Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth. Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate. ~Psalm 127:3-5

Friday, September 24, 2010

Props to the Fresh Air Fund

I don't know how I keep getting contacted lately to do reviews and mentions of different things but I have been loving it! Recently, Sara from The Fresh Air Fund contacted me to ask if I would please make mention on my blog of a very worthy cause. I told her sure even though all of about 5 people read it! (Okay, I see that I have 16 followers and I know from SiteMeter that I get others passing through on their way to finding more exciting information such as how to keep your children from saying embarrassing things in public or which bra for a nursing mama is best......but..) ;-)

Anyway, I naturally wanted to do a little research about this cause before I wrote anything about it. So I went straight to the source. First, a little background: The Fresh Air Fund is a not-for-profit agency which provides fully-funded opportunities for inner city kids from New York to spend time in the country. The program has host families in 13 states as well as Canada, and also Fund Camps in upstate NY. These families and camps provide the children with the opportunity to experience the country atmosphere, which is a huge contrast to their smoggy city living where blacktops and alleys serve as backyards, and leaving basketballs and toys outside is not an option at all if you don't want them to get stolen. According to their site The Fresh Air Fund has helped 1.7 million children since its founding in 1877.

This program is especially important because these children would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience a few weeks - or even a whole summer - where they can breathe in fresh air, play in fields, splash in streams and experience the sights and sounds of uninhibited nature, as they soak up life outside of the city like thirsty sponges in the sun. These children are from disadvantaged communities and some may not even know that there is life outside of the city before taking part in this program.

Funds are primarily donated from private sources, but there are fundraisers always taking place. The next fund-raising event is on November 7. It is a marathon and The Fresh Air Fund is in need of both racers and sponsors to raise funds for these children. Click here for more information on how you can be a part of this awesome event! The program would not be possible without participants and sponsors dedicating themselves to it.

I'd like to add that I think that this program, which I only found out about recently, is a perfect showcase of God's love and grace through the open and willing hearts of the host families and camps. This is one of many ways to be His servant and we are called to serve those in need. Children are definitely in the category of needy people, whether their home is a farmhouse in the country or a small apartment in the Bronx. And from the stories I have read from both sides of participants in this program, it seems the inner city kids aren't the only ones who are getting something out of it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why God Matters - A Book Review

Recently I was solicited by the owner of Tribute Books to write a book review on a newly-pub'd book entitled Why God Matters - How to Recognize Him in Daily Life. This book is co-authored by a father/daughter team: Karina Lumbert Fabian and Deacon Steven Lumbert. Why God Matters is a book geared toward Catholics, and its purpose is to help the reader to recognize Christ's presence in their lives.

The forward is written by William T. Ditewig (Professor of Theology & Religious Studies at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Florida). It is in the forward that readers first catch a glimpse of the depth to which Karina and Deacon Steve encourage and challenge us to allow God to be present in our daily lives. Mr. Ditewig writes: "Grounding their reflections in the everyday lives of Christian disciples.....Karina and Deacon Steve suggest, echoing St. Patrick, to 'breathe with God's breath.' This breath, the Spirit of God, creates, inspires and sustains all believers, and it is through this breath of God that God's own Word- Christ- is proclaimed to the world. In other words, the very everyday life of Christians can be the most fundamental and effective form of evangelization itself."

There is much about this book that I enjoyed. The writers take personal life-happenings and apply them in a faith-based way to the instruction of a God-centered Catholic life. In this day in age, I think people really need to be approached in a very humble and personal way in order to allow them to see not only Christ in you, but to see their own need for Him through your offering. Through the small stories which are told in turns, both Karina and Deacon Steve relay humility, kindness and encouragement based on their personal struggles, achievements and lessons-learned.

I also enjoyed the "Life Lessons" and the excerpts from the Catechism which accompany each story. They are both uplifting and helpful as we apply them to our daily life. One of my favorite "Life Lessons" came from the chapter entitled "Love in a Pot of Rice" written by Karina. In this lesson, she writes: "God calls us to be the first teachers to our children in living a life of faith, hope and charity. How did your parents teach you this? How are you teaching your own children? Spend some time in reflection and prayer today......."

It is great to come across a book written by two people who are in the same family yet have come to the Catholic faith in two very different ways. It is interesting and inspiring because even though their journeys have been different and their experiences all their own, their stories collide into a refreshing and simple depiction of what it is to be Catholic and live out the faith in every day life.

Why God Matters is a very easy-to-read book. The layout of short chapters alternating between Karina's stories and Deacon Steve's make it one you can read in between laundry loads or while picking up toys! Their stories are uplifting and the quotes from the bible coupled with the excerpts from the Catechism and the Life Lessons make it an even stronger work of encouragement, inspiration and hope.

Why God Matters can be purchased here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Case for NFP

NFP:Natural Family Planning. No, it's not the rhythm method, and yes, it does work. The more I openly talk about it, the more questions and- most alarmingly- sneers and negativity I get about it. But there is so much about natural family planning that people don't understand, and there is a depth to it that some might not ever understand only because they don't want to try. The truth about NFP has yet to be studied or even accepted by a lot of Christians and that is something I don't understand.

My initial interest in NFP came when I was pregnant with my second child just 8 short months after having my first one. Fairly-newly married to a man I had a hard time loving, resolving myself to live the life I had chosen, and trying to grow up enough to accept my adult decisions, I was searching for a plan to attach myself to the small measure of sanity I had so that I could find my footing secure. Having a few babies so quickly was not really in my plans but sometimes God works with whatever He can and often even outside of the perimeters we like to set for Him; and this makes me feel somewhat alarmed and also somewhat comforted.

Needless to say, my search was not serious enough because I didn't think about NFP again until I was already pregnant with my fourth child. THIS would be the time, I told myself. After having 4 babies in 5 years, I definitely needed a break. I would never resign myself to thinking "I'm done," as I just don't desire that much (or any) control of my life to be taken away from God. But a break was certainly in order. I needed to figure out how to be a good- no great- mother to the children I already had, concentrate on really growing and working on the still-wavering relationship I had with my husband, and allow my body to rest and heal before jumping back into the art of procreation. Yes, I said art.

In studying and practicing NFP, I have come across so many wonderful and beautiful things about it; things I hadn't really thought of before. I mean, to be honest, I wanted to stall having babies for awhile without using any artificial means and without cutting God out of the equation. That was pretty much it. But to study this natural way of family planning and truly understand its depth and the foundation for its practice was like being told of a not-so-secret way to bring myself into further obedience to God's natural design for life, all the while building a bond with my husband I never knew could exist.

The first point I want to talk about, which is probably the one with the most skepticism attached to it, is that yes, NFP does actually work. It consists of carefully charting your cycles which requires taking your temperature every morning at the same time and recording signs of fertility which you learn about by reading a book on it. It really isn't that difficult and it only takes a little bit of extra effort each day. I figure if I can do it even though I have 4 young children to care for, a husband to love, a business to run, a house to clean, food to prepare and a part-time job to work, pretty much anyone can find the time to do it. Your body was designed to have certain parts of the month in which it's fertile and certain parts in which it's not. There are tell-tale signs to help you decipher these specific times of the month, as was God's design, and if you do that, you can practice NFP.

The second point, which is the one with most curiosity attached to it, is that no, my husband is not "poor." People always say "poor Joe," or they ask "how is your husband handling that?" Well, in reality, and sorry if this is TMI, but we are more intimate now that we're doing NFP than we were when we weren't doing it. I didn't stutter; I did say more. One of the best things that has come out of practicing NFP is that I am more willing to be ready for -and desirous of- sexual intimacy with him when I know there is only a specific time-frame in which we can. And before you start rolling your eyes about this, let's be real here.... you know that I know that you sometimes think it's a chore and that "not tonight honey, I have a headache" (or something equivalent) has come out of your mouth at least once (if not more) in your marriage. There are studies about this, I'm sure. Most women are just tired. Especially if they are stay-at-home-moms with four small children underfoot.

Piggy-backing off this thought comes my destruction of the idea that you are supposedly harming your husband by "rejecting" him and not letting him have "it" when he wants it. I can't even begin to count the number of times I have heard this. And to be honest, I think it is totally ridiculous. First of all, NO ONE should have ANYTHING whenever they want it just because they want it. I feel like this falls under the category of Bad Ideas, right under giving your children whatever they want when they want it. Men need to learn self-control, self-respect, respect for their wives, and patience just as much as the next whiny person. NFP helps us to remember that sexuality is about much more than personal satisfaction. Husbands should be completely involved in the NFP process, not just ready and waiting when it's time to get busy (and acting like a baby until then). They should be getting busy the entire month - that is, busy SUPPORTING their wives in the effort to reach their common goal. Some husbands get completely involved and help the wife remember to take her temperature and record her observances of fertility, etc. Some are involved by being respectful of their shared effort, loving their wives despite the agonizing waiting period they endure. Agonizing I'm sure.

This third point is probably the most important one. My experience with the gift of NFP is that it brings about a respect for not only my own body, but that of my spouse's, and of the relationship we share; and most importantly God's design for human life. Going about using artificial means to control whether or not I have a baby totally negates this respect. I would basically be taking something God Himself designed and saying "it's not good enough for me." NFP allows for each of us to give ourselves - as we are at that particular moment - fully and completely to each other. The relationship between a husband and wife who are in mutual agreement about the use of NFP is so unique and amazing. We are basically striving for the closest and most unifying way to love each other faithfully, selflessly and completely. Using artificial birth control takes out the factor of being fully and completely giving of oneself. The act of sex was created by God to bring about new life. But He did not plan for every single act to create new life, which is obvious in His design of a woman's fertility cycle. NFP truly is a collaborative effort between the married couple AND God. If you delete Him from the equation, you are losing a very vital part of achieving a God-centered marriage.

There is such a bond that has formed in the small amount of time that we have been practicing NFP. I can't even describe it. There is a higher level of mutual respect that has resulted; as well as an intimacy that transcends the boundaries of the actual act of sex. Is it sometimes difficult? Of course it is; and not just for my husband. What's really great about it is that it causes us to communicate more. I could only imagine how little communication goes on each month or even daily between a couple who is using some form of artificial birth control, especially when it comes to procreation. After all, it's already taken care of so there is no need. With NFP, we communicate practically on a daily basis about our life, our future, our children, and when there will be more. We communicate on our feelings about waiting, our anxieties, our difficulties with the wait period before my time of infertility, etc. We re-examine our decision to practice NFP as a form of family planning every single month, and look forward to a time when we can use it as a means to achieve pregnancy (although I'm sure with my being Fertile Myrtle, it won't be too difficult.)

It's so much more than being given the secret to obedience to God's natural law of life. It's like winning the lottery but with a payout that will not only last the rest of our child-bearing years together, but will continue to grow in interest exponentially day after day, year after year. And to be living that truth on a daily basis is something I definitely desire.


As an after-thought, though I told myself this post would not be a total artificial birth control bashing....I just wanted to mention a few reasons I am against it totally apart from NFP:
As for chemical birth control including IUD's, etc, I feel it is a total lack of stewardship of the body God created for our souls to live in to poison ourselves with these sorts of devices. Not only that, but the environmental impact of the usage of birth control pills, and even just the manufacturing of all of that junk is so tremendously negative. You never really hear much about this from the talking heads of the "green movement" and I just don't get that.
Also, most birth control pills are abortifacient in nature. Why risk the possibility of the death of your unborn child by using these methods? There is a reason it's called birth control, not pregnancy achievement control.
And, another plug for NFP - it has NO negative effect on either your body or the earth...and definitely not your relationship with the One who created both.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Family

What is family?

Growing up, I was taught by example that family consists of people who unconditionally love each other even if they are not necessarily blood-related. Family can consist of the traditional group of a mother, father and children, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. But it can also consist of people who are around so much that they've become a permanent fixture, giving and taking as every other member does, loving unconditionally and being loved unconditionally as well. As the children get older, that love can branch out to specific friends and boyfriends or girlfriends who have stuck around, then spouses and new children, siblings of these outsiders.

My parents' house was always buzzing with not only the seven children that were their children, but several friends who would come and stay for days or at least visit on a daily basis. My parents always joked that they had many more kids than seven. They always treated our friends as if they were their own children, as the case often was that these kids had no real home to call their own, or parents who cared enough to be distracted from their busy lives to notice their children and fulfill their needs. Though my dad was often one of those parents himself, there were times when he was around, times when he did take notice and payed attention to not only us but our friends as well. We also had several of my parents' friends who we considered part of the family. Oscar. Leo. Pat. Patty. Sherry. Mike. Trudy. Cristal. Rosemary. They were all in essence members of the family and became constant factors in the ever-changing tapestry of our childhood.

When I got married, I was so excited to carry on this tradition- welcoming others into my life as part of my family, not just in the sense of in-laws but on a deeper level; a real true connection. I wanted so badly to share the love I had been given and I wanted so badly to be given that same love in return. But I quickly learned that there are all types of families that are different than mine and the one I married into, while not awful, was not the type I was used to having. I realized through many tragically crushing events that I did not know how to exist in a family such as this and I found myself on my face a lot.

It took me quite some time (and one last crazy event) to really understand that all those times that I was on my face, I should've been praying. But I didn't. Not a lot. Sometimes I would but the hurt I felt and the consistent struggles I went through did not allow me to be mindful of the fact that I should have been reaching out to my Father on a constant basis, and showing this family the love I knew I had for them. And it took me a good portion of my healing process to realize that not only did I need to reach out for Him to truly heal me, but I needed to reach out to Him and pray that He would heal them as well.

After all, we don't necessarily have to have a close and perfect bond with others to give them unconditional love. There doesn't have to be a deep connection or friendship with them to love them despite how they make us feel. And we shouldn't base our love for them on how much or how little they love us. We don't even have to ever see them. But we should pray for them. And that is the ultimate act of love, especially when there is a treacherous ocean between us that seems impossible to cross. This has been such a hard lesson to learn- to come to an understanding that the equation that makes up a family can include all sorts of factors, but the one thing that remains constant is the end result. It always equals family, even if only one side factors in unconditional love.