All posts by Bonnie Engstrom

Bonnie Engstrom is a cradle Catholic and stay-at-home mom. She married her dashing husband in 2006 and they now have five children: one in Heaven and four more wandering around their house, probably eating pretzels found under the couch. Bonnie lives in central Illinois and gets excited about baking, music, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and the Chicago Bears. She was a cofounder of The Behold Conference and she blogs at A Knotted Life.

Knowing Christ the Bridegroom as a Married Woman

About eighteen months into my marriage I was assessing my spiritual life when I realized something: while I had a wonderful relationship with God the Father and was quite drawn to God the Spirit, my relationship with God the Son was hurting. As a young mom I identified with the Father and wondered if He ever felt as frustrated as I did as a parent. Motherhood allowed me to better understand Childhood and I found myself calling on the Holy Spirit much more than I had ever before.

But Christ? He was tricky and I didn’t know where He fit in my life anymore.

Before I got married I had a great relationship with Jesus the Nazarene. I fully understood Him as my Bridegroom and I was in love. Prayer was easy and Adoration was a joy – seeing Him face to Face. I read Song of Songs with Him in mind and every Mass was a reminder of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. But then, well, I suppose He got replaced. Slowly we drifted away since I now had a bridegroom in the flesh and I wasn’t quite sure how to have that kind of relationship with two men.

As I left behind my newlywed stage life brought me struggles and I found deep comfort in the arms of Christ, hidden in His wounds, joining in His suffering, worshiping Him as my God, honoring Him as my Savior. Much like my marriage, the loss of the initial giddiness left me wondering what was wrong but soon enough I discovered that my relationship had more trust, more fidelity, and more love than it ever had before. I just couldn’t recognize it because I’d never experienced such a mature love before.

I thought love was leaping gazelles and swoon-worthy dates. That’s part of it, and a fun part too!

But this is the image of “Christ the Bridegroom.”

Christ the Bridegroom

Christ my Savior and the Lover of my soul, humbled and on His way to death. For me.

The One Thing You Need to Know About Fulton Sheen’s Cause

It’s not over.

Earlier this week the Sheen Foundation shared a press release stating that “the seven-member theological commission who advise the Congregation of the Causes of Saints at the Vatican unanimously agreed that a reported miracle should be attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen.”

The alleged miracle involves my son, James Fulton, who was a stillborn and without a pulse for sixty-one minutes. While he was lifeless we asked Fulton Sheen for his prayers, and just as emergency room doctors were prepared to call time of death James came back to life. His body should have shut down from massive organ failure caused by his severe lack of oxygen. He should not be alive today, but he is. When it was evident that he would live, doctors and specialists warned us that he would be severely disabled, but he is not.

The Sheen Foundation’s press release went on to say “Today’s decision by the theologians comes after the March 2014 vote by the team of Vatican medical experts who affirmed that they could find no natural explanation for the child’s healing. With the recommendations of the medical experts and now the theologians, the case will next be reviewed by the cardinals and bishops who advise the Pope on these matters. Finally, the miracle would be presented to Pope Francis.”

If Pope Francis approves the alleged miracle then it will be official: a real miracle.

But at that point the Sheen Foundation will still have to petition the Vatican for Venerable Fulton Sheen to be beatified.   There are three more steps that we need to go through before we could possibly have a miracle and a Blessed Fulton Sheen and as the Foundation has pointed out, “there is no timeline as to when these next steps might move forward.”

Hopefully the bishops and cardinals who sit on the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will approve the alleged miracle this fall when they return to Rome following the summer holiday. Hopefully Pope Francis will approve it very soon afterwards. Hopefully the pope will swiftly approve the beatification. We don’t know; we could be waiting for months or years.

Why do I share all this with you? Because, while I want us all to celebrate this important ruling from the advising theologians, I also want us all to continue to pray for and support this cause. If you believe in Venerable Sheen’s holiness and example – if you believe that he would make a great saint for the Church, leading many to a deep, loving, joyful relationship with Christ – then please continue to hope and pray for the next three steps.

Please continue to raise awareness of Venerable Sheen and his passionate love for our Lord. Please even consider tithing to the Sheen Foundation as they work to promote and further his cause for canonization.

Let’s celebrate: our God is good and has done marvelous things!

And let’s pray: Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, You raise up within the Church in every age men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of Your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.

If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask  You to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Don’t bury St. Joseph

My husband and I recently sold our home after several months of it being on the market. In the process there were a lot of people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, who asked if we were going to bury a statue of St. Joseph in our yard.

Simple answer: no.

Now, I don’t want to mislead you: there were times when I was frustrated that our house wasn’t selling and we seemed to miss opportunities. But when I look back on it all I can so clearly see the Hand of God, holding some things back and moving other things around so everything would be better than we could have ever hoped for. During it all, even with my worries, I still had a strong feeling that it would all work out. That peace and confident trust were really important to me and so I want to share with you.

There’s three things we did in our hope to sell our home:

1 – We trusted in God’s goodness, not superstitions. Burying a statue of St. Joseph because it’s supposed to make your house sell is nothing but a superstitious act. As Christians we don’t believe in superstitions – we believe in God. I know that Catholic stores sell Home Selling St. Joseph kits. I know that there are even nuns who make and sell these kits. That doesn’t make it right. It is one thing to place St. Joseph on a piece of land or a home you wish to buy, to use St. Joseph to claim the land, and to put it under his patronage. It is another thing all together to bury his likeness in the ground because doing so is supposed to give you the results you want. God is our loving Father and He wants what’s best for us. It is good to remember that and to trust in His timing and His perfect ways.

2 – We placed the intention in Mary’s capable hands. When our home went on the market for the first time I was preparing to do a consecration to Mary using the book 33 Days to Morning Glory. During that time I entrusted Mary with my hopes that our home would sell to a nice family who loves God, and that we would find the perfect home for us to raise our kids in – a place we could all be happy for a long time. I asked her to pray for me, to talk to her Son about my intentions. When I became  frustrated I would tell her, “I have no more wine!” which was my code word for: Fix this, please! When I started to doubt (in her prayers, in God’s faithfulness, whether we would ever move) I would ask her to untie the knots in my life. With her on my side I never doubted for long.

3 – We placed an image of St. Joseph in a place of honor in our home. To most people it would have looked like just another Catholic decoration, but every time I passed that image of St. Joseph I would ask him to find someone to buy our house. I spent a lot of time thinking about how St. Joseph had to find so many homes and shelters for Mary and Jesus, from the stable in Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth. I know he’s good at finding homes and so I asked him to also help us find a perfect home for our family.

Later this summer, when we are settled in our new home, we plan to have a housewarming party and also consecrate the house to the Holy Family. Then, when I get to Heaven, I want to thank the Holy Family for all that they did in helping us sell our house and buy a new one. I don’t want to have a conversation with Jesus about why I buried his foster father upside down in my front yard.

Now,  it is definitely true that sometimes burying St. Joseph is a tradition prayerfully done by the Catholic faithful, and in those cases I cast little to no judgment. But even if it is a prayerfully done tradition that hasn’t been forbidden by the bishops that does not mean it is the best way to honor St. Joseph and include his intercession in the selling of your home. It also does not mean that we should be okay with the cultural practice of anyone and everyone burying an image of St. Joseph, aka Mary’s husband, aka Jesus’ foster father, aka the man who God chose to raise His Son, our Savior.

Something Other Than God – a Vlog Review of Jennifer Fulwiler’s New Memoir

Something Other Than God is the long awaited memoir from popular blogger Jennifer Fulwiler. The book, which is published by Ignatius Press, is a fantastic read and not just for Jen’s loyal base of blog readers. You can hear the rest of my thoughts on the Something Other Than God in the vlog below.

 

You can watch the interview I mentioned in the video at my personal blog A Knotted Life.

Those who pre-order Something Other Than God before its release date of Tuesday, April 29th can download a free e-book written by Jen, The Family First Creative.

You can pre-order Something Other Than God from Amazon.

Music you should be listening to: an interview with the lead singer of The Hope and Justin Band

Discovering a new-to-me musician is such a great feeling. I am a music lover, and I love all genres, but I have a special love for bands with an indie sound, like The Head and the Heart. Kind of folksy, kind of bluegrassy, sometimes slow and beautiful and sometimes clappy, stompy, sing-a-long, with lots of extra love if they have lyrics that are clever and safe for little ears. 

So imagine my delight when a friend told me about a band she had just seen in concert, The Hope and Justin Band. “I think you’ll like them,” she said. “They’re kinda like The Head and the Heart,” she said. That was all the motivation I needed. And actually, you don’t have to imagine how I felt; I’m going to tell you. I was thrilled

The Hope and Justin Band were a treasure of a find for me and as I was listening to the lyrics I paused and thought, “I need to share them with anyone who will listen!” Pleasantly, the lead singer of the band agreed to an interview; you can read our conversation below. Be sure you click on the YouTube video so you can listen while you read!

Tell me about yourself.

My name is Hope Schneir, and my husband is Justin Schneir. I’m originally from Vermont and he is a native California boy, we met in Ohio and 14 years later baby number 7 is on the way.  We currently reside in Camarillo, CA, my husband is a partner in an insurance firm and I stay home with our kids.

 

Who are the members of your band?

Justin Schneir: guitar, harmonica, vocals
Hope Schneir: guitar, banjo, vocals
Sean Wood: fiddle, mandolin
Jeff Evans: percussion
Daniel Bagdazian: bass
Gabriel Bagdazian: piano

 

How would you describe your sound?

We are a folk band. We basically just started recording what was happening with our friends in our living room… homegrown music with lots of soul.  We like to think our music has a lot of what was loved in  70’s folk and bluegrass but with a modern vibe.

 

Kendra mentioned a connection to The Head and the Heart (a band I looooove), can you tell me about that?

Man, they are great, aren’t they?  We knew the piano player before he joined THATH, and we got to watch their fan base spread like wild fire.  It’s always fun to feel like you have history with a band, and know them before others did.  We were so honored that Kenny came to our last show, found a seat near the front and listened so intently.  Of course it helps that we get his awesome sister to sing with us on a few songs!  We still admire them so much, and would definitely consider them one of our influences.

 

Are you all Catholics/Christians?

We are all practicing Catholics with the exception of our drummer.  He is such a great guy, and doesn’t adhere to any religion in particular.  He was our recording engineer, and he’s been a tremendous enthusiast of our music, I don’t know where we’d be without him.  We joke that with his Master Cleanse fasting and super generous heart he acts like a better Christian than we are!

 

What drew you and your husband to music and to each other?

I grew up in a family of folk musicians, and started writing songs when I was a young girl.  Justin started playing guitar and writing music in high school.  He was the first person I met at my first college party, the first weekend of my freshman year, talk about unexpected!  We played music that first night, and it was definitely something that brought us together.  However he is so great that I would love him even if he were tone deaf.

 

You have an album, Eastern Bound; what are its origins?

 Eastern Bound is our second album.  We recorded our first album Faithful and True in 2006; it was pretty stripped down and acoustic, just the two of us.  In recent years we’ve had friends come over regularly to play music, and we wanted to record another album, this time with a few more bells and whistles (or mandolins and fiddles!)  We also featured some guest vocalists (including my father) and after a year of almost weekly studio work we had an album.  From the album came the band; the first time we actually played live as a band was at our CD release party.

 

How and when do you write your songs?

I’ve never been one to sit down and say “Time to write a song.”  I think that’s the privilege of not being a professional musician, that we get to keep our music truly a free flowing art and not something that ever feels forced.  Each song tends to come from a some small spark, a phrase or a melody line… I’ll often think of one while I’m driving in the car or if I spend an afternoon alone.  Giving that spark the time it needs to turn into a full song is another matter, and that can be a challenge with our busy family life.  Justin and I have written only a few songs together, the majority of our songs we write independently, and then help each other with the fine tuning.  Our most recently written song Here We are Again was our first collaborative effort with Sean Wood and Daniel Bagdazian, and I think it is one of our best songs to date.  It will be on our next album, which we’ve already started recording.

 

What role does your faith play in your music?

Our faith plays the same role in our music that it does in the rest of our lives.  It is such a central part of who we are, and that certainly comes out in our music, but not in such a way that the messages and themes are exclusively Catholic or Christain, but more just human.  Love, faith, fidelity, sacrifice, joy, and sorrow, while finding more meaning in the light of Christian truths, are universal human desires and experiences, and our songs are not exclusive to listeners that adhere to particular religions. In my own life I desire to listen to good music that is relatively “safe”, and by that I mean not worrying about having to turn it down when my kids come into the room or feel guilty about the content being a-moral.  The people who tend to appreciate our music the most are the ones who feel similarly, and are really grateful to us and other artists that give them the pleasure of music suited to their tastes that does not challenge their consciences, and might even inspire them in some way.

 

From what I’ve heard I would *not* describe you as Catholic musicians but as musicians who happen to be Catholic. What are your feelings about Catholics whose faith influences their art but who are not “Christian artists”? Is this happening in America? Do you see a need? What’s the use?

I see this is happening all over the place, and yes I think there is a great need for it.  The songs that I personally have found to be the most soul-stirring and reflective of God’s beauty often have not been Christian songs.  My husband jokes that his conversion song was “Ripple” by The Grateful Dead.  We laugh about it now, but it actually did play a part in his search for truth.  Music bonds people and it is a way for us to try to touch the light, whether we know that Light by name or merely by our inklings of it.  I believe that music that is not specifically “Christian” can in many cases be a more effective witness than songs that are explicitly faith based.  In general, secular folks don’t turn on Christian radio for listening enjoyment.  They just don’t.  But they do listen to all sorts of musical genres, and we need artists in each of those genres who will lead our culture back to one that thinks, feels, hopes, and strives for the high road.  Art and culture have a fascinating relationship: on the one hand art is a reflection of our mores the pulse of our culture, it can even ride on the edge of those mores with a desire to shock or push the envelope to gain attention.  On the other hand I’ve heard it said that culture is more influenced by art than anything else, including politics.  Good art elevates our hearts and our minds, and is beautiful.  If you are like me, you believe that all beauty is a reflection of God, so it can be said, or hoped, that good art will lead us back to God, one way or another.  Beauty through art is, I think, the most compelling way to evangelize in this world.  Many people aren’t ready to debate scripture or hear your defense for mistakes the Church has made, but give them something beautiful that reminds them of their longing for God, and you have already won.  I gave a copy of Eastern Bound to an acquaintance of mine and she told me it was the catalyst for her going back to confession… with all of the kind accolades we have received, I don’t think any of them can top that one.

 

The Hope and Justin Band have music available for download on most music streaming websites. Some of my favorites are “It’s OK,” “Cool One Time,” and “Ball and Chain,” but Uncle Sam” is my favorite. You can find out more about The Hope and Justin Band at the following locations:
To Purchase CDs: www.cdbaby.com
 

Fulton Sheen, My Son, an Alleged Miracle, and SUPER Exciting News from Rome

Early this morning I got a secret email, and I did a happy dance.

While I was shopping at Wal-Mart I got a phone call, and I did a fist pump.

Fulton Sheen EvidenceYou probably know already but the seven-member board of medical experts who advise the Congregation of the Causes of Saints at the Vatican unanimously approved my son James Fulton’s alleged healing through the intercession of Fulton Sheen.

I know there’s been some confusion so I want to be really clear:

This is still an ALLEGED miracle. Only the Pope can declare it a miracle.

We’ve still got a little ways to go. The postulator for the cause will now provide the theologians who advise the Congregation of the Causes of Saints with information so they can decide if the healing happened because of Fulton Sheen’s intercession. When they are done, it will be forwarded to the the bishops who sit on the C of the C of S (not the real acronym). Then those bishops will need to decide on it and make their recommendation to the Pope. Pope Francis will have the final say.

There’s still more to do! Please praise God today and celebrate this good and mega-exciting news! Then tomorrow go right back to praying for the cause. You can also financially support the cause if you’d like. For more information check out the official website for the cause here.

And now let’s all do a happy dance. I suggest Pharrell.

I know I should probably have more to say, but it’s just all too exciting. And I’ve got some happy dancing to do! For updates please feel free to check out my personal blog, A Knotted Life.

The official press release from the Archbishop Sheen Foundation is below.

Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation 
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, president 
Monsignor Stanley Deptula, executive director 
419 NE Madison Avenue 
Peoria, Illinois 61603 USA 
309-671-1550 
877-71-SHEEN 
ArchbishopSheenCause.org 

Media Contact: Msgr. Stanley Deptula 
 Msgr_Deptula@cdop.org 
 Office:309-677-7085 
 Mobile: 309-231-5689 
March 6, 2014 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Peoria, IL — The Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, Bishop of Peoria and President of the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation, received word early Thursday morning that the 7-member board of medical experts who advise the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints at the Vatican unanimously approved a reported miracle attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen. 

The case involved a still born baby born in September 2010. For over an hour the child demonstrated no signs of life as medical professionals attempted every possible life saving procedure, while the child’s parents and loved ones began immediately to seek the intercession of Fulton Sheen. After 61 minutes the baby was restored to full life and made a full recovery. The child, now three years old, continues in good health. 

Today’s decision affirms that the team of Vatican medical experts can find no natural explanation for the 
child’s healing. The case will next be reviewed by a board of theologians. With their approval the case 
could move on to the cardinals and bishops who advise the Pope on these matters. Finally, the miracle 
would be presented to Pope Francis who would then officially affirm that God performed a miracle 
through the intercession of Fulton Sheen. There is no timeline as to when these next steps might move 
forward. 

“Today is a significant step in the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of our beloved Fulton 
Sheen, a priest of Peoria and a Son of the Heartland who went on to change the world. There are many 
more steps ahead and more prayers are needed. But today is a good reason to rejoice,” commented 
Bishop Jenky. 

Fulton Sheen was born May 8, 1895 in El Paso, IL outside of Peoria. His family moved to Peoria so that 
Fulton and his brothers could attend Catholic school. He grew up in the parish of the Cathedral of St. Mary where he was an altar server and later ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria. After advanced 
studies and service as a parish priest in the city of Peoria, Fulton Sheen was a professor of philosophy 
and religion at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. In the 1930s he became a popular 
radio personality and later a TV pioneer. His weekly TV program, “Life is Worth Living” eventually 
reached 30 million viewers and won an Emmy award for outstanding TV program. 

From 1950-1966, Bishop Sheen was the national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith 
in the United States, the Church’s primary missionary apostolate. In 1966, he was named Bishop of 
Rochester of New York where he served until his retirement in 1969, when he was named honorary 
Archbishop by Pope Paul VI. Fulton Sheen died at the entrance to his private chapel in his New York City 
apartment on December 9, 1979. 

In September 2002, Bishop Jenky officially opened the cause for the beatification and canonization of 
Fulton Sheen. For six years, the Sheen Foundation, the official promoter of the Cause, gathered 
testimony from around the world and reviewed all of Sheen’s writings, before sending their conclusions 
to the Vatican. In June 2012, Pope Benedict affirmed the investigation that Sheen had lived a life of 
heroic virtue and holiness. Sheen was then titled “Venerable.” 

Pending further review by the theologians and the cardinals who advise the Pope through the 
Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, should Pope Francis validate this proposed miracle, Sheen 
could then be declared “Blessed” in a ceremony that could be celebrated in Peoria, Sheen’s hometown. 
Upon the Holy Father signing the decree for the beatification, an additional miracle would lead to the 
Canonization of Archbishop Sheen, in which he would be declared a “Saint.” 

For more information about Fulton Sheen and the Cause for his canonization, visit: 
ArchbishopSheenCause.org. 

### 

An Interview with Simcha Fisher, Author of <em>The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning</em>

nfp-bookSimcha Fisher’s book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, is still sitting pretty in the Top 10 on Amazon’s list of Catholic books. The incredible interest in the book isn’t surprising since frank, balanced conversations about natural family planning –- the only method of spacing children approved by the Catholic Church –- are desperately sought after and needed. Add to that Fisher’s place as one of the most popular Catholic writers in the blogosphere and it makes sense that the Sinner’s Guide is selling so well.

As a person with a love/hate relationship with natural family planning (NFP) I was thrilled to hear that Fisher was tackling the subject in a book. Many of the articles she has written on the topic have been poignant, often alternating between making me tear up, laugh out loud, and feel convicted. My read of The Sinner’s Guide did the same thing and a little bit more: it brought about a couple of good conversations with my husband and made me feel… well, normal.

Recently I was able to ask Fisher a few questions regarding her book and NFP.

 

You talk a lot about how you and Damien have grown and overcome a lot of the struggles you had early on in your marriage. Was here a specific turning point for you? A moment where you said, “Aha! So this is what God wants me to do/say/understand!” If so, when was that moment, and what precipitated it?

No one specific moment, no.  There were several “believe so that you may understand” moments, though — when we just decided we were going to grit our teeth and do our best to live with impossible situations . . .  and then they cleared up in unexpected ways.  It was a lot easier to see God’s gentleness and mercy after we had decided to bow to His law.

We also constantly work on making the shift from “my needs vs. your needs” to “what’s best for our marriage and family?”

I think that even when people do have startling, revolutionary epiphanies in their lives, they usually still have to follow up with a long, gradual process of putting that epiphany into practice.

 

Some NFP users feel like they were duped, that the truth was twisted and they were lied to during their NFP classes. How do we heal that wound in them and how do we present NFP so that it’s balanced?

It’s vital that we present marriage in general — not just NFP — as a call to love.  As long as we try to entice people into using NFP by going on and on about how it’s just as effective as artificial birth control, or how it’s the one sure path to marital bliss, then we are going to, as you say, wound people.
Couples who love each other want to know HOW to love each other.  They need to hear that self-sacrifice is necessary, and is something they can reasonably expect from each other.  They need to hear that sacrifice is beautiful.  They need to hear that most worthwhile things in life don’t come easy, and that marriage, and the joy it can bring, is worth the fight.

 

Some of your own personal growth as a Christian is documented in the book. Who helped you down that road and what guides did you use then and in the writing of the book to insure your thinking was always in line with the Church’s.

The one thing that made a difference was belonging to an online message board of other faithful Catholics who used NFP.  They did help clarify Church teaching; but more importantly, they totally understood what we were going through.  Nothing can replace talking to other people who can say, “Oh, yeah, we’ve been through that — we’re doing much better now!” or “I struggled with such-and-such, but now I think of it this way . . . ”  This is the experience I hoped to capture in my book:  a conversation with an honest, helpful friend who knows the ropes.

As far as the theology in the book itself, I asked two priests and a theologian to make sure it was on the up-and-up.  I rely heavily on the Catechism of the Catholic Church — it is such a rich, dense, beautiful work.  As I wrote, I discovered that the Church’s teaching on sexuality is far, far more generous and compassionate than I used to believe.

 

Many of the people for whom NFP is a very real cross feel your book finally brought out into the open many of the frustrations they’ve been able to talk about with only their closest friends. Was that an intention of yours? Were you hoping to speak up for those who really struggle with NFP? 

Yes, that’s exactly why I wrote it.

As I say in the introduction, I understand why people paint NFP in rosy tints:  because if you go, “Hey, everybody!  Who’s up for some redemptive suffering?” then nobody is going to beat down the door of your marriage prep class.  But it’s a big mistake to act as if the benefits of NFP are overwhelming and automatic, or to pretend that it’s always easy and super fun.  People who are struggling and suffering look at the cheery NFP couple in the brochure, compare it to their own lives, and think, “Well, obviously I’m a loser, a sinner, a pervert, a mess.  Why even bother?”

My book has two purposes:  to reassure people that they’re not alone, and to give them some tools for making things better.

 

Will a print version be ready for Christmas?

I wish!  I will be able to share the name of the print publisher very soon, and we will make the book available for pre-order as soon as possible.
The audiobook from Audible.com should be ready before Christmas, though.  As soon as I have information, I will share it on my blog.

 

How do you feel about being a sex and NFP expert?

Ha! I feel like people still expect me to do the laundry and dishes around here.  But seriously, I’m definitely not an expert.  That was kind of the point of the book:  to remind people that you don’t need to be an expert — you don’t have to be super holy, or have a degree in theology or psychology — to have insight into your own marriage.  What you need is patience, persistence in prayer, hope, and an open heart.  Learning to make NFP work in your marriage means learning how to be a gift to your spouse.  Anyone can do that.

 

I am so grateful for Fisher’s time, wisdom, and sense of humor. The Sinner’s Guide for Natural Family Planning was a good read. Real, funny, smart, and much needed. Now what are you waiting for? !

 

You can find more of Simcha Fisher’s writing at the National Catholic Register and on her personal blog, I Have to Sit Down.

Ralph’s Mom

Recently my son and I were at the grocery store. He was wearing a Thomas the Tank Engine shirt and was playing with the cart as we waited in line at the deli counter. He turned the cart in a circle and then smiled up at me and the woman ahead of me.

 

 

“Is that Thomas on your shirt? Do you like Thomas?” the woman asked with a big smile on her face.

She looked kind and James smiled back at her.

Since James doesn’t speak much I spoke instead. “Do you have a little boy?”

“Yes,” she said with a smile.

And then quick as snap the expression on her face changed. The brightness went away and she said, “I did.” Her whole face frowned and she said, “He died last year. He was twenty-five.” Her eyes brimmed with tears.

I wasn’t embarrassed but felt a deep urge to love her and her son in that moment. Good Lord, I hope that I did.

“I’m so sorry. What was his name?”

“Ralph. He loved Thomas and Pokemon and all that stuff.” She wiped her eyes and apologized for crying.

“No, no. Don’t apologize. You should share him with people. Let me give you a hug.” And we hugged for a long moment, right in front of the cold cuts.

She touched her chest as tears rolled down her cheeks and said, “I treasure him,” as if to say she treasured all the memories of her little boy in her heart. She kept those things, her little boy playing with trains and loving Pokemon and despite the tears she was happy to have those memories.

Even in that moment I felt so appreciative that she would share something so precious with me. Before I could say anything her crab salad was ready. She quickly brushed away her tears, grabbed her food, thanked the delicatessen, and pushed her cart away. I think she suddenly felt embarrassed and I wanted to tell her not to be. I wanted to tell her I’d pray for her son and her. I wanted to thank her for telling me about Ralph.

I didn’t get the chance, but please honor Ralph and his mom with me. Please remember his soul in your prayers and please ask God to bless his mom, who loves and misses him so much.

 

Eternal rest grant unto Ralph, O Lord. 

May perpetual light shine upon him.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Pride and Postpartum Depression

My husband married a woman who had the ability to laugh things off, to be spontaneous, to work hard and get ‘er done.

And then I got pregnant, had a baby, got pregnant, had a baby, and so on five times in a row. My five kids are aged 5, 4, 3, and 1 year old and two months old. For six years the woman my husband married has been gone. Instead I have been exhausted, grouchy, and nauseous. I have also been quick-tempered, irrational, irate, demanding, and annoyed.

I would talk to my husband about how I knew I needed help but then I would do nothing. I wouldn’t tell our family doctor or my midwife. I refused to pick up the phone and make a call where I would have to admit that this problem was beyond my control, that I was beyond my control. Because of my stupid, selfish pride my whole family suffered. For five long years they had to live with a ticking time bomb, never knowing what would set me off.

Something finally happened this past August – a line was finally crossed – and I knew that it was time I had to do something.  There was no more pride, I was ashamed of myself for allowing it to come to that point, and in my shame I contacted my midwife who promptly started me on medication. I also took a look at my days, identified the times and situations that triggered my anger, and sent an email out to friends asking them to spend 9am – 1pm with me so I was never home alone with the children.  It looked like playdates or special visits from grandma to my kids but it allowed me to nap, clean and organize my house after our newborn’s arrival, and to chill. It’s embarrassing to say that I needed a buffer between me and my kids for a few weeks but until I acclimated to the medicine it really was for the best.

Earlier this week my husband called home from work and asked if he could play racquetball with a coworker that evening. Without hesitation I cheerfully said “yes”. Last month I would have said “yes” like a martyr. Yesterday my one year old poured graham cracker filled  water from a cup to her plate to the dining room table and instead of yelling like a maniac I laughed, wiped her hands and the table, and redirected her. Life is so much better in our home now because it seems the saying is true, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.”

I shared with my blog readers I had postpartum depression and since then many have contacted me to say that they too have had or are currently struggling with PPD. To them and anyone else who may be reading that has PPD I want to say this:

Don’t do what I did. Don’t make your family suffer. Enjoy your motherhood, your marriage, your home life. Set your pride aside and get help now before you have nothing to be proud of.

May the Lord bless us all today. Amen.

Something Beautiful

My five week old is taking his first nap of the day. My four other kids are finishing up breakfast. My husband is at work after a long (read: short) night with restless kids.  The house is tidy enough that I can quickly clean it if a realtor calls to set up a showing. And  I’m wondering how in the world I’m going to get my oldest to her first day of kindergarten on Monday and not ugly cry in front of everyone.

In this phase of my life Matt Maher’s song is a prayer I’m saying a lot. Maybe it’s a prayer you need to pray too. Maybe in transition from summer to fall or new babies or marriages or loneliness or new jobs or new homes or the death of a loved one or the ending high of World Youth Day or whatever it is, maybe you too need to praise God and sing to him, “Lord I need You” and remember that He is with us.

Lord, hear our prayer

It’s Okay to Enjoy Pop Culture. I Promise.

Okay, first of all, let it be known that I would say this to Marc’s face. Just so everybody knows: this is not me starting some silly blogger fight or talkin’ smack about Marc Barnes. I feel exasperated but I am also saying this with a smile on my face. For the sake of charity and clarity I want to point all that out.

And actually, I would love to have him over to the house for dinner so we could discuss music. He’s a poor college student, right? He could bring a couple of his poor college student friends, and I would make them some home-cooked meal: enchiladas, cubed steak with mushroom gravy, homemade pizza, maybe my husband would grill burgers and steaks. We’d give them beer (are they 21?) and I’d have my super awesomely good chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

An added bonus is that time with my five kids aged five and under would be what a seminarian friend calls a “cele-booster” for Marc and his chastity-pursuing friends. It would be a highly beneficial, fun evening for all.

But at some point in the meal Marc would say something like:

Now the merely popular does not have this quality [of being continually, universally good]. Popular music is consumed and digested at an incredible rate. There is no honest “going back” to songs that are released as objects of fashion. Popular music has no scent of immortality about it — it must be continuously replaced by “the next big thing.” If any one doubts this, I defy them to listen to “Call Me Maybe” with honest enjoyment, free from nausea, nostalgia or irony. There is no inherent good aimed at in fashionable music, and thus it barely lasts a month before it is used up and discarded.

And I would return by leaning towards him and shaking my fists while semi-shouting and laughing:

I can! I *can* enjoy “Call Me Maybe” without being nauseous, nostalgic, or ironic. Because it’s just a fun song. That’s it. It’s not supposed to be beautiful or transcendental. It’s just supposed to be enjoyed right now – as it comes on the radio when you’re driving in your car or getting ready for a date night or making breakfast for your kids.

It’s like listening to The Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” or Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” or Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”. Okay, that last one might be a little nostalgic. Yet there was no nostalgia, nausea, or irony when I listened to those other songs as a child and there’s none when I listen to them today. They are nothing more than pop songs, simple and redundant and with ridiculous lyrics, but I enjoyed them then and I enjoy them now.

They’re just fun and it’s OKAY (really, truly, I promise!) to enjoy things just because they’re fun. Like popsicles, dandelions, and trick-or-treating. In my house we enjoy Frappes from McDonald’s, bike rides around the block on a cracked sidewalk, and even a good fart joke. Those things are mediocre, mundane, and crass but we can still enjoy them. Not everything has to be about saving the world in grandiose, gorgeous ways. I’m not trying to belittle the very important role of beauty and excellence but the simple and ordinary are good, too.

Now, following all that, Marc may jokingly say:

ordinary people

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which would make me laugh because I love Sherlock. 

But honestly,  I’m okay sitting o’er here in the corn and soybean fields and being ordinary. I will wear my “gaggy Christian t-shirts”, eat Blizzards from Dairy Queen, and listen to “Call Me Maybe”. I will be ordinary and find worth in those things because it’s enough that I enjoy them. My enjoying them is a genuine part of who I am and there is value in just that. I don’t need to be embarrassed for liking pop music or pop culture, assuming that the pop culture we’re talking about is morally neutral. They do have an inherent goodness in that they are enjoyable, they make me and many other people happy, and that is enough.

So in conclusion:

Marc, just enjoy the flippin’ song. And if you’re interested in coming over for dinner, well, call me maybe.

Sex Ed and Men and the Marriage Bed

In all the discussions about abstinence-only sex ed  there is much talk about spit and water, licked ice cream cones, and tape that is no longer sticky. Obviously, as many other writers have already pointed out,  that kind of abstinence-only sex ed leaves much to be desired, especially for the women who – for one reason or another – did have sex before marriage and, because of their formation, felt dirty and undesirable.

Fortunately that was not the sex ed I received. In Protestant youth groups I did hear those things but I was also informed about sexually transmitted diseases and the difficulties of being an unwed, teen mother. I was also told, over and over again throughout high school and college, about the beauty of sex, the power of married love, and the dignity I, and every man I’d date, have as children of God. Perhaps the strongest message I heard was from my mom who told me she waited until she was married, that it was a good and unregrettable decision, and that she wanted me to do the same.  This formation helped me make mostly good, chaste decisions and I felt well prepared for a realistic sex life once I was married.

However, the comparable sex ed received by many young Catholic men I know led to a different outcome. They were also taught about the risks of premarital sex and had role models to encourage them to be chaste, pure, and to save sex for marriage. But along the way, as they were taught about the beauty of sex, the power of married love, and the dignity of every woman, they weren’t really taught the healthiest and best way to deal with their natural sexual attraction to women.

They were warned that the woman they were dating might not end up being their wife and so they should help her preserve her purity and dignity, out of respect for her and the man she would marry.

They were encouraged to remember that the women they were attracted to were someone’s sister, daughter, maybe even mother and that they shouldn’t reduce her to a sexual object to ogle.

They were told they could control their urges, lusts, desires, and attractions by going to daily Mass and adoration, by running and lifting weights, and by the strengths provided by the rosary and frequent confession.

All of those lessons were good and the men stopped checking out girls, stopped looking at porn, and stopped having sex with their girlfriends. They learned the lessons and trained themselves to control themselves. They reminded themselves over and over again that looking at women as objects and not people was wrong, desiring them lustfully was sinful, and having premarital sex with them was not okay.

Outside of marriage it seemed great, but once they were married problems surfaced. Each man soon found himself in a situation he had long awaited but now made him uneasy. There was a naked woman – definitely somebody’s sister, daughter, and granddaughter – lying in front of him. She was someone he loved and respected but she was also beautiful and even downright sexy. And there she was – inviting him to look at her and then to come to bed, to touch her, and have sex with her. He knew that suddenly it was okay to do these things but it was so ingrained in him that he shouldn’t look, desire, touch, and embrace that he was often riddled with guilt and confusion. Many times these loving husbands would even turn away from their wives leaving the women feeling hurt, confused, unattractive, defective, and unwanted.

It turns out that what they were really telling themselves was looking at women and finding them attractive was wrong, desiring them in any way was sinful, and having sex with them was wrong.

The man felt dirty for wanting her and she felt dirty for presenting herself. The beginning and the middle of these stories are very different from the stories of girls being told they’d be like backwash-filled glasses of water but the ending is still the same. It is a painful way to begin an otherwise holy, healthy marriage.