Life More Abundantly

I recently renamed this little blog "Being Open to Life"  for many reasons - some quite obvious, some maybe not.

I am a mother. I have been blessed with one little adorable guy so far. He has changed my whole life. He has brought such enrichment to each moment. I love spending time with him.

Some women might look at me and wonder why I gave up a glamorous young womanhood in my early twenties to start changing diapers and breastfeeding. But I wouldn't trade with all the Carrie Bradshaw's of the world. I am so happy, so completely fulfilled by my life.

I love that I'm only 23; that I can have a baby and bounce back to a body even thinner and fitter than my pre-baby one; that I have tons and tons of energy to go run for an hour after waking up from a night of teething and little sleep. I feel like there is no limit to whats in store for my life - because I am so young, and I am already a mother. I don't feel at all like my life has ended. It has just begun.

Another, less obvious reason for the title of my blog, is that I am open to being "in" the world and not of it. This is much harder, in my opinion, than shutting the world out and trying to live a safe, sheltered little Christian life. Living in the world, there are many more things that you have to filter through - rejecting the bad and rejoicing over the good.

I am open to all that is true, good, and beautiful in life, because I believe that each of those three things contains something of God in them. I am unashamed of the fact that I pore over VOGUE and Anthropologie magazines in addition to my Bible; I listen to "Florence & the Machine" and "Zee Avi" much more than I listen to "Bethany Dillon"; I love beautiful clothes and Essie nail polish, and I always spend too much money on hair products. And I believe it is so important to take care of yourself and your body as a mother; it may seem like it takes time away from your family, but in reality I think it gives you the energy to be more present. Therefore, I run religiously, and if I've had a particularly trying day, I usually treat myself to a long hot bubble bath after Will is asleep.

I'm a mother. I'm more than that - I am a devout Catholic mother. I have been formed by the conviction that I am called to live a fruitful life, open to God, open to His will for my own family, including (but not limited to) the number of children He wants to bless us with. That is something that I do not believe I can just decide sweepingly. It is a constant, loving, gentle process of discernment for my darling husband and I.

Now - usually I am pretty private about my convictions about Natural Family Planning. It seems like a very intimate, personal facet to life, you know? However, with all the HHS mandate stuff going on, I have never heard so MUCH discussion about the pros and cons of contraception. So I sort of feel obligated to share a little of my own personal experience with the beauty of NFP.

Alot of people who hear priests or Catholic teachers talking about NFP immediately turn their hearing off. I hear people jump to immediate conclusions - like how many children the Church is expecting them to have, or how they have to be "responsible" parents.

I understand the stereotype. We've all seen those huge Catholic families piling out of their 15 seat passenger vans :) [I should know... I come from one myself! And my husband has pinky-promised to never make me drive a van]. But what is so sad to me about this stereotype, is that people stop listening before they hear what the Church's actual stance is.

I've had an amazing, conservative, incredibly well-educated and respected priest say to my husband and I, "The Church has never taught that couples are supposed to go out and have as many children as is physically possible for them. Or that just by omitting contraception from your spousal relationship, you are just supposed to do what you want all the time and let the chips fall where they may. No! Its called Natural Family Planning. The Church wants you to be responsible, and discerning, and prudent. And it is very simple and fruitful to do this with NFP."

As a child from a large family, who hung out with many, many other large families, I have seen my share of Catholic parents. I've seen those couples who are bright-eyed and joyful, who clearly love each of their children and find greatest satisfaction in having a large brood of little ones all around them. I've also seen couples who are short-tempered and tight-lipped, who seem completely overwhelmed by their kids and whose kids in turn seem to bicker and fight alot.

Now I am no theologian, so I may say things that other Catholics may disagree with. But I am speaking from my formation and my understanding which is one that has given me great peace. One of the things the Church teaches is that the procreative act is sacred to the spouses and God. The Church explains that God's design for spousal love is to be free, total, fruitful, and faithful. There is no room, no place, for the interloping of the pill or the barrier of a condom, or other people telling you what is supposed to be happening - how many kids you are to have, or how many years will be spacing them. So by the same token, as a devout Catholic, I cannot look at a woman with 10 kids who seems totally worn down and make assumptions about God's will for her life. I can't say, "She shouldn't have had so many, its clearly why she's miserable". I cannot do that anymore than I can look at a woman with 2 kids who are each 4 years apart and make assumptions about her, like "Oh its so sad she's not open to life". For all I know, she could have had 3 miscarriages in between each child. For all I know, two sweet babies are simply all God has called that family to have at this time. That is between God, her and her husband. No two families will look the same.

The beautiful thing about the Church's teachings on the sanctity of sex and marriage is that She is so respectful about the sacredness of this act and this relationship! The Church focuses on teaching us properly what is the true beauty of our sexuality.
The Church teaches that we are to have a constant, loving, ongoing discussion with the Lord about our lives, discerning what He wants for us each day. NFP makes this possible in a way that if I were just "letting the chips fall where they may", I would miss out on, just as I would if I were contracepting and refusing to be open to more kids. Both extremes prevent discernment from occurring. Both extremes want to make a sweeping decision and then not think about it anymore.

With NFP, my husband and I are learning how to respect and understand our bodies and our fertility. I cannot tell you how deeply respected I feel for being the healthy, fertile woman I am; if my husband were asking me to bury that integral fact of my body, I think I would feel a sort of rejection. Part of my sexuality as a woman is deeply connected to my fertility. I love charting and observing my body with my husband because he is learning to understand and respect the ways of my cycle.

Also with NFP, we learn great discipline. We learn how to love each other on the evenings when it is not possible to be physical (which, I have to say, are much fewer and farther between than pharmaceutical companies would have us believe!). This in turn keeps this part of our marriage fresh and exciting; it is never a chore, never boring.

I do not know how many children God will ask us to raise over the coming years. I do not know how soon or how far away that next baby will be from now. It is a question my husband and I discern and discuss each month.

The Church does teach that there ought to be "serious reason" or "just cause" for avoiding pregnancy. However, the Church also leaves this up to your conscience. There are very few teachings in which our Church does this! She often spells things out quite clearly and beautifully for us Catholics. In this situation however, the Church knows that in the practice of Natural Family Planning, in the pursuit of prayerful discernment and the experience of beautiful, pure, marital love, there is so much room for grace. There is a lot of room for personal and private concern and for God and your spouse to help decide, when approached with an open, loving heart.

Most importantly though, its a process. Maybe one month your reasoning won't be so great, and the next month, God will show you how you are being selfish. Maybe you want another baby really badly, but God shows you that it would be unwise for a serious reason. Either way, its an adventure, and one that you have to remain open to. Just like living in the world and not of it, I think it takes much more focus and effort to discern this each month, to filter through the reasons to not have another child just yet, or to sift through the desires to do so - rather than just having kids over and over without deliberation or intention. Or being closed off without a second thought.

"I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly." John 10:10.

Christ's beautiful message, which has changed my whole world and fills me with renewed peace and joy each day, that is the point of this blog. I have been so blessed and I want to share how abundantly God can bless us, if we let Him.

Be open to the abundant life!

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