Saturday, April 15, 2017

Laying Down My Life: Talking to God about NFP

“Imagine a large circle and in the center of it rays of light that spread out to the circumference. The light in the center is God; each of us is a ray. The closer the rays are to the center, the closer the rays are to one another. The closer we live to God, the closer we are bound to our neighbor; the farther we are from God, the farther we are from one another. The more each ray departs from its center, the weaker it becomes; and the closer it gets to the center, the stronger it becomes.” 


In the onset of restlessness, I tried to sleep. "Why? God! Why is this Your will?"
I turned over and stared at the dark form of my husband Joseph, whose back was to me, and watched the rise and fall of his chest and left shoulder.  I knew he wasn't asleep yet. I had hurt him again. He felt rejected, even though he understood that this was how it had to be, and I didn't know how to soothe him.

I closed my eyes, and eventually my mind stopped accusing, begging and lamenting enough for me to drift into a fitful sleep.

It was light when I awoke, and for some reason unbeknownst to me at the time, I was faced with French doors and a balcony. Curious, I stepped out onto a balcony, overlooking an old city. Coffee awaited me, though my husband slept peacefully in white sheets in the hotel room behind me. The light brown heads of four sons peeked out from cots, placed in a row at the foot of our bed.

On the balcony, sat Him. Taking in the city and the surroundings, I shouldn't have been surprised.
This was not the Him I would throw myself down on the ground in awe of, or the Him I would picture in prayer. No, this was the Him I could sit with face to face. His face earnest and inviting and waiting for me to speak. I closed the balcony door so that my family wouldn't hear and wake up.

He motioned for me to sit down and have coffee with Him at the small table.
"What can I do for you?" He asked, his voice familiar and safe.
"Okay, so this is the thing," I said, getting comfortable in the large wicker papasan  that sat near the table, "he's hurting again, and it's not my fault! I just don't want to have another baby, and the moral thing to do is not have sex."

Boom. Weird. I'd just said "sex" to Jesus in my dreams. But this was Jesus my friend and confidant, so he wasn't weirded out by it.

"I didn't mean to make him feel outright rejected, but I'm ovulating right now, so I'm very susceptible to taking things further than I meant to. I thought I was saving him from pain by saying we should just sleep." I paused, as He raised an eyebrow, looking at me like He knew I had more to say.

"I admit, I could be nicer about it, but he KNOWS the teaching of the Church. He gets it. This is why we only have four kids and I'm not pregnant as we speak! I'm just trying to do what's best for us."

I looked away, partly ashamed that I excused my behavior toward Joseph by blaming him, and partly because I hadn't opened up like this so directly to God himself before.

Touching my shoulder and leaning in, motioning that I should look at Him, He said, "What are you afraid of?"

Taken aback, I just looked at Him, my eyes starting to dampen. Afraid they might spill over if I didn't speak, I said,

"Everything."

Pause.

I'm talking about the teaching of the Catholic Church that says that contraception is immoral. I ardently believe and support this teaching, so Joseph and I practice a Natural Family Planning which is tracking my fertility in order to avoid pregnancy, or sometimes, make a baby. This is something Catholic couples are permitted to do, and it means that when we don't feel we can have another baby, we abstain from sex in times of fertility, which is not always easy or as simple as it sounds. This is a post about how it has gone for us in eight years of marriage with four sons born in that time, and how we're coming to terms with what it means for us in the future. 

"Tell me," He said, sitting back and sipping His coffee.

"Well, I'm afraid to get pregnant again. I'm afraid that we won't have enough time or money for another child. I just feel like if I'm already drowning, how could I have another baby?

"Not to mention that I have hemorrhaged more and more blood with each birth, just cementing my fear of birthing another baby and leaving the kids without a mother, and my husband to care for five.

"I'm afraid that my marriage will fail because of this fear. When it's been three months of abstaining, it is so tempting to just contracept. We know that you gave us reason and free will, so it's difficult to think it could be so wrong when we just want to be that close to each other, but can't foresee caring for another child.

"I want to be able to abandon myself to intimacy with my husband, but I can't, because I'm afraid of what will happen if I do. He's mad that I don't trust him on that front, and I suppose, rightfully so.

"He's also mad that I'm wired so that when I'm ovulating - like prime baby-making time - that's the time when I have the most desire. All other times, it's a little more work to build up that same desire. 

"Come to think of it, I'm mad about that too. Why can I only enjoy sex as much as I could possibly enjoy it, if at this point in my life, I'm almost 100% guaranteed a baby? And he's wired to basically be up for sex all the time. We are so frustrated during this time that we fight, and we argue, even though after eight years, we know what's going on!

"We live in a world where nobody understands this. We get that we need not be holding ourselves to the standard of a "sex-all-the-time and birth control" culture, where so many people are happy to tell me exactly what they think about my having four children. I don't care what people in the grocery store think of me, but it's a reflection of the society.

"I know You want greater for us than our world does, Jesus, but this is so hard to navigate.  I know there are worse things than being fertile and making a lot of children. I know we could be better at communicating and loving each other and our kids, but sometimes I feel like it's too much. The rest of my fertile years are looking bleak, Jesus, very bleak."

I looked from Jesus' face to my sleeping husband's form. I looked at the four sleeping heads - the children we made as a result of our love. Miracles, each one of them. They'd come to us as a result of what I saw as three miscalculations of my chart and fertility signs combined with our desire for one another, and one - the last one - a result of a planned and calculated act.

"Do you trust me?" Jesus asked.

I looked down, sadly shaking my head. Then, when I looked into His eyes, which surprisingly, held understanding, I said,

"I really want to."

"Why do you doubt me?"

I thought for a moment, "I guess because things haven't turned out the way we thought they would. It's just been harder than we thought."

"I know. I have been here all along as you wrestle with this difficult task. I am with you. I know you doubt me, but you know, I never break my promises."

I looked at Him and nodded. He was right. I have called on Him, and time and time again and He has answered me. Maybe not in the way that I thought, but all the same, I've gotten assurance that as long as I stick close to Him, He won't fail me.  I don't regret a single day with any of my sons. I don't regret carrying them and feeling their little movements inside my body. I don't regret being a vessel of life for each of them, the pain of childbirth, or the sleep I've lost. We've been the shepherds of four little souls; our own little flock to guide and nourish and keep safe. My life has been full and beautiful, in spite of the hardships and plans gone by the wayside.

"You, my beautiful friend, have come so far. Don't you see how much closer you've come to me because your plans went awry? It pains me to see you suffer, but it edifies me when you ask me for help. You are weary, I can tell, but in this, your selfishness and your pride are being replaced by beauty and love.

"Your marriage is the cross I ask you to take up. You must carry it for one another and with one another. You must look and see how it sanctifies you and makes you holy. And your children, they are your crown. They make you stretch yourselves beyond what you ever imagined, but they make you reach for greatness."

With tears in my eyes I nodded.

You see, I had forgotten that my life is not mine. I had gotten caught up in the lie that says I deserve all the pleasure and ease and comfort that I could possibly obtain. I had forgotten that the purpose of our marriage was to bear fruit, not simply to consume and obtain and take pleasure and seek happiness. I forgot that in the sacrament of matrimony, I not only bound myself to Joseph but that we bound ourselves also to God.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, "I doubted you. I didn't trust you."

Then, with one last look at His face - His face that seemed to understand so much of what I was feeling - I woke up.

This dream I had is a work of fiction, though I really wish that Jesus would talk to this plainly, and let me rant to his face about all of my cares. I wish He would tell me it will be alright, especially when it comes to NFP.  This Good Friday, Joseph and I were encouraged to take this struggle to the cross.

Our reality is that we are a fertile couple, which is such an extraordinary gift, considering that many of our friends have not been so blessed. We see it as a gift, but sometimes when we are considering each month whether we could have another child and let my fertile time slowly pass by, it is truly a cross.

We know some couples who have not practiced NFP at all.  It seems like it works for them, and I suppose I simply fear I can't handle it physically, mentally or emotionally. In truth, practicing NFP, and realizing our power as woman and man to create new lives has made me more open to the possibility of a fifth, sixth, seventh (and beyond) child. It has allowed me to realize that my ways are not God's ways, and that if I allow Him to work in that part of my life and give Him the gift of a new soul, I am doing the most amazing thing I could ever do. I can't think of something more amazing than giving someone life, can you?

As we brought our four children to venerate the cross yesterday on Good Friday, we walked slowly to the front of the church.  I looked at my four sons, and marveled at their uniqueness. One of them simply laid on the floor, tired from the long time he had been sitting restlessly, and I picked him up.
In these troubled times, whenever I pick up one of my children, I think about how far I might be able to run with them, to save them from whatever harm may come to them.

Yesterday I thought about that, but when we got to the foot of the cross - a crucifix laid on a table for us to touch or kiss or simply revere - I thought only one word: "Life." I also saw how much happiness we have in our marriage, in giving our lives to each other.

We can give life in an abundance of ways. We have the power to help and heal and speak to the hurt of the world. I feel helpless with the weight of our world's troubles to protect my children and carry them away from the dangers that await. I often feel so unimportant in my journey as a mother - but this encounter with the cross reminded me of the life-giving role I have in His creation.  So yesterday, I walked away from the cross full of God's promise to give me life as I lay mine at His feet.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Moments to savour and other thoughts

I can't believe it's Friday already... linking with Kelly and all the other takers. Check em'.

ONE:

It's grey and rainy this morning, so I called it a "lazy Friday" and decided to let my boys watch TV. Sometimes he (1.5 soon) still falls asleep on me. I often transfer him to his crib then do all the things (especially the ones that his chubby little fingers aren't needed to help with). Today I just let him lay on my lap and enjoyed sitting for 20 minutes, reading and watching the middle two play. I remember the days with just one baby where I would spend an hour sitting with a baby snoozing and let my legs fall asleep, only to have that sweet baby wake up and see his mommy right there, stretch and get ready to play. I felt so useless then but sometimes had the foresight to think that it won't always be this way. Now I'm feeling the "it won't always be this way" more often. Sometimes it's a good feeling, but sometimes, especially in those really good, wholesome, regular moments, I get a sense of nostalgia. I need to take a mental picture (in this case, a real picture) of this moment and store away in my heart, for when I'm old and these kids are busy raising their own little people.

TWO:

My seven-year-old Patrick looked at me the other day and said, "Mom, I love you, but sometimes my love for you just hides somewhere."

He's really good at articulating his little thoughts. I thought to myself, "I know the feeling." Because sometimes my love hides too. It doesn't go anywhere really, but often it's covered by the frustration of having 4 little people needing all at once, or not having gone to bed early enough to wake up daily before 6 a.m. In the moment, I asked him to come in for a much-needed hug - for both of us, I think.

THREE:

Following my yearly pattern, I tend to get moody and pensive the week before Holy Week (the week before Easter). Since childhood, I've done something for Lent, and funnily enough, I usually fail a little at it. This year it was to try to stop procrastinating the necessary daily tasks. I don't know why I have this inner need for a ton of stress after school when the kids are at their worst, and if I'm being real, so am I. Yet day after day I was letting the daily chores pile up till after school. Maybe I hoped that by some miracle, I'd leave the house and fairies would come and clean while I was gone. I do tend to be a bit of a delusional dreamer. Anyway, it's been a good Lent, let's put it that way. Thinking about dinner before 5 p.m. is a good discipline to take up.

FOUR:

This really shouldn't be buried here in the middle of the takes, because it's pretty important, but it's Joseph's birthday today. The man is 33! When people turn 33, I always think of this meme:
Super special, right? Joseph isn't really a big birthday celebration guy, so when I asked him what he wanted to do for his birthday, he said, "Well, we could go to soup and Stations," which is what we'd normally be doing on a Lent Friday! Womp. Womp. But don't worry folks, cake and beer await. Maybe not together, but they await.

FIVE:

Last week was spring break, which really was a break. I loathe the school run, which is silly because it's really not far, and takes 15 minutes there and back.It's just such an interruption to the rhythm of the day. It was so freeing to just live with the ebb and flow of the four boys and their play, hunger and tiredness. The other blessing is that it was actually nice weather. Bikes were ridden, soccer balls kicked around, many light saber battles and games of whatever it is the boys imagined in the moment happened.

SIX:

This post really resonated with me:

Are you raising a future drug addict?

I've been thinking a lot lately about instilling the values of responsibility for our own actions and natural consequences in my kids. I thought it was a very good read.
But I was also thinking on the title: because I know a few people who were raised very well by what I could see but still ended up being drug addicts. I think we can only strive to have good relationships with our kids, and have ongoing honest conversations with them about the things that could hurt them, and our family.

SEVEN:

We are off to soup and Stations of the Cross at our parish.  Three of the kids are muddy and covered in leaves, so no time for anything but herding them in to change and pile them in the mini-van. 

Have a great weekend peeps! Happy Easter!


Sunday, April 2, 2017

7 Thank yous!

Joining Kelly and the other quick takers. Yay for a quiet Sunday afternoon!

This week while I was prepping my oldest for First Communion, I had one of those moments where surprising wisdom came out of my mouth. Catholics celebrate the Eucharist, which means "thanksgiving" in Greek (I think). As I explained what it is and what it means, I found myself saying that as people who walk with Jesus, we are called to be thankful for all of the gifts we have received. I said, "We can live our day giving thanks to God: Thanks God for my brother, thanks God for his silly laugh, thanks God for food to eat, clothes to wear, a school to go to, and even thanks God for my hurts and hard lessons I learned today."
When the words came out of my mouth, I thought to myself that I should take my own advice. I mean, even if you are an atheist, being thankful is a nicer way to live than not. While I often think to myself when I hear about those less fortunate, "I have been given so much," I don't often stop and think, "Thanks God for a sunny day today." I just simply observe that it is sunny. Living a life of thankfulness could really do so much for my soul, so in that spirit, I want to highlight the things that have, of late, been real blessings in my life, and 7 seems like a good number to begin with:

ONE:

Joseph and I have been married for eight years, and I'm far from sick of him. I'm pretty sure he feels the same about me. We've been in what I would call a stable stage of marriage. We're finally both at a point where our levels of stress aren't super-high and we can simply just be. It's not stagnant, but it's comfortable. It's not like fireworks, but it's certainly not boring. We are working together on being a better mom and dad, but also on spending more quality time together. We're tired parents of four relatively little kids! Our few hours together at night are pretty ordinary, with occasional bouts of "really awesome" thrown in, but I was just thinking on Friday night, as we tucked the last little boy in, that there's nobody else I'd rather be with on a Friday night.


"Every man has to find out that his wife is cross—that is to say, sensitive to the point of madness: for every woman is mad by the masculine standard. But let him find out that she is mad while her madness is more worth considering than anyone else's sanity."
G.K. Chesterton - The Common Man

TWO:

I'm thankful for real friends who will tell me when I'm being a little bit harsh.  I won't go into the nitty-gritty but I was called out for being a tad judgmental. I'm pretty self-aware, so this person wasn't crossing major lines and shocking me, but naturally I was a bit defensive. It's part of my temperament to get caught up in things being a certain way. My friend gets me, and when you reach a stage in friendship where you can give each other the gift of perspective in an honest and open manner, that is a huge gift!

THREE:

I'm really thankful for little kids being made cute. Because my goodness, some days, if they weren't so cute (even the seven-year-old, but don't tell him I said he's cute)...

My two littlest!

 FOUR:

I usually get pretty sad that my babies are growing up. I adore the cute stages, and because up to this point, aside from my own siblings and peers, I've never spent a lot of time with children in the 7-10 age group, I haven't been too sure about it. But now I have a 7-year-old who is surprising me nearly every day with the stuff he learns and comes up with. Today, it was with his ability to use power tools. Joseph showed him how to use a jigsaw and a drill press so that he could trace and make his own shurikens (ninja stars). As I watched him with the jigsaw, my heart skipped a beat as I worried for his eyes and fingers and other extremities, but then I realized he was taught by my husband to keep his fingers away and wear eye and ear protection. It was just one of those moments where I had to let my baby go and do his growing up and be thankful he is learning life skills.

Shurikens!
FIVE:

I've recently realized that I'm a very poor sufferer.  A few weeks ago, I had influenza - not just a tummy bug, the full-on bonafide flu. It was awful! It was a week of awful! My poor family had endure being around me, and I just spent the whole time dragging my body around, trying to survive and take care of people while whining that I just want someone to take care of me. But midway, I realized that if I'm to teach my children to bear suffering well, I must bear it well as an example to them. Offering up my pains and aches and inability to keep up with our life, I learned something about how to grow in that suffering. Bearing suffering well is just one of those things that is hard all around, but I feel like all of us experience some degree of it, and to channel that suffering into purpose and surrender is a huge show of strength and character. So I guess I'm thankful for the flu. I'm more mindful now about how I convey my little sufferings to the kids, and show them that a little hardship can be good for us.

SIX:

For Lent I gave up procrastination. That decision meant way more than I thought it would. It means my home is a lot cleaner because I'm putting things away now vs. later. It means my kids are fed before they're dying of hunger and whining, because I've thought about dinner and have taken things out of the freezer. It means I'm off my phone (my biggest procrastination tool). It means I'm a leeettle less angry at the end of the day because I'm not overwhelmed with all the stuff I didn't do. But it also means I'm realizing how much further I have to go. I would so rather make another cup or coffee and read a book than fold that laundry that is piling up on the counter, and I still do! If I could just get up the motivation to... I don't know... NOT have to run downstairs to the dryer for clean clothes, I could conquer this laundry battle. Baby steps I guess.

SEVEN:

Are you listening to Among the Lilies? I am so thankful for this podcast. I listened to a January episode called, "It's okay to be weak, it's okay to be broken.". I just needed to hear everything in that particular episode. I'm really terrible at asking for help, despite years of hearing that we all need to. I suppose that it just needs to sink in a little more.