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

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!

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

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.


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:

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“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.

To the small Catholic families: God loves you too

Everyone knows about the verse in Genesis, where God commands Adam and Eve to have children:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’…”

Genesis 1:27-28b, Revised Standard Version

The very first thing God told Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply! We vow on our wedding day to be open to children. Not enough is said about the importance of the dual purposes of marriage (procreation and union of the spouses). Marriage is rightly ordered towards having children and educating them. 

But what if a couple is not blessed with children? Are they less loved by God? Is their marriage somehow not living up to the command to be fruitful and multiply?

Of course not. Unfortunately, couples who are unable to have children are often left behind and forgotten. There seems to be this underlying notion that in order to be a good Catholic couple, you need to have all the babies. And that couldn’t be further from the truth!

Sometimes God doesn’t send all the babies

The truth is God doesn’t give a bunch of babies to every couple. Sometimes he doesn’t send any. But it has nothing to do with how much God loves that particular couple or with them not being fruitful. It’s all about what God wants you to do and how he wants you to bring his love to the world. 

Married couples with no children or not as many children as they would like still have so much to offer the world and to the Church. God has a big plan for you, whether you have one kid or ten kids. But we can’t know how God is calling us to be fruitful if we’re too focused on what God hasn’t given us.

If you are a couple who wants children and it just hasn’t happened, this post is for you. If you are a couple who has children but not as many as you hoped for, this post is for you. If you’re struggling with knowing what God wants you and your spouse to do because the babies aren’t coming, this post is for you. If you think all you’re supposed to do in life is get married and have babies, this post is for you.

Your marriage can still be fruitful without children

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there is a section on “the openness to fertility.” The Catechism quotes St. Pope Paul VI by saying children are “a supreme gift of marriage” and that “it is in them that [marriage] finds its crowning glory.” For a couple without kids, those words can sting a little, right? A lesser known quote in that section, though, is paragraph 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.” 

Catechism of the Catholic Church, par 1654

Yes, children are blessings and contribute to the good of parents. But even without children, your marriage can still be fruitful. 

St. Pope John Paul II talks about marriage in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio and refers to St. Pope Paul VI’s quotes about children. But he also adds this:

“It must not be forgotten however that, even when procreation is not possible, conjugal life does not for this reason lose its value. Physical sterility in fact can be for spouses the occasion for other important services to the life of the human person, for example, adoption, various forms of educational work, and assistance to other families and to poor or handicapped children.”

John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, no. 14

St. Pope John Paul II spent much of his priesthood with couples and knew intimately the struggles in marriage. (How else could he have written Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body??). He must have known many couples who struggled with infertility and knew that they could still (and did) live fruitful and meaningful lives. 

Marriage isn’t just for procreation

If you read more of St. Pope Paul VI’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (which is quoted in the Catechism, as mentioned above), you’ll also read this:

“Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation; rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking.”

Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes, no. 50, emphasis added

Your marriage is not worth any less if you don’t have children, and St. Josemaría Escrivá has a beautiful response to this. When asked his opinion about the meaning of the lives of childless couples, he said:

“If in spite of everything God does not give them children, they should not regard themselves as being thwarted. They should be happy, discovering in this very fact God’s Will for them. Often God does not give children because He is asking more. God asks them to put the same effort and the same kind and gentle dedication into helping their neighbours as they would have put into raising their children, without the human joy that comes from having children. There is, then, no reason for feeling they are failures or for giving way to sadness.”

Josemaría Escrivá, Conversations, 96

Read the rest of his answer here

God is writing your story through infertility

It’s hard to see what God is doing in the midst of the pain and suffering of infertility, but God uses everything. Many couples are able to look back on their journey of infertility and see the blessings from it. 

One couple sees infertility as a blessing because it led them to their two adopted sons. 

My friend realized (through her infertility journey) that she has other gifts that bear fruit.

Because of our experience with infertility at the beginning of our marriage, we were able to be more available to family and friends, especially those with children. We were able to serve our community and church in ways that are more difficult now that we have children. We were able to be foster parents in a world that desperately needs them. We learned not to judge a family by its size, because we knew firsthand that infertility and pregnancy loss are not always visible to an outsider. Because of infertility, we are better spouses, better parents, and better members of our Church community.

And now that we’re experiencing secondary infertility, we know God has a reason for it. Maybe it’s because he has something else in store for us, or maybe he’s asking us to grow in trust. Either way, our family is perfect exactly how we are, because that’s what God intended for us at this precise moment in time.

To all the small Catholic families out there….God loves you too. More than you will ever know this side of heaven.

“God in his providence has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because he loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing.”

– St. Josemaría Escrivá

Waiting Together – An Advent Devotional for Couples {2019}

Last year, some blogging friends and I worked together to produce our first Advent devotional for Catholic couples. We saw a need and wanted to fill it!

We initially weren’t planning on doing another one this year…but changed our minds at the last minute. So we’re a little later than last year, but we’re still in time for Advent. 😅

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Along with the ladies at Hail Marry, we updated the 2018 devotional to work for 2019. It’s the same format, so I’ll just use last year’s explanation:

Do you want a simple way for you and your spouse to prepare for Christmas together? Waiting Together is an Advent devotional specifically for Catholic couples! Each day in Advent, we give you the Gospel reading for the day, a reflection, questions to discuss together, and a prayer. That’s it! It will take you less than 10 minutes each day. (Most days will probably only take 5 minutes. Easy peasy, right?)

We did change up the design a bit, and we took out all of the challenges (Check out our Advent challenge if you want those!). Plus, we lowered the price!

Full disclosure: many of the reflections are the same from last year….but there are several new ones. And this year we are offering the first 3 days of the devotional for free!

Download a free excerpt

Click the button above to get the excerpt. 😊

Here’s a quick rundown of the details of Waiting Together:

  • 79-page color PDF download
  • Created for Catholic couples
  • Each week has a different theme (hope, faith, joy, and peace)
  • Each day has the Gospel reading for the day, a reflection to read, questions to discuss together, and a prayer
  • Starts on the first day of Advent and ends on Christmas

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We are so excited about this devotional, because one of our goals is to encourage couples to keep their marriage a priority while fostering a prayer life together…and this devotional helps you do exactly that!

👇 Click the button below to purchase

$4.99

 

You can print it out yourself or read it on any device. (I’m a big fan of emailing PDFs to my Kindle – here are instructions on how to do that.) Let us know if you have any questions! Happy Advent!

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

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

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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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?

Natural Family Planning: A Man’s Perspective

We have our first guest post! Fellow Catholics Online member, Tim Lucchesi, of Chaste Love was gracious enough to share his thoughts about Natural Family Planning. It’s not too often you hear a man’s perspective, and we love what he has to say on the topic…

 

Natural Family Planning: A Man’s Perspective

Approximately four years ago, I attended Holy Mass with my girlfriend, took her on a brief walk through a park, got down on one knee and asked her to be my bride. She nodded and quickly said, “uh yeah!” And after the whirlwind of excitement, the chaos began!

We had to find a date that worked for both her parish and our busy schedules, we had to create an invite list, a back up invite list, and a registry. We had to discuss fonts and budgets and of course create a Pinterest-inspired announcement for social media.

And we had to learn about Natural Family Planning.

 

The journey begins

Like most people, I knew very little about Natural Family Planning prior to getting engaged. Both my experience as a youth minister and my personal commitment to the virtue of chastity had helped me know a little bit, but not enough.

On the other hand, my bride-to-be had nearly eight years of experience in learning the Creighton Model method while charting her cycle. Plus, she had nearly as many years as a high-risk obstetric nurse. Not to mention the fact that her mother had been an NFP instructor for nearly 30 years.

We went to our required engagement retreat and heard a wonderful couple share their personal witness of having used NFP in their marriage. We sat there as couples around us moaned and mumbled impolite things about the Church’s teaching. Then we attended a slightly awkward “intro session” to learn about the method we had chosen.

It quickly became clear to me that Natural Family Planning was very much centered on the woman and her reproductive system. So as an engaged man, and now as a husband and father, I was left asking a question, “Where do I fit in?”

 

Common concerns about NFP

Many people have concerns about using NFP for family planning. The birth-control pill just seems so simple. But putting aside all the moral and relationship-based reasons to not use contraception, the pill is poison. I will not put my wife’s mental and physical health at risk so I can have a feeling of control over my fertility. She deserves better! All women deserve better.

Perhaps the most common, and yet often unspoken reason why people decide not to use NFP is because of the fear of failure. This failure could be user error or method ineffectiveness, but regardless the fear remains. And if avoiding pregnancy is your goal, you can be just as successful at avoiding pregnancy by using NFP as you would by using contraception. But with NFP, you avoid all the risky side effects.

Many people want to achieve a pregnancy only at the precise time of their choosing. And I completely understand that instinct! Pregnancy can be difficult! And raising children, while rewarding, is the most difficult task I will ever undertake. But using contraception leads to a false sense of control and certainty. And when contraception fails, that sense of control is shattered, leading to higher stress in an already challenging situation. A key part of using NFP is remaining open to life. So no matter what happens, you are better prepared to receive new life. Even in the most unexpected of times.

 

NFP and charting…not the same thing

Looking back over the years, I realize that I was wrong about something that is key to successfully using NFP. Charting a woman’s cycle is primarily about the woman’s health and fertility. But Natural Family Planning is about the husband, the wife, the children, and God. It’s about bonding with my bride; spiritually, physically, intellectually, communicatively, and emotionally (aka SPICE).

NFP assists me in loving my wife. More importantly, NFP allows God to love my wife through me. And simply put, the more I can love my wife, the better I can love our children.

As a man, I am not called to love part of my wife, but every aspect of her very being. It’s my duty to share my whole self with my bride. And I desire to share my good days, my bad days, my hopes, my fears, my joys, and even my fertility. Anything less would be selfish. Anything less would not be selfless love.

 

The gift of fertility, NFP, and the Church’s teachings

I desire to do God’s will. And it isn’t easy. But NFP is a tool that helps me to do so. With my whole heart, I believe that God desires us to have children. And I believe that God won’t give us more children than we can handle.

I refuse to see fertility as a burden. By giving me reproductive abilities and blessing me with children, God has shared with my bride and me the very essence and power of His love and creation. A power, with which, God created all the planets in all the galaxies throughout the universe. But even more significantly, God has trusted us with the spiritual growth and guidance of unique souls.

So with that in mind, I am immensely thankful for the gift of my fertility, the Church’s teachings on sexuality, and for the science behind Natural Family Planning. All of these have made me a better husband, a better father, and a better man.

 

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Tim Lucchesi is Director of Chaste Love Ministry. But more importantly, he is a beloved son of God, a husband to an amazing woman and the father of two children: the most beautiful little girl and his precious baby son. Tim loves cheesecake and sees every superhero movie that he can. After six years in parish and regional youth ministry, Tim felt called to create Chaste Love, because everyone deserves healthy relationships. Check out his work at chastelove.org or @thechastelove on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

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If you want to hear some of our thoughts about NFP, check out our video:

 

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