I didn’t sign up for this . . .

You’ve been up all night and day. Not a wink of sleep. Whenever you have a moment to sleep, you are torn between cleaning and tidying up your messed up dwelling or trying to catch some zzz’s. Whenever you choose the latter, the second you hit the pillow, the cries of your newborn wakes you just seconds after you close your eyes.

Through your tears you hold your baby, bouncing, soothing, whispering to them that it’s ok and they can stop crying. Why won’t you stop crying? Are you dirty? I’ll change your diaper. Are you still hungry? I’ll feed you one more time. I’ve done all that, why won’t you stop crying? Do you have gas? I’ve been trying to make you burp for an hour. I heard a couple of small burps, even a big one, but you still won’t stop crying.

Please Lord, I just want to sleep.

I didn’t sign up for this.

Parenting is hard. Especially your first. Especially the first three months.

While I believe there is lots we can say about the awesome responsibility and privilege that is raising a child, it drives me beyond insane when I see people overly romanticize parenting; especially those initial three months. You can be told over and over again that parenting is hard, but until you endure it, you can’t truly be shown to an adequate level of understanding what that means. Unless you’ve been through painful, prolonged sleep deprivation, you can’t know what it’s like. You certainly don’t know what it’s like when the reason you can’t sleep is the cries of your child. The cries of this child who has only one way to communicate with the world and it’s through their tears and their silence.

What do those tears mean? That is for you to detect and figure out. Sometimes there is no answer.

May the Lord have mercy on you if your child has colic.

Our first child (we have two) had colic. Hours long, virtually non-stop crying episodes in the middle of the night. How many times I saw my wife, after trying for hours to calm him, would walk out of his room in desperation. Tears spilling out, wondering how she’s possibly going to deal with this one more minute. There was little I could do to support her, other than listen and comfort. I had to work after all, and that requires driving, so I needed my sleep too. At least a modicum of sleep.

That’s not being supportive, some say. You should have taken turns, swapped out and given her a break.

Maybe. Maybe, you’re right. This is the reality of parenthood. Someone does the lions share of child care and one does the lions share of making money so the roof stays over our head, the food stay in the fridge and the oven and lights turn on. Sometimes, this means an unequal distribution of the hard stuff. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of early morning drives where I would take our son on a drive, which would settle him. I would take him 15 mins south to the lake. The sun would dawn and we would both sleep. It was exhausting, but I also knew it was giving my wife at least a couple of hours of sleep she desperately needed to get through the day. Then I would go home and sleep. Missing a day of work. I used half my yearly allotment of sick leave in one month.

The first days of your first child can be extremely difficult. Or they could be easy. But, if you tell me they were easy, I’m not going to believe you. If for no other reason than I don’t want to think it could have been easier. The 100 days of hell were just that. We became the living, walking dead. Able to function on an almost primal level, but not much beyond that. Work, when I was able to go to work, because I had had enough sleep and could safely drive, became almost like respite care. A time to get away from the terror of the screamer.

I love my son. And my other son. I learned that you can love someone even though they cause you so much grief and hardship. Intended or not. Love is a choice you make. Every. Single. Day. In those 100 days however, it seemed that the spectrum of time was sharply reduced and it became an hour by hour decision, if not minute by minute.

The reality is that holding a screaming baby close to your chest, puts their mouth right next to your ear, making the screams that much louder and visceral. They cut you to the core. You want to simultaneously fling the baby away from you and at the same time hold them closer. Holding them closer: hoping that you can make them stop if they just feel your breath, your heartbeat, your love a bit more. It doesn’t help. Sometimes love isn’t enough to make someone else’s pain stop.

This is the beginning of compassion.

Compassion is a desire to end someone’s pain, yes. But it is more than that. It is the willingness to sit with them through the pain. To take on some of that burden for yourself. To let them know they are not alone.

Love demands compassion.

In those 100 days, we learned about compassion and devotion. I learned by watching my wife consistently recommit to our son. Bounce. Tears. Bounce. Tears. Repeat. I think that must be God’s cycle sometimes. He teaches, he prods, he pokes. We disobey. God cries. Repeat. Never giving up, never stopping, never imposing.

You can’t impose on a newborn. They don’t know what they’re doing themselves, let along what you want them to do.

I suppose in a way, I was her Aaron to her Moses. I played a supporting role. That doesn’t denigrate fatherhood or manhood. It recognizes the supreme sacrifice that mothers make and the resultant sacrifice fathers must make. Food needs to be made. Bills need to be paid. You know, the necessities of adult life. Just help her get through the next hour. The next day. Eventually those days add up to a week and a month. Then finally, 100 days hits and a switch is flipped.

You start sleeping again. You feel human again. The tears subside. You take a deep breath of relief and start thinking long term again. You’ve made it through survivor without being voted off and now you can get on with the job of raising a family.

Parenting is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. You can’t know how hard it is if you don’t have a child, and that’s a good thing. If you knew would you really do it. Parenting is a reflective exercise. Yes, there is planning. Sort of. (Can you hear God laughing?), but it’s ultimately a reflective exercise. So is much of life, I suppose.

If you are not a parent yet, are pregnant or thinking about being pregnant, I want to encourage you. You’re on the rollercoaster as it slowly rises to the top of the first curve. You’re about to drop super fast down that first mountain and you’ll feel like everything is out of control. You will get through it though. Almost every has. Spouses, remember each other. Have each other’s backs. Husbands, remember to “love your wife, just as Christ loved the church”. Support her. Love her. Cry with her. Make sure she knows you’re there for her.

If you have just become a parent and are saying “I didn’t sign up for this”, I say with love “yes you did”. There’s just no way to tell you that in advance. It gets better. It really does. Screw the fairy tales you were told. This is hard stuff. But you will learn so much about yourself, your spouse and God, if you only keep your eyes open and pay attention.

In the end, this is so worth it. Seeing your child grow and develop and learn, is one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever witnessed or been a part of. My love for my children and my wife, continues to grow and deepen. But, there are the hard bits.

Parenting is amazing, earth shattering, terrible, horrible, and wonderful. All at the same time. Enjoy the ride.

Who is Marriage For? A Commentary

Quote Fulton J Sheen love is a mutual self giving which ends 39750

This article has been making the rounds lately, telling the tale of husband who finally realized that marriage isn’t about him, it’s about his wife; that marriage is about the other. A friend of mine asked me to comment on it privately, but I thought I’d post my thoughts her for interests sake. It’s always flattering when someone asks you for your opinion in a genuine way. She asked me because I am married and “deep thinker” (she doesn’t know me that well).

In general I like the theme of the article which is to say that, in a healthy marriage, it’s not about us, but about the other person; what we call “Mutual Self Giving (or gifting)”.

If you’ve ever been to a Christian wedding you’ve very likely heard 1 Corinthian 13 :4-7 read out:

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Put all those things together and you have what the author sums up as being unselfish. I am in my marriage to offer myself to my wife. To contribute my energy, passions, and talents to our marriage so we can be as strong and united as possible, so that together we can give to the world around us. As a unit we help each other improve, move towards our unified and separate goals, and just plain get through the day.

If, however, someone understands what is written as “door mat”, then that is missing what he is trying to communicate. I do not give myself to my wife to my detriment. I give myself to her, knowing that she would never knowingly allow me to cause myself harm through serving her. I do however acknowledge that there is sacrifice. As an example, I no longer have the freedom to randomly have dinner with a women she doesn’t know or assent to.

Again, the assumption of self-giving is that you are operating in a healthy marriage where both people are self-giving.

One of my closest friends is a women who is in an bad situation with her marriage. Her husband is a good guy overall, but he has major issues for which is requires counselling or they will likely not make it to their second anniversary. She is being incredibly brave by showing love to her husband and serving him as best she can, while receiving much less then she should from him. But, she only goes so far because there is an imbalance in their marriage. He is not serving her as he should because he won’t get the help he needs. The longer it goes on, the more she will withdraw to protect herself. But, this is a byproduct of a marriage that is not functioning properly.

The problem is that many people today, thinking they need to protect themselves from the get go, “just in case”, end up causing the demise of their marriage because they build up so many walls from the beginning that they crumble at the thought of being too exposed or vulnerable.

As an example: My wife and I have joint bank accounts and all our income goes into those accounts, there is no way for us to hide that money. We, together, make decisions on how to spend, save and give “our” money. We have to take each others views into account and come up with a budget we can both agree on. As opposed to one women I used to work with who was convinced that a married women should steadily hide money for 10 years “just in case”. Then if she’s still married (unlikely) she should surprise her husband with a really nice anniversary gift. Ultimately, this self protection, is exposed for selfishness born out of fear and the women who does that can never completely give herself to her marriage because she’s hiding part of herself from it out of fear.

One other misunderstand that could arise from the article is that someone could think he’s saying that the husband is completely responsible for the happiness of the wife and vice-versa. This is incorrect and I don’t think it’s what the author had in mind.

I want my wife to be happy, more then anything and it hurts when she’s not. The goes for close friends. None of us want to see people hurt, but there’s not always anything we can do about it. When my wife’s mother was dying of cancer last year, she certainly wasn’t happy and there was nothing I could do about it. But, I could comfort her, do extra chores, etc, to make it easier for her. I wanted her to be happy more than anything, to smile again, to laugh again, but it wasn’t going to happen for a while. But, I could sacrifice my time, my energy, my emotions, for her, to make things a bit easier.

As much as my wife seeks to make me happy, she isn’t responsible for my happiness. God help her if she was. Not with my mood swings, lol.

See, if I give myself to my wife and she reciprocates and if we know we can trust each others reputations with each other, then I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll be taken advantage of. Other women don’t have to wonder if I’m happily married, because I talk about my wife all the freaking time (in positive ways) and this makes me either a challenge or not a target for those who may wish to seduce me into an affair (I’m not arrogant enough to think anyone wants to seduce me, but I’m not taking chances with my marriage). It’s about trust. That’s why something like an affair (whether it be purely sexual or not) is so damaging to the fabric of a marriage; trust has been broken in a most profound way.

Now, without becoming too personal, think about the marital act (ahem, sexual intercourse). It’s the very definition of self giving. If a husband has sex with his wife solely for his own pleasure then that’s wrong. They are there to offer themselves to each other, to yes, make each other feel good – to offer that to their spouse. But, of course, it’s not just the physical pleasure and its certainly not just about the orgasm. It’s about the ultimate expression of vulnerability and trust, the desire to create new life, the deep emotional connection and bond that is created.

Just to be clear sexual desire and sexual pleasure are in themselves good and there is nothing wrong with them. It’s when they become lust that we see problems. Lust is selfish, it is the plagiarisation of desire. “Desire” in a negative sense arises when a man or women fails to see the full attractiveness of the other person and reduces it to the attractiveness of sexual pleasure alone. [1]

“In lustful desire, one seeks the other person in a reductive way as a mere means for sexual pleasure. There are just an instrument. This is contrary to the full dignity and beauty of the person.” [2]

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[1] Man and Women he Created Them: A Theology of the Body, John Paul II. p. 225

[2] ibid. footnote

So excited!

Yup, I’m getting excited. We have just over 9 weeks to go until our son is born. I’ve always been happy about it, well a mix of happy and fearful, which is perfectly normal. This past week though I realized that I’ve turned the corner into super excited territory.

Being able to feel our son just beneath my wife’s stomach is just the coolest thing ever. To realize there is a little human being growing and developing inside her is truly astounding. I’ve always had the dreams of all the things I would do with my son and the things he would teach me, but they have become even more concrete and immediate now. We don’t have that much longer to go and we’ll be able see what he looks like.

I’m so very thankful and blessed for this special time in our lives.

Sacrament of Divorce?

I’m bored, so I’m releasing this article into the wilds to stir up trouble…

I’m being facetious in my post title today, I don’t really believe in a Sacrament of Divorce. However, I have been thinking a lot about the notion of separation of church and state and how it applies to various aspects of life, including marriage and divorce.

When my wife and I were married just under 3 years ago, we understood that we were essentially being married twice: once before God, our friends and family, and once by the state (Province of Ontario). The first was the most important and the second more of a detail.  It’s important to keep these things separate in your mind so you understand the true nature of a Christian marriage. In the Anabaptist tradition which historically takes a very hard line on separation of church and state, it would not be unheard of to find two Anabaptist-Christians who were married in the church but never register their marriage with the state.

Here’s my question: in a situation as that, where the division between church and state is so sharp, how do they get a divorce? Pretty much all churches but the Catholic Church, grudgingly concede that divorce is possible; a concession to our fallen natures. We’re not going to discuss the merits of either position here, but I’m curious as to how a church recognizes a divorce apart from the state.

Point 1: Whether you take a sacramental or ordinal view of marriage, it is almost always seen as the one event that the individuals involved perform on each other and the officiant simply oversees, witnesses, and testifies to its’ validity . That is, it is not up to the priest/minister, etc to marry two people, it is the couple that declare that reality. The role of the priest is simply to give the churches’ assent to the proceedings.

Point 2: If a marriage happens when the two people involved, together with the assembled church (and other guests), declare it to be so, when does a divorce happen? A couple is married in the eyes of God when this is complete, it has nothing to do with the states opinion. In fact, in some sense, the states recognition of a marriage is retroactively applied because you have to send in the paperwork, etc. So, if we value a distinction between a valid state marriage and a valid church wedding, when does a church recognize that a divorce has taken place?

Point 3: Even if you are married before the church and in the eyes of the state, when does a divorce happen? When the state says so? This is problematic because now we’re giving power and control over to the state for a marriage that was also validated by the church. We are ceding jurisdiction over to the state for something that we agreed initially was valid in the eyes of the church regardless of what the state said.

So, again, the question is: how does the church know when a divorce has taken place? What is the church’s role in marking that divorce? If a couple is validly married in the church but never seeks state recognition – how do THEY get divorced and what is the church’s role in that? And what about remarriage?

This isn’t meant to be a polemic against divorce and remarriage, I’m still in the air on this myself. These are simply some questions that I’ve been asking myself as I ponder the question of separation of church and state. If a divorce is only valid and real when the state says it is, then why does that not apply to marriages as well and are we not giving up power to the state?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Be open to life and live like it.

As everyone knows the US is going through two legal battles right now over the definition of marriage. This battle has been fought in Canada already and same-sex marriage is legal across the country. I’m beyond tired of this issue and I’m not really here to talk about it directly. Nor, am I going to tell you my take either way – partly because I’m somewhat unsettled on certain parts of the issue. If you want to know where I somewhat stand, you can find it somewhere in an unrelated article somewhere on this blog.

Right now, I want to speak to those who want to uphold the view that marriage is: a conjugal union of a man and a woman designed to unite husband and wife to each other and to any children who may come from their union.

In other words, at the centre of the argument is the view that procreation is central to marriage. It makes sense, if you don’t believe that marriages should centre around an openness to life, then really, who cares?

Listen up though folks: if you believe in this, let’s call it a “traditional” view of marriage (1), then how open to life are you? No, seriously, how open to life are you? If you’re Catholic you promised in your ceremony to be open to life and to welcome in any children God may give you. As part of this you also inherently promise not to frustrate God’s intentions. Do you use birth control? Either condoms, foam, or the pill? Have you thought through the implications of such action? Have you researched the health implications or investigated other options?

Certainly, not everyone is meant to have a large family, but how much of that is our choice and how much is up to God? Are you open to life at anytime or only when you’ve had 10 years in your career? What’s more important: your ability to travel to far away exotic locations, or to bring children into the world? There are morally licit reasons to space out a family, such as financial and health reasons, but wanting to hold off so you can go on vacation unencumbered by a child, isn’t one of them.

God gave Adam and Eve very few commands (apparently one too many), but one of them was to have children. That’s it. Have a family.

Are you open to life on God’s terms or just your own? If you really, really, believe in the traditional view of marriage, you better be, or you’re just making empty arguments.

Many families struggle for years to either get pregnant or stay pregnant. The average number of miscarriages now is 3. I am the fourth child in the my family, but I’ve never met the others because the middle two were stillborn. My parents tried really hard to have me. They were open to life. Having trouble getting pregnant or staying pregnant does not invalidate a marriage in this view, because the central issue is that the couple is open to life.

If you’re a heterosexual couple and you don’t intend to ever have children: should you even get married? The Catholic Church would say no and many same-sex marriage advocates would agree because if procreation is the centre of the argument, if you intend not to have children, then what are you getting married for?

The point is simply this: if you’re going to fight to uphold the “traditional” view of marriage, then really think about what you’re saying about your own marriage, or marriages in general. You’re saying: “I am open to life” and I’m open to it on God’s terms, not mine (though there is obviously some aspect of partnership here), so live that way. Don’t live like the rest of the world does thinking you can choose when to have children without God’s input. The best way you can show support for that view of marriage is to live it out.

(1) Yes, I know, many will argue whether or not this view of marriage is really that traditional, but I believe it is.

What is the honeymoon period?

Before you get married you hear a lot about the honeymoon period of marriage. When you think about that term, what comes to mind? Lovers lost in each others eyes willing to forgive anything? Perhaps. Is that what it really is though, or is that the hollywood version?

Do you think of months of no fighting and no problems between you as a couple?

That’s sort of what I thought. I had a sort of contradictory image in my head of knowing we would have disagreements, but thinking we would get over them easily and gracefully because we were so much in love.

What I discovered however was that you do have fights and sometimes they are not so easy to work through. Marriage is tough and requires a lot of work. That’s why God makes it a lifelong covenant. You have no choice but to work through the problems.

So, what is the honeymoon period? I’ve decided that the term “honeymoon period” is a poor attempt at secularizing something very special. It is a wedding present from our Heavenly Father. (I know, you thought something else was the big gift).

What is this gift? Grace. Not just the normal grace we all receive, but a special kind of grace (and a lot of it). It’s a specific grace given to a husband and wife to give as a gift to each other. It’s given so when times are tough, tempers flare and emotions are hurt we have this supernatural gift of extra-special grace, designed specifically to help two people grow together into one.

See, God knew what he was doing when he created marriage. He also knew it would be tough, he knew after the fall that trying to make two people integrate their lives would be a tough, tough job. So, he gave us a special gift to do it.

So, look for that gift and don’t forget to give it out. It comes neatly packed inside love.

Kinda neat.

Thanks Lord.