Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Natural Family Planning should be Mandatory in Marriage Preparation

With Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week coming up (July 24-July 30), we wanted to share a few thoughts on NFP.  As a teaching couple, we have heard many arguments for and against NFP and whether or not it should be a mandatory part of marriage preparation.  One of the great misunderstandings concerning NFP is that many individuals consider its purpose to be only a natural method to avoid pregnancy.  Now, NFP is extremely useful and efficient in this regard, but in reality, learning about NFP and Fertility Awareness is so much more than simply learning how to avoid pregnancy.  So let us look at a few reasons why learning NFP is so important in our day and age.

Medical Benefits
The simple act of charting can have immense medical benefits for the woman.  Both in our medical experience and in our Natural Family Planning course, we have seen many women who have experienced tremendous paybacks as a result of recording their fertility signs.  And this experience is not simply ours alone.  One only needs to talk to all of the women who have been helped by Dr. Hilgers at the Pope Paul VI Institute to find out how the act of charting opened the doors to cures and solutions of their cycle and pregnancy related medical issues.  Whether using the Creighton Model, the Symptothermal or any other method, a couple who is charting can detect hormonal imbalances, infertility, nutritional deficiencies, cancers, and a variety of cycle issues.  These same couples, through charting, can reduce their need for unnecessary interventions during an infertility workup, or during pregnancy.  Consider that if a couple knows the date of conception through charting, a very accurate due date can be determined.  This saves the couple from needing an ultrasound to determine the due date, and can save many dangerous interventions at the end of the pregnancy since the parents and physician can know with great accuracy when to expect the baby.  If a couple who had a history of charting,  were to consult a physician due to difficulties with either the woman’s menstrual cycle or achieving pregnancy, so much more information can be made available to the doctor.  Without this information, the doctor may not be able to offer as much assistance, or require the woman to undergo many invasive procedures in order to ascertain the root cause of the problem.

Formation of the Lost Sheep
It is obvious that the knowledge of NFP can be truly helpful to many couples experiencing medical difficulties. This is not the only reason, however that we feel that the message of NFP is so badly needed.  The sad reality of today is that, out of those couples who wish to be married in the Church, an overwhelming majority of them are already cohabitating and on the pill. There has been a huge gap in the moral formation of the past two generations and their views on sexuality have been largely formed by the secular culture. The results of this influence have been disastrous. During the morality sections of our class, we have a unique opportunity in reaching out to these couples to educate them in the truth and beauty of human sexuality and to encourage them to embrace God’s design for marriage. Once they understand their dignity as human persons and the nature of love, they begin to see children as a much desired blessing rather than a terrible burden. As in any type of conversion, changing a person’s view on sexuality is a process. We have seen time and again how the Holy Spirit does work in miraculous ways on the hardest of hearts through the message of NFP and watched as relationships have transformed before our very eyes. Many couples have even expressed outrage that no one had ever told them these things before. Through our students we have recognized a burning desire for this message, and a readiness to challenge the unsatisfying lies of the world.  For the majority of those couples, they never would have been exposed to the fullness of the teaching of the Church, had their pastor not required it for their marriage preparation. 

Achieving Pregnancy
Recent studies have shown that 80% of couples who use a fertility awareness method to time intercourse will conceive within 6 months of trying, and over 90% by 12 months.  Dr. Hilgers has shown in his work that 98% of couples in one study were pregnant within one year.  Studies have also shown that at the end of 3 years, over 60% of couples with subfertility will conceive if they use a fertility awareness method.   This has a better efficacy (and lower cost) than IVF and many of the other assisted reproductive technologies.

In today’s society, where children are viewed to be more a burden than blessing, where the majority of physicians do not respect a moral approach to reproduction, and where so many women experience cycle issues, how can we not expose couples to this information?  Even if they choose not to use NFP at that time, they might face a situation in which they may need to turn to it later in their marriage.  A course in NFP may be one of the greatest opportunities a couple has to learn about the beauty of married life and the marital act, and the blessing that children truly are.  By requiring a course in NFP, those being prepared for marriage are being given a great gift of knowledge that they will be able to carry with them for their entire lives.

Brian and Johanna Burke are a certified teaching couple in the Symptothermal Method for the Couple to Couple League and teach in the Diocese of Toledo.  Brian is a fourth year medical student at the University of Toledo, planning a career in family medicine, and is also the Vice President of the Catholic Medical Association Student Section.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Valentine's Day and Marriage

On Valentine's Day weekend this year Brian and I went to Steubenville for a visit with friends and family. It was a last minute decision prompted by the fact that it was Brian's last free weekend for several months to come. The only thing my parents had planned for that weekend was a Valentine's party for married couples. Although we would be the youngest couple there by 20 years or more, we decided to stick around for the festivities. This party however,  had a greater purpose than merely just a social gathering. It was also to be a marriage builder as well. Not only was every couple asked to bring a snack to share, but also a favorite poem, song, scripture, quote or Church teaching that they found meaningful in their marriage.

After a lot of socializing, we circled around in the family room. There were a total of eight couples there, and Brian and I felt like we were walking with giants. Out of the eight couples, 235 years of marriage and 52 children were represented. These couples I had looked up to since I was a child. Not only were they the friends of my parents, they were also the parents of my friends. That night I saw them in a whole new light. I felt as if I were a fly on the wall, still in disbelief that a baby couple such as us would be welcomed by such a group.  Goosebumps went over me as these couples began to share. Behind every song, every scripture verse, every quote, there was a story of a lesson learned, an obstacle overcome, or a love renewed. As the stories unfolded, the beauty of love's strength against the snares of the world, shone out. These couples weren't still together because they had never struggled, but rather because they continually fought for their marriage.

We see it everywhere; marriage is under attack, and even in a conservative Catholic community, there is no immunity. Over the past few years, I have seen more and more marriages, both old and young, crumble to ruin. I will admit, as a newly wed, this was extremely disheartening and distressing. It shook me to the core. Everyone in that room had seen it happen dozens of times. Everyone in that room had been affected in some way by these breakups. We all felt compelled to do something-but what could we do to prevent any more? When our turn came to share, we realized that the solution to this problem was exactly what we were doing then and there-building one another up, encouraging one another to press on. Something very precious was being passed from one couple to another: hope. We looked to these husbands and wives surrounding us as an  anchor, because of their commitment and perseverance, we felt stronger and more confident in our commitment to each other. They in turn looked to us, as hope for the future, not because we were by any means perfect, but because we were realistic about the dangers that lurk and are actively working to protect ourselves from them.

None of this is enough however without the power of Christ. How beautiful it was to bow our heads together and call upon the Lord to strengthen and defend our marriages. Christ said "when two or more are gathered, there am I, in their midst". We felt His presence that night.

When Valentine's Day did come around a few days later, we didn't go out for a fancy dinner, or even exchange gifts-all of that would have seemed shallow after what we had received from the couples present at that party. We were so grateful to simply still be together, still be in love and still be helping one another on the road to our eternal home. 

So when you wonder what difference you can make in saving marriages, remember the biggest impact you will have on others is by keeping the love alive in yours.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Insights from Matt Maher

While cleaning the shower and scrubbing my kitchen floor I listened to this radio interview with Matt Maher from the Immaculate Heart Radio archives. Although I have been a fan of Matt's music for years, I have never been to a concert or heard him speak before now. Wow, it is no wonder the beauty of his music truly reflects a passionate man of God.

He had some incredible insights on the state of the Church that I found thought provoking. First of all, he called marriage the "Helm's Deep of our time". He went on to explain that since marriage is the foundation of our society, it is there that we must stand our ground. He connected the breakdown of marriage as a big reason for the decrease in Mass attendance, because the Mass is all about the marriage between Christ and the Church. Marriage is meant to reflect this relationship, so when marriages are crumbling it is no surprise that people no longer feel a reason to come to the liturgy.

When asked about his past affiliation with LifeTeen, which was instrumental in his return to the sacraments, his  view on youth ministry surprised me. Recognizing our culture is no longer rooted in Judeo-Christian values, and that family life is non-existent for most teens now, he feels that the days of separating teens from their families and the rest of the parish community should be over. More than ever, young people are totally absorbed in their own world with no connection to their families, parishes or the greater community. Ministry needs to be focused on re-establishing the bonds within families and the building up of true Christian community in which parishioners of all ages work, serve, and worship together.

Matt Maher is an artist who I have admired for his courage to be authentically and boldy Catholic in his music and lyrics. I am excited to finally be able to see him in concert this summer and am glad I came across this interview which has given me a lot to think over as I go back to my cleaning :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

5 joys of being Mom this week

This week has had a few rough spots with Joseph finally cutting his molars (5 months in the works) so during his peaceful naptime today I took the time to get back my perspective and remember just how much the joy outweighs the struggle:

5 joys of being Mom this week

1. Playing swords, building forts, and racing cars down the hallway.
2. Rediscovering the wonder of stones, sticks, flower petals and bugs.
3. Yard work accompanied by dirty knees, rosy cheeks, and wet kisses
4. Bed head after naptime
5. Dancing and singing to Mary Poppins' sound track

I could go on and on, but I can hear the rustling of a waking baby-time to get back to it!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How Dave Ramsey shaped our family's finances

When Brian and I were engaged we began to realize how differently we approached money. I was a saver and he was a spender, I was the nerd, he was the free spirit. Although this had been a concern while we were dating, it never really was an issue that needed to be addressed while our finances were still separate. But good, honest marriage preparation has a tendency to bring these issues out of the closet. One day my boss mentioned that there was going to be Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University classes starting on the campus where I worked. I grew up listening to Dave in the car with my Dad as he drove me to class on his way to work. Immediately I knew this was something that Brian and I needed to do.

When I told him about it, however, he was not enthused. He said it was too expensive (so I paid the $100 to take away that excuse) he said it was too big a time commitment when we were both working full time (one night a week for 13 weeks). Finally, I decided to press hard. I told him it was really important to me and asked if he would do it for me? He relented. To this day I still think that was the best 100 bucks I ever spent and Brian has thanked me over and over for dragging him to that first class. After the first session, we were both hooked. Everything Dave said made sense and we had so much fun while we were learning! Looking back, we consider Financial Peace University one of the best practical things we did to prepare for marriage.

But things began to change dramatically in our relationship before the course was even over. For the first time, we had written individual budgets. I felt a sense of peace when I finally knew exactly where I stood financially.   Neither one of us made much money and like many brand new college grads, thought we didn't have enough money to make a budget, but having a written game plan for the month was like getting a pay raise.  We were amazed how earmarking where each penny would be spent before the month began kept us disciplined in our purchases and prioritize our needs and wants. It was so important for us to get on the same page while our finances were separate in order to make the transition to marriage and joint accounts smooth. Because of FPU, it was an easy and exciting transition for us.

As a married couple, we implement the lessons of FPU every day. I carry an envelope system for our cash categories. Before the beginning of each month, we use Dave Ramsey's Monthly Cash Flow Form to plan and prioritize our budget. Over the course of the month, we have frequent discussions to keep each other up to date on where we are. Now we take pride in finding big big bargains on our usual purchases and clever ways to enjoy a night out.  The knowledge gained from FPU has guided us in making the biggest decisions and kept us on track when facing small temptations.

At a time when the number one cause of divorce is money fights, we have been blessed with financial peace. Because of Dave, we have long term goals and patience to sacrifice to get there. I no longer worry about money. Although we still live on a tight budget, I don't worry anymore about money. I know right where we are, where we are going and we have an emergency fund for the things we can't predict.

One day while in prayer, I realized that fear about money is not a fruit of the Spirit and in fact can hold us back from our duty to be good stewards of the money God has trusted us with. How can I use it for His glory if I don't even know where it is going or have a plan for how I can get to a point where I am more free to bless others with it? Our goal is not to become wealthy so we can buy anything we want or do anything we like, but rather to become financially secure so that we can provide for the needs of our family and then be the instruments of the Lord in whatever work He has for us.

That's why we're living like no one else, so that later, we can live like no one else!

For those of you wanting to know more, Dave's Total Money Makeover is a must read!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

NFP: Licit or Illicit?

I am far behind in my blogging due to travel and end of the school year busyness. Hopefully, things will settle down in the next week or so and I can get into the swing of things again. In the meantime...

For those of you who haven't seen my husband's blog, here is a great sample on a topic close to our hearts and probably many of yours as well:

NFP: Licit or Illicit?

Within the Church, there is a great battle raging.  This battle is truly for the heart of the Church and centers around sexual morality and ethics.  It is the battle between those Catholics who feel it is moral to use artificial birth control and those who stand behind the teachings of the Church on this topic.  In recent years, with the support of many wonderful priests and bishops, the tide is turning where more and more individuals are turning their hearts back to the teaching of the Church and rejecting artificial birth control as an intrinsic evil.

Yet, this is not the only struggle on this topic.  As Natural Family Planning instructors for the Couple to Couple League, my wife and I have encountered on several instances individuals and families within the Church who claim NFP to be no better than artificial birth control.  These people are good people who obviously seek to do God's work and support the Church, yet in their animosity towards NFP, they do great harm.  This harm stems from a rejection of the Church's teaching on the use of NFP.  I realize that for some of these people, it can be very difficult because they have been on the defensive within the Church itself for the past 40 years in regards to so many issues.   It would seem that they do not know what they can believe anymore and so some turn to the time before the tumult, namely the pre-Vatican II era.  And yet, in doing so, they lose so much of the rich development in the understanding of sexual ethics that has come from John Paul II's Theology of the Body and the need for orthodox Catholics to better understand the relationship of man and woman in response to a culture hostile to God's design for sex.  

In this smaller conflict, there is a need for proper catechesis. It is a matter of reminding these families that the Church's teachign truly does trump all, and in this case, NFP is licit.  Below is the beginning of a post written on the topic that does a thorough job of laying out the case for NFP in the heart of the Church.  I encourage you to read it, and if the Lord calls you to, send it to anyone who you think may benefit from its message.

Let’s talk about, sex, artificial birth control (ABC) and Natural Family Planning (NFP).  Let’s focus specifically on the licitness of NFP.  The things that follow here assume the Catholic position on ABC.  I understand that some who come here may not share our beliefs.  This is not about “convincing” non-Catholics of anything.  This is what you might call an “internal discussion.”  This is a discussion for those of us who are Catholic and who agree that ABC is morally wrong.  That is the foundation.  If this isn’t you, you may find this writing to be boring or even ridiculous.  That’s okay, you can just close the window and come back another time to see pictures of GarinĂ­on or to see what is happening in our daily life.  Whether you stick around or not, this will be a very, very long entry.
Throughout the years, I’ve been exposed to a many, many, many conversations regarding Natural Family Planning.  I guess that comes with being Catholic, having a large family and being a certified NFP instructor (now retired!)  It has come up again recently in a couple of different venues.   I often find it frustrating to have conversations about this because people tend to be passionate about their position to the point of not being able to consider or hear anything else.  I also find that it is hard to fully “argue” your position in these types of conversations.  (That fact that it’s taking 3100+ words here might explain part of that!)
Sometimes in these conversations the question is trying to get to the heart of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, birth control, and what it all means.  Often, it boiled down to questioning the licitness of using NFP at all.  Many have wondered if using NFP shows a desire for control that is not an appropriate response to God’s creative prerogative, and is therefore just as evil as contraception.  This is what I’ve got on my mind today.  Let me say right upfront that while I do not criticize the people who are asking these questions (for in my experience, most truly appear to be seeking) I find the suggestion itself (that NFP is always wrong) to be, well, hogwash.
The conversations I was a part of or was exposed over the years to took all kinds of twists and turns and some of the things that were said or implied were mind-boggling to me.  Some of these things seemed a bit extreme.
I have heard or read more times than I can remember that since ABC and NFP have the same “end goal” in mind, (avoiding pregnancy) either both are valid or both are invalid.  This argument is put forth by those who reject the Church’s teaching against ABC as well as those who reject NFP along with ABC.  The problem with that line of thinking, in my opinion, is that it confuses the issue.  The problem with it is that it assumes that seeking to avoid pregnancy is always evil in all circumstances.  If that were true, then I would have to agree that no matter how you violate that, it is evil.  But avoiding pregnancy for a good (sufficient/grave/serious) reason is not evil.  The problem enters with the how.  It comes down to the meaning and purpose of sex and to the natural law regarding human sexuality
As I observed these conversations and took it all in, particularly over the past 15+ years, I kept coming back to one, single question:
Does no one read the catechism?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

We rarely let Joseph watch TV or videos. The one exception however, is when I cut his nails. I have found this to be a wonderful way to keep him distracted while I clip as fast as I can. He is just getting to the age where he actually pays attention to what is going on, and isn't too pleased when I turn it off. The last two weeks have been especially rainy and have really tested my resolve to avoid using the TV as a babysitter.

Last night, we were chatting with some friends and some of the events of my childhood came up and as we laughed over them, I realized something. Out of all the memories I cherish in regards to my upbringing, not one is connected to the movies or shows I watched. All of them have some tie to a loved one or beloved pet or place. As a stay at home mom, it is easy to forget amidst all the busyness of running a household, the reason why I  stay at home is for those unforgettable moments with my son, not so I can be productive and check everything off my list.

I have come to see the balance that can be achieved. Instead of sitting him down in front of the TV so I can get some things done, I am trying to involve him in the things that MUST be attended to. His sense of wonder is refreshing and offers me such perspective on the beauty of housework. He now will rush to the washer when it rings so he can help load the laundry into the dryer. One by one, he reaches in and pulls out each article of clothing so I can put it into the dryer. After the last item is out, he sticks his little blond head into the machine for a final check then squeals and claps for himself for a job well done. Although this whole process takes much longer, he is learning the goodness of work and I am learning the joy in the little things.

Besides helping with the laundry, he now sweeps, vaccuums and washes floors with me. The other day, he even put his leftover banana bread in some tupperware! I must admit, there are times my little tag along does try my patience as his helpfulness can be counterproductive. That is when I must remember how fortunate I am to be with him everyday and that he WANTS to be with me! My chance to influence him is here and now. I pray I don't waste a moment....

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Mother's Day

While folding laundry this afternoon I was listening the focus on the family's radio broadcast on Mother's Day. As each speaker shared favorite memories and lessons from their mothers and all the different ways they celebrate this day, I couldn't help thinking what a strange "holiday" this really is. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my mother and love being a mother and think all mothers are deserving of recognition for their incredibly difficult, important work. I get all sappy when reading through the Mother's day cards and love smelling the beautiful flower bouquets as I walk into the grocery store. My mouth waters to see the tasty celebration cakes in the bakery and Joseph waves to the balloons. All of this is wonderful, right?

But think about it a minute-does our culture really appreciate motherhood, really seek to promote this sacrificial yet rewarding vocation, or is this just another opportunity to make a buck? Is all this fanfare sincere and reflective of a culture which supports women in motherhood the other 364 days of the year?

I am not suggesting that Mother's Day should be boycotted, but I have come to realize the importance of being a witness of the gift of human life which makes us mothers and that we must make attractive to others the beautiful call of motherhood. When a women is expecting her third (or 4th or 10th) child and is congratulated in the grocery aisle, or is encouraged by her employer to leave the work force to stay at home with her new baby, then I'll know our culture has finally embraced the true meaning of Mother's Day.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Do you know your food source?

We just watched Food Inc. on a PBS special last night and I have to say it really got me thinking. For those of you who have never seen this documentary, I strongly encourage you to do so. It exposes the dangers of industrial farming and what it has done to taint the quality of our food supply. I have always been a fan of small farms and try to support farmer's markets and buy my produce locally as often as I can. Local meat however, is not as easy to find, especially from farmers who still practice free range feeding. But after last night, the importance of knowing the source of our meat has become a bigger priority for us. We are planting a garden this year, but since we are not in a position to start our own small farm (yet), we must rely for the time being on someone else. So the researching begins...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Another Housewife Success!

I haven't written in quite some time but we have been busy as bees working in the yard and enjoying the warmer weather. During the winter months I had undertaken a search for a great bread recipe which I could master. I always felt I couldn't be considered a true housewife until I had mastered the skill of homemade bread. Finally, I have found a wonderful recipe which is easy and delicious. The best part is, it only takes 5 minutes a day once you get the batch going! We have really enjoyed it and find it comparable to the fancy, expensive artisan breads. It is from Mother Earth News and is called the 5 minute a day bread recipe. Enjoy it with a blend of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and Italian seasoning as a dip, with goat cheese and olives, or use for a sensational sandwich. To add a health punch, I use a cup of whole wheat flour in the mix and decrease the flour by 1/2 cup. Enjoy!