Ecce Ancilla Domini

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach Please do not use without permission

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach Please do not use without permission

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord…” Mary’s words in Luke 1:38 echoed loudly in my heart when I found out that I was pregnant for the first time. To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement.

“A sword shall pierce your own soul.” These prophetic words also echoed loudly in my heart when I lost twins early in that pregnancy. And, with the loss, came the realization that being open to life didn’t always mean having a baby in my arms.

‘Openness to life’ is a phrase often used to describe the attitude of those using Natural Family Planning, whether they are avoiding or planning a pregnancy. However, when it comes to actively seeking a pregnancy, another form of ‘openness to life’ comes into play. I like to call it ‘openness to God’s will.’ For, in this openness, a couple truly becomes vulnerable — naked, in essence — before God, exposing them to whatever God allows.

This type of ‘openness’ can mean dealing with a whole range of possibilities: infertility, miscarriage, a baby with abnormalities, a pre-term delivery, a stillborn baby, or a healthy, full-term infant. But, in a sense, this is the same ‘openness’ that Mary embraced when she was informed that she would be the mother of our Savior: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord…”

To illustrate this, here are some examples:

I know one particular couple who tried for many years, unsuccessfully, to have a baby. They went through denial, then acceptance, of their infertility. The wife questioned God. “Why did you give me a godly man if we can’t have children together?” Eventually, they adopted two beautiful girls from China.

In our own case, James and I have had to endure the loss of seven babies through miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. Some of those pregnancy losses entailed major surgery and, in two instances, I nearly hemorrhaged to death. During one miscarriage, my spiritual director offered these consoling words, “Perhaps God is asking you to sacrifice the joy of holding this child in your arms so that He may quickly hold your child in heaven.”

Several years ago, a woman from our homeschooling community was expecting her sixth child. At 19 weeks gestation, she began exhibiting signs of early labor. Her son was born and only lived for a short time. However, she shared with me that, as difficult as it was to hold her dying son in her arms, she truly felt blessed. The moment her son died, filled with God’s grace, she more clearly understood in a small way what Our Lady endured by holding the crucified and dead Christ in her arms.

Six years ago, our close friends welcomed a new child into their family. At birth, their son appeared normal, but as she held onto him in those first few moments, she realized that he had Down Syndrome. When she called me, her voice was so full of love for her child that it was as if she was sharing with me that her baby had brown hair instead of blond. Her ‘openness’ to the wonderful gift that God had given to her was a testament to her trust in God and acceptance of grace in her life.

Finally, the idea of total ‘openness’ was illustrated more fully to me a few years ago while I was at the hospital waiting for my youngest son to come out of minor surgery. I watched a mother come into the nurses’ station with her toddler in a stroller (who, in my eavesdropping, I had learned spent a long time in the special care nursery). Unable to catch a glimpse of her son, I watched from a distant position as many nurses gathered around the stroller to see the baby, and I could hear his sweet laughter as he reacted to the different nurses and to his mother.

My curiosity could not stand it any longer. I moved closer to see what this baby looked like. As the child came into view, I’m sure I let out a quiet gasp. His skull was misshapen, his forehead gigantic compared to the rest of his head. Immediately, I felt tremendous pity not only for the child, but for his parents. Then one of the nurses tickled him under the chin and he let out a squeal of laughter, a high-pitched, sweet sound. In that moment, I no longer saw someone who was deformed. I saw a little person who was radiantly beautiful; a representation of innocence and goodness. I felt an overwhelming urge to embrace him.

‘Openness to life’ means accepting God’s will for us. If our baby has disabilities, it is important for us to pray for the grace to handle the challenges. If we must endure the loss of a child through miscarriage or pre-term birth, it is essential not to give in to hopelessness, but to realize that God has a plan for each unique human being he creates.

It’s not easy for a couple to surrender their life-giving capabilities to God’s design and to accept whatever comes from that. True ‘openness to life’ means becoming like Mary, a “handmaid of the Lord.” It means being open to whatever God chooses for us, whether it’s infertility or a child with disabilities, whether it’s a healthy baby for us to raise, or one for Him to hold in heaven.

(Updated) Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Seven Quick Takes – Miscellaneous Links and Anniversary Fun

seven-quick-takes-friday-2-1024x727Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at This Ain’t The Lyceum for SQT Friday.

1. Catholic Writers Guild
I’m over at the Catholic Writers Guild Blog today talking about finding inspiration in the little things.

2. Latest Post at Catholic Mom
My latest post at Catholic Mom is entitled, “NFP Improves Marital Communication.”

Photo courtesy Tim Baklinski at Two Trees Photography

Photo courtesy Tim Baklinski at Two Trees Photography

3. Interview at Carolyn Astfalk’s Blog
Special thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for the wonderful interview over at her blog!

photo copyright James Hrkach

photo copyright James Hrkach

4. A Chase in the Woods
Enjoy this entertaining video made by my second oldest son (and starring the three youngest sons). It was shot back in 2007 when at least two of my boys were shorter than me!

5. Anniversary – 33 Years!
It’s hard to believe it’s been 33 years! We’ll be celebrating by going to Mass and then out to breakfast. If you click on the link below, I uploaded a short slide show with photos and audio from our wedding 33 years ago. I thank God every day for our life together.
Wedding Slide Show

6. Reading Shelf
Hush, Hush by Michelle Quigley (review coming soon)

7. Anniversary Cartoon

copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)

copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)

Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

NFP Improves Marital Communication

Photo courtesy Tim Baklinski at Two Trees Photography

Photo courtesy Tim Baklinski at Two Trees Photography

My latest article over at illustrates one of the main benefits of using NFP:

Couples using Natural Family Planning are accustomed to communicating deeply and frequently. According to researchers at Marquette University College of Nursing, use of NFP improves a couple’s overall relationship, but specifically focuses on communication. One couple said, “Since we speak about our fertility on a daily basis (my husband charts and asks my observations daily), NFP has helped our level of communication remain very deep and intimate and always above-board, open and honest.”

Lack of communication is one of the leading causes of marital breakdown. For the NFP-using couple, honest communication is essential. Procrastination isn’t an option. Each month, the NFP couple discusses whether or not they will be avoiding or planning pregnancy. In order to be successful at this, it’s necessary to discuss the woman’s signs of fertility and infertility. My husband has often said, “If you can talk about your wife’s cervical mucus, you can discuss anything.”

To briefly review how NFP works: husband and wife chart the wife’s signs of fertility and infertility. (Note: the man is fertile every day of his post-pubescent life, assuming there are no health difficulties). The couple then determines the start and end of the fertile time (we call it Phase II). If they are avoiding pregnancy, they abstain during the fertile time. If they are planning a pregnancy, they engage in relations during this time. Although it sounds simplistic, there are various scenarios, conditions and more complicated issues that arise, so formal NFP classes (either live or online) are recommended.

One of the keys to each couple’s success in using NFP is effective communication. NFP works best when the couple together study and observe the woman’s signs of fertility and infertility. Ideally, each month, the NFP couple discusses whether they will be avoiding a pregnancy or achieving a pregnancy. Because NFP can be used both to plan and to avoid pregnancy, it’s a good idea to have this conversation every month, even if the couple has decided that they will be avoiding pregnancy for a year or more. When internal shifts in emotional attitude are brought to the surface, the couple can unite in their efforts to carry out their plans regarding abstinence.

In over 30 years of using NFP, often one of us was more open to pregnancy than the other. Sometimes our monthly conversations were long and complicated; other times, short. The important point is that these types of dialogues are meant to take place well before — and not in the middle of — the marital embrace.

When the NFP couple is discussing intimate topics such as mucus and other fertility signs, it enhances their marital and sexual life, thereby increasing intimacy. This sort of communication should also continue when the couple is postpartum (after having a baby) and in post-menopause (after menopause).

When they are avoiding pregnancy, abstinence can be difficult and challenging. Being able to freely talk to your spouse helps you to understand that you are not alone in the struggles and challenges of NFP. This can help to bring a couple closer together and can promote marital stability. NFP demands the kind of intimate and deep conversations that allow the couple to grow closer.

Natural Family Planning has many benefits. One of its most significant benefits is that it promotes deep, honest and frequent marital communication.

For more information on NFP, check out these websites:

Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach
Photo by Tim Baklinski of Two Trees Photography. All rights reserved.

Author and Publisher Extraordinaire: Interview with Ellen Gable

Ellen Gable Hrkach:

Special thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for this wonderful interview. She asked some great questions!

Originally posted on Carolyn Astfalk:

Ellen Gable is a busy lady. I was flummoxed by how to encapsulate all her roles, so I’m going to steal her description right from her blog: “I am a freelance writer and author of five books, President of the Catholic Writers Guild, self-publishing book coach, speaker, Natural Family Planning (NFP) teacher, book reviewer, Marriage Preparation Instructor. However, the roles I love the most are being wife to my husband, James, and mother to our five sons, ages 15-27.”

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ellen first through her novels, then the Catholic Writers Guild, and, now, as my editor and publisher.

Your most recent novel, A Subtle Grace, is a historical romance and the second book in the O’Donovan Family Series. You can read it as a standalone novel, but I think the story is enriched by knowing the family’s history, particularly the patriarch, David. How are the…

View original 814 more words

SQT – Favorite Marriage Quotes

seven-quick-takes-friday-2-1024x727Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes Friday.

Since my husband and I will be celebrating our anniversary next week, I’d like to share seven of my favorite quotes on marriage.

1. “Intense love does not measure; it just gives.” (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta) This quote so perfectly illustrates the sacrificial love of marriage and, indeed, of any relationship. I see this illustrated every day when my husband goes above and beyond to sacrifice for our family. I try to live this quote: every morning I wake up and think, “What can I do to make my husband’s life easier today?”

2. “Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church. ” (Saint John Paul II). Love is not merely a feeling; it is a choice. Every day I have an opportunity to choose to love my spouse. Sometimes it isn’t easy, but it’s always worthwhile.

3. “Be not afraid.” (Saint John Paul II) As shown in the photo below, I certainly wasn’t afraid of what the future would hold for us. I was too happy at that moment to think of future difficulties and challenges. I had no idea what the next 33 years would bring. All married couples will face hardships and challenges. But they will also experience great joy to balance any hardships. Of course, couples who enter into a sacramental marriage (and who live their faith) have the additional graces to assist them in handling any challenges and hardships.

4. “The two shall become one.” (Genesis 2:24) There’s no better illustration of our unity and oneness than our children who are the walking “representations of our love.” (cr Saint John Paul II).Easter fam cropped

5. “Be fruitful; multiply.” (Genesis 1:28)

6. “How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? …How wonderful the bond between two believers with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.”(24) Tertullian (cr Familiaris Consortio Saint John Paul II) I love this quote from Tertullian, who exquisitely describes the spiritual and physical joys of the one flesh experience of Christian marriage.

7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Romans 4:6) Prayer is such an important part of a sacramental marriage. But having people pray for you is also essential. In that regard, I’d like to share one of my favorite anniversary gifts: a beautiful card that was lovingly made for us by Dominican Novices back in 2012 when we were celebrating our 30th anniversary. Each sister signed her name to one day in May with a note below saying that “In honor of this occasion, we will offer 30 days (plus one) of prayer with a different sister praying for you each day this month.” Wow.

Text and photos copyright 2012/2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Remembering Mom on Mother’s Day

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to re-post this tribute to my mom.

Like most of us, Mom wasn’t perfect, but in many respects, she was a great example. When she became pregnant at age 47, her doctor insisted that she have an abortion. She refused and several months later, gave birth to my youngest sister. I am grateful for the many years I had with Mom, but I miss her very much.

In her memory, I’d like to share the eulogy I gave at her funeral reception nearly eight years ago:

Eulogy for Betti Power – August 14, 2007

Wife, mother, sister, grandmother, mother-in-law, stepmother, sister-in-law, aunt, cousin, friend. She was Betti (with an i).

To us, she was simply “Mom.”

She was witty, loving, generous, giving, unselfish.

She enjoyed her grandchildren (at right, with my son, Adam, 1996), transcribing (and was the fastest typist I know). She loved surprising people, visiting Canada, talking on the phone, doing crossword puzzles, reading. Her favorite music was West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, Abba and Fleetwood Mac.

Upon meeting Mom, most people immediately felt comfortable with her and she would often strike up conversations with people she didn’t know.

She cherished having a new baby when she was 47 and all that came with it: being a lunch mother, taking Laurie to dance lessons and Catholic school.

Mom was a proud graduate of Hallahan High School (class of ’51).

She loved Christmas shopping and would begin in July and be finished before November.

She enjoyed watching television and her favorite shows were the Sopranos, Law and Order, Price is Right, ER, Magnum PI and All in the Family. One of her favorite movies was “Titanic” and she would watch the DVD every few months.

Mom used some unique sayings: “God willing and the Creek don’t rise.” When asked if she could speak French, she would reply, “Sure, I can. Chevrolet, bouquet, Bon Ami.” When one of her kids was misbehaving, she would say, “I’m gonna drop kick you across Center Avenue.” Whenever I stood next to her, she would always say, “El, are you standing in a hole?” If we referred to her as “she” and not “Mom,” she would say, “Who’s she, the cat’s mother?” Whenever anyone asked how she was doing, she would reply, “Well, I’m still on this side of the grass, so I guess I’m doing fine.”

Whenever someone in the hospital or at home would ask if they could get her anything, she would almost always reply, “Tom Selleck.”

When asked what the most memorable days of her life were, she replied, “My wedding days and the days I gave birth to my five children.”

Mom was a fighter, not necessarily aggressive, but she’s had to survive some pretty challenging experiences: her first husband’s (my father’s) emotional breakdown; kidney failure when she was 33 which led to the removal of one of her kidneys and caused her to drop to 80 lbs (at five foot six, made her a walking skeleton); becoming a widow at 44; and, most recently, having to deal with COPD and emphysema over the last ten or so years. When she first became critically ill in 2004 and lapsed into unconsciousness, the doctors told us there was no hope for her, to take her off of life support. Instead, she eventually woke up. She finally came home after eight months of hospitalization to the new normal: oxygen machine, nebulizer treatments, myriad pills and medications. Although it was an uphill battle, she has always had a strong will to live.

Finally, in April, the doctors told Mom that there wasn’t much more they could do for her and that she would be sent home on hospice care. Upon arriving home, she asked my brother, “I’m coming home to die, right?”

Whenever any of us helped to take care of her, she always thanked us profusely, whether it was for emptying her commode chair, making her breakfast or dinner or a snack of a soft pretzel or an ice cream cone. She often apologized for being a burden. I told her that it was a joy to help take care of her, to give back to her just a small portion of what she had given to me, and I know my stepfather and my siblings all felt the same.

Mom, we miss you. Requiescat in pace. Happy Mother’s Day in heaven.

Photos and Text copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

SQT – The Month of May

seven-quick-takes-friday-2-1024x727 Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at This Ain’t the Lyseum for Seven Quick Takes Friday.

I have always enjoyed the month of May. It happens to include some family birthdays, a holiday, my wedding anniversary and, of course, May is the month of Mary.

Here are a few of the reasons I love the month of May:

1. May is Mary’s month. When I was a child in Catholic school, each May the entire school and parish took part in the May procession. One 8th grade female student was chosen as May Queen to crown the statue of Mary. When my mother was 13, she was chosen to be May Queen at St. Richard’s School in Philadelphia. Years later, when we were living in Philadelphia and attending the same parish and school, my sister was also chosen to be May Queen in 1971. The photo below is of my mother as May Queen (1947).

2. May is usually a great weather month. After the long winter we had, I look forward to May’s spring weather.

3. May is a month of birthdays. I’ve shared before that my youngest son was my favorite birthday present 16 years ago. Besides my son’s birthday and my birthday, there are numerous other relatives who have birthdays in May.

4. May is the month of our anniversary. One of the reasons my husband and I chose May for our wedding 33 years ago is because it is the month of Mary, but also because May usually brings good weather. Again, ‘usually’ is the key word here. It rained the entire day of our wedding so most of our photos had to be taken inside. However, as the reception was winding down to a close, the photographer approached us. He said that the weather was clearing and asked us if we would like to pose for a few photos outside. When we walked outside, we were astonished to see a huge patch of bright light in the distance. It’s not evident from this photo because it was around 8:00 p.m., but the weather had turned quite beautiful. I took it as a sign from God that truly “bright days were ahead.”

5. May is the month of Mother’s Day. I have always tried to honor both my mother and mother-in-law. My mother has been gone for nearly eight years, but I still remember her daily in prayer. We usually treat my mother-in-law to dinner at a restaurant. As a mother myself, I have always enjoyed receiving home-made, creative gifts from my sons and have treasured these special mementos. The photo below is of me and my mother.

6. May includes a three-day weekend. Up here in Canada, the third Monday is Victoria Day, which is a holiday similar to Memorial Day in the USA. We usually celebrate by barbequing and enjoying a day off. It’s the unofficial start to summer (I say unofficial because up here in Canada, anything is possible in terms of weather…I have seen snow flurries on one or two previous Victoria Day holidays).

7. Mother’s Day Cartoon

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach Please do not use without permission

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach Please do not use without permission

Photos and Text Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

#LTO: Don’t You Forget About Me Only .99!!

DYFAM advert For a limited time only, Erin McCole Cupp’s “Don’t You Forget About Me” (Kindle edition) is on sale for only .99 until Friday! (USA customers only – sorry!!)

Mary Catherine Whelihan made it out of Walkerville alive once before. Can she pull it off this time? Bullies, sexual harassment, finding a corpse in the local creek… Cate’s childhood in 1980s Walkerville was murder! So what could possibly tempt her to return? A cryptic email from Eugene Marcasian, MD, her grade school crush might do the trick. Can Cate and Gene find the cause of the mysterious illness afflicting nearly all of the girls in their graduating class, including Cate herself? Or will corporate bullies continue to take down anyone who gets in their way? More importantly, can Cate stay alive long enough to get one more slice of tomato pie?

Check out the YouTube Book Trailer here:

“Doesn’t signing in at the Technology Annex check-in desk blow the whole cloak-and-dagger bit?”
Gene furrowed his brow for a moment. “I’m not looking for cloak-and-dagger. I just want to buy enough time to get some answers and put a stop to whatever is making people sick. But Mary Catherine—I don’t know what kind of wasp nest we might be kicking at here.”
“Nice image.” My stomach knotted.
Gene gently but firmly grasped me by my upper arms. “I’m not kidding. If what our coffee shop friend said is true…”
I picked up where he trailed off, “Then Walkerville wasps carry some pretty wicked stingers.”
Gene nodded. “I’m willing to give it all to find the truth. I’m not sure I want you to.”
He was right. This wasn’t picking up rocks in Quaker Creek and looking for water pennies. This was digging up what two potentially deadly forces—Big Pharma and The Mob—wanted kept buried.
I forced myself to look directly into his eyes. “Search softly,” I said, “and poke with a big stick.”

Praise for Don’t You Forget About Me:
“This book has all the elements that make a book addictive: a compelling story told well with characters who are unforgettable. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll stay up all night reading.”
Sarah Reinhard, author, and A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy

“This captivating murder mystery made me laugh, cry, and crave Italian food; ‘80s pop tunes are still stuck in my head. If you like mysteries that offer a good mix of suspense and science, don’t miss this book.”
Barb Szyszkiewicz,

“Don’t You Forget About Me…is a rollicking fun and exciting cozy murder mystery. The author’s strong and clever command of the written language makes this book an entertaining page-turner. I recommend this highly-enjoyable, cozy, clean, lively mystery to all readers!”
Therese Heckenkamp, award-winning author, Frozen Footprints

“A quirky, fun, mystery-romance that will tickle your funny bone while making your hair stand on end.”
AnnMarie Creedon, best-selling author, Angela’s Song

About Erin:
Erin McCole Cupp is a wife, mom, and lay Dominican who lives with her family of vertebrates in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. Her writing has appeared in Canticle Magazine, Parents, The Catholic Standard and Times, and The Philadelphia City Paper, and she is a regular contributor to Her other professional experiences include acting, costuming, youth ministry, international scholar advising, and waiting tables. Her influences include Neal Stephenson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Jane Austen. Her weaknesses include iceberg lettuce, frozen drinks, and anything labeled “Visitor Center.” Erin is the author of Jane_E, Friendless Orphan: A Memoir (Broken Wheel Media, 2006), Don’t You Forget About Me (Full Quiver Publishing, 2013), and Working Mother (Full Quiver Publishing, 2014), all available on Amazon. You can find more about Erin at

To buy Don’t You Forget About Me (Kindle Edition) for only .99, click here. (USA customers only)