That One Perfect Day

praying

(photo courtesy of Joshua Paul Photography)

On June 18th, I married my favorite person. We had waited, prayed, and hoped that the day would come and when it finally did- it was completely surreal.

I remember the stress and worries about all the fine details on the night of the rehearsal but waking up on that beautiful (and HOT) Saturday morning I felt nothing but complete and total peace. I knew that God was with me, strengthening me, and about ready to change my entire life. It was so exciting!

This day- this ONE day- literally changed my entire life.


Before I get into that, I want to talk about something that we had been preparing for throughout our entire engagement, taking classes on, and having SO many conversations about- natural family planning. 

The Catholic Church has such a beautiful reflection on sexuality, marriage, and family planning but many, who don’t know the logic behind the church’s teachings, view the church’s teaching as a strict “no you can’t do this, no you can’t do that, NO NO NO.”

It’s true that the Church is all about abstaining from sex until marriage and is it true that the Church is strictly against the use of any contraceptives. What many don’t know is that the church has those beliefs not to say “no” but to give a more profoundly beautiful “yes” to life and authentic love.

Abstinence is not designed to torment the couple but rather empty themselves in service to one another and in some way die to themselves in their sacrifice. Much like what Christ did on the cross — all for the sake of love. We want to enter into marriage knowing that our beloved will be given all  of   us, all of our brokenness and vulnerability. Also, the physical act of “consummating” ones marriage is a physical reality of what happened during the couples marriage ceremony. In the exchanging of the rings, saying of the vows, and nuptial blessing the couple becomes one. In the same way, the couple physically becomes one as a physical sign of their commitment to each other and their vows. This is A LOT to take on before you have actually committed to one another in marriage! Saving that intimacy isn’t a way of torment but rather a way to ensure the couples center on Christ, His mission, and loving the way Christ loved… which was (and still is) through sacrifice.

During our vows, Tim and I promised to uphold all of the teachings of the church, raise our family according to the church, and accept children lovingly and freely. On the day of our wedding the reality of that last phrase didn’t really hit me until later- “accept children lovingly and freely”. 

I tell all of my students whenever we talk about theology of the body and marriage that marriage has two purposes: babies and bonding. As a couple we are living out the vocation of marriage in being intimate with one another but we also are living out our vocation by being open to the will of the Father in regards to children.

Tim and I were the last of 3 other couples to get married in 5 weeks- oh man- it was a busy few weeks! We were able to witness the marriages of many close friends and obviously had the opportunity to be engaged at the same time.

While being engaged with 3 other holy and beautiful couples- it came with its challenges. Many times all of us would sit and talk about our classes, how we are preparing through prayer, and yes– natural family planning. The other couples were practicing the ‘creighton’ family planning method while Tim and I were practicing the ‘sympto-thermal’ method. This brought up some really fruitful and interesting discussions.

All four couples, including us, had planned on waiting at least a year or two before starting our families. You know that thing about what God does when you make plans? Yep, He laughs.

The church, in her wisdom, gives us natural (and contraceptive free) methods to plan our family along with prayer and discernment from Our Lord. Natural family planning is very effective when used correctly and also allows for God’s will. God’s will can be for the couple to have a child unexpectedly or for the couple to wait, in joyful anticipation, for their family to grow. Natural family planning is all about teaching love and responsibility. 

Unfortunately, I felt that many discussions I had with other Catholic couples about the upcoming wedding day and plans for a family seemed to center on fear of pregnancy. All the women were charting and plotting when the potential ovulation date would be in relation to wedding dates. Many panicking at the thought of ovulating over the their wedding weekend. What I didn’t like about those conversations was the impression that the potential of a positive pregnancy test a few weeks later would be the ‘worst case scenario’. Are we even aware of how many women who would LOVE to be pregnant right now but maybe are not? Or those who continue to try and PRAY for that positive test?

As the weddings got closer, some women found out that they would in fact be ovulating either ON or close to their wedding date. Obviously this may present a challenge if you would like to both wait on starting your family AND consummate your marriage.

I was one of those women.

Many of us discussed and even prayerfully concerned what we would do- would we abstain on our wedding night to avoid pregnancy? Or would we consummate our marriage and “risk it”?


On June 18th, I have never felt the grace of God more in my entire life.

Our photographer and friend, Josh, had told us before the wedding that we should pray for all the graces of the sacrament on that day and that if we did that we would truly be able to FEEL them. Boy oh boy was he right…

nuptial-blessing

(photo courtesy of Joshua Paul Photography)

We could feel our Lord’s presence as we said “yes” to the many challenges, joys, and sufferings in our life together. We understood that it wasn’t just the two of us – but as Fulton Sheen has so eloquently put, “it takes THREE to get married”. We needed Our Lord on that day and (God willing) the many after.

Marriage is about WAY more than just us. We know this now more than ever.

We were stepping into an unknown territory but one that would fulfill our greatest desires in life and push us to become the best version of ourselves.

walking-out

(photo courtesy of Joshua Paul Photography)

True freedom relies in complete and utter trust in God’s will for your life. It is allowing God to be the writer of your story, and you the pen. True freedom lies in saying “yes” to Our Lord… together… and continuing to trust in His goodness.

On June 30th Tim and I, while on our honeymoon in Costa Rica, found out that we were expecting our first little one. I have never been filled with more fear or excitement.


On our wedding day we said “yes” to God’s plan for our lives and he provided us with the greatest gift we could ever receive — our first little baby.

My mother-in-law had a beautiful reflection on this gift by explaining that, “The greatest grace that a married couple can receive is the gift of a child. Therefore, the graces must truly have been flowing through your wedding to give you this tremendous gift.”

I have reflected on that statement so much in the past four months. Despite the fear, anxiety, and worry about our little one coming a little earlier than expected and having had only 12 solid hours of just Tim and I in our marriage- what an irreplaceable gift we have been given. Our baby is not ‘worst case scenario’ but rather ‘best case scenario’. After returning to the United States and telling our family, I was struck by an image I received while praying the rosary.

The image was of the visitation between Mary and Elizabeth but instead of Elizabeth being there- I was standing in front of Mary. She looked at me with such joy and just laid her hand on top of my stomach right where my womb is, smiling and giving me the reassurance that she was with me. I stood in front of her smiling and placing my hand over her womb, in total adoration of Jesus within her.

She rejoiced as I was rejoicing in the gift of life. 


As I sit here today, tremendously grateful for this tiny life, I reflect on the words that were sung as I walked down the aisle to Tim on our wedding day….

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander. Let my faith be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”

little-one

(photo courtesy of Dana Sebastian)

Little one, you are loved more than you will ever know. We are grateful for you and the gift of realizing that our marriage is about way more than just us. 

I thought nothing would compare to seeing your Dad as I was walking down the aisle…. I was wrong. 

Seeing you for the first time on a big screen forever changed me. 

 

 

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Catholic, Single, and Trying to Navigate the Dating World

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Having a young Catholic try to navigate the dating world can be an intimidating thing especially with terms like, “hook-up, courtship, casual dating, chaperones, and casual sex” floating around society. So what’s the big deal? How does a young Catholic date while remaining both physically AND emotionally chaste?

There are two big words that have been coming up recently in the Christian dating world and that is courtship and casual dating.

First thing is first.. Let me explain what both casual dating and courtship is.

Casual dating (from what I understand) is trying to bridge the gap between courtship and the hook up culture. It tells young single men to go ahead and ask out a girl but “don’t worry, it’s not a commitment… It’s just a date!” Girls should be open to these dates but feel free to let the guy down easy if it isn’t “right”. Which could get you in a tailspin of continued dates just because you feel too bad telling the guy that the relationship isn’t going anywhere. I, like many young girls, didn’t know what the heck casual dating was until I started dating my boyfriend. I remember my sisters all anxiously awaiting to hear about my new relationship and I told them exactly what I was told…”We’re casually dating”.

My older sister looked at me with confusion and asked what that meant and the only thing I could reply was the matter of fact… “I don’t know”.

We were all puzzled. Exclusive? Not exclusive? Committed? Not committed?

I was lost.

Finally about 2 months later we decided to leave all the casual stuff behind us and commit to dating exclusively. I’ll explain why this was the best thing that could have happened to us in the end.

Now courtship looks a bit different.

The Duggar family from the hit TLC Show “19 Kids and Counting” includes in their courtship rules not only an emphasis on maintaining a pure relationship, but they do this through chaperones and strict physical boundaries. The young couples are to have chaperones with them at all times in order to keep them accountable for their guidelines in purity, and the physical touch between the couples are kept to occasional side hugs and getting to hold hands while they’re engaged.

Sounds great and dandy and all….

But for those of you that watch 19 Kids & Counting you may have noticed one thing… These courtship relationships move FAST.

They are barely in courtship for it seems like a month and they’re already planning their wedding.

It might be easy to figure out my issues with each but I’ll spell it out anyway…


Casual dating

1. The definition is unknown.

No one really knows what casually dating is. It’s this weird middle ground between the hook up culture and courtship. Due to its lack of definition many people can just kind of make up what it means. Also, there’s a widely known phrase that goes around in our culture known as “casual sex”. Doesn’t that sound kind of close to “casual dating”? Some people may get confused that they’re the same thing. Which might make for a pretty awkward date if those definitions get crisscrossed.

2. Commitment phobe?
You may snag a few of those commitment phobes trying to turn from their old ways and join the dating scene. The whole casual dating stuff would seem like a good step in the right direction! Casual dating sounds like it allows for people to start dating but in no way requires any true commitment. Personally? Dating shouldn’t include writing an official commitment on paper but it also shouldn’t be a hobby someone would rather do than have the usual “date night with a bowl of popcorn and Netflix” sort of thing.

3. “I don’t see myself marrying him, but it’s just a date!”

Casually dating sometimes doesn’t emphasize the idea of ‘dating with the intent to marry’ enough. They stress just going out on casual dates… Yes that’s great and all. But be realistic! If you can’t see yourself with the guy later in life, why continue dating? It is more selfless to let go than to hang on to another woman’s (or man’s) spouse. Now I’m not saying to go crazy and start picking out your wedding colors or anything but acknowledge whether or not you could picture that person in your future. Then either let go or commit to FULLY dating them and leave this “casual” nonsense behind.

Courtship

1. Physical Chastity vs. Emotional Chastity

Setting physical boundaries to help in the battle for purity is awesome! But let’s remember the less understood word of emotional chastity. The heart is sacred… Don’t give it away too quickly but require that the person God set apart for you seek your heart in the sacred heart of Jesus.

2. Too much pressure

From what I know about courtship it can be a process that involves solid commitment right from the get go. The person that you court IS the person that you will marry. Talk about pressure, goodness. This would leave little room for mistakes. I found that while part of me would want to erase the embarrassment of dating some unfortunate fellows, I would never do that because it was through those lessons I was able to learn about the man I would actually want to marry. There was a freedom and new-found-strength by having those learning experiences (notice I didn’t say failure… it isn’t a failure if you learn from it).


So I propose this…. We date with a purpose.

Dating with a purpose allows for young singles to remove the pressure of courtship but also directs “casual dating” to be more purposeful. Don’t date just because it could be a fun past time. Discern the relationship and if it isn’t fulfilling the purpose to which you intended, then be brave enough to end it.

Dating with a purpose can and should include a vow to practice the virtue of chastity. Until that couple says “I do”, nothing is set in stone. Leave room for the Holy Spirit to direct your relationship and either build it or break it in order to lead you to something else far better. Chastity in a relationship is like the boundaries in a river. Those barriers are what keep the river flowing both quickly and naturally to its destination. For the chaste couple the boundaries which they place in their relationship allow for them to naturally flow towards their destination, which is Heaven. Chastity isn’t meant to make the couple miserable. It is meant to be a joyful struggle. Yes. Struggle with it. Chastity was never meant to be easy but always meant to be worth it. Lift up those struggles for the glory of God and He will give you the joy you seek.

My boyfriend and I about one year into our relationship had to have a serious talk about our future. (Personally- I recommend having this 6 months into your relationship). I told him that if at any point he feels that I am not what is best for him, who he could picture in his future, or who could lead him to Heaven then he should absolutely break up with me. 

I wasn’t saying this to be mean or rude, I was saying it because I didn’t want to be selfish with him. We had to both feel the same way or our relationship was going to end in heartbreak. Remember how I said that the best thing that happened to us was leaving the casual dating shenanigans behind? This is the reason! It allowed for raw honesty between the two of us and a careful discernment as to whether or not we should continue our relationship.

Lastly: (& the most important piece of advice)

Pray and discern whether or not to begin dating. A relationship with Our Lord is the most important thing and sometimes we idolize relationships and put them in the place of our relationship with God. To prevent this from happening make sure that your prayer life is heavily intertwined in your dating life or future relationship. Discernment isn’t just for the future Priests or Nuns, it is for every single vocation. And yes, marriage is a vocation to lead you to Heaven and you can attain the same holiness as someone who enters religious life. There are TONS of holy Saints who were married. Look ’em up.

Holiness begins in the earliest stages of your dating life… actually it begins before you even start dating! Dive into your prayer life and Our Lord will ready your heart as you date with a purpose. 

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