“The Artist of Love” | A Young Bride’s Reflection on Writings by Alice Von Hildebrand

KATE THIBODEAU

 

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A young bride faces a number of choices when it comes to defining her role within marriage. The conflicting worries and joyful surprises of marriage may become overwhelming when trying to establish a new role as someone’s wife and partner towards salvation.

PHOTOGRAPHY:   HER WITNESS

PHOTOGRAPHY: HER WITNESS

I remember the first few months of marriage—working a new job and attempting to prove myself as a career woman, while also attempting to set up house, learn to cook and patiently maneuver through the transition. I found myself pulled in different directions while trying to solidify a mission statement or role for my new responsibilities as James’ wife. I pressured myself to strive for perfection in every field, while feeling limited by my inexperience.

The joy of my union to my wonderful husband was challenged by my personal expectations for perfection. In the tension, I lost sight of the sacred nature of being a wife.  

A gift from a friend offered a new lens for me to comprehend my stress and pressure. By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride, a novel by Catholic authoress Alice Von Hildebrand, spoke to the many fears, questions, and experiences of my newlywed life.

This little book is filled with letters by a long married widow to her newlywed goddaughter, Julie, who faces trials and questions in her vocation. The daily struggles and triumphs of Julie and her husband mirrored many of my own. I read through pages thinking to myself, “My James does that!,” or “We have had this conversation!,” and “I, too, am guilty of this mistake.”

Von Hildebrand offers powerful spiritual advice in each letter, encouraging marital relationships for self-giving love and mutual respect. She paints a vision of marriage as it should be: learning how to love and lead one’s spouse to heaven through sacrifice.

Julie’s experiences reflected many of my own struggles, from trying to balance work with being a homemaker, to accepting the habits of a permanent roommate, my spouse. I marveled how through her godmother’s writing, she discovers her true role as a wife—despite both internal and external pressures—as “an artist of love.”

Von Hildebrand explains the meaning of this title by describing her love for oriental rugs, and how their complex beauty is made through tiny snippets of fabric. This image is a symbol of the many small acts and deeds of a wife, the artist, as she weaves together her sacrifices, efforts, and decisions to benefit her husband and family.

I take this message to heart as my mission statement as both James’ wife and a child of God. My vocation calls me to regard every challenge and duty in life with deference to my marriage. How will this decision impact our relationship? Does this word or action detract from my mission as the artist in our home? Does this contribute to the art of our marital love?

Regardless of the field in which I may be struggling, I need only simplify my motivations and focus them towards my vocation. My beginner’s errors and the fear of unknowns matter so little when I realize each sacrifice and trial, suffered with love, is an addition to the “quilt” I weave for the good of our family. In this truth is an ever present joy.

Being “an artist of love” is applicable to every role I may take on as a wife, as a working professional or a stay-at-home mom. As we age and mature in our marriage, so will our metaphorical “quilt”.

As a young bride-to-be searching for a peace in the daunting new territories of marriage, I am grateful to know of Hildebrand’s novel. Her simple words help me find purpose and meaning in each new trial and experience.

In the transitions of marriage and family life, I encourage every woman to not be overwhelmed by the stress of a new role. Do not pressure yourself to be excellent in every new undertaking, but have patience in every little action and sacrifice. Accept each challenge and make every decision in the confidence of your new mission: to be an “artist of love.” May your marriage be joyful in this pursuit!


About the Author: Recently married to her best friend and partner towards salvation, Kate Thibodeau is learning how to best serve her vocation as a wife while using her God-given talents. Mama to angel baby, Charlotte Rose, and soon-to-arrive Baby Thibs, Kate has an English degree from Benedictine College, and strives to live in the Benedictine motto: that in all things, God may be glorified. Kate loves literature, romance, beautiful music, pretty things, wedding planning, and building a community of strong Catholic women.

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Grief + Grace: Suffering a Miscarriage as Newlyweds

KATE THIBODEAU

 

As newlyweds, we approach our first years of marriage in a blissful state of faith and hope. We make vows to our spouses to remain with them for better or worse, richer or poorer, till death do us part.

I specifically remember the utter happiness of my wedding day--the very best day of my life--with no thought that sadness could so easily creep into these early days of joy and peace.

God gifts to married couples a specific store of grace to carry them through the learning curves and the hardships of creating a life together. These graces  help us to learn sacrifice and charity and to offer ourselves and our desires up for the better of our spouse.

It is through these graces we are able to heal from wounds given to each other, the daily hardships we encounter, and for my husband and I, the greatest trial of all--the loss of our children.

 A few months into our very ordinary and blissful marriage, my husband and I suffered the miscarriage of our first baby. We had not planned for this little one; in fact, we had prayed for clarity in our decision to start our family and discerned that waiting was in God’s plan for us. However, the short duration of our unexpected baby girl’s life tugged at our heart strings. Despite God’s prudence to call her home so soon, we grieved the loss of his gift.

In our sorrow, I remember both a spiritual darkness and an overwhelming shower of grace that affected not merely my personal grief, but our marriage. My husband and I were called to grieve together; to openly suffer and mourn in a new way.

I remember thinking the honeymoon phase was officially over as I sat speechless, watching my husband sob for our baby girl.

There was no more need for blithely skirting around each other and putting on a happy face, confident our love would overcome hardship. Our strength now was found in experiencing, together, God’s change of plan for our lives.  

Sorrow and tears were followed by anger with God, frustration with my body, and an overwhelming sense of questioning our loss. I found myself sitting in the confessional, telling the priest through tears that I struggled with doubt in God’s decision, failing to understand how his sense of timing could be just or correct.

I fought fears that my husband could not suffer in communion with me, as he did not physically carry our child as I did. I listened to songs that made me think of my girl. I wrote letters to her that she would never read, bought a Christmas ornament to suffer through the holidays without her, and I cried through the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, searching for the joy in my life.

My husband and I sought out the sacraments for graces and worked together to grow through our loss. We prayed a novena for answers, we picked a name for our little one (Charlotte Rose), inspired by St. Therese, who gave us great peace. We asked Charlotte’s intercession in her closeness to Jesus, that she may petition for the safety of her brothers and sisters to come. My husband and I prayed together through the tears and questions.

Our miscarriage journey is the greatest test of our faith as a couple so far: faith in our strength as a team, faith in our Catholic family, and most importantly, faith in God’s ultimate timing in our lives. 

We are daily showered in grace upon grace. We are gifted humility in trust of God’s plan and his full control of our family. We are gifted patience as we yearn for another child following baby Charlotte Rose. We are gifted contentment in approaching our newlywed existence sobered and stronger to pursue God’s mission for our family.

In sharing our loss with other newlyweds, I hear a common cry of families who suffer their losses both in silence and in community. Their relationships are tried by fire and strengthened by God’s infinite store of grace given through the sacrament of marriage. God calls couples to the joy and pain of marriage together. He does not give us tasks that are beyond our reckoning.

While there is no deadline to the grief that comes with the loss of our child, my husband and I are still learning to grow as one in our suffering, having found a new depth in dependence on each other and God’s mercy.

With the blessing of our “rainbow baby” to come this fall, I am daily reminded of the gifts of life and love to marriages, and those that are taken too soon.

May we always keep those couples suffering in our prayers, that they may not lose faith in God’s timing, but to be encouraged to look for the grace and strength that follows the storm. May we ask our angel babies to intercede for us from their blessed seat with God. May we ask Mary to bring joy into our newlywed struggles and fill us with restored hope.


About the Author: Recently married to her best friend and partner towards salvation, Kate Thibodeau is learning how to best serve her vocation as a wife while using her God-given talents. Mama to angel baby, Charlotte Rose, and soon-to-arrive Baby Thibs, Kate has an English degree from Benedictine College, and strives to live in the Benedictine motto: that in all things, God may be glorified. Kate loves literature, romance, beautiful music, pretty things, wedding planning, and building a community of strong Catholic women.

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NFP = Nervous Family Planning? The Joys and Struggles.

KATE THIBODEAU

 

You’re newly engaged; glowing with happiness, showing off your glimmering left hand and so excited to start this new journey with your fiancé. You’ve met with your priest, set the date, and expect marriage preparation will be a wonderful experience. One in which you’ll grow as a couple on this adventure to heaven together. Everything sounds like the fairy tale you’d always dreamed of.

You’re set to take your Natural Family Planning course, eager to prepare for becoming a responsible and pro-life Catholic family. You can totally tackle NFP! A mix of science, faith, and marital self-sacrifice: what could be a more simple, practical, and generous method in which to grow a fine and faithful Catholic family?

Those feelings and emotions are all good, beautiful, and true. NFP is an enormous gift to the families who desire to be prudent and selfless, cooperating with God to bring children into the world.

However, after taking my NFP course during engagement, and then after actually following it as a married woman, I found that the glamorous reports of success I’d heard took me by surprise. Instead,I found myself struggling--failing, even--to learn and practice it..

 Thanks to my mother, I grew up well aware of my body’s fertility signs and familiar with NFP since I was a little girl. When trying to learn it four months prior to my upcoming wedding, I started with typical complaints, particularly taking my temperature each morning at 6 A.M, even on days when I could have slept in. Early wakeups became a daily cross. I became aware of my  daily routines that needed to be changed. I quickly realized the inconveniences of this new, constant awareness of my own body and of sharing my findings with my husband.

Conversations before marriage about NFP don’t always illuminate the little mistakes and troubles found along the way: forgetting to take your temperature, inconsistencies rooted in  stress, an inability to understand your fertility symptoms and record them correctly, a lack of full understanding. I realized there was a myriad of ways in which I personally could fail in the practice, not just the idea, of NFP--ways I was unaware of in the past, when my knowledge was more limited.

I found myself disheartened, especially when listening to other couples tell me of their great successes. I felt like a failure for being unable to clearly read my fertility signs, and felt the weight of guilt when I opted to switch to a different method. I doubted my ability to enter into a self-giving marriage with my husband, where we would be responsible in the task given to us as future parents.

It took several months, a loving and supportive husband, and God’s severest of mercies on my beginner’s errors to find peace in my mostly complicated relationship with the amazing gift of Natural Family Planning. Here are my takeaways, from much trial and error:

Be patient with yourself!

NFP is not supposed to a one time victory, but many monthly victories that allow you to know your body and your spouse better with each cycle. Don’t allow stress or fear of failure to dampen your resolve. I found the stress of learning NFP greatly affected my fertility, which made it all the more difficult to track. Had I more patience and forgiveness with myself, my learning curve might have been more even-keeled.

Comparison is the greatest fiend of self confidence, and I found it took a toll on my process.

I was too busy shaming myself for my struggles and comparing them with my peers’ successes to see the benefits of NFP. The method you choose and your discernment is dependent on you, your spouse, and God. Ask--and trust in--Christ to guide  your instincts.

Every woman’s body is different, just as every couple expresses love in different ways. Allow your couple friends to empower and encourage you in your quest, but do not succumb to self-doubt from comparison. I found sharing in vulnerability allowed me to see how pointless my tendency to compare really was. 

NFP is ultimately a blessing and a sacrifice.

NFP is truly a fruitful way to work with God and your spouse to determine when you are called to bring forth children. It is difficult in practice, but its fruits include a more valued intimacy and understanding with my husband, a sacrificial death to desire, and a dependence on God’s timing. We are grateful for the work and frustration, as well as the unity we have found through this journey together. We’ve been able to love each other better, knowing we’re in support of God’s will for our future family.

 I’ll continue to sing the praises of NFP even in my vulnerability and perceived failures. To all brides who are struggling, know you are not alone!

 Have patience with yourself, seek out support, and ultimately trust in God’s mercy. Natural Family Planning should not be a cause for anxiety or stress concerning perfection, but a gift to you and your husband as holy and responsible parents. You--with God--have got this!


About the Author: Recently married to her best friend and partner towards salvation, Kate Thibodeau is learning how to best serve her vocation as a wife while using her God-given talents. With an English degree from Benedictine College, she strives to live in the Benedictine motto: that in all things, God may be glorified. Kate loves literature, romance, beautiful music, pretty things, wedding planning, and building a community of strong Catholic women.

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Newlywed Life | A Letter to the Wife Striving to Be Like Mary.

KATE THIBODEAU

 

To the wife striving to be be like Mary,

Twenty-three years old, Catholic, and married to a wonderful Catholic man seems like ad ream, one I’m blessed to experience day by day. I met my husband in college, and we became friends. In the crazy hectic time of our senior year we fell in love, getting engaged shortly after graduation.

Photography:    Dennis Crider Photography   , c/o Spoken Bride Vendor    The Mantilla Company

Photography: Dennis Crider Photography, c/o Spoken Bride Vendor The Mantilla Company

In one quick and eventful year, I graduated, carried on a distance relationship, worked multiple jobs, lived alone, moved home to my parents’ house, got engaged, planned a large wedding, moved belongings into our new apartment, and married my best friend. It seems like a beautiful, chaotic whirlwind. Yet as a millennial introvert, plagued with a one-track mind and fear of change, I find myself married and unsure of what on God’s green earth I’m doing.

So much happening in my life at once was possibly God’s greatest challenge to me: a challenge to come out of my stationary existence and instead pursue greatness.

In moments of self-doubt, I still wonder how I got here. How I could be seen as worthy to be a good wife to my husband; his greatest helpmate towards heaven?

The most obvious sign my husband and I experienced in knowing we were called to this shared vocation came through daily opportunities to better our individual spiritual lives. We held each other to high standards of holiness, knowing we each desired a saintly spouse who would raise a faithful family.

During engagement, we prayed for chastity and for the strength to reach the altar as the best versions of ourselves. We appealed to the saints for their assistance and implored Mary’s divine aid through consecration. We received the sacrament of confession within an hour of our nuptials and made it to the altar in a state of celestial happiness and joyful hope for the future.

 With the honeymoon over and our lives settling down from the highs and stresses of wedding planning, I realize so much has happened, and feel like I still do not know how to be a wife. I am a terrible cook, an “adequate” housekeeper, and more than a little overwhelmed by the new changes my life has undergone--trying to find a new normal.

I find myself worrying about the novelty of married life: what can I make my husband for dinner today? Would he like this painting hung here? Am I giving him the support he needs? When will we know God is calling us to parenthood? Where will we live in five  years?

I find our anxieties and worries are rarely from heaven. In moments of stress, we tend to assume we are alone or that no other person could have experienced exactly what we are going through. However, that is simply not so.

My consecration to Mary in the 33 days preceding our wedding brought such peace; a peace I hope will always remind me to dismiss my negative thoughts and focus on Mary’s example.

In reflecting on the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary alone, I recall the challenges presented by Gabriel’s announcement and Mary’s  forthcoming marriage to Joseph. I cannot imagine a more stressful scenario than being told you are to carry the Son of God, along with the typical changes that accompany married life.

Mary rises to the occasion without question, and with a grace-filled yes. She is the ultimate example of a selfless, worthy wife. She was not ready for such an urgent and special task and did not know how to be the perfect wife or mother. Yet her trust and faith in our Lord proved her an ideal woman, a  model to all young and inexperienced wives.

 The greatest takeaway from my consecration came from Mother Teresa’s prayer to Mary to “lend me your heart.” I find myself praying these words whenever I struggle with patience, stress, anxiety, or self-doubt.

To young wives unsure of what they are doing or what their new vocation entails, I encourage you to join me, asking Mary to lend you her heart.

 Let her fill you with her virtue and grace to approach marriage as our husbands’ best friends and helpmates. Do not allow fear to paralyze you or doubt to detain you from serving God through your vocation. God calls us only to missions he knows we can gracefully undertake. He provides us with examples by which we can accept and rise to the occasion, with Mary’s yes as our wifely motto.

To new brides, know you are not alone. Look to Mary’s example and allow your vulnerability to help you love your husband through a season of change. I promise I will be praying along with you as we tackle the beauty of this: our vocation.


About the Author: Recently married to her best friend and partner towards salvation, Kate Thibodeau is learning how to best serve her vocation as a wife while using her God-given talents. With an English degree from Benedictine College, she strives to live the Benedictine motto: that in all things, God may be glorified. Kate loves literature, romance, beautiful music, pretty things, wedding planning, and building a community of strong Catholic women.

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