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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

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

Freedom’s Calling {A Humanae Vitae Series Introduction}

In a world where self-fulfillment is the goal, sex is a rite of passage in teenage years, contraception is viewed as a responsibility, and kids are seeing pornography before turning ten, it is an unthinkable and even laughable notion to forsake instant gratification and choose sacrifice in the realm of human sexuality.

Yet, here we are. And we’re not laughing about the issues throwing caution to the wind has led to.

We are living in a time when generations are becoming progressively more lonely. Many people are sexually confused or tragically abused. It doesn’t take much to realize that this area of life has become one of deep confusion, addiction, and personal tragedy.

No group of people is exempt from this madness. And no group really agrees on causes, effects, or solutions.

Even among those who identify as Catholic, our views vary on what is and isn’t acceptable. For example, a Pew Research Study released in September 2016 found that only 8% of responding Catholics viewed contraception as morally wrong, 41% as morally acceptable, and 48% as “not a moral issue”. As an imperfect but faithful Catholic, I am part of that 8% and stand behind what my church teaches. In fact, all Christian denominations denounced contraception until the Anglican Bishop’s Lambeth Conference of 1930 first accepted it in a vote of 193 to 67. In far less than a century, the entire landscape of family life and reproductive health has radically changed.

Some laud the development of effective contraception as finally getting with the times. But the Catholic Church has staunchly recognized from the beginning several things:

  • Men and women were created for each other, as is self-evident in our complimentary nature.
  • Men and women were gifted by God with the possibility of co-creating new human beings together by mirroring the creative love of God revealed in the community of persons we call the Trinity.
  • Bringing a new human life into existence is a great responsibility, and a natural end of sex. So is the bonding of spouses.
  • Marriage was established by God as the permanent partnership between man and woman whereby children can be raised in a legally bound and sacramentally graced union.
  • Sex is meant for spouses committed to each other in marriage because by nature, the total giving of oneself with the potential of creating a child only makes sense in a committed, vowed, relationship.

To be honest, it doesn’t make perfect sense to be writing about this. I am single as they come at this point. I have no personal experience being married. But I come from a family, could certainly have my own one day, and have a vested interest in the health and well being of my fellow human beings. I have for a while.

It’s been a relatively long time since I first started reading and learning about Catholicism’s approach to these issues. I started reading a lot of current events back toward the end of high school when I got on Facebook and the pro-life movement first came on my radar. From there, it’s been a continuous process of slowly building my understanding. Why? I just realized that the world falls short of what we’re made for, and had to find out why and how and for what I was created.

I took a class on Christian Marriage in college (which was so good), and have read extensively on Theology of the Body and these issues because let’s be real: if a Catholic doesn’t do that nowadays, why stand behind what the Church teaches? How is one convicted enough to stick to something they don’t understand?

Some of the key books I’ve read or am reading.

Understanding how I am made, and God’s plan for love and life is necessary in these times. If I hadn’t taken the personal responsibility to learn the why behind what people already know the Church teaches, who knows what kind of different choices I would have made. But here, now? I certainly have only scratched the surface, but am convicted that if more people could seek and grasp a deeper understanding, our world would be so different.

There is a great battle happening in our culture and in our souls for not just the unsatisfying license to do whatever we want, but the true freedom to order our lives rightly. To master ourselves. To break free of sin and slavery to ourselves. This is possible for anyone, and a necessity for everyone. As G. K. Chesterton put it, “It is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” Do you want to be part of changing our culture? It seems like such a hard thing by society’s standards, but Josemaría Escrivá encourages us that “When you decide firmly to lead a clean life, chastity will not be a burden on you: it will be a crown of triumph.”

Much of the time Catholics have this discussion in terms of married people (which is undoubtedly important). But coming to understand that no matter our state in life, we are all made to love out of self-gift was a transformative realization in my life. There is something in this for everyone. It’s hard to explain, but for me, it completely changed how I love people. (And here are some ways I’ve shared how to live this as a single person.)

I realized too often I did things with an expectation of what would be given back, which left me feeling unloved when things aren’t reciprocated. Seeing acts of love instead as a free gift of myself is different, because gifts have no strings attached. They are undeserved and cannot be earned.

That kind of love is what Catholicism shows us is possible and calls every one of us to live in different ways specific to our state of life.

Though the world says sleeping around, watching pornography, and using contraception are normal, I am here to tell you that it is possible to say no to all of that. Not only is it possible, it is empowering. Beautiful. Freeing.

I am free from addiction.

I am free from the worry of STD’s, getting pregnant before being married, and the emotional baggage that sleeping around brings.

I am free to live my best life until or unless a guy comes along with the same standards.

I am free to understand and respect how my body works naturally and not pump it full of synthetic hormones.

I am free to love and sacrifice fully, with nothing holding me back.

I am free from being enslaved by bodily passions.

I am free.

Insert appropriately cheesy picture from college days // JM Media

With the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae next month, I wanted to share this with you in the hope of broaching an awkward and controversial conversation, as per usual. This document (written by a soon to be canonized saint) reaffirmed Catholicism’s long standing stance on the issue of contraception and prophetically foretold what would happen with the broad acceptance of contraception, when at the height of the sexual revolution the world expected the Church to bow. But it didn’t, because this is one of those issues that gets to the heart of what it means to be human, and will never change.

There are people out there committed to this too. It’s not just some fringe religious nutcases. There are well educated, faithful, joyful people living out this truth in ordinary and extraordinary ways, so this post is just the beginning of a seven part series. Each person will share a bit about how they came to understand and embrace this message of life-giving love. It is a journey. Wherever you are in yours, my hope is that this series encourages you to ask hard questions, learn more, and consider how you are called to respond in your own life.

This radical self-gift kind of love is what each of us is capable of giving.

This is what we are free to do through self mastery and right ordering of our passions.

This is the calling on each of our lives.

This is Freedom’s Calling.

Check back and follow along in the coming weeks for the remaining guest posts of this series! Feel free to contact me and participate in the comment section with any input and discussion.

Here are links to the rest of the posts:

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 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

To Life,

 

 

Connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or drop a personal email

My epiphany of our calling to give

The original Epiphany we celebrated a few days ago commemorated Jesus’ physical manifestation on earth thousands of years ago. Now we think of modern day epiphanies as earth-shattering dramatic moments where we suddenly understand something previously unknown. Or is that just me? My life doesn’t contain too many of those. But there are many times when I’ve come to understand a concept in a way that completely shifted my perspective.

I was on my way to one of those moments in an airplane during spring break. It was a combined retreat and service trip, in a place I’d never been to, without a single soul I’d met before. I’m still not sure why I went, but it turned out to be a wonderful experience during my college years.

Continue reading my piece on discovering the basics of Theology of the Body over at Everyday Ediths.

 

Mother Teresa beyond the poor

What if I told you that there was so much more to be learned from Mother Teresa’s life than helping the poor? 

As a Catholic, there are thousands of people we recognize as possessing heroic virtue, so it might be hard to pick a favorite saint. But Mother Teresa, whom I affectionately call Mama T, is hands down one of my favorites. Let me tell you why.

At first I admired her for giving up everything to help the poor. Who wants to walk the streets helping people who kind of (really!) don’t like you (at first)? Probably most of us wouldn’t jump on that opportunity. 

It’s admirable and beautiful what Mama T did to help the poor, and I think most of us could make a greater effort to alleviate the suffering of those living in material poverty. That’s the easy to agree with message that so many people fell in love with Mama T for.

But there’s so much more to her. Here are some of the reasons (beyond helping the poor) Mama T is my homegirl:

She teaches us to trust God with absolutely reckless abandon. 

I use those words literally because to most people, how the Missionaries of Charity live is totally reckless. When I spent a spring break with them, I learned that they never ask for what they need or want. Instead, they’ll pray for God to provide. And guess what? He always does – even if it’s not how we imagined. The soup kitchen I helped them run for a week was overflowing with food to share. And they had never put donation bins in churches or asked for people to contribute. They got up around 4am, didn’t have furniture in their chapel, hand washed their sari’s, got through each day helping others tirelessly, traveled around their city to help all sorts of people, AND were able to stay awake for an hour of adoration. We can’t all do this, obviously. But it was a good example of what can happen when we lean on God. 

This story is another illustration of how Mama T trusted God (and shows us to!), which I try to remember. I’ve gone back to that story so many times. Her example is such a good reminder that God will never lead us to such deep waters that he can’t carry us across. 

She showed me that being Catholic doesn’t mean you have a perfect relationship with God.

It might be scandalizing to some people to know that Mama T felt unloved by God for the majority of her adult life. To me, it’s comforting. It’s proof that being a good person doesn’t come from special spiritual super powers. Yes, she had to have a lot of grace to do what she did. But just like her, I can choose to do what is good and contribute something beautiful to the world even if it stinks sometimes. People we admire have struggles and feel alone sometimes. How awesome to know what we’re all capable of.

img_0058
Never heard of her struggles? READ THIS BOOK.

She helped me understand that loving is about giving.

Much like the quotable Fulton Sheen, Mama T had some mic drop moments talking about giving. Reading her words have been part of my understanding of Theology of the Body – that life isn’t about getting and having. It’s about being and giving.

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.

During my mission trip, one of the sisters was experiencing severe pain in her foot. It apparently was getting worse as she was getting older. But we didn’t find out until well into the week, when it came up in conversation. Her response? “You don’t get old until you stop loving Jesus!” She just kept on giving.

She taught me that feeling unloved is a crisis unparalleled by material want.

To much of the Western world, being without a house and food sounds like one of the most horrible things that could happen to you. It is surely a sad thing. At some point, I thought how nice it would be to go to places like the slums of Calcutta and alleviate the suffering there. But having a bit more life behind me now (ha!), I get this. Material want can be fixed. And it should be, by people who have things. Want for love is so different. Whether it’s a broken relationship, a rough upbringing, or something else that’s cause for a feeling of alienation, there’s not as easy a fix. It’s complicated and messy and I hope that throughout my life I can help some people feel a little more cared for.

The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.

She showed me that you don’t have to go to Calcutta to change the world.

If you love Mama T, you probably thought about going to India for a hot second. Am I right? I did. Would it be awesome to see and experience her work? Of course. Yes. It would! I’ve found mission trips to be enriching and wonderful experiences. They’re great. But I think they also run the risk of us failing to see the people around us right here in our neighborhoods who need a helping hand. Mama T issues a challenge to us, which I hope to spend my life working on:

It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.

Are we up for the challenge?

DSCN6176

“I Thirst” written beside every crucifix in their buildings serves as a reminder to spend our lives satiating God’s thirst for souls by bringing his love to the world.

You can find Calcutta anywhere in the world. You only need two eyes to see. Everywhere in the world there are people that are not loved, people that are not wanted nor desired, people that no one will help, people that are pushed away or forgotten. And this is the greatest poverty.

We’ve heard her words. We love her. Now let’s find our Calcuttas. Where is yours?

To Life,

signature

 

 

P.S. Connect with me on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestBloglovin’ or by email.

Theology of the {unmarried} body

If you’ve been around Catholic circles in the last 20 years, you might have heard some serious fangirling over St. John Paul II. He was allegedly the “coolest saint ever“. He even fished, wore hipster glasses at some point, acted, and oh, gave us Theology of the Body.

Theology of the Unmarried Body - Not Alone Series

If you haven’t heard of it before, “Theology of the Body” (TOB) started as a series of talks that was later compiled into a book . . . which has now been explained so normal people can understand it (even Cosmopolitan). JPII used these talks to reflect on and teach us the purpose of our lives. No big deal, right? You know, it’s just our place in the cosmos and the answer to the question we all ask: “Why do I exist?”

Intrigued? Good. Me too. So I read this introduction and my mind was blown. The main point?

God created us in his image so we can reflect his love in our lives and ultimately be united to him in heaven.

His love is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. (I mean, obviously the Trinity isn’t going to be breaking up anytime soon.)

He created us to learn to love like he does.

He created us male and female to show us that we can reflect the love of the Trinity, a communion of loving persons, as evidenced by the way our bodies were designed. He created us to give of ourselves unconditionally and accept others unconditionally, just like he does, doing our best to see the dignity of each other made in the image of God.

This communion of loving persons many people are called to is the family. But some people misunderstand TOB and think it only applies to marriage. This is false, because TOB teaches us about everyone’s call to love. Some people are called to love through marriage and family life. Others through a religious community or consecrated single life. This post isn’t about marriage and relationships. It’s about how we live out this call to holiness, to give of ourselves unconditionally, as people who are unmarried.

Essentially, TOB teaches us to love others by giving instead of grasping, by seeking to see people more like God does: with the unique dignity of being made in his image as a gift to the world. That’s possible, and dare I say, demanded of us as Christians at all stages in life.

JPII teaches us that “man . . . cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself”. This central message is insanely simple, but radical at the same time: Give. It’s implications are countless.

For people who aren’t bound by marriage or religious vows to continually give of themselves to the same person/group of people, we have the unique privilege of giving ourselves more fully to the people we encounter everyday.

“The married person puts their spouse first,” said Janet Smith. “The celibate puts God first. When you’re single, the next person who crosses your path is the person you put first. That’s who Christ is asking you to give yourself to. That’s how you love him.”

What might this look like in our lives?

1. Give the gift of your time to a cause you believe in.

  • Cultivate a spirit of selfless giving by volunteering to build homes, go on mission trips, serve at a soup kitchen, cuddle babies at your local NICU, babysit for tired parents . . . figure out where your passions and schedule meet with other people’s needs.

2. Give the gift of your skills and talents to people who can use them.

  • Good at math? Tutor. Love to paint? Host a painting & wine night for friends who need a little community. Master chef? Make meals for people recovering from a big life event. Our abilities are meant to be shared freely and generously.

3. Give the gift of your prayers. Always.

  • Sometimes the most we can do is pray. What I do for this is post on social media every Sunday asking people to comment/message/like the status and I’ll remember their intentions throughout the week. I write these intentions down in a journal (when I’m on top of it) and refer to it throughout the week in prayer. When I’m on top of my game enough to offer things up for people, that happens too. My goal is to visit those intentions each night. This has been a huge way to not only connect with people, but offer more of my time and effort for them.

4. Die to yourself (aka. don’t always treat yo’self).

  • For example, we could bring the brownies to share at work instead of finishing them on the couch while binge-watching Netflix. Fasting every once in a while might be your jam, or offering other things for people. It sure doesn’t fit with pop culture, but it teaches us to be more selfless which is what TOB is all about.

5. Push yourself to see the dignity in everyone.

  • That coworker who gets on your nerves? She’s made in God’s image. Crazy driver who flips you off? God’s image. It’s easier sometimes to see the dignity in the homeless and poor than the people we live with or are closest to. So before you entertain nasty thoughts about people or snap back to a rude comment, STOP and challenge yourself to see their dignity as a child of God. They are a unique and unrepeatable gift to the world, even when they aren’t acting like it.

6. Be grateful.

  • You know what’s hard? Being grateful. There’s so much we have to have and do. Mmkay. You seriously don’t need to have the newest iPhone. Relax and count your blessings. After reading this book, I started writing down things I was grateful for each day. It’s made such a difference. It teaches me to see the gifts in the little things. Seriously, try it out. Notice the little things. Unless you’re a naked starving hobo living in a cardboard box, you’ve got at least a few things to thank God for.

7. Go the extra mile.

  • As unmarried people, we can give more of our time than pretty much anybody else. Yes, there are jobs and commitments. Life is busy. But life is always busy. And we have time for things when we make time for them. So make time for loving people! Go out of your way to have coffee with a friend, start a book club, or organize a local event. Remember that even when people don’t seem like they deserve it, do something nice for them anyway. It will change your life (and theirs!).

That’s it. TOB is about finding our purpose in life through selflessly loving. It’s harder than it sounds. But I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t all keep fangirling over this if it wasn’t worth it. It’s really hard to describe, but it’s in those moments when you think of other people, do thoughtful things, and respect the dignity of people unconditionally that we are most fulfilled. Not to mention that’s when we’re best living our mission to love.

In These Beautiful Bones, Emily Stimpson says:

“We’re all made to be a gift. And we become that gift by using our bodies to serve, teach, comfort, correct, feed, clothe, shelter, heal, encourage, lead, suffer, sacrifice, and pray for others, helping them through it all to become more the men and women God calls them to be.”

And my main man Fulton Sheen (as always) has a few words on the topic of when we meet Jesus face to face:

“He will look at our hands to see if they have been scarred from giving, our feet to see the calluses from travel to preach His Gospel, and our side to see if we have loved to a point of sacrifice. Woe to us who come down from Calvary with hands unscarred and white.”

Ever thought of TOB like this? How can you apply it to you life? Tell me what you think by commenting below or linking up with the Not Alone Series here!

To hands scarred from giving,

signature

P.S. Connect with me on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestBloglovin’ or by email.

Amazon links in my post are affiliate links which means I’ll get a few pennies if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you for your support!

20 Tips when considering abortion

Dear women considering abortion,

I know there’s a lot going through your mind and heart right now. And I know there are lots of opinions out there about what you should do. When Madeleine Roe recently shared 20 Tips for Your First Abortion, she offered ways for you to (at times lightheartedly) cope with the reality of going through an abortion procedure. Here are my own tips, in no particular order, for you:20 Tips When Considering an Abortion by Laura @ A Drop in the Ocean1. Know that you are not alone. If your support system of family and friends have deserted you, know that there are workers and volunteers around the country who dedicate their time to walking with women during this critical time. You can connect with a center where there are people to support you by calling 1-800-712-4357 or texting “Helpline” to 313131 at any time.

2. There are many sources of information about abortion and pregnancy, but not all sources are created equal. You can view scientific-based information regarding your health and prenatal development at the Endowment for Human Development. Here are side effects and risks of abortion from the American Pregnancy Association, something to consider for any surgical procedure. Allow yourself to explore the reality of what is happening inside you, and what abortion does. Here are different types of procedures explained by the American Pregnancy Association.

3. You have time to be fully informed and educated decision. Do not allow anyone to tell you that you must make a decision quickly. Nobody should coerce you into making a decision. You have a lot of information to process, and many details to work out. You need time to talk to different people and look at the risks of each option.

4. Speaking of options, you have three: parenting, adoption, or abortion. Not all options are equal. Take a critical look and the pros and cons and consequences each option has for you and your baby. Parenting gives a child the gift of their biological parents, but sometimes the situation at home means it’s not the best environment for raising a child. In that case, making the courageous and sacrificial decision to give a child the gift of an adoptive family might be something to look into. You can reach out to organizations like this one to learn more about adoption.

5. Adoption might be the last thing on your mind and that’s okay. Any decision you make at this point will be hard on some level. And making the decision of adoption is not always the best decision for everyone. I know it might feel like a betrayal to your child to carry them and then give them to an adoptive family to love and raise. So know that I look up to biological moms who make the courageous and sacrificial choice of adoption. They give their babies an intact family when their situation makes parenting unrealistic. How courageous is that?

6. People do care about you, and this choice matters. Choosing what to do when you’re pregnant in a difficult situation takes time and support from other people. It will affect many lives, not just yours. So take time to lean on supportive people in your life, whether it’s your family or local people you found from #1.

7. Take care of yourself. Your life has drastically changed since getting that positive test. Whether this was planned or not, you’re now a mother! Contrary to what Madeleine suggested, binge drinking is not a great way to cope. Take some deep breaths and connect with people who can help. A massage might be a better option. Or treat yourself to a girl’s day and go get your nails done. Take a walk. Start a journal. Find a way to process your emotions in a constructive way instead of masking them.

8. Don’t assume the worst of your friends who are against abortion. Some of them might be jerks about it. If they are, they should read this to better understand what you could be going through. But anyone who truly cares about you and your baby will be there for you no matter what.

9. When weighing the prospect of raising a child during a difficult time, remember the joys of being a parent. Instead of just thinking about the snotty noses, costs of schooling, lost sleep, and inevitable back talk, remember the smiles and laughter of children. Think of holding your very own baby in your arms – the one you made sacrifices for to bring into the world. What an honor to be given this opportunity! So don’t don’t forget the costs. But also remember the benefits. Remember it’s worth it. Every person deserves to be loved in the way only you as a mother can love this baby.

10. Be honest with yourself and your support system. Parenting might seem ridiculously unrealistic to you. Say that. You might be scared as heck about adoption. Say that. You might only be considering abortion because it seems like your only option. That’s why it’s a good thing you have time to talk with other people and come to a conclusion. Get to the heart of why you’re considering abortion, and let’s see if there’s another way to solve that.

11. Science and technology are so advanced that you can actually see what’s going on inside you. But I bet you already knew that, because you’re smart. A heartbeat starts at around 21 days after conception, shortly after you found out you were pregnant. Isn’t science truly stunning?! Check out the Endowment for Human Development for an interactive prenatal development timeline.

12. In some states, you are required to be given the option of seeing your ultrasound. This is not a political agenda being forced at you, but science. There is a living embryo or fetus (depending on your stage of pregnancy) inside of you, and you deserve to know the facts. In fact, those are just scientific names referring to the little human that started off as a single cell. All that will change about them is their size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency on you.

13. Pay attention to the little things. Does seeing babies inflict feelings of guilt or shame? Are you noticing families while you are out? There are so many emotions going on right now. Recognize them and own them. Little things matter as well as the big picture.

14. Some ordinary things will never feel the same. Whether it’s the metal bowl Madeleine mentioned or something else, many women will experience symptoms of PTSD after going through the sometimes scarring or traumatic experience of having an abortion. And that’s not just my opinion. Lots of women have shared their stories. You can go through all sorts of testimonies here.

15. Think long-term. Often times when parenting seems scary, it’s because your resources or support systems are limited. But depending on where you live, there should be resources to alleviate any difficulty you’re experiencing. Find a place by calling 1-800-712-4357 or texting “Helpline” to 313131 at any time.

16. The fact that we have articles telling us abortion is normal tells us it’s not normal. We don’t have articles giving us 20 tips for a hit and run or tips for your first rape. We intuitively know that some things don’t need to be justified.

17. Some abortion clinics could endanger your health. A couple summers ago, Planned Parenthood protested a bill that would make their clinics (where they perform surgical abortions) meet the same medical standards of ambulatory surgical centers. They didn’t want to be legally compelled to meet medical and safety standards. If I was having surgery, I’d want to be at a safe clinic. I don’t know about you.

18. If you end up going to an abortion clinic, there might be people on the sidewalk to support you. There might be rude people who yell at you too (and I would ignore them if I were you). But I’m talking about the nice ones. They have information about the best local resources. If I were there, I would have a flower for you and give you this letter I wrote.

19. This is a roller coaster. Stifling your emotions or refusing to confront the hardness of your situation won’t help. Allow your tears to fall. It’s okay to be mad and scared. It’s okay to not have everything perfectly figured out. That’s the beauty of people who love you. They’re there no matter what.

20. You deserve better than abortion. I’ve seen too many women hurt by abortion to consider for a moment that it’s just another routine medical procedure. You deserve to be loved by people who will see you through this. And you can do this. An unexpected pregnancy is that: unexpected. But people have gotten through the hardest of times and thrived. And you can too. Because you’re stronger than you think.

You are braver than you believe

And if you haven’t found a support system yet, you can always contact me. I am more than happy to walk with you for those first scary steps and help you find that support system. You deserve only the best.

To Life,

signature

P.S. Connect with me on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestBloglovin’ or by email.

When trust changes everything

When TRUST changes everything by Laura at A Drop in the Ocean

It’s kind of funny how trust changes everything.

I’ve been thinking about the future. A lot. But what’s new? With senior comps (ie. “what you do instead of a thesis”, “a test of everything you’ve learned for your degree”, or “no pressure”) later this month and graduation impending, saying the future is on my mind would be an understatement.

As many soon-to-be-graduates would say, it would be SO nice to have everything set in place right now.

But I don’t.

It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s not for lack of trying. And I’m kind of dying to know what’s in store.

Being in this position is somewhat terrifying as someone who tries to have my life put together. My heart rate does sometimes go up a little bit thinking about OH MY GOSH WILL IT ALL WORK OUT?!?! And yes, I’d like to ask God to swing WIDE open the door he’s guiding me to instead of leaving multiple ones cracked open just a little.

I’d like that clarity, please and thank you.

But clarity is not my prayer right now. Because in reality, I don’t think we often know for certain exactly what we’re supposed to do. We might have an inkling. Sometimes a choice does seem obvious. But mostly life is about learning to take the next step when God calls us to, even if we’re blindfolded. It’s choosing to step out on the tightrope, even when we know we could fall.

It’s learning to trust that no matter what happens, God’s got our backs.

This Lent, I’m not giving up coffee or Facebook. But one of the things I am doing is reading through Rediscovering Jesus. Because that’s what I want to do. That’s what I need to do. I need to remind myself that there is a purpose in life, and that purpose is to get to heaven. If my life isn’t ordered toward that, then other stuff doesn’t matter.

One line that stuck out to me this morning was “God is always waiting on us. Sometimes we may think we are waiting for him, but that is never true.” BOOM.

So this Lent, I’m not thinking about all the things I’m waiting for (okay, trying not to do that), or what I can get out of it, or keeping a checklist of every single thing you must do to make it the best Lent ever and be a good Catholic. I’m trying to focus on the transformation of Lent, better conforming my life to God’s will, and asking myself what things I’m still holding on to that I need to let go. That’s the goal after all, isn’t it?

Kathryn’s reflection this morning is much of what’s in my own mind. Lent isn’t about the checklist and seeing just how penitent we can force ourselves to be.  It’s about reminding ourselves of our need for God and changing our lives to reflect that. As the first reading tells us today:

“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart”

That’s what I’m up to: trying to return my heart to the one who created it. I’m praying for trust, and for all the intentions I’ve been given – that we all would learn to find that peace of surrender. That we would remember the beauty of our faith, of God who created us, and of this season. If you have any intentions I can remember, comment below or contact me. How has your Lent started out today?

Here’s to a new beginning.

To Life,

signature

P.S. Connect with me on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestBloglovin’ or by email.

The Pope who gives us hope

If you haven’t been seeing all the news stories and posts on social media, Pope Francis visiting the U.S. had kinds of been a big deal. Instead of being trampled by other enthusiastic pilgrims, I’ve been living vicariously through them by watching the live feed, other videos, and news stories.

Because Pope Francis is reaching so many people and touching so many lives, I figured, why not share his love in this space? Here’s a reminder from him that there’s hope in the world:

A woman’s reaction to his address at the Inter-religious Meeting at Ground Zero

From Ave Maria Press:

12047124_10153316696008710_5826925404961146285_n

Kissing all the people after Mass!

Papal Visit 2015 - Live Coverage - Google Chrome 9262015 110554 AM.bmp

A moment from Mass with Cardinal Dolan (shared by Lino Rulli):

12033030_966919956682646_2237730685005376400_n

Pure joy (from Brandon over on Instagram) – I’m making it a life goal to be that grandma:

12002888_718809305101_6658117557473728829_n

He was already driving away, but Pope Francis stopped his car to bless a boy with cerebral palsy (look at the comments on Facebook to see a ton of non-Catholics who love and support our Pope!):

Did you hear about people asking if Pope Francis is democrat or republican? Well, there’s this:

12039471_910643862305011_1370865631444333071_n

Pope Francis is a pope for our times. He is not high and mighty. He is one of us. He gives us hope, and he teaches us how to love better by doing things like eating with people who are homeless instead of government leaders. Find out more about Pope Francis’ visit at the Vatican news source.

Have other stories that have inspired you? Share them in the comments!

To Life,

signature

P.S. Connect with me on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestBloglovin’ or by email.