Thursday, May 29, 2014

What Being A Music Teacher Has Taught Me

I have never felt such mixed emotions as I do today. Today was my last day as a high school music teacher. Today ends a wonderful chapter in my life, and also begins a brand new one. Today, I begin my life as a stay at home mom.

When Trent and I found out about our pregnancy with this current baby, we had to make the very difficult decision of whether or not I would return to work. After a spending a lot of time in prayer, discussion, weighing pros and cons, and a significant amount of tears on my end, we decided it would be the best decision for our family if I became a stay at home mom.

Today I'd like to reflect on the lessons I have learned being a music teacher. As with any career, there have been highs and lows, good times and bad times. There have been times when I came home thinking I was the worst teacher who ever lived, and other times when I have felt that I truly made a positive difference in someone's life. I have shed tears of sorrow, anger, joy, and wonder. Through my job as a music teacher, I have felt God's presence in a way that I never knew possible. I have lost friends through sickness and death, but gained wonderful new friends as well. It has been a crazy ride, and looking back, I am thankful for every moment.

 Lesson 1: You won't please everyone, but you WILL make a difference in someone's life.
My students are like my children. I am with them almost every day, and as a music teacher, I have the same students year after year. I see them when they enter as freshman, and watch them grow through their senior year. I get to know their personalities in a way that many other teachers do not. I have always felt gratitude for this part of my job. As with any job, though, I quickly learned that I could not focus on the negatives. It was very hard for me to realize that not everyone will like me or enjoy being in my class. But that's okay. As many times as I felt frustrated when I could not reach a particular student, there were more times when I had a positive influence on another student's life. And that, my friends, is the best feeling in the world.

Lesson 2: You will learn more than you will teach.
I am a teacher, which means that I am a student. I teach my students how to be musicians, but more often than that, they teach me how to live life. I went through some of my most difficult times of my personal life while teaching, and I tried to be strong through those times. Often, though, I could not stay strong. I realized that my students can support and help me. They really do care, and they want to help. They have humbled me, and through them, I have learned that it's okay to let my guard down sometimes. They have taught me to find wonder in the small things. To get excited about every day. That it's possible to find joy in even the most menial tasks.

Trent helping me set up my
classroom the summer before
I started my job
Lesson 3: Music can be a release for even the most academically challenged student
I loved teaching music because I got to see students thrive who might have been severely struggling in all their other classes. Most of my students were in my classes because they wanted to be there. It was something different from the rest of their day because they were able to express themselves in a way that didn't only involve words or writing. They were pushed to take risks, because it can be intimidating and even terrifying to open yourself up in this way in front of your peers. Music creates a bond like no other, and we were a family. Most of them felt at home in the music room, which was the same way I felt when I took music classes in school.

Lesson 4: Actions speak louder than words
Being a teacher has made me more aware of how I act in front of my students and in my life outside school. If I am constantly focusing on negatives, either about the music or life in general, they will follow suit. Even more so, I can talk the talk all I want, but it's not going to impress anyone. What I needed to do was walk the walk. When I live my life according to what I tell them they should do, they listen. When I don't, they notice, and it affects their outlook in my class and in their lives. This applies to all areas of our lives, and is really difficult to do. But it does make all the difference.

My favorite classroom poster EVER.
I hung it up during my first year but sadly it got lost somewhere in my second year.

Lesson 5: Growin' up is hard to do
It's very easy for me to get irritated or annoyed with a student (or anyone, really) who doesn't cooperate. But sometimes, I was so focused on what I needed to get done that day that I forgot my students have lives outside of my classroom. And some of them are going through very difficult times. We must realize this, not just in the classroom, but everywhere. We encounter people who may not treat us nicely, but we should remember that we don't know everything about their lives and perhaps they are going through a really difficult time. Not that this an excuse to treat people badly, but it still is something we should consider when dealing with others.

Elizabeth loved going to my concerts.
You can see here she is too busy haming
it up to pay attention to the music.
I am so sad to be leaving this wonderful school and my amazing students. I will never forget my time there, what I have learned, and all the friendships I have made. Today, I start a new part of my life. I will still be a full time teacher, but now, my children are my students. My house will be my classroom. My kitchen will be my cafeteria. My yard will be my playground. And I know that, just like when I taught high school, I will learn from my children just as much as they will learn from me. I will have days when I feel like I am the worst parent in the world, and I will have days when I am on top of the world. Sometimes my children will think I am the meanest person ever, and sometimes they will think I am the greatest. I will need to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. I will make new friendships, and cherish old ones.

Please keep me in your prayers as I begin this new phase of my life! And, as always, words of advice and/or encouragement are always appreciated :-)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Boys Will Be Boys": The Pornography Lie

Probably the most terrifying thing to me about parenting is the fear of my children getting sucked into the computer and internet. I've said it before, but the internet is a SCARY, WONDERFUL place. It's wonderful because we have access to so much information that we never did before. Want a recipe for something? Takes 5 seconds to get it. Need a place to connect with other people but can't leave the house? Join an online group! Want to be a huge nerd and share with others about your gloriously intelligent and awe inspiring thoughts and opinions? Start a blog! But don't name it something stupid or confusing, like "The Girl Who Wishes To Be An Orthodox Christian."

But. But. The internet is scary. Terrifying. Frightening. Petrifying. Hair Raising. Blood Curdling. (No, I didn't just google "synonyms for scary" and list them all in order...uh...) We all know what's out there. We all know how easy it is to get sucked in. And how simple it is to let it take over our lives.

What I'm talking about today is no secret. Pornography is out there. It's so easy to find that those of us who want nothing to do with it have to spend money, time, and effort to NOT find it. It is more addictive than hard drugs, and it consumes marriages, relationships, and lives of many, many people.

Let me preface this by saying a few things. First of all, if you are reading this and you suffer from an addiction to pornography, PLEASE know that I am in no way passing judgment or accusation on you as a person. I still love you and my goal is not to make you feel terrible about yourself. My goal is to give you hope, and help you to realize that it IS possible to get over this addiction.

Secondly, I understand both men and women suffer from addictions to pornography. However, in this blog post, I will be focusing on how it affects men, their girlfriends, their wives, and their relationships with others.

So here we go.

Hey ladies. We all have a responsibility to help our men. They are visual creatures and it's very hard for them to focus when we are wearing clothes that are screaming "Hey look at my legs/breasts/stomach/butt/whatever other body part we want to show off." Dressing modestly is awesome! It is possible to look cute and feminine while dressing modestly. You don't have to wear a veil or a long jean skirt in order to accomplish this. I'm currently working on making my wardrobe more modest than it has been in the past. Hey, maybe I'll write a blog post about it sometime! And I understand that dressing modestly is much harder for some women than it is for others, simply based on body types. Trust me, this is coming from someone who has a rear end the size of a small planet. But every outfit we choose is sending out a message that is more than simple fashion preference. We are either helping men see us as a beautiful, feminine creation of God, or we are helping men see us as an object of lust. Which would you rather be? (Raise your hand for the first one!)

HOWEVER. The responsibility is not solely on the girls. Sadly, our culture thinks otherwise. Not only is it permissible to "let boys be boys," as the saying goes, but it is also even encouraged. This culture has turned our strong men into weak, mindless machines who have no control over their thoughts or actions.We do not expect them to fight this battle anymore. We expect them to simply give in and do what everyone else is doing.

Typically, if a woman finds out that her husband/fiance/boyfriend looks at porn on a regular basis, she instinctively feels hurt. She often feels like she is being cheated on. "Am I not enough for him?" she begins to wonder. "Am I not beautiful to him?" "Who are these other women?" The insecurities rise, and their relationship is damaged. Women deal with insecurity in a much deeper way than men. It is difficult for women to become physically or emotionally intimate with a man with whom they do not feel fully secure. And even though it is very possible for women to forgive, it is very difficult to let go of the damage caused by these insecurities.

Even more damage is done by the reaction of others when women share these problems. Women who tell others about their hurt feelings are met with indifference, or even laughter. "What else do you expect?" people often say. "All men look at porn. It's part of being a man. Just let them do their thing and move on." Some women are even made to feel like they are being "controlling" or "overprotective" when they share their feelings on the issue.

I'm here to say this: ladies, we have womanly instincts for a reason. Your uneasiness about this issue is there because it is, indeed, an issue. You are not wrong for feeling this way, even though society tells you otherwise. You can and should expect that your significant other tries his hardest to have eyes only for you.

BUT. In saying that, it is your number one responsibility to love your man. You can help him overcome this problem. The way to do this is not to make him feel guilty, hold a grudge, or threaten him. Pride is important to men, and as their significant others, we see them when they are at their most vulnerable. Make sure he knows that you are here to help him in the best way that you can. Not to be the scolding mother-figure whenever he is "caught in the act." You want him to feel like he can come to you when he is struggling...not to be afraid to talk to you about it.

We are all human and we all sin. This is a fact, and we shouldn't look down on others for their sins. Just because somebody else's sin is different from our own does not make us a better or a worse person. And we should always trust our instincts. Our sex-saturated culture likes to tell us what "normal" is, even though our instincts often tell us otherwise.

There is help out there for those who suffer from this addiction, and for their significant others. A new book by Matt Fradd is out called "Delivered". It is filled with hopeful stories about men and women who have overcome their addictions. There are countless websites with helpful advice and suggestions, such as Family Life Center.

So remember: This is good news! There is hope! We must always remind ourselves that anything is possible with God.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Answer Me This: Volume 2

Arrrgh. I didn't meet my goal of two posts this week! I hope you forgive me...end of the school year craziness going on 'round these parts. Don't worry, though, I have some GEMS coming up for you...I have to say, I'm pretty excited about the posts that will be coming in the next few weeks! I think you'll like them too...or at least be intrigued enough to start reading a few sentences?

Anyway, here's this week's installment of Answer Me This! from Kendra at Feel free to answer the questions about yourself in the comments below.

1. Beach or Mountains? Where would you rather be?

Dad, mom, and brother in front of Alaskan glaciers
I really do love both. The majesty and beauty of mountains amaze me every time I see them. I went to Alaska a few years ago and have never seen anything so magnificent. Plus, my family vacations growing up were always to places with mountains: Wyoming, Montana, Tennessee. I also love hiking, and all the wild animals you see in the mountains.

I also have a deep fascination with the ocean. Sharks in particular. Learning about ocean fish is always so interesting to me. And I love swimming in the ocean because it's so FREAKY to think that a few feet underneath you could possibly be a shark or jellyfish or other type of crazy ocean animal. My idea of a great time? SHARK WEEK ON DISCOVERY. I can't get enough of it. I actually wanted to be a marine biologist for a little while when I grew up...until I learned that I don't understand science AT ALL. 

If I HAD to choose, I would probably say mountains, just because I have been around them more. Plus, living in the land of cornfields as I do, it's awesome to see land that is not flat.

2. Which is more fun: Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning?

Best Christmas present EVER
In the past, Christmas Eve has always been my favorite simply because it's more laid back and relaxing. Growing up we always spent Christmas morning cooking and getting ready for the big meal that day (not that I minded that...I loved it!).

Now, I would probably say it depends on whether or not Trent is working on Christmas. If he is, I'd say Christmas Eve. If he isn't I'd say Christmas morning. We started a tradition last year where we do not put up any Christmas decorations until Christmas Eve. That was really awesome. It helped us stay focused on Advent and "preparing" for Christ's birth.

I have to say, though, that the most memorable Christmas morning happened in 2012 at 2a.m. when my water broke and a certain little baby named Elizabeth decided she wanted to come that day! Or actually...the day after...12:53am December 26 to be exact!

3. What’s the most embarrassing childhood outfit you remember wearing?

My mom had pretty good fashion sense when she dressed me as a child. Looking back, I had a lot of really cute outfits. The problem, however, was that I was a tomboy and I HATED dresses. So, even though most people would say how cute I looked him them, I didn't buy it. All I wanted to wear was t-shirts. I always felt really embarrassed when I had to wear a dress.

Ironically, now, all I want to wear are dresses. And I really, really like dressing cute. I think becoming a teacher did that to me...when I had no choice but to dress nicely every day.

4. Your house is quiet, you don’t have to do work (housework included). What do you do?

Read or bake, depending on what my energy level is. There is nothing more relaxing to me than curling up with a good book (preferably in a cozy chair by a window if it's raining outside, or laying in a hammock if it's nice out. But if I feel like I want to accomplish something, I'll bake. Or MAYBE I would bake something, and THEN read!

5. What movie do you want to watch when you’re feeling under the weather?

Any Disney movie. And when I say Disney, I mean GOOD Disney movie. So, mostly anything Pixar is great, and any Disney movie before Mulan (Mulan, is, of course, included in that list).

6. Did you have an American Girl doll when you were little? If so, which one?

Oh my goodness, how I LOVED American Girl Dolls. I had a "Look Like Me" Doll named Alexandra (which, coincidentally, was one of the names my mother wanted to name me) and the Josefina doll. I saved up my own money to buy the Josefina doll. I also loved all the books about the American Girl dolls.

My most memorable experience with these dolls actually involves my brother. He was a fan of the Chucky movies, which made him not a fan of dolls. So I was teasing him with one of my American Girl dolls, saying she was going to come alive like Chucky. He took her and threw her across the room, and her leg broke off. I was pretty upset (even though I had it coming), but it turned out to be pretty cool because we sent her to the "American Girl Doll Hospital" where they fixed her up.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Answer Me This: Volume 1

I've been writing a lot of really deep, heavy stuff recently. Or perhaps...the entire time I've had this I thought I'd lighten the mood a bit and get involved in a fun series from Kendra at Catholic All Year! This will be a weekly post on Sundays. I'll answer the questions about myself, and then you can answer them about you in the comments section below! And don't worry, I'll still be doing my normal ranting about life issues. This will just be a nice break in between those posts!

1. What’s the scariest thing that’s ever been in your yard?

These were the good ol' days when she only
weighed as much as a small child

I'll try to answer this question without being gross. Let's just say that I have a 100 lb dog, and she will eat practically anything. ANYTHING. Including socks, underwear, rags, and other things that are not...ahem...usually digested well. So, when we walk in our yard or mow the yard, we often find these items. But they are in a quite different...uh...state than their original because they through Cocoa's...system....yeah....

2. Beards. Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Thumbs down. I have never liked facial hair, and as luck would have it, Trent can't grow a beard! So yay! I find that it's really easy to cross the line between "clean looking" and "unkempt mountain man." I also think that some men can pull it off, but a lot can't. I have never kissed a man with a beard but I would imagine that it is very scratchy and uncomfortable. So no beard for me, thanks!

3. If stuff breaks, can you fix it?

Well...depends on what it is. Anything to do with mechanical, electrical, car, plumbing, yard equipment, furniture, clothing, or any other household appliance? The answer is no. I have absolutely no patience for that sort of thing. I either ask someone to fix it for me or pay someone to do it. So what can I fix? Uh....Elizabeth's boo-boos? Maybe I should just answer this as "no."

4. What was your first car?

1998 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme! My parents were kind enough to get me a car when I turned 16. Partly because I had so many after school activities that I'm sure they needed a break from being my taxi service. I was kids will not be so lucky I'm sure.

5. How often do you eat out?

Normally, I'd say one or two times per week. This month, it's been wayyyyy too much. We try really hard to keep with our budget but sometimes during really busy times when I don't have energy to plan meals as much as I should, we eat out more. We really do love cooking at home, though, so we try to do that as often as possible.

6. Why is your hair like that?

A blog post is coming soon about my hair, actually. Sounds fascinating doesn't it? All I'll say at the moment is I'm trying something new with it. But I've never colored or dyed it...not because I'm against that, but because I'm chicken, I'm lazy, and I'm cheap. I once cut it very short and regretted it so much (it greatly resembled a giant fro, since I have curly hair) that I've been afraid to cut it short ever since then.

Hope you enjoyed the weekly installment of "Answer Me This!" Feel free to answer the questions about yourself in the comments below!

Friday, May 16, 2014

How Do You Stay Positive In A Crazy, Messed Up World?

 Sometimes I annoy people. I know this will shock you because how could someone like me possibly ever be annoying? Don't worry, don't worry, it doesn't happen all the time. Just like every few minutes or so. One of the many reasons why I can be annoying is because I wear my heart on my sleeve. I have a lot of trouble keeping my emotions to myself. And it's hard for me to understand how others do not have the same reactions I do.


Things that I get unbelievably excited about that don't seem to warrant the same reaction from others:
  1. Delicious food of any kind
  2. Chocolate milk (the real stuff, none of that Hershey's Syrup mixed with milk crud)
  3. Discussions about anything related to Catholicism
  4. Alton Brown
  5. Delicious food
  6. Pokemon
  7. Delicious ice cream
  8. Harry Potter
  9. Really good food
  10. Being a hippie while not being a hippie

If something irritates me, it's really hard for me to hide my reaction. Ummmm....could you please stop telling me how unhealthy it is to consume two gallons of chocolate milk in a three hour period? It's really irritating. Because just FYI I do this on a semi regular basis and no I'm not ashamed to admit it. Nor am I ashamed that I make my daughter go in the other room while I inhale drink the said chocolate milk so that she won't start whining because I won't share any with her. I'm just being a good's not healthy to consume so much chocolate milk in such a short amount of time.

Things that tend to irritate me:
  1. Unorganized drawers and cabinets in my own house (ironic because my house if full of them...and every time I open one, the irritation creeps slowly in...)
  2. Food that you think will be delicious but turns out gross
  3. My dog's habit of eating her own poop (just being real here)
  4. Wasting food
  5. Speeding tickets
  6. People who tell me I drink too much chocolate milk

If I think something is sad, it is unbelievable to me that no one else is crying their eyes out because how could they NOT think that the scene in The Fox and the Hound where Todd's owner drops him off at the forest with no intention of returning for him is the SADDEST MOVIE SCENE EVER???

Things that make me sad:
  1. When I accidentally kill any type of bug. I can't kill bugs because whenever I do I cry. So whenever we find a spider in our house I make my husband carefully catch it and let it outside.
  2. When baby birds fall out of their nests and I don't know for sure if their mom will come get them!!!
  3. Running out of chocolate milk
  4. When restaurants run out of food items that are delicious

But here's when I really start to annoy people. When I get mad about something, I get really mad. And I'm not talking about physically violent, like I start going around punching people. I never really have the urge to physically take out my anger on things. I'm talking about emotionally mad. Like, I can't believe that anyone would not find this offensively WRONG. I get so outraged, I can't understand why everyone else isn't either.

This is a problem that I have. I'm working on it. But here's why I think it annoys people: because we live in an apathetic culture. No one really cares or has opinions anymore. It's a "free for all", "do what works for you", "what I think is true might not necessarily be true for you", "hey man let's all get along" sort of thing. I can't handle it. I see the way our country and our world is going and it makes me ANGRY.

All last week the media was buzzing about these satanist groups. I've learned to be skeptical about anything the media says because they usually always get it wrong or twist it in some way. But the basic gist is this: one satanist group at Harvard wants to conduct a "Black Mass," in which they have a ceremony that mocks the Catholic Mass (some sources even say they will use a consecrated host, which is the most unbelievably disrespectful thing anyone could ever do to a Catholic since we believe that it actually IS Jesus Christ). Another satanist group wants to put up a statue of Satan in Oklahoma's capitol building.

The argument is always this: we have freedom of religion! Let them do what they want! They aren't hurting anyone! If the Christians can have church gatherings, let the satanists have theirs! If the statue of the 10 Commandments can be in the capitol building, why can't a statue of Satan?

Where's the line? I ask you, where is the line?? We have already crossed it many times over. Why are people so defensive of these types of groups, but judge Christians as being "haters" and "imposing?" We are getting into dangerous territory here. Who knows what the future holds for Christians? People laugh when I suggest that perhaps, in the not so far future, we will be imprisoned for expressing our beliefs. Why is that so outrageous to think? People are already getting fired for it. And perhaps, soon after that, we will be persecuted. It has happened before. It is happening now, in other parts of the world. And it very well could happen here, in the "Land of the Free."

I'm not saying this to be a Debbie Downer, or to get everyone feeling depressed and hopeless. The world has always had problems since the fall of Adam and Eve, and it will continue to have problems until the end of time. But God put us in this time for a reason. We must be aware of what is happening around us, and we must fight the good fight.

So here's what I want to know. Coming from someone who gets so outraged at the injustice happening around us, how do you stay positive? I have a few things I like to think of, and I would love to hear yours.

1) Acknowledge the problems, but focus on the good around us as well.
There are so many good people out there. It's easy to focus on the bad, but we must always remember that for every bad person, there are many more good people.

2) Count your blessings
I know this sounds cliché, but it is so important. We all have crosses we must bear and there is no such thing as a perfect society. As twisted as I believe our country is getting, I still love it. I have patriotism and am proud to be an American. I love its founding principals and I know that there are people out there who are trying their hardest to make our country a better place to live.

3) Remember that in the end, goodness wins.
This is perhaps the most comforting thought of all. I tell myself this all the time. As Christians, we have been told that throughout the struggles and wars and injustices we will face, in the end, God wins. We don't just believe this...we know this. Goodness will prevail. Love will triumph. Righteousness will be victorious.

We will fight the good fight.

And we WILL win.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Natural Family Planning: A Love Story

I promised you I was going to write about Natural Family Planning here and here. And I always follow through on my promises...eventually!!! So here ya go. What is Natural Family Planning? Here's my take on it, from someone who loves and hates it with a passion.

Natural Family Planning is a wonderful way to "plan" your family size. It is morally acceptable because it does not separate sex from procreation, like contraception does. NFP IS NOT THE RHYTHM METHOD. The rhythm method doesn't work, because very few women actually have a perfect 28 day cycle. NFP is a scientific, evidence based method that is more accurate than any other method (contraception included). There are many different types of NFP you can use, but here are the basics:

  • A woman has naturally occurring fertile and infertile times during her cycle. She notes the signs and observations as to when her fertile time occurs. All this information goes on a chart.
  • Woman can take her temperature daily. Ideally, at around the same time every morning before she gets up, although there are other ways to take temperature for women who have crazy sleep schedules due to work/other circumstances. 
  • During ovulation and the fertile period, her temperature will rise. It will stay high until her fertile period is over (unless she becomes pregnant, in which case her temperature will stay high).
  • Woman can also check her cervical mucous every day. There are fertile and infertile types of mucous. I won't go into detail about that since some of you might not want to know, but if you want more info about that, visit here and here. ( has pictures)
  • Woman can check her cervix daily. Soft and open typically means fertile, while closed and hard typically means infertile.

It costs virtually nothing. It is the healthiest possible choice for both the mother and the father. There are no invasive drugs, barriers, or operations. It is more effective at preventing pregnancy and achieving pregnancy than any other method. It's pretty much a win/win situation for everyone.

So...if that's all true, why the heck do more people not do it? Why do most people not even know about it?

Because of this: if you want to prevent pregnancy, you must abstain from sex during the woman's fertile time.

People see the words "abstain from sex" and they run away like frightened children who just witnessed me attempting to do something athletic. It especially bothers people if they see the words "during marriage" after the phrase "abstain from sex". "Ummmm...what??" some of you may be thinking. Or perhaps yelling at your computer. "Isn't getting married like a free license to engage in intercourse whenever, however, and wherever I feel like? I actually waited to have sex until I was married! I'm DONE abstaining!!"

According to society, we are animals. What do I mean by that? Well, what's the main difference between humans and animals? Humans have the ability to reason and exercise self control. Animals do not. Humans do not always react according to what our instincts tell us. We can, even though it's difficult, restrain ourselves. I might WANT to eat that fifth piece of pie, but I know it's probably not the best decision. So I settle for a mere four pieces. I might WANT to yell obscenities to that person driving the motorcycle who just cut me off, but I realize it would be better for me to control my anger, so I don't.

But here's the thing. We're not expected to exercise self control anymore. In our "quick, self-gratifying, what's in it for me" culture, it's now commonplace for us to simply take the easy way out. Want that 5th slice of pie? No problem! Just take a pill afterward that will settle your stomach. Want to yell obscenities at deserving motorists? Go ahead. Everyone else does it.

Contraception is the epitome of this phenomenon. (That sentence makes me feel smart) It allows us to throw any type of self control out the window. We don't have to worry about consequences anymore, so just do whatever you want, when you want!

Is this a Christ-like way to live? No. Jesus showed us, through His own life and words, that the only way to become holy is to deny ourselves. Will we always do this perfectly? No. But if we allow Jesus to take control and give everything to Him, He makes it possible.

When I tell people about NFP, here's the main question I get:
NFP doesn't sound any different than contraception to me. Both methods can be used to avoid pregnancy. So if they both achieve the same result, what's the difference? Why is one morally okay and the other is not?

My answer to this is: the end does not justify the means. I like to use a metaphor here. Let's say someone wanted to lose weight. There are many different ways this person could do that. But some ways are acceptable, some are not. If this person decided to become bulimic to lose weight, we would all agree that it would not be the right thing. She would be mistreating her body and using it in a way that it is not meant to be used. She would certainly lose weight. But she would damage herself and her body in the process. If, however, she decided to start exercising and controlling the amount of food she ate, it would be great! She would lose weight by treating her body in a way that it was meant to be treated. Both ways achieve the same end. But the means by which the end was achieved were very, very different.

God created woman with fertile and infertile times in her cycle. So choosing to abstain from sex completely during fertile cycles is not morally wrong. We have the ability to use logic, reason, and self control. It does not separate sex from procreation.

Freedom is not having the ability to do whatever we want. Freedom is having the ability to say "yes" or "no" to yourself. Is an alcoholic free? No, he is enslaved by his addiction. The one who is able to enjoy alcohol, but not let his desire to drink control his life, is truly free. Occasional abstinence during marriage can actually be a wonderful thing. It reminds us that we can have control of our instincts and desires. It makes us explore other avenues of bonding that we might not otherwise do. It deepens our spiritual life too...because let's face it...we NEED God to help us with abstinence.

And, of course, it's hard as hell.

I'm not going to lie or put it in a fancy little package for you. Practicing NFP to avoid pregnancy instead of using contraception can be SO. HARD. Abstaining from sex is VERY. DIFFICULT. Especially during marriage. Sometimes I resent it. I waited to have sex until I was married. I dated my now husband for 8 years. I, more than many people, understand how difficult abstinence is. And how it can be a cross. And how easy it is to cross the line.

But since when is following Jesus and doing the right thing easy? Can you think of any place in Scripture where Jesus says "Come, follow me, I'll give you the easy way out."? No. Throughout the New Testament, he is constantly telling his followers that they must choose the narrow path. The difficult path. The path that many do not trod. Many people walk away, not willing to change. They are comfortable, thank you very much. This Jesus guy is a little too radical for them.

I can tell you, from experience, that being open to life in my marriage has been the most wonderful experience I could imagine. Like I said earlier, sometimes it's hard. But it really has made my husband and me closer in our marriage. And, statistics actually show that couples who practice NFP have better, longer lasting marriages. Yay!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Family Size: Large Marges and Tiny Tims

Note: K, so I lied. I told you my next post was going to be about Natural Family Planning. Well, I started to write about it, but what I meant to be a "short introduction" to my post actually turned into an entire post in itself. So....I'm gonna go to confession for lying to y'all, and you can enjoy this post that resulted in my lie...but wait...does that mean you are partaking in my lie? Which would make you sin? Which would make me sin even more because I'm encouraging you to sin? AHHHHHH!!!! IS THIS REAL LIFE????

Sorry about that. Just read it. K? K.

I believe it is harder to be a mom now than it ever has been before. Sure, we have modern technology that make life a heck of a lot more convenient. We don't have to go to a river and wash our clothes. We can heat up leftovers in a matter of 30 seconds in the microwave and call that dinner. We have the ability to pop in a movie for the kids if things get a little too hectic around the house and mom needs a few minutes to herself.

But here's what most of us don't have: help. Trust me, I'm not degrading our husbands in any way. I appreciate and need my husband's help more than anything. And I have SO much support from family and friends who help with babysitting and cleaning that I'm probably one of the luckiest moms out there. What I'm referring to is a community of women to essentially live together and contribute their help in all areas that need it. Raising children. Cleaning. Cooking. Teaching. And, just as importantly, providing emotional and spiritual support for each other.

In just about every culture around the world up until present day, women lived this way. They lived in a community, either very near each other, or actually in the same house. They were raised by their own mothers and a whole lot of other women who were like mothers to them. They were taught from a very young age how to take care of their houses, their children, and their husbands. And they always had older, more experienced women around them to offer advice and support.

Now, family units are much smaller. A "typical" household consists of two parents and their children. Even if we live near our families, we might only see them a few times a month. Or even less, depending on the situation. Many families live clear across the country from each other, and can only visit once per year, or even less.

This presents a big problem for mothers. (I'm sure it does for fathers too, but I'm speaking from a mother's perspective). Whether you work outside the home or you work as a full time stay at home mom, you are expected to maintain your house and family in the same way women have been doing for thousands of years:
  • Cook wholesome and healthy meals for your family
  • Respect your family's budget by saving as much money as possible
  • Keep your house clean and organized
  • Make your place of living look and feel cozy, comfortable, and decorated
  • Keep track of everyone's schedules
  • Give individual attention to each member of your family on a regular basis
  • Make time for yourself 
  • Make time for prayer
In short, it's impossible to accomplish everything unless we have help constant, live-in help. Most of us don't. So we have to accept the fact that we just can't accomplish everything.

Large families used to be the norm. A family made up of two adults and 15 children was not anything mind blowing. Now, we have TV shows about these types of families. We view them almost the same way we view zoo animals: with wonder, awe, and fear. And, of course, we automatically categorize these families as "weird" or "religious zealots".

My husband and I have a joke about how people react when they are told the news of a pregnancy. For a couple's first and second pregnancy, the reaction is typically joy (assuming the circumstances of the pregnancy are good). For the third and fourth, people will start to get uneasy, warning the couple that they need to be "done." For a fifth or sixth, eyes will roll and comments will be muttered under their breath: "They DO know what causes pregnancy, right?" Anything seven or more will simply cause heads to shake...these couples have already made the "weird" and/or "religious zealot" list, and no one will be surprised.
Why is it so crazy in our current age to have big families? It is partly due to the contraceptive mentality in which we live. Children (and our fertility) are viewed as good long as they are convenient for us. When they are not convenient, they are viewed as diseases that need to be "fixed." So we use pills and other methods to prevent pregnancy, making sex something totally twisted from what God originally intended for it to be.

It is also due to our consumerist and individualistic society. Our goals are to have enough money to be comfortable and to be able to give our children all the opportunities we can. We often feel sorry for large families who can't afford to go on vacations or go out to nice restaurants. "If only they would have been smarter and had less children," people say. But do you know what the funny thing is? In my experience, every single one of these families I have seen are happier than anyone else I know. They don't have a lot of money. They don't have a big house. Several children must share rooms. Sometimes they have to eat beans and tortillas for dinner for weeks so they can pay their bills. But they have each other. Life is hard and stressful for them, but they are the most fulfilled and peaceful people I know. Their homes are full of life and laughter.

The bottom line: God provides for those who trust in Him.

That being said, having a large family is not for everyone. Although the Catholic Church is against any form of contraception, She recognizes that there are serious situations in which a mother and a father might NEED a break from children. I think now, more than ever, parents have legitimate reasons to space their children out more than before. We don't have a community living situation in most cases like families in almost every generation before us did. We don't have the help. And sometimes, we get emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted. Sometimes, serious health issues arise in which it would be extremely dangerous for a mother to get pregnant or give birth. Other times, a family's financial situation might be so dire that they in no way can afford another child at the moment.

For this reason, God gave us the scientific knowledge of Natural Family Planning, or NFP. Unlike contraception, it does not separate sex from procreation. It can be used to conceive children OR to avoid pregnancy. Keep on the lookout for my next post explaining what it is, how it works, and why it is a morally acceptable.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

How An Old, Polish, Celibate Man Totally Rocked My Sex Life

When in high school, I often thought about what my life would be like as an adult. I pictured what most people do: I'd get married, enjoy married life for a few years, then have a few children.

I knew that I wanted to save myself for marriage. Meaning: not have sex until I was married. Once I got married, I reasoned, I could enjoy that intimate part of marriage as much as I wanted with no limitations. It would be like never eating a bite of chocolate until one day you have a never ending supply of every kind of chocolate treat imaginable for years and years.

Using contraception was a give in. Of course I would use it. Until, of course, my husband and I carefully decided when the right time for us to have children would be. Why wouldn't we use it? Enjoy all the benefits of sex without having to worry about getting pregnant! It sounded great to me.

It was not until about a year after high school that I discovered the Catholic Church teaches that contraception in any form is morally wrong. And, just so we're clear, contraception means anything that inhibits conception of a baby during sex: withdrawl method, barriers (condoms and diaphragms), hormonal pills, shots, or other types of contraceptive medicine. What??!! The thought struck me as crazy. Everyone uses contraception. They call it "safe sex" for a reason. What did the Church expect us to do? Pop out as many children as humanly possible?

 I decided to just forget about it for awhile. Trent and I broke up, and I busied myself with other things. I didn't have time to worry or care about this teaching regarding contraception. I went to church every week, but that was about it. I started searching for happiness in all the wrong places. Which, of course, made me extremely unhappy.

I then discovered Trent was becoming Catholic, which took me greatly by surprise. I started talking to him about it, and asking why he made that decision. He sent me a series of CD's called "Naked Without Shame," which were talks given by Christopher West about St. (It's so awesome to be able to call him that now!!!!!) John Paul II's work on something called "The Theology of the Body". I listened to all of them. And I was completely blown away and amazed by the message I received.

It talked about how God created us all in His image. We are good. Our bodies are good. Sex is good. However, because of the fall of Adam and Eve, we now struggle with concupiscence, which is the tendency toward sin. What is the first thing that happened when Adam and Eve sinned? They realized they were naked. And they were ashamed.

It should not be this way. In the beginning, Adam saw Eve: all of her. He did not look at her naked body with lust. Rather, he saw it as one of the most beautiful things of all God's creation. He was awed by her. He desired her, yes. But in a good, holy, and wonderful way.

Unfortunately, though, Adam and Eve did sin. And we don't live in a perfect world anymore. Why do we need to wear clothes? To protect ourselves. Because if we didn't, most people would look at us with lust. They wouldn't see our bodies as a beautiful creation of God. They would see it with one thing in mind: self gratification.

I realized, after listening to these talks, why the Catholic Church has not "gotten with the times" on this issue of contraception, like almost every other Christian denomination out there. It is completely contrary to what God intended when he created Man and Woman. And when he created sex. Does that sentence surprise you? That God created sex? I have often heard people express shock or uneasiness when they see that Trent and I have a crucifix hanging right above our bed. "Doesn't that weird you out?" they ask. "I wouldn't want God watching me being intimate with my spouse!" My question to them is this: why wouldn't you want God involved in that part of your marriage?? There should be no shame in it. God created it. It is good. As long as it is being done in the way He intended.   

Contraception is nothing new. People have been using it in one way or another since they figured out how babies are made. But in the 1950's, something revolutionary happened. A "magic pill" was created that would essentially free women from their own bodies. They could have all the sex they wanted with NO consequences! No babies! Fewer STDs! It was a feminist's dream. In 1960, the pill was approved for contraceptive use. By 1963, almost 2.3 million women in the United States used it.

Many feminists admire Margaret Sanger, an activist who greatly advocated the use of all forms of birth control. Sanger's goal was to make it possible for all women to have control over their own reproduction and bodies. She claimed that contraception would eliminate the problem of women being used as objects of lust.

I propose that contraception does the complete opposite. When you take away the procreative part of sex, what does that leave you with? The pleasure. Believe me, I am not trying to say that pleasure in sex is a bad thing. God created it, therefore it is good. But when you separate the pleasure from the procreation, there is a problem. You are essentially using your spouse as a means for your own satisfaction. You are telling your spouse that you love her whole body...except for her fertility. You are telling God that you'd rather take His creation and only accept the parts that are convenient for you.

Here's the biggest problem I have (and the Church has) with contraception: It views fertility and children as a disease. The Catholic Church is all about medicine. In fact, many of the major scientific breakthroughs in the past (rabies and anthrax vaccine, penicillin, etc) were discovered by devout Catholics. But here's the thing: we only encourage medicine that helps the body do what it is meant to do. We would all laugh if a scientist came out with a miracle drug that could make you blind. We would think it was crazy if people started taking a pill that would suppress their kidneys from functioning correctly. Why is it, then, that it's suddenly "great" that we have the means to stop our reproductive organs from working? Whether that be through a pill, barrier, or other methods? It's not great. It's scary. And the fact that our society has not only accepted this as normal, but also now made it mandatory for everyone to have access to this, is beyond frightening to me.
Did you know?

Not one Christian Church or denomination accepted any form of contraception as morally permissible before 1930. Starting that year, the Anglican Church began accepting contraception. Soon after, most Christian Churches followed. In the present day, the Catholic Church is one of the only Christian churches that has remained true to its original teaching, despite heavy societal pressures
Did you know?

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, pushed hard for contraception to be available for all. Part of her philosophy behind this was to create a purer human race. Her goal was to "assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit." This included handicapped people and racial minorities. She also wanted mandatory sterilization for the mentally challenged, to keep the "undeniably feeble-minded" from procreating. 
 Did you know? 
One of the active ingredients in most hormonal contraceptives is estrogen, which has been classified by the World Health Organization as a Class 1 carcinogen. What’s a Class 1 carcinogen, you ask? It’s a chemical with sufficient evidence proving it’s carcinogenicity to humans. Other chemicals that share this distinction are arsenic, asbestos, silica dust, and tobacco. Another chemical that is in Depo Provera (the shot) is depo-medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) which has been linked with a 2.2 increase in breast cancer. (source)

St. John Paul II realized this crisis was taking place at a level it never had before. He addressed it with urgency and compassion. He reminded us that marriage and sex are so holy and wonderful that God actually commanded Adam and Eve to partake in it. And he warned us what would happen if we continued down this self destructive path.

St. John Paul II, with his accessible explanations on the teachings about the beauty of sex and marriage, changed my life. He changed my husband's life. He changed the lives of countless individuals. He is more than a Pope to me, and more than a Saint. I've never met him or even seen him in person, but I feel as though I know him.

Because of him, my husband and I have the knowledge that so many people do not have. We understand that not using contraception is sometimes a very difficult thing to do. But it has made our marriage so much more beautiful and whole. When we made our marriage vows, that we would give all of ourselves to each other, we meant them. And we relive those vows over and over in our marriage. It is our greatest wish that others will ponder this beautiful command that Christ gave us. To be open to life. To experience sex in the way it was meant to be experienced.

Instead of casting this aside and forgetting about it, like I did many years ago, I hope you think about my words. Our decision to not use contraception has been the most difficult, amazing, and prayerful decision we have ever made in our marriage. I look at my daughter and wonder if she would be here, had we not been open to life. I can say with almost 100% certainty that the little life in my womb right now would not be here, had we not left it up to God.

You might have read all this, and still be wondering: "Well, that's great and all, but how can the Catholic Church expect a woman to have as many babies as she possibly can? That doesn't seem healthy or morally right."
The Church still recognizes that there are situations in which it would be best for a married couple to avoid pregnancy, such as serious health reasons. The great thing is, there is a morally acceptable way to do this that doesn't contradict God's original intent in sexuality. I'll talk about that in my next post about Natural Family Planning. Stay tuned!