Lifestyle

Stay humble, be merciful, and keep family first.

The other day my husband told me that we’re “at that stage in our lives where every decision we make is the biggest decision we’ve ever made.” In our early/mid-twenties, newly married, with a home, changing families and friends, and fresh careers, he’s definitely right.

At the moment, we’re in a pretty stable place. But that could change quickly because, as young adults, we just never know what might come up. He’s waiting for the next step in his career to become available, and I’m settling into new and changing opportunities in my job. We’re trying to maintain friendships that are evolving as our lives are diverted, maintain close family ties while our traditions must change, prepare for the fact that our own little bundles are probably on the not-too-distant horizon, and doing what we can to start our married life the right way.

It still takes just a little perspective to make prioritize everything as they deserve to be.

My grandfather-in-law suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s for almost a decade. His wife met his every need unfailingly. When he lost the ability to hold a conversation, she never stopped telling him how much she loved him. When he lost the ability to speak at all, she spoke for him. When he couldn’t care for himself anymore, she barely blinked. She became not just his wife, but his nurse, his caregiver, and his lifeline. And she didn’t once complain.

Recently, his health took a serious turn for the worse. Bedridden, unable to eat, drink, or move, he was surrounded by his family within days. All three of their children—from opposite corners of the country—rushed to his side. My grandmother-in-law held his hand and kept him comfortable and told him stories.

He’d been suffering a long time. We all knew he was ready to go Home. And though the last five years, at least, had been far more work than she’d ever expected in her marriage, his wife still wept to see him on his way out. She still ached to keep him with her longer—to stay at his bedside.

As she told him stories, she laughed about the hard times they’d had as a young couple. She joked about the time she fled to her mother’s after an argument, convinced she couldn’t forgive him. The rest of us thought that sounded pretty serious, but she couldn’t even remember what the fight had been about. She giggled over the antics that had once driven her crazy. And in the quiet moments, when the somber mood overtook her, she explained how she could barely remember the bad times.

“They just don’t matter,” she said. “All I know now is how good it was.”

Half asleep and painfully exhausted, she alternated between staying by his side and fluttering around the house caring for her children and grandchildren. She rarely stopped smiling. And though you could see the hurt in her teary eyes, she told him it was okay to sleep. To rest. To go to Him. He did and, though she misses him dearly, she’s doing her very best to cope and know that he’s in a better place, waiting for her.

That’s what marriage is about: sharing the burden of strength in life’s darkest moments. Knowing your place as a servant to your spouse—no more and no less.

So, in the long run, career adjustments don’t mean much, do they? Neither do day-to-day arguments, annoying routines, or undone chores. We shouldn’t make them bigger than they are. We can only make the choices that are best for our family. There are bigger things in this life and the next. Stay humble, be merciful, and keep your family first. That’s all any of us can do.

DSCN2113

Does NFP work? (Or, how am I not pregnant?)

In my first post about natural family planning (NFP), I mentioned that almost everyone asks “Does it really work?” when I tell people that my husband and I practice it. Given that it’s been almost a year and a half since the wedding and I’m definitely not pregnant, it seems like a funny question. It sort of answers itself, doesn’t it? But regardless, it’s a valid question, so I’d like to address it.

To level-set, I’m no expert on this. I’m a user of the method and I’m an advocate for it, but I haven’t been trained to teach it to others and I can’t speak beyond the statistics and my own experience. I will say that, for our first year, we worked closely with a professional, certified practitioner to learn the method thoroughly and ensure we were doing it right.

I’d also like to point out that this post briefly mentions some signs of female fertility, so if you’re not interested in reading about that, you might want to stop now. Just a friendly heads up.

However, if you’re interested in learning more or trying NFP for yourself, I’d be more than happy to give you our teacher’s contact information. You can also check out this website to find a list of practitioners in your area, if you’re not around Chicago.

Alright, now, let’s get to the meaty stuff.

There are a number of methods that fall under the NFP umbrella. All of them track a woman’s hormonal cues to identify fertile and infertile days. Those cues include basal body temperature, cervical mucus, cervical position, and other physical readings.

Erik and I use the Creighton model. We chose it for a few reasons:

  • It doesn’t call for a basal body temperature (BBT) reading. BBT must be taken every day if it’s used to track fertility. It’s usually taken in the morning and requires a very consistent sleeping schedule, which I don’t have—so a BBT-dependent method wasn’t really going to work for us.
  • I’d been minimally exposed to it before. A friend in college experienced some feminine health issues, and her doctor helped her use this method to help track her physical cues, identify problems, and improve her treatment. Sounded like a great thing to me.
  • It’s incredibly easy. You just need to track one cue throughout the day, each time you go to the bathroom. Once you get the hang of it, it adds maybe five minutes—in total—from morning to night. No trouble at all.
  • It encourages involvement of both husband and wife, so both can understand their fertility and grow closer as a couple. It also encourages positive interactions—spiritual, physical, intellectual, communicative, and emotional—at every stage. It’s a great resource for working to keep your bond strong in unique ways every single day.
  •  It works. It’s been thoroughly studied and tracked, and it’s proven effective.

One of the great things about NFP is that it’s incredibly inexpensive. After your first year—when training is a good idea, since any kind of family planning only works if you do it right (including hormonal birth control)—all you require is the supplies. In our case, those consist of a paper chart and some stickers. Super easy.

NFP tracks your fertility by helping you understand what cues to look for. Your body knows when it’ll be ready to conceive during each cycle and prepares itself accordingly. For most women, the changes are noticeable and very easy to monitor.

When used perfectly (not a difficult feat, as I mentioned above), studies have shown that NFP is as effective as hormonal birth control, making it even more effective than physical contraceptives. But you don’t need to add artificial hormones to your body, you don’t need to suppress your natural cycles, and you don’t need a barrier between you and your husband.

NFP is not the rhythm method. Just as every other human science has advanced in the last few decades, natural family planning has, too. This isn’t about guessing when you’ll ovulate by counting days and averaging cycles among all women. It’s about following your individual fertility and wellness—as unique to you as your thumbprint. That’s why it’s so effective.

In addition to its efficacy at delaying pregnancy, NFP can also be used to help you conceive. Those same hormonal cues tell you when you’re at your peak during each cycle—so, when you and your husband are ready, you know the best time to try. That’s key to successful conception, because your egg can only be fertilized during a narrow 12-24 hour window of each cycle. That’s it. Knowing where that window is can help greatly increase your chances of conceiving early on.

So, does it work? The answer is yes. It works incredibly well for your family, your fertility, and your health. And it’s worth a try.

Creighton Photo

My husband and I practice NFP. Now you know.

Pop quiz: What’s number one on the list of FAQs encountered by virtually every newlywed couple ever?

“So, are you planning on having kids?”

Bingo. All of us hear it. Even though it can get irksome from time to time, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our families asking about it. For some of them, it’s something akin to “Are we there yet?” They’re excited to hear the pitter-patter of little feet and see a little bundle at the next family gathering. Who isn’t?

Plus, it gives me hope. The fact that building a family of happy, well-loved children is still foundational to marriage—and the logical next step—is encouraging. Because that means family still matters.

Like anyone, Erik and I do our best to answer this question honestly, discreetly, and without awkwardness. Our children, after all, will be neighbors, friends, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren to these people. It takes a village.

But there’s something tricky about our answer that, if I’m honest, I could do a better job of addressing. And when I say “tricky,” I don’t mean “crazy” or “questionable.” I mean “misunderstood” and, often, “looked down upon.”

Natural family planning is hard for me to talk about. That’s partly because it’s hard to make people understand. Frankly, though, it’s also because I always expect to be judged. And the more I think about that, the more it bothers me—because, in my heart of hearts, I know there’s nothing crazy or questionable about it, and I know the people asking won’t react that way.

Typically, I’ll only barely discuss it with immediate family and virtually no one else. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Relative: “So, are you and Erik planning on having kids anytime soon?”

Me: “We definitely plan to have a family, but not right away. For now, we’re happy just enjoying each other as husband and wife.”

Erik and I are not shy about practicing our faith, nor are we shy about our efforts to adhere to the Church’s teachings. Maybe for that reason, I often get a really specific follow-up right about now. It’s typically accompanied by a skeptical look and mild concern.

Relative: “Well, are you doing anything to prevent it?”

And there’s the kicker. This is when I have to decide how deep I’m willing to get into the topic in that moment. Ultimately, I take one of two (very weak) approaches: vagueness or avoidance.

Me: “Yes, we’re being purposeful about it”  or “Yes, but nothing artificial.”

That’s the phrase I always use: “Nothing artificial.” And, usually, the relative will nod quietly and change the subject, or ask me a follow-up or two. (Examples: Does it work? Isn’t that rhythm method way out of style? Doesn’t that mean you can’t have sex?)

I’m a little ashamed to tell you that the conversation has never gotten much farther than that, unless I’m discussing it with someone I know is also practicing NFP, or at least in agreement with it. That’s because I’m afraid of judgment. And that shame is on me—not on the person who’s asking.

I should be excited to tell them how well it’s working for Erik and me, how close it keeps us, and how effectively it has helped us keep our lines of communication open. I should tell them how much better I understand my femininity and my fertility because of it. I should readily bring up all of the statistics I know by heart, all of the evidence, and the science behind the methodology we use. And, above all, I shouldn’t hesitate to bring my catechism into the conversation and talk about the most important question of all: why we do it. But I’m not that brave, and I am nervous.

For me, it’s pretty easy to be married. It’s easy to practice what I believe in private, with the support and close partnership of my husband. But sometimes it’s hard to bring that into the full light of day. And it’s hard not to worry about what other people will think.

So I’ll consider this my “debut” as an NFP user and advocate—even if it’s only in my circle of friends and family. I’ll keep talking about here, and I’ll try to be better in one-on-one conversations, too. Ask me about it. And don’t let me avoid giving you a genuine answer.

nfp-pro family

Giving Faith a Boost in Just 88 Hours per Year

As a kid, I wasn’t very good about going to Mass. I complained, hated waking up “early” on Sunday mornings, and didn’t stay focused during the liturgy. I think a lot of kids are like that, unfortunately. It can be hard to get them involved.

What’s harder, though, is sticking with the routine when we’re older and our parents aren’t there to hold us accountable. Especially in young adulthood, it’s easy to neglect that weekly obligation. You’re tired. You’re working (or playing) hard. You’ve got a project to finish. Your friends aren’t going.

Fortunately, we Catholics are blessed with a special kind of guilt complex. That’s because the Church is always there to hold us accountable, even when our neighbors aren’t. She has our basic obligations cleanly and simply outlined for us: go to Mass on Sundays and holy days; confess your sins at least once yearly; receive the Eucharist at least once yearly; observe a handful of fasting and abstinence days throughout the year; give what you can.

Those obligations aren’t difficult to meet. At their hearts, all of them are about receiving much more than they’re about giving. And when you consider how much time it takes to fulfill them, it’s difficult to justify neglecting them.

Let’s assume each Mass takes an average of 1.5 hours to attend. In 2014, there will be 52 Sundays and 6 holy days of obligation (in the United States). 58 multiplied by 1.5 equals 87.

The Eucharist is part of the Mass, so no need to add extra time there. Fasting and abstinence aren’t about giving up time; they’re small sacrifices to make you think about the gifts God has given you. And giving what you can doesn’t have to mean more time—it means a few coins or bills out of your pocket, a few extra groceries in your cart.

So all that’s left is to add another hour for that annual confession. It probably won’t take nearly that long, but we’ll account for travel and wait times, just in case.

That’s 88 hours of your whole year devoted to God outside of your home—about the time you’d spend working and commuting for just two weeks. That’s it.

You have 8,760 hours to spend in 2014. Is it impossible to commit barely 1% of that time to thanksgiving, communion, and prayer? Does your faith make up less than 1% of your identity? After all, what we do reveals more about us than what we say.

The average American spends about 1,643 hours each year watching TV. A lot of us spend at least that much time on the internet, too. We spend at least 2,000 hours sleeping, and at least 2,000 hours working, too, if we have a full time job. Those aren’t necessarily fun, but we get them done, right?

We’re told to spend about three hours a week exercising our bodies. With work and intellectual activities like reading, we spend another 40+ hours exercising our minds. In the interest of improving ourselves holistically, isn’t exercising our souls worth two hours of our time each week?

For my part, I’m good about meeting those obligations, but I’m not good about committing more than that 1% of my life to my Church. In high school and college, I often went to daily Mass (at least partly thanks to Erik, who is fervent and passionate about his faith in a way I truly admire). I also participated in a handful of faith-based activities, which helped me stay thoughtful and devoted throughout the week.

Today, with a full-time job and a long commute, it’s hard for me to make myself do much more. But there’s a daily Mass offered walking distance from my building downtown. I could go several times a week if I wanted to; I just don’t. But I should, and I’m trying. I’m also hoping this blog will keep more of my mind and my time on God.

It’s also easy to supplement that 1% with learning: consume a few verses of the Bible each day; read the Catechism; follow Catholic blogs; have a conversation with your priest, your family, or your friends. Spend a little time talking to someone about your beliefs. Ask a few more questions (even if Google’s the one finding the answers for you, there are thousands of good resources to be discovered). Follow the Pope on Twitter. Read an article on EWTN. And, of course, there’s prayer.

None of us is perfect. But giving 1% of your time to improve your faith life, join your community, and thank your Father doesn’t require perfection. It takes just an hour or two of your week, an ounce of work, and a little bit of purpose.

1PercentGraphic