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What My High School Sweetheart Taught Me About Love

My husband and I are high school sweethearts. We are thankful every day for the fact that we got to be each other’s first everything. We love that we grew up together and share more than a decade of memories already. And we have said more than once that God put us in each other’s lives early for plenty of good reasons—not least that we would both be terrible at dating.

In fact, sometimes we were terrible at dating—while we were dating each other. We weren’t always smart or responsible. We didn’t always treat each other well. Things were harder than they should’ve been for a while. We were selfish, silly, and ignorant on more than one occasion. But even though some of those memories are painful now, I’m thankful for them, too. Because they taught me all of this.

No one, at any point in life, is perfect. People aren’t unicorns.

Thanks to years of hard work and happy love, my marriage is strong. The soundness of my relationship with my husband is a permanent, comforting fixture in my life. We rarely fight (although we certainly bicker). We understand each other. We know each other so well that there is simply no doubt. Already, we’ve had half our lives to fall in love over and over.

But neither of us is perfect, and we are still very different from one another.

When he eats, it sounds (to me) like a water buffalo chewing mud. When I insist we each get our own meals when we eat out instead of agreeing to share one (even though we’ll never finish both entrees), it makes no sense to him. I can’t stand how he wants to listen to talk radio all the time. He is somewhat disturbed by my affinity for psychologically dramatic TV, movies, and books.

His opinions on the environment sometimes ruffle my feathers. My methods for quiet advocacy of my faith and morals sometimes aggravate him. Our minds work in vastly different ways.

In many ways, we don’t—and never did—hit many of the checkboxes on one another’s “list of desirable qualities in a spouse.” Before we started dating, I pictured myself with an artsy/alternative guy who would never condone hunting and would buy me flowers every day. He probably pictured himself with an athletic academic who loved physics and would talk politics for fun.

But you know what? Lists change. My old list sucked. My new list starts with “His name is Erik” and ends with “He makes me love myself almost as much as he loves me.”

You absolutely must fight fair.

Our first few years together were not easy. We swung on a pendulum between blissfully spending all our time together and fighting like cats and dogs at the slightest missteps. As we learned to handle our own maturing minds, bodies, and personalities, we also had to handle each other’s—and to be forgiving and intentional throughout that period of growth. It was hard. We failed a lot.

Looking back, we know that we wouldn’t tolerate each other’s behavior from back then if we were faced with it right now. We needed to be together as teenagers because only teenagers are stubborn and strong-willed enough to cling to what we wanted as tightly as we did then.

What helped was establishing some ground rules for fighting. Here are a few:

  • Do not yell at each other.
  • Never curse at or insult each other.
  • Always say “I love you” when you say goodbye or goodnight, no matter how you’re feeling.
  • If one person needs time to cool off, they should ask for it respectfully and the other needs to respect it.
  • When you say you’re sorry, mean it—and do something to fix whatever you did wrong.
  • Do not bring up past mistakes or hold grudges.
  • Don’t generalize; it’s not fair or honest.

It’s a long list (and that’s not everything). We don’t always follow them perfectly, but once we started making a real effort, our arguments became fairer, more productive, and less frequent. It kept us together.

The person you love should push you forward (and help you get there).

“Good enough” shouldn’t exist in a healthy relationship. That’s how you get stagnant and stop growing. For me, the goal of marriage is to be comfortable, but never bored—to be at ease with your spouse, so much so that encouraging one another to keep improving and growing is a natural and positive process instead of a stressful one.

My husband pushed me to work harder in school, and my work ethic now is so much better for it. I pushed him to be more forgiving, and he’s a gentler man for that. We push each other to be better parents, better spouses, and better people. We have high standards for ourselves and each other. While we are compassionate in the face of failure, we always expect each other to keep moving. And we are always there to walk the path forward, together.

Two people in a serious relationship should never be hesitant to call out a mistake, voice a concern, or talk about the future. These can be some of the most fruitful conversations you’ll ever have with your significant other or spouse. They should not be shielded by fear or shame, and you should never feel like you need to walk on eggshells around the person you love.

Happiness is made when respect is shared and the self is given.

Bringing all of this together are two core concepts: respect and generosity. For a relationship to be long-lasting, healthy, and positive, both people must give one another an abundance of respect and an abundance of themselves. You need to take on an “us” mindset instead of an “I” mindset. This is important while dating, but it’s essential in marriage.

Because we were teenagers, it was very tricky for my husband and I to focus on giving respect instead of demanding it early in our relationship. We were easily hurt, but we hurt easily, too. When you lose track of how you’re treating someone because you’re waiting for them to make some change or move to “prove” that they deserve your respect, you lose yourself—and you lose them, too. Love needs respect.

In marriage, we are privileged to offer a full gift of self to our spouse. We set aside our selfish ways in favor of living as a couple, ‘til death do us part. Of course, we’re not stainless—I often fail to give my time as selflessly as I could, or to keep my patience, or to accept a change in plans because my husband’s needs have changed. But I try. And letting go of the self is a crucial first step toward a strong and cooperative marriage. Spouses are inspired by one another’s gifts and eager to return that love. It’s a happy cycle.

There are fine lines everywhere.

Finally, I think it’s important for everyone in a relationship to know that love is grey—it isn’t black or white. Each of us requires something special to feel fulfilled in a relationship. Each of us tolerates differences in our own way. And each of us deserves respect and generosity as a matter of course. So, as you’re dating and deciding on whether the person beside you is worth your whole life, it’s important to be honest and demanding about your needs, with yourself and your partner.

Ultimately, fidelity to your beloved, authenticity with yourself, and humility before God will all lead to a happy life and a happy relationship. It can be tricky to balance all three, but that’s okay. That’s the adventure. If we simply live it and are kind along the way (to ourselves and the people at our side), we’ll come out just fine.

6 Rules This Mom Must Follow

When I pictured myself as a mother, I tried to imagine what my voice might sound like when I catch my toddler drawing on the walls. I wondered whether my husband or I would end up as the disciplinarian. I smiled while picturing myself saying “Go ask your father” to a 7-year-old begging for a new toy.

It turns out—at least while it’s still fresh and you’ve got an infant or even a toddler at home—parenting is much more about setting and enforcing rules for yourself than for your baby. Suddenly you’re accountable to a pudgy little person who screeches in your ear at even the slightest mistakes.

So here’s the list of rules I’ve built for myself over the last year and a half. It’s made my mom life much smoother.

1. Don’t be selfish.

This one is absolutely first and most important. It’s also most difficult sometimes.

In this season of life, my family needs my time, energy, and devotion a lot more than I do. I chose these responsibilities. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I love fulfilling them. So when I’m tempted to feel bad for myself because I don’t get to do whatever I want for a whole weekend, or because we can’t just pick up and go out at the drop of a hat, or I can’t have a glass of wine with dinner, I try very hard to catch myself. What is more important: Seeing a movie on opening weekend, or breathing in some already rare cuddles with my growing-too-fast little girl?

Of course, it is critically important to set aside some time for myself each day and each week. But I do those things for family almost as much as myself. Being true to who I am and maintaining my own pastimes makes me a better, more centered wife and mother, after all.

2. Keep things tidy (and that includes yourself).

There are very few things I hate in life quite as much as laundry day. But I know—and I’ve taught myself this lesson many times—that simply ignoring a task doesn’t make it go away. My husband has his tasks, and I have mine—and it’s my responsibility to follow through on them.

Of course, it’s not just cleaning. Everything from keeping an eye on credit card spending to keeping the cars properly maintained requires consistent attention. Same goes for personal care. It’s relatively easy to maintain my health one day at a time; it’s a lot harder to circle back after a week of eating all the wrong things.

The better I am at keeping these simple duties under control, the less stressful they are—and the more time I can devote to more important things.

3. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Especially for new moms and those who stay or work at home, it can be incredibly difficult to let go and watch someone else step in and care for your child. Sixteen months later, this sharing of duties is still difficult for me some days.

For example, my husband took over the bedtime routine not too long ago. He is an amazing father; he’s the best man I could’ve asked for, for my children and myself. But I still itch to tell him exactly how to do things from time to time, despite knowing he’s quite capable of doing them his own way.

I know this is detrimental not just to my husband and other caregivers, but to me and to the baby. When I get this way, I find myself irrationally resentful of all that responsibility—even though I’ve placed it on myself. So when I step back and chastise myself for that self-centered need to see everything done my own way, and admit that I’m fortunate to share the load with some truly wonderful people, I’m a better mom (and probably a much more tolerable wife!).

4. Tell the truth.

Motherhood is overwhelming. Even when I’m not nitpicking every little thing, the sheer number of tasks and the weight of responsibility can be daunting. Add to that the hormonal implications of being shortly postpartum with a newborn (or, later, pregnant with a toddler in tow), the mood swings that come with a lack of sleep, and the frustration of just “trying things out” every time your little one hits a new stage, and there have been many times when I felt I was drowning since my daughter was born.

It’s one thing to follow Rule #3 and admit to yourself that you’ve taken on too much. But it’s quite another to admit it to someone else. That’s what I mean by “telling the truth,” and it’s something I’ve really had to practice. It’s okay to tell my husband I need extra help when he gets home. It’s okay to seek support from a mommy group. And it’s okay to pray for a little more peace when I’ve started running low.

5. Don’t raise your voice.

This isn’t a rule about discipline; it’s one about patience.

Patience is my biggest struggle as a mom. When my daughter was a newborn, the seemingly endless nursing sessions and unpredictable nighttime non-patterns would wear me thin. When she was a little older, the inexplicable crying fits or angry nap strikes would wear me down. And now that she’s a toddler, her repeated tendency to reject every dinner I make for her (and furthermore, throw it all on the floor) wears me out.

For me, being a mom is a constant effort to catch myself before I wreck myself. I have learned to smile when I want to cry. I have learned to redirect when I want to dwell. And I have learned to shut my mouth when I just want to yell. These new habits make for a much happier home life for all of us.

6. Laugh!

Though most of these rules are meant to hold me up when I’m starting to fall down, this last one is for recognizing every beautiful moment that comes with motherhood. It’s not often easy to be a mom, but it’s always an immense blessing—there is no greater joy, when you get right down to it.

So when my daughter does something funny, I laugh. When she reacts with giggles of delight to me doing some terribly embarrassing thing, I do that stupid thing again and again and I laugh right along with her. When I’m tired and want to get frustrated at something irrational she’s done, I laugh instead. And I think every one of those laughs breathes a little more life into us both, and helps solidify these perfect moments into memories.

 

As we all learn, adulthood replaces the simple accountabilities of following your parents’ rules with the complicated necessities of living in the real world.

Pay your bills. Get—and keep—a good job. Feed yourself nutritiously and stay active. Take sole responsibility for your behavior. Be practical. Be frugal. Be self-sufficient. Don’t screw up.

The stakes are high enough when it’s just you; they’re much higher in marriage, and they skyrocket once you become a parent.

For me, this evolution in life has brought about two very important lessons: I literally can’t do this on my own, but I have to hold myself accountable for doing my very best. And that’s what these rules are for.

Christmas Isn’t Over Yet — It Never Is

Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love it because it’s a season, not just a day—and it gives us all an opportunity to remember what’s important in life.

I think we’ve all noticed the way people brighten in December. I think it’s hard to ignore people donating to the Salvation Army outside of the grocery store; how our offices host food drives and local schools; how our churches gather extra donations for local families in need.

On the one hand, it’s true that we should behave this way all year long—we should always be thinking of our neighbors first. On the other hand, we are imperfect. And the fact that a society so proud of its secularism still recognizes this season as a time of authenticity and selflessness is a reassuring one.

I love the nativities everywhere I look. I love the glimmering trees in big bay windows, the lights on gables and doorways, the jingle of bells. I’m not a fan of kitschy Christmas music, but I love the fact that the radio is full of it—and that so many people out there love it.

I love that everyone I love wants to be near me—and our whole family—during the Christmas season. Above all, I love that this is a time when those who feel generally uncompelled to visit the Church are called to join in Her celebration.

Half of the battle is won in Christmas: people know that there is a cause to be championed and a world to be loved. The rest of it is won in each one of us.

To help you fight the battle, I’d like to share this story adapted from our Christmas homily this year.

One morning, Mary went to her husband, Joseph, and told him a story. “I had a strange dream last night,” she said, with a faraway look in her eyes. “There were people all over the world celebrating our son’s birthday. They smiled and laughed and shared stories. They made feasts and shared sweets and enjoyed each other’s company.

“But before that,” she said, “they spent weeks shopping—spending so much money—for trinkets and toys. They worried over bills and travel and legers. They compared presents and goals and boasted long lists of gifts for strangers. They counted values and wrote them down for next time. They decorated big trees and big houses with lavish things.

“On our son’s birthday, Joseph, they all gathered around those trees, in those houses, and they exchanged gifts. They gave each other these presents, big and small, and rejoiced in receiving their own—but not a single one brought gifts for our son. On his birthday, Joseph, our son received nothing—he wasn’t even invited to the party.”

Top Five Reasons Marital Sex is the Only Sex You Need

Pop culture makes casual sex look easy and expected. When you’re watching a romantic comedy, the turning point in a couple’s budding relationship is usually their first sexual encounter. It isn’t them getting to know each other, learning what they have in common, or just plain deciding to “go steady.” It’s getting into bed—as if that proves something.

But sex was designed to be something meaningful and productive between a close, committed husband and wife. It was designed to be at least as much about giving as it is about receiving; as much about pleasing as it is about being pleased; and much more about love than it is about lust.

Instead of recognizing the true beauty of it, we’ve decided, as a society, to focus on its primal side. The thing is, lust and animalism don’t make us human. Love does.

You are more than a hook-up—more than “that girl” or “that guy” from college, the bar, or spring break. You are the girl or the guy your future spouse is looking for. And you deserve real, one-of-a-kind, wouldn’t-trade-it intimacy with that person who will love you more than anything else in the world.

So here are my top five (though, of course, there are many more) reasons for keeping sex in marriage.

5. Security trumps safety every time.

Safety: The condition of being protected from danger or injury.

Security: The state of being free from danger or threat.

One of those is reactive, and the other is proactive. Safety means shielding oneself from danger; security means never encountering danger in the first place.

Marriage is all about security, and marital sex is no different. A man and woman who are fully committed to one another and practice the virtues of true marriage will not put each other in any kind of sexual danger. If both spouses have been faithful all along, STDs become a moot point. Because they share the height of trust, they learn each other’s likes and dislikes, and would never be hurtful. Pregnancy—which can be easily delayed, if they choose—is not a scare in a healthy marriage; it’s a blessing. There will be no heartbreak or loneliness because neither spouse can break the union. There is no fear of judgment.

In short, sex in a healthy, happy marriage is free from risk. It is secure in every way.

4. We all deserve to be someone’s other half—not just one of any number of “partners.”

Neither men nor women are toys to be played with and forgotten, or vessels to be filled and emptied. We are all worthy of finding and clinging to someone who values us as a life partner. You are worth much more than someone else’s pleasure. You are worth devotion, commitment, fidelity, and years and years of happiness.

Even long-term relationships are subject to that “-term.” That’s not permanence or forever. That’s “for now.” Even if it adds up to many years of your life, some part of you—and the people around you—questions when it might end. I don’t mean to say those years aren’t valuable—they can be some of the most meaningful of your life. The eight years my husband and I were together before marriage were wonderful. The difference is that those were years of my life. These are years of our life. Our wedding day started a new forever for us.

If you take marriage seriously and practice it accordingly, there is nothing comparable to the union of husband and wife. Marriage is more than a new chapter: it is a change in your identity. It is a full gift of self and a full reception of your spouse. The years you spent together beforehand were temporary. The years afterward are forever.

3. Your body is a temple. And you both know it.

Sex is pleasurable for a reason. There’s nothing sinful about that. It is meant to be that way. The beautiful thing about marital sex is that you already know the unrelenting love is there; you both give and receive it all the time, day and night. When you know that to be true, sex is natural, easygoing, and unashamed.

There is this awful assumption that sex in marriage must be boring. How sad for those couples, and for the people who think it’s going to be that way and so waste their time sleeping around.

Sharing this part of you with just one person means constant respect and continuous learning. There is infinite opportunity to try new things, understand each other’s preferences, and make it all feel easy. You never need to feel self-conscious or ashamed, and neither does your spouse. There’s nothing dull about that.

2. It isn’t everything.

Some days you want to wear sweats and not wash your hair. Sometimes you put off doing the laundry for too long, and you’ve got nothing left but your ugly underwear. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood. We all have busy, off, stressful, or uncomfortable days.

No matter the reason, a comfortable, loving marriage means neither of you feels obligated to perform, impress, or make yourself available. You have your whole lives to enjoy each other. So when sex isn’t on the menu, a good cuddle, a game, or a meaningful conversation will do the trick, too.

1. It is everything.

Marital sex is a full giving of self, a full receiving of your spouse, a chance to let go, a chance to act, a reason to relax, a reason to excite. It’s not about impressing someone, seeking satisfaction, making a good story for your friends, proving your love, or hoping the object of your desire will return your affection. It isn’t about winning, it’s never a loss, and it’s always shared equally.

There aren’t words to express what two people share through sex. Marriage makes that a wonderful thing; not a risky, confusing, or potentially regrettable one. Marital sex never becomes a wedge that drives you apart, or breaks your heart. It makes your relationship stronger, not weirder, and brings you closer.

Above all, we define marriage as a sacred and sacramental union, and marital sex is the closest we can get to physically understanding what that means.

 

You deserve to be loved and respected in the most meaningful way, because you are worthy of that recognition and dedication. When people say, “If they love you, they’ll wait,” it’s true. They mean it. Because sex isn’t just for fun, it’s not everything, and it won’t get you the respect or attention you deserve on its own.

It is a gift of self that can’t be taken back, and it will be the most precious gift you can give to your future spouse—your soulmate. You are a unique gift all your own, and the recipient of another. Stay true to that. Don’t give yourself up.

Wedding Rings II

Why I don’t use hormonal birth control.

When I tell people I don’t believe in using artificial birth control, they often think I’m one of three things: a hippie, a nut, or an overly religious, old-fashioned conservative.

I can tell you I’m a religious, old-fashioned, and fairly conservative young woman. But I’m not crazy and I’m not into conspiracy theories.

My husband and I chose to save the ultimate union for our wedding night, largely because it’s what we believed was morally, physically, and spiritually right. But we were also scared. Scared of getting caught, scared of getting pregnant, scared of regretting it later. No matter the reason, it was the best decision we could’ve made.

For that reason, I didn’t need to think about birth control until a few years ago. I had irregular cycles and acne as a teenager, but I never wanted to ask for birth control pills to address those things. I didn’t want to give my family the wrong idea, and I didn’t, frankly, want to tempt myself.

As Erik and I matured and began planning our marriage, we did a little more digging into church teachings about family planning. We knew the church taught against artificial birth control, but we didn’t know why. Was it just outdated, like everyone said? Was there an alternative that wasn’t just plain risky? Were we prepared to have a busload of kids?

So we looked into it. When we read that the pill—which seemed like the easiest option—could serve as an abortifacient form of birth control, we decided to do even more research.

I’ll get into why we don’t use physical methods of birth control in another post. First, I want to talk about the pill. I don’t think women know enough about it, simply because we’re never taught enough about the way it works. So I hope this is helpful.

In sex ed, everyone tells you the pill works by tricking your body into thinking it’s already pregnant. In fact, people still tell me that if I ask them how it works today. The thing is, it’s not really that simple. It adds hormones to your body in a similar way that a pregnancy would, sure. But that’s not all it does.

Hormonal birth control—i.e., the pill, as well as most patches, IUDs, injections, and other chemical forms—works in four ways:

  • Suppressing ovulation to prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg during each cycle
  • Altering your cervical mucus so it’s more difficult for sperm to navigate
  • Disrupting the way the cilia in your fallopian tubes move to reduce the chances of a fertilized egg reaching the uterus for implantation
  • Inhibiting the growth of your uterine lining (the endometrium) so any fertilized egg could not attach properly
  • In some cases, the “mini-Pill” (a progesterin-only option) may not prevent ovulation or conception (those first two tactics) at all.

Two of those effects are designed to prevent conception. But the last two prevent implantation—meaning your body hasn’t been tricked, knows you’re not pregnant, and has ovulated as it naturally would. Your cervical mucus wasn’t thick enough to keep sperm from traveling through you. So an egg is fertilized, and pregnancy has begun.

The pill doesn’t give up, though. The third effect prevents the body from moving your fertilized egg to the uterus, where implantation would take place and the embryo would receive the nutrients necessary for development. The fourth effect changes the environment of your uterus and prevents that viable zygote from taking its place in your womb and growing. That zygote—though very tiny—has its own DNA. It is individual of the woman’s body, in that her DNA and her partner’s—two human parents—have joined to create a third entity. Science has proven that conception is the moment a new individual (and, therefore, a pregnancy) begins—not implantation. The DNA is human. Given the simple resources a pregnant mother provides (a warm, safe place, nutrition, and oxygen), that individual will grow into an infant who, in just a few months, can be held and tickled and nursed in its mother’s arms.

Occurring about a week later, implantation is simply the end of the embryo’s journey down the fallopian tubes. It settles into the uterus by attaching to the endometrium, which provides the nutrients it needs to grow and develop. That little individual—with new DNA and a separate makeup from its mother—has already existed for several days. When the lining of the uterus has been altered by the pill, the implantation factors of the lining—key chemicals, as well as special molecules known as integrins—are damaged and unable to perform their job. So imagine that zygote is a plane led by a pilot, and the uterine lining is the airport. If the crew at the airport can’t communicate with the pilot flying the plane, the plane can’t find a safe place to land. And if the plane can’t land, the pilot won’t survive long.

The “morning after pill” works this way, too. It’s just a high dose of the hormones that will alter the endometrium, with the hope that the uterine lining will be compromised before the embryo reaches it. The plain old pill just does it a little slower.

So, anything that works to prevent conception can be called contraceptive. But anything that fails to prevent contraception can’t share the same term. Conception has already happened. At that point, your pill becomes abortifacient. That is the scientific word for anything that stops a pregnancy after conception has already occurred.

That said, even if the birth control industry came out with a pill that didn’t have an abortifacient effect, I still wouldn’t take it. Aside from the health risks (which I’ll also address in another post), I don’t think it empowers women. In fact, it literally—by which I mean physiologically—suppresses the women who take it.

What message are we sending our future daughters when we say that taking the pill—effectively turning off a natural function of our bodies, and altering the way our biology works—is the only way to gain control over our love lives, our families, and our sex lives? That’s the opposite of support. It conceals a woman’s natural, complex biology so she can become an object of pleasure. It’s repression. And I don’t buy it.

Our bodies do amazing things each month. That’s part of our feminine identity—it’s the magic only we can make happen. And it’s not just about the fact that we can carry children. Sadly, some of us can’t. In every case, understanding the way our natural cycles affect our day-to-day wellbeing gives us greater insight into our health and physical selves. It’s about knowing yourself, truly. It’s about taking ownership of the complex, profound woman you were literally made to be. It shouldn’t be about stamping out your nature because you were never taught how to handle it on your own, or that it was worth protecting. We’re capable of so much more than that. All of us.

Respected and Beloved