Sunday, September 28, 2014

What Kids Really Think of Their Siblings With Down Syndrome

In honor of Respect Life Month, which starts this Wednesday, I'm highlighting a Newsday article written by Mary Kay and Bruce Barket, friends of mine whose youngest of four children has Down Syndrome. According to the article, studies show that 88% of siblings of children with Down Syndrome think they are better people for having a sibling with Down Syndrome. Or, as the Barket's 8-year-old daughter expressed it, they are thrilled to be siblings with "the cutest baby on the planet."

From the article "How our Maggie Transforms Our Lives" (full text available here):

"Richard Dawkins, renowned atheist and author, recently asserted that is was immoral to bring a baby with Down syndrome into the world and through Twitter told a woman carrying such a baby to 'abort it and try again.' ... His error is not one of philosophy, religion or morality. He is wrong because his basic premise, that people with Down syndrome somehow decrease happiness and increase suffering, is wrong."
"Margaret Rose, the youngest of our four children, has Down syndrome. We love her beyond description and feel blessed to have her in our lives. Her two sisters and brother argue over who gets to hug her first, hold her the longest and play with her the most. ... Maggie, who will be 2 next month, is sweet, playful and affectionate. She possesses a strong, almost stubborn will and has an abundance of energy. ... Her happiness is downright contagious."
"True happiness and joy are not found where Dawkins would have you look. They are discovered when people of any intellectual ability lovingly and selflessly interact. With love, life's problems don't detract from happiness; they become an avenue through which love finds expression and it is in the act of love that Maggie, like all of us, proves her worth."
If you have time today, stop and say the rosary or even just ten Hail Marys for an end to abortion, especially of children with Down Syndrome. And have a blessed Respect Life Month!

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Totally Yours in Mind, Body, and Soul: A Husband's Reflection on Four Years of Marriage

This guest post comes us to from filmmaker, screenwriter, hotelier, and Catholic blogger Frank Brennan (can you say Renaissance man?). Frank ponders the true meaning of accepting your spouse and identifies four characteristics of a successful marriage: friendship, free communication, family, and faith. After four years of marriage, more than ever, Frank is deeply committed to his wife Laura with all his mind, body, and soul.

Why do so many people offer you the same advice before you get married? It’s like there is a secret club that you are automatically initiated into when you are wed who share the same pieces of practical information or rather disinformation.  It is never really informative for a successful marriage, it always seems like a desperate attempt to make you aware of their own dissatisfaction with their spouses. They say things like: 

“I am so glad you are getting married because you shouldn’t be happier than me.”
“Remember these two words: ‘Yes, dear.’”
“Get ready for your sex life to be over!”

This information is usually divulged in a friendly laughable manner, but it is also disclosed as if it were Sacred Scripture. With divorce rates so high, I can understand why so many couples have predisposed deleterious feelings towards marriage. Why don’t we hear more practical advice about marriage and its beatific vision for the human person? Probably because like everything good in life, it takes much sacrifice to make marriage work.

This month my wife I and celebrated our four year anniversary and I have a serious revelation to share. I am happily married (Sorry Ladies). I am not just happy with my life, but I am more in love with my wife, Laura, now than the entire accumulation of our eleven year relationship. I am not going to say that our marriage is perfect because as with everything there is always a need to grow, mature, and forever polish that which is most prized in life. I will say that our marriage is sincere and open to the acceptance of one another.

I know some will say, "Wait twenty years until you can't stand each other", "Wait until more kids come" "Wait until there is a death in the family, then you'll think differently." Why do we measure marriage based on the amount of emotional crisis we can go through as a couple? Do our vows mean nothing anymore? Why do we doubt our promises to one another when the crisis comes? "I take you in sickness and in health, except when it proves to be very difficult for me."

I think so many marriages fail for two reasons: the inability to accept the other person just as they are and the inability for that same person to change. “I accept you, now change.” It sounds ironic, but is true when you uncover what acceptance really means. Professionals will tell you that marriages fail mainly because of sex and money or lack thereof, but I think those are results of the deeper issues of acceptance and change.

“The curious paradox is that once I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

– Carl Rogers


When Laura and I first met I was lost in a world of imagination and self-involvement. I cared for very little people and didn’t have much going on in my life. Without preparing for college I didn’t attend after high school. I held some poisonous friendships, ones that weren’t molding me into a better person. I didn’t have a car and was too proud to take a bus anywhere, even if it was to see Laura when we were dating. I was very quiet around people, closed off to society while Laura was very familial and social. I was numb from a visually disruptive childhood, but never let that on. When I think back on my personality then, it boggles my mind on how I ever got the girl. What could she have ever seen in that weak boy with a goatee? Well, I asked her one day and she told me that she could see the man I would become.  While I am still struggling with my own acceptance, I can proudly say I have changed completely for the better. Laura accepted my personality, but not my bad habits. She clearly saw the habits that were preventing me from becoming the man that I was meant to be and she challenged the habits, not my personality.

I am still an oddball around her, making up lyrics to her favorite songs, talking to myself in front of the mirror, and trying to get her to laugh at my “genius” comedic timing. These personality traits drive her crazy, but she has accepted them. It is because of this acceptance that I challenge myself to change those habits that destroy my joy, well-being, and relationship with her.


Now this does not mean that a person in a physically violent relationship should accept this circumstance and all of a sudden their alcoholic spouse will change. Accepting the person is like piercing through their heart and embracing their true identity, that motivated individual that is begging to come out. In situations like this, the habit of alcohol abuse, for example, needs to be challenged and if that involves one spouse separating from the alcoholic then that may be what is necessary. Change can only come from the person who makes the decision to change. It is an act of the will.

Habits that alter your physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual states are worth questioning. Is my diet affecting my spouse? Is my creativity affecting my spouse? Are my emotions pushing my spouse away? Are my spiritual habits too advanced for my spouse or are they too vague? Acceptance inspires change. Think of a rebellious teenager's reason for closing off to his parents, “You don’t understand me!” That same teenager opens up to the friends who accept him as he is. Sooner or later that kid will begin to change and conform to the habits of his friends.

Marriages are in desperate need for spousal acceptance which inspires positive change.

I do not only attribute acceptance and change as the characteristics of our successful marriage. There are four more that I think are necessary. I call them the four "F's". And yes, I'm sure someone else can come up with their own four "F's", but let's stay positive people!


Laura is my best friend. If your spouse is not your best friend then something is wrong. Does that mean that we have to do everything together? While life experiences have more meaning when shared, we are still opposite genders. There are certain kinds of bonds that one sometimes needs from their own sex. Laura enjoys formal and impromptu sessions of discussion with her female friends that involve deep emotional topics. I just want to play basketball. Maybe suck at golf for a couple hours. I prefer physical competition where I can trash talk through my corporeal abilities.

Then there are the places I don’t want to go without her. Food I don’t want to try unless she is with me. Experiences I need to appreciate only in her company. (Unless it’s a movie…then I’ll watch it anyway. Sorry, Love). I can’t remember how I ever laughed without her in my life or felt joy. The trips I remember the most are the ones that only she and I take. I have vivid memories of our honeymoon in Mexico, our trip to Madrid, and our adventure in St. Augustine. No other memory can stand against those. They are filled with simplicity, togetherness, laughter, and a complete sense of unity. Friendship for us is as necessary as breathing. Our marriage cannot survive without it.

Freely Communicating

I still struggle with this one, but have come a distance. Laura is much better at it than I am, but I have learned the hard way that communication is key to a healthy marriage. Unfortunately, a crazy shift begins to happen in men after a certain amount of time in a relationship, they stop listening. For some men it takes two seconds of conversation and for some it takes ten. I have become aware that my attention is pulled in so many different areas, my neurological pathways are sending messages to more parts of my body and I converse more with myself when I am supposed to be talking to my wife. So we bump heads a lot due to miscommunication.

I understand that men have a challenge when it comes to expressing their feelings. Ladies you should be aware of this and help create for your spouse a safe ground to discuss those feelings. Men are hard on themselves. I am constantly beating myself up for forgetting to make a doctor’s appointment, not cleaning the garden or washing the cars, and not challenging my wife at times to live up to the best version of herself. Men want to talk about those things, but need a safe place to do it. Physical activity can only let out so much emotion, while the rest of it needs to be talked out.

Discuss everything especially finances, intimacy, work, and dreams. Laura and I started a dream book where we write our dreams in there to reflect on. Remember that it should be free communication, don't make your spouse try and pull the information out of you like she is extracting a tooth. So many times I have done this to Laura and it creates a divergence. If your spouse is your best friend then communicating should be safe, easy, and free.


Family is the support network needed to help you keep things in perspective. I have always had a challenge with my family. I grew up independent mostly, free from curfew, rules, and positive encouragement. I love my family, but it’s difficult to get emotionally connected to them.  Laura grew up with the complete opposite. So you can imagine the provocation of a shy emotionally numb boy entering into an emotionally connected family. I have been challenged by my in-laws so many times to take care of my spouse and continuously change my habits. With over thirty years of marriage they are a reminder of success and a beacon of hope. The amount of love they have for Laura and I is immeasurable. You could count the molecules in the Indian Ocean faster than you could sum up the immense love this family has for us. Family is important within marriage. Many couples avoid each other's families or live with a deep sense of resentment towards them. I think if married couples really tried to embrace and accept their spouse’s family, they would find a deeper love and a new support network. I can only dream of giving my daughter the same support that our family has given us.


No matter what faith you are or if you simply consider yourself "spiritual", faith is the most important aspect of marriage. Faith encompasses not only a religious belief, but a unified set of moral standards. Faith serves as an aid during difficult struggles, a pathway to raise your children on, and a deeper love than you can ever imagine. I can tell you that Laura and I would not be married if it were not for our faith. In the early years of our relationship we used to be infinity for each other. We were each other's God and that was a weight that was far too much for anyone to bear. Together Laura and I discovered, nurtured, and lived out a personal relationship with Christ. He helped us get back to courtship, fostering a real love for each other, one filled with giving and emptying ourselves to God. We were filled with graces beyond comparison. We bonded in new ways through music by playing for our choir, retreats, and for a band.

Many couples have told us that they admire our marriage, but I can tell you that any joy they see within our lives comes from a life of "seeking the kingdom of Heaven". The greatest gift I have received from my faith has been a phrase that came to me one day at mass. I easily get frustrated when things don't go the way I planned. I think of myself as a perfectionist and want my marriage to be perfect in every aspect. One day I was praying for our marriage and I just had this thought in my head, "Stop seeking perfection, seek joy." So many times in life we try and control people, scenarios, and the course of our own lives, but experience tells us that things never go according to plan. So seek joy, not perfection. Joy is everlasting. Joy imprints the memories that are worth storing for later reflection. Joy is the fruit that marriage needs to thrive. Authentic faith leads to joy.

Prove it to Me

I remember when my love for Laura blossomed more spectacularly. It was when I encouraged her to audition for "The Voice". We flew up to New York and spent the weekend prepping for the competition. I was completely overwhelmed by my joy for her. I wanted her to showcase her talent and succeed for completely altruistic reasons. I did everything I could to motivate, keep her on schedule, make sure her voice was well lubricated with tea, and be present for her. It may sound silly to you, but for someone who would always think of himself, this was one time where I had no interest in me and I knew that I had truly changed for the better.

I witnessed Laura's profound love for me when I was diagnosed with Vertigo. It was a nasty spell lasting over five months. She put herself on hold during that time even when she found out that we were pregnant and took care of me. She drove me to work every morning and picked me up because of my fear of blacking out on the road. She took me to ENT appointments, set up a special bed for me to sleep on so I could get shut-eye, and cooked. She never asked for anything in return because out of her pure love she wanted to nurture me back to health.

Marriage is more than the wedding reception, it is a lifetime of opportunity waiting to be conformed into joy. You will inevitably face suffering, but through the bonds of deep friendship and free communication of feelings you will see that your spouse is there to help carry the burden not be the burden.

For My Wife

These last four years spent with you have been the most challenging, yet most fulfilled years of my life. It's not the same relationship that it was in our early years. While we used to be in awe of the "new", I am finding that my love for you is not dependent on how funny you are, how gorgeous you are, or how talented you are. I am discovering that my life can't be explained while it is separated from you. The very fabric of my identity as a man, husband, and friend is intermingled in yours. It’s true that marriage is meant to act as a bond for the complementarity of the couple. When I look inside myself it is your strength I discover. It is your voice I hear when I doubt myself. It's your love that motivates me. I yearn to become the best husband and friend for you because you are an extension of myself. Self-motivation is really a unitive-motivation.

I know I fall short in so many aspects of our marriage, but I promise to be forever open to continuous learning and consistent application of change. I am invisible without you. You are my foundation and existence. Four years have gone by since our vows were said and not a day has gone by that I feel discouraged. I love you deeper every day. I am freely here to help you find your happiness in life. I am faithfully dedicated to you forever. Together we have fruitfully extended our love for the world to physically hold, touch, and cherish (Imma). I am totally yours mind, body and soul. Thank you for loving this silly boy for so long. Here is to many more anniversaries. I love you! Ti Voglio Bene!

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Victoria's Secret ... with a Twist!

A light-hearted guest post from my husband Manny on creatively keeping lingerie out of the hands of kids and in the hands of husbands and wives, where it belongs!

So, how is it, you may ask, that a guy unexpectedly finds himself talking to a manager at a Victoria’s Secret in New York City, NY about how the premier lingerie boutique might bolster its “bottom line” while simultaneously discussing the finer points of Theology of the Body? Do these things just happen in a city such as New York? Whatever the explanation, there I was. I hadn’t planned it, mind you, not that there’s anything wrong with planning a visit beforehand. I simply hadn’t.

I had just finished a particularly pleasant and productive session with my psychiatrist (being a psychiatrist myself, it is not unusual that I see one for my own personal issues), and was walking down Broadway towards 72nd Street in order to catch the express train to Penn Station. It was a rather nice evening and I thought to myself that a walk would be in order (like most everyone else, I’m trying to lose a few pounds). Call it fate, call it chance, or even call it clever marketing if you prefer, my eyes caught sight of a scantily clad Victoria’s Secret model pictured in the window. It’s hard not to look, but as I happened to have one of those devices with me, you know, those amazing gadgets that allow you to speak to anyone on the planet…my cell…I quickly gave birth to an idea.

Dialing rapidly, I called my wife and described the situation, suggesting that it might be fun if I went inside and picked out something sexy (yup, I said sexy) for her to wear next time we, you know, have a “green light.” Some things are best kept between spouses, and my wife’s response is one of them.

Within minutes I was inside the Victoria’s Secret store, sporting a slightly abashed and quizzical look on my face, you know, the one people get which invites perfect strangers to ask, “…are you lost?” Thankfully, I was approached by the Victoria’s Secret version of a welcoming committee, a lovely young lady named Tricia. “Can I help you find something?” she asked, very professionally and without a hint of anything that would suggest my presence there was in any way unsavory or lascivious. I paused a moment and went right to the point, “I’ve been married for fourteen years, happily married, and I want to find something sexy for my wife. My favorite color is red.”

“Do you know her measurements?” she asked. “Yes”, I replied, thankful that my wife was thoughtful enough to provide me with this information during our brief phone conversation only minutes before. Within minutes, I had picked out two outfits, one black the other red, both very elegant (as I had instructed Tricia they had to be). At this point, I paused, because something was bothering me and I just had to ask a question. I noticed there were young children here. Most seemed to be with their mothers, but a number of the children appeared unaccompanied. “Are there always so many kids here?” I asked, surprised to hear those words emerge from my mouth since normally I’m in favor of kids being allowed almost anywhere. But here, in Victoria’s Secret, it seemed out of place.

"I noticed there were young children here. ... A number of the children appeared unaccompanied. 'Are there always so many kids here?'"

What were young kids, girls (for I saw no young boys around, thankfully) doing gazing upon and evidently buying slinky outfits? My presence here, and my willingness to admit it publicly, should allay any readers quick to pounce on me for prudishness or hypocrisy. I have many faults but I don’t usually count those among them. No, I was genuinely concerned and perhaps a bit scandalized. These girls were as young as 12 to 14 years old. Did the parents know their kids were here (those kids present without a chaperon)? Tricia listened and then looked down at her feet for a moment before answering, "They come all the time, usually after school but now and then on lunch break. We can’t ask them to leave, there’s no law against them coming in.” I was shocked and immediately answered, “Well there should be. Kids can’t enter a bar without adult supervision.”

And with those words an idea began to crystallize in my mind. Why not serve alcohol at Victoria’s Secret? It would keep minors out and bolster the bottom line! “Why not serve alcohol!” I said passionately to her, raising my voice slightly, aware of the possibilities. “You guys would make a bundle! Think about it. Guys drinking a scotch or a glass of wine, or even a beer…inhibitions lowered, your sales would go through the roof!” Tricia appeared surprised, unsure how to react, after all, the customer is always right. She paused and then replied, with a pleasant playful (or was it nervous) laugh, “Yeah, that’s a great idea, but they’d never go for it. We would have too much fun.” Too much fun, I asked myself? “Who would have too much fun?” “We would…I think it’s an…interesting idea…” she hesitated, no not hesitated but slowed down her enunciation as she pronounced the word “interesting”, as if to give it more emphasis. The way some people seem to pronounce it with four syllables instead of three, which I always find rather curious, or if you prefer, rather interesting (with four syllables mind you).

“It’s a great idea!” I offered, only slightly realizing that my enthusiasm might come across as somewhat self-serving. "Is there a suggestion box? I need to leave a suggestion."

“No,” she replies, “…we don’t have a suggestion box.”

I thought for a moment about the best way to get this to those people, whoever ‘those people’ are, the ones that have the authority and the vision to make a decision like this. There must be someone in the hierarchy of the Victoria’s Secret empire that decided at some point to sell the ‘Pink’ line of items, which as you may know sells things specifically for under-age folks. This is the type of innovative thinker that might be motivated by love of the bottom line, and this is the person I wanted to talk to about my idea. “Can I speak to your manager?” I ask. “Of course, sir. Just wait.”

Shortly, Nicole the store manager approached and asked, “How can I help you?”She was an affable looking woman, perhaps in her mid to upper forties and appearing of Filipino descent. Her smile was genuine and I immediately noticed that she was casually, though modestly dressed. I explained my idea, and the observation that brought it about, and Nicole nodded in agreement. Not so much at the ideas of opening up a line of Victoria’s Secret stores which serve alcohol (though she did not object to the idea outright), but in agreement at the sad reality that kids are allowed, and, in fact, cannot be barred from the store. “We do have the ‘Pink’ line for kids,” she said, as if to provide some justification. “Yeah, that’s fine, but here, buying adult lingerie? It’s not right. What’s a 12 or 13 year old doing looking at and buying lingerie?” I asked, somewhat heatedly. Just as Tricia had done, Nicole looked down for a moment and then answered sadly, “Some even younger than that.”

Now you have to understand that when you have kids something changes in your brain (Do you, reader, have kids? Are they about 12 or 13? Do you have girls?). The brain works a little differently from your pre-parental self. You immediately see the danger in a situation, whether you like it or not, whether you’re looking for it or not, especially when you see kids who are about the same age as your own children. “I’m Catholic and I have six kids, the oldest is thirteen and the youngest is three, and five of the six are girls.” “I’m Catholic too,” Nicole replies, “and you’re right, they shouldn’t be here but there’s nothing we can do.” “But you could if you served alcohol! If you had a liquor license you could, by law keep kids out unless they were accompanied by a parent.” She paused, and then paused some more, breathing out a sigh of…well, I’m not quite sure what it meant. “Look, kick this idea up the corporate ladder. Tell whoever makes big decisions that it’s your idea, or that you were talking to a customer and that you both came up with it.” Again she paused, having no words for whatever was happening in her brain. “Look, I have to get going, I have to get back to my wife and kids, but here, I’ll give you my email address and if anything develops, send me an email.”

So, that’s kind of how things ended. I bid farewell to the manager and then to Tricia, and as I was turning away to leave, a few parting thoughts came to mind. Turning around, I added, “If you serve alcohol, maybe not in the whole store but you could have a VIP section where you serve it just like in a bar/restaurant and that will keep the kids out unless they were accompanied by a parent.  If you do that, then boom, problem solved.  It’ll be good for business, bolster the bottom line, keep the kids away, and you’ll feel good about coming to work because you’ll be helping marriages be more intimate and you won’t be hurting any kids.”

With that, I had presented the finer points of Theology of the Body to the personnel of a lingerie boutique, and headed home after a long day.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

From a Woman Widowed Too Young: How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some

Cyndi Marlow married Steve when she was 19 years old, stayed married for 24 years, and became a widow unexpectedly at age 43. Cyndi tells an honest and real story of two people who shared life together through "lots of good and lots of bad times and tried to make the best of things most of the time." Many days, she experiences "regret and longing to go back and fix it all...if only I could."

Steve, Cyndi, and Sean Marlow in a memory pillow created at a grief workshop

Even though Steve suffered his first heart attack at 44, his medical recovery was excellent and they mistakenly thought that all was going to be just fine. They looked forward to sharing their future twilight years together and began talking of taking a cruise to celebrate their 25th anniversary. But, Cyndi laments,"the cruise never happened. On April 26, the day before my birthday and two days before our son’s birthday, we came home and found him. He was dead of a massive heart attack at the age of 48. The past several years have been very rough. They have been hardest on my son. I have come to accept the beautiful tapestry of inadequacies that have been woven and revealed through this entire experience. I have come to understand the trials of life are truly God's mercies in disguise."

Here is Cyndi's advice on cherishing the years that you have together, because they may be cut short far sooner than you imagine.

1. How many years have you been married and how many kids do you have?

Steve and I were married 24 years when he passed, and we have one adopted son.

2. Name 3 things that helped you to stay married that long.

Faithfulness to each other, no matter the storms. No matter the trials. No matter the struggles.

Commitment to family and what it means to be a family.

Pure Taurus stubbornness.

3. What role did faith play in your marriage?

I have only God and our deep sense of commitment to each other, no matter the pain or cost, to credit those 24 years together. For it was not an easy one for us. We were not married in the Catholic Church. Neither of us was Catholic. He was Baptist by up-bringing; I did not have a church affiliation. We somehow managed a Christian wedding. Many years later I would become Catholic on my own.

Grace is the glue that held us together when we did not have the strength to do it ourselves. God had a plan for us. God has a plan for you. Trust that.

4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?

Don’t pay attention to what the media or the world tells you about relationships and marriage. It couldn’t be further from what is real and is not the model you want to emulate.

5. What advice would you give newlyweds?

Don’t run away from the bad times. Don’t run away from each other. Say I love you all the time, because you never know when you won’t get the chance to say it again.

6. What advice would you give new parents or couples who are trying to have children?

We were never able to have children of our own. Infertility is a terrible, destructive force in a marriage. We tried for 13 years before we looked at adoption through our local Catholic Charities. Although Steve had to be convinced to give adoption a try at first, once he was committed, he never looked back and was a truly wonderful and caring father.

So I am only going to speak to the couples that are longing for children and experiencing any type of infertility. It is not an experience that every marriage can survive. Dealing with those pains and disappointments will be a challenge. Stay faithful to each other. Stay committed to each other. Together and with your faith to guide you, you can and will get through it all. Infertility is cruel and devouring monster that is eager to destroy if you let it. Don’t let it. Husbands, sometimes she just needs to be held and allowed to cry her eyes out. Wives, do what you need to do to get through each day. If that means staying away from baby showers, and avoiding the baby aisle of the store, then that is what you need to do. Couples, please just don’t suffer this alone. Find others who are or have experienced this pain and find some friendship and comfort there.

I still carry the scar of my infertility. There are times when it hits me that I have never known the joy of carrying a child in my womb and now, due to age and a complete hysterectomy, I never will. There is an ache that permeates from the soul when you long for a child and you cannot have one. I wish that I could tell you that the ache goes away 100% ...but it doesn’t really ever leave. With faith, the pain can and will undergo a metamorphosis to become that blessing of mercy. I promise.

God bless you in your union, now and always.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Why and How Natural Family Planning Works for Us: New Interview Series!

Even though most Catholics have heard of natural family planning (or NFP), they don't use it. Some people don't trust that it works to avoid pregnancy, some people can't find a reliable source of information about it, and most doctors sneer at it. Dioceses rarely have the funding to make NFP classes widely available, and many NFP instructors are territorial, insisting that their way is the best and there's no point in researching alternatives.

Although stereotypes abound, the truth is that every couple that uses NFP has a slightly different experience. Couples use NFP for different reasons at different points in their marriage and in their faith journeys. Each encounters a unique set of  pros and cons. Many couples will try out several different methods before finding one that works best with their lifestyle and the woman's particular biology.

If you're considering using NFP, someone else's experience can be your best teacher. That's why I started an interview series for couples to share the knowledge they've gained and the best resources they've found on natural family planning. This new interview series will be posted once a month. Several couples have already signed up to be interviewed, including:

  • Ben and Tina Butera, married 14 years with three children (you might know Ben from his writing at Two Catholic Men and a Blog), 
  • Allison and Kevin Gingras, married 25 years with three children including one who is adopted (Allison is part of the CatholicMom team and also writes at Reconciled to You), and 
  • James and Karen, married 12 years with two living children and one in heaven (James writes at RealCatholicLoveandSex)

Each couple in the series will answer the following questions:

1. Why do you use NFP?

2. Which method of NFP works best for you?

3. What are the biggest pros and cons of using NFP, in your experience?

4. What NFP resources does your diocese have?

5. What NFP resources have been most useful to you?

6. How do you think your marriage would be different if you used artificial contraception instead of NFP?

If you use NFP and would like to share your experiences, please let me know in the comments or by email at If you have specific questions about NFP that you would like answers for, send them along, too! Regardless, please be sure to check back later for posts in this great new series.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Offering a Warm Catechesis on Catholic Marriage

Our local diocesan magazine, The Long Island Catholic, just featured our family and marriage ministry in their September issue. Some excerpts on our ministry:
"Their marriage vocation, as it should, centers first on their own family -- their love for each other, for their six children, and for Christ as the center of their marriage and family. But for Karee and Manuel Santos of Garden City, married 14 years, their Catholic marriage vocation extends much further, to their ongoing efforts to help others understand and live out the sacramental nature of Catholic marriage. ...
'Marriage should last a lifetime,' [Karee said], but many couples 'don't see, don't connect the dots' as to how marriage preparation is going to help make that happen.... 'Jesus loves you forever, and wants you to love each other forever,' she said. 'This is all bound up in the sacraments of the Church.' ...
As a psychiatrist, Dr. Santos explained, when he works with Catholic married couples in crisis he often finds that they've had 'an inadequate formation in the faith. This leads to an inadequate understanding of the meaning of marriage.'"
Some excerpts on the Pope Francis' upcoming Synod on the Family:
"Manuel and Karee Santos have high hopes for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, to be held in Rome in October. ... Most of all, they are enthused about what Karee calls 'the Francis Effect' -- from the Holy Father's convening of this synod, to his influence on the information-gathering process, to his near-universal popularity that might help the synod's work to be received positively. ...
'The pope is aware' of what she called 'cultural Catholicism,' Karee said: 'people who love their parish, love their Catholic school,' but lack an awareness -- or even a desire to become more aware -- of Catholic doctrine. ... 'Pope Francis really focuses' on such 'Catholics of good will,' she said. 'If anybody can bring them more deeply into the fold, it's him.'"
For more information or to order copies of the article, you can visit the website of The Long Island Catholic by clicking here. For more information on our other media appearances, click here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Secrets of Turning Water into Wine: What Our Marriage Advice Book Offers

As we announced last week, Ave Maria Press will be releasing our Catholic marriage help book in 2016. The working title (although publishers always change the title!) is Secrets of Turning Water into Wine. Why are we writing the book? What can you learn from the book? Read on to find out!


Divorce rates for Catholic marriages have almost tripled since the early 1970s, proving that Catholic marriages are not immune from the terrible epidemic of divorce. Catholic couples today desperately need a transfusion of spiritual truths combined with solid practical advice. Secrets of Turning Water into Wine offers a warm catechesis that illustrates how God’s plan for marriage can free us to experience deep, lasting, and soul-satisfying love in our everyday lives.

Weekend or one-day marriage preparation programs might not give couples all the information they need or want. Secrets of Turning Water into Wine shows how Biblical principles can provide trustworthy solutions to the most common problems facing couples today. The goal of Secrets of Turning Water into Wine is to inspire couples to stay in love with each other, in love with Christ, and in love with the wisdom of the Catholic Church. The book accomplishes this by teaching couples how to:

Become united to one another in body, mind, and soul
Welcome children with joy
Find a Natural Family Planning style that works for them
Accept special-needs children with open arms
Raise children to be successful saints
Learn to love their in-laws
Be a family at the service of other families
Become wise financial stewards 
Work for the good of their family and God’s kingdom
Stay together through praying together
Imitate the example of the Holy Family

The end of each chapter provides five bonus features to stimulate in-depth conversation, greater understanding, and positive change: 1) Discussion Questions; 2) Action Plan; 3) Catechism Corner, with a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to think about or even memorize; 4) Papal Pointer, which contains wisdom from recent popes; and 5) More to Explore, which suggests additional online and print resources.

Secrets of Turning Water into Wine is ideal for couples to read and discuss on their own either before or after the wedding. It is also a perfect choice for small groups like book clubs, pre-Cana programs, and marriage enrichment programs. Two appendices in the back of the book provide a sample six-week and twelve-week curriculum, and free downloadable worksheets will be made available online. Leaders can customize the curriculum by adding their own personal stories to illustrate the key topics. By encouraging couples to gather together in community to learn about these issues, our book motivates people to help themselves and help each other at the same time.

If you are interested in receiving updates about the book plus news and tips about Catholic marriage and family, please subscribe to the blog by email. If you are involved in pre-Cana, marriage prep, or parish or diocesan ministry and would like to incorporate our book into your program, please email me directly at

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

big, Big, BIG Book News: We Have a Signed Contract!

My husband Manny and I are thrilled to announce that the excellent Catholic publisher Ave Maria Press has offered us a contract to publish our marriage advice book, and we have signed on the dotted line! Read what the publisher had to say when they offered us the contract:

"Your book is artfully put together, passionate, and has spiritual depth."

Wow! We are overwhelmingly humbled and happy about this chance to help others in forming God-centered marriages. And because this seems like an Oscar speech moment, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our family and friends, new and old, who have helped us get to this point:

  • our parents, whose long-lasting marriages have given us so much reason for hope
  • our siblings, who have listened patiently to us talk about this book for years
  • all our pre-Cana students, especially those who have kept in touch (you know who you are)
  • our Garden City-area friends Connie, Cathy, Shawn, and Christina who read over early drafts
  • Author Lisa Hendey of, who was the first person to welcome me to social media
  • Author Sarah Reinhard for showing me how to blog
  • Author Lisa Mladinich for teaching me how to write a book proposal and for taking all my late-night phone calls
  • Gary Jansen of Random House for his unfailing support and encouragement
  • Popular theologian and speaker Chris West for being a constant inspiration
  • Author Jen Fulwiler for being my muse
  • Prof. Susan Windley-Daoust and Prof. Michael Hoonhout for their deep theological wisdom
  • The amazing editors and producers I’ve worked with including Kevin Tierney, Patrice Fagnant MacArthur, Chelsea Zimmerman, John Burger, Susan Wills, Michael Cook, Robyn Lee, Barb Szyszkiewicz, Mary Kaufmann, Brenda Schmitt, and Frank Russo, and
  • All the awesome priests, deacons, writers, and bloggers who agreed to help spread the word when the book comes out 

So grateful to you all. Stay tuned here on the blog for more announcements!

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