Unwrapping an extraordinary gift

Laura McKenzie



When you ask others (or they share) about their greatest endeavors, proudest moments or accomplishments in this earthly life, those sentiments that hold the most joy and conviction seem to carry a common thread. The advanced degrees or companies founded, children and grandchildren raised (or being raised) spark wide smiles; reaching the finish line of a long-fought battle or race, or the peak of a mountaintop, carry with them a euphoria that may be hard to fully capture; but they’re undeniably satisfying. You can see it in their eyes and through the authenticity of their stories.

Yet, in those greatest joys, whether listed above or completely unique to us, nearly every journey leading up to those accomplishments, or in the midst of them, also tell of a great deal of sacrifice, doubt, sweat, tears and countless moments of discouragement.  Most of us have heard the saying, “Nothing worthwhile comes easy.”  But more poignantly, St Catherine of Siena pointed out that, “Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”

Then why is there an obvious paradox? Sacrifice and enduring don’t bring an attractiveness with them; that is, people aren’t lining up to do what’s difficult and endure – until they hear of the hope of an extraordinary gift awaiting them. Selflessness and enduring allow that gift to be, one day, unwrapped.

The Bueltels, Brett and Sara, know this paradox, especially in their vocation as husband and wife; and uniquely, in their journey building their domestic church, opening their home and hearts to life with Natural Family Planning.  Brett said, “NFP is not always easy.  (Practicing) NFP requires sacrifice and a proper understanding of marriage.  It is a challenge to keep up with the method, but we know that it is well worth the sacrifice... Our family has enjoyed many benefits of NFP.  First, my wife is not at risk of any adverse side effects since it is completely natural.  Also, using NFP has deepened our faith life and helped us grow closer as a couple.”

Meet the Bueltel family. Lucy, 5, left, stands next to mom Sara, who is holding baby Maximillian, 4 weeks. Dad Brett has Eleanor, 3, in his lap.
Submitted photo

The seeds of their faith began years ago, planted when Brett was in school: “I initially learned about NFP when I was in high school at Mater Dei.  While I didn’t know the specifics about the different methods then, I knew I wanted it to be a part of my marriage.  The Church’s teaching on marriage and openness to life have provided a solid foundation for our family. The marital act is a complete gift of self and the Church’s openness to life places the marital act in the proper context.”

But just as St Catherine of Siena pointed out, the Church’s call to be open to life, counter to a culture steeped in entitlement, doesn’t offer a red “Easy” button or a path with least resistance; it requires something more of a husband and wife. St. Teresa of Calcutta echoed these challenges when she issued a bold statement to the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development on Sept. 9, 1994 : "God has created a world big enough for all the lives He wishes to be born. It is only our hearts that are not big enough to want them and accept them...We are too often afraid of the sacrifices we might have to make.  But where there is love, there is always sacrifice. And when we love until it hurts, there is joy and peace."

Brett and Sara have experienced this over the months and years of their married life, raising young children and navigating the sacrifices that are part of daily life, beautifully imaged when marriage is lived well.  “NFP is not easy, but the fruits of it are worth it.  The benefits NFP has given our marriage far outweigh the difficulties that come with it.  Most importantly, NFP requires you to put Christ at the center of your marriage and be open to children.  NFP has deepened our marriage and helped us to grow as a family.”  Brett adds, “I’m most grateful for the deeper relationship I have with my wife because of NFP.  We are better at communicating and understand the importance of faith in our relationship.”

Laura and her husband are members of Holy Redeemer Parish in Evansville. They collaborate with the Holy Family Center for Life and are expecting their seventh child in the spring.