Thursday, March 22, 2012

Real Friends

The path to Heaven is not easy.  We are told that we have to pass through the narrow gate.  I imagine the path is thin, rocky, with steep cliffs on either side.  We definitely need God's help to make it there.  We depend on His grace and His mercy.  We also rely on other people to help us get there.  One of my roles as a husband is to help my wife get to Heaven, and she is charged with helping me get there too.  And we are both responsible for raising our children in the faith so that they can know and love God.  But what about our friends?

There is an old joke that a friend is someone who is there to bond you out of jail.  A REALLY good friend is someone who is sitting next to you in the jail cell saying, "That was pretty cool, wasn't it?!"  Well, I've never been in jail, but I definitely thought that a friend was someone who was fun to be around and someone that was there when you needed them---someone to lean on.  And I thought I was a great friend.  I'm fun to be around (or at least I think I am) and I'm always there to listen when someone needs advice.  I have a great shoulder to cry on.

But, being a friend means much more than that.  Mark Hart tweeted once, "The truest friends in life are the ones who won't let you settle for less---the ones who help you get to Heaven."  Seeing that quote made me realize where I've failed as a friend in the past.  Sure,  I was a great friend in the fact that I listen to my friends and try to help give them good advice.  But, too often, I gave them advice that they wanted to hear or advice that might help them with what they wanted but not what God wanted.

I have lacked the fortitude to do a good "buddy check."  Gus Lee, author of "Courage, The Backbone of Leadership,"  says that before soldiers parachute out of an airplane they look each other over to ensure that all their straps are fastened so that they will be safe.  He calls this a "buddy check" and that we are supposed to do that for each other so that we keep our buddies safe.

I've realized in the past month or so that I have friends who are willing to give me a "buddy check."  They may not be friends who I talk to every day or text every moment--but they are there to keep me in line.   It started at the end of January when I went to a lock in with my parish's youth group.  My friend, Heather---the director of youth ministry---challenged me to racquetball.   I knew going in, I was going to stink up the joint.  I have no athletic ability to start with.  And then you add in the fact that I'm fat, old and out of shape--lets just say, things didn't go well.   I realized exactly HOW fat and out of shape I was.  But, I had fun, the kids got a good laugh.  And I got a black eye when Heather hit me with the racquet.  (That's my story and I'm sticking too it!)

It was then that I decided that I needed to better myself.  I decided to get back into shape.   But, I hate working out.  I needed someone to keep me in line because, let's be honest, I have no self-discipline.  So, I wrote four of my friends an email and explained my dilemma.  I told them I was going to check in with them once a week.  In the email, I was going to explain my goals for the upcoming week and how I did previous week.  I asked them that if I did not check in to call me out.   But, I was going beyond the physical side--I was also going to check in what I was doing nutrition wise as well as spiritual wise.

Seven weeks later, I'm still at it.  I'm going to the academy to work out 4-5 times a week.  Eating better (far from where I need to me nutrition wise--but better), reading scripture and spiritual reading most nights and I've been going to weekly mass and adoration.  I'm starting to make new good habits, because of my friends who are keeping me on the right path.

My email now goes to ten different people and it's helped rekindle friendships.  And that's what friends are supposed to do--they are supposed to help you keep on that road to perfection, even when it's tough.  The biggest thing, is that I've learned to be a better friend.  And all it took was getting hit in the face by a racquetball racquet (by Heather--I didn't hit meself)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Contraception and Me

With all of the talk about the HHS mandate and contraception going on, Michelle over at Endless Strength and Rebecca at The Road Home recently did a blog together titled, "We are the 98%" about their experiences with contraception, how they discovered Natural Family Planning (NFP) and how it has affected their marriage.  They asked other bloggers to join in their "blog hop" and post about our experiences.

I've been hesitant due to several reasons.  The biggest reason is because I don't know how much to share or not share.  I'm not so sure I am up to sharing like Michelle and Rebecca did on their blogs.  They were very open, honest and frank.   Under many circumstances, I can open up and talk up a storm.  If you get a couple beers in me, and I trust you, I'll tell you anything you want to know.  But, here is a funny thing about me and Abby---we have never really talked about what went on in our personal lives before we met.  It doesn't matter to either one of us.  But that being said, I don't think it would be right to discuss something so personal to the blogosphere when I've never talked to Abby about it.   For all she knows, until we met----wait . . . my mom reads this blog too-----for the sake of this conversation about contraception, we will just say that I was as pure as the newly fallen snow until my wedding night.

The second reason, I'm hesitant to open up too much, is because it does involve Abby, and while I'm willing to say whatever, I'm not going to infringe on Abby's privacy.  I don't feel it would be right to say what she did or didn't do with her body.    I will say that, yes, we got married in 1993 and we have used contraception in our marriage.  I was born and raised Catholic and Abby was born and raised Methodist, but for the first several year we were together we were the typical twentysomethings that did not attend church regularly.  After all, we were products of the 1980's.   The age of Aids.  Protected sex was encouraged.  It made sense that we would use contraception.   Did I know that the church taught against contraception.  I suppose I had heard that someplace.  But, again, I was a child of the 1980's and I did not get a lot of religious education growing up.

My son Max was born in 1999.  I wanted to get him and my oldest daughter, Emma, (who was born in 1995) baptized.  I figured, that if I wanted to get our kids baptized Catholic instead of Methodist I should start going back to mass.  So, I did.  The year 2000 was very big for me in the spiritual sense.   I was finally confirmed.  Abby and I had our marriage blessed by the church and Emma and Max were baptized.  Abby even started RCIA that fall---the road to becoming Catholic herself.

In 2002, my daughter Molly was born.  Abby and I decided that three kids was enough so the next logical step in our minds was for me to get a vasectomy---the old snip-snip.   After all, it would have been more intrusive for her to get her tubes tied and cause more issues.  For me, it was supposed to be a simple procedure and we wouldn't have to worry about birth control or having any more kids.   In reality, it was the worst pain I've ever had in my life.  I know people say that it's not that painful, but the doctor actually almost stopped and rescheduled a time when I could be put under general anesthetic.  I guess I wasn't built to be tied up down there.  But, it was still less intrusive than what Abby would have had to go through.

I didn't feel like we were doing anything wrong spiritual wise.   We'd been going back to church for two years and I didn't hear any teaching against contraception in that time period.  Heck, I'd even gotten a "Get Well" card from a friend from church.  I figured the church teaching against contraception was more a "guideline."

It wasn't until a few years later as I learned more and more about my faith that I started to explore the church's teaching about contraception, even though, at first, I tried to just skip over those teachings.  Finally, I sat down and read Humanae Vitae,  Pope Paul VI's encyclical on contraception.   It did not really clear up a lot of things for me but I did know at that point that contraception is a sin, so I took my vasectomy to the confessional.

The Aftermath

It was just after this that I started to learn about Pope John Paul II's teaching on human sexuality called, "The Theology of the Body,"  that I started to really learn WHY contraception is wrong.  It was then that I started to learn about how beautiful that sex between a husband and wife really is.  It was then that I learned that sex is more than just a physical act.  It is a connection between a husband a wife where the husband is telling the wife that I love you and everything I have I am giving to you and the wife in return is saying that she loves him and the two are one and the result of that love is another human being.  It was then that I learned that because of contraception, the couple is saying that they want to give each other ALMOST everything but not everything.  I learned how contraception takes a loving act and turns it into just a physical act--one where two people are using each other and not loving each other.

I became frustrated.   This has always been Catholic teaching.  Pope John Paul II didn't "invent" the Theology of the Body.  He just taught it.  I was frustrated that it was in the 1980's when he taught the Theology of the Body during his Wednesday audiences.  Why was it 20 years later and I was just now learning it?  Why was I having to learn it by myself and not at church?  Why is the fact that contraception is considered wrong not being preached from the pulpit?  That was nearly seven years ago.  I've taught TOB to several groups of teen agers since then.  But what about the young adults--those in their 20's and 30's.  Or what about to those other parishioners like me who came of age post Vatican II whose catechesis was lacking? 

I struggled with doubts as I learned more and more about the church's teaching.  I wondered if Abby and I could continue to have sex since I had gotten a vasectomy.   I did research and never could find a clear, defined answer.   I took it to prayer--should I get the vasectomy reversed, should Abby and I live as "brother and sister" if I didn't?  I never did get a clear, concise answer.  In the end, I decided that the reversal would be a financial burden on us and with as many issues as I had getting the vasectomy I didn't know if it would even work.  So, even though I received a vasectomy, I decided that we are open to life.  After all, vasectomy's aren't 100% reliable and God can make anything happen.  There have actually been a couple times when we thought there may be a possibility that we would have a forth child.  You may think that is a cop-out and I could understand if you tried to argue against my decision.  But I'm going to stand by it.   

I do wish that Abby and I had been exposed to Natural Family Planning instead of sterilization.  I think it would have brought us closer together.   Call me a geek---but I have an app on my phone called, "MyDays" that tracks a woman's cycle that people can use for Natural Family Planning.  I use it to track Abby's periods because I've learned that there are times when a man can stand up for himself and there are times when a guy needs to just shut up and keep his head down.  So, this app ensures that I'm not too oblivious.  But it also helps me be aware of Abby's body and brings us closer.  I can only imagine how Natural Family Planning, along with "the marital embrace" can help strengthen a bond between a husband and a wife.