrived home. We didn’t even have a crib set up for him at home. There wasn’t a big baby shower with lots of baby items to doll up our son. But we were a happy family of three now.

We knew we would be back to Korea to do it all over again. And 16 months later we came home from Korea as a happy family of four. We witnessed yet another miracle child by adoption.

A year later we decided that we would pursue adoption again. This time God had a different plan: I was pregnant. Of course we were excited, but we were also disappointed that we had to stop the adoption process (we were not allowed to pursue adoption if I was pregnant). It was a sad call to the adoption agency to halt the process.

When we finally told people after the first trimester, they were elated for us. Friends and family were more excited than when we told them about our two adoptions. People figured we had finally gotten what we wanted – a child of our own.

Being adoptive parents has taught us that our children are not only ours. Our sons also have biological and foster parents who will always be a part of their lives. Ultimately, all children really belong to God, and, like being an adoptive parent, we are just given the privilege to care for them here on earth. We were looking forward to welcoming our third child a different way, but we knew that this child is still not our own.

We had always longed to be parents and we were blessed to experience both miracles of adoption and birth. No one method of becoming parents is better than another and no child is more special than another. In a way we were sad that people were so excited for us this time around. When our son was born we received a family heirloom blanket that was reserved for our “first child.” I was angry that people viewed our newborn as our first child. What about our other two blessings? All of our children were wanted and loved and we didn’t let ignorant comments from others bother us.

Three years later we followed God’s call to adopt our fourth son. Many people think we are crazy. If you know you can make your own kids now, why would you adopt? Why would you choose to have more than three children? We could easily limit the number of children in our family just by not signing piles of paperwork. If you can pick your child, why would you keep picking boys? The truth of the matter is that we don’t have a gender preference for our children and there are many more boys to adopt. We are so happy that we have been recipients of this most precious gift of adoption.

I harbor no resentment for those Catholic families who have children every 2 years. It is wonderful that they are open to the life God gives them. That was just not God’s plan for our family. He helped us to discover the miracle of children in a different way.

So how do we share the wonder of this gift with others? How do we shed light on the beauty of adoption and get it off the “very last option to become parents” list? We wish there had been support from our Church community during our adoption process, so we have started an adoption support group at our church. We need to combat the modern culture of ordering up a pregnancy through IVF, sperm banks, gender selection, and all other ways of controlling the biological process. We have the wonderful option of adoption so let us celebrate it and share with others. I will not claim that adoption is easy or that it is for every couple, but I wish more families would consider it instead of the “guaranteed results” at the fertility centers.

Raised in a “Sunday Catholic” Home

I have been Catholic my whole life but never appreciated the depth and the beauty of my faith until eight years ago.

How is it possible to grow up with the Catholic faith and comfortably overlook certain Church teachings, most notably the one on contraception?  There may be some explanation from being raised in a “Sunday Catholic” home (Mass on Sunday and holy days, no other discussion of God or faith in between) along with being surrounded by many Catholics over the years who did not follow the teachings of the Church.  Perhaps it came partly from my experience over the years within the churches where I lived.  In some regions, the Catholic culture seemed to place the Catechism in the background and avoided controversial topics at the pulpit.  Yet, it would be most grievous to exclude my own contribution of convenient ignorance.  Even though I may not have had thorough teaching on the Church’s moral objection to contraception, I knew the Church was opposed to it and did not seek to understand why.  I simply chose to do what I wanted.

In my twenties, I married a man who was not Catholic.  Although we planned to raise our children in the Catholic faith and regularly attend Sunday Mass, we were neutral on the morality of contraception.  Both of us were completing education and training in our future careers and were far from the thought of having children.  And so, we chose to use contraception in the beginning of our married life.  As God is always the one who pursues us, He began to tug at our hearts and we began to desire having children.  We were blessed with this great gift, but even so, still disregarded the conflict in faith surrounding our use of contraception.

It was not until we began to hear from the pulpit the truths about contraception, that we became unsettled.  At first we were angry and defensive.  However, as we sought more knowledge through programs in our parish, we began to understand the beauty of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.  We decided to live our married life with God as the center and to trust in the authority of His Church and her teachings.  Driven by this, eight years ago we learned, and still continue, the practice of natural family planning (NFP).   This change of heart strengthened our marriage, and we found a greater respect and appreciation for each other.  The sacrifices that are always required of spouses and parents became easier and a general peacefulness settled into our home.

Both of us still have much to learn about our Catholic faith (my husband completed RCIA many years ago), but we believe that our children will take with them what we now know and live. The strength and beauty of our Catholic faith comes from living it in its entirety.  This is what we have discovered and hope for our children.

 

A Challenging Adventure Every Day

Being committed to living out a true authentic Catholic marriage, by being open to life, has been one of the most challenging yet exciting adventures of my life.  Despite or perhaps due to the difficult trials in our marriage and the blessing, yet constant, challenge of having many children, I can honestly say that living a Catholic (or contraceptive-free) marriage has been more satisfying and fulfilling than I ever imagined it could be.  Never easy and still to this day extremely challenging, but always having the gift of a deep sense of peace from God.  This peace doesn’t necessarily come from anything I do but simply in experiencing His blessing and hand in our family as we have continued to abandon our “family planning” to Him.

Our culture convinces us that the Church’s teaching is extremely restrictive and prohibitive in its limits and rules.  It claims the Church is robbing us of our due pleasure, satisfaction and freedom.  When in reality, I have experienced the opposite in Catholic married life.  It has been precisely through the Church’s guidelines that I have experienced a true satisfaction, fulfillment and freedom in my marriage.  As my husband and I have lived this commitment (believe me, it has only been lived with the grace of God), struggling along the way, we have been forced to grow in patience, self-sacrifice and generosity towards one another.  Like a fine wine, this commitment has produced a deep intimacy and satisfaction in our marital relationship.  All the ways the culture claims to satisfy in this area have seemed to fall short of this lasting peace and intimacy I have experienced.

Ultimately, It is the sharing in this community of persons, according to the way that God designed, that has lead me closer to Christ in a way that can only be experienced in marriage.  It is a new, exciting and always challenging adventure every day.

Submitted from Virginia

One of those Big Catholic Families

I don’t know when it was that my family became one of those Big Catholic Families. I only remember realizing that other women might be looking at me the way I looked at those other mothers of Big Catholic Families, and could they see what a fraud I was? I am simply not like those other women, who all seem so prayerful, content, proud of their lives, really devout models of motherhood for all of us, right?

Then I realized, maybe they aren’t like that either. They seem like models of perfected motherhood, but maybe their kids drive them crazy, or maybe they try not to regret that they can’t do more in that career that they loved, or they also are frightened each time they find themselves pregnant again.

Several babies ago I was done, as we hear so many moms say. I was dealing with postpartum depression, a houseful of toddlers, family difficulties, and a vision of the future as years of the same chaos. I thought I made it clear to God that I had done more than my share in His procreation thing. But when He brought the next pregnancies – and as many miscarriages as deliveries – I understood that I might have been done, but God wasn’t, and I let Him take over for me. He got me through those struggles, even turning the struggles into joys, or at least helping me see the joy after the struggle.

My husband and I aren’t the best example of a modern understanding of the Church’s teaching on natural family planning, if you consider NFP a way to prevent pregnancies. But if you consider that the purpose of God’s plan for your body and your marriage is to share in His plan, and that NFP helps in that sharing, it has been a gift for me and my husband. We don’t do very well with sympto-thermal stuff, it’s true, but we’ve been forced to cling to each other through the struggles, finding joy in what we didn’t plan but God gave us anyway.

So I’m not one of those holy mothers of Big Catholic Families, because the mother who is constantly and consistently holy – well, there was only one, and her only child was God. I find comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who actually has to work to reach peace in my life. I’ve had to struggle to accept God’s will and I continue to struggle to become closer to Him, just like every other woman out there. If we as women can look at each other and remember that we each have different challenges and choices, that this isn’t easy for anyone, no matter how easy it looks for some, maybe we can help each other more in our journeys to Christ.

Submitted from Virginia

A Journey of Faith

My story is a journey of faith.  Not  to the point that God knew what was best, but that He knew what was best FOR ME.  There are lots of reasons – legitimate ones in my book – that led me down the path of artificial birth control.  A self-worth almost non-existent, a mom who projected her fear of just about everything onto me, a young marriage that really did not know how to communicate on these kinds of issues, and a broken heart over the loss of 2 pregnancies. But mostly it was my fear of failing that kept me from trusting in God completely, kept me from trusting my husband, myself. So it was about control and power and I was the one in charge.

After a few years of married life on the pill, we decided it was time to start a family.  Five or so years later we still were not pregnant.   We started investigating possible reasons this might not be working.  Around the same time, I began spending time with women who embraced God’s love and plan for marriage and family and I began surrounding myself with families who loved Christ so much, you could see it in everything they did.  This, my friends, began to rub off.  And one day a week or so before we were heading to Dominion Fertility to see what was what, I had a reversion.  I told God “Thy Will Be Done” and meant it for the first time in my life. Turns out I got pregnant three or so days later and never needed to return to the “fertility specialist.;” I had already had my appointment with the best – God Himself!

And so began my journey of faith with NFP.  It was bumpy and not consistent.  I wish I had been more educated on how NFP works, because not having the full instruction, if you will, I believe we missed out on a  lot.  I think having this as a part of our marriage would have truly strengthened us as a couple much earlier in our life together. And I will tell you that once we stopped using artificial birth control our intimate time together became so much more. And though we have come through some fire together stronger for sure, there are times when we struggle with topics or issues that I suspect had we been more open to life and GOD’S plan from the beginning, not ours, we’d find ourselves resolving things differently.

Now, I have three incredible earthly daughters (and three blessed heavenly children) and am here to tell about it.  That is a great gift that I do not take for granted.  I heard a priest say the other day, “You have to have a few cracks here and there so the light can come through and shine, right?”  I truly believe that my brokenness led to God’s light being able to shine right on in.  Now I hope to offer witness to you.

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