When God’s generosity meets the demands of conscience and science {Freedom’s Calling, part 7}

Today, please welcome Leslie Sholly for the final and seventh part in Freedom’s Calling – my series commemorating Humanae Vitae’s 50th anniversary and sharing the journeys of Catholics who have come to understand and embrace the truth of its teaching. For more information on the series, you can read part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 herepart 4 here, part 5 here, and part 6 here.

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I’m a cradle Catholic, born in 1967. And I recall hearing a lot about the birth control pill growing up. I doubt I had any idea how it worked, but I had the general impression from the books I read, the media I consumed, and the people I knew that taking it was just what people did.

I knew that Catholics weren’t supposed to use contraception, and I personally knew many families who appeared to take that teaching to heart. In my Catholic school at that time there were still many big Catholic families with seven kids or more. However, in twelve years of Catholic education I don’t recall EVER hearing this teaching explained. The Church, as I experienced it, taught it was wrong but not WHY. I definitely had the impression that this was some old-fashioned idea that was safe to ignore.

As I became more educated about abortion in high school, I learned about the abortifacient potential of the birth control pill and IUD. It was easy for me to see that those forms of birth control were wrong since they could end the life of a newly conceived baby, but there were still plenty of other non-abortifacient methods of contraception. Maybe the filmstrip about Natural Family Planning we watched as high school seniors referenced the teachings of Humanae Vitae, but all any of us heard were the embarrassing references to cervical mucus.

I did not live against this teaching, but only because there was no opportunity for me to do so. I remember having conversations about birth control with my college roommate and even looking at what was available in the local drug store. I didn’t have a boyfriend and I planned to wait until I was married anyway, but I figured I’d need this information in the future.

When I was a junior at Georgetown University, I took a course called Christian Marriage as part of my minor in Theology. I had been dating my now-husband for over a year then, and it was already pretty well understood that we’d be getting married when I graduated. Taking that class felt like a good step in preparing for marriage, but I had no idea how life-changing it would be.

This class was taught by a Jesuit priest named Father Kaifer. The texts I recall were Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, The Art of Natural Family Planning by John and Sheila Kippley, Certain Declarations Concerning Sexual Ethics by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI.

Somewhere earlier in my life I had picked up the understanding that I was free to follow my conscience if I did not agree with Church teaching. But no one had ever mentioned the necessity of properly forming my conscience first. And oh, did my conscience start pricking me more and more as I read through these books! How I wish I could go back and thank Father Kaifer. He must have been a very clever man to teach us why contraception was wrong and then, no doubt anticipating our arguments on the necessity of using it, to supply us with a solution in the form of Natural Family Planning!

Discovering the teachings in Humanae Vitae marked such a turning point in my life that I can remember exactly where I was when I was reading it. My husband, John, is from Baltimore, just an hour away from Georgetown. We had gone to his hometown for the weekend, and I was sitting inside studying while John was outside helping with an oil change. I remember being excited by what I read, thinking WOW! The Church doesn’t just make stuff up! It makes sense! There are reasons! But at the same time I was filled with discomfort and dismay, knowing that my conscience and my then non-Catholic boyfriend’s were not going to be in tune on this issue.

Here’s where The Art of Natural Family Planning saved the day. When the uncomfortable conversation that I was dreading took place, I was already armed with an alternative to artificial birth control that not only satisfied the demands of conscience, but was backed by science and was aesthetically superior to barrier methods as well. He reluctantly agreed that when the time came we would try things my way.

I charted my fertility signs for an entire year prior to our wedding. We were blessed with a phase III honeymoon. It would make a better story if it ended right here, but the fact is that our practice was less than perfect, AND I turned out to be super fertile, which meant that we welcomed three babies in four years. There was friction and disagreement and periods of dissent for a couple of years before I finally recommitted to what I knew was right.

My advice to anyone who struggles with this teaching: Start by reading Humanae Vitae, please. You cannot dissent from something you don’t fully understand. Then take an actual class in Natural Family Planning and get your spouse on board. We never did that—I was self-taught AND I took on all the responsibility for it. I can’t go back, but if I could that’s something I would change.

Online support groups or forums weren’t really a thing back then either, and I’m sure they can be very helpful to anyone who is struggling today. I know that there are sometimes life-and-death reasons for avoiding pregnancy, but if that’s not your situation I’d also like to add that you are far more likely to regret not having more kids than you are to regret having one you didn’t expect. We have a six year (planned!) gap between our third and fourth children, and I often wish there was another child in the middle of that gap. Leave room for God in your family planning, and He will give you the grace to live according to His design. He can never be outdone in generosity.

I describe myself on my blog as Catholic and Southern, Wife and Mother, which gives a quick but accurate snapshot of who I am and what is important to me. I was born and still live in Knoxville, Tennessee. I graduated from Georgetown University, majoring in Honors English and minoring in Theology, and meeting my husband in the process! We have been married for almost 29 years and have five children aged 13-27. In addition to blogging, I work at home as my husband’s legal assistant, and write grant proposals and do editing for a non-profit run by my mother. In the past I’ve worked as correspondent for our Diocesan paper and I wrote a column on life issues for several years. I was a charter member and long-term chair of our Diocesan Respect Life Committee, via which I helped to design a pro-life CCD curriculum, sponsored a conference on end-of-life issues, and gave many talks on abortion. My blog is now my primary ministry. My niche is hard to define because I write about what I care about, which covers a lot of territory: Faith, Politics, Education, Parenting, Graveyards, Gardening, Hiking, and the occasional recipe or product review!

You can find me on:
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Want more of this series?

Part 1: My Introduction

Part 2: Celebrating the responsibility of our creative power with Amy Thomas of Catholic Pilgrim

Part 3: Self Control and Our Ultimate Mission with Kristi Denoy of Hail Marry

Part 4: The Ripple Effect of Chastity in my Life with Katie Herzing of Becoming Perfectly Myself

Part 5: Moved by NFP with Heidi Indahl of Work and Play, Day by Day

Part 6: Freedom in Surrender with Laura Durant of Healing Heart of Jesus

This brings the series to a close. Thanks very much for your ongoing support of these important conversations!

Freedom in Surrender {Freedom’s Calling, part 6}

Today, please welcome Laura Durant for part six in Freedom’s Calling – my series commemorating Humanae Vitae’s 50th anniversary and sharing the journeys of Catholics who have come to understand and embrace the truth of its teaching. For more information on the series, you can read part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, and part 7 here.

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I grew up in the Catholic faith. At about age 14 I was given the standard “sex talk” (i.e., sex was meant for marriage and not before), but there was no mention of contraception. I started using the pill in high school, due to irregular and heavy menstrual cycles.

I was unaware of the Church’s teaching on contraception (including within a spousal relationship) until probably in my late 20’s, when we began marriage preparation. As I slowly learned more about Church teaching in this area, I received mixed signals. For example, I knew devout Catholics who said it was okay to use the pill while married to space pregnancies.

As part of our marriage preparation, my husband and I had education on Natural Family Planning and learned the true teaching of the Church on human sexuality. Even then, I had a priest assure me I was not sinning by continuing to use the pill to avoid conception, as my husband and I at that time didn’t feel we were ready to have children right away and I was not confident in our ability to use NFP to avoid pregnancy. Having a priest, who must certainly know the truth, assure me I was not sinning eased my anxiety and fear that I was living in sin. I lament at how much damage is done by misguided priests, religious, and lay persons who do not speak the truth of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. It confuses the faithful and those who desire to live by Church teaching but are struggling with it.

Continuing to use the pill did great spiritual damage, as I was not completely surrendering my marriage and my fertility to God. It also did emotional and physical damage, which I would not fully become aware of until a couple of years later when we felt we were ready to children.

Having used the pill for as long as I did caused challenges with my reproductive system and it took close to a year for my menstrual cycle to return to normal once I stopped taking it. I was blind to the spiritual void I was living in by not allowing God completely into our marriage. However, God is good and seeks to redeem us in our woundedness. This is an area He continues to provide great healing in each day.

We began to embrace Church teaching more fully, and began charting again. We visited the Vitae Clinic in Austin to determine the reasons behind our inability to conceive. I found the many tests and treatments exhausting and stressful, but always had a sense of peace that I needed to experience this. The staff and care at the Vitae Clinic was truly loving and compassionate.

After some time undergoing unsuccessful treatments, it was with a great sense of peace that we decided to discontinue actively pursuing pregnancy and leave our fertility in God’s hands. Since coming to live in full conformity with Church teaching on sexuality, we continue to give ourselves fully to each other and to our marriage. It is a continual process and requires ongoing discussion and discernment. Life is more fulfilling and our marriage is flourishing spiritually. We really do focus each day on helping the other to grow in holiness.

My advice to people struggling with this topic: Go to the source and learn what the Church teaches. Read the official documents. Do not rely on others to tell you what the Church teaches.

Inevitably, there will be some things about Church teaching that will concern you, challenge you, and you will not understand. Take all this to prayer and tell Jesus the areas you are struggling with. Ask Him to show you the truth. Learning to live with Church teaching will not always be easy, but as Christians, we are to live as Jesus did and Jesus’ life was not easy! Do not be afraid, as Jesus will give you the strength needed to live out your life as He wishes, even if it is difficult.

If you are in a marriage where your spouse is having a more difficult time with accepting and living out Church teaching in this area than you are, do the best thing you can do for them – pray for them and trust in the Divine Mercy of Jesus! Ask Him to show you how to love and accept your spouse for where they are. He will transform their hearts, just as He is transforming yours. Trust in His mercy! Trust in His love!

Early in my journey of understanding Church teaching, I began reading the Theology of the Body by Christopher West. I did not read the actual full document of Humanae Vitae until recently. I can’t help but wonder how my life may have been different if I had been exposed to this teaching in my teenage or young adult years.

I’ve enjoyed reading books by St. Pope John Paul II, including Love and Responsibility (by then Karol Wojtyla). I would also suggest reading the Song of Songs. The Song of Songs does not detail Church teaching on marriage and sexuality, however, many see it as a portrayal of ideal human love, also of the union of Christ and the Church – which is what marriage between a man and a woman should symbolize on earth. I believe until we fully understand what God intends us to experience in this union, the true extent and degree of joy we are to experience in our hearts, it can be more difficult to live out the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. The Song of Songs is a beautiful portrayal of mutual love in which the lovers give of themselves fully and completely.

The teaching of the Church leads us to experience this love in the way in which God intends us to – in complete freedom and as a total gift of ourselves to the other. Once we understand in the depths of our hearts what God intends, it is much easier to live with the sacrifice that comes with living out the teaching of the Church on marriage and sexuality. If we live out our marriage with total giving of ourselves to our spouse (or to the Church and God’s people, as a priest, religious or single person), it is a life that comes with experiencing pure joy, not expecting anything in return for the total gift of yourself, but somehow receiving more from your spouse (or from the Church and God’s people) than you could ever ask for.

Laura Durant blogs at HealingHeartofJesus.com. She is married to her husband of 10+ years, and is the mother of two fur babies. She enjoys spending time with Jesus in Adoration, pondering His mercy, healing, and many blessings.

She is a cradle Catholic Christian and member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites of the Province of St. Therese (Oklahoma Province). In living her Carmelite spirituality, she has been brought to a greater love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The fruit of her devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary are the prayers and reflections she writes – which lead all to rest in the Heart of Jesus.

She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, and a master’s degree in Professional Counseling from Texas State University – San Marcos.

You can connect with Laura over at her blog, Facebook, Facebook group, Instagram, and Twitter.

Want more of this series?

Part 1: My Introduction

Part 2: Celebrating the responsibility of our creative power with Amy Thomas of Catholic Pilgrim

Part 3: Self Control and Our Ultimate Mission with Kristi Denoy of Hail Marry

Part 4: The Ripple Effect of Chastity in my Life with Katie Herzing of Becoming Perfectly Myself

Part 5: Moved by NFP with Heidi Indahl of Work and Play, Day by Day

Part 7 (the end): When God’s generosity meets the demands of conscience and sciencewith Leslie Sholly of Life in Every Limb

Moved by NFP {Freedom’s Calling, part 5}

Today, please welcome Heidi Indahl for part five in Freedom’s Calling – my series commemorating Humanae Vitae’s 50th anniversary and sharing the journeys of Catholics who have come to understand and embrace the truth of its teaching. For more information on the series, you can read part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 6 here, and part 7 here.

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Fifteen years ago, I had no idea that I would one day join the Catholic Church. My husband and I were happily married in our mainline protestant congregation and enjoyed what we considered a perfectly pleasant married life, following a relatively typical dating period.

I didn’t know Humanae Vitae existed.

Honestly, we started using hormonal birth control because we thought that’s just what everyone did. Early in our marriage, however, my husband and I became heavily convicted that typical birth control methods were not for us. There was a spiritual component, but for us it started as a health issue. We conceived early in our marriage (while on birth control) and subsequently miscarried. The pill made me feel like garbage, and switching to another form of hormonal birth control didn’t help.

As our research into hormonal birth control alternatives went deeper, we began to come across the idea of openness to life and found there was a great deal of scriptural support. At the time, we were looking largely at the perspective of the quiverfull movement. We found a great deal that we agreed with in the quiverfull teachings, that opened our hearts to the possibilities of a God planned family, but ultimately it still felt incomplete.

Ultimately , we explored Natural Family Planning specifically due to a chance encounter of Sheila Kippley’s book, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, which I picked up at a local La Leche League meeting.

At first, I was simply looking for an alternative to birth control, but I found so much more.

As we began to learn and grow more, we began to be converted towards this idea of God’s design for our family. What were our complimentary contributions to be made to our married and family life? How did God want us to use NFP to be open to life? What were our duties as parents? What did that mean? I read Kimberly Hahn’s Graced and Gifted cover to cover more than once before even considering joining the Church. Within a few short years, I was pretty sure that Catholics had this family thing right.

Once we overcame the hurdle of artificial birth control in our marriage, the rest of the pieces to Theology of the Body and sacramental marriage began to snowball and build to the understanding we have today. Along the way, it became increasingly clear that we believed or at least agreed with essentially everything the Church teaches regarding human sexuality. Those beliefs became so entrenched in our understanding of our relationship that we could no longer find a mainstream protestant or evangelical church that would support them.

The Catholic Church was the only one that consistently lined up with our beliefs on life, contraception, and family.

I’ll never forget the look of relief on the priest’s face when, preparing us for our confirmation, he brought up the topic of the Church’s beautiful teachings on married life. You could tell he had been there before with couples, put in the position of trying to defend something that our culture fights so deeply against. To hear that we were already practicing NFP, that we already believed our duty as a married couple was to be open to life, was a pleasant surprise and a relief.

Still it took years before I ever heard the phrase Humanae Vitae and longer for me to realize it was a document I could read. My technical knowledge was late in coming and remains incomplete. From JPII’s Letter to Women (the first papal statement I ever read) to Humanae Vitae, each “discovery” of Church teachings on human sexuality and the unique dignity of each gender has added to my love of this truth.

Looking forward, the gifts of Humanae Vitae continue to unfold in our marriage and we pray that other couples, Catholic and not, can discover the freedom and beauty of our Church’s wisdom in right ordered relationships.

Heid is a Catholic author, blogger, and speaker. She and her husband live with their seven children on a small farm in southern Minnesota. Her book Blessed Is The Fruit of Thy Womb: Rosary Reflections for Miscarriage, Stillbirth, & Infant Loss, is available from Peanut Butter & Grace Publishing/Gracewatch Media. She is also a regular contributor to the Peanut Butter & Grace Family Time! newsletters on topics such as pregnancy & infant loss, liturgical living, and intentional family life. Look for announcements on new Peanut Butter & Grace print resources from Heidi later this summer. You can follow her over at her blog Work and Play, Day by Day, Instagram, and Facebook for the latest news.

Want more of this series?

Part 1: My Introduction

Part 2: Celebrating the responsibility of our creative power with Amy Thomas of Catholic Pilgrim

Part 3: Self Control and Our Ultimate Mission with Kristi Denoy of Hail Marry

Part 4: The Ripple Effect of Chastity in my Life with Katie Herzing of Becoming Perfectly Myself

Part 6: Freedom in Surrender with Laura Durant Healing Heart of Jesus

Part 7 (the end): When God’s generosity meets the demands of conscience and sciencewith Leslie Sholly of Life in Every Limb

The Ripple Effect of Chastity in my Life {Freedom’s Calling, part 4}

Today, please welcome Katie Herzing for part four in Freedom’s Calling – my series commemorating Humanae Vitae’s 50th anniversary and sharing the journeys of Catholics who have come to understand and embrace the truth of this teaching. For more information on the series, you can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, and part 7 here.

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I have spent my entire life in the Catholic Church from being Baptized on Easter Sunday, less than a month after I was born, until now at 33. Somehow, somewhere along the way I was given the supernatural gift of faith, and even through high school, college, and my 20’s I have remained in the Church. I studied Theology in college with the intention of being a youth minister, and since graduating in 2007, I have worked for the Church or a Church-based organization all but a few months.

I say none of that to boast about ‘how Catholic I am,’ but to just explain the importance of the Church and her teachings in my life. I once ran a round-table discussion in college called “The Mis-Conceptions of Contraception” where we talked through all of the things we should know about contraception. This was when I learned the whys of what the Church teaches – the basics of what Pope Paul VI explained in Humane Vitae.

I was an eager college student studying theology, so none of the Church’s teachings seemed like a shock to my lifestyle. I wasn’t dating anyone, and knew that if I was, we wouldn’t be sleeping together before marriage. I also wanted desperately to be a mom to a lot of children (to be honest, I still do). I learned some of the medical truths about contraception including the risks that the woman takes on and other health issues. None of these are secrets, but they are either pushed under the rug or ignored in favor of so-called sexual freedom. I always knew that because of the risks, and my understanding of Catholic teaching, contraception would never be an option for me. [And just recently my doctor asked if I wanted her to prescribe something “to help with cramps,” and I asked “well, what would that be?” She of course said “the pill,” and I said, “I’ll stick with the ibuprofen.”]

In the midst of all this, I’ve been single the entire time, and we can define that as “extra single.” That is to say, none of my experiences with contraception have anything to do with my marriage or pregnancy (achieving or avoiding). However, I think they have a great deal to do with my life. Why is this? As a single woman, I am preparing for my future vocation, which I believe to be marriage. In this, I’m working on bending my will, sacrificing, and living a life of virtue. One of the virtues I’m trying to live out is chastity. This is not just “not having sex” but includes more of how I integrate my sexuality as a woman into the entirety of my life. It affects the way I dress, where I choose to spend my weekends, and how I think about myself.

It took me a lot of time, and a few counseling sessions, to get to a point where I can say (and truly believe) that “I’m worth this. I’m worthy of love. I’m worthy of greatness.” This isn’t boasting, it’s living in the truth of who God created me to be.

I also believe that contraception has a wide reach into our larger society’s culture, values, and habits.

In the 60’s when Humane Vitae was promulgated by Pope Paul VI, the rise of the second wave feminist movement was just beginning. He predicted that if we allowed the use of contraception (a fundamental tenet of the mainstream secular feminist movement then and now), we would see a rise in marital infidelity, a general lowering of moral standards, and a rise in disrespect for women. I believe all three of those have come to fruition, even in Catholic circles. Pope Paul VI was quite the prophet.

There are many people who believe that using contraception in their private marriage has no effect on the larger community. The truth is that immediately it doesn’t seem to. Not immediately. If only one person was using contraception, we probably wouldn’t have the same issues that we have now. But most women are using contraception – married and unmarried. According to the CDC, nearly 100% of modern women will use a form of contraception in their lifetime. The idea of a “contraceptive mentality” is really just another phrase for the reality of our culture’s current mentality about children.

Contraception divorces sex from babies. I imagine this is an attractive idea to many people who enjoy the pleasurable nature of sex, and those throughout time who thought they should be able to experience that without the natural possibility of assuming the responsibility of raising a child. If I am blessed to be married, I’m certain there will be moments in our life that my husband and I will desire to be together without the prospect of a baby coming nine months later. It’s natural for us to be tempted by this thinking. But I also know that children are one of the primary reasons why God designed spouses to come together in this way free from barriers.

Our culture says the Church is oppressing us because she has restricted us from using contraception. However, when you live in the truth of the teaching, she is protecting us, respecting us, and upholding our dignity. The Church is protecting us from the physical and social consequences of putting our will, our pleasures, and our desires above what God has called us to. The Church respects women so much she doesn’t want them to be belittled, used for the pleasure of their bodies, and discarded. She upholds the dignity of the woman, the dignity of who she was created to be, and the dignity of her exquisite life-bearing nature.

Most people will say that this is hard to live out. I would agree, but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it. I don’t imagine that practicing NFP in my future marriage would be rainbows and sunshine every day. Nothing worthwhile is. I do believe that as a single person I’m preparing myself for it now by learning and embracing what the Church teaches and why.

I am practicing sacrifice when I invite a friend to stay with me for a few weeks while she’s in need during a hard transition.

I am practicing service when I make a meal for a friend or watch their little ones so they can have a date night.

I am practicing self-control when I deny myself an extra sweet or work out even when I don’t want to.

I am practicing love when I sit with friends listening to their struggles and encouraging them to stay strong.

I am practicing virtue now to build my muscles for when it’s harder.

Living the virtue of chastity (which is what Humane Vitae is all about at its core), isn’t easy, especially in our culture so intent on convincing us it’s useless. However, I’ve found without a shadow of a doubt that the Church is right and that living this way is worth it. I’m worth it. You’re worth it.

Katie has lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the last ten years. She loves Jesus, enjoys cooking, DIYing and decorating at home, reading lots of books (her goal in 2018 is 175!), and blogging about trying to grow in virtue. Her “day job” is helping Churches grow and thrive, so she travels a lot and chronicles her travel adventures on Instagram. No trip is without incident!

You can connect with her online over on Instagram and at her blog Becoming Perfectly Myself.

Want more of this series?

Part 1: My Introduction

Part 2: Celebrating the responsibility of our creative power with Amy Thomas of Catholic Pilgrim

Part 3: Self Control and Our Ultimate Mission with Kristi Denoy of Hail Marry

Part 5: Moved by NFP with Heidi Indahl of Work and Play, Day by Day

Part 6: Freedom in Surrender with Laura Durant Healing Heart of Jesus

Part 7 (the end): When God’s generosity meets the demands of conscience and sciencewith Leslie Sholly of Life in Every Limb

Self Control and Our Ultimate Mission {Freedom’s Calling, part 3}

Today, please welcome Kristi Denoy for part three in Freedom’s Calling – my series commemorating Humanae Vitae’s 50th anniversary and sharing the journeys of Catholics who have come to understand and embrace the truth of this teaching. For more information on the series, you can read part 1 here, part 2 herepart 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, and part 7 here.

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Growing up Catholic, I attended Mass sporadically, although I did hit all of the sacraments basically on time. In ninth grade, my then-BFF, who was also Catholic, took me to her parish for religious education.

There I learned about the Church’s stance on life in a slightly wrong, surface level. The message I learned was that pro-life meant anti-abortion. I knew abortion was wrong and premarital sex was outside of God’s plan. I knew nothing about openness to life within marriage or that contraception was also contrary to Church teaching. I wore my virginity proudly, too, planning to wait until marriage.

For myself.

For others, I had more of a secular mindset. I thought that if you were sinning by having sex before marriage, you might as well add on another sin and use a condom so you don’t get pregnant.

This lopsided outlook was formed by what I learned from my parents, my youth minister and his wife, late 1990’s to early 2000’s teen movies, my classmates, and a combination of Teen, Seventeen, Teen People, and YM magazines.

My virginity lasted until my freshman year of college, when I had my first boyfriend. I was pro-condom and went on a low-risk artificial hormonal birth control pill. Despite being a founding member of a Catholic sorority in college, I was involved in relationships, casual hookups, and a couple of one-night stands. I knew that my actions were against what the Church taught, but I had begun to fall away and didn’t really care. It felt good, I liked it, and I was having fun.

This lifestyle continued after college graduation, into my early adulthood. It created a unique situation in that I didn’t really get to know my partner, even if I called him “boyfriend.” For me, it ultimately led to a rushed wedding and a marriage that was quite short-lived which ended in divorce and left me a single mom.

About two and a half years after my divorce, I decided to really learn what the Catholic Church taught about sex, marriage, and contraception. I was yearning for a closer relationship with God and a deeper connection that I had been missing. My daughter was growing, and I wanted to bring her up in the faith; thus, I wanted to know exactly what that faith taught that I had somehow missed. I did this primarily by listening to The SonRise Morning Show on my morning commute and Catholic Answers Live on my drive home. I had no idea that contraception can be a mortal sin or how it worked biologically. At this point, I was 25 and fully ready to research more and live out the faith I claimed.

Once my first marriage was annulled, I considered dating again. I turned to Catholic Match and met some nice guys, dated a couple, and married one of those. Once in a relationship, it was extremely difficult to avoid falling into my old dating habits, even though I fully understood Church teaching as it pertained to dating.

When my husband and I became engaged and I learned that only Natural Family Planning was available to Catholic couples as a means to space pregnancies, I was upset. It took me a little bit longer as well as reading Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West and Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love by Edward Sri and lots of prayer and discussion to accept this hard truth.

Further, I studied the teachings of Blessed Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae and found him to be so utterly prophetic, it was eerie. Contraception hurts women, ultimately, and marriages. I know this first-hand from my experience. As a self-proclaimed feminist, that’s something I cannot support. As a practicing Catholic, it’s something that I cannot accept for myself.

For those who are currently where I once was, I recommend really diving into Humanae Vitae and the books I listed. Once you read truth, it’s hard to ignore it. Natural Family Planning can be frustrating because it requires faith, prayer, trust, and self-control. RIght now, I’m just a few months postpartum after a VBAC, so my husband and I have discerned that we need to abstain for medical reasons. This self-control is a good thing, though, especially in the entitled culture in which we live. When abstinence is difficult for us, we cling to one another in non-physical ways, such as deep conversation or watching YouTube video after YouTube video of bad lip readings or “honest” movie trailers, still fostering intimacy.

The ultimate mission of matrimony is to help my husband get to heaven. The ultimate mission for us, as Christians is to bring others to Christ through our witness. The ultimate mission for Catholics is that we are called to be saints; a call to holiness. Adhering to the teachings within Humanae Vitae are an excellent way to fulfill that mission.

Kristi Denoy blogs and podcasts at www.hailmarry.org, where Catholic marriage and motherhood are discussed. She is proudly married to her CatholicMatch and mama to two beautiful girls, ages 9 years and 3 months, respectively. Her writing has also appeared on Spoken Bride, Catholic Match, and Not So Formulaic and she’s been a radio guest on A Seeking Heart with Allison Gingras on Breadbox Media and The Jennifer Fulwiler Show on Sirius XM. You can connect with Kristi via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Want more of this series?

Part 1: My introduction

Part 2: Celebrating the responsibility of our creative power with Amy Thomas of Catholic Pilgrim

Part 4: The Ripple Effect of Chastity in my Life with Katie Herzing of Becoming Perfectly Myself

Part 5: Moved by NFP with Heidi Indahl of Work and Play, Day by Day

Part 6: Freedom in Surrender with Laura Durant Healing Heart of Jesus

Part 7 (the end): When God’s generosity meets the demands of conscience and science with Leslie Sholly of Life in Every Limb

Celebrating the responsibility of our creative power {Freedom’s Calling, part 2}

Today, please welcome Amy Thomas for part two in Freedom’s Calling – my series commemorating Humanae Vitae’s 50th anniversary and sharing the journeys of Catholics who have come to understand and embrace the truth of this teaching. For more information on the series, you can read part 1 here, part 3 herepart 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, and part 7 here.

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I grew up in the Disciples of Christ church. Growing up, there was never any talk about contraception. My parents never really talked to me about it and really the only thing I knew about it was through school and friends. When I turned 18, I went with a girlfriend down to the local health clinic and got on birth control pills. It was just what you did. I didn’t even think twice about it, because nearly every girl I knew was on birth control pills. It almost seemed like an initiation into womanhood.

Looking back now, I am shocked at how little I knew about the pill and how willing I was to ingest something without even considering it. I fell in lock-step with what the culture told me was normal and gave it little thought. When I went to the health clinic, they didn’t run any medical tests to see if I was in a healthy condition to take these pills. They didn’t ask about my health history. They didn’t educate me at all about the pill, other than to tell me how to take it. I had no clue what it did to my body or how it worked. The whole process took maybe a half and hour. At the end of my appointment, they handed me my little brown bag of free pills and off I went.

It’s interesting, but there wasn’t a single person in my teen years that offered a different view about contraception. I just assumed that it was the “responsible” thing to do, because that’s what teachers in school told me. I didn’t understand my body and how it worked. Sure, I knew that sex brought about babies and I knew that a woman had a menstrual cycle. However, I was extremely ignorant about the workings of the female body and fertility. I was influenced most by my friends who all encouraged me to be on the pill, and my boyfriends who happily endorsed it.

Before I became Catholic, I was extremely against Catholicism. However, I knew very little or nothing at all about the Catholic faith and its teachings. My husband is Catholic and when we married, I was completely in the dark on the Catholic teachings on contraception. At the Engaged Encounter we attended before marriage, the speakers touched on the Church’s teachings, but it was difficult for me to fully take it in. One really needs to understand the Catholic Church before being hit with what it teaches about contraception.

I remember that I didn’t really think much about what the speakers said. At that time, I wasn’t Catholic and didn’t plan on becoming Catholic. In my mind there was no reason for me to accept what the Church taught regarding this subject. Plus, I couldn’t fully grasp what the speakers were teaching because I didn’t have a frame of reference for anything that they were talking about.

At that time, my husband was lukewarm in his faith and I don’t think he fully understood the Catholic view of human sexuality. We lived against the teachings, but mostly because we didn’t understand it and I was still Protestant. There was really nothing that was going to make me stop and consider the ramifications of taking birth control, except a wake-up call. God gave me that wake-up call in my late 20’s. A health scare related to the pill started my husband and I on a path that really opened our eyes to the beauty and truth of what the Catholic Church teaches on this subject.

Very quickly back when I had started taking the pill in high school, I started having terrible side effects. In college, I had an incident that found me faint, delirious, and foaming at the mouth in a restaurant bathroom. I went to the hospital and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. Then one afternoon at home I started reading all about the side effects of the pill on my package insert. I was experiencing nearly all of them and so I stopped taking it. Not wanting to get pregnant, I went to the doctor and she immediately put me on a lower dose pill. No check-up, no discussion of healthier alternatives. The only option was a lower dose pill.

I took that pill and over the years I switched from one pill to the next because of adverse side effects. One day in 2009, I was at work and I had this horrible pain in my heart that spread up into my left shoulder and down my arm. I immediately googled it and everything that came up was linked to birth control pills. All the warnings said to stop taking the pill immediately if you felt that pain. I called my husband and he told me that this had to stop. We decided that ingesting birth control pills wasn’t good for my health anymore. But, what to do?

Slowly but surely, we found our way to Natural Family Planning. To my surprise, I found that it made sense and was reasonable and logical. Through learning about NFP, I became enraged that I had never learned the wonder of my body. A woman’s body is amazing. All the signs it gives you to help you understand your cycle and fertility are fascinating. We do such a disservice to young people by just throwing contraception at them and telling them that this is the only way to be responsible. Once my husband and I were taught how to use NFP, we’ve never looked back. It’s healthy, promotes communication, and helps me to understand my body and not treat my fertility as if it’s something awful to be feared.

There are times when NFP requires discipline and sacrifice, but it’s not impossible to practice. Discipline makes us better people. Sacrifice helps us to grow in love and shed selfish tendencies.

The Church doesn’t want women ingesting or inserting harmful things into our bodies. Our natural fertility is not an enemy to snuff out with harmful chemicals. Our reproductive system is the only system where we as humans use chemicals and other means in order to keep it from working naturally. Nobody is taking pills to make their heart stop beating. Nobody wants to insert a device that makes their kidneys not function properly. The Church is protecting us from harmful products that the world would have us use in the interest of pleasure without natural consequences.

Most important of all is the fact that bringing forth life is not a bad thing. It’s a beautiful thing! That the marital embrace can bring forth life and spouses can be co-creators with God of a new human being is truly amazing. This should be celebrated.

Amy hails from the great state of Kansas, though she’s lived the last 16 years away from the “Land of Oz” traveling the country with with her Air Force Airman. She graduated from Kansas State University in 2001 and married her love, Dustin, that same year. She has three amazing kiddos–two daughters and a son. Amy runs the website Catholic Pilgrim where she loves to write about the incredible journey of living a genuine, authentic Catholic life. You can connect with her online over on Instagram and on her Facebook page Catholic Pilgrim.

Suggested resources:

Amy found the Couple to Couple League Magazine helpful, as well as the help and encouragement of Catholic bloggers on social media who devote a lot of energy to this topic. Catholic Wife, Catholic Life and To Jesus, Sincerely are two of her favorites.

Want more of this series?

Part 1: My Introduction 

Part 3: Self Control and Our Ultimate Mission with Kristi Denoy of Hail Marry

Part 4: The Ripple Effect of Chastity in my Life with Katie Herzing of Becoming Perfectly Myself

Part 5: Moved by NFP with Heidi Indahl of Work and Play, Day by Day

Part 6: Freedom in Surrender with Laura Durant Healing Heart of Jesus

Part 7 (the end): When God’s generosity meets the demands of conscience and science with Leslie Sholly of Life in Every Limb

Charlie Gard and difficult medical decisions

If you’ve been on social media lately, you’ve probably seen someone post about Charlie Gard, the 10 month old London resident who will most likely die soon due to infantile onset encephalomyopathy mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome (MDDS). For us non-medical professionals, it’s a genetic disease where muscles and the brain progressively deteriorate and lose function, leading to death.

It’s tragic.

There’s only so much you can do in a situation like this. So Charlie’s parent’s wanted to bring him to the US to undergo an experimental treatment. They made a treatment plan with a leading expert and raised over a million pounds to cover expenses. Under their socialized medicine, though, Charlie’s specialists decided it would be in Charlie’s best interest to not pursue the experimental treatment and remove life support.

Charlie’s parents appealed, but lost their legal battle. They cannot take Charlie to the US or home to die naturally. The State has the final say.

Understandably so, many people are enraged at the State’s usurping of parental rights. I am too. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to receive such a diagnosis for your child, and then to be prevented from pursuing your last hope of treatment. So what’s the point in writing about this?

The Pontifical Academy for Life recently released a statement on this, and some people are losing their minds over it. So let’s clear a few things up:

The issue here is not the removal of life support – in this case, a ventilator. The issue is the State (using that term generally to refer to various local and national legal entities) usurping the parental right to pursue a treatment plan and decide, in consultation with specialists, if and when life support becomes burdensome and should be removed.

Removing life support is not always (though can be) equal to murder. Some of the headlines are absolutely ridiculous on this. Catholic bioethical standards are clear on ordinary versus extraordinary means of keeping individuals alive. We must take advantage of ordinary means of maintaining life. But we are not obligated to pursue extraordinary means of prolonging life when they “do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit, do entail an excessive burden, or do impose excessive expense on the family or the community”.

This is not something we as the public can decide for Charlie, as it’s a delicate line the medical professionals involved need to determine with the parents.

So when The Academy says: “we do . . . have to recognize the limitations of what can be done, while always acting humanely in the service of the sick person until the time of natural death occurs” – they’re absolutely right. Charlie’s doctors and parents seem to disagree about those limitations, unfortunately, which is where the problem exists.

It’s true that parents “must be helped to understand the unique difficulty of their situation”, as The Academy says. That doesn’t mean in this particular case the specialists or State were correct. It doesn’t mean the Vatican “sided with the State” as irresponsible journalists are titling their pieces. But I think we can all recognize that parents naturally would fight for their children. In some cases, they may fight beyond the time when a reasonable chance of recovery exists, which I think the Academy is making a point to recognize as a possibility in cases like this.

What can we gather from this?

Bioethics are extremely complicated. We know that any “act or omission that of itself or by intention causes death to alleviate suffering” is always morally wrong. So no, we shouldn’t advocate for “pulling the plug” to get it over with already. Life support should not be removed to hasten death.

From what I’ve read, that seems to be the problem here. The State seems to be hastening death when Charlie’s parents were prepared to pursue one last treatment that might have been able to reasonably help and improve Charlie’s life. The State is dead wrong to usurp parental rights, that’s for sure. But that’s the problem, not the removal of life support – which is a difficult decision we’re not qualified to make.

We need to be clear in our language, and try to understand this as best we can if we’re going to talk about it.

To learn more about issues like this, The National Catholic Bioethics Center is the best resource I know of to explore these kinds of bioethical issues. You can even email or call one of their ethicists for a consultation if you are facing an ethical dilemma or difficult medical decision.

If you’re left with questions still, let’s talk. And during this extremely difficult and tragic time, let’s pray for Charlie’s family and medical professionals.

To Life,

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7QT, Vol. 66: Jury duty, summer, and adulting

Time for some quick takes on this Friday afternoon! Head over to Kelly’s place for more.

1. This week I served jury duty. I was on standby the night before. Then when I checked back, I had 1:30 to report downtown. We all sat in a giant room (at least 200 people), and then I was one of 84 people called into a courtroom to start the jury selection process. The charge was read to us, and we filled out a questionnaire about related past experiences of ours. The next day, I was one of 24 called up to the jury box to begin questioning. It was a loooooong day. And I was SHOCKED at the number of people who had difficulty following instructions. I had to come in for a third day, and was thankful to be excused then. It was fascinating to see part of the process, but I have a trip coming up and it would have been too much time away from work.

2. Speaking of, I’ve officially been at my job for a year! It was quite the experience ending up where I am, but it’s good to be here. It’s not what I expected, and who knows what the future holds. But I’m thankful to be gainfully employed.

3. In other adulting news, my sister and I have been thinking of starting an Etsy shop with greeting cards and prints. We’re experimenting with watercolor and calligraphy. Anyone have a favorite quote or type of card you’d like but can’t find?

4. Have any favorite summer recipes? This salad is the bomb diggity. This lemon ice is refreshing and light and originally from an American Girl cookbook.

5. Did you see that video preview yesterday from The Center for Medical Progress? Well, a judge ordered it to be removed from YouTube. Ask me more about it if you want to hear a rant/rage. I have no patience or tolerance for killing babies, profiting off of it, and then people trying to cover their butts. NOT. GONNA. HAPPEN.

6. In better news, this is an interesting article about the boom in young Catholic women starting initiatives and organizations. I’ve noticed this trend, and am grateful for so many fellow young Catholic women living out their faith and fulfilling needs of our world hungering for our authentic witness. I do honestly wonder if guys have the same wealth of resources, though. Hmm. Any thoughts on that?

7. Lastly, Happy Memorial Day. Let’s give special thanks this weekend for those who have given their lives for our country.

That’s it for now! What have you been up to lately? Have any thoughts on my takes?

To Life,

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On defunding Planned Parenthood

Leading up to the nationwide Protest Planned Parenthood rallies (which occurred last Saturday), I spoke with a reporter about why I am one of many people who support stripping the group of federal funding. I appreciated being able discuss my position, one that many people in my local vicinity would consider ridiculous. And I truly respect journalists who take time to listen and include both sides of the issues they cover. But when the article came out, the pro-life position was sorely misrepresented and under-represented.

So here’s my response.

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There seems to be this prevailing mindset in America that Planned Parenthood is the primary healthcare provider for low-income women. It’s true that according to PP, 60% of their patients rely on programs such as Medicaid to receive services. And I want to be clear that my goal is not to take away ethical and needed medical care from anyone. Quite the opposite, I am in full support of resources such as the developing app Help Assist Her, which will make affordable healthcare resources more easily accessible. But most of the arguments, if you can call them that, coming from Planned Parenthood supporters center on this point.

There are several problems with this narrative:

Relatively speaking, Planned Parenthood sees a minuscule number of Americans. Out of ~320 million citizens, they see about 2.5 million/year, so about .7%. Saying millions of women will lose their healthcare is at best a gross exaggeration. Of course some people have had cancer detected and STD’s caught at PP clinics. That’s not what I’m talking about though.

People need far more comprehensive healthcare than what Planned Parenthood offers. We know from recent videos released from Live Action that Planned Parenthood is dishonest about many of their services. Most recently, we’ve realized how they’ve exaggerated the prenatal care only a few of their clinics offer. Most facilities will only see pregnant women who are seeking an abortion. It’s no surprise, then, that abortion equals about 94% of pregnancy outcomes for PP patients.

We also know that Planned Parenthood has been involved in extensive Medicaid fraud. See results of recent audits starting on page 311 of this document. Shouldn’t this be part of the conversation? Especially since a LOT of their funding comes from Medicaid reimbursements, I think we need to be honest about how the funding they receive is billed and used.

One of THE most important parts of this conversation, I think, is that while abortion, sterilization, and contraceptive services have been increasing in number over the last several years, PP’s other (less controversial) services such as prenatal care, STD tests, breast exams, etc.) have steadily been decreasing (details). If we want to have a logical conversation about policy and federal funding, then I need to know why our government should fund an organization so focused on a limited number of controversial services.

And finally, if serving women and families and impoverished individuals is a priority for Planned Parenthood, wouldn’t they find a way to do so without federal funding? This is how many non-profits work. They depend on people who believe in their mission to keep the doors open. So why is PP an exception? Why would federal funding being taken away from PP stop them from seeing the patients they care so much about? You see, it wouldn’t. They’d just have to do it on their own dime, not mine. That’s obviously a scary thought to an entity whose budget is funded over 40% by our government.

This issue is about so much more than abortion. Yes, Planned Parenthood is America’s largest abortion provider. But this is also about people being able to find good healthcare from ethical and responsible providers. It’s about being able to voice where my tax money should and shouldn’t be spent.

There are a number of perfectly reasonable reasons I support redirecting federal funding from Planned Parenthood to Federally Qualified Healthcare Centers. My voice matters. Yours does too. And it’s time reporters and the media started listening to people like me and including us in the conversation.

To LIFE,

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Why Planned Parenthood Shouldn’t be Federally Funded

Planned Parenthood is at risk of loosing their federal funding, and people are losing their minds. People with lower incomes won’t be able to access healthcare, right? I agree that we shouldn’t take healthcare away from people. But I also think Planned Parenthood’s impact is thoroughly overrated. So, in no particular order, here’s why I think it’s a sensible decision to redirect PP’d federal funding to other healthcare providers.

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1. The healthcare they provide is extremely limited. They’ll provide a pregnancy test, pap smear, morning after pill, STD test, abortion, sterilization, manual breast exam (which you can do yourself), and contraception. As far as healthcare goes, that’s a small scope of care. Saying people will lose “healthcare” without PP is grossly inaccurate, because PP doesn’t provide a comprehensive scope of care.

2. They aren’t actually the primary healthcare provider for many people. The self-reported number of patients they see in a year? 2.5 million. Out of somewhere near 320 million Americans, that’s . . . not very many. If you want to know the exact number, that’s .7% of Americans who go to PP in a given year. So will “millions” of people lose their care? No.

3. According to their annual reports, their abortion, sterilization, and contraceptive services have consistently been increasing over the last 10 years. All of their non-controversial services (STD tests, breast exams, etc.) have been steadily decreasing. [see info] I think this shows a significant bias. And I think taxpayers have every right to demand our hard earned money isn’t going toward biased and controversial organizations.

4. As they’ve proven recently, PP supporters are quite capable of financially supporting the organization themselves. Why force taxpayers to fund a controversial organization when they have supporters to keep doors open? I think if they tightened their budget a little and didn’t spend $30 million on trying to get Hillary Clinton elected, they might be able to survive just like any other nonprofit: with private donations.

5. They’ve over billed Medicaid and financially benefited from the program by over $8.5 MILLION. And that’s a conservative estimate. See section starting on page 311 of this report. Since much of their government funding comes from Medicaid reimbursements, I think we need to get real about how much they’ve abused that program.

6. There are thousands of federally qualified healthcare centers to help people facing low incomes. Actually, there are 20 for every PP facility. If funds are redirected from Planned Parenthood to these centers, lower income individuals will have more access to more comprehensive care. So to say people will not have access to healthcare is a blatant lie.  Take a look at this map from the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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But what is a Federally Qualified Health Center? It’s a healthcare provider that “must serve an underserved area or population, offer a sliding fee scale, provide comprehensive services, have an ongoing quality assurance program, and have a governing board of directors”. By meeting these requirements, the center qualifies for federal funding. Is that what everyone wants?

Looking at this information, I don’t see a logical objection to redirecting money from Planned Parenthood to Federally Qualified Health Centers. There are thousands more FQHC’s, which makes them more accessible. They provide a much more comprehensive scope of care, so we’re giving people better care. And they come without the controversy of being America’s #1 abortion provider (who’s been referred to the FBI for possible prosecution and found to be guilty of many crimes). This looks like a win-win situation to me.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let’s talk in the comments!

To LIFE,

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