Category Archives: marriage

getting married

We Can’t Give Up On Marriage

Hardly surprised that we were headed toward troubled waters again, I thought I knew enough to weather the storm (fairly) unscathed. After years of marriage, we’ve endured more than a few disagreements, but most of the time we’ve easily found our footing and resolved our differences.

Marriage is hard work for every couple, we knew that. Yet, when the winds of discord got stirred up this time, I almost abandoned ship. Continue reading

fighting for marriage

I Like My Drinks On The Rocks, Not My Marriage

How diligently I’d searched for just the right hair clip to draw back my auburn locks. Although no one was likely to notice my barrette with its pale peach-colored rosettes hidden beneath my flowing, white veil, I spared no energy in my search for it. The tiny fabric flowers continued the theme of my wedding gown which was adorned with clusters of silk roses. As a young woman, preparing for my nuptials, every detail seemed incredibly important.

What care I’d taken in preparing for that whole day. From the superfluous purchases, like finding the perfect shade of blush to compliment my complexion, to the necessary arrangements, like choosing matching gold rings, a great deal of time and attention went into making our wedding day perfect.

I did my best to prepare for the day, but I wasn’t quite as thoughtful about equipping myself for the life ahead. As a blushing young bride, I never dreamed of the heartaches, disappointments, frustrations and losses that we’d face in the years to come. READ the rest HERE

Send In the Laborers, When We Have A Ministry To Fulfill

Perhaps you could blame it on late pregnancy nesting mode or maybe just that time of year, but I simply couldn’t stand another minute of our overgrown yard, the malodorousness ofturkeys under the back patio and all those forgotten plastic

cups strewn about the grounds. With a small army of children, one might fantasize that Brelinskyville runs like sap in summer, but alas too often these soldiers are hiding in their fox holes. The breaking point hit, I rallied the troops and doled out assignments.

Of course, knowing my children all too well, I took precautionary measures to prevent fatigue, heat exhaustion and over-active bladder evacuations. I provided cold beverages and locked the doors to the house.
With me as the constant fore-mama, my crew trimmed the bushes, weeded the garden beds, filled the compost, mowed the lawns, trimmed the edges, scrubbed the patio and transported the turkeys a little further from my nasal parameters. All in all a productive day, although much remains to be done from repairing the roof and chicken field fences to curing the black spot on the rose bushes and repainting the chairs.
More Laborers Hardly Seems The Problem
The day’s tasks completed, covered in sweat and grass stains, I eagerly called it quits and headed straight for the shower. Under that hot streaming water, my mind recollected the parable from the bible about needing more laborers for the harvest (Luke 10:1-9). However, with seven children and one more on the way the necessity for more laborers hardly seems to be the issue in this household, rather I pray that they might embrace the threshing readily rather than planning to come late to the field while still expecting equal pay.
Washing away all that outdoor grime took a considerable about of effort and time (okay that’s my excuse for taking full advantage of the peace, solitude and warmth of a long shower), so my thoughts continued to extrapolate. I remembered the many prayers I’ve offered requesting laborers for the Natural Family Planning ministry. As half of a teaching couple, I’m all too aware of the shortage of volunteers, not to mention physicians.
During a conversation with an area priest, he brought to my attention the severe lack of Spanish speaking NFP instructors and said this topic often comes up in the confessional. How frustrating it must be for him to offer spiritual direction, but lack the referral sources to aid couples in fulfilling their marital vocation when they’ve discerned a serious reason to postpone a pregnancy.
I am often privileged to hear from women who have questions about their fertility cycles and their practice of the method, but sometimes those questions would be best addressed in the physician’s office. Unfortunately, if teachers are scarce, truly pro-life, well-educated (on the topic of NFP and morally licit infertility treatments) physicians are nearly non-existent in many areas of the country. In my own state, I’ve had to drive 4 hours from home to get the proper medical care.
Perhaps more than any other time, the harvest is rich, but the laborers are few.
Fresh and Clean, I Filed In
Later that evening, fresh and cleaned up after our busy work day, we filled in our usual pew at the vigil Mass. My parable ponderings had long since drifted away, but as Father began to proclaim the gospel they were summoned back. This Sunday’s reading was the parable that had rambled through my brain earlier. Certainly a moment of Divine Providence speaking directly into my ears, as I hadn’t prepared ahead of time and so had no earlier knowledge of this weekend’s gospel message.
How biting was the reminder that this job as laborer was not intended to be an easy one.“Start off now, but look, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Take no purse with you, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.” Jesus minced no words. He didn’t attempt to sell a sanitized version of the opportunity He had to offer, no bait and switch from Christ. He was sending seventy-two men out before Him with the promise of detractors eager to devour them and no material provisions to allay their temporal concerns.
When my husband and I were certified to teach the sympto-thermal method through The Couple to Couple nearly ten years ago, we were on-fire evangelists, laborers ready to charge into the fields. Books in hand, slides in the projector, we thought our zeal would be enough to spark an increased interest in our parish. Instead our booth at the parish ministry fair caused friends and acquaintances to make a wide circle around us. Like we were enclosed in an invisible bubble, they avoided all eye contact and left us feeling less than successful in our mission to share the Truth.
We soldiered on through the years content that God had a purpose for us in this ministry; however, a few years ago after so many personal trials I began to doubt. On the other end of the advice line, I stood confused and disappointed. Unable to figure out the answers to my own health/fertility questions, how could I continue to minister in this capacity. How could a farmer offer advice on how to grow a healthy harvest when his own crops were failing?
Having made up my mind with my husband’s full support, we were dropping the plow and throwing down the hoe. Someone else could do a better job. Someone else, who was filled with that zeal we’d long since lost, could step into our role.
Where Were Our Provisions?
Now listening to the gospel parable, I realized we’d been hoping for provisions. Having set up camp in out-lying southern towns, as opposed to bigger cities like Raleigh, we’d figured the couples would come (“build it and they will come”). Support from the diocese to promote our classes and committed babysitters to

make teaching engagements workable weren’t forth-coming. In these later years with my own fertility world turned upside down, I’d expected readily accessible aid. I wanted a purse, a haversack and sandals. I wanted to salute my fellow sojourners and have them salute back to me. But none of this was ours to have and we’d forgotten Christ’s instructions.

The lambs among wolves promise had nearly always been apparent, but in the earlier days of our ministry, I felt like a strong, healthy sheep able to withstand the attacks. Now older and wounded, the wolves of doubt and despair found me easy prey.
Of course, no sooner had we privately declared our decision to quit, then Father requested that we teach a group of couples he was preparing for marriage. Ugh! Really? Saying, “no” to Father is harder than telling a teary, smiling, wide-eyed toddler who’s just given you a bear hug they can’t have the last cookie in the jar.
So much for our plans to flee the fields, we taught that class and a few more since. And at present we’re poised to schedule next year’s class line-up.
I’m still praying for God to send more laborers because they are desperately needed, but for now I’ll accept my part in working the harvest. The wolves continue to howl in the background, but we’re assured that the Shepherd will never leave us lost in the wilderness. While the provisions we’d choose might be lacking, those He offers are more than enough to pay the wage.

Home school 101: Tips and Tricks of the Trade

easy ideas for home schoolers
Stumbling through files on my computer, I happened upon some notes I’d written for a talk on home schooling. While I’ve got twelve plus years on the job, know that I’m not a doppelganger for Mrs. VonTrapp, but I think I’ve learned a thing or two about what works in Brelinskyville.

  1. Without rehashing old posts, I have to say first and foremost that you need to prayerful discern God’s plan for your child’s education. Home schooling is my vocation. You need to discover if it’s yours as well. Days will come when you’ll second-guess your ability to endure one more minute as the ringleader of your 24/7 school house and knowing that you’re doing God’s work will give you the grace to continue the task.
  1. home school tipsEncourage your children to read, read, read. There are books on every imaginable topic, so if you can read, you can learn anything. An old friend’s daughter called home from college and thanked her parents for encouraging her to become an avid reader. She explained that college courses consisted of mostly textbook reading and so she had an advantage over some of her classmates, who didn’t like to read. 

    Honestly, I’m not very picky about what my kids read and I don’t have the time to preview their choices, so I’ve tried hard to teach them to recognize what isn’t appropriate. On more than one occasion, they’ve brought me a book and pointed out a “bad” word and they’ve agreed not to read it further. I’m okay with silly books for my younger kids, the boys especially, because for me the goal is to get them to enjoy reading and want to read more. Remember reading can lead to better vocabulary and spelling skills as well.

  1. Stick to a schedule. Children thrive on schedules and households are generally less stressful when everyone knows what to expect. I find it helpful at times to post the schedule, especially if I’ve made a change. This also prepares our children to be able to self-direct their studies as they get older and prepares them for schedules in the workplace.
  1. Flexibility is essential if you’d like to retain your sanity (or at least some portion of it), especially if your running a large household. As important as a schedule is, I think it is equally valuable to learn to make changes when needed. When we’ve had a baby, I’ve made a point to not get too attached to a hard and fast schedule for naps and breastfeeding. I nursed on demand and allowed my little one to sleep in my arms wherever we were and that philosophy carried over into all of our days. So, if the opportunity for a play date suddenly presents itself or a fabulous field trip is proposed, we can be flexible enough to take advantage of the blessing and make up the leftover work throughout the rest of the week. 

    I never “school” on the weekends, but occasionally when necessary I’ll add an extra week to our planners for the purpose of getting caught up. Perhaps, this is more of a personal preference, but I find it helpful to teach my kids to be able to “go with the flow” without falling apart.

  1. nurture your marriage while home schooling your childrenRemember to nurture and protect your marriage. When our children were little, we instituted Daddy and Mama Time which began at 8:00pm. I hold this time as sacred for both my own peace of mind and for my marriage. All of our children must go to their bedrooms at that time. The older kids are free to quietly play a game, read a book, chat with each other or study, but that must take place in their bedroom. It really helps to have this time to look forward to each day and it allows dad and mom the opportunity to focus on one another. There are days when 8:00pm can’t come soon enough! I think this also establishes a boundary for the children because they come to understand that dad and mom have a separate relationship (as opposed to just being dad and mom). A strong marriage makes for a stronger family which makes home schooling easier.

  2. Keep the house tidy and get dressed every day. While I wish that my house looked like those in Better Homes and Gardens, it doesn’t. Throughout the years and with the addition of children, I’ve had to become more Mary than Martha (and that is a HARD lesson). With that said, there are days when the beds don’t get made until lunchtime and there are school books still strewn on the table at 5:00pm. 

    Teach yourself and the children to tidy up throughout the day, so the house can be generally in order by the time dad gets home. For example, after you take a shower take the extra minute to hang the towels up neatly and pick up any stray items from around the sink. This way when you visit the restroom later, you won’t feel overwhelmed by “another mess.” Obviously, the house needs some serious cleaning, too, but I find it easier to pick one day a week for scrubbing and dusting. 

    Just as a tidy looking house helps to bring about a feeling of tranquility (just tune out the screaming children from this vision), a tidy looking mom will help motivate everyone. You are a teacher, an organizer, a motivational speaker, and a counselor, so look the part. Yes, the baby’s spit up may be on your shoulder and your pumps were traded in for flip flops, but you should still start every day by getting dressed, brushing your hair, etc. My grandmother and mother always “put their faces on” and “fix their hair” which is a good way to force yourself to look in the mirror for a few minutes every morning and recognize that you are beautiful and that you are YOU and not “just mom.”

  1. If something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to throw is out or give it a rest. Maybe you’ve tried to implement a suggested schedule in your house and it just isn’t working; by all means, stop and find what works for YOUR family.

    Does that grammar book that worked wonders for your son, work as well for your daughter? If not, don’t be afraid to shelf it and try another route. I used to get up and stay up at 6:00am. For a time it was a great blessing, but then life changed and my needs changed and getting up that early led me to feeling tired and grumpy in the afternoon. I decided to give that schedule and myself a rest by sleeping until 7:00. 


    Throughout the years, I’ve implemented many chart/reward systems, and they usually start out well. My kids have seen behavior charts, time charts, consequence charts, privilege charts, chore chart, enough charts that they should be aces if they are ever called upon to give some big graphic presentation to a future employer. Oh, and that’s not to mention the ticket, treat and time reward systems that I’ve offered. In time, these become less effective because the novelty has worn off or the goal was reached, then it is time to give it a rest. 

     

  1. Consistency is key. Most parents spend a lot of time seeking the magic trick to get their kids to behave. We buy books and listen to tapes, hoping to garner the secrets to success. Dr. Ray Guarendi tells us wisely that consistency is the real key. Really, no matter what the lesson we’re trying to teach, we need to be consistent if we want the lesson to “stick.” Unfortunately, the child’s brain doesn’t come with settings, so it may require mom to consistently say “Clean up your room” one million times or more rightly to say “clean up your room” and then consistently enforce a set consequence if it isn’t done.

  1. Simplify your life and your household. Years ago I collected knick knacks, but today I just view them as more stuff to dust. As a family, decide on what your mission is and then set your priorities. Strip away the things that distract you, discourage you or handicap you (no, not the kids!). Don’t over-extend yourself with too many commitments or extracurriculars. When your children are all grown up, they will remember the times you shared together, the lessons you instilled, your examples of faithfulness and your love; when the days are hard focus on THIS.


  1. living your faith with your children in the home

    Lastly, live your faith in plain sight and love your children in the moment. All the lectures and book-work in the world won’t go as far as your example will (which your kids will be studying at every moment). Remember, this time with your children (while it may seem endless on the difficult days) will pass by before you know it, leaving you a clean house and an empty school table. Tomorrow they’ll be heading out the door to fulfill their own vocations, so enjoy this time and know that your sacrifices of time, self and sanity won’t have been in vain.

Daddy Knows Best, Trusting My Husband Not to Steer Us Off the Cliff

my husband mans the wheel and keeps us safe
freedigitalphotos.net photo by Rawich

Packed into our 15 passenger, family van, on the drive home from our mountain pilgrimage, I found myself on the verge of a panic attack. My stomach felt nauseated as my mind conjured up visions of my whole brood rolling down the side of a mountain. Movie scenes played out in my head akin to Thelma and Louise’s final shot before the closing credits, although my mental scenes elicited far less excitement and far more terror. With each sharp twist and turn in the road, I awaited the inevitable moment when the passenger-side tire would lose grip of the paved surface and drag our vehicle headlong down the steep mountainside.

It was Father’s Day and my darling husband was manning the wheel while I whimpered and complained in the co-pilot seat. “Just close your eyes,” he advised, “and relax. We’ll be fine.” Of course, I had a choice to make in that moment (and my children were definitely clued into that fact.) I could heed his advice or I could mistrust his simple solution and continue to hold on to the misguided notion that keeping my eyes open, and uttering, “Slow down. Be careful” every five seconds, would somehow provide me greater security.
Just the day before I’d sat circled with a group of beautiful, faith-filled women. The discussion focused on how to be a better wife. You know, the kind of wife that doesn’t nag her husband into retreating to the shed, but who also manages to inspire him to paint the spare bedroom before the relatives arrive next Christmas. Our conclusion came down to surrender (on our parts) thereby allowing our husbands to fulfill their God-appointed roles as leaders in the home.

Certainly wives have an integral part in the marriage partnership. We are the helpmates, formed from the side of Adam. His equal in dignity, but not sharing the same talents and gifts. Of course, we also didn’t come from Adam’s foot to be trampled upon. But neither did we come from his head to be of the same mind on all things.

Thank goodness when you think about it, really. Were it not for my husband’s male-wired brain that isn’t afraid to take some risks, we’d probably still be living in an apartment somewhere. It was he who balanced out my security-driven reluctance and led us into home ownership. His now thriving business venture would never have been started if we’d relied on my desire to stick with the tried and proven safer path.
Definitely it was hard in those early days of parenthood when I had to bite my tongue to keep from crying out as he threw our young boys too high into the air or pushed the swing above my comfort level. Okay there was that one time when he may have dropped a little one, but our children love every thrilling moment of daddy-play. Because Daddy challenges them to go further than I would, but he’s also there to catch them when they come down or to straighten the swing when it heads off course.
Who is it they run to when they’ve defeated a new physical obstacle? Who is it they want to watch them as they climb to the highest branch on the backyard tree? Daddy, because he will praise them and encourage their independence rather than recall the dangers and beg them to stay within arms’ reach.
During our pilgrimage discussion, we acknowledged that our slanted views of wifehood have been shaped by the culture, from broken, single-parent homes to virulent feminism. Many of us heard women roaring so loudly that we’d become deaf to the harmonious, bass tones of manhood. Growing up watching Peg and Al Bundy was no help either. Wise and thoughtful Ward Cleaver morphed into this hen-pecked buffoon resigned to the couch except for the occasions when Peg’s high-pitched nags prompted his reluctant response.
So as our big, white, pro-life sticker laden van rounded the next hairpin turn, I

when dads are in control
freedigitalphotos.net photo by Toa55

made my choice and closed my eyes. It didn’t stop me from silently stomping the invisible passenger-side brake or placing a death-grip on the door handle, but it did allow me to turn the wheel over completely (figuratively and literally) to my husband. I used the blindness to calm my thoughts and to pray.

Of course, the realization set in that prayer was my real security. While Greg may have been manning the steering wheel, our heavenly Father was in ultimate control. He had the power to keep those four tires on the narrow roadways or to allow them to slip off. And He had placed my husband, not me, in that driver’s seat.
While my stomach was still queasy and my mind was still pulling me down the ravine, I surrendered. In the end, my husband was right, everything was fine and we made it down that mountain without a scratch or dent. My fears and worries hadn’t changed the circumstances. And had I been behind that steering wheel, we might still be stuck on that mountainside now moving at five miles an hour with my heart in my throat the whole way.
my kids look to their dad for guidance and protection

Our pilgrimage lessons didn’t really end when we boarded that van and started the engine. The drive home was merely an opportunity to put our faith into action and to test the validity of the truths we’d spent the weekend discussing. Seeing as God placed Greg as the head of this household, I need to trust that with my prayerful help and support, he is fully capable of piloting this family toward our final destination. My quiet petitions and surrender will do far more to encourage and aid him in his appointed position than will doubt and worry.

By accepting my role as navigational coordinator and supporter on this trip, as opposed to a nagging co-pilot, I gave witness to my children that Daddy (the heavenly One and the earthly one) really does know best.

Marks of True Love: A Marriage Like No Other

                                                                                                                                   Childhood sweethearts, my husband and I married for the first time at Sts. Peter and Paul Russian OrthodoxChurch. After the beautiful, two hour long Liturgy complete with crowns and chanting, my mother remarked there was no doubt we had indeed been united by this sacrament. Unlike some modern weddings which focus on flowery arrangements, self-appointed roles and individually crafted vows, ours followed tradition with its focus on the sacramental and not so much the selves. Of course, at 21 and 23 we’d have a lot to learn about life and marriage in the years to come.


our 20th Anniversary

Having married outside of the Catholic Church, our pre-cana consisted only of a few short meetings with the priest, who was to marry us. I remember only his encouraging me to convert and little else. We missed the boat, so to speak, on so many crucial lessons, but thankfully God always has a back-up plan.


Totally unaware of the Churches’ teachings, we contracepted early on until the time when we deemed ourselves ready to welcome another family member. What joy it seemed then to ask God to create a new life on our terms, in our time. However, after the death of our firstborn we began to realize that life was far more fragile than we’d considered and our well-crafted life plans disappeared with his heartbeat. We desperately wanted more children and so I suppose our hearts were ready soil for God to plant a different kind of seed.

An Attention Grabber

Browsing through a bookstore’s discount bin at the mall, I happened upon a thick book that grabbed my attention. Fertility awareness was the topic, and seeing as our attempts to conceive had taken much time and effort the first time around, it seemed the perfect read. I gobbled up that book and eagerly applied the newly found knowledge about my basal body temperature, mucus and cervical changes.


Fast forward six years and many changes later, my husband converted to the Catholic faith and we married for the second time in a little chapel at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. In truth, standing there surrounded by a few friends and flanked by a toddler and a baby, we had our marriage, which was already considered valid by the Catholic Church, blessed.

Marrying For the Second Time

While our “first” marriage had united us together in that permanent bond of marriage, endowing us with the gifts to live out that vocation, I believe that “second” marriage made us evermore conscious of our need to rely on Divine Providence and our responsibility to actively grow together in our faith. Like too many other young people, after our wedding ceremony we had created all too many excuses for sleeping in on Sundays and relegated Christ to Easter and Christmas those first few years. Thankfully, once our family size increased, so too did our knowledge of the necessity for faith, but still missing were those hard truths.


Though my eyes had been opened to the beauty of my fertility, unfortunately that initial method of fertility awareness was void of theological truth and thus allowed for contraceptive behaviors and devices during the fertile phase of the cycle. It also didn’t challenge us to include God in our family planning, though at the time we felt an internal stirring to openness. Thankfully, our Lord is patient and so He nurtured that sapling and in time He would redirect its growth.

Standing On The Precipice Of Divorce

By the time we were celebrating our tenth anniversary, we’d been blessed with one son through adoption, two more birth sons, and our first daughter had entered the world. By all accounts our cup was overflowing, but in reality we were standing on the precipice of divorce, contemplating the looming pit of broken vows and broken dreams.


Well-meaning friends and family worried about our children and about divorced parents trying to raise them apart, so they encouraged us to protect ourselves. Protect ourselves, especially, against the possibility of anymore conceptions. Really, with four children already, many people couldn’t understand why we’d ever want more. Their advice seemed reasonable, so we took it and reverted back to contracepting during the fertile time.


We chose to work through our trial with a Christian therapist, who instructed us in reading the Bible. Little did this faithful, Protestant therapist know, not only was he helping to heal our broken hearts, but he was leading us deeper into our Catholic faith. For the first time, we began reading God’s Word separately and together. A deeper and more intimate relationship developed between the three of us (Christ, my husband and me) and we developed a thirst for more.


Truthfully, I knew something wasn’t right in our contracepting, but I couldn’t quite figure out what that “something” was. When I’d contracepted in our early years, I struggled with a myriad of physical and psychological symptoms as a result of the synthetic hormones. Contracepting without hormones, I still felt unsatisfied mentally, physically and spiritually.


A couple at our parish introduced us to The Mary Foundation, a fantastic organization that gave away free audio tapes (now CDs). For two people still emerging from the “modern theological” desert, hungry and parched, these tapes were our manna and rain. After listening to “The Mass Explained,” we ordered a box full of all their titles. My husband listened during commutes to work and I listened while cleaning the house and pushing kids on the swing.

Perplexed By My Husband’s Command

Then, one day my husband came home and handed me a tape. Entitled “The Key to Happy Families,” he wouldn’t divulge the contents, but simply instructed me to listen. Perplexed by his secrecy and intrigued by his command, I readily hit the play button. By the time the tape reel had run its course, my head was spinning.


The Pill is an abortifacient, so we could have aborted our own children? Contracepting is a mortal sin? A pope wrote a whole encyclical on this subject and prophesied abortion on demand, increased divorced rates, infidelity in marriages, and more. The Catholic Church actually has a teaching on this subject?


As a cradle Catholic, why had I not heard this before? And what was I going to do now?


From that day forward, my husband and I agreed, we could not contracept again, not with our bodies, not with our minds, not with our hearts. A dramatic turning point for me, I was working through my pain and was now more confused than ever.

Making The Vow

Alone in my bedroom, on my knees, I gave it all over to the Blessed Mother. I told her of my fears, my desires, my weakness and I asked her specifically to align my heart to God’s Will. Pledging my fertility to Jesus through her hands, I surrendered in a way I never had before. For the first time, I recognized and accepted my smallness. I promised to allow Jesus to have total control over my fertility, so long as Our Lady would wrap me in her mantle of comfort and protection.


I didn’t hear any voices, I didn’t see any heavenly lights, but I knew that she heard me, that she’d swaddled me in her motherly embrace. Of course, it was still a process, learning to completely surrender and trust. A process that we are still working through ten more years later and one that I think we will be trying to perfect for the rest of our lives.


This passed June, we celebrated our 20th anniversary in the company of our 7 children. Certainly, our married life has not been without further crosses. We’ve endured the losses of five more children, we’ve revisited old weaknesses, we’ve faced the judgment of others, but, contrary to the world’s idea of love and freedom, we’ve discovered that surrender, forgiveness and self-sacrifice are the source and summit of true love.


At 41 and 43, we recognize that our marriage includes a third partner, God. He was there on our wedding day and He has been there every day since, even when we relegated Him to the back seat. Through His Word and His sacrifice on the cross, He taught us the meaning of love and He showed us how to manifest that love toward one another.


Freely, faithfully and fully, we give ourselves, our whole selves, to one another and to Christ, inside of our bedroom and out. Today I understand, with a new perspective, my mother’s comment on our wedding day. Truly, the three of us were united by the Sacrament of Marriage.