Blind trust becomes ‘trust in action’: Couple shares NFP’s wisdom

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JoAnne and Mike Bouchard pose with their four children during a family outing. JoAnne said Natural Family Planning teaches selflessness, communication and self-mastery. And God uniquely qualified Mike to teach it with his wife. (Courtesy of JoAnne and Mike Bouchard)
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If you ask JoAnne and Mike Bouchard the secret to building a good marital foundation, they’ll tell you about the three “Fs’ — faith, family and great food — all of which they have in abundance. But another key component that has kept their vocational call strong is Natural Family Planning.

The Bouchards, who have taught Natural Family Planning classes in the diocese for 10 years, said they can look back and see God’s guiding hand in their journey from pre-newlyweds giggling in the back of their first NFP class to seasoned instructors who have counseled more than 200 couples.

“When we teach, we know we are helping save lives and marriages,” JoAnne said.

The Bouchards, who have been married for 15 years and have four children, said the divorce rate is as low as four percent for practicing NFP couples.

“It teaches you selflessness, communication, self-mastery — these are important characteristics for marriage,” JoAnne said.

This month marks the 50-year celebration of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae (On Human Life),” which teaches God’s plan for marriage and embraces Natural Family Planning.

Cindy Leonard, coordinator for the diocesan Office of Natural Family Planning, said NFP is an umbrella term that refers to the various methods a couple can use to be aware of the woman’s fertility to help plan their family.

“It is a skill set that will enable the couple to live a joyful marriage because they are understanding what their conjugal union means,” Leonard said.

Leonard, who led the Bouchards in their pre-marital NFP course, invited them to become instructors. Shortly after starting the training, Mike contracted Valley Fever, a fungal infection, which disseminated into his brain, causing a stroke. He was out of work for a year while he recovered and went through extensive rehabilitation.

JoAnne said when Mike was first diagnosed they had two children, and she couldn’t imagine her husband would one day heal.

“In the beginning, it was blind trust,” JoAnne said. “When you first get married and start practicing NFP, the trust begins. As you go through those difficulties you recognize that this is trust in action. You see the fruits during those times.”

The couple continued the NFP instructor training, though Mike’s initial memory loss made studying a longer process.

“They had a bumpy road, yet they wouldn’t give up,” Leonard said. “I was inspired that in the face of what some would say are insurmountable obstacles, they met each challenge prayerfully.”

Mike said that prior to his stroke, he had a fear of public speaking so intense that he would drop out of college courses that required him to give a presentation. Miraculously, his stroke affected a portion of his brain that left him with no public speaking phobia, and he was able to co-lead NFP classes with JoAnne.

“God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called,” JoAnne said.

Leonard said there are about 90 couples in the diocese who teach the course to about 1,200 people per year in both English and Spanish, and the diocese needs more volunteer instructor couples to fulfill the growing need.

Leonard said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted supports the NFP program, and that the Diocese of Phoenix is one of the leading dioceses in requiring the NFP course in its extensive marriage preparation.

“We are blessed with a bishop who embraces ‘Humanae Vitae’ and others who build a good, strong program that is helping teachers and couples to really become educated,” JoAnne said.

JoAnne said that when they first went through the NFP classes before they were married she didn’t recognize the value of the program, and she likened NFP to an old antique someone owns, but they don’t realize its worth until later.

“It takes trust and it takes time to understand the fullness of God’s design of conjugal love,” she said. “After 15 years of practicing NFP and four kids later, I can say with great certainty that it works. It is a gift and it is up to us to use it.”