X – [e]xtreme

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

balanceI have a tendency to take things to extremes. I think maybe it’s because I’m a perfectionist. When I realize something is good and I decide I’m going to do it, I do it the very best I am able. But a lot of times that lands me in extreme territory. My husband is always reminding me, “Life is about balance, not extremes.” He’s so right.

At the risk of sounding extreme, I’m going to say that taking anything to its extreme is not a good thing. Good things, when pushed to their extreme, aren’t so good anymore. Healthy dichotomies (work and play; fast and slow; exciting and boring) are what makes life full and balanced and enjoyable. For example, in my world, chocolate is a good thing. A pound of chocolate in one sitting probably isn’t a good thing. A smaller serving of chocolate that just happens to be coating pretzels is a very good thing. Sweet and salty. It’s fuller. (more full?) Balanced. More enjoyable.

In all seriousness, sometimes I do a great injustice to the good things in my life by trying to take them to extremes. For example, I’m a neat person, but when I miss out on play time with my kiddos because I’m trying to make the house sparkle, I’ve gone to an extreme. A sparkling house isn’t a bad thing, but the extreme that caused me to miss out on something else good (playing with my kids) is. In the context of better managing my time, it is good for me to do volunteer work, but, when I volunteer to the point that I’m stressed out and running around like a chicken with my head cut off, it’s no longer a good for me or for my family. Whatever volunteer effort I’m engaged in is still a good thing with good results, but, when taken to an extreme, it’s no longer a good thing for me or my family.

My first priority has to be me, my marriage, and my children. Saying that sounds selfish to me, but it’s not because that is my vocation at this point in my life. When I overly extend myself in other directions, I am doing a disservice to my primary vocation. At the same time, when I become so obsessed with mothering and housekeeping and whatnot that I don’t take time for myself, I’m also doing a disservice to my vocation. (I have to take care of myself to be able to serve my family well.) Both scenarios cause stress. I’m going to have to start checking myself for balance, making sure my stress isn’t flowing from some good things taken to a not-so-good extreme. I’m not very good at that, but, luckily I have my husband to help me out in this area.

R,S,T – Remember [to] Say Thanks

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

2014-08-24 11.00.39Everyone knows that it’s well-mannered to say, “Thank you.” when someone is kind or helpful. I do really well at thanking most people in my life, but I don’t do such a good job with my husband. I’ve been purposing to thank him more often for all of the wonderful things he does for me and for our family.

As I’ve been saying thank you more (although still not enough) I’ve discovered something interesting. Saying thank you often makes me feel really good.

I’m always appreciative of what my husband does for me, but, when I thank him out loud, something happens. First of all, I can see he really appreciates that I took the time to acknowledge his effort, and that alone is enough reason to do it, but something happens to me. It makes me feel happier and closer to him. Somehow, thanking him out loud makes me feel more connected to him.

You know what happens when I feel connected to my husband? My stress levels go down. The more connected I feel, the more supported I feel. The more supported I feel, the less stressed I feel.

The fact is, my husband always has my back, but, when I take the time to thank him out loud, I can feel that more. It’s amazing that the small effort involved in saying thanks makes me feel better, and it makes him feel more appreciated. I never realized the power of those two little words until recently. I’m so glad I did. I’m going to keep working to make those two words a very regular part of my vocabulary.

SST # 3: Recharged and Rejuvenated

Small-Success-Thursday-550x330This week has been such a beautiful gift for me. Since November, I’ve felt like I’ve been living in crisis mode, barely holding it together, simply hopping from one near catastrophe to the next. But, this week, everything changed. For the first week in a very, very long time, we had a fairly open calendar and no one was sick. It gave us a much needed opportunity to just function like normal, to get back to our normal routine. And it was glorious! To top it all off, the weather was beautiful! 60s and 70s and a lot of sun. What a gift!

  1. The kids have played outside every day since Valentine’s Day. This is so good for everyone involved. They get to burn off some steam and take in some vitamin D, while I have some downtime to get caught up on my school work, chores, or even just sit in the sun and rest. It has really had such a positive impact on our whole week.
  2. Josh and I had a really nice date night. On Monday nights, Josh and I have a sitter so we can go to our Bradley class. I really enjoy the class in general, but I especially love doing the class with him. It’s been so good for us to work through all the material together. And it’s been especially good for me, helping to heal some of the
    My Valentine Cuties!

    My Valentine Cuties!

    “wounds” I had incurred from our last crazy birth experience. (Maybe one day I’ll tell you all about it, but I’ll spare you for now.) After class, we went to Marble Slab and brought home our yummy treats to enjoy while we watched our DVRd episode of Downton Abbey. It wasn’t anything fancy or special, but it was a really great night together nonetheless.

  3. The kids are really starting to mature and act more responsibly. Since I stayed up much too late on date night, I ended up sleeping in later than I usually do the next morning. When I got up, I found that kids had done all of their “morning jobs,” had breakfast, and were starting on school! I was so very proud of them! Normally, they would have just taken advantage of the situation and turned on the TV. I asked the boys how/why they decided to get to work and Andy proudly proclaimed that it was his idea. He said he was being the “man of the house.” I was so thrilled and impressed!  (Thank you, God, for occasionally allowing me to see fruits from my efforts!!)

So there you have it. This week’s small successes. What are  yours? Join the linkup over at Catholicmom.com!

NFP Top 10 List

WM-NFP-pink2-1024x1024

I love this top 10 list! I stumbled across it on Facebook and it’s so true. The author discusses the top 10 reasons she and her husband have chosen to use natural family planning. I can totally relate to all she says! Here are her top 10 reasons for choosing NFP over artificial birth control.

  1. NFP is good for the environment.
  2. NFP is good for my body.
  3. NFP is good for my marriage.
  4. Artificial hormones didn’t mess with my attraction to my husband when I decided to marry him.
  5. NFP is effective.
  6. I’m not always worried that there’s a chance I could be pregnant.
  7. NFP is empowering.
  8. It’s free!
  9. We have more sex.
  10. We have really good sex.

Read her blog for her support of each point. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

7 Years, 7 Lessons

anniversary

Today, Josh and I celebrate 7 years of marriage. I’m not sure how that happened. On the one hand, I can’t remember what it’s like not to be married. At the same time, it seems like it was just yesterday when we were rolling around Memphis with far to much free time and expendable income. In honor of the seven years we’ve been together, I thought I’d make a list of seven things I’ve learned about being married so far.

  1. Whoever said the first year of marriage is the hardest probably wasn’t married for more than one year. And I don’t think I’m alone on this. I once bought a book entitled “What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About the First Five Years of Marriage.” I never actually read it. I bought it somewhere around year 5 and the title alone was enough to bring me comfort. Knowing that it was ok that we didn’t get it all figured yet was a great relief. So far, for us, I think the sixth year of marriage was the hardest. I suppose only time will tell if it was indeed THE hardest year.
  2. The couple that prays together, stays together. I know this might sound cheesy, but it is so very true. Our marriage is so much easier when each of us is focused on growing in holiness (i.e. growing in our own individual relationship with God). Our fights don’t last as long, we’re more patient and forgiving with each other, and we’re generally more pleasant people when God is number one. We’ve ebbed and flowed in this area, so we’ve seen it from both sides at various points in our marriage. It’s not just a maturity thing or something like that. We really are better people when we are aware of how completely dependent we are on God’s grace to make it through the day.
  3. Girls/guys nights out aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. It’s definitely nice to get away for some “me time” every now and then, but we’ve both found that girls/guys nights aren’t very positive or uplifting experiences. Almost always, the evenings turn into a flogging of the opposite sex, particularly the spouses or significant others of those in attendance. Speaking ill of your spouse and/or being around those who constantly do is not a good thing for your marriage. We much prefer couple or family gatherings. It’s not uncommon for these events to end up as completely gender segregated as a 7th grade dance, but it’s a much different environment. No one is there to “escape” from the other, which drastically changes the mood and conversations.
  4. Expectations, especially unspoken ones, are more toxic than cyanide. I haven’t found anything in our marriage that can ruin a perfect day or situation quite like expectations. We all have them. But we need to let go of them. And the ones we can’t or don’t want to let go of? We need to communicate them. Clearly.
  5. Be willing to suffer together. It’s kind of an at-least-we’re-in-it-together type mentality. If Josh has to bring home a pile of work, I make sure I’m also doing something along the sames lines, like homework or my own work. If I’m pacing back and forth with a screaming baby, he cleans the kitchen or starts the laundry. We’ve learned that when one of us is sitting comfortably reading or watching TV, while the other is engaged in some unpleasant task, it usually sparks some kind of fight. Usually about something stupid. That’s because the problem isn’t whatever stupid fight erupts; the problem is that one of us is frustrated. It’s a lot easier to express frustration when you feel the other one “gets it” instead of looking up and realizing that the other is completely oblivious to what you’re dealing with at the present moment. (In all honesty, this is probably a much bigger deal to me than it is to Josh. Regardless, learning this lesson has cut back on many stupid fights.)
  6. It’s important to acquire some basic knowledge about all of the things your spouse is interested in.  Yes, all of the things. I’m still working on this. Learning about what the other is interested in shows you value and respect the other person. Their whole person. Even the parts that you find completely boring and stupid. Like Japanese candlesticks. Like I said, I’m still working on this one. If he can go baby shopping with me, I can learn a little something about those colored graphs. (Note: Josh just supplied the baby shopping example. I was shocked. I really had no idea how much he dislikes baby shopping. Guess he’s much better at this skill than I am.)
  7. Your pride is not more valuable than your spouse. We’re both prideful people. And we’re both stubborn. Back in the day, we could stay mad at each other for days, just to avoid having to be the one to give in. It’s so not worth it. No matter how badly it stings, apologize or cave in or whatever. It’s so much better than driving a wedge between you. This is a relatively new skill for us. Sometimes we stand there shocked at how quickly we can get over something that would have caused a major battle not all that long ago. This is probably one of the hardest lessons learned, and definitely one of the most valuable.

So there you have it. They’re not listed in any particular order, and they may not be profound, but these are the little lessons that have made our marriage what it is today. Like the little card on the flowers Josh sent me today said, I’m looking forward to seeing what the next seven years will bring!

For Better or For Worse

I was recently asked why I don’t write more about my marriage. Not just the daily happenings that I sometimes discuss, but the nitty-gritty details. My questioner speculated that it would make for good reading. I’m sure it would. But I don’t write about my marriage for the same reason I don’t talk about some aspects of my marriage, even to my closest friends. My marriage deserves more than that.

In a recent post, “Is Being Family Enough?”, I briefly touched on the special kind of dignity that comes with being “family.” I think that dignity is far surpassed by the dignity of marriage. On my wedding day I stood before my family, friends, and God, committing my life to Josh under all circumstances: for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, for richer or for poorer. My, oh my. We don’t know what we’re saying on that glorious day, do we? After all, how bad can bad be? How poor can poor be? How worse can worse be? How sick can sick be? We may think we know, but we don’t have a clue what those words really mean. I think that’s the beauty of it. On one’s wedding day, one finds oneself so very in love that one is willing to commit to stand by the another, even in the most unimaginable of circumstances.

Fast forward a few years.

I’m not perfect. My husband’s not perfect. Our marriage is not perfect. We are two imperfect people charged with living together and given the added responsibility of managing a household and raising a family. Are there ugly moments? You know as well as I do that there are many. Do those “moments” sometimes stretch past the end of the day and spill over into other days? Of course they do. So why don’t I talk about them, vent about them, or share whatever struggles we’re currently facing? I think doing so violates the dignity of our marriage. Even if my sole intention is just to get something off my chest, that’s not how it works. Whether my audience is an anonymous internet audience, my mother, my sister, my best friend, or a stranger at the park, if my words belittle Josh, they belittle my marriage. If they belittle my marriage, they belittle Josh. Marriage is hard enough without one or both of the spouses slowly tearing it apart to anyone who will listen.

I’m not suggesting that it’s healthy to keep your emotions bottled up inside. But I think struggles of this nature ought to be shared only with your spouse or your private journal. (Not barring a marital counselor or your confessor, if the situation applies.) Or (as should be the case in my marriage much more often than I do) first with my journal to filter out some of the unnecessary and potentially damaging words, then with my husband to attempt to build a bridge over, around or under the situation. Josh has it much worse than I do when it comes to bearing the brunt of our arguments. My knack for sarcasm often results in some pretty cutting comments, which is why I should work harder to filter out some of the emotion in my journal, so he and I can deal with facts.

While I obviously don’t know this from experience yet, I think I may have discovered the secret behind the 80-year-old couple sitting on the park bench, having been married for the past 60 years, and still very much in love. Mutual respect. They’ve seen each other at their very worst, their very best, and everywhere in between. The same is true for anyone in a marriage, but I think their secret is how they respond to and recover from those situations.

I recently heard someone say that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s self-love. After pondering those words for a few moments, I decided truer words have never been spoken. While “hate” isn’t comfortable, and it’s definitely not something you want to be part of your marriage, that’s not what will ultimately do it in. Self-love, on the other hand, especially when greater than the love you have for your spouse, will.

This is what is at the root of the saying that a successful marriage can’t be 50/50, rather it must be 100/100. Both partners must make every effort to give 100% of themselves. Yet, both partners must be be willing to give 110%, 150%, or 190% when, for one reason or another, the other is only capable of giving 90%, 50%, or 10%. Remember those scary vows? This is where they come in. We promised that we would do this, did we mean what we said?

If either or both spouses are more concerned with their own needs, their own desires, their own dreams, goals and aspirations, than those of the other, the marriage just won’t work. To make marriage a real, true, lifelong commitment, we have to look past ourselves and only see the other. How scary that can be sometimes! That’s why trust is so crucial. One has to be able to trust their spouse enough to be totally vulnerable. One has to be able to totally trust that their self-sacrificing love will be reciprocated. That’s what makes a marriage work. Not just work, but land two 80-year-old people on a park bench, 60 years after making vows that they really didn’t understand, sitting happily just because each is with the other.

Natural Family Planning IS NOT The Rhythm Method

Having written some of my recent posts has opened me up to slew of criticism, which happens to be, for the most part, nasty and uneducated. While I don’t intend to address most of it publicly, this is the one point that absolutely has to be cleared up. NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING IS NOT THE RHYTHM METHOD. I’ve even had nurses at former OB/GYN’s offices smugly make comments about my choice to use the “rhythm method.” I suppose the Rhythm Method is a form of Natural Family Planning, albeit a very bad one, but saying one uses NFP DOES NOT mean she uses the Rhythm Method. For those of you wondering what I could possibly be talking about, let me explain.

The Rhythm Method is when a women tracks her periods and basically guesses at when she might be ovulating based on the standard of a 28 day menstrual cycle. The huge problem with this is only something like 12% of women have a “normal 28 day cycle” every month. Attempting to achieve or postpone pregnancy based on an “average” is just foolish. People who oppose NFP are quick to cite statistics regarding the regular failure of the Rhythm Method and apply it to NFP in general. This is neither fair nor accurate.

True, reliable NFP comes under several names (the Sympto-Thermal Method,  the Billings Ovulation Method, and the Creighton Model, just to name a few) but all methods involve charting when you, as an individual, in that particular month, ovulate. When taking an NFP class, you learn the science behind ovulation and the menstrual cycle. You learn how to observe your body to know when you are ovulating. Whether you’re trying to achieve or prevent pregnancy or even just be proactive about your health, this is invaluable information. NFP works no matter what. If you’re early, if you’re late, if you’re stressed, if your fertile cycle begins before your period ends, if you’re breastfeeding, if you only have a few periods a year, if you’re illiterate, if you’re blind, whatever your unique circumstance is, NFP will let you know when you’re ovulating.

Common scientific sense tells you that if you have sex when you’re ovulating it is very likely you will get pregnant. If you don’t, you can’t. You absolutely can not get pregnant if you are not fertile. It’s not possible. (If you’re ever bored look up the case studies in India and China where NFP was implemented with a practically non-existent pregnancy rate. You most definitely can’t say the same for handing out artificial contraceptives.) For couples desiring to postpone pregnancy, they simply abstain from sex during the brief window of fertility. That’s why people freak out. Something about brief period of abstinence completely baffles and overwhelms our culture.

All things considered, (click here to read a transcript of a fabulous talk by Dr. Janet Smith where she discusses the relationship between contraception, divorce, abortion, poverty, and other social ills) I would much rather abstain a handful of days each month during the times I feel we are unable to accept another child than pollute my body and marriage with artificial birth control. I think if more people did a little research before popping that pill, getting that shot or inserting that ring, they would feel the same way.

In this day and age of it being so trendy to “go green,” eat organic foods, and be environmentally responsible, I find it laughable that so many people mindlessly choose artificial contraception over natural methods. (For information on how birth control is harming our environment, click here or just google “birth control and fish”) While my motives in choosing NFP aren’t necessarily “green,” I’m glad I’m not contributing to this problem.

I do want to point out, if you are interested in NFP it’s crucial you take a class or order an at home study kit, so you can learn what you’re doing. If you just read an article and attempt to implement it, you will likely be unsuccessful. However, with very little time, effort, or expense, you can learn NFP and say goodbye to artificial contraception and all its unpleasant and harmful side effects for good.

Lastly, my family size should not be used as an indicator of how well NFP works. Josh and I have never had a “surprise” pregnancy since beginning NFP. (The same can not be said for when we were using artificial contraception. I wouldn’t give Andy back for anything in the world, but he definitely wasn’t “planned.”) We know full well when we “risk” becoming pregnant. Believe it or not, we love our family and we don’t consider our children or family size to be a burden. Despite the negativity we receive from our peers, friends, strangers, and family, we adore our children and are open to more if that’s what the Lord has planned for us. At the same time, we know that we can also rely on NFP to postpone pregnancy if the need arises and have effectively done so in the past.

And just for good measure, I want to share these questions from FertilityCare Centers of America. If your answer to any of the following questions is “yes,” they highly recommend (and, of course, I agree) looking into a natural family planning method.

1. Do you want to know more about how your menstrual cycle works?

2. Are you tired of taking birth control pills, using condoms, using gels or diaphragms?

3. Are you looking for something to manage your fertility that is entirely natural?

4. Are you tired of having the birth control pill recommended for the treatment of nearly every woman’s health problem?

5. Are you interested in a family planning system that also allows you to monitor and maintain your health?

6. Are you looking for a family planning system that is completely safe and has no medical side effects?

7. Are you looking for a family planning method where surveys have shown a high level of couple satisfaction?

8. Are you looking for a solution to a reproductive problem? Infertility? Miscarriage? Stillbirth? Prematurity?

9. Are you looking for a solution to premenstrual syndrome? Recurrent Ovarian Cysts? Abnormal bleeding?

10. Would you like a family planning system that actually helps bond your marriage? Where both the the man and the woman work together?

11. Are you looking for a system of family planning that is morally acceptable to you and your spouse?

If your answer was “YES!” to any of the above questions, then you should seriously consider contacting an affiliated center of FertilityCare™ Centers of America.

To locate a FertilityCare™ Center in your area, please go to http://www.fertilitycare.org for a complete listing of Centers located in the United States and Canada or write to:

FertilityCare™ Center of Omaha

6901 Mercy Road

Omaha, Nebraska 68106

fcco@popepaulvi.com