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

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.

Healing and Purifying my Past

I have been married for over 20 years. Before I married, I engaged in premarital sex. I was shy and didn’t know how to talk to guys, so I ended up drinking to get over that and that led to a lot of other troubles.  I mainly went to parties and nightclubs where drinking was common.  I would get drunk and end up going too far.

When I was 20 I had a baby that I placed for adoption. My boyfriend offered to marry me. He was a nice guy and wanted to do the right thing, but I did not think marriage was the answer. I found adoptive parents for my baby through someone that I worked for.  I met with the parents and we seemed to click.  When the baby, a boy, was born, they came to see me and the two families spent the evening together celebrating this new little life.  I was very sure that I had made the correct decision. My heart caught up with my head about 7 months after Eric was born. I mourned for a long time. A few years later I wrote to the adoptive mother through the adoption attorney. I simply wanted to know what Eric was like and if he was okay.  His mother wrote back and sent pictures. We continued to write and exchange pictures.

I was certainly not a great Catholic and I had no idea what the Church really taught about sex. But I did not like the idea of contraception. Outside of marriage, I did “dabble” in it. I was on the Pill for a month or so but I wasn’t comfortable with it and I learned that I had high cholesterol and that put me at risk for heart disease, so I stopped taking it. I also used barrier methods once in a while. My boyfriend(s) did not want a baby, so I went along with them. I wanted  to live a good life, but was easily swayed by the popular opinion of the time. I had a lot of ups and downs with attempting to live a chaste life, but I knew that it was what I should be doing. I longed to be a wife and mother. I didn’t understand how to live as a single woman.

When I met my husband, my life changed. My husband was not Catholic at the time, but he was open to life and wanted children. We got pregnant right away and were delighted. But because each of us had lived unchaste lives before marriage, there were some problems. I had always felt used by men, so that carried over into my marriage.  My husband could see nothing wrong with stripper bars, Playboy or racy movies. He no longer did any of these things, at my urging, but we argued about it anyway from time to time. One time he was expected to go to a bachelor party at a topless bar. It was the old argument that it was “one last time” for the groom,  my husband wasn’t interested but he was willing to do this for his friend. I think he had never been challenged to defend it before and when he tried to explain to me why it was OK, it changed him. HE was married. HE supposedly had said goodbye to those days. Lusting after women is a bad thing, especially in the case of a married man.  Wanting sex for its own pleasure is wrong.  It is not what God intended.  No one, other than me, had said to him that this was wrong.

Then I heard of Theology of the Body. I started reading about it and went to hear speakers explaining it. It made me think about things I learned in high school about contraception and why it was wrong. The Catholic teaching of marital love is so beautiful! It was what I had longed for but hadn’t understood.

My husband converted to the Catholic Church 15 years ago. What a blessing that was! My husband is my rock, steady and sure and once he makes a decision, he sticks with it. A few years back I read the book Every Man’s Battle aloud to my husband while we were driving on vacation. It was healing and tough. We talked about it at great length. I listened to the pain in his heart as he spoke about how men struggle with purity. I started praying in a new way. I asked Jesus to heal my past and my husband’s past. I asked Him to purify our memories. Our arguments about sexual issues ceased. We were on the same page. Slowly, my old memories stopped torturing me. My interest and desire for marital love increased. And it keeps on growing! I am thankful that God is the third person in our marriage.

We have grown so much in our marriage.  Thankfully, we were always open to life and now have 8 children! I know that God has blessed our union and continues to.  Being open to children has helped us be ready for the graces and healing that God sends us. We both would like more children, but time is no longer on our side. Having children, teaching them about the faith, going to daily Mass, reading books like Dressing with Dignity, meeting other Catholic women who were doing the same, all these things led me to a deeper understanding of how the Church views chastity.

We have no regrets about our fertility. We left it to God, trusting that He would send us as many children as He desired. God has blessed us with good health and steady jobs for my husband. We never found reasons to not be open. Many have asked us if we use NFP or assume we do. We don’t. We just trust in God. He has led us on a great adventure so far!

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