Not My Thing

There I was, standing in the kitchen, sobbing while my shoulders moved up and down methodically when I said it. "You don't understand. This [insert dramatic motion of arms signifying what was in front of me] is not my thing!" That, and then I went back to more tears.

My husband smiled.  He and I thought of those words I had just said and a montage of gifting disasters played out in our minds: the Christmas ties, the Springfield Boathouse incident, the money clip, the Bones Exhibit-lessness. This day would go down in the history of our marriage as yet another day that I missed the mark for making a special day special. As soon as he unwrapped that KitchenAid toaster oven, I knew I should have flicked the frugality angel off my shoulder the day I searched the aisles for that elusive, perfect gift. Because that elusive, perfect gift sure as heck wasn't a toaster oven.  The hesitant look on Paul's face said it all. Bless his soul.  He has had to work on perfecting that look for over four years now.

Next week Paul and I are going to, I hope, dine somewhere special and clink to four years of marriage, four years of delving deeper and deeper into understanding selflessness is not our thing!

Paul never had to say what he was thinking as a response to my bold proclamation of "This is not my thing!", but there was no need.  I can read my husband's mind from time to time. It's one of those super hero powers no one told me I would inherit after loving someone for five years. We both knew my proclamation was total rubbish.

Setting up surprises and picking out the perfect gift is not my strength.  And while I would usually say that life is a lot about playing up your strengths and not worrying too much about the rest, that's not how marriage works. Marriage weans us away from our selfishness. Sometimes it's sweet and gradual like water wearing down rock. Other times it feels like we've been in a head-on collision, paralyzed, wondering in our beds what's next.

Paul doesn't care to open the perfect gift, but he is just like each and every one of us.  We desire to see our worth affirmed:

       * Daughter, you are worth so much that I'm willing to welcome your anger if it means I'm able to get this message across to you.
      * Son, you are worthy of my time. I'm exhausted from work today [and you don't know that], but I'm going to teach you how to play Chess tonight since you've been nagging me to do so for weeks now.
      * Co-worker, you are worth so much to me that I refuse to gossip about you.
      * Friend, you are worthy. I don't know how to help you like I feel I should, but I'm here to sit and listen and not leave until I hear you laugh.
      * Neighbor, you are worth so much to me that I will do my best to remember all these elaborate dog stories you keep telling me each time I visit. And that's a lot of dog stories. Like, seriously, there is no end to these dog stories.
      * Student, you are worth more than you know.  I will teach you wholeheartedly every day, every minute, even when you've made it clear to me you don't care.

Here's what my thing is. Seeing the good in people. Knowing their worth. Affirming it.  I'm not sure if I'll ever miraculously pull off a surprise for Paul without a hitch. But I will fight to affirm his worth [even when it makes me uncomfortable or takes a lot of energy or it feels like I've done so with no happy results one hundred other times] and to allow no excuses to get in my way of figuring it all out.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Paul wasn't thinking about the validity of my statement, "This is not my thing!" On second thought, having been with my husband for four joyful years, I would like to take another guess at what was going through his mind in the moment of silence that followed my statement where he smiled and then wrapped me in his arms.

I bet he was thinking, "Yeah, well toaster ovens aren't my thing either!"

Letters of Love

I woke, no alarm needed, in the stiff twin bed of my brother’s room to the dark morning and reached for the folder of letters.  My back timidly rested on the wooden headboard as I quietly remembered each word addressed to “Dear ?”, reading back through each memory recorded in writing which brought me to this moment poised on the bed, pen in hand.  On that hopeful morning of my wedding day, I wrote one last letter to him, this one with a decidedly chosen “Dear Paul salutation. Happiness filled my heart as I finished out my beautiful gift.

For several years preceding that day, letters to my future husband were my anchor in the ever shifting landscape of singleness from the ages of 16 - 22.  Proclamations of faith, hope, and love were scrawled between faint blue lines.  I wrote to persevere in chastity.  I wrote for a remembrance of the single life. I wrote to plan for details of the future.  Mostly, I wrote as an act of love.  

My husband’s reaction to this grand  romantic gesture left much to be desired.  In fact, in the three and a half years we’ve been married, I’ve received  a grand total of: “they were really great.”   

For the first three years of my marriage, these letters to my future husband, apparently unappreciated by the husband at hand, served as some nagging note of unfinished business.   At moments when that green folder of carefully hand-written letters should have been far from my mind, I’ve seen it as some mental post-it note of disappointment for marrying a man who just didn’t get it.  Why was it that he couldn’t muster up more words of appreciation?

Lately, I’ve truly realized, it’s me who just didn’t get it.  

Getting “it” means loving your spouse for who they are, not who you wish or hope or plan them to be.   In some ways, Paul happens to be that mysterious man I addressed during late nights when my heart was aching for a companion.  Just as I had written in the letters, we do cook together, walk together, and make plans together.  But, luckily, he’s much more than “Mr. ?” ever was.

I could not  have predicted my husband’s drive for success or his appetite for technology, his dashing date coordinating skills or his common sense parenting. In my writing, I didn’t mention someone who would teach me how to problem solve or show me how to listen. I didn’t envision a beard or the large laugh or the oldest child in a family of twelve. I didn’t write to someone about his teasing, his zest for knowledge, or his spirited story-telling.

The vocation of marriage requires much more than some delicately crafted letters.  Marriage is messy and complicated and downright frightening at times. Clinging to a vision of desired perfection can be quite damaging.  Furthermore damaging is cornering our spouses into boxed-up versions of want we think they should be.  

My letters of love are now in the working of my hands as I make the bed, the finishing of a project started, the midday text message to say hello, and in the changing of a dirty diaper sans complaint.  My words of love are now in the cleaning of my car [before being asked], foot massages, savory steak and potato soup, the bottle of wine for two at home just because, and the problem-solving sessions at the dinner table.  My ever-forming letter of love  is in my playfulness, my tenderness, my forgiveness, and my patience.

Letters to my future husband “were really great”. They were sweet, kind, and something of a fierce kind of love. However, they were much more about impressing Paul with proof of my love than they were about actually loving.  And actual loving must be tailored to fit the actual person.  I’m happy to know more of my husband than I did on that morning when I was huddled on the bed, protective over the surrendering of my words, thoughts, hopes, and plans.

Words can be beautiful, but they must be paired with even greater, grander doses of action.

Letting God be First

The first two years of marriage were difficult. The first year of marriage was very difficult. I can say that with ease because our marriage is quite the opposite now, and it isn't because of books read or the sweet baby I just put down for nap time.

Fights have turned to a fuzzy remembrance in my mind now. Difficulties which seemed impossible to overcome now are daily gains of strength which draw Paul and I closer together. So, in reflecting on 2010 and all our/my blessings I couldn't help but think: Why? What changed in Paul and I? What clicked?

I've talked to friends on the phone or in person who, when asked about their marriage, claim some unruly beauty and peace in their home, some kind of magic happily ever after.  They effortlessly obliterate my lingering belief that, to some extent, newlyweds face the same struggles Paul and I did. When I listen to their honeymoon bliss of past or present my initial infantile reaction is You're just full of it!, and after I check my attitude exclaim some robotic, "Well, that's just great to hear!"  And, it is. I would never wish marital stress on anyone. For, marriage is almost always the greatest secret -- all around us people walk with a great secret living in their heart. Secrets of pure bliss. And some, unfortunately, of a great sense of hellish torment for marrying who they thought guaranteed that happily ever after.

My sister, Andrea, and my sister-in-law, Margery, will walk down the aisle next year to those men which make them feel down to their toes tingly with love. I can attest to the love and growth I see in both of these relationships. With great gratitude I will sit in the pew with my cuddly Thomas and my Paul and sing praises to God for pairing these couples together. What a grace it is to find someone to share the rest of your life with! What a blessing to marry that man who edifies and heals, loves, protects and provides.

But there's a very good reason we kneel throughout the Mass which unites us in marriage.  We kneel in reverence to the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist because He is first. We kneel in awe and gratitude for his abundant love which allows for our spouses to be what they need to be [in loving, protecting, providing] within the vocation of marriage. We kneel in humility because we know we can't be all to each other. We kneel in saying, God, you are always first.

The past six months, I have put God first, so that Paul can be what he needs to be for us and for himself. Our marriage is not a holy string of prayer and discussion about faith. It is not complete unity in our adherence to the Catholic Church. It is not a perfection or a lack of sin. I would love it to be this, but it isn't today. But, I do lay down my desires daily as wife and as mother, and I do say, God, you are first. Take my desires and fears. Imbue your will and direct my path. You are the 1st healer, protector, provider.   This is more sufficient than I thought it would be. My heart desires much more, but this, this is good!

Letting God be God, letting Him be first is the liberation a marriage needs. It is the independence we seek and can't find in distorted lies of independence like incremental increases in time apart or money multiplied.

Praise God for the graces He bestows on us when we are ready to accept them!

Why NFP?

I became familiar with Natural Family Planning at a young age.

My family knew private topics to be public issues. There was no taboo or fear in the subject of sex-- Sex is beautiful. It is holy. It is incredible! [And it could also be widely adulterated, misused, misconstrued and so on!] My parents took the situation of sex most parents feared and turned it on its head. They welcomed conversation, honesty, and forthrightness. I felt privy to an understanding [the glory and goodness of sex] that I strongly felt my peers were missing out on—even when I was literally the one “missing out.”

NFP was a familiar concept: birth control guided by the respect for and understanding of the body in its entirety. A common sense approach updated by the science and research available today.

Due to a medical condition likely caused by an abnormally low body fat percentage [I was a runner. Enough said.], I was enrolled in classes for NFP at the age of seventeen. There was no family-on-the-way of which to be “planning” for. I didn't need NFP as a means to secure a conception or to avoid a pregnancy. [At that age, I likely thought 'yuck' to both.] I needed it to chart my body's needs. NFP did just that.

I took classes in the Creighton method at the local hospital with one of the most gentle Christian women I know to this day. She is a nurse squarely competent instructing her patients in attending to fertility. She was careful with my need for reminders and my frustrating inattention to observances [a skill that's a must when you're in the role of knowing one's body].

Through the classes:

1. I understood my medical situation, but more importantly, the gift of my body: fertility.

2. I also knew that this whole big thing [NFP] would matter much more when I was preparing for marriage and for sex. Both marriage and sex [the greatest of gifts for those called to the vocation of marriage] came at the same time for me. This, only by the supreme grace of God. And only by rejection of Him do I lose His graces!

Much of what I learned in my NFP classes was forgotten between seventeen and the altar. It was buried in the hook-up culture of college. It was lost in my [seemingly endless] years of alone-ness.
So, [deep breath induced by some stingingly fresh humility] when Paul and I entered marriage and 'its reward' [all with the knowledge of two different methods of NFP in tow – (We took classes for the sympto-thermal method pre-marriage as well)], we still had little concept of what NFP was really about. Yes, we successfully used NFP to avoid pregnancy. Vice versa. And then came Thomas. But we didn't really know how to embrace it. NFP isn't a sealant, a fix, a mechanism of control. Natural Family Planning is an approach to the body with a pro-life vantage point and stewardship!

And being “pr0-life”, being pro-NFP, is not about quantity [or lack thereof], as I have seen myself and others confuse, but about quality. It's a much larger picture than a “yes” or “no” to children.

It is about showing reverence to the beautiful breathing miracles all of us are: all ages, aptitudes, and conditions applied! It's about the consuming awe a couple feels for the ability to take part in procreation. It's about the respect a couple shows both in self-sacrifice and in fully giving. It's about saying yes to that great desire each of us pines for inside ourselves– to fully and completely, body and soul, embrace and be embraced with total respect!

Once again I see it -- the great difficulties of marriage are the flip side of those great rewards. The ultimate intimacy is in the ultimate vulnerability. There is not a much more vulnerable situation one can be in than each day re-addressing, re-approaching, re-affirming the thoughts, feelings, and actions stemming from fertility [and infertility too].

And that's why NFP!
This post was written for several reasons both personal and public. A couple promptings I may mention here:
  1. The outpouring of resounding affirmation [and debate] which followed this very well-written post by blogger, Jennifer Fulwiller, who is 'atheist turned Catholic' mother of four.

  1. A response to my mother reading Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both of which I haven't read but am incredibly intrigued due to the overflow of my mother's impassioned reading.

  2. At the core, I needed to answer the question of “Why NFP?” for myself. It's an easy question to answer. It's an incredibly difficult answer to live by!

I welcome any questions/responses on this topic. You don't want anyone to know your business? –-- completely understood! Feel free to email me at

She Works with Willing Hands

When I was in high school I was, at more than one point, fueled by some evangelization gleam I sought to tote.  I was quick to see how much greater our lives could be if we all reached this epic level of purity and holiness I had envisioned.

My mom didn't seem too keen on my notions of grandeur. Instead, she would remind me to do the dishes. In fact, it went something like this: "You want to be a Christian? Do the dishes."  The snide remark would echo in my brain as an abhorred notion. How dare my mother corner me like that!

My mom also told me to thank God that I had the opportunity to clean; I had dishes to eat from - I should be happy to scrub them, I had clothes to wear - I should be happy to hang them, sort them, fold them. Yeah, I'm grateful mom. Whatever.

My siblings and I like to joke about the seemingly endless Saturdays of scrubbing, washing, folding, hanging, and so forth. It's our version of the "I-had-to-walk-to-school-uphill-both-ways-knee-deep-in-snow".  "I-had-to-wake-up-every-Saturday-without-fail-before-dawn-to-clean-until-I-became-emaciated-or-sick." I would moan, groan, and curse deep into the linoleum while my knees hardened into a numbed mess of floor cleaner. I would roll my eyes and grit my teeth when I heard we had another load to put outside on the ant and walking stick [Hello - FREAKY!] infested line. I would pray to God and ask for His mercy for whatever I had done to deserve a cruel, cruel mother.  And I swore to myself while furiously rubbing cleaner into the abysmal white of the shower I will NEVER do this to my poor children.

A few years later and hundreds of cycles of clean and dirty in my own home, I've had quite the conversion.

Beauty abounds in the home which is simply clean. Attentive love multiplies when household duties are taken care of in a fierce, organized, efficient manner.  And hard work, well, hard work is a great secret wonderment which sets our gratitude on fire.

These days I'm eager to wake up on Saturday [and Sunday] mornings to clean the stove [the one which whips up Chicken Cordon Bleu and Lasagna], scrub the tea kettle [the beauty that serves me wild berry tea and tricks me into being relatively calm during stressful conversations with my husband], detail the Medela breast pump and its dozens of parts and pieces [the bridge I couldn't currently live without], and spray the romper [which covers a ridiculously adorable bottom of my Bam Bam, my little guy, our Booter Binkie from the land of Stinky #2, my Boo Boo Coo Coo, our Thomas]... the one who just a few years from now will be cursing into the dirty grout he's scrubbing while I smile on with an affection and sense of humor he likely won't understand [for a while].

So, when I started reading Kimberly Hahn's Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker's Heart [or what I would like to think of as my current guidebook to being an awesome wife, mother, woman] and I saw that the first chapter was titled "She Works with Willing Hands", I thought to myself ...

Heck yes she does!