Gift Guide for Catholic Couples

There are so many occasions that we buy gifts for couples or just our spouse—birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Christmas, etc. We’re all about buying meaningful gifts that will enrich marriages—whether it’s a fun board game, a book about prayer, or an item that reminds us of our faith…just to name a few.

We wanted to include gifts specifically for couples, or gifts that have options for both men and women. Here is our gift guide!

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Many of these links are affiliate. If you click through and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission. Read our privacy policy for more information.

Clothing and Jewelry

 

Saintsgoals shirts from Annunciation Designs

Devotionals and Journals

Books are a great option too! To see our favorite marriage books, check out our Recommendations page.

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A Spouse Who Prays by Katie Warner

Food and Drink

 

Catholic Curio’s St. Nicholas cookie cutter and how all of the cookies can be decorated!

Multimedia and games

 

 

Wall rosaries from SmallThingsGr8Love

Art and decor

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Tobit marriage quote from Just Love Prints

Catholic Prayer Gifts

 

Prayer space set from Sweet Little Ones, which includes a prayer notepad, also sold separately

Stocking Stuffers or Easter basket fillers

 

Saint pencils from Catholic Curio

Miscellaneous

  • Gift certificate for a marriage retreat
  • Gift card to a restaurant (to be used for a date night!)—you could even pair it with our Date Night Guide
  • My Catholic Keepsake Book from Thy Olive Tree – for couples expecting a baby
  • Cards from Good Portion Co to go with your gift – there is every kind from the sacraments to Christmas to housewarming

We’re giving some items away to one lucky winner!

(11/6/19 Update: Giveaway has ended! Congrats to our winner, Laura!)

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The giveaway includes $70 worth of items:

There are several ways to enter via the Rafflecopter link below. Good luck! (US residents only, please!)

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What other gifts for Catholic couples should we add to the list??

A Husband and Father’s Perspective on Pregnancy and Infant Loss

October is dedicated to pregnancy and infant loss awareness, and the voice of a husband and father on the topic isn’t something we hear very often. We’re pleased to share the story of Tim and Heidi Indahl, who’ve experienced every kind of loss together—miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss. Tim is sharing from his perspective, and he tells their story beautifully, including how their losses have affected their marriage.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission. Read our privacy policy for more information.

 

Our Pregnancy & Infant Loss Journey- A Father’s Perspective

I (Tim) am not really sure where to start sharing about the loss of my children. Maybe I should start at the beginning of my story as a parent, which began with a miscarriage. I remember the excitement of learning Heidi was pregnant—I told everyone! I don’t really remember all the details, but I remember the ultrasound and no heartbeat. There should have been a heartbeat. 

And just like that, joy was turned to sorrow. I was slower to tell people we were expecting after that. With our second miscarriage, we shared the news with close friends…only to find out we’d miscarried again. One of our friends actually told us that we shouldn’t share the news so early and to think about what it did to them. I was so angry, but I didn’t say anything.

Another pregnancy

We didn’t have long to wait before we were expecting again. After making it well into the second trimester, it felt like there was nothing to fear. We learned we were having our first girl, and we (and our families) were excited beyond explanation. This was the first girl in our extended family too. We named her Kenna, and started calling her by name as soon as we knew she was a girl.

When Heidi was almost 30 weeks along, she realized she hadn’t felt Kenna moving. We tried all the things they tell you to try, but nothing helped. So I dropped Heidi off at the hospital and went to find something to do with our two young boys. 

I’m an eternal optimist, and I was hopeful they would find the heartbeat on doppler and we’d go on with our day. But Heidi called and told me they couldn’t find a heartbeat and to come as fast as I could—they were going to get an ultrasound machine. I didn’t have anywhere to drop off our boys, so I drove to the hospital with them. And I prayed. I prayed like I had never prayed in my life before. 

My prayer was frantic, begging God that this was all a mistake, that we would discover that everything was fine. I felt helpless and powerless. I ended up in a small hospital room with Heidi in the labor and delivery center, and the nurses took the boys somewhere.

When they finally did the ultrasound, there was nothing—no movement, no heartbeat, no life. The dam broke, and I cried. We all cried—Heidi, the nurse, our midwife, and me. 

Dreams that would never be

I had to call a lot of people about our weekend plans—some to change plans, some to cancel. I remember one call in particular: I was sitting on my bed, and I had just called and managed to leave a voicemail cancelling our planned trip and explaining why. Heidi had come into the room as I was finishing the message, and I broke down—sobbing violently, not even able to sit up on the bed. It was as if I had made it true by speaking it aloud. Kenna had died, and with her short life flashed the dreams of a father for his daughter—dreams that would never be for her.  

Then we had to go to the hospital for Kenna to be born. I wasn’t sure what to expect…would we be able to weather the challenges of labor, knowing our daughter had already died and that we wouldn’t be taking this baby home from the hospital? 

I remember her being born, cutting the cord, holding her in my arms and crying, holding Heidi as she cradled Kenna in her arms. We only stayed for a few hours, but oh how I wish we had stayed longer, cherishing the moments we could with our precious daughter.  

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More losses

After many years, several moves, and 3 new members of our family, our story of loss continued.  First it was a miscarriage. I honestly thought we were past this happening, but I barely had time to process the miscarriage before we learned we were expecting again! 

The pregnancy seemed to be going along fine, until one night around 18 weeks Heidi woke me up in the middle of the night—she was bleeding. Somehow I just knew that our baby had died, and I dreaded going to the hospital to verify what I already knew. But we had to go, so we packed up all the kids and went to the emergency room. Heidi got settled in a room, and I bounced back and forth between her and the waiting room, where the kids were watching cartoons and playing with toys. 

A little bit of hope

After an ultrasound, we discovered a heartbeat!! There was no amniotic fluid, which was a problem, but the baby was alive! I was so elated, because I was so sure we had already lost the baby, that it didn’t really matter at that point. The baby was alive, and hope had returned to my heart.  

This was the start of a four month journey. The doctors didn’t really know what was wrong or what would happen. There were so many different tests, appointments, and suggestions about what we should do. Initially, they thought bed rest. 

Early on, I remember getting Heidi settled in our bed, and after coming downstairs, my legs collapsed under me and I started crying right there on the floor at the foot of the stairs. I’d been holding it all together, doing whatever was in my power to give Heidi what she needed, to be a support for her. In that moment it all felt like too much, but feeling the emotion gave me strength to stand again—to live this journey, wherever it would go. 

When it was time to deliver our daughter Siena, they brought me back to Heidi in the operating room, and I was so nervous. Despite knowing how grim things looked, I dared to hope—while at the same time knowing Siena might not even be born alive. I hoped she would be so that I could hold my living daughter, even if only for a time—that I could watch as her mom held her for the first time. 

The battle for our daughter’s life

When Siena was born, they quickly showed her to us, and then whisked her off to the team of doctors and nurses who would begin the battle for her life. I engaged in my own internal battle—pulled between my desires to be with Heidi and to follow our daughter. Heidi told me to go. I quickly went to the room where Siena was, just in time to witness Siena’s Baptism and Confirmation by a hospital priest, who means so much to me to this day. 

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Then the doctors brought me to the head of Siena’s bed. For this brief time, I finally felt as if I could do something for my daughter. I had stood by helplessly for the last 19 weeks, knowing that I was powerless to do anything for our daughter. I didn’t know how much time we would have with Siena at that point, but in those moments my love could take physical form, even if it was just holding her tiny beautiful hand, caressing her face, kissing her head—pouring love over her in a way I physically had been unable to before that moment. 

I have never seen a room full of people work in concert to try to save a life like all of those doctors and nurses. In the end, they realized that we couldn’t save her, so Heidi and I decided to spend the remaining moments of her life holding her, together with our family. I carried Siena to our room, where I placed her into her mother’s arms. It may have been the hardest and most grace filled walk of my entire life. And then I held them both.  

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There aren’t really words to describe what I felt: sorrow, joy, love, peace, anguish. Siena was a gift—she reminded me of what is so precious about children, life, and family. She was a gift because her oldest brother got to hold her in his arms—something I deeply regret denying him as a 4-year-old with his sister Kenna. To me, Siena was—is—an embodiment of love, and her life encompasses all of our pregnancy and infant loss experience.

 

How Losses Have Affected Our Marriage

Our pregnancy and infant loss journey has had a huge impact on our marriage, so much so that the story of our relationship can’t really be told without it—particularly in the context of our faith. 

As converts to the Catholic faith, wading through Natural Family Planning has been a big piece of this. One of the things we appreciate about the wisdom of NFP is that we had to have hard conversations right away. Instead of just hopping on the pill (or another form of hormonal contraception) at the moment of loss, or putting off the decision to try again, we had to talk about where each of us was physically, mentally, and emotionally. In a couple of our losses, NFP also gave insight into potential problems so that we could make some adjustments before trying to conceive again. 

During our pregnancy with Siena, our Catholic faith gave us common ground for making decisions and language for communicating with caregivers. While we did face some resistance, a few weeks before her birth a doctor told us that many couples walked this road in his years of practice. Those who made the choice we made (to carry to term) were always in a better place six months later. That definitely held true for us, and once again I think this is because we faced difficult conversations rather than avoided them.  

With loss, comes the gift of grace

We have been given a huge grace in that hindsight makes it easy for us to look back and see how God has used each of our losses to move us from where we were at the time, to a place of restored relationship with God and with each other. 

Our first miscarriage—a perfectly formed 8-week baby and the only miscarriage we were able to see remains—really cemented our prolife beliefs. 

Our second loss solidified our leanings towards NFP (which we had only just begun practicing) and our relationship with each other. 

Our stillborn daughter Kenna opened our eyes to the Blessed Mother (and was probably the biggest impetus for Heidi’s book). 

Our third miscarriage carried the grace of prayer as a couple, discerning what we would do next.

Siena, our sweet daughter who passed away a few hours after birth, gave us a gift of community and bolstered faithful trust in a new way. We learned to just take the next step as we waited, not knowing what the final outcome would be.

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That said, we didn’t always see these gifts for what they were when they were happening! Instead, we have been shown that there is a lot of grace in being willing to do hard things, trusting that there is a way that God is using a situation to move us closer to where He would like us to be. 

Even when we couldn’t see how or why, we learned to just take the next step in faith. Leaning on this truth during pregnancy and infant loss has given us a great deal of trust in other challenging situations. If good can come from suffering the death of a child, then it becomes a lot easier to believe that good can come from other seemingly impossible circumstances!

 

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Tim and Heidi live on an 8-acre homestead in southeastern Minnesota with their seven living children. They have five children who had gone on before them—one to stillbirth, one to infant death, and three to miscarriage. Tim is an education professor and Heidi is a homeschooling and work at home author. She wrote Blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb: Rosary Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss, which is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. Her pregnancy and infant loss website is found here. Follow Heidi on Instagram and Facebook!

 

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7 ways to keep your marriage central (when you have toddlers)

You may remember Emily from her awesome NFP series called Life Abundantly: Real NFP Stories, where we shared our story. Today she’s sharing her ideas about how to keep your marriage a priority when your life is ruled by toddlers! Because we all know how hard it is to focus on your marriage with kids, especially the 3 and under crowd…

 

When I was about 10 years old, my parents got into an argument. I don’t remember what it was about, but for some reason it seemed serious to me—serious enough to make me think that my parents might get divorced. Just the thought alone made the world around me crumble. 

Looking back, the thought that my parents would leave each other is almost laughable.  Throughout their 36 years of marriage, they have always—always—made sure to put their relationship first, and invest the time and effort necessary to keep their marriage strong.

I learned something very important that day though. The greatest gift my parents gave me was indissolubility of their marriage. Because my parents made their marriage central, I knew even from a young age that it was the greatest gift I could give my own children. My parents taught me it would take work, and it would have to be the goal from the beginning.

 

Kids change everything

When my husband and I had our first child, our whole world turned on its head. Everything in our lives revolved around this baby—even our marriage. My husband and I realized early on that we needed to reclaim our marriage, and that at some point our children would learn to revolve around us. 

This is no easy task when our little narcissistic dictators are largely dependent on us for most things. But it’s important to take the time now to build habits that we can adapt as our kids grow up. 

A couple of caveats before we start: I have two children both under the age of 3, and my primary audience is parents with similar aged children. These are simple ideas that can evolve as your kids become more independent and their personalities develop. 

It’s also important to know that these are first and foremost ideas, nothing more. These aren’t fail-safes or guarantees. Try out one or two at a time, and see how it goes. And as you do, avoid using words like “always” and “never” with regard to what you’ll do to make your marriage central. Flexibility and adaptability are indispensable virtues in family life. 

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7 ways to keep your marriage a priority

1. Be the first ones you greet when you get home. 

Growing up, my parents had an interesting rule: when Dad got home, he and Mom had 30 minutes to themselves to recap their day. I loved this rule because it very easily keeps Mom and Dad’s relationship prioritized. 

I quickly realized it’s totally impractical with the under-3 crowd, so I came up with an adapted version. Dad is the first one Mom kisses when he comes in the door. Even if the kids run up to him to welcome him home, Mom still gets first dibs. 

2. Keep dinner time simple and about the two of you. 

Dinner can be a nightmare when your little ones’ taste buds change daily. It can be utterly exhausting to get everything ready and settle in at the table, only to find out that the same food that was gobbled up yesterday is now flung across the room in disgust. 

We adopted two rules to help keep dinner time chaos in check: 

  • Barring any dietary issues (i.e. allergies, weight gain/loss issues, or age restrictions on food), if the kids join you at dinner, they eat what you eat.
  • If you make them something separate or special, they eat before you. And if they don’t eat, that’s ok! Don’t make a big deal if they refuse. They won’t starve themselves, I promise. 

Dinner will ideally evolve into a wonderful time for family conversation and bonding. Break in the kids while they’re young: cook what you and your spouse will enjoy, and let the kids try it as they like. If the kids turn their noses up or if tantrums ensue, don’t sweat it. Just excuse them—to their room if necessary—and proceed with your meal. Bon appetit!

3. Sit next to each other in church.

 There is some wisdom to having your acrobats nestled in between two solid adults. But while it may keep them from being disruptive, it could also be sending a subtle message of who’s the boss. (Hint: it’s not who it should be.) 

When our daughter turned 2, she became an unholy terror in Mass. We made a plan to address the tantrums and communicate what was appropriate behavior while we were in God’s house (I forget how we have to teach kids literally everything). Once she understood the clear and consistent consequences, we implemented sitting next to each other. It shows her not only that Mom and Dad are central, but that the whole reason we’re all there is to re-center on Jesus, not to make our kid sit still. 

4. Talk to each other and be affectionate to each other in front of the kids.

 And I mean have a conversation with each other and let the kids be. No really. Kids can entertain themselves—even a 2-year old can reasonably be expected to play independently for 15-30 minutes, depending on the kid—though it may be a skill that needs to be taught first. Use that time to talk, hug, and give a random kiss or two. These are all important elements of maintaining a healthy marriage, as well as being a teaching opportunity for your kids.

Children need to see that conversations that Mom and Dad have are important, and that healthy communication is the backbone of a marriage (refer back to my anecdote in point 1). And if you think a 2-year old is too young to notice or care, just wait till they shout their first cuss word that they incidentally learned from you. 

5. Make time for date night. 

I know this one is so tough. One of the biggest impediments to going out is finding someone who can stay with your kids. Jen and Logan have a great download for planning date nights, complete with ideas for babysitting swaps, so I’m just going to tell you about a twist I have on that idea. 

While I don’t live near any family, I am blessed to have close friends who also have kids, and here’s what we do: Mom A babysits for Mom B’s kids, BUT Mom A doesn’t arrive till after Mom B’s kids are in bed. This means Mom A has a night to herself (at a different house), and Mom B has a worry-free date with the hubs. Then Mom A and B trade off. Pretty cool, right? It doesn’t cost a thing, and you both win every time. Pro tip: put the kids to bed a little early so you can have some extra time to get ready.

6. Discipline in unity. 

It’s paramount that your kids see you as a united front. If you don’t agree with how your spouse handled a certain situation, DO NOT confront it in the moment or in front of your kids at all. Bring it up once they’ve gone to bed, which little ones mercifully do fairly early. Talk about your child’s behavior, appropriate discipline, and the thought behind how you approach it. 

We typically model our own parenting on how we were parented, but even good things from your childhood may not make sense in your own family. It’s important to understand where you’re each coming from and think through what makes sense for your family. Children need to know that Mom and Dad are in it together, especially when it comes to the behavior that is expected from them. 

7. Have fun together as a family. 

What’s the common element of your favorite childhood memories? Having fun together as a family! We love music and dancing, so most evenings before and/or after dinner, we have a family dance party. It’s also a great way to diffuse the tension of a tantrum or let out some pent up energy on a rainy day. 

Find a few activities that you enjoy as a family and do them regularly. These don’t have to be elaborate! The simpler and more spontaneous, the better. 

 

It’s worth the effort

After all of that, you may still be wondering…why is it so important to make my marriage central right now

You’re teaching your children about marriage through your marriage, and you’re building the foundation of that education right now. Any builder will tell you if the foundation isn’t right, the whole project will be moot. Building a family takes time, patience, perseverance, a ton of humor, and most importantly, love. 

You aren’t going to get it right everyday, and that’s ok. Most building projects take double the time and double the budget, but it’s always worth it. It is never a bad idea to work on keeping your marriage a priority. I can promise your kids will thank you for it. 

 

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Emily is a south Louisiana native living outside DC with her husband Nick and two cherubs. After five years working in the political arena, she left to run her own rat race at home and was amazed at how well working with politicians prepared her for toddlers. Her background is in architecture and she finds the principles of building incredibly well-suited to the job of molding little humans and designing her blog. You can connect with her here: Total W(h)ine Blog | Instagram | Facebook

 

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You can make date night happen: how to overcome obstacles and make the most of every date

We love going on dates. We go through phases where we’re really good about making it happen regularly. But then there are phases where it’s realllllly hard to make a date happen. Schedules are crazy, budget is tight, kids get sick…you know how it goes.

Over the years, we’ve gotten really creative when it comes to date night and have learned so much when it comes to making the most of every date. We also can identify with many of the obstacles that keep couples from going on dates (babysitting and budget!).

So we decided to write a Date Night Guide for Married Couples. It’s not just a bunch of date night ideas, because you can find that anywhere! (Okay, we did include some ideas, but that’s just lagniappe.)

We really wanted to share our thoughts about what we do on every date, how to make date night happen despite all of the obstacles, and to encourage you to keep trying to make dates a priority.

If you’re still not sure if our date night guide is for you, ask yourself these questions… 

Do you desperately want alone time with your spouse but having trouble figuring out how to make it happen? 

Do you feel like whenever you do go on a date, you’re not connecting with each other the way you should?

Do you want to make the most of every date night, whether it happens once a week or once a year?

Do you wonder if it’s even worth the effort to go on dates?

If you answered yes to any of those, this guide is for you. Whether you’re struggling to go on dates or you’re actually pretty consistent with it, there’s something in this guide for everyone!

This 22-page Date Night Guide for Married Couples (in PDF form) will help you do several things: 

    • Identify obstacles to date night
    • Get suggestions on how to overcome those obstacles
    • Make the most of your date night, regardless of how often it happens (this is our favorite part of the guide!)
    • Connect spiritually and emotionally
    • Consider other factors, like each other’s personalities, when it comes to planning dates
    • Brainstorm ways to connect when leaving the house isn’t feasible
    • Include your faith into every date night
    • Much more!

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We are both passionate about the importance of going on dates and know that they have contributed to both the emotional and spiritual growth of our marriage. It is our prayer that this guide does the same for your marriage!

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Our digital products are our main (and usually only) source of income for this ministry. So we appreciate your support! Check out our shop page to see other other products. 

Date night guide

Somewhere Beyond the Sea: My Vocation to Military Marriage

Every marriage is different, and we often want to share about topics we either have limited or no experience with. So that’s when guest posts come in! We’re excited to share this post from Victoria. She writes beautifully about military marriage and how to keep your marriage a priority when you’re far apart from your spouse.

 

Swing-Dancing Navy Man

I’m such a sucker for the old crooners. Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Bing Crosby. I love sifting through records at the thrift store looking for members of the Rat Pack. The songs are so powerful and soulful, and the simple lyrics make for energetic sing-along sessions with my hairbrush as a microphone.

But I’m especially a sucker for dancing. I’m obsessed. Swing dancing in particular. Twisting and turning and flinging each other around – it’s a controlled manic chaos, and when you get it right, to just the right song, it’s magic.

My obsession is to the point that when I started dating a cadet at the military academy next door to my liberal arts college, I told him that if he wasn’t up for learning how to swing dance, we probably weren’t going to make it very far.

Needless to say, he was a quick study. That may be why, six years later, I’m married to a swing-dancing Navy man.

 

Somewhere Beyond the Sea

As I sat down to write this, I put my Bobby Darin vinyl on the record player. His “Beyond the Sea” is a favorite of mine; even before I married a Navy man I would study while it was playing through my ear buds.

Somewhere beyond the sea

Somewhere waitin’ for me

My lover stands on golden sands

And watches the ships that go sailin’

It’s beautiful to consider a man traveling around the world, and the lover sitting on the shore waiting for him to come home. The loyal wife standing on the sands, waiting and longing. And I’m here to tell you – there are things this song captures perfectly about a man who goes away “sailin’” (in our case it sounds less pleasant – deployment). I do wait for him to come home. My heart longs for him to be back with me. I stand firm in my loyalty to him, even when he’s away. But standing around doing nothing on golden sands? Let me tell you. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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The Work of Marriage

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good beach day. A very human, very lazy part of me would love to just hang out on golden sands while my husband is underway. Watch the boats go sailing by…with a book in one hand and a margarita in the other…man, that sounds nice.

But my vocation to marriage doesn’t disappear when my husband’s gone. If anything, that’s when the work of the vocation gets really intense.

If you’ve found your way to this blog post, I probably don’t need to be the person who breaks the news to you that marriage is hard work. If you didn’t know, well, belated spoiler alert. Sorry. What I really want to emphasize is that, regardless of who you are or what your circumstances are, marriage is hard work. It’d be neat if it were all just swing dancing and beach days, but it’s not.

When we accept our vocation to marriage, we are accepting God’s call to sacrifice and commitment. The military life brings with it a unique set of sacrifices and challenges to that commitment (I’m looking at you, deployments and constant moving). It requires specific forms of intentionality and hard work. 

 

Tips for when Your Spouse is “Beyond the Sea”

Here are some things I’ve learned and picked up from our experience with the military. Some of these are from my direct experience, some of them are advice from others. We have been blessed in the sense that my husband has not yet done a long underway. He has done several periods of a few months away, along with many overnight and weekend long shifts, and that’s where my experience comes from. I also have lots of dear friends and family in the military who have shared their first-hand experience of deployments.

 

Your Vocation Comes First

This is something we say but is sometimes hard to live. The world tugs at us for our attention, but we need to let our vocation stand at the center. Since my husband is gone so often, I need to prioritize him in the time that he is available. 

This can mean dropping everything when he’s finally free for a phone call. It means canceling plans when he comes home a day early. For me specifically, it meant switching jobs so that my hours weren’t occupying that precious time when he was home from work.

 

Pray, Pray, Pray

Prayer is my strength!  When he’s gone, I lean on God so heavily through prayer. When I’m missing him or feeling lonely, I cry out for God’s grace. Deployments and underways are powerful reminders that the strength of my marriage comes from God and my relationship with Him through prayer.

Also, deployments are a reminder of how important prayer is to strengthen a vocation. Sometimes there’s absolutely nothing I can do for my spouse but to pray for him. I just want to love him, to serve him, to sacrifice for him, but there’s nothing I can do. In those moments, I pray.

 

Humility is Key

Marriage is tough. Deployments and underways are tough. I don’t always get it all right all of the time. My pride wants me to be able to be perfect all the time. Out of pride, I feel like I should be able to shoulder the burden of keeping things together at home while not falling apart because I miss him too much. But I just can’t keep that up all the time.

The Spirit teaches me in these moments the crucial importance of humility. I will fail, but that’s because I’m human (surprise surprise). I need God, and I long for my husband in my life. That’s how I was designed. In the moments when I’m less-than-perfect, I ask God for the gift of patience as I struggle through that time.

 

Plan Ahead

Intentionality and mindfulness is the key to a good period of separation. I’ve heard so many good ideas for this: writing letters to each other to be opened when you’re apart, leaving secret notes to be found, leaving gifts behind to be opened at certain dates, having plans for when things get overwhelming, creating a support network, praying together beforehand.

A wonderful spiritual mother of mine recommended that both spouses keep a loose schedule. For example: wake up, eat meals, and go to bed around a certain time. Say prayer at a specific time of day, like the Divine Mercy at three o’clock. If you do this, then even when you’re far apart, you can look at the clock and know what your spouse is doing. With prior planning, you can maintain connection and involvement in your spouse’s life even when you’re apart.

 

Be Patient When He/She Comes Back

This may be shocking, but sometimes the hardest part is when he comes back. Sure, when they’re first getting off the ship, there’s excitement and giddiness and joy. But when the initial happiness wears off, it can be really trying. When he was away, I established my own pace of life, living on my own. My own habits, my own routines, my own decisions.

However, with him back, I need to accommodate his life into my life all over again. Truly, it’s the bread and butter of marriage, learning how to love each other in those small, trying moments. It takes a little bit of time to adjust back to that mindset after he gets back from a few months away – and probably a whole lifetime to master.

 

“I know beyond a doubt”

As I’m re-listening to “Beyond the Sea,” I’m really struck by the following lines:

I know beyond a doubt

My heart will lead me there soon

We’ll meet beyond the shore

We’ll kiss just as before

I love the certainty expressed in these lines. Although deployments and underways are difficult, our marriage is rooted in faith and reliance on God’s grace. We know beyond a doubt that God calls us to live out this marriage. He gives us the grace to keep going in good times and bad. 

Our marriage is rooted in certainty and is the foundation of our joy. And that makes it all the sweeter when we “kiss just as before.”

 

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Victoria is a Navy wife who left her beloved Shenandoah Valley for wherever her husband’s chain of command might send him (currently beautiful, hot South Carolina!). Between the Navy and her newborn baby girl, this organized, plan-oriented girl is working to discover joy when the Holy Spirit throws her plans out the window. She’s an Ink Slinger for CatholicSistas, and also writes for the blog Housewife // Savagelife, which presents the eye-opening dialogue between herself and a prison inmate. You can read it here or on Facebook and Instagram: @housewifesavagelife.

When you’re resentful about NFP

Let me start off by saying that I am in no way minimizing anyone’s frustration with Natural Family Planning (NFP). I only hope to provide some insights and encouragement during those times of struggle. We’ve been there, so we get it!

Earlier this week, I wrote about 3 difficult truths regarding NFP and reasons why it’s still worth it. And I think a good follow-up to that is what to do when we’re becoming resentful about NFP. Because let’s be real, sometimes it’s really, really hard. I have some thoughts…

Sex is not everything in a marriage. 

It’s important, absolutely, but it’s not everything! And it’s really easy to forget that. The beauty of NFP is that it forces you (or it should) to be intimate in other ways – which is just as important. When Jesus said “the two become one flesh,” he meant it physically, but also emotionally, spiritually, and in every other kind of way. Those periods of abstinence give you the perfect opportunity to work on that. And contrary to what the world tell us, we don’t need sex. Just look at all of the awesome celibate priests and religious!

We will not find fulfillment in our spouse. 

This realization hit me during our most difficult period of using NFP last year. We should be seeking fulfillment in God. If we’re looking for our spouse to fulfill our needs, we will always be disappointed. God, on the other hand, does not disappoint. 

“To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not disappointed.” – Psalm 22:5 (RSV-2CE)

Reevaluate why you’re using NFP. 

This is going to be an unpopular thought, perhaps, but it is one of the biggest parts of NFP. We shouldn’t decide to use NFP to either avoid or achieve a pregnancy and then not discuss it with our spouse again until months later. NFP requires constant discernment! 

We’re using NFP because we are still open to another baby if God is asking that of us…or even be willing to wait to have a baby if that is what we’ve discerned is best. What may be a valid reason to avoid a pregnancy now may not be a valid reason in a year or two, and vice versa. Now that leads me to the most important part…

 

Prayer and NFP: the Forgotten Component

We cannot discern what God is asking of us without prayer. A couple should be constantly praying about this, individually and together. God may be asking us to be open to another baby. Or he may be asking us to wait. Or he might be asking us to bear fruit in other ways!

 

Our experience

There have been times when we’ve discerned that it is not a good time for me to get pregnant. But there have also been times where we felt God prompting us to be open even though we did not feel completely ready. Is it terrifying? Absolutely. I have difficult pregnancies, and the first year with a baby is also difficult for us.

But God knows what we can handle better than we do. A big part of NFP is trusting that God will plan our family better than we can ourselves. Even though Logan and I both don’t want to have a dozen kids (or even half that), we also know our circumstances could change. So we are open to change, and that’s only possible through prayer and God’s grace.

 

Ask yourself these questions

If you think your family is complete, ask yourself: Am I constantly praying about this? Are my spouse and I praying about it together? Do I see my fertility as a gift? Are we open to God’s will, even though we don’t necessarily understand it?

If you’re thinking about having another child, ask yourself: Is my marriage doing well? Am I giving enough to my spouse and children? Do we already feel stretched thin – emotionally, physically, and financially? Is God asking us to bear fruit in other ways?

It’s possible that God may be asking you to be open to a baby, despite less than ideal circumstances. It’s also possible that God may be asking you to wait, even though you don’t really understand why. Both scenarios are okay! The important thing is to bring it to prayer. 

 

Check your motivation

A big question that we should also ask ourselves: Are we being motivated by selfishness?

Many people assume that those couples avoiding pregnancy are being selfish. First of all, we can never assume to know what’s going on in another couple’s hearts or marriage. And trying to achieve a pregnancy can be selfish, depending on your circumstances. That’s why it’s so important to pray about it constantly!

If we are feeling resentment towards NFP, it may mean we have some more discerning to do. God doesn’t want us to be resentful – he wants us to be at peace. 

 

If NFP is your cross

For the couples who are using NFP to avoid pregnancy for extended periods or even indefinitely because of circumstances out of their control (i.e. pregnancy causing too much risk to the mother’s health and baby), pray for the grace to embrace your cross. Know that God sees you, loves you, and your suffering is not in vain.

But do know that prayer is still a vital component of using NFP. Even if God is not asking you to be open to a biological child, is he asking you to be fruitful in other ways? Adoption is one beautiful way, but there are plenty of other ways that your marriage can bear fruit. Bring it to prayer and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide you both.

 

Contraception is not a solution

It’s also important to remember that the alternative – using contraceptives – would not make everything easier. Contraception is unhealthy for us physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Separating the unitive aspect from the procreative aspect of the conjugal act impedes our marriage vows because God created sex to be both unitive and procreative.

”These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2363

Dietrich von Hildebrand also makes an excellent point “that we cannot tailor the will of God to human desires or permit a sin just because avoiding it entails great sacrifice” (from the intro of his book Love, Marriage, and the Catholic Conscience). NFP can be difficult because of abstinence, but you’re still being faithful to God’s design for married love.

Just like striving for holiness isn’t easy (remember the narrow gate?), NFP isn’t always easy. You also may not see the fruits right away. But trust that using NFP is the best option for your marriage and your family…because it is.

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3 difficult truths about NFP (and why it’s still worth it)

When Logan and I learned Natural Family Planning (NFP) as an engaged couple, a lot of focus was put on the benefits of practicing NFP. And while people are thankfully being more open these days about the struggles of NFP, I wanted to share 3 difficult truths that Logan and I have realized over the years that weren’t discussed in our NFP classes. But make sure you keep reading to find out why we think it’s still worth it!

  1. There may be more abstaining than you think. People often say that you only have to abstain for about a week each month when you practice NFP. And for people with normal cycles, maybe that’s true! But I’m guessing many people don’t have completely normal cycles (*raises hand*). So during times we’re trying to avoid a pregnancy, we’re often abstaining for half of my cycle, and sometimes longer.
  2. You’re abstaining during the times you really want to have sex. Since one of the reasons sex exists is to procreate, it’s only natural that God created our bodies to want to unite during the times that baby-making is possible. Pheromones are real, y’all. Logan is more attracted to me when I’m ovulating! And the desire is greater for me during those times too. So the fact that we have to practice self-control during those times and abstain? Whew. Not easy.
  3. It’ll make you reconsider your reasons for postponing/avoiding pregnancy on a regular basis; pretty much every month, but usually more often than that. And depending on how crazy my cycle is being (which happens often, thanks to PCOS and other issues), we have to decide what kind of chances we want to take and really talk about why we’re choosing to abstain. It’s not really fun, if I’m being honest. (Because are we being selfish? Do we really have valid reasons to avoid? Am I truly being open to God’s will? All thoughts that cross my mind alllll the time.)

All of that being said…we love NFP! We appreciate this gift that the Church has given us. God wants us to discern what is best for our marriage and our family, and NFP plays a huge part in that. So it’s only fair to also share reasons why NFP is still worth it for us…and since we think the benefits outweigh the cons, we’re sharing even more reasons.

  1. It leads to more communication and prayer between us. This one particular night last year, we literally sat and talked and prayed for 20 minutes about whether or not we should have sex that night – because it was a potentially fertile day, and we were still not sure if we were ready for another pregnancy. 20 minutes! (In the end, we both discerned to go for it…and we were glad we did.)
  2. It helps us grow closer in other ways. During the times that we discern to abstain, we still want to connect in a special way. So we have to figure out other ways to do that! That’s led to some really fun moments playing games, working on projects together, reading a book together, or just enjoying each other’s company. Sex is a big part of marriage, yes, but it’s not everything.
  3. The waiting builds up anticipation. Call it a honeymoon effect, if you will. (Although I know some people disagree with this.) It’s really exciting to finally come together again after abstaining for a period of time! Of course abstaining is hard, but it does make sex even more special.
  4. There are numerous health benefits. NFP is completely natural, it helps you understand how your body works, and many women are able to identify health issues. Even if you’re not trying to achieve or avoid a pregnancy, using NFP is a great way to maintain health.
  5. We are constantly discerning God’s will because of NFP. It really has helped us continue to pray about what God is asking of us. NFP helps us plan our family, yes, but it also reminds us that we should be seeking God’s will in all things. Our fertility is just part of it!

So there you have it. Even though NFP is harder than we thought it would be, it’s still worth it for all of these reasons and more.

What’s a difficult truth you’ve learned about NFP? What’s a reason you think it’s still worth it?

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Bear the Whole Fruit Tray: Infertile, Still Fruitful

We have been so inspired by our dear friend, Mary, throughout her journey of infertility – and she is one of the reasons why we pray often for couples struggling with infertility. She’s sharing an important message about being fruitful in marriage, and we can’t wait for you to read it!

 

My husband and I love fruit. He even likes fruit for dessert. I would hardly classify a bowl of strawberries “dessert,” but pour some sugar, chocolate, and whipped cream on it and you’ve got yourself a sweet treat! The thing we get made fun of for the most is our love for pineapples. We’ll eat them fresh off the tree, sprinkled all over our pizza, or even grilled up and tossed on our hamburgers! Weird? Maybe. But yum? Yes. There is no shortage of fruit in the Bruno house, but some may not agree…

Chris and I officially met in 2010 and married in 2013. Growing up, we both naturally desired to be parents one day. It’s funny how we don’t typically classify having kids as a “dream” because most of us just expect to start popping them out when we’re ready. We were no exception. 

Our dating was characterized by both joy and pain due to my newly diagnosed chronic disease – endometriosis – and subsequent surgeries. But this only increased our growth in love and holiness. Chris truly became my knight as he flew with me across states for medical procedures and cared for me even before he put a ring on it. And two days before my third surgery, he did. 

Then Genesis 2:24 puts it best…

“Leave your father and mother and be united to your wife.” The author of the Bible said (in so many words), “Become one flesh.” He said…

So we did. And it has been bumpy but beautiful. I’m not trying to be cliché. Every marriage has struggles, and ours have made our marriage stronger and sweeter. We are just finishing up preparing our third engaged couple for marriage, and my favorite piece of advice to give each couple is to not be afraid of the potential hard stuff- you know, the sickness part of the “in sickness and health” vow. This is when you get the opportunity to choose love for your spouse and to fully live out your vocation the way it was intended. Suffering helps us to grow in unity more than anything else when we make a gift of it.

We learned that lesson quickly as we began to realize that we may not be able to get pregnant and my physical pain was slowly getting worse.

“Be fruitful.” He said. “Multiply.” He said.

But we couldn’t. Is He sure He wrote that correctly?

These words would mentally and emotionally beat me up over the years. God has designed for us this beautiful vocation of marriage where He invites us to become one flesh and experience a little piece of heaven on earth. But He doesn’t stop there. He allows us mere humans to be co-creators of new life with Him – to be present as He drops a fresh little soul into a fresh little human embryo. To bear fruit. It really is amazing.

Its amazingness is one of the reasons why infertility is so hard. Man, I just wish my body could do all those special little things that make conception and implantation possible! But it doesn’t. So those “fruitful” and “multiply” words made me feel insignificant – not because we weren’t actually being very fruitful, but because we couldn’t see it.

CCC 1654: “Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.”

I eventually learned that being fruitful doesn’t just mean biological children. It’s far from it! Consider how fruitful priests and nuns are. It took awhile for me to get there because the focus for me (especially in Catholic circles) has always felt directed towards being open to life in the context of pregnancy, children, schooling, more pregnancy, more children, and then schooling again. These are beautiful events and desires, but when one cannot take part in those activities and conversations, it’s easy to feel insignificant.

Y’all, we are more than our ability to have and raise children. We are also more than our inability to do these things.

I know what some of you are thinking right now: “Ahh Mary, hold the phone -I’m pretty sure it is most important for me to bear children…” or something like that. I don’t know exactly the right answer, but I am challenging that idea. What does that say about me who cannot bear children? That God has preserved someone like me from doing something so important through no fault of our own? That I am not as important? That the fruits of my marriage will never be as good? I’m just not sure He works like that. So I’m simply encouraging us to look at it differently. 

Yes, bearing children is important. We need to populate the world. But that’s going to happen as many people continue to become parents. The focus should not necessarily be on the next child, but on this: “What is God calling us to do today?” Sometimes it will be to have another child, but sometimes it won’t. It can be just as selfish to desire another child as it can be to decide to be done growing your family.

“Open to life” requires more than just not using birth control. What are the gifts God has given you to sprinkle into the world as an individual? As a couple? Are you and your spouse achieving pregnancy on purpose because you have discerned that God said it is time or by “accident” (excluding hyper-fertility situations) because you’re not using NFP correctly? Are you open to the fact that God may be calling you to have more children? God has gifted us with the knowledge to effectively avoid pregnancy and intentionally achieve pregnancy in a couple with normal fertility. Do we appreciate that gift and respect His timing? 

Discover all of your gifts

Because of my infertility, I was forced to pursue desires and open gifts I didn’t know I had. Now I wonder if I would have reached this potential if I had been able to bear children. Not because those gifts didn’t exist, but because no one was encouraging me to look for them! My own beautiful and wonderful Church wasn’t even challenging and affirming me in that way. Would I have the same fighting spirit and foster the same desire to help other women and couples?

I learned that I am a good speaker and motivator. I started a ministry to empower women to know their bodies and get them the right help. I am becoming a Creighton Model Practitioner. I learned I can write blogs and rap lyrics that I’ve written myself. We were trained in marriage preparation. We adopted our daughter. I became a founding member of The Wise Fools media group. I give advice. I make people laugh. I volunteer. I cook for friends…and strangers if needed. There is a lot more I have to learn and a lot more I have to give. 

Fertile or not, God has given us each unique gifts and abilities to share with the world. This is not just a story about bearing fruits of your life and marriage, but how beauty is born from suffering and difficult situations. Imagine what fruit can grow during the days you are abstaining!

Bear the whole fruit tray

Ironically, we celebrated our daughter’s second birthday party one year ago with a “Two-tti fruitie” theme because she loves fruit so much. We literally rejoiced in the life of one of the fruits of our marriage with a fruit-themed party. What a corny sentence, but how appropriate? Just like our favorite fruit trays, the fruits of our lives and marriages come in an intricate and beautiful variety of ways, shapes, flavors, colors, and sizes. 

As much as I would love to sit on the couch with a fork and a fresh watermelon, it is good for me to discover and pursue other fruits. After all, who do we think invented all those delicious combinations? Bear the whole fruit tray and add some whipped cream to our Creator’s own bowl of fruity goodness.

 

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Mary Bruno is a former Physical Therapist Assistant of 6 years who “retired” the day she and her husband welcomed their adopted daughter into the world three years ago. Her long-time struggle with pain and infertility inspired her to start a ministry – “Taking Back the Terms” – nearly 4 years ago to make use of her suffering by helping other women to find better women’s health solutions that treat the whole woman more effectively. She is passionate about her Catholic faith and hopes that her ministries will help shed a light of love and understanding on authentic faith and women’s health. Presently, Mary is training to become a Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner and is thrilled to connect women of all ages to this system that truly helps us appreciate our gift of fertility. She is also a founding member of Wise Fools Media Group where she podcasts. Find her @takingbacktheterms on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, and read her blog here.

10 Lessons from 10 Years of Marriage

We’re celebrating 10 years of marriage this month! We can hardly believe it’s been a decade since we walked down the aisle and committed ourselves to each other for the rest of our lives.

To celebrate, we’re giving away some resources to one lucky reader. Find the details in the bottom of this post! (Edited 6/15/19 to add: giveaway is now closed!)

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June 12, 2009

Since it’s been quite the adventure since our wedding day, we’ve learned quite a few things…and we’re still learning. Here are 10 lessons we’ve learned in 10 years of marriage (but honestly, we could put a lot more!):

  1. Always, always have fun together. Seriously. Being silly and laughing together is what has gotten us through some difficult times.
  2. You can’t change your spouse – you can only change yourself. Trying to change each other will only lead to frustration. But if we try to change ourselves first? That’s when growth happens. Ask us how we know…
  3. Take time away, regularly, with just the two of you. Date nights, retreats, you name it. One day your kids will be out of the house and you’ll be retired, and it’ll be just the two of you! So do everything you can to foster your relationship together.
  4. Just like most jobs require continuing education, so does your marriage. Read marriage books, attend marriage enrichment nights, read blog posts about marriage. There are so many awesome resources out there that can help you and your spouse grow closer together. (See our giveaway at the end of the post for some resources you can win!)
  5. Things are never as bad as they seem. Why yes, when you can’t stop fighting with each other, your kids are climbing the walls, and everything in your house seems to be breaking and in need of repair…life feels pretty overwhelming. But God works through all of that!
  6. A marriage consists of a husband, a wife, and God – and no one else. It’s important to set boundaries with other relationships, especially if they’re causing issues in your marriage.
  7. Everything comes down to communication. Share everything with each other, and don’t expect to be able to read each other’s minds.
  8. Prayer first, marriage second, and everything else will follow. We can’t do anything without God! If we put him first, our spouse second, then we will have the grace to do everything else.
  9. Every marriage is different…so don’t compare! Just because it’s more common for the women to cook and the men to handle finances, doesn’t mean you have to do the same in your marriage. Do whatever works best for your marriage! And forget the stereotypes.
  10. Small acts of love make a big difference. Fixing a cup of coffee for your spouse, texting a sweet message while one of you is at work, or letting your spouse sleep in while you handle breakfast with your kiddos. These small gestures really do help a marriage thrive, so remember to do them often!

What lesson would you add to our list?


Now for the giveaway! All of the following is provided by us and will go to one lucky winner:

  • Our Joy-filled Marriage: Couple’s Journal
  • Intimate Graces: How Practicing the Works of Mercy Brings Out the Best in Marriage by Teresa Tomeo and Dominick Pastore
  • Amazing Grace for Married Couples: 12 Life-Changing Stories of Renewed Love by Jeff Cavins, Matthew Pinto, and Patti Armstrong
  • The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman

There are several ways to enter via the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck! (US residents only, please!)

Edited 6/15/19 to add: giveaway now closed!

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7 ways to bring Mary into your marriage

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During our wedding ceremony, we presented flowers to the Blessed Mother, entrusting our marriage to her.

praying for your spouse

Honestly, I don’t think we fully grasped the importance of that at the time. But as years have gone by, we’ve realized more and more just how vital our Mother is to our marriage.

She is the ultimate example of what it means to say “yes” to God’s will and to trust Him in everything. Her fiat – her “yes” – led to the salvation of the whole world. Not only did she have the perfect marriage, she was the perfect mother. As a woman, I look to Mary as a guide as I strive to become a better wife and mother.

But a man could totally consider Mary as an example too! She was so trusting and self-sacrificial, two qualities essential in a marriage. The most awesome priests we know are the ones with a devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Plus, the devil is terrified of Mary – have you noticed that many statues of Mary have her crushing the serpent? She is the WOMAN. Her prayers are so powerful, as she can literally whisper into the ear of Jesus. And he listens to her, just like he did from the very beginning of his ministry at the wedding at Cana.

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Jesus gave his mother to us (see John 19:26-27), and it brings him great joy when we honor her.

How can you bring Mary into your marriage? Here are some ideas:

  1. Place a statue of Mary in your home, specifically in your bedroom.
  2. Pray the Rosary together.
  3. Have images of Mary hanging on your walls, especially in your bedroom.
  4. Create a Marian garden in your yard. (We did this last year! See our video at the end of this post.)
  5. Celebrate Marian feast days. (One of our faves is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12!)
  6. Read 33 Days to Morning Glory and prepare for a Marian consecration together. (We’re doing this right now!)
  7. If your church has a place for flowers in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother, present those to her together and pray a Hail Mary for your marriage.

Do you have any other ideas to add to the list?