Intimate Preparations #ValentinesDay

candlelightSmallFebruary is the month of Valentine’s Day, so below is a reprint of an article I originally wrote for Catholic Mom and Amazing Catechists years ago.

“And so I take (my wife) not for any lustful motive, but I do it in singleness of heart. Be kind enough to…bring us to old age together.” Tobit 8:7

“..Now, gird up your loins and arise…”  Jer: 1:17

Which scripture verse more accurately describes how a couple should prepare for the conjugal embrace?   Praying for a singleness of heart, without lustful motive…or girding up one’s loins for “war”?

Yet many couples prepare for intimacy by “girding up their loins:” wearing condoms, inserting diaphragms, taking a pill, putting on a patch, having an IUD inserted, undergoing an operation. It seems to me that these couples are preparing more for “war” than for the marital embrace, “protecting” themselves against unwanted pregnancy, “protecting” themselves against their spouse’s fertility.

Compare that to the couples who do not use contraceptives.  They are generous in opening their marriage to children, and when necessary, they use Natural Family Planning and abstain in the fertile time.  They’re not girding up their loins; they’re not “protecting” each other from an unwanted pregnancy.  When they give of themselves in the marital act, it is a total gift, not a partial one.

The question is: How do you prepare for intimacy?

Some might answer, “We watch porn.”  Others may say, “I make sure my diaphragm is in place,” or “We keep a packet of condoms by the bed.”

And yet…are these really appropriate ways for a couple to prepare for the most intimate act between husband and wife?

Obviously not.

So how can a couple prepare? Here is a short list of helpful ways:

1. Pray Together

Marital prayer is an ideal way to prepare for intimacy. When marital prayer is frequent, praying before relations becomes a logical extension.  The conjugal embrace is itself a prayer.  Let’s review what makes this act so holy and meaningful.  In the marital embrace, with their bodies, husband and wife renew their wedding vows.  Becoming one with our beloved spouse is the ultimate spiritual, physical and emotional experience. We become one flesh…so much so that sometimes, nine months later, we must give the representation of that oneness a name.

2. Throw Away the Contraception

No, I’m not asking couples to have as many children as possible.  But what I am saying is that for the conjugal embrace to be honest and life-giving, it must be free, total, faithful and fruitful.  Natural Family Planning allows a couple to love each other as God loves: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully.  NFP couples chart the wife’s fertility signs and, if avoiding pregnancy, abstain in the fertile time. They are not using devices; they are giving themselves fully and they are open to children with each and every act of marital relations.  See my previous post on the Theology of the Body in a Nutshell.  For more information on NFP, check out my previous post on NFP.

3. Healthy Relationship

I know a few couples who fight constantly. These same couples brag that they have a great sex life.  Well, they may have a lot of “good feelings” but when a couple is not getting along in their day-to-day life, sex, even ‘good’ sex, is not going to fix that.  What about the husband who treats his wife in a condescending, critical manner, then expects her to be ready and willing to engage in the marital embrace…or a wife who constantly nags her husband, then wants him to be affectionate to her?  Communicate with one another; treat each other with kindness, respect and love.

4. No Pornography

Some secular marriage counselors recommend that a couple use porn to “spice up their sex life.”  Instead of “enhancing” a marital sex life, viewing sexually explicit videos has the potential of destroying a marriage. Blessed John Paul II said: “…the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.” Porn trains people to be selfish about their sexuality, not selfless. It teaches them to think about sex as something they take, not something they give. Any behavior that causes a person to be self-centered or selfish is never good for marriage. And…pornography can be highly addictive.  Mary Anne Layden, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of PA’s Center for Cognitive Therapy, called porn the “most concerning thing to psychological health that I know of existing today….pornography addicts have a more difficult time recovering from their addiction than cocaine addicts, since coke users can get the drug out of their system, but pornographic images stay in the brain forever.” 

5. Single Candle Light

I enjoy romantic, candlelit dinners with my husband.  Well, why not a candlelit conjugal embrace? In the 15th century, it was common for painters to place one solitary lit candle in their paintings to symbolize the presence of Christ. If you have small children or might fall asleep too quickly afterwards, perhaps you can use an electric candle/light…or set an alarm…but be prudent. A simple, solitary light can bring more symbolism to your intimacy.  And…it can help put you both in the “mood.”

6. Focus on Your Spouse

“Intense love does not measure; it just gives.” This quote from Blessed Mother Teresa is an ideal quote for marriage. Marriage isn’t all about “me.”  It’s about “us.”  What are your spouse’s needs?  Think of his/her needs in all facets of your relationship. Intimate ‘memos’ bring a couple closer.  Notes in your spouse’s lunch, special messages left on his workbench or on her desk, daily texts are all ways to intimately connect during the day and let your spouse know you are thinking of him/her.   The important thing is to focus on the other in all things and when it comes time for the marital embrace, this selflessness will follow naturally.

7. We Can Work It Out

When you consider all the day-to-day challenges like children, work, fatigue, family bed, stress and sickness, it’s often a miracle that a couple has the time to engage in marital intimacy at all.  The spontaneity of early marriage eventually gives way to planning for intimacy.  “Family bed?”  Consider another location for the marital embrace.  Mom too tired?  Perhaps Dad can take the kids out to the park while Mom gets a well-deserved rest after dinner. Dad too stressed?  Mom can have a hot relaxing bath waiting for Dad when he arrives home.

Do you want to prepare for the holiest, most satisfying intimate experience possible?  Treat your spouse with respect, pray together, focus on your spouse, don’t use porn and be creative in finding time for intimacy.

I’ve made the Kindle edition of my book, Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship only .99 for the entire month of February. To download your copy, click here.

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An Open Book February 2019 #openbook

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I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past month:

 

place called sat

A Place Called Saturday by Mary Astor

Synopsis: In 1968, when abortion was still a matter of controversy, Mary Astor wrote this heartwarming story of Cora, who was raped by a young, unknown assailant and becomes pregnant. Go with Cora as she faces the obstacles that will affect her life, her husband’s, and that of her unborn child. (from the inside flap)

My review:  This has been on my book shelf for a while and I listed it as one of my “To Read” books several months ago.  I finally picked it up and when I did, I couldn’t stop.  It’s the late 60’s. Cora is a young married woman. She and her husband have been trying to conceive for a couple of years. One hot summer afternoon, she is raped and a few months later she discovers she is pregnant.  She realizes that the baby is likely the product of the rape, but she refuses to consider abortion, which at the time many doctors would perform in the case of rape.  This makes the relationship with her husband difficult because he doesn’t think he can raise his wife’s rapist’s child.  Cora reminds him that the child is 50% hers. The author, Mary Astor, knows the topic of abortion well because she had at least two abortions in her early career (even if an actress was married, she would be pressured into having an abortion because of career advancement).  Astor later became Catholic and sincerely regretted her abortions.  I suspect that Astor created Cora partly to repent her two abortions.  The writing is a bit stilted at times, but overall, a great read. 4.5 out of 5.

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Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship

On Sale on Kindle for only .99!

Synopsis: Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship is a celebration of faith and enduring love. This compilation contains 12 courtship/dating stories which will inspire, captivate and entertain readers. Some of the stories include: a widow with eight children meets a widower with six children; a man asks his live-in girlfriend “what if we stopped having sex,” and is greeted with tears of joy; an atheist falls in love with her Catholic Prince Charming; a woman prays to God for a husband and years later finds herself falling in love with a seminarian; a sailor prays a novena to marry the right girl. What these and all the stories illustrate is that God is the ideal matchmaker.

My review: This is a book I edited and published eight years ago with the help of my friend, Kathy.  It’s a beautiful collection of courtship stories and is only .99 on Kindle (the entire month of February.)

tears in a bottle

Tears in a Bottle by Sylvia Bambola

Synopsis: Becky Taylor, a young woman burdened by great expectations, is lying on a cold recovery table in an abortion clinic when she hears a man’s voice, then gunshots. She holds her breath and lies perfectly still behind the curtain. When the gunman is finished, Becky is the only one left alive in the clinic. This act brings together two strangers who both seek answers to life’s most wrenching questions, mainly: Are God’s love and mercy big enough for every sin? The answer transforms multiple lives.

My review: This is an excellent pro-life novel (although at least one of the antagonists is rather one-dimensional (womanizing and alcoholic) with a compelling story and believable story line, especially in 2019. The characters are generic Christian (not Catholic). I bought this book 20 years ago at a pro-life conference. I’ve read it numerous times and read it again recently. It’s surprising that this book was originally written 20 years ago. It is especially pertinent in light of the State of New York’s recent decision to allow abortion up to the moment of birth.  Disturbing, sad and enlightening, this story is a must-read for those in the pro-life movement. Highly recommend! 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship Only .99 #bargain

Come My Beloved web

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, for the entire month of February, Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship is on sale on Kindle for only .99!

Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship is a celebration of faith and enduring love. This compilation contains 12 courtship/dating stories which will inspire, captivate and entertain readers. Some of the stories include: a widow with eight children meets a widower with six children; a man asks his live-in girlfriend “what if we stopped having sex,” and is greeted with tears of joy; an atheist falls in love with her Catholic Prince Charming; a woman prays to God for a husband and years later finds herself falling in love with a seminarian; a sailor prays a novena to marry the right girl. What these and all the stories illustrate is that God is the ideal matchmaker.

Read excerpts here (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

Reviews:

Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship is a Song of Songs, a book of praise, a treasure-house of faith and romance par excellence!  This truly beautiful collection of Catholic courtship stories is a must-read for anyone discerning a vocation, especially the call to marriage; and for those courting, engaged, already married, or widowed. What a great gift to Holy Mother Church, and a powerful witness that God does make marriages in heaven.  Lisa Mladinich, author, Be An Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children, and True Radiance, Founder, Amazing Catechists

Whether you’re courting, engaged to be married, newlyweds, or celebrating your jubilee years together, this terrific resource offers something for anyone looking to grow closer to God and to one another in a loving relationship.  Lisa Hendey, author, The Handbook for Catholic Moms,  The Grace of Yes, Founder and editor, Catholic Mom

Fabulous book that I can’t wait to recommend to all my single and married friends. You truly created a gift for this generation! Dawn Marie Roeder, author It Doesn’t End Here

Pick up a Kindle edition of Come My Beloved for only .99!

If The Morning – March for Life #uniquefromdayone

Since the March for Life is being held today in Washington, I wanted to again share the words of the pro-life song my husband wrote as a teenager. It’s called “If the Morning,” and these lyrics are also included in my novel, Emily’s Hope:

If the Morning

Words and Music by James Hrkach

If in the morning the Savior didn’t rise
Would there be sunshine in your eyes
And in the springtime if the world wasn’t new
Would love still see its way through
And do we stand only to lose it all
By standing just a little too tall

Save the baby, save the baby
Because I know he’s got the right
I know he’s got that right
Save the baby, save the baby
Because I know He’s got it right
And I know that we have got it wrong

And if the dreamer never woke to tell his tale
Would hope be born still by our hands
And if the baby never sees the light of day
Will nightmares conquer all man
And do we stand only to lose it all
By standing just a little too tall.

Save the baby, save the baby
Because I know he’s got the right
I know he’s got that right
Save the baby, save the baby
Because I know He’s got it right
And I know that we have got it wrong.

And if the baby never saw the light of day, of day, of day…

Lyrics copyright 1978 James Hrkach
Photo copyright 2011 Josh Hrkach

Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body

Image and Likeness: Short Reads Reflecting the Theology of the Body, with a foreword by Damon OwensIf St. John Paul II ever summarized his Theology of the Body, it may have been when he said, “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” But how does this sincere gift look when lived out by human beings with all their failings? What happens to our humanity when we withhold that sincere gift? What does life require of us when we give most deeply?

Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body is a moving collection of poetry and prose, featuring some of today’s brightest Catholic literary voices, including award-winning authors Dena Hunt, Arthur Powers, Michelle Buckman, Leslie Lynch, Theresa Linden, and many more. By turns edgy and sweet, gritty and deft, but always courageous and honest, the works contained in Image and Likeness explore countless facets of human love—and human failure. Readers of Image and Likeness will experience in a variety of ways how humanity, in flesh as well as spirit, lives out the image and likeness of a God who created human intimacy to bring forth both our future and to illustrate our ultimate meaning as human persons.

With a Foreword by international Theology of the Body voice Damon Owens, Image and Likeness puts life and breath into St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in ways that readers won’t soon forget.  Edited by Erin McCole Cupp and Ellen Gable.

Warning: mature themes, content and language.

Reviews:

Barb writes: “What, exactly, are “literary reflections on the Theology of the Body?” They’re stories and poems about how we live, and how we live our lives in relationship with each other, with our bodies, with our souls, and with God. It’s not some complicated, esoteric subject. Because it’s an anthology, there’s something for everyone, from detective stories to poetry to tales of family life that range from the harrowing to the uplifting. These stories and poems are about life. Like life, they are not always neat and tidy and packaged in a pretty box with a crisply-tied ribbon. I’ve come to expect just this from other work from Full Quiver Publishing: this publisher does not shy away from difficult subjects and situations in its commitment to promoting the culture of life and the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.”

An Open Book Family says: “Recommended for reading, reflection, discussion, and even entertainment. A gritty but beautiful introduction not only to the Theology of the Body as it is lived (or rejected), but also to the breadth and promise of Catholic fiction being written by contemporary authors. These shorts are accessible to any careful reader, whether familiar with the Theology of the Body or not.”

Readers can buy the paperback book on Amazon at this link.

It’s available on Kindle at this link.

An Open Book – January 2019 #openbook

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I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. It was a busy month before Christmas and during the holidays we had many visitors so there wasn’t as much time for reading as I would’ve liked.  But here are a few:

Prodigal Daughters

Prodigal Daughters: Catholic Women Come Home to the Church

by Donna Steichen

Amazon Synopsis: In this memorable book, seventeen women of the Baby Boom generation tell their poignant personal stories of apostasy and repentance. Each left the Catholic Church to seek autonomy and fulfillment on the major cultural battlegrounds of this era. Each eventually turned homeward to find, like her prodigal brother in the best-loved of Christ’s parables, that her Heavenly Father had been calling her throughout her absence, watching and yearning for her return.

Feminists in the bureaucratic networks of Catholic dissent continually predict that women will abandon the Church en masse unless they are soon admitted to the hierarchy. The women who recount their experiences in this timely and important book prove the dissenters wrong. They are representative of a growing stream of “reverts” who have recognized and repented of their errors when they rediscovered the living heart of Christ at the center of the Church.

Today, when virtually all faithful Catholics wait and pray for the return of some family member or friend who has strayed from the Church, these accounts of faith reborn offer hope and direction to lift the heart of every reader.

My review: I found this a compelling read. I’ve read it once before, but it’s the perfect sort of book to read when you don’t have a lot of time to do so.  I read individual conversion stories over the period of about two weeks. Highly recommend!

Perilous

Perilous Days: Bravehearts # 1

Amazon Synopsis: Awarded the Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval Award!

As this unforgettable adventure story begins, the quiet life of this peaceful Catholic family is thrown into turmoil by the start of World War II. A Nazi soldier knocks on the door of the farmhouse where teenager Felix Culpa Schmidt lives with his family, including his younger brother, Willy, who is a child with Down Syndrome. The draft notice is tersely delivered. “Report on January 11th and bring your birth certificate.” Felix becomes an unwilling soldier in the German army, forced to serve Adolph Hitler, a man who enacts a plan to kill thousands of ‘useless eaters’- citizens who are elderly or disabled, citizens like his brother Willy. Felix and his loyal dog, Rolf, are assigned to rescue wounded soldiers on the battlefield, working closely with a mysterious soldier who reveals shocking secrets. Perilous Days is book one in the Brave Hearts series of books about Catholic heroes and heroines. Historical fiction for readers ages 9-14. Now more than ever-we need heroes! Learn more about the Brave Hearts series at kathrynswegart.com

My review: Perilous Days is a beautifully written story that will inspire, educate, and entertain all who read it.  Swegart uses rich imagery to transport the reader back to that perilous time of World War II, Germany. Well-developed characters, compelling story, and rich imagery make this the ideal read for young and old alike. Highly recommended!

 

Miracles

Christmas Miracles

Magical True Stories of Modern Day Miracles

Amazon Synopsis: At Christmas, our hearts are touched by reports of wondrous occurrences that make us stop, reflect, and hope. This luminous book shares true accounts of Christmas miracles — inspiring events that happened to real people at Christmas time, including:

A Christmas Mystery: A deaf boy’s generosity is miraculously rewarded

First Christmas: Newlyweds take part in the local Christmas pageant — and receive a surprising lesson in timeless love.

A Heart for Christmas: A series of coincidences brings new life to a little girl

The Stranger: A gentle, mysterious Christmas Eve visitor awes a family

Christmas Saved My Mother: A rabbi tells how his mother, fleeing the Holocaust, was spared on Christmas Eve.

Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.” If you believe in miracles — or want to — let Christmas Miracles light the candle of hope in your heart this year.

My review: I read this book every Christmas. Miracles do happen! My favorite stories are Chester and The Town that Gave Christmas.

Gift

The Christkindl’s Gift by Kathleen Morgan

Amazon Synopsis: When Anna Hannack’s father-in-law brings home a wounded stranger only days before Christmas, Anna’s not happy. Christian charity moves the Hannack family to help the injured man, but the young widow Anna keeps her distance. The tragedies of life have shattered her trust, and she’s determined not to let another stranger threaten her family. Could it be, though, that this rugged Scotsman is actually the gift Anna’s young children have asked of the Christ Child this Christmas?

My review: This is a beautiful Christmas romance.  I read it every year at Christmastime.

Advent, Faith, Trust and NFP

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The Annunciation by Murillo, 1655–1660, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg (Wikimedia Commons)

My latest at Catholic Mom.

Advent will soon be upon us. It is a beautiful time of preparing and waiting.

It dawned on me a few years ago when I was flying back home from New Jersey that it takes tremendous amount of trust to get on a plane. We rely on the pilots to fly the plane with precision, expect that the builders created a solid, well-performing plane, and trust that the mechanics have serviced the plane properly.  After all, which one of us wants to be 20,000 feet in the air when a mechanical problem happens or when a pilot encounters a situation he’s not trained to handle?

Of course, the same can be said for any situation.  We depend on and have faith in our doctors, food companies, school bus drivers and others.  On a daily basis, we are called to rely on humans who have the potential of making mistakes.

Consider how most couples “trust” with regard to their fertility.  They take pills, get injections, apply chemical patches, insert devices, consent to operations.  Instead of working with their fertility, they try to eliminate it. Instead of embracing their fertility, they fight it. They “trust” that by using contraceptives, they will be able to “control” their fertility.

Newsflash: none of these chemicals, devices or operations are 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.  Only complete abstinence is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.  And yet millions of couples put their “faith” in the contraceptive methods on a daily basis.  If the methods “fail,” and a child is conceived, many will resort to abortion.

So what does this all have to do with Advent?

When told that she would be the mother of our Savior, Mary replied, “Be it done to me according to your word.”  That took tremendous trust and faith in God’s plan for her.  She didn’t say, “Hmmm, let me think about that for a few weeks and I’ll get back to you.”  Without her yes, we would not be preparing to celebrate the beautiful feast of Christmas. It must’ve been difficult for her to give birth in a stable, surrounded by the smells and sounds of animals.  And yet Mary believed and trusted that this was God’s plan for her and accepted it without question.

So what is God’s plan for us especially regarding our fertility?  I can tell you what it is not: God’s plan is not for us to destroy the gift of our fertility with devices, behaviors, chemicals or operations.  This reliance that many couples place in contraceptives can sometimes result in an unwanted, permanent loss of fertility and can lead to numerous other consequences as well.  St. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) talks about one of the most common consequences of contraceptive use: “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”(HV 17)

God’s plan is for couples to embrace their fertility and to be generously open to life.  Does that mean that God wants us to have as many children as possible?  No, it doesn’t.  God gave us the gift of reason and he also gave us a built-in natural method of avoiding pregnancy that works with fertility and not against it. God, the Author of life, wants to be part of our decisions regarding our fertility.

Couples who want to trust God with their decisions will trust Him with all of their decisions, including the beautiful gift of fertility.  When couples have serious need to avoid pregnancy, Natural Family Planning is a moral way to do so.  NFP uses no devices and works with God instead of against Him. Wives who use NFP seldom feel used by their husbands. NFP also works well to achieve pregnancy. It’s healthy, effective and safe.  NFP encourages good communication and strengthens marital relationships. And it’s environmentally safe.

Advent is an ideal time to ask ourselves:  do we depend on a chemical company or condom manufacturer…or do we trust God, the Author of Life?

Learning Natural Family Planning nowadays is as simple as turning on your computer. For more information on NFP, check out the following websites:

Couple to Couple League

Billings Ovulation Method

Creighton Method

Copyright 2018 Ellen Gable Hrkach