Suffering, Scars and Sanctification
Updated: Nov 21, 2019
When I first met my now husband on a blind date I jokingly (well, half jokingly) blurted out
“I want two dozen children someday”, to which he surprisingly and almost cheerfully responded, “okay!”
It was the first time I had met the man, the first time I had ever laid eyes on him and I felt like this was a necessary fact to share since in my heart I truly longed for a bustling brood and wanted to make sure he knew it from day one. Raised as the oldest daughter in a large family I was sure I knew what it took to have a bunch of children. I knew sacrifice! I knew the demands of love! Or so I thought.
Fast forward seven years into our marriage and there I was, the same girl who had vocalized her dream of many babies, crying out to God who clearly couldn’t see I had my hands quite full enough. With six pregnancies, (two sadly miscarried) in just under five years, my husband and I were spread thin, tired albeit an often joyful-tired and wondering how we could ever continue this pattern of a baby every year.
We were committed to practicing NFP from the get-go. It was practiced and spoken of in our homes and the schools of our childhoods and mentioned briefly at our marriage prep class. NFP was marketed as an all-encompassing way to space babies, love God, and have a happy marriage, the end!
Up until our breaking point, we hadn’t followed the rules of the various NFP methods we tried because we hadn’t felt strongly about carefully spacing our children. Until then. Six pregnancies in we knew it was time for my body to rest and heal.
We committed ourselves to strict rule following (read: no fun) and hunkered down for what we assumed would be a couple weeks of abstinence while we waited to figure out my charts.
Having so many babies back to back meant I hadn’t experienced menstrual cycles in between pregnancies and nursing so this waiting was brand new to us despite being married for seven years. The two weeks turned into many weeks which turned into months which turned into many months. Months of waiting for each other, months of frustration. My once committed heart turned into a bitter, resentful heart and I found myself angry at God. “Hadn’t He seen how faithful we had been?” “Hadn’t He seen how generous we were with our openness to life?”
Confession happened to be taking place that evening and our priest graciously listened as I poured out my anger, “We *should* be able to have sex! We follow the Church’s teachings and we love each other! What more does God want?”
The priest wisely instructed me to return home and instead of whining to my husband about wanting sex I should say, “we can’t be together in that way now so how can I love you today?”
Desperate for reprieve I returned home and asked. Day after day I asked and in time my husband returned the question. Soon my bitterness over not being able to have my husband turned into a deeper gratitude for his whole person- his heart, his soul, his mind.
During this shift in my heart, I heard a reflection by Saint Faustina that shook me to my core. While reflecting on the crosses that we are all called to carry throughout our lives, Faustina noted that many souls receive the cross they are given and drag it, heavy behind them, the weight holding them down. Other souls choose to receive the cross they have been given and place it upon their shoulders, relying on Christ to help them carry its weight to Calvary.
For the first time I saw NFP and our seemingly endless abstinence as our cross, an opportunity to either drag it or carry it to the finish line.
My husband and I committed to praying novenas, rosaries, and offering our seasons of prolonged abstinence for someone or for a particular intention. Through this time of intentionally uniting our suffering to the Cross our hearts were drawn closer to Christ and to one another. A joy in living out our daily lives together, cross and all, welled up within us. The more we turned our suffering into an outward offering the more God returned the graces to endure our difficulties and the more He returned the joy.
During our season of waiting and longing we discovered I had some very serious health issues which explained my lack of menstrual cycles and our inability to chart the usual symptoms of typical cycles.
Had we not been given this season of waiting perhaps we wouldn’t have uncovered these diseases until they had progressed further. My multiple diagnoses of poly cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), suspected endometriosis, and an auto-immune disease felt overwhelming and once more we found ourselves at the crossroads of throwing in the towel or picking up our cross together.
We sought the help of multiple doctors over the course of 18 months and prayed countless novenas and rosaries seeking Our Lady’s intercession.
Several of the doctors we spoke with advised us to be done having children, offering birth control as their first solution to my barrage of symptoms. Some went as far as to blame my condition on our use of NFP and our “obvious inability” to control ourselves and “responsibly space” our babies.
Knowing God would provide better answers we dug further and found a NaProTECHNOLOGY surgeon who specializes in correcting PCOS and endometriosis at the root of the issues instead of prescribing hormones and pills to mask their symptoms.
Leading up to my surgery I heard a talk on the Seven Sorrows Rosary and my husband and I began praying this daily for my full healing, especially of endometriosis. Additionally, for the first time, I received the beautiful Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The duration of my surgery was shorter than expected and the doctor shared with us that while he found no endometriosis he found some areas of what appeared to be unexplainable “leftover tissue.” At the same time, he completed a successful bilateral ovarian wedge resection to correct PCOS, returning my cycles to a normal length and my hormones to their proper baselines all while preserving my fertility.
We rejoiced in the miracle of my healing and upon my return home from the hospital my parents gave me an icon they had felt moved to purchase while traveling overseas. I opened the gift and cried as Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows looked back at me as an affirmation of her powerful intercession for my healing.
Shortly after this through the course of additional doctors, testing, and many prayers I experienced relief from my auto-immune disease symptoms and currently continue to work towards full health so we can hopefully welcome more children in God’s time.
Our journey with NFP continues to be far from over but through embracing our cross despite the painful wounds it often inflicted we have been drawn closer to Christ than ever before and in turn, closer to one another.
Through praying novenas we realized we weren’t changing God or the circumstances. Rather, through our novenas we found a tangible way to unite our weary hearts to Him, to learn about His heart especially in the waiting.
“I Am They” wrote a striking song that summarizes our journey so beautifully. As I look at my scars from my surgery and reflect on the metaphorical scars we experienced along the way I can truthfully echo these words:
"Waking up to a new sunrise
Looking back from the other side
I can see now with open eyes
Darkest water and deepest pain
I wouldn't trade it for anything
‘Cause my brokenness brought me to You
And these wounds are a story You'll use
So I'm thankful for the scars
‘Cause without them I wouldn't know Your heart
And I know they'll always tell of who You are
So forever I am thankful for the scars.”
Thank you, Lord, for the scars that drew our hearts together and thank you, Our Lady, for drawing us closer to the heart of your Son.
If you are struggling with the Church’s teachings on NFP or seeking support as you carry the burden of fertility or infertility please don’t carry your burdens alone. Vocalize them to someone who understands and then give your anger, frustration, bitterness and resentment to Christ who will heal your heart as you draw closer to Him.
Our NFP instructor was our “Simon of Cyrene” on our journey, helping us in both tangible and spiritual ways, carry our cross. God will provide the same for you, you are not alone.
Blog Written By: Ellen Virginia
Ellen is married to the love of her life, Jacob. She is a SAHM of four children whom she homeschools. She has a knack for hospitality and home decorating and enjoys writing and social networking. As the oldest of fourteen children she has a hard time not quadrupling recipes for her own small-ish family. She is passionate about sharing the Lord’s love, spreading awareness of NaPro Technology, and the story of how both changed her life.
You can find her guest blog posts at everydaymamas.com
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