Why this millennial convert is grateful for Humanae Vitae

We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. We want a religion that is right where we are wrong. – G.K. Chesterton

As a way of response to the bemoaning in some circles of the Church’s “irrelevancy,” re the 50th anniversary of “Humanae vitae,” (the papal encyclical that reiterated the Church’s stance on contraception,) I’d like to share the story of how the Church wooed this millennial home. 

Unity, contraception, and authority – the super sexy buzzwords that shaped my journey from the evangelical world to the Catholic Church. I became Catholic at a Friday afternoon Mass less than a week after my first baby was baptized into the Church. A couple days before, I had a surge of doubt – How did I get to this point? Am I making the right decision? But when I sat down and thought about my spiritual course of the last few years, I felt overwhelming peace. Having been raised in the nondenominational, evangelical Christian world, I had learned to look to Jesus. To make decisions with the question in mind, Will this lead me closer to God? Will this require me to trust Him more? I was reassured, only Jesus could have led to me this place of trust, where I was ready to submit to the authority of His Church and cross the Tiber.

As a college student in the Bay Area, discovering the Church as a two thousand year old institution that has the audacity to hold to crazy truths that Protestant denominations have abandoned was shocking and challenging and, strangely, very compelling. I probably asked Chris, the one Catholic in our university evangelical student group (now my husband), a million times – You actually believe this? Oh yeah, and there was that. I also happened to find Chris very compelling. Contemplative and competitive, deep and fun, he really seemed to love Jesus … and yet, he was Catholic. Why do you have to go to Mass every Sunday? Why do you pray to Mary? If you eat Jesus, aren’t you a cannibal? I was a bit sassy, but, not so secretly, very intrigued.

I went to a Spanish Mass with Chris in Oakland throughout the summer of 2011 and when I studied abroad in Spain that fall, I found myself going to Mass with a new friend in the program. She was Catholic, and I continued to ask questions. I couldn’t receive the Eucharist, and had some awkward bumbles asking the priest for a bendición when I stepped forward in the communion line, but I went back week after week. The Mass was the same everywhere! If it was true, Jesus was physically present in millions of churches all around the world. Chris, back in California, was hearing the same scripture readings. A unified, global Church! The ritual and form was such, I could participate in a different language. I learned that Catholics fasted the hour before receiving the Eucharist; they didn’t bring their bagels into the pews. Church as a sacred space? Didn’t the Church know it was supposed to appeal to my generation with amplified music and hipster coffee in the foyer?

When I returned to Stanford, I still wasn’t sure about Catholicism, but I was pretty sure about Chris.

“I think we should date,” I said.

Let me think about it,” he said.

And when he got back to me, he said, “I want to date you, but there’s two things you should know. I’m fine with marrying a Protestant, but I want to raise my kids Catholic, and I want to follow Church teaching on contraception.”

WHAT THE WHAT. There’s Church teaching on contraception?

I was shocked to learn that yes, in fact, the Church holds to the traditional Christian view that contraception is a moral issue and it is wrong.

And in fact, Protestants believed and taught this until 1930, when the Anglican Church announced contraception to be acceptable in certain circumstances and other denominations followed suit in the decades after. I had no idea. This rocked my world because every single Christian in my life until this point, once married, had no problem with using contraception. In fact, it seemed to be encouraged. Babies are blessings, but they are planned blessings. Faced with this news, I set about learning more because a) I wanted to date Chris and b) I didn’t want to be a Duggar.

I learned that the Church teaches that sex is inherently unitive, pleasurable, and procreative. I learned that for millennia, Christians have believed that the sexual act is, by nature, tied to co-creating life with God. And further, that couples don’t have the right to actively mess with that (sacred) reality. What about couples who are infertile? What about women past menopause? Neither of those cases involve the couple actively interfering with the sexual act to render it sterile – there’s nothing immoral about infertility. (Though it’s true that the Church has a long way to go in its pastoral care for couples struggling with this).

I learned that the Church teaches that couples can track their fertility to avoid or achieve a pregnancy. There are many methods of fertility tracking, but they are lumped together in the Catholic world under the title, Natural Family Planning

When a couple is highly motivated and uses NFP effectively, it has a 98 percent success rate in avoiding a pregnancy. Well, isn’t that just Catholic birth control, then? Nope. A couple using NFP to avoid a pregnancy doesn’t do anything to alter the sexual act. They abstain from sex when the woman is fertile, following her body’s natural rhythms. It’s an ongoing conversation between themselves and God, month by month, but in general, there’s an attitude, an orientation, that is open to life as each sexual act is open to the possibility of life.

I found all this very new and alarming. And fascinating. People actually do this?? Do they all have a ton of kids because NFP doesn’t work or because they just want to? The vast majority of families I knew growing up had two kids and then were “done.” I was also intrigued because I knew basically nothing about my fertility.

I met with a married woman I knew who had recently converted to Catholicism to ask her about NFP. How does it actually work? She explained briefly how she tracked her fertility, and then told me that her husband actually wrote down her observations each day. He was intimately familiar with her cycle and could see, with her, if she was stressed or sick, from the signs her body was giving her. My take away from this was – I have no idea what cervical mucus even i! It can tell you that you’re sick?? But I was drawn to several points from what she shared. Her husband cared about her fertility. The man could discuss cervical mucus! He had a vested interest in it. And this led me think about, for the first time ever, I don’t want to be the one responsible for if I get pregnant or not. If I get married, I want my spouse to share that with me equally. And a second thought, I don’t want to ever feel used by my spouse, or use him. If we could take only the pleasurable aspect of sex and not the other reality of possibly creating life, by rejecting part of my body, namely, my fertility – well, that didn’t seem as right to me anymore. I wanted to be all in, with him, holding nothing back. It started to make more sense that for something as intimate and powerful as sex, there would be a lot of self-sacrifice involved for the sake of the other.

It was the strangest thing, but as I learned more about NFP, I found more and more that it seemed empowering of women. I met with a nurse and NFP instructor in San Jose and she taught me more about my body than I had ever learned in health class. My body is amazing! Women are amazing! Why aren’t we all taught how to track our fertility? This coincided with an obsession I had with midwifery, and there’s a lot of rhetoric in the birth world about how strong and goddess-like women are, so I was riding a feminist high. This feels like true feminism! Why is the pill given as a solution for any female problem? Why are we told to medicate our fertility away?

Learning more of the why’s and how’s of NFP led me to start considering the authority of the Church. “No contraception” felt like a super personal, crazy demand that the Church somehow had the boldness to impose on me and my sex life… but as a Protestant, I had come to profess Jesus as Lord. And that meant He had authority over my life. This was a foundational part of youth group, college ministry, church on Sunday, you name it. Give your life to Jesus. “Your life” included how you thought about your studies, future career, justice, money, friendships, and sex. I am so grateful for this formation. It molded my heart, from a young age, with an inclination towards radical trust in the Divine Will. But I never once heard anyone talk about Jesus having authority over family planning. Trust God with the number of kids I’m going to have? That’s going a little far, wouldn’t you say?

And yet, why? It began to feel inconsistent. I looked at the spiritual mentors in my life – people living out their love for God in their decisions about money, their work for justice, their sharing of the gospel with word and deed– it seemed nothing in their lives was outside of God’s control. Except, it seemed, accepting children. Save sex until marriage, and then, go crazy? I assumed so, but didn’t really know; it wasn’t talked about. The vibe I gleaned from excitement about engagement and weddings (though, granted, this wasn’t huge in the Bay Area,) was once you’re married, all that chastity and self-control stuff is finally a thing of the past! And this felt odd to me. It started to make much more sense that I was practicing self-control and practicing chastity for when I would need to use those virtues in the rest of my life. If using NFP cultivated self-control in the relationship between a married couple, wouldn’t that be good, not just for the individual, but also the marriage?

There were these flashes, then, when the Catholic Church didn’t seem quite so crazy. Or, if crazy, at least consistently crazy, and very confident of its authority to proclaim truth, which was interesting. I kept getting glimpses of how this counter-cultural lifestyle would require me to trust God more than I ever had to before. If the Church seems more consistent on the sex thing, what else might it be right about? Rather than pushing me away, it drew me in.

I kept reading and asking questions, praying and seeking God’s will. I felt my heart open and continue to soften until I felt I could agree to raise my kids Catholic and do this NFP thing. So, still Protestant, I married Chris in a Catholic church. I went to Mass on Sundays and let the Holy Spirit speak to me, often through the gift of tears . And in perfect timing, it led me to that Friday afternoon Mass at the end of October, my husband holding our two month old daughter who had been baptized six days earlier. I felt the chrism oil dripping down my forehead and knew, when the priest said, “Be sealed with the Holy Spirit,” I could say, “Amen,” because it was Jesus who had brought me home to His Church.

 

 

savoring summer (still)

I’ve already given myself a pep talk once this summer about savoring the weeks of looooong hot, humid days, hanging out with the girls with nothing on our schedule. But it would seem I need another reminder. I have so many ideas of how I could use some child-free time! But when I’m longing for a couple hours spent writing at a coffee shop, I’m missing the good that’s right in front of me. So, I’m trying to be present. I’m trying to be grateful.

Today, I’m grateful that the friend who will be living with us soon brought some boxes over this morning and stayed to play with Evangeline for a while. And Zelie took a 4 hour nap (!!!) and I had some unexpected time to tackle a project that’s been on my mind for a couple weeks.

Gallery wall, baby.

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After I won the ABC print from Be A Heart’s Instagram giveaway (I can’t believe it, either!) I kept thinking about how I could use it for some inspo for the shared girls room I needed to create. Figuring out how to layout the room, cut down on toys, and find something that could hold clothes (since the closet would become Zelie’s baby cave and I don’t have a small dresser) took some creative energy, which I enjoyed. But when I have an idea, I want it done yesterday. So my temptation is to be v frustrated when I can’t seem to get going or finish a project day after day because, you know, toddlers and babies. This open window of time today – I think I had nearly 3 hours?? – was such a gift. I just went for it. No levelers, no pencils, I eyeballed it and hammered nails into the walls for the first time since we moved in. I’m pretty happy with it!

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The Mary and Jesus etching was a gift from Chris’s brother, Teddy. (Shoutout to Ted’s art skillz!) The plant hanger and the faux taxidermy unicorn are from Target. I know those cacti are doomed, but a girl can dream. And faux taxidermy I just find so adorable and hilarious, it was an impulse buy and NO REGERTS. The photo is me and Chris with Evangeline’s godparents at their wedding reception (Evangeline in my belly), the cross is from a Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA, and the embroidery was a gift for Zelie’s baptism made by my amazingly talented friend, Magdalena. 🙂

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This is over Evangeline’s (new big girl) bed. A shout out to some Etsy shops! The St. Catherine of Siena quote is a Rose Harrington print, a gift for Evangeline’s first baptism anniversary from her godmother, Megan. The adorable St. Teresa of Calcutta doll photobombing down there, also from Aunt Megan! (I love every single saint doll in this shop). And then a Jerusalem cross, also from Aunt Megan – wow! Go, Megan! (And Michael! Sorry, Michael!) – and an icon of the Nativity of Christ, a gift from my good friend Sarah after my confirmation, and a wooden angel that Maya and I had in our room when we were little.

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snapped a pic before I went to work on the walls. the pictures hanging are on the nails that were left by the previous owners.

As far as the shared room is going … it’s not, really. Haha! They were together for a week, and it had its ups and downs. Bedtime was generally great. Zelie went down and didn’t wake up when we brought Evangeline in. But then Zelie started sleeping terribly from 2:30-5am for a few nights and that was not fun for anyone. Shared afternoon nap time, after two bad days of Zelie not being able to nap, got separated, with Zelie in a pack n play in the guest room. And then, when Chris and I went out for a date night and started planning the little retreat we’re taking over our anniversary, I realized it’s not fair to leave an unweaned baby with Grandma and Grandpa for two nights. So that took priority, and that means Zelie’s in the guest room until she can sleep through the night.

ANYWAY. All that to say, I’m hoping fall will bring me a new rhythm with some time to myself each week. And I am feeling how the extremity of the seasons here preps me for the next one, but I jump the gun a bit. So, working on that. I can look ahead and tell that the end of August will feel super busy, and by then I’ll probably wish I was back in this mellow July.

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Goodbye, University Village

We only lived there for 8 months, but University Village was a remarkable place. It closed today after 56 years of housing married students with families at Notre Dame. 56 years containing so much life in such a small place. So many babies born, so many countries represented, so many friendships forged in the common ground of that unique season of life, doing grad school while raising kids.

Truly, finding an international village in South Bend, Indiana was a wonder and a joy. At the final mass in the community center, I found myself tearing up, seeing the children who had been born there, the ones who couldn’t remember any other home, and the parents who had been through so much with the community at their side.

I think we might have been debriefing a meeting with Housing or Affleck-Graves

I’m glad we made noise and asked the University to move forward on building a replacement, and I’m glad it appears to be in the works. But it is sad to lose a physical place that holds memories for so many, and to see the community scatter in the intermediary time.

We have the privilege to be able to buy a house here, and we did. I’m coming to love it. But even if I had known this house was waiting for us, I would choose to live in the Village again first, hands down. Being friends with our neighbors, Evangeline being able to run up the stairs to see if Nora and Jules or Carter wanted to play (Building D!), or take them some of the muffins we had just baked, or ask to borrow some ginger, it made Indiana feel like home. I felt known in an unfamiliar place.

all the play dates

The fire alarms in the middle of the night, the poorly insulated 500 sq foot apartment, it was all part of the deal. We could have neighbors over for game nights because we lived close enough for baby monitors to reach. Chris and I could go out and leave the monitor with the upstairs neighbors. I literally only survived, even thrived, in my first real winter, because every morning I knew I could go up and visit Rose without putting on layers and layers of clothes or having to drive (I didn’t drive at all the whole month of December). We were spoiled.

Rose, aka Wonder Woman.

After a couple months of living in our new house, I’ve gotten used to it’s size. But at first I’d find myself standing somewhere thinking, I’m in just one room of this whole house. There’s a whole room for just this bathroom. And now it feels more normal but I still miss the small space we had. I could see or hear the girls wherever they were, messes were quickly picked up because otherwise there was no room to walk, and after tidying the living room and vacuuming from one plug, that was as clean as it got.

I have to be more disciplined now about not acquiring stuff just because it’s free or really cheap and I know we have room for it. It was nice to just not have room. That said, I am grateful for our house and I feel the need to be generous and hospitable with all the space we have now. We’re trying to get in a groove of hosting people for dinner or s’mores after the girls are asleep, and I’m making a point of moving the girls in together once our friend starts living with us so that there will still be a guest room ready for #peachtreeguests. (Wish me luck with that). 🏡❤️