part of our story

As I’ve entered the second trimester of this pregnancy, I’ve been thinking about how this baby’s life has already changed our family’s story. About how this baby comes to us after losing another.

At the end of June, I had a miscarriage. I’d only known I was pregnant for ten days and had only told one friend. It was still so new, and then, it was over.

So this is my fourth pregnancy, my fourth baby. But I won’t explain that to strangers in the grocery store; I probably will hardly ever talk about it. For all outward appearances, this is Baby #3. But we know that there was a little soul who would have come to us in February, and we named him or her Valentine. It’s made me think about how many other families share this experience, how the question, How many kids do you have? becomes a bit more complicated to fully explain.

I may share more about the miscarriage and how we grieved and found closure, because I found it helpful to read about other women’s stories when it happened. But for now, we talk about Baby Valen with the girls, and we go and visit the cemetery where he or she (I’ll call her she), is buried. We’ve been looking for a way to volunteer time as a family, a way to engage in social justice in some way with the girls, but everything we’ve thought of has been too late in the evening for our current early dinner/bedtime schedule. So for now, in this season, we’ve landed on the spiritual work of mercy – pray for the living and the dead. We take the girls and pray a decade of the rosary  and the prayer for the dead for the soul of Baby Valen and all the departed.

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I wish it wouldn’t have happened, of course. I wish I could have felt her move, held her, seen her, been able to get to know her. But I’ve been comforted by the reactions I’ve received from friends, and even the (free!) services offered by the local funeral parlor and cemetery. Overwhelmingly, it’s been – This is a person to bury, this is a person to grieve. Despite how common early miscarriages are, and the various factors that can cause them, I was never made to feel that this was something to just get over and forget about. And that’s been a good lesson and reminder for me, as we’ve talked about her with Evangeline. Baby Valen was still a baby, even though she was so little, and she will always be a part of our family. We can ask her to pray for us because we trust that she is with Jesus. It’s brought up good conversations about the communion of saints, the dignity of life, and death. And it just feels good to talk about her, this little person God sent to us for such a brief time.

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Baby Valen, pray for us.

that time I ugly cried at a poetry open mic

I recently had an experience that I think could be described as mystical, in that it felt like a sudden and unexpected outpouring of grace. I’ve been trying to process what happened and why it happened ever since, because although I am very grateful, it was also extremely embarrassing.

On Wednesday night last month, Chris told me that the after-party for the Thursday night prayer service led by the seminarians would be a poetry open mic, and asked if I would want to read one of my poems. I immediately said no. But then, the next day when his classmate texted me asking if I would read a poem if she did, I reconsidered. Two invitations? I decided I would read my villanelle, but I would also read a very good villanelle.

This prayer service is held in the chapel of the seminary on campus, which has the acoustics of a huge bathroom. The seminarian leading the singing doesn’t need a microphone, his voice carries easily. And the response from the pews is thunderous. It is a beautiful time of candle-lit prayer, most of it sung, with a couple short readings and a homily. The last line that closes the evening is the seminarian singing, Let grace come and this world pass away. And the response is, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 

This last line, the chorus of voices echoing around me, got me. I had this sudden, deep longing for everything to be made right, a strong desire for Jesus. And the way I experience this kind of longing is through crying. (I’ve mentioned I refer to it somewhat jokingly as having the gift of tears, which is a thing, I just don’t know if I really have it). I teared up but quickly pulled it together because everyone was starting to leave and head downstairs for the open mic part of the evening.

After grabbing tea and scones, Chris and I found seats right in front and sat chatting with his classmates, waiting for the poetry part to begin. I was nervous because as it started, it seemed most people were reciting poems they had memorized, or doing original spoken word poems. I firmly planned to just read the two poems I had brought. Some were funny, some were funny and high energy, and mine were neither. But when it was my turn, I stood up, put on the designated “poetry scarf,” and began.

The first poem went fine. I did a little introduction about villanelles, said I’d be reading a really good one for them first, and read it. Then I turned to mine and felt it deserved a little introduction, too. I think I made the mistake of being rather vulnerable. I shared that this poem was about the Visitation, and that as I was a fairly new convert to Catholicism, I was still getting to know Mary. I like this part of scripture because it shows us Mary from Elizabeth’s perspective, and gives us another glimpse into her life. By this time, my voice had started shaking. I realized that I had just opened up a lot of myself in front of about forty people, most of whom I didn’t know. But I took a deep breath and started reading my poem.

As I was reading, it was the strangest thing, it was like I was surprised by the poem. It’s about two women, two mothers with babies in their wombs, and I suddenly thought, I’m probably the only mother in this room. I read, “Already she faced her share of the sword,” and thought, who am I to be writing this about this woman? By the time I got to the line, “Blessed one! With your yes you moved us toward/the home we long for, and all things made right,” I had totally lost it. I was full on ugly crying in the middle of my own poem.

I garbled out the last two lines, muttered, “Sorry,” and tried to sink as quickly back into my seat as I could. I could not stop crying.

I was so embarrassed and I had no way to explain to all these strangers why I was crying. I wasn’t really sure why either. I tried to dismiss it – it’s just because I’m really tired. But as I tried to block out everyone around me and how ridiculous the situation was, I remembered that God usually does speak to me in deep ways through tears. And this had felt like grace – just much more publicly humiliating and therefore bewildering than I would have chosen.

Two days later I went to a lecture on campus about Chiara Lubich, who founded the lay movement, Focolare. I had no idea who she was but for whatever reason I wanted to go hear this talk. The professor spoke about Chiara’s focus on Maria Desolata  – Mary desolate.

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He said that Mary, at the foot of the cross, sees all of the misery and suffering of the world, and holds it all. That Maria Desolata was an icon for Chiara for looking unflinchingly and lovingly at a world in pain. Chiara wrote, “If Jesus forsaken seemed to us to be the pupil of God’s eye open onto the world, we can say that Mary desolate seems to us a kind of camera obscura taking in all that is negative in the world (Essential Writings: Spirituality, Dialogue, Culture, p. 299). And the professor commented, “The Mary who holds the disfigured Christ is also the one who can gaze objectively at the world in all of its disfigurement. Just as a photographic image is developed from a negative, Mary can hope for redemption of a fallen world in the midst of her and the world’s most complete agony (“Chiara Lubich: A Saint for a New Global Unity,” Casarella).” 

And I started to cry again. Was that what I had experienced, a tiny glimpse of this? Was that the grace?

Professor Casarella went on to say that Mary desolate also offers “an icon of knowing how to lose.” He summarized Chiara’s thoughts on this, saying, “Apart from her Son, Mary had very little. When she lost him in his Passion, the loss was total and decisive. But she saw this loss for what it really was. The one who prepared all her life to be alone, became Mother to each of us, to the whole of the world (Essential Writings p.302)… Her love, her capacity for giving is human, real, and maternal. It consists of a unique capacity to bear the sorrow of the world in one’s heart. According to Chiara, when a mother hopes all things for her child and puts up with all the troubles involved, she sees further than others. (“Chiara Lubich: A Saint for a New Global Unity,” Casarella). 

I was sitting next to one of Chris’s classmates and when she turned to me at this point to whisper something, she saw that I was crying. She looked concerned and asked,”Are you okay?” I nodded and whispered, “Yeah, I’m fine, I just had this mystical experience the other night and I think it’s making more sense to me right now.” She accepted this as a reasonable explanation (you’re the best, Jackie).

I’m still reflecting on all this and will be for a long time. But in the meantime, St. Therese of Lisieux said, “Everything is grace.” It took ugly crying in front of strangers but now I think I have some idea of what she meant.

end of september quick takes

Well, it’s fall now and if I seem obsessed with seasons it’s because summer in South Bend is HOT, fall is crisp and gorgeous but FLEETING, and winter is grey and freezing and ETERNAL. And I don’t do well with change. But before September is gone I wanted to reflect on how back to school went and other random thoughts/things.

1)  Evangeline starts her fifth week of school this week and it’s going really well. She’s made friends, likes her teachers, and loves the playground and snack time (of course). I spend the five minute drive home peppering her with questions about the “works” she did, but she rarely is able to tell me much about those. Understandable. She was exhausted after school for the first week or so but has adjusted and now she’s her normal three year old self the rest of the day. I try to make sure she gets a car nap once or twice a week because she needs it every so often, but girlfriend will not nap in her bed anymore.

2) Evange in school means mornings look different for me now. If she’s not up, I get her up by 7:20 and get her dressed and do her hair so we’re eating breakfast by 7:30 and she has plenty of time to eat before hopping in the car at 8, to get to school before 8:15. We have not been late yet! Woot! Zelie is along for the ride but by the time we get back she’s nearly ready for her morning nap. (She’s been waking up at 5am… blerg.) But I’m so glad she still takes two naps, because I get to finish my tea with a book on the deck and it has been glorious. I usually have time to shower, too, and get some things done around the house. I sometimes feel like I should do more with that time, but I got a part time job that will start soon, so I’m just enjoying the freedom for now.

3) Which leads me to books! I finished Crazy Rich Asians (I dropped my library copy in the bathtub – oops), read six or so essays from Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners (highly enjoyable), and now I find myself working through three non-fiction books, which never happens. Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset (really enjoying as spiritual reading), The Grace of Enough by Haley Stewart (reminding me I want to go further with gardening next summer, and also maybe be open to backyard chickens again), and No- Drama Discipline (which I’m reading v v slowly but is good). Oh and I’m on Harry Potter #5 audiobook for those car naps.

4) Fall! We went apple picking, the weather was perfect, I was so happy.

5) We’ve lived in our house for six months now and I feel pretty settled here. I found this bench at a rummage sale and decided to give it a chance and I’m pleased with the results. My favorite part of the house is the backyard, though, so I want to get more use out of the fire pit and just soak it all up before it’s covered in snow (gahhhh). I had the chance to host a group of mom friends for a prayer and playdate time twice this month and both mornings were warm so we were outside. I really enjoy being able to practice hospitality and get more use out of all this space. Different note – we’re renting out the house for a few football weekends and that made us decide to buy a TV. I am equal parts horrified that we own one, proud of myself for navigating Best Buy and setting up Chrome Cast, and guilty that our house feels too luxurious now. But it has been nice for college football viewing. (And Evange got some Silly Songs With Larry when she succumbed to the miserable cold we’ve all been fighting this week).

6) Speaking of the house, life with a housemate has been swell. He’s super busy so he’s not around often, but when he’s home he is great with the girls and they love him. And if he’s around for dinner and Chris is still at class, he does the dishes while I put the girls to bed and it is the best thing ever. Highly recommend.

7) I’ll end with a little pat on my back because this month marked one year of cloth diapering, and I’m still going strong. Well, actually, several of the hand-me-down diapers with velcro fastens need the velcro replaced, which has made me use more disposables in between washings, but once I get that sorted it’ll be smooth sailing. I even took them traveling – to NJ for Christmas and to RI this summer – because we drove and would be in a house with washer/dryer so why not? I’m still finding satisfaction in the re-usable-ness of them and I don’t mind the work involved, so we’ll see how long it goes.

Anyway, Happy Monday! Any good fiction recs? I’ll take em!

 

first born out of my womb (a birth story three years late)

First born out of my womb, love of my life. That’s something my mom would say to me growing up, or at least how I remember it. Kinda weird but also great, like my mom (love you!). Chris and I are both oldest children and, let’s be real, there’s just something special about that first baby. Evangeline Marit made us parents for the first time. And, as I’m realizing, everything new about parenting, we’ll hit first with her. At least the basic developmental things in these early years. So, as we celebrated her third birthday last week and I reminisce about these last three years, I thought I’d finally typity type out a birth story. If that’s your kind of thing, read on.

I went into labor three days before my due date, on a Tuesday night. I was lying in bed when I felt some cramping start and I was like, OMG IS THIS IT?? It died away and came back and so I was like, THIS IS HAPPENING! THESE ARE CONTRACTIONS, THIS IS LABOR! I made Chris get out the contraction timing app we had found and start timing me and had all this adrenaline going. We were both so excited. Labor is exciting! I was also so curious what contractions would actually feel like, because talking to moms and reading about labor, it seemed like no one could describe the pain very well. I had in my head that labor would be like running a marathon. It would be hard, I’d need endurance, and perseverance, but I could trust my body, it was made to do this, and I could do this. I would be smart about it, I would breathe my way through the pain, it would be awesome. So, it’s Tuesday night, contractions start and I am SO PUMPED.

LOL.

Those contractions (which I know now were very early pre-labor contractions) kept me up most of the night and were still far apart and I could talk through them (which I felt great about, because I had nothing to compare them to). Wednesday morning Chris didn’t go to work and we tried to figure out what do to. We went to daily Mass, came home and I managed to nap a bit, and then we got fro-yo and went for a walk on West Cliff. Oh Santa Cruz, I miss you.

Wednesday night – after 24 hours of this early labor business – I tried going to sleep because I was exhausted. But there was still so much excitement and adrenaline, so not much sleep. By 10 or 11pm the contractions seemed to be getting a bit more intense, so we called my mom and she drove over from San Jose. We called the birth center to ask when to come in and to see if they had room for me. They said to wait until contractions were closer together, but that we could come later. My mom arrived and relieved Chris, who had been putting pressure on my back during contractions, so he could nap. Then, around 5am, we headed to the birth center. And I was still so pumped. Like, I appeared calm, and I was focusing on breathing, but I was just so excited that it was actually happening. And that I was handling it well, so far.

We checked in and I was only at 3 cm. I was a bit disappointed, but I shook it off. We got into my room, and it was super nice. I ate breakfast, walked around, sat on a yoga ball, took a shower, and walked some more. At this point, I hadn’t really slept for two nights, but I was still riding the adrenaline high. The contractions got more intense throughout the morning but I had my head in the game. I was breathing through the contractions and kept thinking, My body knows what to do. I kept imagining that the more painful the contractions got, the more effective they were, and surely this was going somewhere.

The midwife checked my progress around 11am and I was at 5 cm. Okay! And then, around 1pm, 7cm! Woot! Things were getting more intense, and this was slower than I’d liked, but there was progress! And then … still 7cm. An hour later they broke my water to try to speed things up, and checked again an hour after that, and said, “Oh, looks like it’s 6cm.”

WHAT! I’M GOING BACKWARD?? That’s when I realized, This is nothing like a marathon. I have no idea how long this race is. There are no mile markers, there is no way to tell when the end will be. And with that, I was crushed. I was so discouraged that Chris got really worried. Without telling me, he sent texts to family and friends asking them to pray for me. I think it was probably around this point, I remember asking, Can they just cut the baby out of me? I’d really be okay with that. 

The midwife suggested getting in the tub to try to help me relax and get some rest. Chris got in with me to keep putting pressure on my back, and I tried to lean on him and sleep a bit in between contractions. After the tub time, I rallied a bit and decided to ask for some intervention. They gave me fentanyl, which takes the edge off the contractions, but only lasts for an hour. Once I got the IV in, I had to stay in bed, which was super uncomfortable. I have memories of lying on my back, staring out the window at the sun setting, and crushing Chris or my mom’s hands every contraction while making the weirdest, terrible moaning sounds. Part of me was amused at how weird I sounded, part of me felt bad for Chris and my mom having to sit there and listen to it for so long, and part of me just wanted to black out and wake up with a baby outside of my body.

Finally, around 8:30 or 9pm, I got an epidural. Sitting still on the edge of the bed for the needle shot was hellish, but at this point I didn’t care, because relief was finally coming. It had been 48 hours at this point. Once the epidural took effect, I was able to relax. The plan was for me to sleep a bit, but things started moving quickly. Soon, I was being told to push, and right after that, we met Evangeline!

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We didn’t know if she was a boy or a girl, so that was a sweet surprise. We’d come with two boys names and three girls names, and right away I knew she was Evangeline Marit. With the epidural, I didn’t feel the pushing or her coming out, so I didn’t have as strong of a feeling of relief/giddiness as I did with Zelie, but man, when they held her up and said she was a girl and put her on my chest, it was amazing. And they left her there for over an hour, just letting us do skin to skin. And Chris pulled off his shirt so he could get some skin to skin time too. So cute.

It was a crazy long labor, and not what I expected, but I’m glad it was what it was. I wanted to have a natural birth, but I was open to whatever came up and open to interventions if needed, and it was definitely needed. There’s so much weird guilt, in some circles, about epidurals, so I’m glad I’ve had the experience of using one so I can say, You do what you have to do to have a good birth experience. Every woman is different, every baby is different, every birth is different. It wasn’t anything like running a marathon, it had some crazy emotional ups and downs, and we got this baby girl at the end. Now we’ll see if I get around to sharing Zelie’s birth story before she turns 3.

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our four year anniversary retreat

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Chris has been wanting to do a marriage retreat since we were engaged, and we finally did one this year. In the break between summer classes and the semester starting, we have two weeks to spend with Chris’s parents at their beach house in Rhode Island. Our anniversary falls in this break, so last year we spent the day buying a car in NJ (lol) and went out to sushi. This year we booked ourselves a private retreat on Ender’s Island in Mystic, CT and took two nights away from the girls. We wanted some structured time to reflect on our marriage and pray together, and initially looked into seeing if any Marriage Encounter retreats would work location and date-wise. But the closest one was in Baltimore, so Chris’s dad suggested this little island, and we decided it’d be fun to plan our own time. I’m so glad it worked out this way.

Ender’s Island is a tiny island off the coast of Connecticut that was owned by Thomas and Alys Enders, and sold to the Society of St. Edmund in 1954. It now functions as a retreat space, with a sacred art institute and a small recovery program. We didn’t really know anything about the island before we arrived, but quickly discovered it was a little piece of heaven. I felt God’s love for us in so many details of the place. We had unknowingly booked “the Bishop’s suite,” which was two tiled rooms with views of the ocean and the island gardens from every window.

I was so glad we came in August, when the dahlias and roses were in full bloom. 🙂

Something I hadn’t thought about beforehand was how luxurious it would feel to be served all our meals, and not have to feed babies while we ate. And the food was so good. We ate with men in the recovery program and the priests who were there on retreat. It felt like a special gift to eat with those men, and reminded me of our summer at CityTeam in Oakland … where it all began. There was a group of Korean Catholics on retreat on the island, too, though they ate in the larger dining hall. I loved seeing two Korean grandmas holding hands to support each other as they walked down to the water’s edge.

To honor Chris’s love for structure, we spent time creating a schedule, which was much more enjoyable than I expected. We took a date night in South Bend to get started, and finished it up on the car drive from NJ to RI. During our engagement, we had done an Engaged Encounter retreat, and really liked the format of writing letters to each other about different topics and then talking. So we incorporated letter writing, and used our Engaged Encounter journals for some ideas of topics to discuss. I wanted to do morning runs, Chris wanted to do morning prayer and go to Mass, and we gave ourselves a big chunk of free time. There were some things that changed once we got there – we decided to attend a meditation in the chapel on Wednesday evening and learned that they do morning prayer right before Mass, and forgot the old letters we’d written while dating and engaged that we were going to read back through. Oh well.

The chapel had a huge relic – the arm of St. Edmund. A bit weird, but cool.

And, we got to go sailing! We saw little boats sail past the island and thought, let’s see if we can find a place to go this afternoon. So I happily abandoned my nap plans and we went to the Mystic Seaport Museum. It was an anniversary splurge, because we had to buy tickets to the museum to get to the sailboats, but we ended up seeing some of the ships because they made us wait an hour for the gusts to die down a bit.

Chris was grumpy about that. I thought going on the whaling boat from 1841 was neat. But sailing was definitely a highlight! It was a time of working as a team and enjoying being friends and really embracing our whiteness. Lol.

I wanted to include our schedule in case it might help anyone get started on planning their own private retreat! Individual or for a couple, it’s so worth the time and money. I usually love silent retreats by myself – this was special in that it was prayerful and also fun quality time with Chris.

Happy four years, Chris!

Wednesday

2:00-3:30 Check in, Settle into retreat space

3:30-4:00 Silent Prayer in Chapel

4:00-5:00 Session 1 – Reading Letters

5:00-5:30 Rosary

5:30-6:15 Dinner

6:15-7:15 Session 2 – Marriage Timeline

7:15-8:15 Session 3 – Sex/ NFP/ Intimacy

8:15-9:30 Free Time

9:30-9:45 Night Prayer

9:45 Bedtime

Thursday

6:45-7:00 Wake up, get ready

7:00-7:45 Run

7:45-8:15 Breakfast

8:15-8:30 Shower

8:30-9:00 Morning Prayer

9:00 – 9:45 Mass

9:45-10:00 Silent Prayer

10:00-11:00 Session 4– Conflict/ Communication

11:00-12:00 Session 5 – Relationships with Others

12:00-1:00 Lunch

1:00-3:00 Free Time

3:00-4:00 Session 6 – Finances

4:00-5:00 Session 7 – Budget

5:00-5:30 Rosary

5:30-6:15 Dinner

6:15-7:15 Session 8 – Designing Our Marriage

7:15-8:15 Session 9 – Vision Statement

8:15-9:30 Free Time

9:30-9:45 Night Prayer

9:45 Bedtime

Friday

6:45-7:00 Wake up, get ready

7:00-7:45 Run

7:45-8:15 Breakfast

8:15-8:30 Shower

8:30-9:00 Morning Prayer

9:00 – 9:45 Mass

9:45-10:00 Silent Prayer

10:00-11:00 Pack, Checkout

11:00-12:00 Session 10 – Goal Setting

12:00-1:00 Lunch

1:00 Depart

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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