Q. Tell us about your family and your remarkable life as private pilots.
We've been married for nine years and have a four-year-old daughter, Olivia. We met in college in northern Arizona and we had the same goal of becoming professional pilots. While I don't know if we could claim love at first sight, our first memories of each other were at a new student ice breaker. Not too long after that, we were inseparable.
Ashley flew a Pilatus PC-12 right out of college for a construction company in north Texas, about the time of the 2008 "financial crisis." Unfortunately, the aviation department is often the first area to be cut in times of crisis. Ashley was laid off and became a full-time nanny for some time. She eventually got back into aviation as a scheduler/dispatcher for a private jet charter company. Ashley moonlighted as a Citation Ultra pilot to satisfy the urge for the skies. She has worked her way up the ranks to be in charge of training, regulatory compliance, drug/alcohol program, and safety for the private jet charter company.
Walter became a flight instructor out of college for several years when we moved to Texas. He did aircraft sales, aircraft management, and private aircraft charter flying. While the overnight flying was fatiguing, flying human organs destined for transplant was a fulfilling mission. He currently flies long-range Gulfstreams for a private family out of Dallas. Destinations can be anything from west Texas to Africa and everywhere in between. Flying all over the world has been an eye-opening experience for humanity. Some of the poorest people in Nicaragua and Tanzania are among the happiest he's met. Happiness seems to be more in the psyche than the bank account.
We also formed Johansen Aviation Services in 2012, a small aircraft management, flight instruction, and pilot services company, as a part-time endeavor. Owning/operating our own business is hard at times. Still, it's been fulfilling to serve the aviation communities' nooks and crannies which other firms are missing.
Q. Do you recall when you first heard about the Billings Method, and what attracted you to it?
We first heard about the Billings Ovulation Method when Walter was going through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) to become Catholic in 2012-2013 while Ashley was his sponsor.
During our marriage prep process and during the NFP portion of our prep, the couple who discussed NFP had a honeymoon baby and a baby every 12 months after that and were actively pregnant at the time. Walter says, "Given the hardness of my heart and lacking theological disposition, NFP wasn't just a "no," it was a "hell no." So, onto the pill, we went.
Then, fast forward a few years to RCIA. Walter's heart was significantly softer when NFP was presented convincingly and all the other Truths of the faith. That night we decided to stop taking the pill. Cold turkey, just don't take it tomorrow. We were still deeply in college debt and nowhere near (in our minds) ready for children. Faith is a powerful force in its raw form. An NFP-only gynecologist referred us to the Billings Ovulation Method. We had a hard time finding anyone with the availability to teach us. It wasn't until Tony and Marianne Abadie agreed to teach us over the phone that we began to learn the method. Adventurous times!
Q. What inspired you two to become teachers?
The Holy Spirit! Seriously. But also, because we had challenges accessing the method.
At the time, we found it difficult to begin learning the method when we were ready; as well as we were frightened by our fertility. We honestly thought there was no way we could support a child. Both of us were working/flying full time, trying to pay off our massive college debt. In hindsight, we realize the Billings Ovulation Method, when used correctly, is just as effective, if not more, than contraceptives. With that knowledge and having been in that position, we believe if the Billings Ovulation Method is presented in a convincing and far-reaching way, contraception would be a thing of the past. These feelings were stirring in us when our pastor approached us, asking if we would be interested in teaching NFP.
On top of that, Tony and Marianne were reaching out, asking if current users were interested in becoming teachers. "Ok, God...we get it! We'll do it!" The rest is history.
Q. What keeps you going as a couple who teaches Billings?
Just like any other teacher or instructor, the students who genuinely want to learn are what get you out of bed in the morning; other times, we are blest by our community's commitment to us now and when we signed up to be teachers. Our belief that if Billings were widespread common knowledge, contraception would be eradicated is a strong motivator, too.
Q. Normally, aside from this time of quarantine, where do you usually teach? Do you teach Billings as a couple?
Usually, over our kitchen table, recently over Zoom. We started with group intros at our parish, but attendance didn't support it. The intimate nature of couple-to-couple seems to encourage more open and honest discussion too. Most of our clients are coming to us as a requirement before marriage in the Fort-Worth Diocese. We start with a casual conversational tone. We ask them to tell us about how they met, where they're at in their faith journey, and what they know/don't know about NFP. We reciprocate, focusing a little on our NFP journey off the pill and becoming teachers. We've found this usually breaks down some of the walls, and many clients visibly relax. We keep reminding ourselves they come to us knowing they're going to talk about sex with complete strangers...no doubt there's anticipation and anxiety.
We do teach as a couple. We feel it's imperative to see a couple doing this as a couple. We expect the men to do the charting and the women to focus on their sensations. We're sure to emphasize this is a team sport. We're familiar with the mindset of contraception being a woman's "problem" and "fault" if things don't go as planned. Walter also emphasizes to the men that in his hindsight, he would never ask his wife to swallow a known carcinogen every day. We generally have an uphill battle since they're with us against their will due to the marriage prep requirement and have usually been cohabitating for some time.
Q. As a young couple, it seems you can uniquely reach other young couples. Have you found that to be true?
It's hard to say. Most of our couples have been those preparing for marriage. We want to reach more couples and certainly on a deeper level. We've noticed the vast majority are using contraceptives and don't seem willing to stop. We highlight our history of having been in similar shoes, effectiveness studies, and put any known hesitations to rest.
Just speculating, we think reaching young couples needs to be a large-scale campaign from the theological side and secular side of the equation. It's far too "easy" for the average Catholic couple to quietly use contraceptives and go about their daily life. Contraception is so acceptable and "loud" in popular culture that NFP doesn't even have a seat at the mental table.
Q. You're so good about joining our webinars. We appreciate that! What would you say to other teachers about the value of our webinars?
The webinars are great! We always get something from the content. It's a very flexible way for us to stay current on our teaching credentials with our crazy and busy schedules. It also seems like it's a great way to make a financial contribution to BOMA. Sometimes we feel a bit isolated, off in our own little world teaching. The webinars are a great way to hone our teaching skills, connect with others, and validate our mission.
Q. Do you have words of encouragement to help fellow teachers remain motivated?
Your work is vital. That's a strong statement, we know. It's vital in two ways.
First is on a spiritual level. Though it may not always feel like it, we're at the tip of the spear at the front line of the New Evangelization. The Catholic Church's teachings on sexuality are challenging, if not seemingly impossible, to the average American couple. We can't blame them when the loudest voices in our culture are hyper-sexualization, sensuality, selfishness, etc. As we all know, with a little temperance and fortitude, NFP can be eternally more fulfilling than what our culture would suggest.
The second is on a biological level. Fertility is not an illness to be treated. "Birth Control" has been an "issue" before Christ walked the earth (do a little research, it's fascinating history). Our current medical technologies are simply a more sophisticated means of manipulating the body. These manipulations have consequences. An increased risk of blood clots, cancer, permanent damage to the cervix, and long-term infertility are just a few. Many people go to great lengths to eat healthy, exercise, and not ingest harmful chemicals, yet so many religiously administer their hormonal contraceptive in the name of sex without "consequences." We think the average American isn't aware of or perhaps doesn't understand these consequences. Nor are they aware of effective alternatives. We're regularly running into, "but how effective is it?" "My parents tried this (thinking it's the rhythm method), and it doesn't work." "I've never heard of this." "That's a Catholic thing" (from a protestant bride-to-be).
We feel if the simplicity and effectiveness of NFP, specifically Billings, were presented convincingly, regularly, and on a large scale, contraception as we know it would be a thing of the past. Be confident and effective; the information you have is vitally important to your client's physical health and eternal salvation.
BOMA-USA provides education and training for The Billings Ovulation Method® which is a natural method of fertility management that teaches you to recognize the body's natural signs of fertility.