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I know that we have all heard stories in the Bible when God speaks to His people. Sometimes we are not sure how that was manifested: a feeling, a message spoken through someone, a voice booming down from the sky. Almost every month I come across at least one person—a friend, an enlightened blogger, a televangelist—who uses the term “God spoke to me,” “God spoke to me and told me you need to sign over your yacht, that vessel is keeping your soul in the devil’s grip!”
I sometimes wonder how God actually spoke to them. I have experienced many ways in which God is very clearly leading me, directing my path, and speaking to my heart in a way that just somehow perfectly answers the questions before me; it is usually a moment of true wisdom and understanding. He has also spoken to me through someone completely oblivious to my predicament, 22 Shalom tidings September/October 2018 someone who says exactly what my soul needed to hear at that moment.
One time, I literally heard God speak to me. I heard His voice. No, I do not need to seek out a psychiatrist. It was ten years ago. I was changing my two-year-old son, Christian’s, diaper. My older son was three years old, my daughter was one, I had recently miscarried my fourth and was newly pregnant with my fifth little one.
As I peeled back Christian’s diaper, I gasped. There was blood. I checked for lesions and soon realized the bleeding was coming from something internal. He had also developed a fever, so I was worried about a possible infection. I took him to a medical clinic and they sent us to the emergency room (ER). An ultrasound revealed he had a tumor on his right kidney. They were quite certain it was what is called a Wilm’s tumor: cancer.
The tumor and his kidney would have to be surgically removed. He also had a blood infection—unrelated to the cancer and the source of the fever—and they could not operate until that was resolved. For two weeks I lived at Sick Kids with my son. My two other little ones were being cared for by various family members. It was so painful every time they would call to inform me that the toddlers were not adjusting well to my absence and, yet, I knew Christian needed me more. He was terrified by every poke and prod, so confused by everything that was happening to him.
One day, my mother-law called to say that my one-year-old was very sick. She was not able to keep anything down and had been lethargic for days. She would need to go to the ER. My husband dropped her off to me and I sat holding her in the waiting room. I was so worried about her. Already small for her age, she looked especially fragile. When it was my turn to speak with the attendant, he began to ask me a bunch of questions about my daughter: “When did the fevers begin? How much had she been drinking? How long had she been lethargic?” Every question was painful for me, as I mustered out a feeble “I’m not sure. I haven’t been with her.” Then I fell to pieces, stammering, “My son has cancer. He’s up on the eighth floor right now recovering from surgery. I haven’t been there for my little girl. I’m so sorry but I can’t answer your questions.” I could hardly get the words out as tears streamed down my face.
Up until that point, I had been so strong. I had not even cried and I had resided in a state of calm and trust, feeling that somehow everything was going to be okay. Suddenly, the reality, the magnitude of all I was facing was hitting me full on. The world seemed to drop out from beneath my feet. I thought of my baby girl, my sick little boy, my other baby boy at home who was feeling completely abandoned by his mother and I felt like the biggest failure. The world was pressing down on me. I was too weak to stand and kept thinking that if I could not handle this how would I be able to care for the little one still growing in my womb. I could not take the oppressive, crushing weight of it all. I could not breathe.
Then, all at once, it was lifted. Everything was taken up off my shoulders and I felt like I was being carried, enveloped, and inexplicably wrapped in peace. That is when I heard the voice. I heard it as though it was being spoken aloud. It was clear and powerful. I felt each word resonating in my heart. I knew no one else could hear it. I knew it was from within but it was real, almost more real than anything I had ever experienced.
He said, “See this is how it would be if I were not carrying you.” I breathed in His graces and once more I was calm, serene, and unafraid. From that point on I seemed able to meet each demand with grace. My daughter soon recovered from her illness, I was able to return home to my three-year-old son and, after six months of chemotherapy, Christian was completely cancer free (he is a healthy twelve-year-old now). I gave birth to my daughter, Mary, a month after his last dose of chemo.
I know that God almost never speaks to us with a clear, audible voice. He does not usually work that way. I was already madly in love with Him, I had already placed my life in His hands, but much of it stemmed from the gift of faith. Everything up to that point was simply a sense of His presence, a continuous knowing that He was with me and a state of amazement, time and time again, as I experienced personal miracles and direct answers to my prayers. Faith is such a precious gift given to His children and I never needed a physical voice to confirm the reality of who He is: a loving Father who desires to work for our good, for love of us. He left a profound mark on my heart that day.
I wanted to share this story because so many people close to me are really hurting, finding it hard to surface, drowning in life’s trials. I wanted to share His message that if we place our lives in His hands, He will lift us up, pulling us out of the suffocating anguish.
He may let us experience a taste of it, a moment (or sadly a period of greater duration) where we are overcome by distress. It should only serve to help us understand how greatly we need Him, how lost we would be if it were not for His great love for us, and His desire to draw us back up into His arms. This message is not some crazy, religious platitude. He has remained constant and faithful throughout the ages, His voice ever clear, cutting through the chaos.'
Two primary factors that keep people from seeking help for pornography addiction are guilt and shame. While they often act together, they are two very different emotions. Guilt focuses on the behavior while shame focuses on the person. Both need to be resolved for a healthy recovery.
Guilt is an emotion that focuses on actions. It is the emotion that says, “Okay, you’ve done something wrong and now you have to correct it, fix it, or clean it up.” As uncomfortable as this emotion may be, it is actually very healthy. It requires a person to take responsibility for his actions and atone for them. To do this, one must embrace the virtues of honesty, humility, responsibility, courage, faith, hope, and love. Taking responsibility for one’s addiction and recovery can be very healing for individuals and for relationships. It shows that you understand how wrong your actions were and that you are taking positive steps to end your pornography use. This resolves your guilt and can reunite you with loved ones. The same effect happens in our relationship with God. When we sin, it damages our relationship with God. Here is where God uses guilt to bring us back to Him. To be reconciled with God, we must admit our sins, take responsibility for them and confess them. In many cases our penance can be to make amends for our sins. By confessing your sexual sins and doing penance, you resolve your guilt and are reunited with God.
Addressing guilt is also an important part of the twelve steps of recovery. Steps four through ten state that we:
4. made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves;
5. admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs;
6. were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character;
7. humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings;
8. made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all;
9. made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others; and
10. continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
While it can be difficult to take responsibility for an addiction, doing so actually strengthens a person. It takes the addiction out of the darkness and brings it into the light. This can diminish much of its power over you. While some people may be hurt and angry with you for a while, most will forgive. In the end they will respect you for admitting your guilt and resolving it.
Guilt can help you address your addiction while still affirming your value as a person and as a child of God.
Shame is the emotion that focuses on the person. It is the emotion that says, “You did something wrong and because of it you are a bad person. You need to hide so that no one will ever know how bad you really are.” This is not of God.
Ultimately, this is a tool of satan to keep a person trapped in his addiction. It fuels the five faulty core beliefs by which many addicted people live:
1. I am unworthy of being loved.
2. If people really knew me, they would reject me.
3. I cannot count on anyone, including God, to meet my needs.
4. I must find something I can control that will meet my needs.
5. Pornography/sex is my greatest need and source of comfort.
Shame can result from sinful acts you have committed, such as viewing pornography. It can also develop out of sinful acts committed against you. For example, a person who was abused as a child might feel responsible for it and develop a deep sense of shame as a result. Both sources of shame can lead a person into addiction.
Regardless of where your shame came from, it is important to know that your worth as a person is not determined by your actions or the actions of others.
When God created you He instilled in you an infinite worth that no one can diminish. It does not matter what kinds of sexual sins you have committed or how often you have committed them, you are still a good person. There is no need to hide. God still loves you. He is always ready to take you back and cleanse you from your sin.
As you take responsibility for your addiction, you will find many people who still love you regardless of what you have done. Letting go of shame can be very difficult for many addicted people. If shame is a major stumbling block for you, I recommend you consult with a therapist and/or a priest. They can help you let go of your shame and bring your addiction out into the light so that you can overcome it!
EMBRACING YOUR TRUE IDENTITY
It is important for all people who are addicted to pornography to understand that you are not defined by your addiction. Guilt and shame are proof of that! Guilt focuses on the action, not the person.
By addressing your guilt and making amends you actually strengthen your ability to recover from your addiction. Others will also respect you for your work in recovery. Shame is not of God and thus does not define who you are.
No matter what your addiction has led you to do, God still sees you as His beloved child. This is how you also need to view yourself!'
It is 4:00 am. I had gone to bed only a few hours earlier, setting the alarm for 6:30 am. An exhausting day of packing our household goods into boxes awaited me in the morning. After a short while of fighting the sheets and glancing at the clock every few minutes, I realized I would not be getting any more sleep that night. The best I could hope for was to doze on and off until the alarm finally broke my misery.
I struggle with insomnia and have been fighting a discouraging and losing battle with it for years. I dislike using sleep medication yet unless I take something at night I would not get more than a few hours of rest.
That night, with such an intense day facing me, my frustration grew with each passing quarter hour. I found myself focusing my annoyance—now that I think back, it was anger—at, of all people, God. “Lord, if You don’t put me back to sleep,” I threatened (yes, that was what I was doing), “If You don’t put me back to sleep, I’m not going to read Scripture or pray when I finally get out of bed.” I was like a two-year-old having a temper tantrum.
Most who know me well think that I am a spiritually mature Christian who knows Jesus on an intimate level. I pray and read Scripture each morning and evening. I teach a weekly Bible study and write an evangelistic blog encouraging others to walk more closely with Christ. I have written three books about the love of Jesus and how to love Him in return. I receive the Holy Eucharist each week at Mass and I try to live according to Biblical principles.
But there I was at four in the morning, frustrated and angry with God—and actually threatening Him that if He did not answer my prayer and let me fall back asleep— well, I would just show Him a thing or two! My confession to you embarrasses me.
When I finally crawled out of bed at 5:30 am, I went into the other room, plopped myself down on the couch, and opened my Bible. I had been reading two chapters each morning for nearly four decades and I was not going to stop now, even if I was angry with God.
I should have expected what happened next. Before I got two verses into Genesis 25, I started feeling guilty about what I had said to God a few hours earlier. Really guilty. Who do I think I am to rail at God for any reason, especially because He did not answer my prayers about going back to sleep?
To compound my sudden sense of shame, the Holy Spirit reminded me of at least a dozen scriptures I had memorized, scriptures that spoke directly to my accusation against God, such as Psalm 44:17-18: “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, And we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, and our steps have not deviated from Your way.”
Then Habakkuk 3:17-18: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
It is, as I wrote a few paragraphs earlier, embarrassing to admit to you what I consider my significant failure. I have a wider point to make.
Two days later, as I periodically rehearsed my temper tantrum and lingering guilt, the Holy Spirit reminded me of, of all people, Saint Peter’s failure as recorded by Saint Paul. You can find it in chapter two of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Saint Peter, the first earthly head of the Church, played the hypocrite when faced with the choice of pleasing Christ or pleasing his Jewish friends. In this case, Peter chose poorly. Whereas he used to pal around with the Gentile converts, when James and the other Jewish apostles visited town, Peter “held himself aloof” from the Gentiles because he was afraid of what the Apostles would say. So great was his hypocrisy that even Barnabas—a man known for his benevolence—was swayed to choose as poorly as did Peter.
What is my point? I have two. First, as well as you or I might know the Lord, as close to Him as we might be, sin is always crouching at our door and we must be ever alert if we are to master it. Second, and I think more important, the Lord Jesus assures us in Saint John’s Gospel that the Father loves you and me as much as He loves Jesus (John 17:23). It is important that I say it again—the Father loves you and me as much as He loves Jesus. That means when I, or you or anyone who is a child of God through faith in Christ’s blood atonement, gets frustrated with God—and even when I get angry with Him— He loves me as much as He loves Jesus.
When you sin, He nevertheless loves you just as much as He loves Jesus. Remorse for our sins is a good thing, a necessary thing. Remorse should lead us to confession and confession always cleanses away the dirt. Perhaps the Psalmist said it best when he wrote:
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness … He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
“Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:8-14).
Prayer: Oh God, help us ever remember Your compassion toward us, even though we angrily accuse You. Help us remember to leave our guilt and remorse in the confessional and get back to doing the work You have called us to do. Amen.'
Our priest spoke about envy in his homily yesterday. He said he suffers with it from time to time. And the truth is, so do I.
It is such an ugly thing to admit. It is embarrassing. And, it is destructive. It can just devour. It steals from us joy, peace, and gratitude. We cannot be grateful for something while also being envious. The two seem to cancel each other out.
So I try—my husband and I—both, to be intentional about what we are grateful for each day. We share three things that we are grateful for, usually around dinnertime. It was hard at first. But it has become easier the more we do it. And with each thing we mention with gratitude that day, the envy of another thing dissipates.
Something else that helps me with envy: the realization that we all carry a cross. Many are invisible, even some of mine. And yet, they are still there. If you get to know a person well enough, you get to eventually see their crosses too. And so, getting to know the person I am envious of; that also quiets the envy.
I think envy is a thing of superficial reality; not of what truly exists. Envy is the pseudo-reality of what I create without much interaction; not the reality of what I get to know when I listen, when I get close, when I get to know another. And it is a cross that I create for myself that does not bear any fruit or grace. It is dead-weight.
When we see someone else with their many blessings, we have to remind ourselves that there are many things happening outside of that picture that we do not see. And while someone may have the blessings we long for, they may also be carrying a cross that would break our backs. And vice versa.
God is good. God is generous. He loves us individually. Personally. We are unrepeatable beings to Him. We are precious to Him. And so He gives. He gives us what is good for us, and He gives others what is good for them. He does not give it to them instead of to us. He does not choose to give it to them and then runs out of the good for us. No, He looks at us, lovingly, as if we are the only one He sees when He casts His eyes on us. And He cares for us and for what our hearts desire.
And the truth is that we are all so undeserving, anyhow, of those blessings. Do you think so? This too helps me with envy–blessings are not rights, they are not goods that we earn with deeds or even with faith. We do not get them when we become deserving of them as if it is a checkbox to mark–some kind of accomplishment or recognition. I do not even know necessarily what they are, but I do know that even my crosses have been a blessing for me at times. And I know that some others’ blessings have been their burdens at times too.
I know that these experiences are not so isolated. They are the shared experience of this life. And that, also, is something that we are called to do with both our blessings and our burdens: to share them. Again, this helps close the door on envy.
To share our blessings: praise God. To share our blessings and our burdens: raise another one to God. Share them so that we can ask others to lift us up to Him too.
If you struggle with envy, I want you to know that you are not alone, and that other Catholic and Christian women struggle with this this too. And at times, that is me. I hope that we can help each other through those times with the reminder that there is always more to see, more to know, and more to understand than what we have put together in our mind. And, that God absolutely loves us each of us. Even when we cannot fathom it.'
Last summer, our family was living abroad when tragedy struck: My six-year-old daughter was seriously injured in a fall and had to spend several days in a German hospital. Being so far from the comfort of family and friends, I longed for their support. Many people asked my husband and me what they could do to help us during such a difficult time since popping over with a casserole was out of the question.
In the midst of my own tough situation, I began to think outside the box about ways to extend loving care to a friend going through a difficult time, whether an unexpected injury, debilitating illness, or grief following loss. There were so many comforts large and small I would have welcomed after my daughter’s injury if only friends had been nearby to offer them. Though there’s nothing wrong with bringing a home-cooked meal, here are nine other thoughtful ways to offer support.
Children can sometimes be a comfort in the midst of grief, but they can also exacerbate a difficult situation. Taking a friend’s kids off their hands for awhile may alleviate stress, allowing them muchneeded time and space.
2.Make a mixtape
Yep, I said mixtape. The days of actual cassettes may be long gone, but the concept of the perfect playlist lives on. Music heals. When my daughter was injured, if I had known a friend had carefully selected songs for my comfort and consolation, I would have clung to them like an anchor for my soul. You can easily create a playlist and share it with a friend on Spotify, iTunes, or Pandora.
Get the car washed, go to the post office, pick-up prescriptions at the drugstore. Who could not use help with these things even in everyday life? The unpleasant surprise of tough times throws us off, muddying up our routines. Getting assistance with the minutiae of daily tasks could sure take a load off.
4.Listen without judgment
In the midst of a recent family crisis, I received a text from a friend. “If you need to talk without any judgment about your situation, let me know.” Even though this friend and I are not that close, her offer of a safe listening ear allowed me the cathartic space to vent. Sometimes, all we need to feel better is the ability to be fully honest about our situation.
Grief saps energy as completely as any physical ailment. The last thing a person in crisis wants or needs to think about is mustering the oomph to clean house. You may find a grieving friend initially resists your offer to clean—it takes some humility to allow others to see our mess—but once accepted, this act of service can provide enormous emotional and practical relief.
6.Provide groceries or household supplies
Dinner is always welcome, but there happen to be two other meals most people eat each day, not to mention household items that cannot go neglected for too long. Bringing groceries for breakfast and lunch or supplies like paper plates, toothpaste, or toilet paper might actually be more welcome to someone experiencing grief than dinner delivery.
7.Put together a care package
In addition to helping out with the basics of food and supplies, a thoughtful care package goes above and beyond to offer TLC. Make self-care easy for your friend by putting together a gift basket of comfort items like her favorite scented lotion or his favorite aftershave, warm socks, or a book you have found helpful in sorrowful times.
8.Take them out (or in)
Years ago, after I suffered a miscarriage, a group of my friends surprised me by showing up at my house and whisking me out to a nice dinner. My first reaction was one of aggravation—I wanted to huddle in my house with my grief—but after a couple of hours out with friends, I found I truly did feel better. Getting out for awhile can take us away from the world of hurt we inhabit in our minds. Alternatively, if your friend is not up for going out, perhaps they could join you for a good movie or cup of coffee at their place or yours.
9. Give a spiritual bouquet or place them on a prayer chain (and pray with them yourself)
A spiritual bouquet consists of a card that lists spiritual action being taken for the recipient, such as the number of Masses attended or rosaries prayed on behalf of the grieving person. What a beautiful gift to know others are regularly interceding for us! Similarly, placing a friend on one (or more) prayer chains ensures that they will be lifted up in prayer by many others. Churches, ministry groups, and even Christian TV and radio stations often have a system in place for submitting requests that others commit to pray for. Do not know of any offhand? Go online to find prayer chains anyone can add to. And of course, praying with and for your friend in person provides deep comfort and peace.
From my own experiences, I have learned that while the standard “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do” means well, concrete action provides so much more assistance. When you know a friend is laid low in the mire of grief or despair, do not wait for their call. Take action. Step in. Show up. Whether it is bringing a meal or doing something less orthodox, any practical help will be welcomed with immense gratitude.'
I have been helping my friend, Susan, with a book she is working on about Christian moms and dealing with anger. Out of these conversations, I realized that overcoming our own issues in managing our tempers, can also give us a blueprint to help our kids. My goal? To one day not start my confession with, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been a few weeks since my last confession and, oh my goodness, my temper…” We can demonstrate to our kids—by our own management of anger—how to manage theirs.
Preach It: Help your child to find a scripture passage to pray that encourages them. Perhaps the anger they are dealing with is really rooted in fear or anxiety. “Be not afraid” appears in Sacred Scripture 365 times; let them know that they can pray this to themselves to overcome fear. ” , don’t be afraid:’ Let your kids hear you do the same. I can often be heard saying, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control:’ (2 Timothy 1:7) This is a good reminder for me to act in love and self-control rather than anger.
Teach It: We can also use language and tools to help them be proactive rather than reactive. I used to ask my kids, “What color is your anger?” If parents defuse the situation and then provide an outlet (for example, have them draw what they feel) they will learn that anger is not wrong; it just needs to be managed well.
Model It: Express our own anger in words rather than actions: “I feel so angry when someone steals my parking space, but I remember to breathe and (reframe my thinking) remind myself that I am blessed to own a car that requires a parking space:’
Explain and Act on It: Even Jesus got upset and angry at injustice (flipping over the tables in the Temple). There are reasons to be angry; however, we must use that righteous anger to move us to work for good. The injustice of abortion is a great example. We can use that emotion to participate in 40 days for prayer against abortion or the March for Life.
If we look at overcoming these strong emotions as a way to strengthen our faith and help our kids, maybe we can be a little more forgiving of ourselves in the process. Meanwhile, I am running off to confession, because I need a little more grace.'
Having overcome a promiscuous past and knowing that I would soon be intimate with my husband for the very first time on our wedding night, I felt like I had attained success over sexual sin in my life. For the first time since becoming sexually active at the age of thirteen, I felt like I was entering a physical relationship that God would approve of. However, it was not until we started practicing Natural Family Planning (NFP), eight years into our marriage, that I really understood that the beginning of our marriage was still tainted by lust. Marriage does not cure sexual sin!
We became an instant blended family so it was important to us to ensure that our children did not feel like we were replacing them with each other. We knew that we wanted at least one child between us, but we wanted to wait a year to allow time for our little patchwork family to adjust.
Leading up to our engagement a friend recommended that I get on the pill so that if a proposal came sooner than later, the pill would have time to take effect in my body before our wedding, as we knew we wanted a short engagement. It made sense to me, so I made an appointment and started taking a low dose contraceptive. I made sure to ask my doctor all kinds of questions to ensure that I was on a pill that would not harm a baby if ‘one snuck through.’ At this point in my life, I was so ignorant as to how contraceptives worked, and I was completely oblivious on how they can make one’s womb a ‘hostile environment’ until I found myself experiencing a miscarriage just four months into my marriage.
With adjusting to the unique circumstances of our instant family, as well as entering into a difficult season of deep personal healing from my past of trauma and abuse, I just stuffed this experience down and kept on moving through life. Two months shy of our first anniversary, I was informed for the first time that contraceptives have abortifacient qualities. I shared this information with my husband and we decided together that we would never again place another one of our children in harm’s way through contraceptives.
We went on to have our first and only child together and after a very difficult pregnancy. I had a tubal ligation that I regretted soon after. The combination of ignorance and fear can lead us into some very poor choices and my husband and I did not understand the physical and spiritual consequences we would soon face.
After my surgery, there was no longer a ‘fear’ of pregnancy but what I could not see was that my marriage was damaged and flawed. We took our most private moments together for granted and we did not prioritize the limited time we had to connect in deeper ways. I have chalked this type of damage up to what I call ‘Marital Fornication,’ that is, sexual relations in a marriage that are driven by lust, lacking self-control, and which exclude God.
These types of relations are simply physical. They lack intimacy, disrespect our fertility, and can even mask serious health issues in women. Our fertility is the road map to our health and if we cannot track our ovulation (or lack thereof) then how do we really know if we are healthy?
Before we get married, it seems there is often so much emphasis placed upon chastity and self-control, then suddenly when we get married that all goes out the window! That is how it was in my marriage and in my specific instance. I was the aggressor. I had spent ten years of my life giving my body away to uncommitted men who used and abused me, and I had no idea what true intimacy was.
After experiencing my second unplanned pregnancy from a second father, I chose abstinence. Abortion would never be an option for me and having more children from uncommitted men was no longer an option either so I had to change my lifestyle. It proved to be all surface changes though once I got married, because I immediately resumed the same type of behavior as I had before since it was now ‘allowed.’
I was no longer sinning, or so I thought. Even though our first time was on our wedding night, our most private moments together as a husband and wife were no different than when I had hooked up with random guys; it was simply lust-driven monogamous sex. There were times when my husband expressed that he just wanted to hold me and I would feel rejected and unwanted. What my husband was trying to experience with me was intimacy and closeness and I had no idea what that looked or felt like. All I had ever known was lust, so all I could give him was marital fornication.
As I became more involved in the Prolife Movement I learned more about NFP and I began to share my own experiences of losing my son to miscarriage while on the pill and how I had destroyed my fertility through surgery out of fear and ignorance. Even though I knew I was sharing the truth, I felt like a hypocrite. Who was I to point people toward Natural Family Planning when I did not even practice it myself? My heart began to feel more conflicted as I could no longer play the ignorance card. I got it, it made so much sense but it was too late for me!
Or was it?
One day I decided that I wanted to become an NFP instructor so that I could help other women avoid my past regrets. I had also read Christopher West’s book “Theology of the Body for Beginners” and my eyes and heart were opened to see the truth about what intimacy is and is not. I found so much healing through those pages.
About two weeks before my NFP course, I was lying in bed and felt God whisper in my ear that I would find peace with my past if I practiced NFP as though my fertility was intact and we were postponing pregnancy. It did not make sense to me but I told my husband and he readily agreed. I went on to become an NFP instructor and learned so much. After we started practicing NFP by the official rules it was like a heavy weight was lifted from our marriage. There was no more pressure or assumptions for either of us. My chart tells us if intimacy is an option on any given night and it is now anticipated and longed for in ways it never was before NFP.
And I can tell you that, we get the kids in bed on time and put our phones and projects down early when we have a green light! On nights when we know it is not an option, neither of us feel guilty for staying up late in the other room working on projects. Even on nights when we have a green light, we still do not place an expectation on each other. We would rather wait until we are both able to unplug and totally focus on each other than settle for just a physical encounter. NFP has healed our marriage in ways that we did not even know were damaged for all those years, and our ability to communicate has drastically improved as well.
We no longer engage with one another in a lustful manner and our intimate life has grown so deep through self-control, respect for one another’s fertility, and a desire to please God above our own physical gratification. Although we spent many years missing out on the blessings that Natural Family Planning had to offer our marriage, I know that my husband and I will never again settle for lust and temporal fulfillment when we know the lasting fulfillment that is available through intentional and unitive intimacy.
I hope that sharing our experience with NFP will inspire others to give it a chance. It is not simply about planning or postponing pregnancies, it is a pro-health lifestyle that also embraces the beauty of intimacy that God desires us to have in our marriages.'
Building a strong wall was a key point of discussion during the last presidential election in the United States of America, with one side unwavering in their stance for building a border wall between Mexico and the United States in order to thwart illegal immigration.
The whole discussion of walls made me reflect on the urgency of rebuilding the spiritual walls in our society. Losing the idea of sacredness, dignity of human life, and the value of family has led us to a secular neo-pagan culture. Walls between good and evil, sacred and secular, God and mammon, intrinsically valuable and instrumentally valuable are broken. Moral walls are terribly slackened, more than ever before. The spiritual walls in the U.S. have nearly crumbled, leaving but a stony trace of a fortress that once upheld the nation’s founding ideals. The Founding Fathers emphasized that the constitutional republic depended upon a vigorous religious society: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people,” said John Adams. “It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Our age-old value based foundations are weakened by the principalities of radical secularism and value degradation.
As He did in Nehemiah’s day, the Lord might extend His mercy to rebuild those walls. This could be realized only to a repenting, praying, and testifying people. When the Prophet Nehemiah surveyed Jerusalem, he saw the ruins of a city destroyed by the Babylonians. Just as Jerusalem was in physical ruins, our world continues on a path of spiritual ruin. What can we learn from Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem? What steps should we be taking to rebuild our nations? There are three steps Nehemiah took to rebuild the walls that had crumbled after the invasion.
First, he began with prayer, fasting, and mourning. Nehemiah prayed for himself, he prayed for his nation, and he even confessed the sins of the forefathers who had brought destruction to Jerusalem. The burden he had for his city was very clear. Rebuilding the walls was a physical project. Yet at the end of the day, it was only God who could complete it. Nehemiah was a desperate man seeking the Lord.
Are you desperate when you see the Church largely quit the practice of consistent, deep, pleading community prayer? Do not let the immensity of the needs of the Church paralyze you so that you do not do anything. God wants us to feel others’ burdens, but then He wants us to roll that burden back to Him, remembering that it is not our power, but His power that redeems. In thirteen chapters, Nehemiah says “I prayed to the Lord” eleven times.
Secondly, Nehemiah invited other people to join him. He said, “Let’s rise up and build the wall” (2:18). God must have shared His burden with many people. To find and gather them for a single goal is yet another step in building a wall of the Lord. Nehemiah had a good vision about what must be done and how people must be gathered for this purpose. A good vision will always be carried to fruition by people of good mind. We must be concerned about the things that God is concerned about.
The priests were the first to volunteer. The people of God, guided by the leaders of the Church, are to lead the way. We are the gatekeepers for the people whom God entrusts to us. Every believer has a unique role. The nation of Poland can never forget the name of Saint Faustina Kowalska. Among many great leaders in their country, she was a humble instrument in making modern Poland a God-fearing one. She was an ordinary religious. However, she had a deep sorrow about the people in her country. She was not a politically or socially influential woman, but she had a zealous heart for the Lord, burden of her country, and a readiness to do whatever was required. Who can resist the wrath of God? Only a person with a humble heart who fears God. The Lord anointed Saint Faustina by revealing the great prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which always shatters the works of evil powers.
Finally, opposition did not distract the Prophet Nehemiah from his mission. Get ready in facing oppositions from within and without if you want to do something unique for the Lord. The hostility you face from your inner circle, say for instance, from your family, friends and other members of the community, will be more painful than from enemies. You will find new tactics from the enemy who will try to put you down and withdraw you from the goal. If you have a Spirit-guided vision, no one can distract you from your journey. There will be oppositions and challenges, pains and sorrows, but if you know why others suffer, you know how they suffer.
We want God to come in great power to convert people, but the Bible stresses the need for personal evangelism. Our nations’ crumbling walls cannot be rebuilt until each Christian works as an authentic representative of Christ wherever He has planted him or her.
The vision of making spiritual walls get prolonged and delayed since Christians are found to be shy in witnessing the Lord in their areas of mission, and fear to raise their voices to fight against the warriors of the culture of death. Lovingly and winsomely, we must share the Gospel message through our lips and testify to its transformative power by our lives. Unless that happens, our nation’s spiritual walls will not be rebuilt.'
We have all experienced that feeling: a sinking in our stomach, a lump in our throat, tears springing to our eyes. We have been let down, disappointed, rejected. maybe we have been tempted to think, “I am never putting myself in that situation again,” “I never want to get hurt again” or “It is not worth it.”
Vulnerability is dangerous! We open ourselves up—perhaps in a friendship, a new relationship, an opportunity in ministry or in the workplace—with the risk of being let down. Sometimes, it feels like there is no point in making ourselves vulnerable. Is it not safer, easier, to keep our hearts closed and never get hurt?
Not too long ago, I was in a situation almost exactly like one I have described. I opened my heart up, only to feel rejected. I wondered why God would let me experience this horrible feeling. I thought it would be safer to close up my heart.
1. S. Lewis tells us, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to be sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken: it will become unbreakable, impenetrable and irredeemable.”
Vulnerable like Christ
To love at all is to be vulnerable. To love and live as Christ did, we have to take the step. We have to open our hearts. Jesus is not asking us to deliberately hurt ourselves. If you have been in a relationship of abuse and mistreatment, He is not calling you to continually put yourself back into that situation. Do not confide in a friend who is known for spreading gossip. Perhaps there is a friend with whom you have been waiting to confide but you were stopped by your pride. Maybe you have an opportunity to share your gifts in ministry, but you hesitate for fear of not being good enough. God may be inviting you into a deeper relationship with someone, yet your past wounds are stopping you from taking the leap.
Christ made Himself vulnerable to us. Look to the Cross! That is the ultimate picture of vulnerability, the ultimate picture of love. If we want to be like Him, we must imitate His vulnerability. We have to lay down our lives. How can we do this if we are constantly worried about getting hurt?
Vulnerable to Christ
Jesus Christ is calling us into a relationship with Himself. Have we entered fully into this relationship? Or are we holding back, hiding our hearts from the One who loves us, out of fear?
Many times, I have thought to myself, “I cannot give my life to Jesus. He will take something away from me: this relationship or that comfort, these goals and ambitions.” But He is not a God who takes away. He has already given us everything on the Cross and in the Eucharist. He is asking each of us to be vulnerable with Him in prayer. This may seem impossible at first. But He is listening. He knows our hearts. Tell Him you are afraid to open yourself up to Him. Share with Him your insecurities, your hurts, your anxieties. Offer Him your life—ask Him to help you offer it, day by day, hour by hour and moment by moment.
Vulnerable with Christ
It can be overwhelming to give of ourselves. We can feel exhausted, mentally and emotionally. That little voice inside of us pops up to whisper that it would be easier to lock our hearts away and avoid the risk of pain or rejection. yet, we are not alone; Jesus walks with us. He, also, experienced pain and rejection. His closest friends abandoned Him and the people He came to save crucified Him. He experienced sorrow and heartbreak. He wept at the death of His friend Lazarus and He weeps at our pain, as well. He knows. He has experienced all of this. That is why He came to earth—to intimately experience our unique human lives and sufferings. We do not have a God who is far off, examining us from a distance. We have a God who is united with us.
Vulnerability may sometimes lead us to suffering and pain. Offer that pain to Jesus Christ. Nail it to the Cross. He will transform it and make it redemptive.
Thank God that we have vulnerable hearts! A vulnerable heart is a heart for relationship, a heart for giving and loving. It is the key to living life in and with Christ. By opening ourselves to Him and to the people He places in our lives, we give the Holy Spirit the chance to work in us and through us to bring about the glory of God.'
I have watched all five of my kids play sports of all kinds for more than three decades. I cannot count the number of meets, matches and games I have faithfully attended. Whether it has been sitting on the sidelines in freezing rain, in the bleachers on a 90-degree summer day or putting up with the loud rap music they play for warm-ups, my heart’s desire as a mom to be present always trumped my physical or mental discomforts.
What I have learned in later years is the beautiful art I call “praying the game.” It is an art because there is huge battle with noise and distraction and one must find a way to connect with God even though there is so much going on. Initially, we cannot believe this sporting event could really be a place of prayer. It takes some discipline and practice to really master the art of it, but I have found it truly rewarding! Here are some ways that, while my kids play the game, I “pray the game.”
First of all, I recognize that God is present in each of the young athletes. He is in every heart, mind, soul and body that He has created. He loves us all the same. (you mean He loves those archenemy rival people as well? Indeed He does.) I see in my mind’s eye the guardian angel of every player and spend some time asking them to protect all the kids. (I have actually pictured guardian angels flying over each player as he or she moves about the field or court, which makes for some good mental creativity! It is actually a beautiful sight!) I ask that the athletes will not only be physically unharmed but also that if, in some way, the Lord wants to use the game as an opportunity to help them on the way of salvation, He would do that. Perhaps they must temper their anger or learn how to take a bad call. Maybe a coach takes them out of the game or they miss the winning shot. Maybe, if they are the talented ones on the team and are being showered with abundant praises, they will need to exercise humility. Whatever it is, God can use all these things to teach them about the real meaning of life and its ultimate goal of union with Him in heaven.
Second, I recognize God’s presence in the other parents and spectators around me. No doubt, we end up in conversations with friends and that can be part of the fun for us. We catch up, share stories and maybe complain about the refs together. I find that listening more and talking less here can be key. I pray for the needs that my friends share or the hopes and dreams they might have. An inner prayer might go something like this, “Lord, you see how my friend here is hurting and you see how much she loves her family. Please touch her heart today and let her know that you are near. Let something happen today that might help her see your hand in all the events of her life. Console her in her heartaches as a mom and give her grace. Mother Mary, give her peace.” Depending on how the Spirit leads, I might even sense God wants to use me to share a bit of the faith … how God has worked in my life lately or how I believe He can bring us true joy.
The last way I pray the game is to try to see the whole event as God does. I imagine Him rejoicing in the love and gathering of families. I imagine Him rejoicing in the human body and its capabilities in the gift of playing a sport. I must pause here and say I truly marvel at the ways the body can coordinate its movements, its speed and agility and its strength in the battle. A swimmer doing the butterfly stroke is poetry in motion. The lengths to which a body speeds and stretches out to make the diving catch in baseball is amazing. This, of course, cannot be separated from the soul within! God sees the drive of the heart, the discipline of the mind and the tenacity of the human spirit at work among His people. Though I do think He grieves that He is not remembered or thanked often for these gifts, I know He still loves and because He is so good He gives the athletes the joy of exercising those gifts in the game. I pray that God will help all of us present in the big crowd to come to an understanding one day that this longing we all have for communion, and for winning, is really based on the human heart’s longing for heaven. We will not worship a sport or the players but the one true God. We will gather to see that the enemy of evil and death has been conquered. With God on our side, we will sing, as they often do at games, “We are the champions.”'
‘I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel, who even at night directs my heart.’ —Psalms 16:7
For decades I have called myself a morning person, an early bird. I am drawn to the light for so many reasons. It reveals truth with such clarity. It renews hope. It warms the soul. On the contrary, darkness veils the earth and thus my life. I do not like having anything concealed. I cannot trust the darkness, because I cannot see clearly what is before or behind me. The murkiness of the night sky frightens me, because daylight does not muddle what is and is not real or true or good.
So my heart, like my aching body, was recently jostled awake once our newborn made her debut into the world. All at once, I was thrust back into chaos with her erratic need to sleep and eat. It did not coincide with mine, of course. The party did not usually begin for her until nightfall, just as I was peacefully drifting into sleep. Agitated, I got up with her night after night, wishing for eight consecutive hours of sleep but knowing it would not arrive for months. I needed those eight hours so that I could tackle life and whatever surprises lay in store on a daily basis. Over time, I found myself loathing the darkness, willing it away. I dreaded dusk, because I knew sleep would be elusive, albeit temporarily.
Then something unexpected, something graced, happened. The night feedings gave way to prayer, for me to bask in the rare silence that night afforded me; when everyone else slumbered, I had a sacred space for God. So I entered that solitude hazily at first, then hungrily. It was the only time each day I could cry out my frustrations to Jesus and then be still in His soft, gentle presence. After a while, the night became my day. I had forgotten the hidden beauty of darkness and how often holiness disguises itself from the naked eye. Night, darkness, reminds me that God longs for us to pursue Him as He pursues us—relentlessly, desperately, endlessly.
Love—authentic, deep, abiding love—cannot be easily found. It must be sought, protected and fought for. It must be worth giving up our preference for security and assurance. It must be worth us changing, conforming to the One who waits for us in the stillness and silence that night provides.
I may be clothed in darkness in this stage of life, but I anticipate the dawn. Life cycles through moments of concealment to revelation and back again. Whether we operate as early birds or night owls, God meets us and transforms us when all of our time—days and nights— becomes offerings of love for Him.'