New location, same inspiration

Last summer I completed the training to be an online instructor for http://www.CatholicMarriagePrep.com. It has been an incredible experience so far, to journey with engaged couples in an understanding of God’s plan for marriage, through the details of the Sacrament, and finally on the Relationship Tools to give them a strong foundation for their marriage. logo final cmp print fond blanc version2

I am so blessed to be a part of this ministry, and I strongly believe in their vision for preparing Catholic couples for marriage (dedicated to the building of strong, christ-centered marriages). But of course, marriage is a journey, not a destination. Our destination is heaven, and marriage helps us get there.

Therefore, I am excited to start blogging for the www.catholicmarriageprep.com/blog to share my spiritual insights with all couples who have just started the journey or who have been traveling for a while 🙂 My first post went up last week on Loving God Through Marriage, and you can see it here:
http://www.catholicmarriageprep.com/blog/entry/loving-god-through-marriage

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I will no longer be posting to this site, so please make sure to subscribe to Catholic Marriage Prep’s blog so you don’t miss out on any of the great content! You can subscribe by clicking this icon in the black bar at the top of the page:
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Thanks to all of you who have followed my interiorhouselife blog over the last 2 years, and I hope that the marriage prep blog will be able to bless so many more people!

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Sex Ed Cont’d: Chastity and Frozen

(somewhat a continuation of my previous post that Sex Ed Starts at Birth. They are born, so now what?)

Another headline I saw recently was, “Why Shame-Based Abstinence Education doesn’t work.” And I would have to agree. But I would have to say that shoving contraception in their face doesn’t work either. There is a third way, a way that is very well demonstrated in the movie “Frozen.”

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Queen Elsa was born with this power to make things freeze. A power that “can be beautiful but dangerous.” When she was young she would make beautiful snowflakes and snowmen and have all sorts of fun with it. Then, after accidentally hurting her sister at a young age, her well-intentioned father teaches Else to “conceal, don’t feel” and to wear gloves. Well, Elsa shuts everyone else out of her life because she is afraid of her power. Eventually, she brings the whole town into a deep winter freeze. She runs up a mountain to an isolated castle of ice to unleash her power. She doesn’t think she can ever change her frozen nature until an act of true love from her sister, who sacrifices her life for her. Then she realizes it’s love that can thaw the freeze and tame her power. Not a true love’s kiss kind of love, but an act of self-sacrifice and giving.

I see Elsa’s powers as our human sexuality. Our sexual urges can be strong, like Elsa’s powers, but if we try to bottle them up, they can explode. We are made to feel, in a poor abstinence program, that our sexuality is dangerous and we should be ashamed of it and hide it. Many well-intentioned parents don’t want to talk about sex until their kids are full grown (conceal, don’t feel). You get STD’s and unwanted pregnancies from sex, so sex is bad.

Actually, our sexuality is good! It is meant to be beautiful and life-giving, but without proper context it can be very dangerous. We can definitely hurt people with this power, and so I think we are, as a country, stuck in a deep winter freeze. We are all in our isolated castles, doing what we want with our powers. We are our own king or queen. But we were not made for loneliness. Our sexuality was made to be a gift of true love. With everything from campus rape culture, child predators, pornography, cohabitation, and divorce so common and painful, it’s obvious we are lacking in authentic love.

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So there is a third way, a way of Chastity, a way of love. What was able to thaw the deep freeze in the movie “Frozen”? An act of sacrifice – willing to put your own life in front of your beloved. So how do you channel such a strong emotion as our sexuality into something beautiful, creative, and authentic? Love.

The Catechism definition of Chastity is “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” For a long time I had a hard time understanding that verbiage, but the movie helps illustrate the point. Our sexual desires are meant to be expressed in our body in the proper context. We are made to love. So when we take our powers of sexuality and move from fear and selfishness to courage and generosity, we become wholly who we are meant to be. Our bodies are visible signs of the invisible love of God within us.

So chastity is for everyone, on every path of life, because we are all human, we have bodies, and we are all meant for love. We easily think of priests and nuns called to chastity, but married people need to be authentic in their gift of self, too. Teens should see sex as something to look forward to, and prepare themselves for accordingly. How? By taking time to discover themselves- talents, fears, hopes, desires. You can’t give yourself in a sexual act of love if you don’t even know who you are. You can use your desire to love to serve your friends and community while preparing yourselves for your vocation someday. Mission trips and service projects are great acts of self-sacrifice.

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Then, in marriage, sex becomes a language of love, more powerful than words could ever say. This act of love speaks of permanence, faithfulness, totality, and openness to life. Did you know your marriage vows aren’t complete until you ratify it with your actions? It’s meant to be a beautiful reflection of the love of God in the same ways as your vows.

So hopefully the takeaway from this is: 1. Watch the movie “Frozen.” 2. Pray, research, reflect on the virtue of chastity, whether it be for your kids sake, your marriage, or your current state in life. God has something waiting for you to discover.

How Gloriously Different Are My Children

Sometimes it’s hard to believe my children come from the same genes. Not only do they look vastly different but their personalities are polar opposite, too. For example:Image

Timothy is my snuggler. He wants to be held and comforted often. Lily, on the other hand, is Miss Independent and is like, “mom, back up off my space, yo.” (She doesn’t really say that, but it would be awesome if she did.)  Timothy screams for a napkin if a drop of yogurt touches his shirt or, heaven forbid, it dares to dirty his finger. After using that napkin once he will immediately throw it away until he needs a new one two minutes later. Meanwhile, Lily has yogurt in her hair, up her nose, and down her shirt all before her first bite reaches her mouth. Lily will run away the moment you take her diaper off to change it, while Timothy is asking me to put his pants back on.

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You get the picture. Any veteran parent tells me their children are all on opposite sides of the personality spectrum, too. It seems like a daunting task to teach, discipline, and love each child in the way they personally need it. Trial and error, they say, to learn how to relate to each of your kids.

“How gloriously different are the saints,” once wrote CS Lewis. It’s true! I’ve been thinking of this often lately: all the vocations, all the religious orders with different charisms, all the canonized saints with vastly different personalities. There is more than one path to holiness; and it gives me comfort- while still overwhelming-to know there is more than one right way to raise holy children. What works for my family may not work for another, and vice versa. And that’s ok!

While I have no practical advice on parenting children, the only thing that I know so far is that the Holy Spirit is sent into our lives to help us relate to each of our kids individually. In Luke 12:12 it says, “For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.”  If we are parents that are in tune with the Spirit, we can trust we will be guided to raise uniquely different and gloriously holy children.

But if you do have any practical advice, I’d love to hear it!

Nursing…and The Cross

My daughter Lily is 10 months old and it has been a hard 10 months. (see: letter to women) When she was 3 weeks old, she had a small procedure done to cut the skin between her top lip and gum. The thick band of skin was making it impossible for her to suck properly, and in those agonizing weeks before the procedure she had already tore away my skin, caused lots of bleeding and incredible pain.

It would take me about 4 more months to fully heal from the bad nursing and a horrible cash of thrush.  In those 4 months the pain was so great that I couldn’t even hold my baby to my chest. I could barely lie down or shower. The burning pain of the thrush felt like it was never going to go away. All my spare time was consumed with reading people’s thrush remedies online, trying them out, and disinfecting everything we touched. My kitchen counter looked like a pharmacy with all our treatments and pain medications.

There were many days when I would call my husband crying telling him I wanted to give up and die.  The pain and the postpartum depression were overwhelming me and I didn’t think we would even make it through end of the day.  Surviving those first few months of her life was the hardest thing I have ever endured.

As I was nursing my daughter to sleep a few weeks ago, I was looking at her sleeping so peacefully in my arms.  In a moment of grace, I blurted out, “I would do it all over again.”  It surprised me. I had gone through the darkest part of my life after she was born, but I was claiming to do it again just so I could hold her; so she could experience life and have a chance to know and to love God.

ImageIt’s one of the most profound experiences of love I have ever had because now I could now more closely relate to Christ’s love on the cross and understand with new meaning the words, “This is my body, given up for you.”  I had shed blood; I had endured what felt like death, and this little bundle in my arms had been worth it.  I can’t say I still feel that way all the time, but it doesn’t take long to recall that moment of grace with clarity and renew my love for my daughter.

Dear mothers, as you know, love hurts and love requires suffering: suffering that is united to Christ on the Cross.  And yet, this deep love is also what we were made for and what we long for.  Whether you are sacrificing sleep to nurse through the night, or have mastitis, or encounter the biting of a teething baby, we nursing mothers are all sharing in the greatest love of all: the sacrifice of the Cross.

 

Is There Makeup In Heaven?

I was in fourth grade when I shaved my legs for the first time. I was in sixth when I started to pluck my eyebrows thanks to the incessant teasing of my older sister that I was hairy. By adolescence I was convinced that no one would ever marry me because I was too hairy. (Ironically my husband has alopecia and has no hairJ)

I really tried hard in high school to rid myself of my insecurities about being beautiful and let God love me, but it was hard! I had been teased and bullied so much in my short lifetime thus far that there was a lot about me that I hated, and looking in the mirror and thinking I was beautiful never happened. I guess I just figured when you grow up and become an adult you don’t care what people think anymore. I was wrong.

In college I challenged a friend of mine to go to daily mass every day for a month. He said he’d do it if I didn’t wear makeup for that same month. Daily mass I could do, but no make up? How was I going to have any friends or be able to leave my dorm room? Because I cared about his soul, I did it. And you know what? People didn’t treat me any different. I still hung out with the same friends, no one ever said anything about me being ugly, and over all I saved myself at LEAST several hours of getting ready.

Make up isn’t bad, but it can be if we are using it to hide our insecurities or try to cover up who we really are. Will my husband still love me if I don’t look pretty? Will somehow I be less of a mother if I can’t put out a good image? These are things I still struggle with sometimes. If you absolutely can’t leave the house without putting on your face or wearing a nice outfit- even to run errands or go to the park- something might be wrong. If you can’t stand to look at yourself in the mirror without hair and makeup done, than there is probably some healing that still needs to take place. I certainly don’t want to pass on these insecurities to my daughter and give her the wrong idea that she will need makeup to be beautiful, either.  Makeup can accent our beauty, but God didn’t design us to need makeup to be beautiful. He made us beautiful as we are, plain and simple.

ImageI think the best thing we can do is look to Mary as our model. I’m sure she never wore makeup, and she will always be the most beautiful woman that ever lived. The visionaries of Medjugorje describe Mary as beautiful beyond anything of this world. When asked how is it that she is so beautiful Mary responded, “I am beautiful because I love.” And when all of our sinfulness and insecurities are purified and we stand before the throne of God, we won’t need makeup in heaven!!  We will all be transformed into the perfect, beautiful, and glorious image of God.

I’m thankful I have a husband who loves to tell me that I’m pretty, and that he actually prefers my natural beauty over lots of “face paint.” And so I’ve been trying lately to go with less makeup, remind myself of my desire for heaven, and try to clothe myself with virtue over fashion. I recently came across this verse that sums it up well:

“A gracious wife delights her husband, her thoughtfulness puts flesh on his bones. A gift from the Lord is her governed speech, and her firm virtue is of surpassing worth. Choicest of all blessings is a modest wife, priceless her chaste person. Like the sun rising in the Lord’s heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home. Like the light which shines above the holy lampstand, are her beauty of face and graceful figure.” Sirach 26:13-17

 Makeup, fashion, accessories- in and of themselves are not bad. But they need to be ordered to what is true and good and holy first. They need to be balanced with cultivating the inner virtues of womanhood. Like Mary, let’s be beautiful because we love.

 Some other scriptures to ponder:

1 Peter 3:3-4
Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God.

1 Samuel 16:7
“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

Proverbs 31:30
“Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Matthew 6:28-29
“Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.”

NFP…and the language of love

I’ve had people tell me: You’ve got your boy and your girl. A perfect family!

And it bothers me. Believe me, after 2 kids in 2½ years of marriage, my husband and I would like to take a break from having babies. But who knows how we will feel a little down the road. I think about my husband: he is the 6th of 8 kids. If his parents had stopped having children after two, or three, or even five, then he would have never existed for me to marry!

And that’s what I love about Natural Family Planning.  As a couple, my husband and I need to always be evaluating what God is asking of us as parents. A future child will be someone’s future spouse some day, or maybe even the Pope, so God needs to be a part of our decisions for our family.  Therefore, in honor of National NFP Awareness Week, I’d like to offer these thoughts.

NFP (Natural Family Planning) is:
-100% scientifically proven, and 99% effective. You can accurately know when you are ovulating to achieve or postpone pregnancy.
-Encourages respect for your whole person, including your fertility, in the marital act.
-Fosters communication between spouses
-Is 100% natural, no artificial hormones or bad side effects (like every other contraceptive device out there). If you buy organic, then you need to be using NFP.

Practicing NFP isn’t always easy. But it’s the right thing to do. And most things that are right aren’t very easy. My dad said something to Nathan and I about NFP when we were engaged that I think everyone should know. He said that Natural Family Planning allows you to become fluent in the language of love (and who doesn’t want that?).  When you are abstaining to postpone pregnancy, it’s necessary to find other ways than having sex to express your love, like when you were engaged. Then when you can be intimate again, it’s like your honeymoon all over. In this way, your love is always fresh, new and exciting. After all, studies show that Catholics do have the best sex.

My last reflection is in honor of the 45th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (July 25th). In the encyclical, Pope Paul VI predicted that if we became a culture that used contraception, (birth control, condoms, IUDs and whatever else they’ve come up with),the following 3 things would happen:

1. An increase in marital infidelity and the general lowering of standards (TV, movies, pornography)

2. Men will “forget the reverence due a woman” and will reduce her to a “mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires” (HV 17) ie, Rape, prostitution, human trafficking, domestic abuse, etc.

3. Government imposition of whatever contraception they deem useful:
“Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.” (HV 17)  HHS mandate anyone?

You tell me if his predictions haven’t come true in the last 45 years.  Click here  for more information on Natural Family Planning. Or click here.  Happy NFP week!

Makeup Remover…and Chastity

Several years ago, I decided to try the Target brand of make-up remover over my usual fare since it was bigger and cheaper. The whole time I used it I was disappointed in how poorly it actually took off my makeup. Being cheap, when the bottle was used up I went out and bought the same kind again. Only this time I saw the directions on the label: shake well before using. My next thoughts went like this:

“Man! Why didn’t I see this before?”
“I’m glad I’ll be able to use this new bottle properly”
“This is kind of like chastity!”

My old youth minister Judy would be proud. She could relate anything to chastity. So here I was making the connection: stuff doesn’t work properly when you don’t follow the directions.  My mascara wouldn’t be removed if I didn’t shake the bottle. And so our bodies were made for love. But if we don’t follow God’s directions to practice chastity, we end up being used or using someone else. That’s because the definition of chastity is a virtue that frees all of our sexual thoughts, desires, and behaviors from self-seeking and orders them towards the truth of authentic love. My original thought at the time was to use the analogy in youth ministry, but I thought I’d revisit it for a look into married life.

As my last blog mentioned, authentic love is about willing the good of your beloved. It’s about sacrifice, self-giving, and openness to new life. Chastity is just as important IN marriage as it was before marriage.  The following summaries and quotes are taken from “The Good News about Sex and Marriage” by Christopher West.

Chastity in marriage means that sex is:

– an honest expression of the marriage commitment (free, total, faithful, fruitful) (pg.88)

-an unconditional surrender to each other in a completely naked and honest revelation, delving into the inexhaustible mystery of the other person (pg. 97)

Living the truth about sex is intensely joyous. There simply is nothing that compares to the satisfaction of living in accord with the image in which we’re made (Hence, the makeup remover analogy (pg. 99)

Chastity in marriage IS NOT:

-manipulating your spouse to have sex as a means for power, reward, or a need for gratification (pg. 90)

-seeking climax while being distant, or without being vulnerable, transparent and giving yourself as a total gift (pg. 90)

“If a husband and wife spontaneously follow their disordered passions, their love for each other will be overshadowed by self-seeking. They will inevitably end up using each other.” (Pg. 98)

“Is your desire for sex a desire to make a gift of yourself to your spouse and renew your marriage commitment? Or is it simply a desire to “relieve” yourself at their expense?”  (pg. 103)

“Fun is not the right word for marital union. Sublime ecstatic bliss is more like it… ‘In the joys of their love [God gives spouses] here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb.’ CCC 1642” (Pg. 99-100)

To sum it up, marriage isn’t a license to do anything sexual that you want with your spouse. It’s an expression of God’s love, a union of persons that is a gift to one another.  Chastity is simply using your body’s instructions properly!

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Love…and babies

I first met Nathan when I was a youth minister and he had joined my core team. For a while I figured he thought that I was annoying since he was so quiet around me.  Then, one day – over Facebook nonetheless – he told me that I was great and that there should be more “Allisons” in the world. Well that made it obvious he didn’t think I was annoying, if there should be more me’s running around. He reminded me of that conversation the other day, since now Nathan and I have a mini-me of each of us. See? Image

On the day of that Facebook conversation, we didn’t know we’d be getting married. But I did realize that he had a deep affection for me more than a crush, because that’s what love is – loving the other person so much you wish more of them existed. There are several kinds of love. You can love chocolate, you can love your pets and your siblings, but then there is agape – the Greek word for the total, unconditional, and self-giving love which brings more of that person you love into the world (through childbirth).  And so love is pro-life: it is fruitful; it expands and grows.

I love chocolate! I once had a chocolate-themed birthday party. And I loved my cat! I even wrote a song about how much I loved him when I was in elementary school. But I couldn’t marry either of them.  I have no doubt that two men or two women can love each other, but it cannot be married agape love because they cannot have children together.  There are two genders, and the two fit perfectly together to create new life. Two men or two women can’t do that!

 With the news of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding homosexual marriage, many heterosexual people seem to say “whatever, no big deal, that decision doesn’t affect me.” But it does, because marriage is the foundation of our existence and the foundation on which society is built.  Marriage used to mean babies, and that meant carrying on your lineage, it meant a workforce to pay your social security. But most importantly, marriage is about our children, and this new ruling seriously affects our children.  Psychology has shown the negative effects on children in the absence of a mother or a father. Would anyone want to intentionally deny a child of knowing their mother or their father? We already feel sympathy for a child who lost their parent through divorce or death. Children can rise from these unfortunate circumstances, and all healing comes through Jesus Christ, but why are we ruling for laws to make this the norm for our children? Are we saying we WANT them to be denied a mother or a father? 

Consider this: (1)
-In a study of 6,500 children, father closeness was negatively correlated with the amount of a child’s friends who smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and smoke marijuana.
-63% of youth who commit suicide are from fatherless homes.
-80% of rapists motivated by displaced anger come from fatherless homes.
-71% of all high school dropouts come from homes without a father. 

When “love” and marriage become about pleasure and feeling good, instead of about sacrifice and children, people get hurt. We’ve seen this start since people started  using contraception. Look at these staggering facts:

  • According to the National Women’s Study, 683,000 women are raped every year in the United States, which equals to 1,897 a day. (2)
  • In 2011, 61,472 cases of child sexual abuse were reported. Many, many more went unreported. (3)
  • Every year, 19 million people contract a new sexually transmitted infection. 1 in 4 teens gets an STI. (4)
  • It is estimated that the number of women and children sold into human sex trafficking are in the millions, making it the fastest growing business in organized crime today. (5)

 Also, Catholic charities in several states have been forced to close down by the government because they refuse to place children with homosexual couples. With this ruling, it will be more common to close down Catholic Charities, which is the 3rd largest charitable organization providing food, shelter, counseling, adoption, and pregnancy services to several million people each year. (6) Shutting these places down because they aren’t “PC” is simply wrong.

Simply put, love and marriage need to be for the purpose of babies; an agape love that is open to life.

 For more articles on this topic see: 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithonthecouch/2013/06/the-marriage-debate-what-not-to-do-and-what-to-do-instead/

http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/index.cfm

 References:
1: http://www.fatherhood.org/media/consequences-of-father-absence-statistics

     http://thefatherlessgeneration.wordpress.com/statistics/

2: http://www.crimevictimservices.org/page/sexassault/76

3: http://www.nctsn.org/resources/public-awareness/national-sexual-assault-awareness-month%20

4: http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/std-sti/std-statistics.html

5: http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/march_2011/human_sex_trafficking

6: http://old.usccb.org/comm/catholic-church-statistics.shtml