Sex in Every Room

Renovating the Perceived Definition of Sexual Fulfillment


Whether you call it “Pre-Cana,” “Marriage Prep,” or “Checkin’ a box,”  the experience gets mixed reviews. Many of us who are married wish there was a “Part 2” version that extends into the first few years. You know- after you become aware of how specifically you suck at applying all you’ve learned… 

Do you remember trying to be introspective about yourself and your future spouse, but wondering “how can I possibly know this yet?” There are plenty of important topics to discuss prior to marriage, but there is so much more learning to take place once we begin to put married love into practice daily. I think we can all agree that we will always be students of the Sacrament and each other.

Well, Chris and I get to take part in that “Part 2” extended course quite frequently.

Right before our 5th Wedding Anniversary, we hopped onto the Marriage Prep Mentor Training Express when friends of ours asked us to prepare them for marriage. It wasn’t something we had previously considered, but ultimately we agreed that this was one of the many unexpected ways God would make us fertile as a couple (#biologicallyinfertile). The program we chose to be trained in was the same one we used as an engaged couple. I am always embarrassed to admit that I barely remembered any of it.

About two years and three couples later, it has made a palpable difference in our marriage. In preparation for each night with our engaged couples (6-7 nights per couple), we thoroughly study several extremely useful tools for good communication and conflict resolution, effects of family of origin in our lives and relationships, marriage expectations, sex & theology of the body, moral decision making, and the graces of the Sacrament! I mean, seriously, all married couples should do this.

58A55918-1479-4EF1-99D3-9B3A2D189F32

Marriage actually started to make sense once we got the user manual. I’m not sure if the individual nights are better for the engaged couple or us because we have actual marriage experience to draw from.

Now ask me what has been the most rewarding and fulfilling aspect of all these refresher courses. Drumroll please… “What is depth of sexual intimacy?” Alex.

We don’t talk about “Sex and Sexuality” until night 5! This blew my mind initially, but it makes sense to build a firm foundation before unpacking a topic of such importance. We dig into it only after the couple begins to understand:

1)      The unique family of origin of themselves and their future spouse, and how combining these two differently-shaped experiences affects/will affect their own relationship (finances, sex, religion, conflict resolution, etc.)

2)      Individual marriage expectations and how they compare to authentically living out the Sacrament: phases of romance, disillusionment, and true joy

3)      Nearly every couple’s #1 relationship goal: good communication & conflict resolution (we break these up into 2 nights)

In order to fully experience sex in all of its amazing glory, we have to get into the mind of the one who created it. This means also getting into the mind and heart of our beloved. In “Night 5” we learn that God designed sex for two equally important purposes- to unite husband and wife and to be open to life. Now think about what it means to be fully united.

Siri defines unity as “the state of being…joined as a whole…forming a complete and pleasing whole…the number one…”

We can’t be whole if we leave out any part of ourselves- that includes emotions, fertility, interests, fears, etc. The more we share ourselves with our spouse, the more we make room for them within ourselves, and the more we understand them, the more we become one with them. The physical unity of sex is merely part of the picture and will only by merely satisfying without the other pieces of the one we love. Our experience of good sex often develops over time as our relationships deepen.

Sexual intimacy is only limited by our own willingness to dive into the whole person of our spouse.

Making this gift of ourselves complete also means that until we promise forever at the altar, the gift of ourselves is not irrevocable. And because we can’t make a total gift of ourselves if we withhold our fertility from our spouse, God designed each couple (generally speaking) with both days of fertility and infertility so that we can choose which days to use for sex, depending on our intentions, and with input from the big guy himself, of course.

Here is the dilemma! Sex is very good. Yet he asks many of us to “just say no” at certain times because of that whole “unity” thing. I don’t have to tell you how hard and frustrating it can be to choose to abstain. However, I don’t believe for a moment that God’s design for our bodies and plan for marriage was created to be burdensome. 

2812B083-EDAF-4833-AA0F-78053F41FBDB

 

Love does often require sacrifice, but there is a difference between a burden and the redemption of self-giving sacrifice. Let’s look more closely at God’s intelligent design that was intended to bring us freedom rather than weighing us down.

I often like to quote Spiderman’s grandfather as he said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” God consistently teaches us how to be responsible with our gift of sexuality and its connection to the gift of new life. A lot of us in Catholic culture tend to unintentionally view marriage as a finish line which, once reached, finally unhinges the gates which have been struggling to hold back sexual passion for years. But marriage is really more of another starting point which gives us both power and responsibility to keep the gift intact; to exercise our ability to choose sex rather than simply giving in to it. 

With this permanent commitment, God rejoices in the two becoming one in passionate and exciting union -the total and irrevocable gift of self- but He loves us too much (and knows us too well) to allow us to be primarily focused on that sexual union and dilute the value of sexual self-control.

 

Tell me more about the intimacy, woman!

Despite what our culture constantly tells us, sex is not a need. It is very good, but it is not required to feel intimately satisfied by our spouse.

Emotional intimacy is discussed early on in marriage prep because it is such an important component of a fulfilling marriage. Lloyd and Jan Tate (creators of our marriage prep program and resident marriage all stars) explain that:

“The depth and openness of communication set the pulse of the marriage relationship.” and that “the sexual relationship is not a separate and distinct aspect of your marriage; it is an extension of your whole relationship and an expression of your unity and intimacy…intended to be a celebration of the emotional and spiritual intimacy the couple is experiencing in ALL aspects of their relationship.”

Wow. 

Therefore, if the sexual relationship of the couple is unfulfilling in any way, it is likely that the discrepancy is not coming from the bedroom, but stemming from the other areas of the home where good and thorough, soul-to-soul communication is falling short. In other words: the better the emotional and spiritual intimacy, the better the sex…and I would venture to say, the more fulfilling the waiting period.

And I imagine that is not how sex was described to you as a teenager.

Sexual contact is a celebration of the whole person – not just one’s genitals – and it includes emotional and spiritual intimacy and much more, the good and the bad experiences taking place in every room – not just the bedroom. See “Bubbles Over Butterflies”  for a personal example of just how fulfilling sexual intimacy can be outside of the context of intercourse.

Communication and expressing feelings is far easier for some than others- but mostly just hard for everyone. We have to consider families of origin, deep wounds, traumas, different personalities, and many other contributing factors that make it difficult to understand our own emotions much less share these intimate details with our spouse. It is not something we always want to do, but it is vital to a fulfilling marriage. 

It is vital to growth in unity. It is often easier to be distant or distracted, to focus on fun activities, and to have sex. But sex is so much more than simply a physical act. Married couples share their entire selves- emotions, fertility, and spirituality included – when having fun between the sheets. 

 

Maybe there’s a method to His madness

So God has intentionally created us to avoid intercourse at certain times within our married life and for really good reason. It is during these times that He invites us to focus our attention on our spouse’s heart, mind, soul, etc. 

Reconnect on other levels

Learn or remember each other’s love languages and fill your spouse’s love tank

Pray together

Discover new things about each other

Express your gratitude and build up your spouse for who they are

Discuss that thing that’s difficult or painful that you’ve been meaning to talk about 

Discover affirming touch versus arousal touch

Find a different way to please your spouse

Get creative! 

Don’t expect it to be the same kind of enjoyment- it’s not supposed to be. But expect it to enrich that other kind of enjoyment. And we don’t have to stop reconnecting on these other levels when we are having sex. We can never stop growing in unity with our spouse. 

What a gift it is that God gives us this occasional nudge so that we won’t forget the whole person of whom we have married! NFP doesn’t have to be a negative experience of focusing our attention on something we cannot do, but a positive expression of the ongoing commitment to love; a consistent investment into our beloved and our marriage!

Although I don’t fully understand the burden of this particular sacrifice of abstaining within marriage, I do understand sacrifice and suffering. There can be many blessings of infertility if we are open to them, but the ability to have intercourse at almost any time is not necessarily one of them. We, too, have to make a special effort to grow in unity, and our particular sacrifice has been vital for me personally to be able to do that. 

The decision to love is often a very difficult one, but it brings us closer together and closer to Christ without fail. So live it up! Delight in each other in each and every way possible, love languages included, and don’t leave any of the rooms of the house left out (insert wink face here). Double entendre intended.


If you’re interested in continuing the conversation with some honest Catholic girl chat on the topic, listen to this episode from my podcast @MessyBuns by clicking this link: “Dating, Marriage, and Sexy Sex” 

 

Abortion: The Great “Choice” Facade

I had a conversation about the emotional issue of abortion with several women recently that revealed something very interesting to me. One woman chimed in on the discussion to share that she had an abortion in her early 20s because raising a child meant she would have to move back into her parents’ abusive household where she would be exposed to more stress and trauma (a horrible situation that no one deserves).

Her argument intending to defend the lives of mothers faced with crisis pregnancies hinged on her claim that if she had not had access to the “safe” abortion she was given, she would have most likely killed herself (and the baby).

Because there is another (really, multiple) glaring issue, I’m presently not going to comment on the fact that adoption is an incredibly beautiful and worthwhile alternative to not personally raising a child, regardless of the circumstances. But I want us to take an honest moment to consider where she could have gotten such a notion?  …that it was because of her pregnancy that she would feel a need to end her life??

I assure you that this hopelessness felt by many women in similar and worse situations is not because of the newly conceived baby.

Let’s take a moment to consider the anger, cursing, vulgarity, and talking points being hurled on legislators and others in opposition to abortion, as well as the marketing pictures on TV and social media of emotional women sobbing at the thought that abortion may not be readily available:

1.) “My body, my choice” encourages women to think only of themselves; a concept which is in direct opposition to the definition of love which seeks to put others’ needs before our own. A life lived out of love is NOT easy, but is one of peace and contentment- even within suffering!

2.) “If the procedure isn’t legal, women will die anyway in back alley abortions” influences women to believe that there is no hope for them and dying would be imminent. It says “you are confronted with this difficult reality of pregnancy and you can’t do it. It’s going to be too hard. You don’t have control over yourself. Escape this “problem” at all costs. Even risking your own death.”

3.) “Your child will suffer if given up for adoption or end up in foster care due to lack of funding and too many children in foster care.” Nearly 100% of children in these situations will disagree and are actually very grateful to be alive. Those that disagree have a voice to do so.

Also, we must not forget the lives of the adults/entire families that a birthmother changes by giving them the ability to have a child and by giving the child a loving home. A birthmother is truly heroic, and that alone is a reason to live.

Surely there are people on both sides that communicate in undesirable ways. But I have personally witnessed far more offensive language and anger from those who support abortion. I think the anger is being fostered by fear of the things I just mentioned. But it is no surprise there is so much fear when there is so little encouragement and support for a woman in this particular difficult situation.

This person I had a conversation with expressed to me that she was suicidal and not one of the multiple women claiming to be pro-woman advocates for women’s health publicly stepped up in support of her mental health to suggest that she or anyone having suicidal thoughts may benefit from counseling, etc. No one said that there is never a good reason to end your own life. Was the actual point to make me feel bad or consider changing my mind because a pro-life stance is somehow to blame for a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and considering suicide? Is it worth affirming this kind of thought process by silence?

Women with crisis pregnancies truly deserve our help and support, but the legality of abortion will not provide such. I believe many pro-abortion women truly intend to help women, but I also think the pro-abortion movement shows its true colors here. It appears as though women in very difficult situations are being used to validate extremes -like taking the life of an unborn child (or even as some believe is a future child)- to attempt to support their objective.

 

Being Authentically Pro-woman

If the good of the woman is truly the focus, why not encourage her and validate her ability to thrive in this difficult situation? If you are an organization that provides abortion, why not provide FREE counseling and ultra sounds? The cost of abortions can surely support it.

Why not tell her she CAN do this thing that is going to be hard? Why not educate her fully about all of her options? Why not educate her on alternatives to birth control that are life affirming? Why not talk to her about the benefits and freedom of sexual self-control?

Why not empower her with knowledge about FABMs (Fertility Awareness Based Methods) so she can begin to appreciate sexual self-control, understand how her body works, and receive the added health benefits? Why not give accurate statistics on effectiveness of FABMs?

Why not explain to her that although many women express feelings of relief immediately after having an abortion, that this often turns into regret and depression as years pass? Why not discuss the increased rate of breast cancer?

Why not spend more time and effort on adoption referrals and education?

It really doesn’t seem to be very much about a woman having a choice now, does it? I’m receiving a message that says: If your pregnancy is unwanted and makes your life hard, no matter the reason why, end it. Take what appears to be an easy way out.

Planned Parenthood, why is there not an “adoption” tab on your website? Also, why is there absolutely nothing about adoption or free counseling anywhere on your website? There is literally an “A-Z Glossary” on your website and “Adoption” is nowhere to be found. What services do you profit from?

 

Where are my choices? Or did you really just want me to know about one of them?

I have a new message for women with unplanned pregnancies who are in very serious/difficult or even not so difficult situations, and I have no financial interest in your decision: First of all- you are loved and valued, even if we disagree very much. You have worth. You are enough. Even if you make the decision I very much hope you won’t. Even if that decision was already carried out.

You are smart and can make your own decisions. But in order to make an empowered decision, you need all of the information and you need it to be accurate. If you don’t want to keep your baby, I completely respect that. I can’t imagine how difficult and scary this process of pregnancy you are anticipating may feel to you. But I know you are strong and that when faced with adversity in the past, you have conquered it, or have at least learned from it and have become a better person.

I believe in you wholeheartedly and I know you can conquer this, too. I also know that you will be grateful you did- so will that brand new life you just brought into the world and will one day be able to make choices of their own. If you don’t want to keep your baby, adoption is also a choice.

If you have no family or friends (and if you do!), there is a free crisis pregnancy center or church near you that will help you. People WANT to help you deliver this baby. They are cheering for you! People are yearning to adopt your baby. You will become their new hero like our birthmother became ours.

You actually do have options, and I hope you choose one that is loving and life giving for yourself and for your new child. You have been blessed with one of the hardest but most incredibly rewarding gifts on the planet- to be a mother. So, be a mother. Even if one of your first decisions as a mother is to gift your child with an adoptive mother. You can do this.

You were actually quite literally created to do this very thing, whether it feels like it right now or not. God bless you.

Our local crisis pregnancy center in New Orleans, the Woman’s New Life Clinic, offers free pregnancy tests, ultra sounds, and professional counseling services including individual pregnancy counseling, post-abortion counseling, adoption awareness counseling, family or couple counseling, miscarriage counseling, and stillbirth counseling. https://womansnewlife.com/services/professional-counseling/

Find your local Crisis Pregnancy Center by going to https://optionline.org/center-locator or by calling 1-800-395-4357.

 

 

Bubbles Over Butterflies

bubbles 5

On our wedding night and the night afterwards, Chris and I were fortunate enough to stay at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown New Orleans. #WeFancy, but #WeHadAConnection. It was incredible. As one of their many attentions to detail, they gifted us with some fancy bubble bath, pictured above. Who knew a bottle of bubbles could be so pretty, smell so good, and add to so much fun ; ) ? This bottle, rarely used since the weekend of our wedding, quickly became a beautiful and nostalgic decoration around our bathtub at home.

Fast forward almost exactly 7 years to a couple of weeks ago. My pain was bad again and the medication wasn’t kicking in, so it was time to get into the tub. Chris told me to stay on the couch until he could prepare the bath water for me. When the time came, he carefully helped me into the bathroom and into the tub, where the hot water provided some relief instantly.

Finally able to relax a little, I lied down and remained very still. Chris immediately grabbed that precious bottle of bubbles from our wedding night and poured it all around me, its aroma instantly tickling my nose.

Same bubbles. Very different scenario.

After settling the bottle back into its treasured spot, he grabbed some bath salts that I didn’t know existed and sprinkled them into the water as well. He sat next to me and held my hand from the other side of the tub.

The hot water felt good on my belly but eventually made me feel so hot that I felt like I needed to get out. Chris insisted that I stay and began to fan me with some cardboard (2 Creighton charts. Ha!). A smile broke through the stoic expression on my face as I said “This is marriage…” and he smiled, too. My body and fertility betrayed me with pain and dysfunction, but my heart was full and my spirit was content, even joyful. A similar scenario was repeated less than two weeks later.

On a night in which I was in great physical pain, both of us bearing hearts with dreams of fertility crushed, one of us fully clothed and simply holding my hand, and no orgasm in sight, we had a completely fulfilling sexual experience. I was open and completely vulnerable as Chris made a complete and sincere gift of himself to me. I received that gift and reciprocated it back to him in my gratitude and sincere appreciation in as much as I was able to in that moment. We both experienced the pleasure of a deeper intimacy.

We then approached our seven-year wedding anniversary differently than we are usually able to, but I had never felt more loved or connected to my husband, who continues to choose me at my lowest. In a world where love is often mischaracterized by feelings that ebb & flow and instant gratification, the appeal of actual love is often lost. Love is an act of the will; a daily and often difficult choice to make, but ultimately extremely fulfilling. And that fact is not lost on us today.

Just like the average couple, we fail often. But the unfailing persistence of the lifetime commitment we have promised to each other and the understanding of love as a daily choice (especially the choices that seem unpopular by culture) are components of this long-term fulfillment.

The idea that this was a pleasing sexual experience will sound bogus to the general population. The fullness of sexual intimacy is generally lost in a culture who tends to be obsessed with “sex” while simultaneously being unable to wholly define it. In frequent attempts to reach what many consider to be quality sexual contact, most settle for what is unfulfilling long-term and often unrestricted genital contact- even within marriage. Self-control is only considered to be of value when a minor or lack of consent is involved.

But to have satisfying sexual contact with our spouse means to connect with his or her whole person. We are far more than bodies with genitals that provide a means to an end, but using any form of birth control inevitably causes us to stumble into that category. Any barrier between our fertility and our spouse denies ourselves of the ability to make a complete and sincere gift of our whole selves to our spouse.

From major sacrifices to minor daily struggles, marriage calls us to choose love daily, experiencing both joys and pains- some forced upon us (illness, accident, etc.) and some chosen by us (naturally avoiding pregnancy via NFP/Fertility Awareness, caring for sick loved ones, our attitudes, etc.) for the greater purpose of a healthy marriage. When willingly accepted, we can find joy and purpose in suffering, no matter how it is delivered.

Chris and I have never had to experience the difficult, but loving sacrifice of avoiding sex to space pregnancies because we are infertile. But we have had to avoid sex much more frequently than expected due to multiple surgeries and chronic pain that has often been present outside of my period and sometimes for weeks at a time. Sometimes on our Anniversary.

Many people (many Catholics included) don’t believe avoiding sex during fertile times to avoid pregnancy rather than using birth control is important to the health of a marriage. But if we look at the way the Author of sex and marriage has designed us, we can see two facts clearly:

  • He created us to be fertile for only several days within each cycle.
  • He gave us the ability to effectively determine on which days we are fertile and on which days we are not.

We can intuitively gather that there is some purpose to this design.

We sometimes forget that God put the pleasure in intercourse on purpose. He’s not embarrassed by it or fooled somehow because we clever humans figured out how to make it feel good. He actually wants us to get as much enjoyment out of it as we can, even until we are physically exhausted (if that’s what floats your boat)- but only when we understand that that fun/unitive part of the design is equally as important as the design for the transmission of new life and the lifetime commitment meant to foster that potential new life.

Simply put = sex is both for fun and for making a baby. Their inability to be separated and remain in union doesn’t mean that God wants us to have as many children as physically possible. It means that when we are avoiding pregnancy, He has designed us to use only days of infertility within each cycle for sex, and to especially use that difficult time of sacrifice to grow closer to the whole person of our spouse.

Sex is good and important, but it shouldn’t be so important in our lives that we lose sight of its whole purpose and the importance of the other areas of intimacy in our lives. We can get so busy preparing to avoid sacrifice at all costs that we miss daily opportunities to grow in unity and intimacy that will actually lead to deeper fulfillment.

What if sex is unexpectedly taken off the table for a temporary or even permanent period of our lives? What will be the quality of our relationship?

Have we fostered other goods within our marriage?

Will we still choose to love?

Will we find the even deeper sexual experiences with the whole person of our spouse?

We naturally anticipate our wedding day with great excitement, making expensive plans and beautiful designs, forming creative ideas, making a plethora of phone calls and appointments, and the list goes on. How much do we willingly and even joyfully sacrifice for a few very special hours on a Saturday night? What are we willing to sacrifice for the health and strength of a good marriage that brings us true joy and lasts a lifetime?

That feeling of butterflies which often accompanies the excitement and passion of sex is very good, but in isolation, is fleeting. To be seen and loved at your lowest, even through something as simple as a bubble bath, is a good that will last forever…

bubbles 3

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Catholic Professionalism

Many months ago, a woman wrote into an extremely popular and credible Catholic question and answer podcast frustrated about her feelings of guilt and confusion when daily conversing with her husband and praying about avoiding another pregnancy. She was struggling specifically because she was having difficulty identifying her days of fertility and infertility with her continuous mucus.

The woman explained that she had been married for 8 years, has 4 children, and has had several miscarriages. She was using the Creighton Model System with yellow stamps, which she had not yet mastered, and had a history of low progesterone (hence the miscarriages) which required her to use supplementation to sustain her last 3 pregnancies. She sought spiritual advice and direction.

This episode welcomed a very good and pretty well known Catholic professional guest (whose expertise is outside the realm of Fertility Awareness) who had the task of answering the questions in this particular hour. Before he gave her the spiritual advice, this is what he said:

“Practically speaking, the Creighton Method of Fertility Awareness, or Natural Family Planning, only looks at mucus signs as the metric to be able to determine a woman’s fertility. Remember, a woman is only fertile 7-9 days…And so I would say to certainly continue to talk to your Creighton Practitioner, but at the same time, maybe explore other options– the symptothermal method looks at the mucus signs as well as the basal body temperature and maybe having another metric data point to be able to see if your fertility would help there…

…so you’re not just relying solely on mucus, which the gift of Creighton is that it has as a sophisticated way of being able to determine and evaluate mucus signs to see if its fertile or infertile, but if you only have that and you have a lot of that…then I would say you have to look at other data points (methods) as well to be able to determine your fertility…”

Although I very much appreciate his use of the term “Fertility Awareness” in addition to NFP and his encouragement to speak to her Practitioner, there are multiple problems with this response:

  • The message implied about the Creighton Model (and in some part about Sympto-thermal) is inaccurate; wrong
  • The message was delivered to a large amount of people
  • It highlights the problem holding back the progression of NFP/Fertility Awareness in the Church

Like any other person trained to become a Creighton Practitioner would have heard it, those words hit my ears like the hood of a car ugly crashing into a Lamborghini. In slow motion. There are countless women successfully using Creighton to chart continuous mucus, some of which are my own clients. Research has shown that there is a very distinct change that occurs in mucus during the time of fertility. It takes some work, but women can be taught to confidently distinguish this change using the Creighton Model.

That being said, it is true that the same method doesn’t fit into everyone’s personality and lifestyle. It is good for each woman/couple to research individual methods to find the one that works best for them. It is also good for those who are not trained in specific methods to avoid giving such details about things they don’t understand- especially when so many people are listening.

The other problem with this inaccuracy is that the woman shared that she has confirmed low progesterone (which any trained instructor will agree can cause infertility or miscarriage) and needed supplementation. The Creighton Model is the only method with a medical extension (NaProTechnology) supplying the added benefit of a physician or nurse practitioner who can read a Creighton chart, draw blood during the appropriate time of the cycle to confirm hormonal abnormalities, and prescribe bio-identical progesterone. How might a change in method affect her ability to supplement time targeted Progesterone?

dear

I sent a friendly email to the podcast to simply alert them of the inaccuracies and many months later, no corrections were issued. I sent another friendly email to the guest who made the comments and he received my corrections kindly, but excused them because he had discussed his answer with an “NFP-only doctor” prior to recording the show. (Because a doctor does not prescribe birth control does not mean that he or she understands the depths of each individual method. When looking for information on a specific method, ask a trained professional in that method.)

I felt hurt and, honestly, rejected by 2 people who represent the Church -publicly- in some form or fashion. For me, this went beyond false information about a specific method and continuous mucus, serving as a painful reminder of my path to infertility. As most of you know, I experienced about 12 years of physical pain before getting diagnosed with endometriosis at age 24, ultimately rendering me infertile. Women’s health is an essential aspect of Natural Family Planning (I prefer the more encompassing term of Fertility Awareness) for all women of reproductive age and although it transcends religion, the Catholic Church has been one of the few (if not the only) organizations to consistently encourage its use, and has had a responsibility to do so, but its efforts have been extremely limited within the context of the fullness of what NFP/Fertility Awareness is and has to offer.

 

BUILDING A BRIDGE

The Creighton Model and NaProTechnology were born more than 30 years ago, inspired by Pope Paul VI himself. I am a cradle Catholic whose family was very active in church at least weekly, meeting multiple different priests and Catholic professionals, and not one time did anyone counsel me on my options for fertility awareness to relieve pain and preserve fertility. My experience has motivated me to improve education and increase exposure to authentic and restorative women’s healthcare that will improve outcomes and quality of life for women, but also help us to appreciate God’s design and plan for our lives. In 2019, my message of concern and truth of Fertility Awareness was ignored by multiple different Catholic professionals.

If we desire and expect to effectively communicate the infinite beauty of Christ Himself through our church, we have to pay closer attention- especially those who hold the attention of such a vast audience. Understanding the morality of contraception and IVF and making decisions which reflect that is crucial to every human, Catholic or not, leader or not. The beauty of fertility awareness is that the science, benefits, and practicality exist whether the morality is understood or not, thereby making it an excellent bridge into deeper communion with Christ and His Church. If leaders and professionals in our Church hope to keep birth control on the shelves and out of our homes (for the good of each individual), a deeper and more encompassing understanding of Fertility Awareness must by embraced.

The language of the body goes beyond the act of intercourse itself and is intrinsic to the daily understanding of the health of each individual woman. The intricacies and beauty of God’s designs are limitless. A couple is more likely to effectively continue using a method of Natural Family Planning if they understand each method well and have found the one that fits them best, and if a woman/couple understands their quality medical and surgical alternatives.

This is good news. It is an honor that God has communicated such beauty and hope to us and has done so in large part through the Catholic Church. And like Peter Parker says in Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It is crucial for Catholic professionals to understand morality, but it does not guarantee an understanding of science. There is hope to marry the two (understanding of both morality and science)! I believe the professionals I encountered are very good and are making a positive impact in their fields, even at many times when it comes to Fertility Awareness. As with my own expertise, there is always room for improvement. Many of peoples’ initial impressions of NFP will be from Catholic leaders and professionals. Let’s give them information that is accurate, and let’s be excited about it!

baby

 

 

 

Black & White

Three times endometriosis and adenomyosis sent me to the emergency room. The first time was the worst, within about 5 months prior to my last surgery in early 2018. It was a Saturday morning I’ll never forget. I woke up and walked to the bathroom, but couldn’t leave on my own accord. Chris helped me from the bathroom floor to the car and we barely exited the driveaway before I started to throw up because the pain was so bad.

The 15 minute drive felt like hours. Once we arrived, I hobbled into the closest wheelchair, writhing and folded over, motioning for a vomit bag. I was too focused on surviving to feel embarrassed. I used that infamous blue handheld bag as I was rolled passed the nurses station and into one of the rooms.

The rest is a blur until the second dose of morphine kicked in. I remember frantically kicking my flip flops off, Chris helping the nurses to get me into a robe and holding me down to draw blood and start an IV. It’s hard to find a vein with so much movement. Later my sister arrived to my empty room (when they took me for an ultra sound) to find what she described as a crime seen with my flip flops and a little blood scattered on the floor from attempts at sticking my vein. A catheter was needed to get a urine sample.

Then there was more waiting…

It takes time for the doctor to come. A nurse can’t prescribe morphine. And they had to make sure I wasn’t on drugs.

I remember rocking back and forth with eyes clenched, hands gripping the bed rails, and feet digging into those classic white sheets. My life wasn’t in danger, but I remember wondering if I was going to die. I remember feeling guilty for hoping someone would knock me out of consciousness to get a moment of relief. “Where is the will to get through this? Find it, Mary…”

Finally, the morphine arrived. The nurse said it would make my whole body feel weird for a moment and then that would go away. She was right. On a normal day, that anticipation would’ve caused me great anxiety. But all I could think of was the potential relief it would bring.

As that magical fluid trickled through my veins for the second time (one dose wasn’t quite enough), my limbs finally began to relax into the bed and a sigh of relief exited my mouth with the next few breaths. Now able to appreciate the back of my eyelids, I rested perfectly still, and completely soaked up every ounce of that very simple feeling that we often take for granted: normalcy.

My blood tests were fine. I had no cuts or bruises; no significant medical history except endometriosis. The ultra sound came back relatively normal. This is what an invisible illness can look like.

Once walking out that hospital door, mainstream medicine could only offer me three things:
1) Strong pain medicine
2) Some form of birth control and the side effects that come along with it
3) Hysterectomy

My Creighton chart, however, revealed a classic type of unusual bleeding seen with adenomysosis. My Naprotechnology surgeon ordered an MRI which displayed a thickening of/enlarged uterus with 3 large cysts, characteristic of adenomyosis. He gave me the option of cutting off the localized adenomyomas (cutting off part of the uterus) and sewing it back together with the possibility of pregnancy still intact. Chris and I thought it was worth a try.

I woke up from surgery feeling a dramatic difference immediately; a weight, literally, lifted. I went several cycles with minimal to no pain, controlled with anti-inflammatories.

My chart revealed that I was at high risk for endometriosis from the very beginning. Had I been charting when I was first having severe symptoms as a young teen, I would’ve likely been diagnosed and treated within one year instead of the 12 years it took mainstream medicine. This could’ve meant a drastic reduction in severity/time in pain, and fertility.

It was unreal to be freed from that pain I knew so well since before 13 years old, nearly 20 years prior. That pain had become a part of me, from pushing through work or school because period pain is “normal” to writhing in the bed sheets at our local E.R.

I don’t ever want to forget that feeling.

That feeling is what inspires me to fight for other young women like me, but also women with less serious women’s health issues. Women’s health diseases, risk factors for miscarriage, etc., and hormonal abnormalities can often be found much sooner. No one should have to “deal with” unnecessary symptoms.

That feeling reminds me of how far God has brought me and that He has never left my side- from the depths of despair to accepting and willingly entering into my sufferings, to embracing every joy and talent he has blossomed in my life because of it. It is unlikely that I will ever get pregnant. But I am living the joy of God’s plan for my life, which (spoiler alert) is much better than my own.

You can take away my fertility, but you can’t take away my faith.

You can take away my plans and control, but you can’t take away my hope.

Hope is right there in black and white. The underlying causes of our symptoms are also often right there in our charts, in black and white (or red, green, and white, even yellow….) But we have to be open and looking for it. Circumstances cannot change the reality of the presence of hope, nor the reality of God’s presence.

We don’t have to forfeit our honest feelings of sadness or anger to accept hope! Feel your feelings and express them. It is important to be honest with yourself and with God. But also allow yourself to be transformed and see the goodness God has for you. Hope is always present. Find it.

NFP Reform: A Plea to Church Leaders

I am 33 years old and have known I’ve been infertile since I got married just over 6 years ago. There’s sort of a spectrum of infertility because you’re always waiting for that special month when pregnancy will happen. For some it does and for others it doesn’t. The realization that my situation is becoming permanent has re-ignited some emotions I had conquered years ago after the initial realization that it would not be easy to become pregnant.

I was finally diagnosed with severe stage 4 endometriosis at 25 years old after 12 years of physical pain. If you’re thinking that is too long to wait before getting a diagnosis and subsequent treatment, you are right. So for the first several years of this journey, I was almost daily confronted with the painful realization that multiple doctors had failed me- both internists and gynecologists. Their medical school failed me. Their cheap attempt at a solution -insert any type of birth control here- failed me.

 

NFP/Fertility Awareness is God’s design for women’s health

Women’s health problems are more widespread than most realize – even with many who consider themselves of normal health. Thankfully, God has gifted humanity with an actual scientific and medically sound solution, and He has given it to us through the Catholic Church. Let that resonate for a moment because it’s kind of a big deal- and it supports the frequently challenged idea that Christ cares for His suffering people. The only problem is that many priests, religious, and Catholic professionals are completely unaware that it exists or don’t fully understand the impact it can have on a woman (at any reproductive age) and/or a couple’s life.

I have wrestled with my faith in God and it has been strengthened. Christ has not failed me. I write this today because now I am entering into another painful realization. Despite my life-long (practicing) Catholicism and the Creighton Model and Naprotechnology’s deep roots in the Catholic faith since the late 1960s (although anyone will benefit, regardless of denomination or lack thereof), not one priest, religious, or Catholic professional gave me information about this credible solution in an effort to heal my physical and emotional pain and preserve my fertility throughout the 12 years that I desperately needed it.

Had I known about this charting method, I would’ve been diagnosed and treated within the same year of discovering my severe symptoms as a young teenager. And I may not be infertile today. But the only information I received wasn’t given to me until I was in my 20s and preparing for marriage- to avoid IVF and some ambiguity about whether or not it was morally permissible to use birth control for medical reasons after I was married.

 

It’s not your fault

You are not responsible for my infertility. You can only share what you know of and I am aware that this was not explained to you in detail in seminary. I could not and would not blame you. But I hope I will challenge and motivate you. There are 1 in 8 couples who are infertile and many don’t know it yet. Infertility is a symptom of an underlying problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Another problem sometimes preventable with NaPro protocols could be miscarriage. Post-partum depression is also widespread and has an effective but rarely known treatment. Countless women experience other women’s health problems- some are aware and some aren’t.

NFP can be the answer for many of these women. And forgive this expression, but most of the Church’s NFP game is weak.

“NFP” is not just for engaged or married Catholics, but that is often the only way it is marketed and evangelized. NFP more often represents 3 extremely misunderstood letters than an effective way to space out children. In my opinion, the better terminology is “Fertility Awareness” or “Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABM).” This describes an appreciation for fertility by both man and woman and is characterized by early education of how a young woman’s body works- knowledge that every woman has a right to, but is seldom given in school or at home (probably because parents and teachers at school have not been fully educated either). Our fertility is intimately connected with our overall health- some refer to it as “the fifth vital sign” -and God’s design was not meant to be secret.

 

The whole person

This will empower a woman to make better and healthier choices for her whole person- body, mind, spirit, and soul. Yes, this includes making better decisions about sex, too. In a study by Klaus H and Kardatske D called “Teen STAR (Sexuality teaching in the context of adult responsibility): Experiential Learning of Fertility Delays Teens Sexual Debut,” they found a decrease between 30 and 62% of sexual activity of teenage girls with use of knowledge acquired from the Billings Ovulation Method. Ideally, a young woman will already have the knowledge and experience in charting her cycles (via multiple natural method options) before she becomes engaged to be married.

Fertility Awareness is the new “NFP” and it is about health, not just spacing out children. It is effectively avoiding pregnancy (many methods are equally effective as birth control), intentionally achieving pregnancy (even for many of the infertile), and there is another extremely important dimension that is often ignored: the ability to monitor and maintain a woman’s own procreative and gynecological health. The Creighton Model charting system offers an added health benefit that will be appealing to many.

 

Scientifically sound

Years of scientific research done by the Pope Paul VI Institute has determined how to gather valuable and clinically relevant data from a woman’s Creighton Chart. This data becomes specifically useful to a NaProTechnology (Naprotechnology.com) Medical Consultant and/or Surgeon who has been specially trained to interpret information gained from the chart to perform other targeted tests and/or surgeries if necessary.

This will often lead to early diagnosis and effective treatment of many issues-

  1. Hormonal abnormalities/PMS
  2. Endometriosis and PCOS
  3. Miscarriage and postpartum depression
  4. Early detection of some cancers (treatment for cancer is outside of NaPro) .
  5. Much more

This is a restorative healthcare approach which focuses its attention on restoring the woman’s health (vs. shutting it down via birth control) and it is not available from a mainstream OB/GYN. When a woman is healthy and understands how her body works, she is best prepared to achieve pregnancy, maintain a pregnancy, have an emotionally healthy postpartum, and live a better quality daily life whether pregnancy is an option or not. Even with all these advantages, this one method will not appeal to everyone. But we still need to be educated on the option.

 

A challenge for men

The approach for young men in regards to fertility would obviously be a little different, but still very important and is relatively absent in our culture. Young men don’t need as many specifics about what happens in a woman’s body, but general information is important especially as it is applied to reproduction. This is vital as they are confronted with maturing bodies, hormones, and are trying to grasp the gift of sexuality (hopefully in light of Theology of the Body) in order to nurture a healthy respect for themselves, women, and the conjugal act.

It doesn’t make much sense to talk about the man’s fertility separately from the woman’s. The only meaningful point of conversation is the combined fertility of the man and woman, which is understood by knowledge of the cyclic variations of fertility and infertility in the woman (taken from the Creighton Model’s Intro session). They, too, should have at least a basic understanding of the 3 pillars of Fertility Awareness (days of fertility, days of infertility, and women’s health) as they become engaged and prepare for marriage. Within marriage, the more specific knowledge he has of his wife’s reproductive system and their combined fertility, and the more they communicate about it, the more the couple will benefit and grow in unity.

Fertility Awareness is a beautiful gift within marriage. Regardless of which natural method is used, many recognize the shared responsibility of man and woman as a benefit, as opposed to the woman alone taking “responsibility” when using a form of birth control. However, as a new Practitioner Intern of the Creighton Model system who has now worked with many couples before and after marriage, I am beginning to see that simply choosing to use a natural method together as a couple does not necessarily make it a shared system.

It is still possible for the woman to take on the primary responsibility if the man does not take part. We can do a better job at preparing men for this important role in marriage. They must make a daily choice to share the responsibility with their spouses, learn the system, and learn how God speaks through the body of his beloved to communicate to them through charting.

 

Fertility Awareness and Theology of the Body

Whoa. Read that sentence again. What a gift! There is room for Fertility Awareness to be incorporated more into lessons on Theology of the Body, whether focused on adults or teens. In TOB, we learn that the body speaks the language of GIFT. I don’t think it’s too far off to say that God speaks a language of gift through our bodies in its design to communicate so much valuable information to us. God has blessed us with the amazing knowledge to be able to confidently determine a woman’s fertile window and gather information about the health of her body. Do we truly understand the gift we have been given? Are we fully aware of the gift of our fertility, even when unmarried? Do we know how to appreciate this gift from God?

 

God’s intelligent design

NFP/Fertility Awareness is hard, straight up. Many do not fully understand the benefits, both physical and spiritual, or how to apply it well within marriage. Many are expecting something as mindless as birth control and fail or become disheartened when forming the new daily habits of a natural method. The mindless form of avoiding pregnancy (birth control) is specifically not NFP/Fertility Awareness and that is ok because God has not designed us that way. Our periods of abstinence within marriage can really be quite fulfilling if we use it to focus on other important areas of intimacy like emotional, spiritual, communicative, etc.

We need to prepare our youth with this knowledge and temper expectations so they are ready for spacing children within marriage. Birth control makes us stop working the way God intended us to, but Fertility Awareness brings a respect for and an appreciation of the way God has created us to work! Psalm 139 tells us we are “…fearfully and wonderfully made…!” Better education for the young church means better preparation for and application of NFP within marriage.

 

Call to action

I opened up this blog post with an introduction to Fertility Awareness via my personal experience and journey towards infertility. But what I hope you take away from this is the full spectrum of benefits of Fertility Awareness (NFP) as it applies to both fertile and infertile couples, as well as the single woman, spiritually and physically. When we fully understand its beauty and purpose and are able to teach others appropriately, the health and marriage benefits will naturally flow from that education for all who need it.

I have prepared a little cheat sheet packed with useful & concise info on birth control, IVF, Creighton/Napro, etc. that will help you to incorporate this new information into your ministry. Links to research are also provided. It is now available for purchase $5, but is included in my parish/organization training package. Email me at MaryBrunoCRMS@gmail.com to purchase or set up a training.

Fertility Awareness/NFP Cheat Sheet

Thank you for reading!

 

Infertile, Still Fruitful

My husband and I love fruit. He even likes fruit for dessert. I would hardly classify a bowl of strawberries “dessert,” but pour some sugar, chocolate, and whipped cream on it and you’ve got yourself a sweet treat! The thing we get made fun of for the most is our love for pineapples. We’ll eat them fresh off the tree, sprinkled all over our pizza, or even grilled up and tossed on our hamburgers! Weird? Maybe. But yum? Yes. There is no shortage of fruit in the Bruno house, but some may not agree…

Read the rest here via Surprised by Marriage.

Super Powers: Part 2

Some of my super powers are obviously making coffee, choosing the right gifs for texting emphasis, and watching TV. Ok I’m kidding. My actual favorite super power is rapping. I hope you understand how silly it feels to write that sentence, but really [Insert serious face]: this time I’m serious. The fact that this is so unexpected and still so surprising even to me (I mean, look at my picture) is an indication of God’s jaw-dropping, world-changing creativity. Our super powers are not distributed according to our upbringing, skin color or appearance, age, family traits, or parental approval and expectations. I unknowingly allowed these details about myself to hold me back, judging my gifts into submission because why would this conservative white girl possess that ability? I know, try not to laugh. But eventually I turned 25, was getting married, and my then soon-to-be husband and I were aiming to shake up our first dance with something fun and unique- so naturally we chose to rap an original song. I accidentally mustered up enough braveness to tap into this gift. Completely unaware of my talent but driven by heart, I dared to type some creativity into my iPhone notepad and was dumbfounded at how easily and naturally letters and spaces combined to form some pretty cool rhymes. Yes, this both confused and thrilled our wedding guests.

After the mic drop at the end of our song, my rapping fun was over and I put my gifts back on the shelf because again, what was I gonna do with them? Years passed. We began to accept that we were going to have to deal with some pretty complicated stuff. Infertility was hitting us hard and not withholding any punches. But this would force me to recognize that God created me for more than having children. He gave me some of His talent, which would serve no one by sitting on a shelf. Those buried gifts were getting antsy. They silently teamed up with passion, pain, and self-expression and began banging at the door of my heart until I could no longer ignore it.

I was Peter Parker gettin’ bitten by a spider
Who was pushin’ fierce venom through the veins of this fighter
I pulled myself up and tossed my pride in the can
So I could be unleashed and find my inner Spiderman
Before the bite I was just tryin’ to survive
Then what should’ve killed me actually made me come alive

I needed to explore my creativity and express these new emotions in a way that I could not only feel and connect with, but that I hoped would help others who understand pain as well. Like water through a shiny new faucet, the words began to flow. Before I knew it, I had written a hook and three impressive verses that cleverly combined faith, humor, and pain to paint a picture of what it means to suffer victoriously. I called it “Battle Wounds” to reflect how my 11 physical scars from multiple surgeries have become a consistent reminder of where I have been and how God has made me strong.

Sooo what do you do when you create something with such power and beauty? Naturally, you save it to your computer and don’t show anyone for years. Again, my demons of self-doubt and lack of confidence kept “Battle Wounds” in the dark until one day when my closest friend and fellow infertility warrior, Elise, was over at my house and unknowingly encouraged me to bring it into the light. Elise has always been more open minded than me. She has the ability to think and act outside of the box, see the beauty in everyone, and love them where they are. In the most randommest (a word? Not sure) of moments and after digging through years of files to find them, I showed her my lyrics. I couldn’t watch as she read them. Was she going to confirm what I feared? That I was silly to do something so weird? I was shocked when she expressed how truly impressed she was with my writing and even more shocked that she didn’t appear to be lying to make me feel better. 

After several rounds of her convincing me that she was being honest, a spark was ignited inside of me. She didn’t judge my talent by considering what I look like, how I talk, or what I should or should not be doing with my time. Her own potential insecurities did not hold her back. She saw goodness in me and affirmed me. It was so simple! And that tiny bit of encouragement gave me the confidence I needed to push the edges of the box I was comfortably living in. And the timing couldn’t have been better. Not long afterwards, I worked a retreat Elise and her hubs brilliantly organized. They flew in an experienced rapper (go find Oscar TwoTen!) to give a talk and headline a concert on Saturday afternoon.

On the morning of the concert I just happened to walk past Oscar and he shocked me as he kindly spoke words to me (I am shy and generally/never initiate convos with strangers or even non-strangers), expressing that his wife was a fan of me (ME?!) because of my “Taking Back the Terms” outreach. My newfound confidence was responsible for making words come out of my mouth: “Really?! Thank you! I am a fan of yours. (here it comes….) I’m a rapper too!” I can only imagine what was running through his mind as I chewed on the not-so-tasty fact that I could not put the words back into my mouth and as he stared at someone who looks like me and just referred to herself as a rapper. But to my complete surprise, the words did not make him run away, but intrigued and even excited him? He literally said: “Really?! Do. You. Want. To. Do. Something. With. Me. On. Stage?” (He didn’t stop after each word. I just heard it in slow motion.) My heart pounded. The spark grew. And as I shared the second verse of “Battle Wounds” with him to prepare for our performance, he, too; a stranger experienced in his field, affirmed me, and watered (for the second time) the seeds of passion and talent God planted inside of me so that I could finally sprinkle it into the world.

Rapping and performing was never a dream. It is still not a dream. It is something I can now confidently say that I was created to do- to glorify God, express my joy and pain, and help others. It is something I will do even if no one else wants to listen. Elise, Will (her hubs), Oscar, my husband Chris, and my other close friend Julianne are all my little superheroes. Their honest encouragement and coaching has given me confidence and motivated me to push myself and truly improve in my craft. I have now written 5 solo songs and 2 collaborations with Oscar which will be recorded soon. 

I believe some of our biggest limiting factors are our own self-confidence, lack of awareness/imagination, and freedom to explore our creativity- perceived or in reality! I also think one of the most significant factors in making or breaking any of those last 3 special ingredients is our support system: family, friends, and respected acquaintances- sidekicks. I haven’t conducted any research or anything, but I’ve noticed that a very large majority (if not every single one) of hopefuls on shows like The Voice and American Idol that showcase the whole background of a contestant, are backed by an incredibly passionate support system and it is really quite beautiful. This always strikes me. It makes sense that it is those of us who are surrounded by such reassurance that are able to develop our crafts to the extent of being displayed on some of the biggest of stages. One fashion designer mother of a young woman singing for a “4 chair turn” believed in her singer/songwriter daughter so much that she designed and created a stunning dress out of fabric scattered with the lyrics to one of her songs. It is no wonder we need our sidekicks to excel and become the best versions of ourselves. Whether we “make it” or not, we understand that we are loved and valued, and begin to fly.

My friend Elise’s favorite quote is from Mark Twain: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” We all have insecurities and occasionally feel small. It can be hard to build others up when we fear it will highlight our own weaknesses, real or perceived. But our “super powers” are not supposed to all be the same. Someone else’s excellence cannot diminish our own and internalizing this will help us support one another. Even if we choose to ignore or insult the spark in our loved ones or acquaintances, our value remains the same. The extent to which we are able to acknowledge the beauty in others may be a measure of our character, but not a measure of our worth. When we can love ourselves for exactly who we are, we have no problem helping our people shine. We have to make the choice to be the one someone needs to see the goodness inside of them and affirm. Be someone’s sidekick and help them recognize and utilize their own super powers. I think this is one super power that is common to us all- to bring out the best in people. When we flex this super muscle, we become our Creator’s sidekick and contribute to the ongoing construction of our captivating world. And don’t worry, I will continue to make coffee taste as little like coffee as possible and maintain my stellar ability to watch TV.

Super Powers: Part 1

After my husband puts Bella down for the night and when he isn’t falling asleep (because that’s what usually happens when he finally sits down), we watch our TV shows together. Some of our favorites are The Voice, Shark Tank, World of Dance, America’s Got Talent, etc. We like non-reality shows too, but these are easy to wind down to. Between the two of us, I’m the real professional TV show watcher. Chris is a rare breed who when not working finds his peace and relaxation through building things; projects that involve some type of wood and tools. Lots of manly tools. That make noise (thus the falling asleep when he sits down). My brain requires mindless relaxation through TV story time to wind down. Frequently. With coffee. The coffee thing is new for me. I didn’t start drinking it regularly until only a couple of months ago because one little detail about it held me back: it tastes like coffee. But with enough flavored creamer and sugar in it, you can get that coffee taste out and it actually tastes kind of good. It can even wake you up and give you a boost of energy. Who knew?

I don’t need the help waking up as much as my husband. For good reason even without his strange method of relaxing (he wakes up at what I call the middle of the night to go to work), it makes perfect sense that he is tired. But even when living tired, it is incredible to see what one can accomplish when allowing our God-given gifts to reach their fullest potential. Jennifer Fulwiler gives the most amazing explanation of this phenomenon in her book “One Beautiful Dream.” Have I read the book? No. That would require reading, and like drinking coffee requires tasting coffee (until I get my hands on it!), reading requires… well, reading. But at the Abide Women’s Conference I heard her give a fascinating talk that was based on this book and it rocked my world. She refers to these unique gifts God gives us as our “blue flame.” It is that thing that we LOVE to do and keeps our fire burning; it actually gives us energy! It is something that we could easily get lost in, doing it for hours without feeling time pass. The coolest part is that many times we don’t even realize what our gifts are or how good we are at performing said task because we assume that anyone could do it. But not anyone can do what God gifted you the ability to do. He has designed us each very specifically with abilities, our own little super powers, to serve a purpose- to make the world better and point us all back towards Him.

1 Corinthians 12:12, 18-21, 27: “27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”

I look at the pieces Chris creates with his hands and am often amazed; speechless. He might disagree, but I think the process begins in his heart. He identifies a need in our home (inside or outside) and desires to not only bring that to life, but to make it beautiful, with quality deserving of the people it will serve. His heart then delivers the ideas to his brain, which transforms them into plans. This is where the real impressive handiwork begins- before he even lifts a finger. His brain is able to compute numbers and angles in a way that is foreign to me. When addressed with the same numbers and angles, my brain would just stare at a wall or pass out. But God was very generous when creating Chris, giving him these abilities in abundance, allowing him to perform almost any task he is able to dream up, from his heart to his mind to his hands to our home. One of the many beauties of this situation is that although building, etc. brings him great joy, Chris doesn’t do these things for himself. He wants to provide what is best for us and every other person we welcome into our home, hoping it will be many! He is also very generous in helping others with his abilities, sprinkling his gifts out into the world and allowing God to work through them. We don’t have to realize this is happening in order for God to work through us in these creative ways. We just have to be open and use the gifts He gives us. Just like Fulwiler predicted, I suspect Chris is unaware of his talent. About a week ago after getting lost in the beauty of something he created for our home, I said to him “You did a really amazing job. Do you know how talented and gifted you are?” He replied “Nah, anybody could do that- if they did some research…” After I stuck my eyeballs back into my head and picked my jaw up off the floor, I delighted in the abilities of God and in how generous He is to share some of His super powers with us, including us mere humans in the ongoing construction of a captivating world.

But we have to open our eyes and step into our power suits. We have to say yes to Him and be brave and bold enough to see His beauty within ourselves to unlock our potential- exactly what we witness as we watch hundreds of inspired, determined, and incredibly gifted humans do on TV shows like The Voice, Shark Tank, World of Dance, Project Runway, American Idol, and more. Here we see the human spirit soar as it fights against adversity, takes hold of its super powers, and dares to sprinkle some of God’s talent into the world. Although it is very good to use our gifts, balance is also very important. We have to be in constant discernment regarding priorities and time spent on various endeavors as we flex our super muscles. But what fuels us? What holds us back? What pushes us over the edge so that we can begin to fly? Stay tuned for part 2 as I reveal what I believe to be our super power sidekicks…