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Do one thing for your marriage each day this Advent: 2021 Challenge

Back in 2019, we started this Advent challenge for Catholic couples as a simple way to prepare for Christmas together with your spouse, while making your marriage a priority. It appears to be helpful to many, since we received requests last year for another Advent challenge (and earlier this year we even did a Lent challenge after some requests!).

So here it is again: our 2021 Advent Challenge for Catholic Couples.

Our inspiration for this Advent challenge

Advent should be a calm and peaceful time, but often it’s the busiest time of the year! In the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s very easy to get focused on shopping, parties, and everything else holiday-related.

But let’s not forget about our marriages.

Advent and marriage have a special link—both point us toward heaven.

Use this Advent season to draw closer to each other, to foster your relationship together, and to remind each other of the end goal—eternal life in heaven. And we’ve created something to help you do exactly that!

A calendar with a simple challenge each day

This challenge includes both a calendar with a simple challenge each day, as well as a guide that gives you some ideas on how to complete each challenge.

As an added bonus, we also include a blank calendar in case you want to make up your own challenges or switch some of the challenges around. Both calendars include feast days (because hey, Catholic marriage!). We really do hope and pray this will enrich your marriage and Advent season together! That being said…

Do not let these challenges stress you out. Skip a day, if necessary, or switch the challenges around to better suit your schedule. These challenges are to make sure you’re spending time together and praying together. Peace is the goal….not stress. Okay? Okay.

The Advent challenge and guide is available in our shop! Add it to your cart by clicking the button below (or click here if it’s not showing up)…

 

Note: This is a digital download. A physical product will not be mailed to you. After checking out, you will receive an email with a link to download the PDF.  Please do not share the file with anyone. If you’d like to print multiple copies to share as gifts, please purchase multiple copies, or contact us for group licenses. Thank you!


5 Things I’ve Learned from the Saints About Strengthening Marriage

When I found out about Caitrin’s blog, I knew she would be the perfect guest blogger for us! It’s so important that we get to know married saints as inspiration for our own marriage. I love how Caitrin gives us some great examples of holy couples and concrete ways we can strive toward sainthood as husband and wife.


I’ve always been interested in the lives of the saints.  Reading biographies of amazing holy people like St. Padre Pio, Pope St. John Paul II, and St. Augustine has been very inspiring to my faith.  I love knowing I have friends in heaven, and that I can reach out to these saints to pray for me in specific situations that they can relate to personally.  

But when I got married five years ago, I realized that none of my go-to saints were married. Who could I look to for inspiration in my marriage?  Who could I ask to pray for my husband and me, knowing that they had experienced the joys and trials of married life themselves?  I felt called to meet some married saints, so I began researching and reading.

I read about married saints from biblical times, like Sts. Elizabeth and Zechariah; from the early centuries of the Church, like St. Monica; from the Reformation Era, like St. Thomas More.  I even found some holy people on the road to sainthood who lived very recently — even during my own lifetime — like the Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba, who were killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  

My research eventually became the basis for a book I am hoping to publish one day, as well as my own blog on Catholic marriage.  Though my new married saint friends lived all over the world and throughout history, I noticed some common elements in their lives.  These common elements helped the saints shape and maintain holy marriages, and they can do the same for all of us today.  So, let’s get to the list and learn from the saints

1. Learn — and live out — your marital vows

A marriage is a covenant with specific vows.  These vows are like our job description as married people.  And how can you do well at a job if you don’t know what you are expected to do?  On our wedding day, we each vowed to love our spouse freely, fully, faithfully, and fruitfully.  I call these the “Four F’s.”  Furthermore, we vowed to love our spouse for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.  Some of these vows are more widely understood than others; most of us know what it means to love faithfully, for example.  However, we may need to look at a few of these vows more closely to better understand them.

Loving “freely” means that we are able to truly give ourselves to our spouses because we are not slaves to materialism or sin.  Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, offer a wonderful example of living simply in order to free your heart from the bonds of materialism.  They lived below their means and gave everything they could to the poor.  

The vow of “fruitful” love encompasses much more than just welcoming children into your family.  It can also mean offering the gifts (fruits) God has given you back to Him.  Sts. Elizabeth and Zechariah exemplified this vow when they offered their long-awaited son, St. John the Baptist, to God to prepare Jesus’ way.  

Finally, when we promised to love our spouse “until death do us part,” we may not have considered how the Christian perspective on death played into that vow.  Because we see the Church as the body of Christ, unbroken by death, we are called to pray for our spouse’s salvation while we are both alive on earth, while he or she suffers in Purgatory if we outlive them, and from heaven if we precede them into eternal life.  

St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, certainly lived out this vow.  She prayed for her husband and wayward son until they both converted, then died peacefully, requesting only that she be remembered in prayer and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  For more clarification on our specific marital vows, check out my blog at www.holiermatrimony.com!

2. Practice self-denial and mortification

Every saint I’ve ever read about — married, single or religious — practiced unique forms of self-denial and mortification.  St. Thomas More, advisor to the infamous King Henry VIII, secretly wore an itchy, uncomfortable hair shirt under his clothing for most of his adult life.  Bl. Barbe Acarie, mother of six and foundress of the Carmelite Order in France, often ate only one meal a day.  

These mortifications made them better spouses and better followers of Christ.  By saying “no” to themselves in small things, they knew that they were training themselves to say “yes” to their spouses and to God in bigger things, like Thomas More’s eventual martyrdom or the political exile of Barbe Acarie’s husband. 

As Catholic Christians, we believe that our suffering is valuable and meritorious when we unite it with Christ’s suffering on the cross.  Small, voluntary mortifications as well as deep, involuntary pain will all be redeemed when we lay it at Jesus’ feet.

3. Serve the “least of these” together

When Jesus called us to serve the “least of these,” He certainly meant to include the poor, but this title can refer to many other categories of people, too.  The “least of these” might be the sick, the elderly, or the spiritually thirsty.  Your helpless newborn baby or your ailing mother-in-law might be the “least of these” God is calling you and your spouse to serve right now.  Serving together with your spouse is a beautiful way to bond, creating a family mission you can rally behind.  

The Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba felt called to serve the material needs of the street children in Kigali, Rwanda, by starting a shelter.  Meanwhile, they also ministered to the spiritual needs of their local community by founding a new chapter of the Emmanuel Community there, meeting with small groups to pray and discuss their faith.  

Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba, photo by Karel Dekempe, license

Blessed Karl I and his wife the Servant of God Zita were the last emperor and empress of Austria-Hungary.  Despite their noble status, they always looked for ways to serve the “least of these” in their empire, for example by ordering that the royal carriages be used to bring coal to those suffering in the cold instead of transporting nobles such as themselves.  

These holy husbands and wives bonded through their acts of service, and they helped one another to be more like Christ in the process.

4. Pray with your spouse (and with your kids)

If marriage is your vocation, you are called to walk your path to holiness and heaven hand in hand with your spouse.  This means that the two of you are encouraged to take up and live out spiritual practices like prayer together.  

Blesseds Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi were a couple from Italy that chose life for their daughter when they were pressured to abort for medical reasons, and who helped protect wanted people from the Nazis during World War II.  The Quattrocchis focused on developing spiritual habits for their whole family to enjoy, such as praying the Rosary together after dinner each evening.  

Blesseds Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi

St. Thėrèse’s parents, the Martins, inspired devotion to the Blessed Virgin in their daughters by encouraging the girls to adorn a statue of Mary with flowers during the month of May.  Which spiritual practices could you do together as a family?  The possibilities are endless!

5. Live a sacramental life

Beyond praying together and for one another, as Catholic married people we must commit to frequent reception of the Sacraments so that God’s grace can flow in our marriages and in our lives.  We believe that the Sacraments both symbolize and convey grace, which is the power of God working in us.  Each Sacrament conveys specific graces.  Our Baptisms marked us as God’s children; Confirmation offered us the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The graces conveyed in the Sacrament of Matrimony help us to live out our marital vows, giving us patience, charity and mercy for our spouse.

Sadly, we don’t always take advantage of those graces.  Then they are wasted, like the valuable talent (treasure) the servant buried in the field in Matthew 25:18. Other times, we let sin build up in our lives and get in the way of sacramental grace, like the moon eclipsing the light of the sun.  This is where the Sacrament of Confession comes in.  We can always come clean and start over anew!  

Ask God in prayer to help you avail yourself of the marital graces, and seek out the Eucharist and Confession as means to keep those graces flowing freely in your life.  Marriage is hard — too hard, in fact, for us to do well by our own strength.  But, armed with sacramental grace, we can approach the challenges of married life with God’s own amazing power!

All the married saints I have met have patterns of sacramentality.  Most participated in the Sacrifice of the Mass many days a week, or even twice a day.  Bl. Emperor Karl I even made sure to attend Mass on the battlefields where he commanded troops in World War II, and St. Thomas More rose as early as 4 a.m. so that he could have time for prayer and Mass before his long work day began.  The saints also tended to go to Confession monthly or more often, though I know they had less to confess than I do!  

These married saints also frequently reflected on the vows of their marital covenant.  Daphrose Rugamba pushed through years of rejection from her angry, atheistic, and philandering husband, pleading with God to refresh her with the marital graces she would need to live out her vocation better than she did the day before.  We can (and should) all do the same!  

These are just five of the many beautiful ways my role-models in marriage worked to strengthen and sanctify their marital covenants.  I encourage you to meet some married saint friends, too!  

And, when in doubt, look to the Holy Family.  Sts. Mary and Joseph are the ideal married couple, the couple to whom God entrusted His only Son.  They offer a wonderful example for us all to follow, showing us how best to live out all our marital vows, how to suffer for Christ, how to serve, and how to pray.  Ask for their intercession often as you prepare for, receive and fortify yourself with the sacramental graces that will aid you on your own path to holier matrimony!


Caitrin is a busy Coast Guard wife, mama of three under four, Catholic blogger and aspiring author.  She is originally from Virginia, currently living in Florida, and preparing for a military move to North Carolina in a few months.  She enjoys writing, playing the piano, long walks on the beach, and going out for tacos and margaritas with good friends! Check out her blog at Holier Matrimony.

What Catholic couples can do during Holy Week

Holy Week is the last week of Lent and the perfect time to fully prepare ourselves for the gift of Easter Sunday. It is very easy to give up on whatever sacrifices we might have already been slacking on, but we like to see Holy Week as a time to really dig in. Do more than you were already doing! And we like to do it together to hold each other accountable.

We have a post on what Catholic couples can do during Lent but wanted to share specific ideas just for Holy Week. Here we go…

Photo by thevibrantmachine on Pexels.com

1. Have a “Holy Week of Darkness.”

Some friends of ours have been doing this for years! They spend the entire week in candlelight in anticipation of the Easter Vigil when the Paschal candle is the only light in the church. Read this post for their experience.

2. Limit screens.

Although we haven’t done a full Holy Week of Darkness, we do limit screens in a big way. We don’t watch much TV, if any. We try not to get on our phones as much. We do our best to unplug so we can embrace the silence and listen to what God is telling us.

3. Go to Confession.

Frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation has been a game changer for our marriage. It’s especially important to go to confession during Lent, to better prepare yourself for celebrating the Paschal Mystery. So if you haven’t gone already (or even if you have), make it a priority during Holy Week. (Check with your church/priest as soon as possible because hours may be limited later in the week.)

4. Fast most of the week.

Our pastor challenged us to do this last year, and it was honestly the best Holy Week ever. We fasted on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday (he told us to skip Holy Thursday). Fasting really does draw you closer to Jesus. If you can’t fast from food (i.e. due to pregnancy), fast from something else.

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

5. Attend as many liturgies as you can.

The Easter Triduum is the most sacred three days of the year. Take advantage of the beautiful liturgies on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday (why yes, we’ve even taken our kids to the Easter Vigil and they were surprisingly well behaved for the extra long Mass). You will appreciate even more the gift Jesus gave us through the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. 

6. Wash each other’s feet on Holy Thursday.

On the day that Jesus washed the feet of His apostles, take some time to wash each other’s feet. It was one of Jesus’ last acts on Earth to remind us that we are to love and sacrifice for each other. It can also be an intimate moment between husband and wife. (See John 13:1-20 for Jesus’ words about the washing of feet.)

7. Keep the day very solemn on Good Friday.

Unfortunately, Good Friday has become a very popular day to have crawfish boils (at least down here in Louisiana) and to celebrate. Go against the tide! Don’t do anything extravagant on this day. Keep screens off, fast, and remember that this is the day Jesus suffered and died on the cross to save us from our sins. If doing a Holy Week of Darkness is a little intimidating, start with just Good Friday. Leave the lights off all day and use candles when necessary.

8. Pray the Stations of the Cross.

The Stations of the Cross is a popular devotion during Lent (but can and should totally be done outside of Lent too!). Attend the Way of the Cross at your church if it’s available, or make your own stations in your backyard or living room. Maybe even find an outdoor Stations of the Cross to walk through together.

Whatever you do during Holy Week, remember to draw close to Jesus together. Be thankful for all of the gifts God has given you, and when Easter comes, rejoice!

Lent Challenge for Catholic Marriages {2021}

For a couple years now, we’ve shared our Advent Challenge for Married Couples. We’ve gotten such great feedback on it that we decided to do one for Lent this year!

Every day of Lent, we have a challenge for you to complete together. You can choose to just use the calendar, which goes from February to April. You can also use the blank calendar and fill in challenges of your own! Both have feast days listed. Then refer to the Lent marriage guide for more thoughts about each challenge and ideas on how to complete it.

Just like with the Advent challenge, we want to emphasize that stress is not the goal of this Lent challenge. Skip a day if necessary, or switch the challenges around to better suit your schedule. These challenges are to make sure you’re spending time together and praying together as we prepare for the Resurrection. It’s a great time to strive for holiness together as husband and wife.

The Lent challenge and guide is now available in our shop! Add it to your cart by clicking the button below…

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What Catholic couples can do during Lent

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Every year, we like to propose a challenge for your marriage during Lent: pick one thing to do together throughout Lent. It’s easy to go overboard and pick several things to do, but just pick one or two!

We’ve really come to see the power of doing one small thing together and how that can lead us to holiness. While giving up sweets or alcohol or something like that isn’t a bad thing, just make sure you’re picking something that will have a positive impact on your marriage and spiritual life together.

And remember, it’s not supposed to be easy! When you’re deciding on what to do, it’s also good to remember the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. So while we’re encouraging you to pick only one thing to do together, you should still focus on all three pillars throughout Lent.

Ready for some ideas for what you can do during Lent with your spouse? In no particular order, here we go!

  1. Pray together everyday, if you’re not already doing so. [It might be good to also read Praying For (and With) Your Spouse by the Popcaks.]
  2. Read Scripture daily. Maybe a Psalm a day or a chapter from one of the Gospels.
  3. Read Forever: A Catholic Devotional for Your Marriage by the Angels. We did this during Lent one year since it’s 6 weeks long. It only takes 5 minutes a day!
  4. Do the enrichment program Beloved: Mystery & Meaning of Marriage. If your church parish has a subscription to Formed.org, you could do Beloved for free! There are 6 sessions, so you can do one each week in Lent.
  5. Sign up for the Pray More Retreat. It’s a self-paced online retreat with talks, videos, and study guides. The topics look so good and would be great conversation starters!
  6. Wake up earlier to connect and pray together.
  7. Go on a marriage retreat.
  8. Take Natural Family Planning classes, if you haven’t done so yet (or have been putting it off!).
  9. Don’t watch TV. But be sure to replace that TV time with something better!
  10. Pray a daily Rosary.
  11. Go to daily Mass during the week (in addition to meeting your Sunday obligation).
  12. Donate extra money to your church or favorite charity.
  13. Volunteer at your church and in your community.
  14. Read Three Secrets to Holiness in Marriage: A 33-Day Self-Guided Retreat for Catholic Couples by the DeMattes.
  15. Commit to not spending any money (other than necessities and usual bills) during Lent. Have a “no spend Lent”, if you will.
  16. Pray a Divine Mercy chaplet every day.
  17. Invite someone over for dinner each week. Maybe it’s time to work on hospitality!
  18. Pick a day each week to do hardcore fasting, like what’s done on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting together makes for some good accountability.
  19. Go to bed earlier. Make sure to pray together first!
  20. Commit to not having your phones by you when you’re spending time together at home. Enjoy each other’s company!
  21. Pick a person or family each week to bless in some way. Bring them a meal, offer to babysit, whatever you think might help them. (And don’t expect anything in return!)
  22. Pray an hour from the Liturgy of the Hours each day. This can be done with an app like iBreviary or Laudate, but I’m a big fan of the one-volume Christian Prayer. (And if you want to learn more about the Liturgy of the Hours, I recommend reading The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours by Daria Sockey.)
  23. Make a weekly visit to an Adoration chapel.
  24. Learn a new devotion together, like the Seven Sorrows Rosary or the St. Michael chaplet.
  25. Read from Daily Companion for Married Couples each day.
  26. Read Intimate Graces: How Practicing the Works of Mercy Brings out the Best in Marriage by Teresa Tomeo and Dominick Pastore.
  27. Listen to a talk about Catholicism or marriage and family life each week. Catholic Productions has a great selection, and there are several awesome talks in their marriage and family life category. (Both CDs and MP3s are available.)
  28. Do one small act of love for each other every day. (Ladies, check out our 40 Days of Loving Your Husband!)
  29. Do the Stations of the Cross together each Friday.
  30. Do the enrichment program United in Love-United in Christ. We did this one year with a large group of couples at our church, and it was great! You could do it with a small group in your own home as well, meeting once a week for 6 weeks.

What ideas would you add to the list??

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In the seas of discernment: one couple’s unexpected journey

As soon as I heard Meggie’s discernment story, I knew I had to share it with all of you, and thankfully she agreed! Discerning another baby—or any other major decision, for that matter—will look differently for each couple. But one thing is the same: it takes prayer, communication, and a whole lot of trust in God’s will and plan for your marriage and family. Meggie’s story shows that discernment doesn’t always end up the way we expect, but proof that God always knows best. -Jen


Discernment is a difficult topic to cover; each person’s journey is so different and so personal. Growing your family (or choosing to not grow your family) is entirely between your husband, you, and God, yet so many people come out of the woodwork when your journey doesn’t line up with what they perceive from the outside. 

I’m going to be completely upfront about this: I do not feel qualified to write about discernment. It is something I constantly wrestle with, but maybe hearing about it from more women in the trenches is what the NFP community needs. I struggle. I struggle with selfishness, and I struggle with fear. I do not particularly like being pregnant. 

Our plans from the beginning

When my husband and I first got married, we had agreed we would wait two years before trying to conceive. Our time spent dating and engaged was almost entirely long distance due to our different timelines with school and work. Our reasoning was that we needed time to adjust and settle into our married life, which included my transition from college to the workforce, a new city (for me), and honestly, just being in the same room together for more than a few hours. 

I don’t love the phrase “we make plans, and God laughs.” I like to think God sighs a little at our pigheadedness and slowly pokes and prods us until we’re heading in the right direction. This is what happened…

Discerning pregnancy together

After a few months of marriage, I started to feel a longing for a child. I slowly began to examine our reasons for avoiding, and I no longer felt they held up anymore. I was doing well at work and could get to most places I needed without a GPS (which was a huge success, as I am very directionally challenged). Geoff and I had transitioned very naturally and joyfully into married life. 

So one evening, I gathered my courage and broached the subject with him. I was longing for a child and was not at peace with trying to avoid any longer, but would of course respect his feelings as well. Geoff was hesitant as this was much sooner than we had agreed upon, but he encouraged me to continue to pray about it and promised we could continue to discuss. I would go to Mass on my lunch hour to pray for clarity, and to pray that Geoff would be open to the idea of switching to TTC (trying to conceive). I felt that the longing God put on my heart was truly of God, and from God. 

The next stage was terribly painful. I watched as three weeks in a row, three women in our couples’ group announced that they were pregnant. Geoff walked into our bedroom after one of those evenings to find me crying. We discussed further and ultimately agreed that it was time to try. 

We got pregnant immediately…and immediately miscarried. I was distraught, but several months later finally got another positive test. I was overjoyed but struggled intensely with anxiety, as we had lost our first. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, but everything went smoothly. In November of 2017, we welcomed our son, Becket. 

His first few months were a challenge. Becket was colicky and screamed nearly non-stop for five months. He slept only three hours at a time, and our sleep training attempts repeatedly failed to stick. On top of this, he became a very proficient climber early on and learned to walk the same week he had surgery at 11 months old. That first year was a blur, and the times for marital intimacy were few and far between as we navigated the postpartum period. At 16 months, Becket finally slept through the night, and slowly our lives regained some normalcy. 

Discernment is a process

I have struggled with scrupulosity all my life, and at 18 months again felt that maybe our reasons for avoiding were not as strong as they once were. Surely we weren’t being good Catholics if we continued to avoid without a life-threatening reason? Sure, my anxiety was bad, but my head was at least above the water now. Geoff reminded me that God calls us to be responsible parents, and that I was in no state to have more children yet. God does not call us to drown ourselves, but to wait with patience for his love and his peace. 

My anxiety continued to worsen around Becket’s second birthday, and Geoff and I finally decided it was time for me to seek help. That worked for some time, and in February of 2020, I mentioned to Geoff the guilt I felt for continuing to avoid. He again reminded me that just as we can’t make the decision to avoid out of fear, we can’t make the decision to conceive out of fear either. That decision must come from a place of peace. 

Sure enough, COVID hit the US, and during the first lockdown, Geoff looked at me across the table and said, “Aren’t you glad you aren’t pregnant right now?” The anxiety of being pregnant with so many unknowns in the early days of the pandemic would have probably sent me over the edge mentally.

With COVID, my anxiety crept right back up and reached such a fever pitch that I ultimately ended up in the emergency room with a sudden and severe pain at the base of my skull following weeks of daily tension headaches. My head was fine, but the doctor had noticed a nodule on my thyroid. I was assured it was no big deal. Many people have them, and 98% of the time they’re benign. In fact, the doctor nearly forgot to tell us about it! 

I did some minor research when we got home, but was not particularly alarmed. I was more concerned about finding a solution to the crippling anxiety, so I promptly scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician. He put me on anxiety medication after years of me trying to avoid it, and he also ordered an ultrasound of my thyroid, which wouldn’t happen for some time.

Leaving survival mode behind

The medication was a complete life-saver. Not only was my head above the water, but I was able to swim. I left survivor-mode behind me and felt myself becoming a better wife and mother almost overnight. I felt that I really wouldn’t mind starting to think about having another child again. So I began diving deeper into discernment. My prayer went from, “Please don’t ask me to get pregnant again, because I just can’t do it!” to “If it is your will, God, please place that desire for a child in both of our hearts, and let us be at peace.” 

It was an incredibly freeing thing to put that in God’s hands—to ask Him to prepare my heart for another child if that was what He wanted of me. I was confident that He would do so, that I would soon feel that peace as confirmation that it was time for us to try to conceive again. I finally felt ready to put that decision in God’s hands.

Unexpected peace

The peace did come…but in an unexpected form. I suddenly found myself very at peace with avoiding a pregnancy, which was perplexing—it was the exact opposite of what I assumed would be our next step. So, we continued to avoid a pregnancy. 

I had my thyroid ultrasound, and the technician was cheerful and friendly. I expected to wait for two weeks but received my results the next business day. The report recommended a biopsy, accompanied by very technical terms describing the nodule. I took to Google to learn about the classification method of thyroid nodules, and my stomach dropped. There was an 80% chance or greater that it was cancer. Two days later, I was biopsied, and a week after that, had all suspicions confirmed: papillary carcinoma with the BRAF v600e mutation (AKA cancer). 

The importance of NFP during treatment

Ten days after my diagnosis, I had a total thyroidectomy. Our need to avoid a pregnancy became extremely serious, as I faced the possibility of radioactive iodine treatment. If I didn’t need the additional treatment, we would only need to avoid for a few months until my medication was properly adjusted. If I did need it, we faced a year of very strict TTA (trying to avoid) for the safety of the baby.

The surgery was a success, but my doctor ultimately decided I needed further treatment to kill any remaining thyroid cells, so I began preparing for something called radioactive iodine (RAI). As thyroid cells are essentially the only cells in your body that absorb iodine, by ingesting a radioactive iodine pill, any remaining thyroid cells absorb the radioactivity and are slowly destroyed. It is a very targeted therapy, and requires going on a low-iodine diet to starve your body of iodine so it absorbs better. It also requires total isolation for anywhere from three days to three weeks. 

Knowing the seriousness of this treatment, I contacted a new NFP instructor to help guide us through the coming year of avoiding, who has helped me several times already as we navigate progesterone tests for confirming ovulation.

The gift of NFP and its fruits

I am now on the other side of my treatment, and recently received the news that there is no evidence of spread. There is always a chance of recurrence, but for now, we are doing well and looking forward to the future that will hopefully include more children somewhere along the way!

Discernment is a difficult topic. It involves taking a deep look at ourselves, our intentions, and our motivations, which can sometimes be painful. I am deeply grateful for the gift of NFP and the way it has helped me to learn to trust better and slowly taught me to pray: not my will, but Thine.


Meggie is a born-and-bred Midwesterner living in the deep south with her husband, Geoff, and their busy 3-year-old, Becket. She works part-time in residential architecture, and full time in domestic engineering. When not chasing her son or sketching floor plans, she can be found reading a good book and drinking a Moscow mule. 

Advent Challenge for Catholic Marriages: Simple but effective {updated for 2020}

November 2021 Update: Find our 2021 Advent Challenge here!

Advent should be a calm and peaceful time, but often it’s the busiest time of the year! In the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s very easy to get focused on shopping, parties, and everything else holiday-related.

But let’s not forget about our marriages.

Advent and marriage have a special link—both point us toward heaven.

Use this Advent season to draw closer to each other, to foster your relationship together, and to remind each other of the end goal—eternal life in heaven. And we’ve created something to help you do exactly that!

Enter: the 2020 Advent Challenge for Catholic Marriages. It comes with both a calendar and a guide!

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You can choose to just use the calendar, which contains a challenge each day to complete together. Or you can also use the blank calendar and fill in challenges of your own! Both have feast days listed. Then refer to the Advent marriage guide for more thoughts about each challenge.

Do not let these challenges stress you out. Skip a day, if necessary, or switch the challenges around to better suit your schedule. These challenges are to make sure you’re spending time together and praying together. Peace is the goal….not stress. 

The Advent challenge and guide is available in our shop! Add it to your cart by clicking the button below…

$3.99

 

We pray this will enrich your marriage and Advent season together!

How to make dates a priority when you can’t leave the house

Back in March, when the world shut down due to the pandemic, we realized that going on a date night out would not be possible. So we did date nights at home for a couple weeks, which is the next best thing.

But at some point in April, we realized we had stopped doing our dates at home…and the end of the pandemic was nowhere in sight. We knew we needed to make date nights at home a priority, so Logan thought of a way to make them extra special—pick a theme for each home date!

We asked people on Instagram for theme ideas, and then put all of those ideas in a basket. We randomly picked one and planned our date all around that theme. What we wore, what we ate, and what we did was all about that particular theme.

Our first themed date

That first theme we picked was “royal ball,” so we dressed up like we were going to a ball. We made fancy drinks and appetizers. We danced in our living room. And because we just really love movies, we watched a movie relating to the theme too.

It was so much fun that we decided to do it every week while the pandemic kept us home, and we did! We’ve always enjoyed making a night at home special, but creating a themed date just brought it to a whole new level for us. It was fun to plan the date during the previous 24 hours or so, as we brainstormed ideas and worked together to make the night special. 

Sometimes we went all out, and sometimes we kept it simple. It all depended on what we were up for and what we needed on any given night.

Have your own date nights at home!

Since the pandemic doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and date nights at home come in handy during other periods of life (sickness, new baby, etc.), we decided to help you do the same. Enter: our Date Night In printable, a 20-page PDF with tips and ideas to help you make date nights happen at home.

We include 40 theme ideas on cards that you can cut out to put in a basket, as well as blank cards to think of your own theme ideas. (You can actually get this part for free here.)

In addition, we also include:

  • Tips for a fun date night in—how to have fun on any budget
  • How to plan your themed date if you have no idea where to start
  • Answers to the #1 question we get: “What do you do with your kids?”—with several options for you to consider
  • Pictures and ideas from our previous dates 
  • Ideas for other themes we haven’t done yet
  • Templates to help plan your date and to remember what you did

Even though we started themed dates to make things a little more exciting (because let’s be real, 2020 has been hard!), we also still have simple dates too. Just last week, all we did for our date night at home was watch one of our favorite movies and make a special drink. That’s it!  No theme. The point is to make time together at home a priority, whether it’s a themed date or not. Our Date Night In printable will help you do exactly that.

Click the button below to purchase or click here.

$4.99

 

Note: This is a digital download. A physical product will not be mailed to you. After checking out, you will receive an email with a link to download the PDF.  Please do not share the file with anyone. If you’d like to print multiple copies to share as gifts, please purchase multiple copies. Thank you!

What to do if you can’t go on a marriage retreat?

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If you’ve been following us for a bit, you know that we are big fans of marriage retreats. We try to go on one every year because it’s the perfect time to connect with each other and evaluate our marriage and family life.

But we hear all of the time how impossible it is for some couples to go on a retreat. They don’t have anyone to watch their kids. They don’t have any retreats offered in their area. They can’t find a good weekend to get away. They can’t leave their baby or special needs child for that long. 

There are numerous reasons why a couple can’t go on a retreat, and we totally get it.

What if you could go on a mini retreat in the comfort of your own home every single month?

What if you could meet one-on-one with an experienced and knowledgeable couple each month?

What if you had a community of other couples striving for holiness and joy in their marriage?

Well, friends, something like that actually exists. And it includes even more too!

Let us introduce you to our friends, Nathan and Sarah, the founders of Cana Feast. Here’s a little about them:

SarahandNathan

“We are Nathan and Sarah Bartel, married 20 years, with five beautiful children. Sarah holds a Ph.D. in theology, and Nathan has a Master’s degree in philosophy. After hitting some rough patches from the strains of life, marriage retreats gave us the skills and inspiration to find deeper joy and greater passion. We’ve been teaching engaged and married couples about how to strengthen their marriages for over 10 years. We are now on fire to bring that transformation to as many other couples as possible.”

Enter Cana Feast, their membership community for Catholic married couples. This is how they describe it in a nutshell:

“Cana Feast inspires Catholic marriages with greater joy and purpose. Couples nurture their relationship, walking the path of marriage discipleship with Jesus at the center. Every month we dive into a theme with a monthly virtual retreat night, a guest experts interview, a coaching call, and a resource review .pdf. Previous themes include Finances, NFP, Dates, Romance, Dreams and Goals, Love Languages, and Marital Intimacy.”

If you need help keeping your marriage a priority, Cana Feast is for you.

If you need guidance in how to live an authentic Catholic marriage, Cana Feast is for you.

If you want to grow into the husband and wife God created you to be, Cana Feast is for you.

For $24 a month, you get access to the Cana Feast community and all of the benefits we’ve described. That’s $288 a year for a priceless resource for your marriage. (Or you can pay $250 for an entire year upfront, at a 10% discount!)

We pay $275 to $325 to attend a marriage retreat each year, because our marriage is worth it. We have a date night category in our budget because our marriage is worth it.

Is your marriage worth $24 a month? $288 a year? Absolutely. For the convenience of accessing it straight from your home, it’s definitely worth it. 

If you’d like to join Cana Feast and use our link below, we will send our Date Night Guide as a thank you to anyone who signs up with our link! Just send us an email. 

Registration is only open until Thursday, November 12! If you’d like to get a taste of Cana Feast’s virtual retreats, you can sign up for their free marriage workshop, Catholic Marriage Joy. We used it in place of our marriage retreat this year (which was cancelled twice), and it was such a great alternative. (The workshop is only available until November 12 as well.)

Click here to join

Have any questions about Cana Feast? Let us know in the comments!

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The loss of fertility in our Catholic marriage: the grief, shame, and sorrow

Adrienne and I “met” on Instagram and became (long-distant) friends offline. When I found out about her story, I asked her to share here, because it’s the perfect example of why we shouldn’t make judgments about other people’s family size, because we very rarely know all of the details.

Nobody gets married and expects to deal with pregnancy loss, infertility, and even the complete loss of fertility. So often couples experience hard things and think they are the only ones, but that is never the case. That’s one of the reasons we started Surprised By Marriage. Through the crosses we experience, God can draw us closer to him and closer to each other. -Jen


It wasn’t something we saw coming. I didn’t even know the disease had been silently destroying me for years until 2015, when I was 32 years old. By then, we had already lost so much.

My husband and I were married in 2009. We had committed ourselves to a chaste relationship so our honeymoon was deeply special. We also brought home a tiny souvenir, though it would be two more weeks before I got a positive pregnancy test. 

Three months after the birth of our oldest daughter, we got pregnant again. This would come to be the first devastating loss we’d go through as a couple. At thirteen weeks pregnant, I lost our son. My husband baptized him in our bathroom, and we buried him at the Veterans cemetery where the sun rose and set just behind his grave everyday. 

Watching my husband cry as he baptized our first son in our home is burned in my memory forever. Losing our sweet John really taught us both how fragile life is. We both learned what a blessing both pregnancy and birth are. I would like to say the loss brought us closer, but this first loss taught us how not to grieve and process a miscarriage. We isolated ourselves from one another and failed to check in on each other. We didn’t come together in prayer. We were so broken in our grief, we were just trying to survive. It wasn’t until later that we circled back and admitted our mistakes during that time. 

The pain from adolescence returns

We would go on to have two more girls. As a teenager and young adult, I always had terrible cycles, which caused me deep embarrassment and shame. While the difficult cycles eased during the first couple of years after marriage, they became increasingly terrible again after our second daughter was born. After each birth, when my cycles returned, they were worse than before.

Following a very difficult pregnancy, our third child was born in December of 2013. Shortly after her birth, our daughter was diagnosed with failure to thrive. By the time she was five months old, she had already been admitted to the hospital for RSV and had significant health issues. Our other daughters were ages 4 and 2 at the time. Needless to say, life was overwhelming.

In June 2014, my husband was unexpectedly deployed. Days after his departure, I found out I was pregnant again. 

That night after testing, I miscarried again at five weeks. I could not deal with another miscarriage while my husband was gone. Without realizing it at the time, I went into denial and thought it was a false positive. He came home four months later, and soon after, we were pregnant again. Despite our youngest being less than a year old, we were thrilled. It was Thanksgiving morning when we found out, and I’ve never been more grateful on a Thanksgiving.

A pregnancy of joy and sorrow

That pregnancy, more than any others, felt laced with the Divine. There was a very distinct taste of Heaven during those first few months. I have never in my life been that completely joyful. I truly believe the Lord was preparing me for what was to come. 

In 2015, eighteen weeks into the pregnancy, I lost our second son. It was our third and most devastating loss. I found out at a routine appointment, when the Doppler was silent again. I remember screaming over and over, “Please, God, not again!” That night, I was admitted to Labor and Delivery for an induction as a woman labored and gave birth to a healthy baby next door. 

I felt as though I lived a sample of Christ’s Passion that night. My soul was burning in anguish as I labored through the night. A piece of me died that day. I didn’t understand why fertility and birth came so easily to some women but was so terribly hard for me. I wept to my husband, “What’s wrong with me?!” 

Finally, some answers

After my stillbirth, I finally started getting answers at a follow-up with my gynecologist. I found out that I had a clotting disorder, as well as endometriosis with adenomyosis—which is basically endometriosis’s evil sister. 

Unlike endometriosis, which is uterine tissue that grows on the outside of the uterus, adenomyosis grows within the walls of the uterus, slowly eating away and destroying the organ itself. There’s no treatment and no way to do corrective surgery (which can be done with endometriosis). With severe cases, most women end up needing a hysterectomy. My doctor told me I’d probably end up needing one, but that I had a good five years before then. I wish that had been true. 

A month later, in August of 2015—thanks in huge part to our Creighton provider and my gynecologist—we found out I was pregnant again. My anxiety was extremely high during that pregnancy. I was on blood thinners, progesterone, baby aspirin, and extra methylated folate. My prayers for a healthy baby were both constant and desperate. I needed this child to survive. 

One late night in April of 2016, after laboring for several hours, I gave birth to my third son. I held my son to my chest as both of us cried. I had finally given birth to a healthy son. God is so good.

Adenomyosis and its destruction

My cycles returned that summer, but my health deteriorated quickly. I was in bed all the time in immense pain. It wasn’t until November that I had another laparoscopy to remove endometriosis. My gynecologist found almost none…but he did find that the adenomyosis had eaten a hole through my uterus and destroyed it. My Creighton provider said that between my charts and laparoscopy results, we were sure to lose any pregnancies if we were even able to get pregnant again. 

My health continued to worsen. I could no longer get out of bed most days. My entire abdomen was in debilitating pain, and I was hemorrhaging. In an emergency appointment, my doctor leaned across his desk. “I know you wanted a larger family. I’m sorry. But we have to do this.” He was crying. I grabbed my husband’s hand and wept. 

The surgery was scheduled for his next available operating day. In the few days between, I begged for a miracle and pleaded for another answer. Proverbial doors and windows slammed in my face. I felt deep sweeping grief and shame. As a Catholic wife and mother, I felt I had failed. As I prayed through the emotions and we sought counsel from two priests, my husband patiently stood as a sounding board to my thoughts while affirming me we were doing the right thing—the only thing left to do. I needed a hysterectomy.

The morning of the surgery, I felt surprising peace. My doctor kept comforting me. My husband prayed with me. The day before, I had received Anointing of the Sick. I felt as ready as I would. Just before being wheeled back, I took my last pregnancy test. 

The grief and shame of hysterectomy

For the year following the surgery, I felt deep shame at the loss of my fertility. There were no books that I could find by Catholic women in my situation. Many Catholic women asked when we were going to have more children. Someone told me that having a hysterectomy was against Church’s teachings and another told me I’d committed a mortal sin.** This just added to my grief, pain, and shame.

During it all, my husband stood by, affirming me that my womanhood was still precious, insisting that I’d been brave and strong. He was angry for me and grieved with me. My husband accepted with great peace and saintly strength the cross laid upon our shoulders. Looking back, I’m grateful for his strength and prayer during my physical and emotional recovery. He truly lived out, in his quiet way, “in sickness and in health.” It taught us the importance of communicating our feelings and being receptive to the other’s feelings. We realized how critical it is to check in on one another. While we did the best we could, there are always lessons on how we can be more fully present for our spouse. 

I don’t feel the shame of the hysterectomy anymore. I can talk about it and feel the pain without it paralyzing me. The grief of losing my babies and my fertility will probably hurt for the remainder of my time in this life. But I’ve learned this over and over: God never lets Satan win. He always brings greater good out of suffering. Though I may never see it on this side of Heaven, joy always comes in the morning. 

Adrienne Stravitsch is an Army wife and mother of four children on earth. She has experienced multiple pregnancy losses as well as infertility. When she’s not homeschooling or loving on her husband and children, she can be found with her nose in a book or writing behind a keyboard. You can find her on Instagram @stravgirl, or her blog, Trust with Wild Abandon.


**Church teaching regarding a hysterectomy is explained in this post on the Vatican’s website (as a follow-up to this document). A hysterectomy is licit when medical experts deem the uterus incapable of carrying a pregnancy to term.