Saturday, July 26, 2014

One Year & Three States Later

+JMJ+

Do you ever go through seasons of nostalgia? Gabriel's 1st birthday is rapidly approaching, but before I can fully wrap my head around all of that I've been reflecting a lot on all the other big changes we've experienced throughout this past year (because there have been a lot of them!).

On this date last year we were waving goodbye to the first home we shared as newlyweds and hitting the road as we journeyed 1300 miles to our next home: South Florida. We had been praying for a long time about where God was leading us (via Michael's career), but the job offer, contract, and actual moving process happened in less than one week's time (I know - it's mind-blowing to me, too. Michael signed a contract and we moved 4 days later). Not to mention, I was 37 weeks and 6 days pregnant. I hit the 38-weeks mark riding in the car (my mom came to help and drove for me) either leading or following behind my husband in the U-HAUL that held all our belongings - all the while fervently praying that our little baby would not make a surprise debut before we arrived at the place we would call home for the next 6 months.

And here we are today - exactly one year later - living in the Philadelphia suburbs with a beautiful son who is turning one in less than two week's time. We have a lovely home, great friends, an active social life that works well with (and enhances) our family life, a supportive local community, and a real sense of joy about it all...even though we've only been here for 6 months.

Sometimes I sit and wonder, how did we get here? Much of it seems like a blur - until I sit and really think about all the little details of the past 12 months. As I reflect on all of it, I just sit back and thank God because I realize that I do know how we made it here and how we managed to embrace and live through the changes with minimal stress and an uncanny sense of peace. Philippians 4:13, right?

This past year we have lived in Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania.


Our family has experienced some major geographical changes this past year - but we all know that moving across the country is far more than that. We've had 3 distinct experiences in most things. Our social lives, our sense of belonging (or not belonging) to a community, our home parish, and our literal homes are just a sampling of the ways in which our lives have undergone noticeable changes.

Beyond the different states and all that goes hand in hand with moving, Michael and I have experienced so many other things for the first time together this past year. The final days of pregnancy, labor and delivery, Gabriel's newborn days, and every day of his life since then don't even begin to describe the transformations that have taken place within our hearts.

So much can happen in a year - which is a truth that Michael and I (along with Gabriel!) have lived all year long. But oh my Goodness, how blessed we have been through it all. If there's anything we've learned this past year, it's that amazing things can happen when you surrender it all to the Lord. Sometimes we've had to be patient and simply trust that the path we were on was leading us in the right direction...and it has. So here's to several more years of going through changes side by side in whatever city, state, or walk of life God leads us to.

"Home is wherever I'm with you."
-Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

Friday, July 25, 2014

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 28): NFP Awareness Week Edition!

+JMJ+

I haven't found much time for blogging this week, but considering it's National NFP Awareness Week I really wanted to make at least some kind of contribution - no matter how small (or quick, if you will). I've written about NFP in the past and I'm definitely not the only one. In fact, there's a vast library of pieces about Natural Family Planning buzzing around the internet (informative pieces, personal experience pieces, etc.). So let's just link to some of them and call it good. Happy National NFP Awareness week, everyone!


First, a few pieces from my own archives:

--- 1 ---
Why Natural Family Planning is Superior to Birth Control, Part 1. This title is pretty self-explanatory - but in this piece I focus on reasons NFP is better for women (and couples) than birth control that have nothing to do with religious beliefs. Because NFP is not just for Catholics!

--- 2 ---
Why Natural Family Planning is Superior to Birth Control, Part 2. This is a continuation of Part 1 that addresses and (hopefully) helps explain the Catholic teachings about NFP/birth control/sex/babies.

--- 3---
The "Both/And" of Natural Family Planning. This piece discusses how polarized us Natural Family Planners can make NFP seem - but it's not 100% joyful-all-the-time nor 100% what-a-burden. It's more of a "both/and" situation in which even our crosses have the potential to bring us closer to God and real peace. Blatantly written from a Catholic perspective - but if you're not Catholic, it might shed a little more light on our views for you.

And now for some pieces written by others around the web:

--- 4 ---
NFP For the Win at Melody's Harmonies. 5 reasons NFP "wins." This list can apply to any woman regardless of religious affiliation.

--- 5 ---
Best of the Best: NFP at Melody's Harmonies. A big list of NFP resources! Books, websites, blog posts, and apps - whether you want to learn more about the science of NFP, find a new charting app, or read personal experience pieces, this list is a helpful one.

--- 6 ---
The Many Faces of NFP at Melody's Harmonies. Want to read something short, sweet, and to the point - that includes brief explanations of various methods by different women who share glimpses into their personal journeys with NFP? This is your winner. BONUS: My sister is one of the featured faces! :)

--- 7 ---
Women Speak on NFP (Series!) at Carrots for Michaelmas. Do you want a comprehensive list of pieces that detail personal experiences with NFP? This series contains about 20 pieces (and is growing).

Most of you that read this blog are probably already "aware" of NFP, but here's to hoping this quick list will help some of you discover new resources or interesting reads to aid you on your journey. And if you are still confused about how Natural Family Planning works or why so many women use this completely natural method to either postpone or achieve pregnancy, I'd recommend you start with some of the resources you can find in numbers 1 and/or 5 (in the list above).

Thank you to Carolyn at Svellerella for hosting while Jen and many of our fellow Catholic bloggers are off to the Edel conference! If you simply can't get enough about NFP, make sure you check out Carolyn's very own list of 5 NFP Favorites. :)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Having Your Shoes Forever Beside Mine

+JMJ+

Once upon a time, I mentioned that I began a Catholic moms group for our current area. That tidbit of information is neither here nor there, but considering I hosted this week's meetup at our place, I made sure to spend a little time this morning cleaning and putting random things away. As I straightened up the shoes Gabriel had just been playing with, I paused.

I had seen it in an instant. The sight of my husband's and my shoes side by side - an everyday occurrence that speaks volumes if I simply take a moment to listen.

For us, being married means a lot of things - including the fact that gone are the days of our long-distance relationship (thank Goodness!). Every single day my husband's shoes are next to mine. To know that Michael comes home to me every day and that we permanently share one roof makes me feel so blessed and grateful.


I quickly snapped the above photo and posted it on Instagram with the following caption:

"We're a couple of months away from 2 years of marriage and little things like this still make me pause and smile. I hope I never forget how beautiful it is to have this man's shoes forever beside mine."

Staring at our shoes rarely makes my heart go a-flutter, but when I see in the details of our days how together we finally are (doesn't it feel like an eternity when you're apart?) you know it makes my heart smile. In the earliest days of our marriage, I was keenly aware of these new subtleties all the time - and it's nice to be reminded every once in awhile.


"You're where I belong
And when you're with me if I close my eyes,
There are times I swear I feel like I can fly
For a moment in time
Somewhere between the Heavens and Earth,
And frozen in time, Oh when you say those words"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why We Chose (and I Love) Baby-Led Weaning

+JMJ+

Want to know about our solid food journey with Gabriel - what worked (and didn't work) for us? Are you curious about Baby-Led Weaning, how we discovered it, and a few key reasons why we love it so much? I'm sharing all of this and more with Emily over at Raising Barnes today! Feel free to read a little teaser below that I've excerpted or click on over to read the entire story from beginning to end. 

Trying to give Gabriel solid foods became truly disheartening as I struggled to understand why he showed such an interest in solids but continued to refuse everything we introduced him to. I'm sure he was frustrated as well! At some point, my older sister (an awesome mother to 2 amazing little girls with another baby on the way) introduced me to Baby Mum-Mums - which are basically rice crackers that dissolve easily. The texture feels great on the gums of a teething baby and because they dissolve so well it didn't matter that Gabriel did not yet have any teeth. I began giving him these crackers, which he accepted happily. Why didn't he eat anything else I gave him??? 
Suddenly, a light bulb went off over this first-time mother's head. It wasn't so much about the food as it was the method of eating the food that had us in a rut!


And just like that, I'll leave you hanging so you make sure to head over and say hi to Emily. She has a busy month ahead of her as her husband recovers from knee surgery - so make sure to say some prayers for her little family, too!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Independence Day Weekend in Ocean City, Maryland

+JMJ+

Awhile ago, Michael started dreaming up potential vacations we could take on the 4th of July weekend. Thankfully, his initial suggestion of the Outer Banks (North Carolina) got tossed aside when we decided that the drive was way too far (and therefore not very relaxing) for a weekend trip. Don't get me wrong - we would both love to visit the OBX another time, but Divine Providence steered us in another direction that wouldn't get ruined by Hurricane Arthur last week. Instead, we opted for a nice beach trip that would be less than 3 hours away: Ocean City, Maryland.

Initially we hesitated - because the holiday weekend in this tourist hot-spot meant that hotels required a 3-night minimum stay. We had originally planned to travel on Friday and stay 2 nights...but we bit the bullet and agreed that the extra night and fees were worth it. After all, we haven't taken any sort of vacation since our weekend in Miami when Gabriel was 8 weeks old and we do not yet have any other vacation plans for later this year. This could be our only vacation for awhile so we went ahead and booked our stay...and I'm so thankful we did!

Not only was the trip a lot of fun, but the timing was perfect. Michael's work really picked up this week and he is entering a busy season that might demand a decent amount of overtime. Thank you, Lord, for giving him this much-deserved break just when You knew he would need it!

So what did we do in Ocean City?

We arrived Thursday night, went to dinner, then basically headed back to our hotel to put Gabriel to bed. Friday's weather forecast included a lot of rain and storms, so we relaxed in the hotel during Gabriel's morning nap, then headed out for some indoor exploration.

Gabriel's first 4th of July! Decked out in patriotic blue.

We got lunch, wandered aimlessly around the Gold Coast Mall (which was about a block from our hotel), then headed down to the boardwalk to visit the Ripley's Believe it or Not! Odditorium. At the Ripley's museum we saw a lot of great things, including part of the Berlin Wall, Dolly the first-animal-to-be-cloned sheep, and (my favorite) an elaborate Chinese camel bone carving of the mythological mountain city of Penglai.


Despite the ominous forecast and stormy morning, Friday afternoon the skies cleared and blessed us with a gorgeous sunny walk up the infamous boardwalk. When we first arrived on our way to the museum, we were greeted by a very unexpected but familiar face. Who was it? Jesus!




I have no idea who did this, but it was beautiful and made me so giddy! Here we were on vacation, exploring a new place for the first time, and here was Jesus. What a wonderful reminder that He is always with us everywhere we go in life.

Everything about these elaborate sand sculptures made me so happy - but perhaps the best part was looking around and seeing so many people stop in their tracks. Amidst the hustle and bustle of tourists strolling up and down the boardwalk, store fronts trying to bump their music louder than the shop next door, and the commotion of the boardwalk tram passing by, here was an oasis of calm. People slowed down, looked, read the plaques (which contained Bible verses), took pictures, and walked closer to get an even better look as the message of Christ's sacrifice and love for us drowned out all the rest. I even saw one man reach down and pick up one of the informative, free pamphlets about Christianity. What an amazing sight to behold. Truly.

We reserved Saturday as our "beach day." No going downtown to the boardwalk - just a laid-back, loose schedule that involved eating amazing food (seriously - Crab Bag was amazing) and soaking up the sun.


At first, Gabriel did really well on the beach as he sat on my lap and inquisitively and hesitantly touched his feet to the sand. However, that was all over before it could really begin. He stood, holding my hands, on the sand for about 30 seconds before getting nervous and crying to be picked up. Gone are the days we lived in Florida - when Gabriel was so young that the waves simply lulled him to sleep as I waded in the water. The ocean waves freaked him out even as I held and hugged him, trying to reassure him that everything was fine. After a few minutes of him getting gradually more and more upset we threw in the towel and headed to the kiddie pool - which he loved.

The rain had pushed the local fireworks to the 5th, so after the vigil Mass and dinner on Saturday night we headed back to the hotel, trying to figure out the best way for us to view the show. Fortunately (thank you again, Divine Providence), our hotel room gave us a direct line of vision of the entire fireworks show on the northern side of the island. Gabriel got to stay up a little late to see his first fireworks and we were able to put him to bed immediately afterwards without any journeying back from the park. Win-win.

Sunday morning we headed to the beach one last time before Gabriel's nap, packed our bags, and checked out of the hotel. We caught the bus downtown for our final vacation excursion: a boat adventure tour to Assateague Island - home to wild ponies!


Yes. You read that correctly. Wild ponies in their natural habitat! It was another gorgeous day and we had so much fun as our guides showed us the ponies, a couple of (huge!) osprey nests, and a lot of different crabs and sea creatures.

Wild ponies on Assateague Island

We then visited the boardwalk one last time, got some ice cream, and begrudgingly made the trip back home - attempting to reorient ourselves to everyday life (which I don't think fully happened until Tuesday).

It was a wonderful trip and we would certainly consider visiting Ocean City, MD again. If you plan to go, here are a few unsolicited tips from yours truly:

  • Unless you want to be surrounded by swarms of drunken college kids and loud party music, don't stay anywhere near the boardwalk (stay north of 40th street). Thankfully we were informed of this and intentionally chose a hotel that was north of the boardwalk craziness.
  • Take advantage of the "B" (beach) buses that go up and down Coastal Highway. Don't drive unless you want to sit in your car forever, get road rage, and suffer through the task of finding parking. Thankfully, we were also informed of this prior to our trip and made plans to utilize the buses (which you can ride all day long for $3 - but bring exact change. Of course babies are free.).
    • Allow time for heavy traffic. We stayed near 118th street and it took the buses anywhere from 30-60 minutes each time we went to 3rd street (near the southern portion of the boardwalk), depending on how busy it was that time of day.
  • Consider a condo rental. Had we known sooner, we could have made plans to get a condo with some friends, which would have saved a decent amount of money.
  • Want to eat at Crab Bag, the restaurant I mentioned? Go for lunch - not dinner...unless you want to wait around for 1-2 hours before getting a table. We asked the employees and they said they get busy around 3pm; we went for lunch one day and they weren't busy at all. I highly recommend their crab mac 'n cheese. Their mussels were also so good.
  • Figure out what places you might want to visit, and check out their websites in advance. A lot of them have coupons you can print off! Also check the lobby of your hotel for free coupon booklets (we got a couple dollars off the Ripley's museum and the Assateague Adventure trip - the only 2 things we paid to do besides eat and stay in a hotel).

If any of you have more specific questions about Ocean City, want to know about the research I did while planning the trip, how we chose the places we went, or anything else - feel free to send me a message or leave a comment!

"Come walk with me along the beach,
where the sunsets seem within reach,
we'll search for treasures in the sand,
as we walk hand in hand."
-Anonymous?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Gabriel: 11 Months

+JMJ+


11 months. What? I'm a couple of days late, but I was blissfully away from all things internet-related on our 4th of July weekend vacation to Ocean City, Maryland (more on that later!). Better late than never, right?

I'll bypass the chatter about how mind-blowing it is that Gabriel is already 11 months-old and jump to the updates while you try and soak it all in, too.

Eating
  • I'm still nursing, but the weaning process (in regards to solid foods) is going well! Just in the past few days Gabriel ate Goldfish crackers and falafel (not during the same meal or snack, mind you) for the very first time and loved them. What a big kid he is these days. 
  • Some of Gabriel's current favorite foods seem to be: watermelon, corn, cornbread, French fries, pizza crust, and (of course!) multi-grain Cheerios. Lately he also loves some apple and sweet potato corn puff baby things I bought awhile back.
  • Foods Gabriel seems pretty 50/50 about (sometimes loving, sometimes showing no interest): ground beef, peas, and toast.
  • Gabriel is eating more and more solids and - lately - has been requesting to nurse just a tad bit less frequently (going 3, 4, or 5 hours instead of every 2 or 2.5). I got so used to his demand for frequent nursing sessions that I'm having to adjust; I've slowly been learning not to automatically offer so I can time how long he naturally goes without wanting to nurse.
  • He drinks water from a sippy cup like a champ and even downed some formula once. He didn't really like it, but he did it...and I've been eagerly trying to choose the calendar date that we can get a babysitter ever since.

Nap Time
  • One morning and one afternoon nap - still going strong. 
  • The most crucial nap remains the morning one. Afternoons are more flexible and can get pushed back more easily without him being entirely wiped out.
  • I'm pretty sure these are Gabriel's napping glory days. I'm going to enjoy them while I can!

Bed Time
  • Bedtime is still around 9pm. 
  • We successfully "sleep-trained" Gabriel at around 9.5 months, but since then I've had to "re-train" him to soothe himself a few times. Traveling and/or cutting teeth can really mess with Gabriel's ability to calmly soothe himself back to sleep, so in those scenarios I always give in and nurse him. Once we're back at home and he isn't crying the horrific "I'm in serious teething pain" cry I get him back on track soothing himself without getting him out of his crib/nursing. In fact, I'll be doing that again tonight after our weekend stay in a hotel.

Bath Time
  • Gabriel thinks water is great. Bath time, swimming pools, drinking water from a cup, playing with water bottles: so great. He just hasn't figured out yet that the ocean is also water; that one might take time and a few beach vacations (I'm willing to take one for the team and book our next stay asap). But baths are great!

Play Time




  • Gabriel has really been enhancing his "sharing" skills. With everyday items he will play with something, then hold it out to show me over and over again. With "food-related" items (i.e. spoons, cups, and sometimes whatever he is eating) he will hold it up to his mouth, then eagerly hold it out (up to my mouth if he can reach) for me to take my "turn." It melts my heart every time.
  • He is so playful! This month he has been inventing his own, silly, unique games. My favorite is the one where he puts his head down (like he's about to do a somersault) and stares at me from upside down - reaching between his legs to grab me if I'm close enough. He thinks it's hilarious and so do I.
  • Whenever Gabriel is strapped in sitting somewhere (stroller, car seat, high chair) and can't play his "upside down" game, he modifies it into a head-tilting game. He will lean his head to one side repeatedly (making sure you're watching) and giggle in between.
  • He is really good at pushing things across the floor for fun - not just while crawling but also while standing and leaning onto the item. 
  • He has been playing games where he wants us to chase him and/or he will peek out from behind a door for awhile now - but this manifested itself into some real hide and seek this weekend! He would crawl and hide behind the floor-length curtain in the hotel room, wait for us to question where he was, then quickly fling the curtain open, present himself, and proceed to have a giggle fit as we squealed in delight. Then he would hide behind the curtain to do it all over again. :)
  • This month he figured out how to "push the star button to hear a song" on his drum, which means he has lots of fun skipping through the songs over and over before settling on one to drum to. 
  • He's been working more and more to place his different shaped blocks into the holes in the bucket they came with; he definitely has the concept down, but can't really fit them properly into the holes yet so he tends to move on to other things - like trying to stand up or climb on everything.
  • He is so good at rolling, throwing, or bouncing balls!

Growth/Development



  • This boy is becoming quite the chatterbox! He always seems to be telling us something; I just wish we could understand him! He seriously babbles on and on in conversation - with animated facial expressions, hand gestures, pauses while we respond, giggles when we smile back, and all. Adorable.
  • Michael and I are in agreement that Gabriel can walk but simply hasn't chosen to do so yet. He cruises holding onto furniture or toys all time, can walk all the way across the apartment if we hold his hands (he steps on his own - we don't even pull him), and he can balance standing upright while holding on with just a finger (and sometimes for a little bit after completely letting go). I can't wait to see him take his first real steps!
  • He surpassed the 16 lb. mark and seems to have grown at least 3 inches, but that could just be my imagination. His feet and toes seem to have magically doubled in size, but again, that could be my imagination. The point is that he is looking noticeably taller, bigger, beefier (he is a skinny baby - but he has always been all muscle and all of his pseudo-walking and baby squats have visibly strengthened/thickened his leg muscles!) and older by the day.
  • He has 2 bottom teeth! His first popped through just before he hit 10 months and within two weeks the second was right next to it. Currently, he's working on a 3rd (on top) that recently starting working its way through the surface of his gums. It's worth noting that he loves getting his teeth brushed. Loves it! Which I love.

There are probably so many developments I haven't managed to capture in words, but this month has been so much fun. I'm adoring the fact that Gabriel's personality is truly emerging and feel so blessed to spend my days with this playful, silly, observant, inquisitive, adventurous, talkative little boy.

"I'll love your forever,
I'll like you for always,
as long as I'm living,
my baby you'll be."
-Robert Munsch

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The "Both/And" of Natural Family Planning

+JMJ+

Have you ever read St. Pope John Paul II's Mulieris Dignitatem (in English: On the Dignity and Vocation of Women)? Previously I had read bits and pieces here and there, but had yet to really read it thoroughly and in a deeper, more intentional way. Thankfully, I have some pretty amazing friends here and one of them organized a reading/discussion group so that we could all tackle this goal together.

I've been hosting the group at our apartment - and what a joy it has been to host these ladies and be a part of this group! Last night's discussion left me feeling that we had broached some important issues and worked through them in a fruitful manner.

To be brief, one of the points that launched us into a fascinating conversation came from the last line in Part III (Image and Likeness of God):

Thus every element of human generation which is proper to man, and every element which is proper to woman, namely human "fatherhood" and "motherhood," bears within itself a likeness to, or analogy with, the divine "generating" and with that "fatherhood" which in God is "totally different," that is, completely spiritual and divine in essence; whereas in the human order, generation is proper to the "unity of the two": both are "parents," the man and the woman alike.

The quotation above is explaining that man and woman are both made in the image and likeness of God even in the elements of procreation that are gender specific. With God, these generative elements are all present because His fatherhood is one that is completely spiritual and divine. But with people? Our generation is "proper to the 'unity of the two.'" God doesn't need a partner to create because He is the Creator. But as humans we only create life in union with another; we are both parents.

We then began to speak about human constructs that attempt to undermine or evade this reality - the reality that motherhood and fatherhood has been entrusted to the cooperation of men and women. I'm sure you can think of several examples, but with all that's been happening in our nation this week it's no surprise that we landed on one topic in particular: contraception.

One thing led to another and before we knew it, we were knee-deep in a conversation about the Church and Natural Family Planning (NFP). As the only married woman in the bunch, I am the only one with a full experience of NFP - practicing it with my husband, abstaining as a married couple, conceiving a child, figuring things out postpartum, etc. However, at least one other woman in the group has firsthand knowledge of charting.

In short, this young woman who had NFP charting experience felt sort of duped. She attended Catholic schools her entire life and she always heard about the benefits and happy, fruitful aspects of NFP and being pro-life. Yet, as she grew older and learned more about NFP and began to see the potential difficulties that stem from sacrifice, she wondered how no one had ever presented this information to her. Why did her high school focus so much on girls building their careers - but never touch on the realistic implications that being open to life may have on her future career? To explain the sacrifices that a woman must sometimes make if she is pregnant or taking care of small children?

I see and understand all of her frustrations. She felt as if the Church was too focused on selling people on the fruitful aspects of NFP and being open to life that She had failed to give women a realistic understanding of the sacrifice involved - perhaps out of fear that it might scare women away and lead them down the path of contraception. Her point was that it would probably be better if the Church was more direct and upfront about all of this from the beginning (perhaps during PreCana courses) so that women don't wrongfully anticipate all butterflies and roses then throw in the towel when it sometimes doesn't pan out the way they expected.

Again, I completely understand her frustrations and agree with her that the Church (via little "c" churches -depending on where you live, what programs they have to offer, etc.) doesn't always present the "hard" truths from the get go - but as I reflected more and more I came to what I think might assuage some of the concerns she (and many women) have.

I believe the problem lies in the polarized understandings (and presentations) of NFP. 
On one hand, we have people who so desperately want to reach out to our deeply wounded culture that is bombarded by a contraceptive mentality everywhere they turn. They want to help women see the beauty of NFP and openness to life - which can go to the extreme of accidentally making this beautiful practice seem...easy. Or constantly joyful - because any hint that it might be otherwise will certainly make you a bad pro-lifer.


On the other hand, we have women wanting to provide support and realistic expectations to those that are practicing NFP. The women that want to say, "NFP can be hard! It requires great sacrifice and can be painful, frustrating, and possibly infuriating!" It's great to be realistic about the sacrificial aspect of NFP, but again, these women can accidentally go the extreme, which in this case presents NFP as...all hardship. All the time. Nothing but trials and tears - except of course when you do have a baby and that makes it all worthwhile...even though it's hard.

You see, I've come to realize that these presentations of NFP are problematic because they fall into the trap of secular society. We live in times when every issue tends to become polarized. Everything is "either/or." But what happened to the "both/and"? We can't say that Christ's self-gift in the crucifixion was only the biggest hardship known to man OR the most beautiful, fruitful gift known to man. It's both. As Christians, we understand that hardships and joy are not mutually exclusive. We don't only live in a world of difficulty or a world solely radiating joy, love, fruitfulness. These things often go hand in hand. Sure, there are times when everything seems to be filled with grace - and we give thanks. There are also times when everything looks bleak - and we continue on in our struggle, trusting in our Lord that it will get better. But we also know that the Lord is often planting seeds in those times of difficulty that will later bear fruit we will someday (hopefully) recognize and be able to give thanks for.

If there's one thing I've learned about NFP since getting married it's this: it isn't all joy joy joy/easy peasy lemon squeezy/let's make all the babies all the time nor is it all woe is me/charting is so harrrrrrrd*/abstinence is the worst/what a burdensome cross God seems to have given us. It has the potential to be both/and. Which is precisely why it doesn't do us any good to present the extremes on either side...but also helps me see why the Church focuses on the Love and Light.

As Christians we never focus on the sacrifice without also rejoicing in the reminder of Hope in the Resurrection. As Catholics, we wear the crucifix not to see only the pain and suffering of sacrifice and dwell in it, but to remember that our true Hope, joy, and most beautiful gifts stem from sacrificial gifts of self in which we die to self for one another. We cannot have Easter without Lent.

There will be times in our married lives when NFP seems like Lent...and in that we are not alone. There will be times in our married lives when NFP (not just conceiving babies - but even charting and abstinence!) will seem like Easter...and in that we are not alone. No matter what, we are not alone and we know that this openness to God and life - in which we cooperate as couples through trust and prayerful discernment about abstaining during fertile periods or letting the charts fly out the window - will bring us into greater union with God and therefore help mold us into the truest versions of ourselves. And the notion of possibly becoming the truest versions of ourselves through the Sacrament of our marriage - as God intended us to be - is a "both/and" opportunity that I'm so grateful to have been given.

*It's worth saying that if you and your spouse are at a point in your relationship when you believe charting is of utmost importance (regardless of whether it's to conceive or postpone having a baby) but you find charting to be a source of great consternation, you might want to consider finding a new method and instructor that better suit your needs. And sometimes, we must admit that we might not be giving our charts the diligence we should be if it's really that important. Charting can be hard, but it doesn't always have to be! We live in a time when we're blessed with scientific knowledge. It's also worth saying that one NFP method might not be your best fit forever. I would encourage everyone to find the right method, instructors, and possibly even physicians that work with your family's current needs!

"One jewel of John Paul's meditations over many decades concerns the light he sheds on the time before humanity's fall from grace. In that graced time we glimpse the "unity of the two": the true collaboration between man and woman untouched by the darkness of sin. Their unsullied "common humanity" reminds us that each is made for the other, with a shared mission and the ability to bear those fruits that God entrusts to their free and creative generosity."
-Genevieve Kineke