Saturday, January 7, 2017

Praise God

When I first got to Franciscan University as an 18 year old, all those 16 1/2 years ago, my experience of praising God was seriously lacking. I thought of praising the Lord as the experiences I had in the silence of my heart, perhaps reading something spiritually deep, and especially the time spent before the Eucharist in adoration. However, I don't think I actually praised God...I adored him in word, but I didn't praise Him with my heart, soul, and being. Don't get me wrong, I had some deep spiritual experiences in our community of faith, but I never felt the deep experience of praising God until somewhere in my time at Steubenville. I can't pin down a when things shifted, but I can tell you that as I opened my heart in praise, calling out to the God of the universe in humility and desire for our Lord, something changed. I wanted to praise Him. I didn't just want to know about faith in Him, there was a desire to sing out his praises. And that desire continues.

As a dad, I don't get a lot of time to just sit back and listen to worship music as I'm doing now, sitting in my basement with Matt Maher streaming through my sweet surround sound system. But I have a posse of children who beg me, every time we get in the car, to turn on "The Fish", the local Christian radio station. Hearing them sing along to the worship songs is heavenly. It just about brings tears to my eyes to hear my almost-11-year-old sing "Lord I need You" with her lovely voice. It brings me joy because I want my kids to need the Lord. I want them to know that they can't make it on their own. And, if they do "make it" without Him, there is no real success there. I want them to know that a successful life can be summed up with one simple question: Did you live the life of a saint?

I pray that they will live like saints. Not that they will be perfect, because (with the exception of Mary) no saint was or will be perfect. But, I pray they seek the Lord and never stop seeking Him. I pray that, just like the saints, they seek to praise Him in the low moments, the high moments, the boring moments, and the moments of joy. I pray they desire God, they know they need Him, and they want to be with Him in glory. And if they're like their dad, praising Him will often take the form of singing along, however imperfectly, with the worship songs we love. So praise you God, and "teach my song to rise to You..."

Friday, January 6, 2017

Is that an echo?

Do you know what an echo chamber is? According to Wikipedia, it's "a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system." Essentially, it's the definition of what many of us do a lot of the time...we have a thought, belief, or idea that we set out to prove to ourselves. While this term is being overused right now in talking about the whole "fake news" drama the news establishment is hyperventilating over, it's a worthwhile endeavor to explore where we may enter echo chambers in our own lives, rather than seeking the truth for itself.

I think we seek things that reinforce our current beliefs in almost every area. Whether it's politics, health, religion, economics, etc, how many of us really look at opposing views or sources with an open (if reasonably critical) mind? Think of a friend or family member with an opposing viewpoint on something...maybe you're a Democrat and they're a Republican, or vice versa. Do you engage them in conversation with an impression of what they're thinking? Perhaps you see conversation with them as boring, tiresome, frustrating, etc...just wasted time listening to regurgitated drivel from MSNBC or Fox News? Take, if you will, a moment to reflect on your own tendencies. Do you seek to understand why some people disagree with you? Can you find merit in any ideas of someone that you disagree with? Perhaps you think that you've got the world figured out, but it never hurts to think about how the other (and I did the math on this) 99.99999999985714286% of people in the world (that's everyone in the world except for you) think about the world. Try some other thoughts on for size...I can guarantee the process doesn't hurt and you may come out better for it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Finals Week

To all you students in the throes of finals week, I salute you. To all those who are already done with finals, I commend you. And to all you parents who have already or are about to complete your finals after another semester of juggling family, work, school, and social life...I congratulate you and feel your concurrent pain and expectation of pressing "submit" on your last assignment. As for me, I'm one final away from a month of class-free time to focus on Monica and the kids. So God speed, good soldiers of the highlighter, pencil, and keyboard...God speed.

(Dedicated to my brother-in-law and friend, Ben Kohring; master-procraster and meme-looker-upper-in-chief.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Is the pope Catholic?

When someone asks me whether I'd like to use more clickbait post titles, my answer is of course, "Is the pope Catholic?" I'll let you chew on that while I move on the actual content of this post.

This is just a quick post reflecting on the challenges of eating healthy as a dad. While I have actually been relatively disciplined about getting out and running (I'm training for a 1/2 marathon in April), my weight continues to inch back up as I very undisciplined-ly eat whatever. For a synopsis of the overall fluctuation of my healthy or unhealthy habits, click here. The challenge I face on a daily basis is whether to say yes or no to those delicious gluten-free peanut butter cookies (they're gluten free, NOT fat free!), or whether to eat just another serving of mashed potatoes or that candy bar in the community stash at work. I'm a nurse, I know how food works, and I continue to say yes to the crappy food that offers empty promises of satisfaction and equally empty but belly-enlarging calories. The challenge is not really food, it's self discipline.

I had the privilege of speaking to a gathering of Catholic young adults this summer on the topic of "Health and Spirituality". I quoted a longtime friend who told me long ago, when I asked him how he managed to stay to fit in the midst of young fatherhood, “I look at my diet and other health choices as supporting God’s plan for my life”. This comment really stuck with me. If I eat like Michael Phelps but exercise like my 92-year-old grandpa, while expecting to be fully engaged in God's plan for my 7th-child-on-the-way home, I'm missing something, and it will show...not just physically but also spiritually.

I think that in many ways our habits in areas like exercise and eating are a way to gain insight into our spiritual life. Don't take this as doctrine, as it's just my opinion, but I notice in my own life that when I'm not disciplined in prayer, kindness, charity, humility, etc...I'm not disciplined in most areas. I eat the extra cookie, my portions are huge, I don't exercise. I'm undisciplined. If you ever hear someone say "I don't have time to exercise or eat right with all the things I do for my kids", that's just an excuse. After all, it takes no time to reduce your portion. It takes no time to say no to that Milky Way you're craving. And those little self-denials will in turn help us more easily say "yes" to good and healthy habits. Discipline.

Advent is a good time to reflect on our discipline (anyone hear a discipleship post brewing?). As someone commented on the post I linked to earlier, "Every time you give up on eating an ice cream or other goody, give the money to charity instead." Good advice. Let's make our self-denial a sacrificial offering in prayer or almsgiving to someone in need. And we'll all be better, and fitter, for it.

Happy Advent!

Monday, November 21, 2016

How to be a nice human being.

I had to stop by the dollar store on my way home from work yesterday to pick up some butterfly strips, as my oldest daughter cut her leg on some glass and needed something beyond regular band-aids. (Her leg is fine, by the way.) Anyhow, I'm waiting in line behind three or four other customers and I noticed a People magazine with the headline "President Trump". It got me thinking about how divided we seem to be as a country right now. So much name calling, so much fear, so much talk about race and politics I'm just tired of it all.

So there I am, standing in line, thinking these thoughts while I'm waiting to pay for my $1 butterfly strips. I look behind me and this young black man walks up and gets in line behind me. He's about my age, wearing jeans and a hoodie, and carrying a few household items including children's gloves and glazed frosted animal crackers. Figuring he must have kids and being the extrovert that I am, I struck up a conversation that went something like this:

Me: Hey how's it going?
Him: I'm good, you?
Me: I'm doing well, just getting off work. (pause) So do you have kids, or just a fan of animal crackers?
Him: (smiles) Yeah I've got five kids.
Me: (gets excited) No way! We are expecting our seventh!
Him: (reaches out and fist bumps) Man, that's the way you do it!
Me: Yeah, we love big families.
Him: Lots going on.
Me: Right? Families are busy! So are you from around here?
Him: Yep, Canton born and raised.
Me: My wife's from Canton and I grew up on the other side of the state.
Him: OK. You live near here?
Me: Yeah, just up the road in Plain.
Him: Gotcha, cool.
Me: Well listen, nice talking with you. Have a good night, enjoy those kids.
Him: You too man, good night. (another fist bump)

About this time I'm realizing that all those thoughts about division and race and politics and hate are, well, only as true insofar as we let them be. I know nothing about that man's beliefs and he knows nothing about mine. Sure, we could assume. We could project. We could avoid. But I choose not to. I choose to give the benefit of the doubt. I choose to engage. I choose to be a nice human being. Hopefully you will too, and we will start to get back to the things that bind us, rather than divide us.

Dad stuff

My friend Mary over at LetLoveBeSincere suggested that I write more about the Catholic father/husband perspective. That's a really challenging task, because there are a lot of aspects of fatherhood to be covered. There are dad blogs out there but not near as many as mom blogs, and perhaps it's because men think they don't have a lot of things to share. But that's wrong. We do have things to share...we're just busy doing lots of those things. Case in point: as I'm typing this, literally the words you're reading now, my beautiful almost-three-year-old walks to the front door, smiles her precious smile, and holds up a little bottle saying "they're bubbles daddy!"...and proceeds to spill most of the bubble mix on the entry tile.

Isn't that what being a daddy is? Doing things with and for our kids because we love them and they need us? Cleaning up the bubble spills, mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, laundry cleaning and folding, changing the diapers, or vacuuming floors keep us busy whether we have one child or ten...deep down it's not about cleaning up the seemingly endless stream of toys the kids seem to poop out on their way through every room, it's about knowing they're engaged and feeling loved...taking "Dad time" to read a story, play Legos, or (most importantly) talking with them about Jesus and His love for us. These things are (or should be) more important than presiding over cleanup. (>pause< previously mentioned almost-three-year-old is shouting "Daddy! I go'd poopoo on the pot!".....OK I'm back)

As dads we can get distracted by the daily stuff. The aforementioned tasks can be time-consuming and endless. Plus, the little irritations we face can keep us distracted from what's truly important. I know I'm not going to go broke because the kids leave every basement light on or the doors open for me to find when I get home from work, but I wish they'd turn off the lights and close the doors to preserve the electric bill and a bug-free home! But you know what? If I have to choose between turning the lights off and the alternative of not enjoying my little energy-users, I'll choose enjoying the kiddos every time. Being a father teaches us that showing our children love is more important than worrying about the messes, the open doors, the house lit up like a moon beacon. Wanting our children to understand that respecting their things is a worthwhile effort, but first and foremost we want them to know that by showing love to them and to each other, we're reflecting God. And we set the tone.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I want to believe...(that I can take time to write)

When Monica and I started watching X-Files on Netflix from Season 1 episode 1, I wanted to believe. Halfway thru season 2 (like, 6 months later) our motivation to continue was deflated by the real life challenges of being awesomely married and parenting many littles. So goes the life of being an adult, thinking we can do some things we can't or shouldn't or don't have the time to do, while making responsible choices to prioritize doing the things we must do, are beneficial to our family, etc. Which brings me to this blog.

I've gone through a number of writing spurts lasting months to years, always eventually fading away as life priorities change. I did some of my best writing while in nursing school, allowing the catharsis of blogging to take my mind off the mental beating that accelerated learning was handing me. I've blogged sparsely since then, probably due to the fact that as challenging as nursing school is, we've owned two homes since then, added kiddos #5 and #6 (# 7 due early next year!), and am working full time while being a part-time grad student. Nonetheless, I miss writing and have so much I'd like to write about that I just need to sit down and do it. I want to believe that I can take time to write. I'm going to try. And I want your help!

If you've read my various writings, seen my Facebook comments, or had a conversation with me over the years and you'd like me to write more about that topic (or want my thoughts on something entirely random!), would you take a moment to drop me a message, comment, or other communication letting me know? This year has given me plenty to think and write about, but half the fun of blogging is knowing that an audience finds relevance in the words. So...I want you to believe, and help me get back into the joy that writing has always been for me. And check back soon...the blog is getting a facelift shortly.