The Sophia Series | Jessi

We invite our longtime married readers to share the experiences that have marked, refined, and anointed their marriages; months and years that, by grace, transform the mundane, the bitter, and the incomprehensible into the fruits of holy wisdom. A purification and a clear vision for the path to heaven that lies ahead. The Sophia Series.

Jessi Caruthers, married since 2011, discovered the sorrow that unexpectedly lay beneath the thought of openness to life. And through the grace of her marriage, she learned to sit within that sorrow and find its redemption.

  Photography:  MD Turner Photography

Photography: MD Turner Photography

It was on our first real date that my future husband told me there was a good chance he would never be able to parent children. We were sitting in this overpriced little Italian restaurant before going to an awful opera where Tim held my hand for the first time. We had known each other for a couple of years, and I knew he was a childhood cancer survivor. Before we began any sort of serious relationship, he wanted me to know that the treatment which, by the grace of God and modern medicine, saved his life, had the possible--even likely--side effect of causing infertility.

I thought very little of infertility that night. I was too busy worrying about what to do with my hands and if there was something in my teeth.

A little less than a year later on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, on a shared kneeler in our beautiful parish, Tim asked me to marry him. I said yes. Six months later, we were married in that same beautiful church. We vowed openly to accept children as gifts from God. We were also vowing to accept that our marriage would not be given that gift; at least not in the normal way.

While it is true that from the very beginning of our relationship I understood we were unlikely to conceive children, somehow I didn't really think that would be our cross.

We are good people. We would be good parents, I thought. Surely, God does not want us to be childless.

Doctors were pretty hopeful, too, since there were no other indications of underlying problems. So, we hoped.

We were eager to start our family when we married. I drove myself and my dear husband a little crazy each month when the signs I thought pointed to pregnancy actually pointed to quite the opposite. I was a wreck. I cried a lot. What made it worse was that I knew Tim felt responsible. After a year, Tim convinced me we should seek a diagnosis or prognosis to determine whether there was any hope of conception. Over the phone, we received the medical answer: zero chance. No clarification was needed. No explanation was given, just "not going to happen."

Once one has a ring on her finger, everyone from her hairdresser to her aunt, the nice lady who sits in front of her at mass, even her social media ads start wondering when the children will start coming. If it has been a couple years, some ask. Others simply assume that perhaps a couple isn’t really open to life.

Infertility is invisible and so isolating.

I remember sitting in the choir loft of our parish, looking down on all the women who stood for the priest's blessing, on the first Mother's Day after we found out with some certainty that we wouldn't have children. Sitting there, looking down, I wept bitterly. I was angry with God and I was angry with myself. Children are gifts from God--truly "the supreme gift of marriage"--but one that I would not have and that, I knew, was not owed to me. How dare I be angry with God for withholding a gift I don't deserve?

So, in shame and fear I hid myself from my husband, from my friends, and from my Creator. It was precisely in my desire for children that I neglected my vow to give myself totally and freely to my husband. Instead of leaning into my marriage by leaning on my husband; instead of leaning into my faith by embracing our cross; instead of allowing my friends to share my burden, I hid myself in work and pity. I busied myself, but I stopped praying. I felt all the feelings, and I tried to feel them alone. And at that I failed.

  Photography:  MD Turner Photography

Photography: MD Turner Photography

During one of our monthly confession dates, a priest told me that in withholding this darkness from my husband I was failing him as a wife. I was not allowing him to be what he vowed to me: to be my husband, my rock, "in sickness and in health." It was a valuable lesson, a lesson that is unique to every marriage, but one I have realized all marriages need to learn in some way. For it is precisely in the hard things that we learn to love.

What we’ve learned is that marital love is a total and complete gift of self. And sometimes the gift of self that you would like to give--that gift of the self that has it together and is in control--is not the one you are able to give. Christ emptied himself on the cross. We are called in marriage to empty ourselves to our spouse, trusting that they will not leave us empty. That is precisely the icon of God's love that is found in marriage.

So, I became vulnerable before my husband. In allowing myself to be vulnerable, I allowed my husband to be who he vowed to be to me. And I allowed my husband to bring me back to trust in God.

I would not wish infertility on anyone. But as with any suffering, there are things to be learned and graces to be gained that could not be learned or received without that suffering.

I learned why the Church teaches children are the supreme gift and fruit of marital love. From an abstract, theological perspective, I understood, but it wasn't until it was suggested to me to get a sperm donor that I really got it. "You can even get a family member if biology is important to you," someone said.

I realized viscerally what I had only understood intellectually before that day: that I didn't just want to be pregnant and to have children. I longed for children precisely as an outpouring of our love. I wanted children that had my husband's nose and my eyes. Not for stupid aesthetic reasons, but because it is precisely out of that kind of love that children are gifts, and that children deserve to be born out of that love.

We might have been able to "fix" my not being able to be pregnant and my desire to have children, but it would have been without the only man I wanted to be their father. This is why only couples, not individuals, are infertile. My husband's cancer and his diagnosis might be the reason for our infertility--but precisely because we are married, if he is infertile then so am I.

I also learned to allow myself and others to grieve. I felt that because I hadn't lost a child, and we aren't owed a child by God, we had no right to grieve. We have this desire (especially Americans, I think) to fix people rather than embrace their sufferings. Suffering is uncomfortable, and we want to get over it as soon as possible.

When my husband and  told others about our infertility we were often told that it was God's will--as if taking away the right to be sad; if it is God's will then I should just surrender to it and even be happy about it. Even more often, we were given the ubiquitous advice that "you can always adopt". But adoption is not a replacement for fertility. And despite the myth, it doesn't cure it, either.

In Catholic theology we learn we are called to beget children as the gift and outpouring of marriage, but both in infertility and adoption, something has gone wrong. If we allowed ourselves and each other to grieve the fact that we would not have children by nature, that I would never feel the kick of a child in my womb, that Tim would never have children that look like him, we would be treating the children we adopt as replacements rather than the unique and unrepeatable individuals they are.

Infertility also taught us about grace. In the Easter Vigil liturgy we hear the proclamation "O Happy Fault that merited such and so great a redeemer!" It is precisely in our brokenness that God is able to fulfill us and to bring about an even greater good than we could have expected.

We are his children by adoption. It is through our brokenness that we are his, by grace.

It wasn't until we were able to accept our brokenness that we were free to suffer our inability to have children by nature, and that we were really ready to become parents by grace. And adoption is always from a place of brokenness. Something has gone wrong. We aren't there to fix that brokenness, but to redeem it in love. Love for expectant mothers in fear and crisis, love for birth parents who love their children more than themselves, and especially for those children, who enter into the world of brokenness and are placed in our family to be our children by grace. And like our redemption, it is truly a beautiful grace.

We learned to trust in God and listen to his desire for our family--to rely solely on him. Adoption is expensive and, as two teachers with student loans and small salaries, it seemed hopeless that we would be able to bring children into our home. My husband and I relied so heavily on each other's strengths: I relied on his ability to trust, and he relied on my ability to plan every eventuality. By relying on each other, and especially through the incredible generosity of our friends, God made adoption happen for us. We pray he has other children in mind to become part of our family.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you... and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

Through our struggles with infertility, I learned that the yoke of selfishness and control is so much heavier than whatever cross Christ asks me to take with him. I learned that my husband is here to share that burden. And that, really, is what marriage is: carrying our cross together.

Jessi’s words of wisdom for brides:

Tell your husband what you need instead of making him guess: You need to hear that he thinks you are beautiful? Tell him. You need to feel appreciated? Tell him. You need him to do the dishes? Ask him to do the dishes! In the first couple years of marriage, I wanted my husband to just intuit what I wanted and needed, until I realized I was setting him up for failure in my mind. My husband is a great man; he wants to bring me to God and help to make me happy, but I was expecting him to be a mind reader, too. When I tell him what I need, he exceeds my expectations.

Find a prayer life and time that works for you and your spouse, and pray together. Make it a part of your shared lives, so that even when you don't feel like it your husband can move you to prayer, even when he isn't feeling it you can help him, so in your life you are always both pointed toward God, together.

Try to outdo your spouse in service and forgiveness, and try to outdo yourself each new day.


About the Author: Jessi Caruthers is a wife to a really good man and a mother through adoption to an adorable and busy toddler. She puts her degree in Thomistic philosophy to good use teaching high school Ethics and Religion in a suburb of Houston. She aspires to shabby hospitality in her little yellow house, living a simple liturgical life and making beautiful things.

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The Sophia Series | Annamarie

ANNAMARIE HAMILTON

 

I met my husband Kevin in college. We were best friends for about a year; as time passed, it became obvious that we had feelings for each other. From very early on in our courtship, we knew we would end up getting married. We knew we had each found the one who was God’s perfect match for us. Kevin proposed during my senior year, and the following August we got married. While our marriage has been far from perfect, we had had a fairly easy time for the first five years.

During that time we had three children; Dominic, Lucy, and Simon. Although having children definitely changed our marriage and made life harder and more stressful in general, we were still living a happy and generally peaceful life, and our marriage was as solid as ever.

On August 8th of 2017, a few days before our fifth anniversary, we ended up taking two-year-old Lucy to the Emergency Room. She had been very lethargic for a few days and wouldn’t eat anything. We were completely blindsided when she was diagnosed with leukemia.

Kevin and I were both in complete shock. It is the kind of thing that you think will never happen to you until it does.

The next few days were an emotional whirlwind of new information, surgeries, chemo, and hospitalization. Two days later, as we celebrated our anniversary in the Operating Room waiting area, I remember thinking and talking about our marriage, and how this was something we never could have planned for.

In our vows we say “in sickness and in health,” but we never really thought seriously that we’d have to deal with real sickness, or what that would look like.

That day, we talked about how grateful we were to be going through that together. To have someone else who knew exactly we felt and who loved our daughter just as much. Although this is never where we thought we would be, five years into our marriage there is no one else I would want to go through this with. Over the past few months, Kevin and I have grown closer than ever, and I think our marriage is stronger than ever. We have had to lean on each other and learned to love and support our spouse even as we deal with our own pain. That has given us a bond we could never have imagined.

This journey with cancer is far from over, yet we feel our family is finally in a good place again, and everyone has learned to adjust to the “new normal” that is our lives. We already feel stronger as a family and as a husband and wife from having gone through this. Although this time of our lives has been the hardest yet, we feel confident that if we can get through this, we can get through anything.

Annamarie’s words of wisdom for brides:

Don't be afraid to be dependent on each other, rather than trying to work out problems on your own.

Pray for each other.

Don't take the little, everyday things for granted.


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About the Author: Annamarie Hamilton is a stay-home-mom from Baltimore, Maryland. She is married to her best friend Kevin and together they have three children: Dominic, Lucy, and Simon.

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The Sophia Series | Marisol

We invite our longtime married readers to share the experiences that have marked, refined, and anointed their marriages; months and years that, by grace, transform the mundane, the bitter, and the incomprehensible into the fruits of holy wisdom. A purification and a clear vision for the path to heaven that lies ahead. The Sophia Series.

  Photography: Laura Kay Photography

Photography: Laura Kay Photography

My husband and I met providentially while hanging out with a mutual friend. We made a deep connection from the beginning, and I remember thinking that he brought out the best in me. I felt right at home. We got engaged after a courtship of over five years and have been married for the last 10 years.

On my wedding day, I remember a prayer after communion where I fully understood how much God loved my husband and how he uses instruments--especially those closest to us--to express that love. I understood that for my husband, I would be either a vessel or an obstacle to that love in the years to come. I prayed I would be the former.

The biggest obstacle to our marriage was discovered during our honeymoon. We had waited until that moment for physical intimacy. However, we were unable to have intercourse. Once we returned from our trip, I sought medical advice and after much research, I discovered I had issues with my pelvic floor muscles. Involuntary spasms have kept me, to this day, unable to consummate the marriage.

This has been a very big cross to bear and has created many moments of pain; however, it has also allowed the both of us great lessons and growth.

I am in awe at the fact that our marriage remains faithful after 10 years. Many times, couples have a harder time discerning whether to separate, based on factors such as children or the unlikely option of annulment. In our case neither of those factors exist, as our marriage is, to date, not physically consummated. It is beautiful to know it is our free will that keeps us in union and in constant yes for this sacrament.

I remember feeling inadequate, like a failure as a wife, due to my medical problem. I have learned self-love and self-compassion, which in turn allow me to be ever more loving and compassionate towards others.

Intimacy brings couples together at many levels, including physically, neurologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Since my husband and I  do not have this great perk, we have learned to go from me to we in other ways. One of them is through each other’s love languages. His is acts of service, while mine is quality time. It is amazing how a concept so simple is so easily forgotten. Here is a recent example:

This past weekend was spent at home after my husband underwent a procedure requiring him to stay indoors for two days, which is unusual for us and for his sanguine temperament.

Imagine a total extrovert and a bit of a perfectionist trapped indoors during the weekend. We came to a moment where every area of the kitchen was in disarray. We had finished dinner and were in the middle of watching a movie. My husband paused the movie to feed our pet rabbit and in that moment, I thought it would be appropriate to come up with something to celebrate  St. Patrick's Day.

I pulled out a bottle of Irish cream and made some coffee. I could already taste the goodness. My cup and saucer were perfectly set next to a glass of Irish cream over ice, ready for the perfect Instagram Story.

As my husband came back downstairs, he began remarking on the dirty dishes, the stove splattered with olive oil, and groceries that needed to go in the pantry.

I could not believe he was ruining our ‘Irish’ little moment for this! I took offense and began feeling quite resentful. Remember that my love language is quality time--we were speaking it fluently until this moment of pause.

Things shifted to all the unfinished cleaning and suddenly, as I reluctantly washed dishes, I considered my husband's love language: acts of service.

Wasn't the dinner enough? Wasn't the glass of Irish cream over ice the cherry on top? Why couldn't we just continue watching the movie?

I realized I’d encountered a perfect opportunity to love. My resentment turned into determination to clean that kitchen and clean it well.

An hour went by and I could tell my husband felt guilty. He kept helping out and even started vacuuming in some random area of the house. He set the empty coffee cup on the table as if to signal it was waiting.

Part of me wanted to continue speaking his love language and serving. Yet my pride also kicked in, and I didn’t feel like jumping back into the movie and coffee. I could get over the interruption.

I considered the possibility of finishing the dishes and going upstairs to take a bath. My pride did not want to receive quality time after I was done with the effort of loving. I wanted to jump right into self-care--not the generous kind,but the kind that would give a clear message of how annoyed I still was, deep within.

As I moved on to cleaning the stove, my husband said it could wait. I was determined to finish and was reluctant to go back to that cup of coffee (I was still in full pride mode!).

My husband invited me to finish the movie. As much as my ego wanted me to run upstairs, I accepted. We had a good rest of the evening, and I knew that pause had been well spent.

The next morning, we attended a birthday brunch. We enjoyed time with friends, and afterward my husband made plans for us to spend the afternoon together. We went shopping, to the museum, walked around, ate hot dogs, and went to my favorite evening Mass, followed by a coffee shop.

My husband spoke so much of my own love language that weekend, and I can only say you can never outdo God in generosity.

I am not sure whether all these words would be enough to tell all the stories of our marriage. But I can say I have learned how to persevere through thick and thin and to focus on what matters, one day at a time. I have learned to be fully present to God, to myself, and my vocation.

I wish I could say  there was a 'happily ever after' kind of ending to this story. The reality is that we continue to work with the big elephant in the room--our obstacles to intimacy--tackling it one bite at a time and never ceasing to gaze at the eternal.

Our vocation has gifted us with innumerable lessons and joys. I cannot wait to learn what other chapters God has in store for us!

In the past, I remember praying for a holy family. One year into my marriage, while looking at an image of the Holy Family, I realized that they do not represent the husband, the wife and their child. Mary, Joseph and Jesus represented the husband and wife, with Christ at the center. I realized at that moment, this is the one thing we need for a holy family.

We have many images from our wedding day; however, one of my favorites is the one where we are having a pillow fight. Our reception was at a hotel, with our suite nearby, so our photographer suggested an impromptu series in there. When I look at these photos, I cannot help but wonder at how the bedroom happens to be the place where our biggest struggle would take place. Just like that friendly pillow fight, we keep fighting in unison each day: to do God’s will and learn the art of love and communion ever more perfectly.

Marisol’s words of wisdom for brides:

Make room for the unimaginable. Each marriage holds a unique story. Let the Master author write the greatest lines.

Keep Christ at the center.

Marriage is the only sacrament not imparted by a priest. Husband and wife say yes to one another on their wedding  day, and they hold the power to say that same yes to one another on a daily basis.


About the Author: Marisol has a great love for art and humanities. You may find her designing and styling, or gaining inspiration from books, art, friends and family, or a random conversation with a homeless human in the streets. She is passionate about the art of living in the present moment and of finding beauty in every circumstance. Her additional writing can be found at The Maritus Project and Beauty Found.

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The Sophia Series | Amy

Last month, we invited our longtime married readers to share the experiences that have marked, refined, and anointed their marriages; months and years that, by grace, transform the mundane, the bitter, and the incomprehensible into the fruits of holy wisdom. A purification and a clear vision for the path to heaven that lies ahead. The Sophia Series.

It's our honor to début this series, one we hope will illuminate the realities, crosses, and joys of this married vocation for newer brides, with Amy Thomas's testimony. Married since 2001 and the founder of Catholic Pilgrim, an initiative inviting the faithful deeper into the great adventure that is life with Christ, Amy's journey to the Catholic faith has become an anchor through grief and witnesses powerfully to the life-giving love of the Lord.

  Purest Light Photography

Purest Light Photography

I met my husband Dustin my junior year of college. It was my first day of Air Force ROTC. When I walked in I saw him sitting across the room, every fiber of my being cried out that he was the one. He felt like home to me. In a weird but beautiful way, it was like I already knew him. I was actually engaged to another man at the time, but I knew it would never work out with him, so I broke it off. Dustin and I were friends first, both secretly interested in the other but unable to say it out loud.

We finally got together after I announced my affection for him on my 21st birthday. I may or may not have had the help of a margarita. Once we realized the mutual feelings we had for each other, we just were. We never had an official first date or anything. Because we had been friends first, we knew each other and didn't need to get to know one another. Being in a relationship with Dustin was the most natural thing in the world for me.

At the start, neither Dustin or I were practicing our faith. He is Catholic and at the time, I was Protestant, but our faith lives were stagnant at best.

We decided to live together before marriage and, consequently, I got pregnant out of wedlock.

I could write an entire blog on why it's so important to wait to live together. Thankfully, we knew beforehand that we wanted to be married, and Dustin was always very committed to me throughout my pregnancy. We are an anomaly and don't recommend this strategy to anyone. We see now the beauty of what the Church teaches.

In June of 2001 we welcomed our beautiful daughter, Rhianna. Two months later, we were married. We were young--only 22--but very much in love.

We had the struggles any newlywed couple has, but along with the added struggles of being new parents right off the bat. We really grew up in those early years of our marriage, because we never had a chance to just focus on each other.

We had a baby girl with us from the get-go, and in many, many ways, I'm thankful to God for that blessing. Our daughter really did--and still does--bring out the best in us.

We had a second daughter, Sydney, in 2005. She came early and her birth is a crazy, whirlwind story, but today she's a happy, healthy teenager. After Sydney's birth, though, my husband and I slipped into a period of selfishness. It wasn't blatant or anything, but looking back I can see it clearly.

We weren't really going to church, because we couldn't decide on which church to go to. We fought frequently about my being Protestant and my husband being Catholic. We also were not open to life. I was using contraception from the start of our marriage, but I eventually stopped because it was literally killing me. I experienced severe health problems because of the Pill. I stopped taking birth control, but we weren't knowledgeable about NFP at all.

About this time, I started seriously discerning converting to the Catholic Church.

I threw a lot of lame arguments and misconceptions at my husband about the Church during our early years and he always had an answer that shattered my previous understanding. I finally saw the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith, and in 2009, I entered the Church. It truly has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

At this same time, I became pregnant. It is terribly sad for me to say, but I wasn't happy about it. I had become very selfish and since my kids were getting older, I enjoyed a lot of "me" time. I didn't want to hassle with diaper bags, nursing, and car seats again. It pains me to say that I was not being the best version of myself. I wasn't being a good mother either, because I was so focused on myself. Eventually, I warmed to the life growing inside me and became excited to welcome this new little soul. Sadly, however, we lost that baby to miscarriage. It was crushing.

For the next four years, we experienced eight miscarriages. Each one was like a slash through my heart. No doctor would test me, and we had no clue as to why I was losing so many babies. My husband and I were utterly devastated. It got to the point, for me, that when I would get pregnant, I would fall into despair, knowing where it would lead.

I was very angry with God and couldn’t understand why He would put us through such suffering.

After my husband came back from a deployment in 2012, we talked about whether we wanted to try again for a baby. We both knew if we tried, we needed to approach it differently--we needed to bring God into the decision and pray.

So, in 2013, we tried again. This time when I took the test and saw two pink lines, I smiled. I ran to my husband and we hugged. It was a good feeling. We soon welcomed our son, Jeremiah.

My husband and I both know Mary was a great intercessor for us. We've experienced two miscarriages after Jeremiah, so we have 10 saints in heaven. I look forward to meeting them someday, and I know they keep a careful watch on their momma. I love them dearly; even though I have never met them, they have blessed me in ways I could never have imagined.

Each one of these children helped strip selfishness from my soul.

They help me to be a better mom to my earthly kids and for that, I am grateful.

This experience was definitely a trial in our marriage, but I think Dustin and I both learned our suffering can purge us of weaknesses and bad behaviors and attitudes. We know now to always bring God into our pain.

In fact, we know that you just don't do married life well without him. In our 16 years of marriage we've dealt with 10 miscarriages, a suicide by a family member, the divorce of my parents, and other crosses along the way. Dustin is my partner, and he is who I want holding my hand through the trials of this life. I want to be there for him, too.

My sister-in-law once told me that marriage is about learning to love well. I think that's true. If we commit ourselves to our spouse and strive to love him well, no matter what life throws at us we can weather it together and come out even better on the other side of the storm.

Amy's words of wisdom for brides:

Always actively look for ways you can grow and become a better wife. So often we focus on what our spouse needs to fix about himself that we never look at what we need to change.

Date your spouse. When kids come, you have to get creative, but it can be done. You and your husband need time to connect and enjoy each other without focusing on babies, bills, and burdens.

With men, just ask them. We ladies often want men to do things how we would do things. We want them to see the mess or anticipate what needs to be done. Most men just don't operate that way, yet most will be quick to help if you simply ask nicely.

No matter where you've been and where you are in your vocation, know of our prayers for you and your marriage. Feeling called to share your own story? Submit your Sophia Series testimony here.


About the author: Amy Thomas hails from the great state of Kansas, though she's lived the last 15 years away from the “Land of Oz” traveling the country with with her Air Force Airman. She graduated from Kansas State University in 2001 and married her love, Dustin, that same year. She has three amazing kiddos–two daughters and a son. Amy runs the website Catholic Pilgrim and loves to write about the incredible journey of living a genuine, authentic Catholic life. 

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