Sharing Good News Beyond the Pond and Prayer Needs

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. Mt 13:31-32

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. Mt 13:31-32

Anyone who knows us knows that we like to travel and, doing so, we tell others about Elizabeth Ministry and RECLAiM. Anyone who knows us well knows that we just returned on November 22nd from a month in New Zealand and two weeks in the Sydney-Canberra areas of Australia, doing precisely that, as well as seeing lots of scenic miles and meeting many wonderful people.

And we’re still fighting jet lag!! But was it worth it? Absolutely!

If you’ve been in New Zealand, you know what an amazing country it is. It is beautiful in Springtime with its green hillsides and sheep in October and November, hills and mountains, gorgeous coastlands, seals, glaciers and fiords! (Yes, earthquakes too which missed us, thankfully!) There was more diversity of foods, restaurants, and people than what we’re used to in our area of “The States”.

And yet we were at home there — especially when we attended Mass.

We had made arrangements for a “Relaxing Journeys” tour with a rental car. (They set up the accommodations after we tweaked their itinerary with what we specifically wanted to see and do, or not…). One of the more challenging aspects of our trip was driving on the left side of the road, and with that, finding the turn signal rather than the windshield wiper! Luckily, it was not a big deal after the first few miles!

My husband Michael, detailed person that he is, was able to schedule appointments at the six Catholic diocesan headquarters in New Zealand (four on the North Island and two on the South Island), as well as six more in Australia. In each place we met with diocesan staff members and presented Elizabeth Ministry and RECLAiM Sexual Health information to them. We even met personally with one of the bishops in New Zealand. In Wellington, we attended a daily Mass at the cathedral when all six bishops happened to be there as well (preparing for the NZ Bishops Conference meeting). In most locations where we attended a daily Mass, we were also able to share our information with the parish priests.

There was a great deal of interest in what we had to tell. Most people with whom we spoke were unaware of the support from Elizabeth Ministry that’s available for women who suffer infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. None knew about (but all were interested in) Jeannie Hannemann’s PASTORAL GUIDE: MISCARRIAGE, STILLBIRTH OR NEWBORN LOSS. Very few knew about the online program for the healing of pornography addictions from RECLAiM Sexual Health. In Sydney, Australia, we addressed the concerns of seminarians preparing for pastoral ministry to the many individuals who struggle with habits of pornography and its serious effects on marriage and family life.

Actually, we took with us 50 folders of information about these two ministries, and we brought back not a one! The final folder went to a Catholic RCIA director who sat next to Michael on one of the flights home.

There were several times where the Lord showed us that we were in the right place, like when we were able to fit into a bishop’s schedule at a moment’s notice! After a meeting with several men and women at the diocesan center in Auckland, I noticed that I had a broken blood vessel in my eye. This could have been a big concern (especially in a foreign country) except that one of the women we had just met was an optometrist. How rare is that!

Another time, as we prepared to take the ferry (1600 passengers!) from North Island to South Island, a three-hour crossing, we met a woman who helped us schlep our luggage from car to ship. Come to find out, she was one of the ship’s pursers and later invited us up for a tour of the bridge, the ship’s “brain”. What a treat!

At a daily Mass one morning, we had a priest from China. When we told him about RECLAiM, he was immediately “sold” and looked forward to telling his
confreres back home about the help they would also find available to deal with the scourge of pornography. Thank you, Jesus!!

Anyone who might be fighting a porn habit, who speaks English, and has the use of the internet would benefit from the RECLAiM program. And, unfortunately, many hundreds of thousands of men and women from all over the world do need help to break free of Satan’s chains!

Another time, “being in the right place,” we sat behind a gentleman at Mass whom we recognized as being an American. In our conversation with him, we learned that he’s a high ranking member of the judicial system in Pennsylvania, and was most interested in the RECLAiM program! How good is the Lord!!

Would we go back? If I don’t think about the hours spent on planes…we would go at a moment’s notice! Even better would be to take Jeannie and Bruce Hannemann with us! Anybody have a few dozen shekels (or frequent flyer miles?) to share?

Intercessory Needs

  • for Jeannie and Bruce Hannemann, founders of EM, for her eyesight’s improvement following the stroke she suffered, the ability to continue her writing and speaking opportunities, for Bruce’s health needs and those of their parents and family.
  • for the financial health of EM/RECLAiM, for donors and staff members’ needs.
  • for RECLAiM students, that they may feel God’s grace strengthening them to overcome their addictions
  • for all those who are fighting drug, alcohol or pornography addictions, anorexia, or mental illness, that they might find healing and mercy.
  • for Kendra, age 16, with aggressively spreading bone cancer, and for strength and comfort for her family
  • for married couples using NFP, and for those who are turning away from artificial contraception.
  • for couples who are currently hoping to conceive a child, and for those who have suffered miscarriages.
  • for those couples undergoing difficult pregnancies, those who are new parents with babies, and those challenged by the choices and decisions of their teens, that all might seek help and wisdom from Christian couples around them.
  • for all babies to be celebrated, welcomed, and cherished, regardless of the circumstances of conception or health status.

 

 

photo credit: shiny red type La moutarde noire. via photopin (license)

Dear Mom, Advent Is for YOU, too.

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Advent is here again.  I love that over the years the Advent and Christmas traditions in our home have solidified to something normal and rhythmical.  We don’t do any of them perfectly and oftentimes in the thick of night prayers or lighting the oh-so-tempting candles at the dinner table there is, of course, still arguing and tension amidst the joy and delight.  It’s easy to see only that.  It’s easy to fall into the narrow interior dialogue of why am I doing all this anyway?  But when I can step back and see the anticipation in their eyes or when they remember the stories told them from years past or see the aghast expression when I dare to suggest an omission, I see it.  I see the work being worth it and the sense of history and belonging and ownership of the story taking root in their hearts.

The traditions we have developed took time and effort but I now see the tiny fruits growing and it is so good.  So worth the hours spent planning and fertilizing and (over)thinking all the pieces of our Advent over the years.  I feel this year like I can take a breath and take it in even more.  The practices have become easy (in the sense that anything with four kids can be, ahem, ‘easy’).  There is freedom in tradition.  It allows us the space to keep digging further.  There is a beautiful peace in that.  Of course, I’ll still probably want to add or change things up (because me) but I have that peace that anything else we do tradition-wise would be an extra and that now even more energy can be spent on the point of it all – digging deep into my own heart and preparing it for Him.

I feel the Lord inviting me, though, to remember yet again that the preparations of Advent are not just for them, those entrusted to my care, but it’s also for me.  Me!  All those traditions are meant to speak to my heart, too, drawing it into wonder and awe of the mystery of the Incarnation and challenging me to be ready for His coming again.  It is so very easy as moms to see Advent and Christmas as all about them.  We long to create memories for them and catechize them and let the Lord speak to their hearts.  We plan and schedule and scour Pinterest and blogs to make it all as meaningful and special as we can for them.  But we forget that all of this is meant for us, too.

The Lord has something unique and beautiful to offer each one of us this Advent.  That means you, Mom.

Do you believe that, dear sister?

Or do you surrender to (or perhaps hide in) the belief that our time is past and this work, this season, is all for them now?

We think so very much about the catechizing of our children that perhaps we can forget that Advent is for us, too.  The Lord wants to speak to our hearts and see them prepared just as much as our children’s.

The seasons of the Church are for all of us.  Can you see that the Lord is inviting you to something more, something deeper, and perhaps He has a perfectly selected gift or two just for you?  The thought of that pulls me to my knees in expectation and wonder, drawing me back into that childhood sense of Christmas mystery and anticipation.   Perhaps our children’s hearts will be more profoundly moved at the sight of their mother in prayer with a spirit of joyful expectation and hope herself than by another coloring page or the perfect Advent craft.

We are mothers, yes, but we are still His daughters.

As adults we take on the careful planning of all the gifts and the scheduling of the events and the remembering of what needs to get done and the meticulous timing of all the things necessitating a pages long to-do list, it’s so easy to lose that wonder and mystery, isn’t it?  We forget that He has something for each one of us up His sleeve as well.  Something that is specially picked out just for you.

Dear mom, please don’t forget that this Advent is for you, too.

Please take some time this Advent to let your heart be moved to wonder and prayer.  Remember to do something that will allow you to see and open that gift that is waiting just for you and that He specially picked out just for you.  Don’t leave that gift He is offering dusty and unopened.

Plan your traditions, moderate those candle fights, and check those things off the list but don’t forget that He is calling you to enter in, too.  He has something beautiful and unique for you.  Take some time and intention and yes, effort, this Advent to unwrap that gift and delight in the surprise that is that gift made just for you.

The Gift of November

Today’s post is by Nancy Vande Hey. Nancy is a Catholic homeschooling mother. She and her husband of 21 years, Nathan, have 11 children. Nancy enjoys helping people pursue better physical and spiritual health. She loves to spend time with her family, praying with people, and drinking chai lattes.

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When asked to state their favorite month, not many people respond November -unless it holds special significance for a birthday, anniversary, or another occasion worth remembering. People don’t clamor for the cold winds, bare trees, the dark night encroaching earlier and earlier into our daytime hours, or the impending crush of activity that heralds the onslaught of “The Holidays”. To quote Peter Mulvey, a singer/songwriter from Milwaukee, “Why does November drag its heels while October never seems to last?”

But every day is a gift from God, even the days of November.  What gifts are hidden within this oft’ abused month?  One clear invitation is to reflect on gratitude.  On social media, November brings a flood of daily posts with people sharing why they are thankful each day.  This focus helps orient people toward a true sense of humility and gratitude which is sorely lacking in many of our days.

Another gift in November, imparted by our Mother Church, is the encouragement to also reflect on those who have gone before us.  All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are the liturgical focus at the very beginning of the month.  On All Saints’ Day, we have the opportunity to thank God for the holy men and women who came before us and who inspire us that heaven is an attainable goal. We ask them to pray for us, the Church Militant, those engaged in the battle against evil and striving to spread the light of Christ in our corners of the world.

All Souls’ Day reminds us that our sojourn to heaven might include a period of purification in purgatory.  Often misunderstood or misrepresented, purgatory is a mercy of God, an opportunity to be freed from our attachments to sin and be made whole again.  We pray for our loved ones who have died and who might still be experiencing purgatory, trusting in Jesus’ love and mercy for them.

This time of reflection on those who have gone before us can resurrect pain and sadness we feel over family or friends who have died, especially if our mourning was incomplete.  When I was 17 years old, my maternal grandmother died on Christmas morning while I was an exchange student in New Zealand.  I knew before I left home in August that I would never see her alive again – that was clear.  When I got the news of Grandma’s death, I did cry a little.  But my mourning really began when I returned home the August after her death.  She had lived with my family from the time I was 8 years old.  It was hard to see her recliner was gone, her bed, her dresser, her presence.  Suddenly, I ached to hug her one last time, to touch her sweet soft cheeks, or comb her thinning silver hair.

Grief cannot be ignored.  It demands attention.  A person might be able to push it aside for a time, but every event that causes mourning compounds the old grief if it is not dealt with appropriately.  By now, many people are familiar with the stages of grief: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.

Elizabeth Ministry was founded in part to help families through these stages.  Many families who grieved a miscarried baby, stillborn baby, infant loss, or infertility needed support through these stages of grief.  Elizabeth Ministers meet one on one with families to share their feelings and offer hope.

In addition to death of loved ones, we have other events that require us to accept grief.  A marriage ends, a job evaporates, a move across the state or country requires us to leave our community behind, a child makes hurtful decisions leaving the parents feeling estranged. Too often people hear, “Forgive and forget!”  The mourning process can be cut short.  Then lingering sadness or anger can erupt at seemingly odd times leaving you to wonder, “Where in the world did that come from?”  Prayer can help enlighten a troubled soul as to why they are still easily set off and very often, unresolved grief is part of the problem.

So this November, be thankful.  Be prayerful.  And reflect on any areas of your life left un-mourned.  Allow Jesus to comfort you as you work through the stages of grief.  A healed heart is truly something we can feel grateful for.

I know you are hurting
I see you tied up in knots over there
But these are the days we are given
They are precious we must live them I swear
This could be the last warm day in a cold and ugly November
When it’s all over, what are you going to remember?

(Peter Mulvey, November)

*editor’s note: Not all of Peter Mulvey’s lyrics are appropriate so use caution in listening to his music, especially with children present.  Many of his songs are beautiful and thought-provoking, but use discretion.

photo credit: A.day.in.the.life.of.C Betws-y-Coed, Snowdonia National Park via photopin (license)

The Arrival of Mateo: A Birth Story

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The births of my four children have all been quite different. I’ve birthed in the hospital with an obstetrician attending. I’ve had a homebirth. I’ve birthed at the hospital with a midwife; and now my fourth child would be born in a birth center. Internally, I’ve been in different places too when it came time to give birth. My first was born after I had lost my job when I was eight months pregnant and I had no idea how we would provide for her. My second daughter started out in the wrong position, and so the labor was long and difficult. Not having the level of communication I needed from my care provider, I was fearful and tense. The feelings of fear and the level of pain I experienced made for a traumatic birth experience. With my third, almost four years later, I knew the importance of feeling safe and secure in order to help labor progress quickly. This time, I was also supremely confident in my body’s ability to birth my third daughter without intervention. Although my 40 week due date came and went, I knew she would come at the day and time planned by God and I was at peace. Finally, at 41 weeks, I was in labor. Before her birth and during the labor, I felt like I was in “the zone.” My meditation was, “Let it be done to me according to your word”. In labor, as each contraction came, I allowed it. I would completely relax my whole body, and, though painful, at no point did the contractions become more than I could handle. The labor progressed quickly, and before I knew it, she was born.

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40 weeks pregnant

This time, however, things were different. Mentally, I just didn’t know how to get into that calm confidence that I had experienced with Nadia’s birth. Frankly, I was scared of the pain and I didn’t know how to psychologically be okay with it. Part of me wonders if perhaps my feelings were a lack of trust, a sort of pessimistic thinking that two perfect births would be too good to be true. But part of me thinks, maybe I just knew. Maybe I knew that this birth would be more challenging and that was God’s grace preparing me. As it turned out, this child would be in the wrong position — face up rather than face down, which made for a longer and more painful experience. Funny thing is that now, if I were going to do it all over again tonight, that is, go into labor at midnight and give birth about 2:40 tomorrow afternoon, I would have no fear about it. I would simply take each contraction as it came and be at peace. Even knowing that it would be difficult and painful, it would be fine because now I know what to expect and I know beforehand when would be the end. I guess it’s the unknown that causes me so much vexation. But why? Knowing that it will be quite difficult is fine. Not knowing what to expect, however,  but fearing it might be very difficult, is not fine. So why can’t we just be at peace, and know that whether particular moments of our lives will be easy or difficult God will give us the grace we need when the time comes?

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Leaning on the birthing ball at the birth center, with my husband providing counter pressure on my back.

Went I went into labor on the date my child was born, despite my mental hangups, I was still able to fully relax my body during the contractions. I noticed that fully relaxing into the contractions increased the intensity of the pain a bit. In labor there is a choice. The woman can remain tense and disallow the fullness of the contractions, though doing so will prolong labor. But if she can “let it be done” labor will progress more quickly. Bearing life is not passive. We don’t exactly have to “do,” but we have to allow it. Women are the bearers of life, and if it is to be fully realized, it requires our yes.

Perhaps this is the gift of Femininity, our huge contribution to the world. We teach others to say yes to life. We teach others to let life unfold. My own American culture likes to have everything planned, like a very neatly arranged museum, beautiful but essentially cold and lifeless. Life, however, is not that way. It rarely goes according to plan, literally and figuratively. Pregnancies happen when they weren’t planned. Or maybe we planned for a pregnancy but it doesn’t come. Or maybe it comes but then ends too soon, and loss becomes part of our lives, and somehow in the struggle we have to learn to give our assent to that kind of pain instead.

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In my birthing room.

As I labored, sometime in the middle of the night my in-laws arrived at my house to stay with our sleeping children and my husband and I went to the Birth Center. Shortly after that, my spiritual mother and Elizabeth Ministry founder, Jeannie Hannemann, arrived to help me usher this child into the world as she had done with the last. Jeannie is a trained doula and along with some of her doula tools, she arrived with her spiritual “tools”–her Bible; seven first class relics of the Martyrs of Thailand; Oil of St. Joseph; holy water with Essence of St. Nicholas; gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and most importantly, the Eucharist.

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The spiritual tools brought by my doula.

When she arrived, Jeannie placed the pix holding the Eucharist on the nightstand next to the bed along with a candle. The relics she placed in my hand while praying and rubbing the oils on my forehead and hands.  Although I didn’t have the assurance that labor would be swift, I knew that however it went, Jesus would be with me, not just in His omnipresence, but in the physicality of the Eucharist as well. I knew that when I chose to receive Him, I could. It’s likely that the first birth blessed with the Presence of Jesus was John the Baptist’s. Perhaps Mary, with Jesus in her womb, assisted her cousin in birth before she returned home again. I feel it would be a good thing that, following the example of Mary and Elizabeth, Elizabeth Ministers could receive doula training and bring the Eucharist to Catholic laboring women.

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Looking at the icon that I brought.

Toward morning, after I had been laboring all night, Jeannie prayed aloud the Litany for Laboring Women, which contains the names of every Saint I could find who had given birth. Once again, as at my last birth, I felt surrounded with the presence of the many women who have gone before me, praying for me in that moment before the face of God, women who also had the vocation of motherhood, who experienced childbirth, and who achieved great holiness. This time, I also added a petition to my four miscarried babies. It read, “Isabela, Solanus, Angel, and Rosario, please pray for your sibling who is now being born.”

The last time I had been in labor, I had decided that I wanted to receive the Eucharist moments before I entered transition, that is, the most difficult part of labor when contractions are their strongest — experienced just before the woman can begin pushing. This time I decided I needed the Eucharist even though I wasn’t so close to the end yet. Sitting in a chair, with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, Jeannie prayed and I prayed with her when I could. After a few minutes, she placed the Eucharist in front of my eyes and said, “The body of Christ.” A contraction was beginning and I could not even get “Amen” out, but I opened my mouth and Jeannie placed the Eucharist on my tongue. The contraction mounted. As the Eucharist sat on my tongue it felt like my hips were going to break apart. This is my body broken for you.

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In the breaking.

I bowed my head in my hands and cried. During my pregnancy I had felt so distant from God. I couldn’t pray when I tried to and some days I hadn’t even tried. But now, during this moment when I needed Him the most, He came to me. He was here, being broken for me whether I felt warm and fuzzy or whether I felt distant. Because God is God and He does not change who He is based upon our whims, our successes, or even our failures.

The thing about back labor with a posterior baby is that it’s too painful, more painful than we can handle. Although people say that God will never give us more than we can handle, I don’t think I believe that. Sometimes things in life happen that ARE more than we can handle. People bear the pain of their spouse’s infidelity. Parents have children who die. Couples bear the unbearable pain of infertility. There are millions of children who are abused and trafficked. We can’t handle it, and we break. Maybe that’s the point though. Maybe it’s in that moment, in the breaking, that we come to understand the profundity of Christ’s love for us. “This is my body broken for you.” Broken. For YOU. Jesus, too, was given more than he could bear. That’s why He fell three times. He was broken. In fact, His breaking literally killed him. But even though He could have stopped it, He allowed His own breaking. For you.

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Finally, toward mid-afternoon, my body began to shiver. I wasn’t cold but my body shook just the same. Almost as soon as one double-peaking contraction ended another one began again. I knew I was in transition. I could no longer complete the breathing exercises designed to help me cope. Although the pain was unbearable, there was exactly twice that I was able to give a small yes. I couldn’t completely and thoroughly relax my whole body through the contractions as I had before. Two times, however, I decided that I could relax my body just a little bit. I couldn’t give my full yes, but maybe I could give just a little more than I was. I didn’t know it then, but it would be enough.

Although I had been on my side, I sat up. I wanted to bury my face in my husband’s chest and I wanted his arms surrounding me. He’s always been my safe place and I was done. I couldn’t handle anymore. I whispered to my husband that I couldn’t do this anymore. There was just no end in sight and I didn’t care if I got a C-Section or an epidural, just as long as the pain stopped. He looked at me. Even I, ever the optimist, had given up.

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Giving up.

As I looked at him waiting for his reaction, it happened. My body began to bear down–involuntarily and forcefully bear down. It’s called the fetal ejection reflex and I yelled through a half grunt, “Baby’s coming!!!”  I tried to scramble to the edge of the bed and the others helped me. When that contraction ended, I moved to a kneeling position on the floor. When another contraction came I pushed with all my strength. I decided I didn’t like that position, however, and after that contraction ended, I moved to the birthing tub.

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Mental shift.

In the tub I tried to refocus. I had just given up and had fully embraced the thought of a C-Section even though I knew the recovery would be its own kind of challenge, but as long as it meant being pain-free in the present, I was okay with that. Now, suddenly baby was coming and I needed to do a mental shift. I took a deep breath. “I can do this,” I said aloud. It was nearly over for me. All I had to do was push my baby out. So I pushed, and my husband pushed with all his strength on my back. As I felt the baby getting lower, I knew his head was low in my pelvis. My water broke. I could feel that my baby was in the birth canal, then crowning. I pushed again and his head was out. One more push and I knew I’d be done.

From the moment on the bed when I yelled that the baby was coming, to the moment he was born, was about 15 minutes. At the moment I had given up I didn’t know that I had already had my last unbearable contraction. I didn’t know that I wasn’t hours from the end. I was just mere minutes.

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My son was born very healthy and strong. And oh, is there any relief greater than when your baby is out of your body? Once the umbilical cord was cut, Jeannie held the baby while I got out of the tub and walked to the bed. I was ready to lie down, get skin-to-skin, and nurse my little one. When everything was over, my husband and I took a nap together with our son. When we woke up at 5:30 that evening, we got our things together and went home to join the rest of our family and to introduce our newest addition to his three older sisters. Being born on the feast of Saint Benedict, we named him Mateo Benedicto.

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Home

Before I formed you in the womb I Knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

 

 

Stretch Marks, Fishermen, and Housewives

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I’ve been thinking about the spiritual necessity of perspective lately, and asking God that I may have the right perspective, that is to see things the way God sees them because of course, God is Truth, so to see as God sees is to see things the way they really are. The disciples so often seemed to miss the point, like when they would argue amongst themselves over who was the greatest. I wonder how often we too, completely miss the point of things.

Take, for instance, our view of stretch marks. When we look at them we so often count them among our flaws. Maybe seeing them that way isn’t having the right perspective, however. As Catholics we believe in the resurrection of the body at the end of the world. When this happens we will no longer have a mortal body, or a decomposed body, but a body that has been raised up and glorified. At that time, our glorified bodies will no longer be perishable or experience sickness or aging. Though of course none of us know exactly what our resurrected bodies will look like, we can speculate, based on what we know from the accounts of Christ’s resurrection, what our bodies might be like too. They will, presumably, be perfect.

It’s interesting to think though that after Jesus’ resurrection, He still bore the marks of His Passion. The physical wounds that Jesus bore from giving Himself in love so that we may have life, aren’t flaws. They are part of His perfection. So maybe the marks that many of us bear from giving ourselves to give life to another will be part of our perfected selves too. Though so many of us want to buy creams and lotions to get rid of the signs of giving life, perhaps we could pray that God give us His vision of the marks on our bodies that we bear from giving of ourselves so that others may live. As our own blogger, Mary Hasteline writes so eloquently, “Perhaps at that point, viewed in the Presence and with the eye of God, they won’t be deemed ugly or offensive, disgusting or embarrassing.  Perhaps they will be our glory.  Perhaps they will be a bit like His wounds, an eternal testimony that we chose to love beyond ourselves, to sacrifice our bodies for another.  They will be the scars of a battle won.” I highly recommend heading over to her personal blog and reading her whole moving post on the topic, found here.

I wonder what are other areas where I fail to see things as they really are. Perhaps one area is how I view the work that I do as a stay-at-home mom. Though I believe very much in the value of the so-called menial tasks that parents do, sometimes I wonder if I really believe in its value as much as I say I do, especially as I find myself valuing what I write more than I value cleaning up the kitchen for the second or millionth time that day. In my mind, I find myself taking greater pride in my work as a Natural Family Planning Instructor more than my work of bed-making, little kid bathing, and food preparing. But we Catholics believe that Mary has been crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth, which means that we believe that the Queen of Heaven and Earth was a housewife. Yes, God chose fishermen to be his Apostles and He chose a housewife to be the highest creature in heaven. Perhaps we could pray to God to help us see the value of each task we are given in our day and to recognize their true importance.

In these ways, and in all the ways that we do not see as we ought, please give us right vision, Lord. Amen.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Is 55: 8-9

 

photo credit: yourbestdigs wiping up a spill with paper towel via photopin (license)

Trauma, Healing, and Fertility Awareness

This week we have a guest post from Rebecca Menning. Rebecca is a wife, stay at home mom, natural family planning instructor, and owner of Wellspring Fertility Education (www.wellspringfertility.com). She is enchanted by the beautiful design of human fertility, and loves to share her knowledge with others. Her driving passion, however, is her unwavering belief in the inherent and immeasurable value of every human life. A homeschool graduate, Rebecca has a love of learning and non-traditional education. Her other interests include coffee, tea, classical music, science fiction, natural childbirth, the outdoors, and getting lost in a good book. When she is not spending time with her wonderful family, you can find her working and volunteering at the local domestic violence shelter and crisis pregnancy medical clinic.

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Trauma is something none of us likes to think about, but is tragically common. The road to healing can be long and winding, and as unique as the person walking it. The following is not a prescription for everyone, it is simply my story.

As an abuse survivor, I have had a complicated relationship with my body from an early age. See, besides the hurt, shame, and fear that the abuse caused, it also sent me some pretty clear messages.

Abuse told me:

My body is not my own.
My body exists to be used and abused by others.
My feelings don’t matter.
My body has betrayed me before, and will betray me again.
My body is a tool used to hurt me.
I am voiceless.
Some of these messages were easily identifiable; others are subtle and have taken me years to chip away. They are messages deeply ingrained and seemingly confirmed by repeated experiences. I have lived these lies. They have shaped me. It makes sense that truth must be experienced in a similar way before it begins to make an impact on a wounded heart and psyche.

Engaging in healthy relationships has been one way I’ve experienced healing and truth. Participating in support groups and having an active prayer life are others. But perhaps the most unexpected balm of healing on my journey has been practicing natural family planning.

Sound strange? Stay with me, I’ll explain.

Natural family planning is the practice of avoiding or achieving pregnancy using knowledge of a woman’s cycle. It involves learning to observe and chart a woman’s signs of fertility in order to identify the short window of time in each month when it’s possible for pregnancy to occur. A couple can then use this knowledge to either abstain or come together during the fertile time, depending on their family planning intention. NFP is quite simple, but it’s not always easy. It requires communication, unity, cooperation, trust, self-control, delayed gratification, teamwork, and a desire to honor the other person.

Contrary to abuse, the practice of natural family planning has taught me:

My body is my own, a gift to lovingly give and a means to lovingly receive.
My body exists to honor God, myself and others.
My feelings are of vital importance.
My body is trustworthy.
My body is beautiful, a vessel of life and love, and a part of my being.
I have a voice, and my voice is both heard and respected.

NFP has gently guided me as I learn to appreciate my body. Now when I give of myself, I feel empowered and loving, not used and depleted. I feel connected with my created design. This has spread to areas of my life beyond sexuality, as I learn to speak my heart with confidence, and to tenderly and gladly serve others.

Healing is a journey, and probably one that will never be complete in this lifetime. But I am deeply grateful to have come this far. Other than healthy relationships and deep faith, I think that natural family planning has helped me more than anything else. I share this in hopes that someone will find NFP to be the graceful balm and patient teacher that it has been to me.

photo credit: fellowapeman monarch cocoon via photopin (license)

When Marriage Feels Like Treading Water

This week we have a guest post from Shannon Evans. Shannon believes that we all belong to each other. A wife and mother of three boys through birth and adoption, she enjoys scrubbing sticky furniture, hosing mud off children, and rushing to the ER to have nails extracted from small intestines. Shannon blogs about faith, motherhood, and the beauty of humanity at We,  A Great Parade.

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Marriage came easy to us for years.

There were no first year cliches, no dramatic tearful fights, no significant growing pains at all. Not that we didn’t have arguments, of course we did, but they never rocked the boat too much and were quickly forgotten soon after.

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We went through ministry training, we moved to Indonesia, we celebrated our third anniversary in Bali and our fourth in Sydney, we adopted a son whom we loved but couldn’t for the life of us understand.

You already know that story.  How parenthood broke us down, crushed us under it’s feet, and asked us to build life again out of the fragments of our dry bones.  And we’ve somehow done that, and it’s been beautiful, but there is yet much of the story that you don’t know, too.

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As we began parenting this fascinatingly complex child whose person we were just beginning to learn, Eric was finishing his undergraduate degree and applying to graduate schools (which is all but a requirement in the field of music composition).  By the time he started his first Master’s class, we were overwhelmed, discouraged, guilt-wrecked, and confused by the reality that mainstream parenting practices were failing our son.  (Did you know I was a Child and Family Studies major?  Can you guess how much I thought I knew about parenting?  Hmm Mmm. More.)

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We had been living in a state of stress, both internally and externally, for too long already.  But in the fall of 2012, Eric’s first semester of graduate school, we hit the kind of rock bottom that leaves your bum sore for years.

You don’t need to know the details of our pain any more than we need to know the details of yours for us to all to look at each other with eyebrows raised and say “aah! you too?”.  Every marriage will have that season at least once, I’m sure of it.

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We couldn’t take each other’s pain away and we couldn’t figure out how to heal our own.  We swam in our grief and hurt and shame until our limbs would ache from the dog paddling and we’d just flat out quit for awhile.  Isn’t it weird how sinking can feel so good that you forget it’s going to kill you?

But eventually your lungs start to rage and you have to choose: come up or go down.  And I don’t know how, but there always seemed to be just enough skinny grace to take a deep breath and start kicking again.  Sometimes that’s all you can possibly do, but miraculously, it’s enough.

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Did you know that in the liturgical church calendar the new year starts in December, with Advent?  The new year came for us right on time, ushered in by a child and family trauma therapist whom I am still not convinced is not actually an angelic being.  The spring semester came knocking and found Eric shaking his head.  He would go part time so that we could focus on healing our family.  It sounds seamless and simple but I can assure you we are deeply emotional people and I am shockingly stubborn and though it felt peaceful, it was anything but easy.

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We got more help and we signed up for a group training on parenting kids like Aly, and in doing so we signed up to be reminded that we were never alone.  We licked our wounds and we counted our losses and we started to swim.  Together.

In the two years since the emotional, financial, and practical stress of graduate school has continued to lord itself over us, but still we have healed in community.  The community of our marriage, the community of our family, the community of our friends, the community of therapy.  We could never have stayed afloat otherwise, and we will forever seek to be such a lighthouse for others.

And so it’s with a little bit of pride but a heck of a lot more gratitude that I get to tell you about this:

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There is no one I would rather have almost killed and stayed married to.  No one.

This post was originally published here. It has been reprinted with permission.