When NFP Doesn’t Work

Oh, NFP week.  Wherein everyone wanted to tell you of the “beauty and marriage building” of NFP.  I’m glad more people are coming out to speak about the tough aspects.  It doesn’t always work seamlessly for all of us, but that’s ok.

When we were first married, I only heard the “beauty” rhetoric and even have a few NFP teachers go so far as to tell me it was my fault NFP didn’t seem to work for us.  The people who tout this do all seem to have one thing in common – they don’t seem to have what I’ve come to refer to as “hyper fertility”.

Sure, it all “works well” and you can have only a handful of children delightfully spaced to allow for recover and sanity retrieval when you have a normal level of fertility, but not all of us do.

We hear about the cross of infertility (definitely a hard one!) and pregnancy loss (I’m with you here. So, so tough!), but can we talk for a minute about the craaaazy of hyper fertility?  The one where the words “ecological breastfeeding” make you laugh?  Seriously.  I’m a walking, talking pacifier and I still get pregnant.

I spend the first ten years of marriage either pregnant or breastfeeding and usually both.  It’s a beautiful, messy, difficult life, this one to which the Church calls us. And when you take your vows before you can legally consume your champagne toast, you know full well that a twelve passenger van is probably in your future.  And today, that van is a badge of big family mama-hood I wouldn’t turn in for anything, but it wasn’t necessarily easy to get here.

Pregnancy is hard. Breastfeeding is hard. Trying to avoid pregnancy and seeing that pink line…again (and again and again) is hard.  But hard is not the same as bad.  Admitting that it’s hard is not failing.   Six kids in ten years is the single largest source of joy and pride for every member of this crazy family.

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Admitting it is hard is not the same as wishing it were different.  The difference is that when we admit to the weight of the cross of hyper fertility, we aren’t met with sympathy.  When the world sees your choice as wrong or preventable, and then you dare to whisper that it’s tough, all it gets you is a big fat eye roll, huff, and sigh. There isn’t a lot of support out there for the seemingly crazy who supposedly bring their problems onto themselves.

There are so many things in life that are hard, but we do them anyway, because the end result is so much better than the hard road to get there.

I used to wish that NFP was more effective, easier to use, more black and white.  But now I know that the gift is in the trusting of God with your future.  How many times in life I think I know best, only to learn that His way is so much better.  The beauty of NFP is that it’s a hard, rocky road, but in the end, God’s gifts are so much better than the future we would have created on our own,

 

Zoom In – Finding Beauty and Joy in Life

Social Media. We all have a love-hate relationship with it. It can provide so much good: inspiration, pray, uplifting ideas, laughs, and friendship.

But the bad. It can suck us into a black hole of endless, fruitless comparison. It tends to show us only the happy, the beautiful, and the perfect side of some stranger’s life. You never pick up the phone with the Pintrest mom and listen to her pour out her woes. You only see her gorgeous mantle or her spotless kitchen sink. We turn to these squares for inspiration, but sometimes we walk away with only frustration.

She has troubles, just the same as you. She also has messes just outside the picture frame. She probably has the same frustration with this sparkling world of little squares that you have. But you never see that, so we all assume that her life really is that lovely little world of carefully curated pictures.

The “problem” with social media is that we all, literally, zoom in on life, so that no one sees the peripheral. I may post a gorgeous picture of my wildflower bouquet, but I carefully crop out the margins. What you don’t see is the toddler underwear, haphazardly discarded just outside the frame. You can’t smell the boots that the teenager wore to feed the pigs and, for some reason only logical to the perpetually illogical teenage brain, dropped them inside the front door. You can’t hear the six-year-old crying in the kitchen, because we are out of chocolate milk.

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Social media zooms in on life and we use it as our tool to show the world only our most beautiful. We rarely post the laundry mountain, the spilled cereal, or the weedy garden. We don’t want to show that side of life, because we don’t want to focus on it.

And that’s a good thing.

We should focus on our good and beautiful. We should find joy in this amazing life we live. But when we get bogged down in believing that the perfect squares of the people we follow are an accurate depiction of real life, we tend to lose focus.

But. What if *we* zoom in on life. Literally. Never post it, never tweet it. Just mentally zoom in, past the mess, past the whining, past the smelly boots and see only the sweet toddler who wants a hug or the charming teen who wants to tell you a funny story.

We need to zoom in and see the beauty, when we feel like we are drowning. If we can take the time to do this when it results in a post that gains “likes” and comments, why can we not also do it simply to focus on the joy in our own lives.

The gospel of Luke tell us that “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” She certainly didn’t post them for the world to know. Or shout it all from the rooftops.  Sometimes, we need to zoom in on the beauty, take it all in, and simply hold it in our hearts.  God knows. He sees. There’s the joy.

God: The Ultimate Artist

“….He created us – in His image. He could have created us and plunked us down on barren land. But He didn’t. He chose to give us the most beautiful land His perfect imagination could create. In its wonder, it is vast and varying…”

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I am over at Catholic Sistas today, chatting about God, art, and this beautiful world.  Head over to read the rest!

7 Best Travel Tips for a Small Budget

If there’s one thing big families have in common, it’s budget.  We all have one.  We generally go over it.  And we basically wrestle with it all the time.

How’s a big, on a budget family going to keep up with all of our globe-trotting friends?  We all see the pictures on Facebook of our friends at the beach, sipping fancy drinks at a resort lodge, or posing with a Disney princess.  Vacations are, without a doubt, a luxury.  But they are also an amazing learning experience for everyone in the family.  Sometimes, what you learn is problem solving and remaining calm when things go wrong!  But other times you learn culture, geography, history, and an appreciation for the world beyond your own doors.

And there are ways to get away, see the world, and come home refreshed all without busting your bank account to smithereens.  We spent two weeks traveling the country earlier this month and learned a ton!  Here are the Seven Tips for Traveling with a Big Family on a Small Budget.

I.

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Skip the resort, skip the big mouse, and get outside. Our most memorable trips have always involved nature, hiking, and the great outdoors.  We love hiking and, no matter where we go, tend to seek out the local trails.  It’s usually relatively inexpensive to gain entrance to state parks and a pass is definitely worth the money in your own state.

II.

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All of the kids earned Junior Ranger badges, although some took it more seriously than others.

Free National Park pass.  Did you know that every fourth grader can get a free pass to all of the National Parks for his entire family?  (And I also just learned that, until the end of the month, seniors can get a lifetime pass for only $10!)  This was huge for our trip this summer.  We were able to hit five different National Parks – beauty, education, and adventure!  We learned a ton on our own, but we also were really impressed with the National Park systems Junior Ranger program.  The kids got badges from each other the parks we visited and the program makes it easier for you to delve deeper and learn more at each park.  We attended talks we may have otherwise skipped as part of the program.  And we were never sorry.  The talks we excellent and the rangers were always so informative.  Junior Ranger programs are free!

III.

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Hit the open road.  There’s no money for airfare!  What’s better than a road trip??  Not much!  Pile the family in the van, grab a coffee, and hit the open road.  You don’t have to go all the way across the country to find adventure.  We love our state parks for hiking, nature, and wild life siting.  Roadtrips give you access to so much you’d miss if you fly.  Even with all of the repairs we’ve had to do to our van (ahem), we are still money ahead of airfare and car rental.

IV.

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When you pack your own meal, you can have vino!

Pack food or cook your own  Eating out with a crew is prohibitively expensive.  When we were traveling this summer, we darkened the doors of a sit down restaurant only a few times – when we were desperate and exhausted and once on Avila’s birthday.  Other than that, we hit up grocery stores for sandwich fixings or ingredients to make amazing meals over the fire.

V.

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This was our campsite in western New Mexico.  The kids hikes this feature, before we headed out that morning.  We paid zero dollars to sleep here!

CAMP!  Hotels can make a major dent in any vacation budget.  And when you’re families over a certain number, you may need to have two rooms.  That can add up quickly!  The other issue with hotel rooms is that, obviously, they’re full of other people.  Who want to sleep.  And you waltz in with your crazy zoo of kids who have just spent hours in a car or who are exhausted and cranky from hiking.  It’s not a combo for a relaxing evening.  We found camping to be the perfect solution – kids could blow off steam without worrying about bothering other hotel patrons.  But, camping can get a little pricey.  Some campsites actually charge per person and with eight people that adds up quickly.

VI.

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This was our very first night camping and set the stage for Federal Land camping for the next two weeks.  It was breathtakingly beautiful, quiet, and FREE!

Federal Land camping  And so, we discovered camping on Federal Lands.  We found that we really enjoyed camping for FREE on federal lands more than campsites or hotels.  These areas were beautiful and far more sparsely populated, so the kids could be kids.  (There’s a post coming, detailing Federal Land camping!)  With the exception of the times we weren’t able to get to a federal land site, due to car issues, we only paid for camping – $18 – one time.

VII.

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The Grand Canyon.  We used our fourth grader pass to get into the park and the kids all earned Junior Ranger badges while we were there.

Pack what you need and don’t forget stuff!  Ok, this one is important.  And we kind of failed at it.  It really stinks when you have to swing into a local Wal-Mart for all that stuff you have at home, but somehow forgot to pack.  Like pillows.  Or shoes for the toddler.  It’s a major budget buster!

Travel takes money, any way you shake it, but there are definitely ways to save and have fun without breaking the bank.  I would argue that you’ll end up enjoying yourself even more.  Hit the road, pitch a tent, relax, and have fun with you family!

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