Why St. Martha is the Perfect Saint for My Birthday!

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July 29th was my 30th birthday! More importantly it is the Feast Day of St. Martha the friend of Jesus Christ and brother to St. Lazarus and St. Mary. I have always shared a special connection to this ancient Christian role model. My own personal journey to overcome anxiety, worry, OCD, and constant movement in both my daily and spiritual life. Here I want to share a couple ways by which Martha is a perfect person to share July 29th.

  1. Action, Action, Action: Diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, I remember always being in motion as a kid. I know that sounds cliche to talk about children move around, wiggling, and lacking focus, but for me that was and still is some days true. I struggled with sitting still. I seen this trait passed on to my own children as well. Both my son and daughter rarely are able to sit down for a complete meal. In fact they have a tough time sitting still for more than a couple minutes at a time. Needless to say, the action and constant movement of St. Martha appeals to me on a personal level. busyness.jpg
  2. “Martha [Matt], Martha [Matt], you are anxious and worried about many things”:  Another reason the patron saint of homemakers is a perfect person to share my birthday with is due to her anxiety. Martha complains directly to Jesus about her sister Mary in Luke 10:40, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The hospitality of Martha was negated by the tactless manner upon which she communicated her frustrations about her sister to Jesus. Jesus calmly replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.42 There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” How often do I experience similar frustrations when I think I am doing more to prepare for guests than my wife or other members of my family. Preparation and hospitality are good in and of themselves. Where the trouble lies in Martha’s situation is she worried about something fleeting [the itinerary of the feast]  instead of cleaving to the eternal [sitting at the feet of Christ].
  3. Initial doubt, then Trust: Along with both the personal limitations Martha struggled with constantly and the focus on the minutiae of daily life, her initial doubt of Jesus’ ability to help Lazarus reminds me of my own frequent self-doubt. According to John 11, Jesus heard news of the Lazarus– the brother of Mary and Martha– being ill.

    I always found these two sentences in this story interesting and bewildering: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was” (John 11: 5-6). Wait. If Jesus really loved his friends, why in the world did he procrastinate the equivalent of a weekend’s worth of time? Basically his response is no different that if I heard that my parents were severely ignored and instead of rushing to the hospital immediately I stayed at my house for the weekend. To be honest, this passage was a difficulty for myself. It is reading the entirely of the chapter– and reading it in light of the Resurrected Christ– that I realized John is preparing us for a tremendous miracle– the raising of Lazarus.

    Martha’s reply to Jesus entering the city of Bethany is similar to something I would say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!!”  (John 11: 21). I often lament to God saying, “If only you answered my prayers timely would I not be suffering at this moment!”

    St. Paul reassures us that even in the face of suffering, doubt, and strife, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). This was actually the first line in the second reading of the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 30th). I actually planned to write this post on Saturday. I am grateful that my friend took me to see the newest Spiderman movie in theaters for my birthday because I would not have  made the connection to Paul’s message and the anxiety that both St. Martha and I share. We know that all things work for good for those who love God. This timeless message also reminds me of this Lauren Daigle song I heard on the radio this weekend as week. The song is titled Trust in You  and here are the lyrics:


    Letting go of every single dream

    I lay each one down at Your feet
    Every moment of my wandering
    Never changes what You see
    I try to win this war
    I confess, my hands are weary, I need Your rest
    Mighty warrior, king of the fight
    No matter what I face You’re by my side
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings
    There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
    So let all things be my life and breath
    I want what You want Lord and nothing less
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    You are my strength and comfort
    You are my steady hand
    You are my firm foundation
    The rock on which I stand
    Your ways are always higher
    Your plans are always good
    There’s not a place where I’ll go
    You’ve not already stood
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
  4. Cleanliness is next to Godliness: Martha is known as the patron saint of housekeepers, cooks, laundry workers, and servants. While I am not a great cook, I am a clean-freak. As a result of my OCD, I tend to do the majority of the household cleaning chores [I have control issues that I am currently working on]. I also helped my mom with her cleaning business as a kid and I worked in the fast food industry cooking and serving food for almost seven years during high school and college. Little did I know God was using my experiences with menial jobs to forge a relationship with one of the New Testament saints.

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Going into writing this post, I had some anxiety about how I would finish it properly. What I have learned is that God will transform the ordinary– in this case my anxiety and work experiences and raise it to a newness of creation. Sharing my birthday with the feast day of St. Martha of Bethany is an honor and a privilege. While I can wait to get another year older I cannot wait to celebrate this wonderful saint’s feast day again next year!

 

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How My Flight toward Fiction Helped Me Escape the Strangeness of Reality

Mark Twain once wrote, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” While I do not fully understand the meaning of the great American author’s words I find myself drawn to the concept that reality is odd, weird, peculiar, and problematic. Seeming senseless suffering occurs daily throughout the globe: wars, famine, and violation of human rights. I do not want this post to turn into a philosophical treatise on the problem of evil. [please refer to the writings of St. Augustine or The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis for a clearer and more authoritative outline of the issue than myself !] To be clear, although I experienced a push from reality toward despair when things get overwhelmed, it is interesting that fiction pulls me away from this strangeness and helps center myself.

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Over the past year, I have delved into the DC Comics Universe- the realm of Superman, Batman, The Flash, and Green Lantern. I am most recently reading a voluminous story arc from the New 52 series on Superman! I think I finally realized why I am drawn to and experience calming graces in the medium of comics.

1. Larger than Life, Yet Relatable Characters: Stories portray transformation and inner conflicts within characters. Superhero comics contain traditional character developments. They also add layers to the story through its main actors possessing enhanced powers. Instead of alienating the reader, I find I am drawn into a comic book through the device of the dual identity of a superhero—their superhero appellation and their secret identity.

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I will use Barry Allen/The Flash as an example because I loving running and the main power of this character revolve around speed and endurance. Most versions have Barry’s desire to help others stemming from the death of his mother at a young age. Later endowed with super-speed and Speed-Force powers from a lightning in a laboratory, Barry soon dons the mantle of The Flash! Despite his ability to nearly travel at the speed of light, Barry oftentimes has to slow down to solve both personal and professional problems. By reading these comics this superhero appeals to me because I sometimes tend to be impatient and act rashly at times.

2. Alleviation through Art: I am a visual learner. Illustrations bring me closer to the events of the comic book story. When I am reviewing books to check out from the library, one of the things I look for in a good comic is appealing artwork. The Blackest Night Green Lantern story-line contained popping colors and heroes decked in hues highlighting their unique power rings. I felt like I dove into a verbal kaleidoscope in that crossover event. I cannot quite put my finger on it but something about the artwork of the New 52 DC Series soothes my anxiety. Without alleviation through art, I would return  an unread story back to the library as opposed to diving further into the comic book universe.

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3. In a galaxy far, far away…there is no place like home: Along with the character development of DC’s superheroes [and even non-powered support characters] and the beautiful art, I have come to greatly enjoy the move to solar system based settings. Although strangeness abounds in the various planetary systems and alternative timelines, I get a sense of excitement and wonder instead of fear from my mind travels to exotic scenes!

The freshness is anchored by the stability of the characters in the DC universe. Despite reading a revisionist version of Superman, Batman, or other heroes, a certain familiarity and tradition still remains front and center. Traveling on these journeys provide small interludes of rest from the weariness of reality. For instance, the phones were going of the hook at my job today. I encountered strange and perplexing questions I never dealt with before. During my break time, I become an observer of Superman’s battle against his archenemy– Brainiac. I returned to the real world energized to complete my day’s remaining work.

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Pontius Pilate asked Jesus Christ a question that in an old as time but still fresh and relevant today, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Truth, reality, actuality is a perplexing thing to grasp. Humanity is not called to fully understand the mysteries of the universe yet creation is laden with hints at what the purpose of the real world is all about. What I have learned it that created truth—i.e. fiction– helps orient myself toward realizing my purpose of this life. Through the gift of fiction, I acquire a renewed and broader perspective when I return to the “real world”. I will leave you to ponder the wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien legendary creator of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Referring to fantasy as a natural human activity he states,

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?

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How to Roundhouse Kick My Daily Precipitation of Precipitateness

Joseph Pieper, a 20th century German Catholic philosopher, once stated in Happiness and Contemplation,“Repose, leisure, peace, belong among the elements of happiness. If we have not escaped from harried rush, from mad pursuit, from unrest, from the necessity of care, we are not [fully] happy. And what of contemplation? Its very premise is freedom from the fetters of workaday busyness.” I think every person needs to be daily reminded of this message. It seems that lately I have been encountering a flood of fleetingness. Craziness abounds in both my work and home—demands piles up both from company leadership and my children.

Instead of me thriving and managing the stresses of daily routine, life has become a panicked response to these hurried stimuli. I wish there is some why for me to fight this raining of rashness. I really mean to fight it. I wish I this precipitation of precipitateness could manifest itself in a physical form so I could perform an epic beat down on it. My wife recently started kick-boxing for her morning exercise routine—so please do not think I am always a violent person! Would it not be nice to pull a Chuck Norris and roundhouse kick stress, busyness, and hurriedness into oblivion? Although it may be a pipe-dream to pull that off this donnybrook on stress literally, there are a few tips I have learned from my Catholic faith, my counseling sessions, and through my own life experience that help me stave off the burdens of busyness.

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1. Present Before the Greatest Presence: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1323, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”136 “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.” Oftentimes I fall into the trap of citing official church documents in hopes of slamming the door on any possible counter-argument to the truth. I have recently learned the errors in my line of thought. Great, I cited the official teaching of the Catholic Church on the sacrament of the Eucharist. But what exactly does this mean for me on an individual level. Do I experience any sort of change or transformation through my encounter with this divine presence?

I wish that I could provide you an answer to all possible questions on this topic. But to be honest, I would only be kidding myself and I would fall short. I would be an inadequate emissary for the Catholic Church. For more information on rational arguments for belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist please refer to my post What Happened When I Critically Read John 6?. What I can provide is my perspective, despite the fact that it is limited. I am actually most at peace in this life when I sit quiet before the sacrament of the Eucharist in Adoration. As a Catholic, I truly believe that during the Mass the bread and wine is transformed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Communicating with God through the form of the Blessed Sacrament is where I am most at peace. Sacraments are visible signs of an invisible reality.

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The second place I am most at peace is when I make myself vulnerable to my wife and share my dreams, fears, and worries to her. In the sacrament of marriage the love of God is made manifest in the exchange of a husband and wife [I rely on this type of presence of God more frequently than the Eucharist simply because it is more readily available].

Jesus never stressed about the busyness of this world. Even when he heard the terrible news of his close friend’s Lazarus dying Jesus never hurried. In reply to the concerned words of Lazarus’ sisters Christ calmly states in John 11:4, “This illness is not to end in death,* but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Perhaps the worries and stresses God allows in my life was a preparation for his glory and display of mastery of them later in time. Through the sacraments I acquire calmness of mind and heart.

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2. Cudgeling through Communication: How do you handle stressful situations? This was an interview question a prospective employer once asked me. I paused for a couple moments to collect my thoughts. I then provided two simple ways: communication and patience. As I stated above, I increase my patience through the graces I receive in the sacraments. Regarding communication, I have worked to consciously improve the manner and tone by which I rely information both at work and home.

What I have found out is that clearly and concisely conveying information is a surefire way to mitigate or defeat stressful situations. My counselor at my appointment today advised me to take a different perspective [i.e. try to see things from my manager’s vantage point] before I react and communicate something in a stressful event.

3. Perfectionists are not Perfect: Something I struggle with frequently is my tendency toward perfection. I have always been a perfectionist and an idealist. A large part of this may be due to my OCD inclinations and strong desire to have things in an straightforwardly organized manner. I want things to be predictable. There is an internal conflict within myself over desiring control over situations. I am blessed to have my wife in my life to provide an alternative approach to life. Through her example, I have slowly [hopefully surely!] worked toward a balanced approach to the stressful situations in life. Perfectionists are not perfect. We seek to attain it daily, but we will always fall short.

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Does that mean I need to lower my expectations or my standards? There is a question that I may have an answer to later in my life. What I do know is that I need to come to grips with the reality that humanity is fallen. Perfection is not to be fully attained in this life—it is hinted at through the holy witness of the saints and the life of Jesus Christ!

Thank you for sharing!

An Oasis of Joy- My Office-Theme Birthday Party!

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Words cannot describe my gratitude and joy I experienced when my wife threw an Office-themed birthday party celebrating my 30th birthday [I will be joining the three decade club at the end of July]. I found the above picture of Michael Scott [main character of The Office] to best display my admiration and thankfulness to her.

Even though words will be inadequate to fully thank my wife for setting up the party and for my family and friends who participated in the festivities I am not one to shy away from a daunting task such as this. I will put forth my best effort to compose a thank you post that hopefully will equate to a drop of thanksgiving into the ocean of love that my wife pours out to me daily!

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Dear Jenny [family and friends as well!],

I was humbled by the tremendous amount of time, effort, and meticulous coordination to planning and hosting my birthday party. I enjoyed all of the pranks that you pulled on me and I will cherish those memories forever. I especially enjoy the clandestine prank you pulled off with the help of our friend—he came dressed as ME to begin the party! It was fun to play the various games associated with our favorite T.V. show. I especially liked the paper airplane tournament [even though I did not win it J].

For my readers who are not familiar with The Office, there is an awards, similar to the Oscars, Emmys, of Golden Globes, that Michael Scott [played by actor Steve Carrell] hosted each year. He made unique, funny, and sometimes inappropriate awards to give to his employees. I thank you again Jenny for my Dundie Award of Best Weird Song Creator [I make up weird songs to sing to our kids]. My only regret for the party is I did not get you the Best, Awesome, Amazing, Fantastic, Unbelievable, Incredible, Marvolous, Stunning, Creative, Fascinating, Surprising, Wonderful, Greatest, Splendid, Thoughtful, Intelligent, Determined, Worker, Intense, Good Worker, Hard Worker, Terrific, Unselfish, Caring, Loving, Forgiving, Perfect Wife Dundie Award!

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I could go on and go as I have my trusty Thesaurus feed me adjectives. However, I need to thank my family and friends [plus my O.C.D. could only handle under 70 words in a sentence J]

Thank you to my incredible family and friends. I am always humbled by the support you have shown me throughout my life. This weekend was fun and joyful. It would not be as exciting or memorable if you all went not present. Thank you again!

I will close this thank-you post in a similar manner as I begin it—a reference to my favorite fictional manager Michael Scott. The Dunder Mifflin regional manager sums up my gratitude toward my wife Jenny best,

People I respect, heroes of mine, would be Bob Hope… Abraham Lincoln, definitely. Bono [Jenny as well for myself!]. And probably God would be the fourth one. And I just think all those people really helped the world in so many ways that it’s really beyond words. It’s really incalculable.

Love Matt

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Thank you for sharing!

Why Wearing Armor of Weakness Makes Me Stronger

St. Ignatius of Loyala said, “If God sends you many sufferings; it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” As a Catholic I admire the witness of the saints. From a theological and cerebral perspective Ignatius makes sense, but to a person in the midst of trials his words just bring frustration. I believe I am in a period of consolation at this point in my spiritual journey. As a result, my reflection on the Spanish saint’s words may take on a different form now than during a low point in my life.

What I have found to be interesting during the past few months that I have been writing is that my more popular and greater trafficked posts relate to topics on my sufferings: from my anxiety over daily items to my great tribulations in life so far. Today I believe there are three specific reasons why writing about my own limitations appeal to others.

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1. Suffering is Universal: J.R.R. Tolkien refers to the objective reality of widespread sorrow in his legendary work The Lord of the Rings. Below is a brief conversation between the soon-to-be heroic hobbit Frodo and the wizard Gandalf:

Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

Before I unpack the truth of Gandalf’s words I will provide a little background on the nature of hobbits. According to both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, hobbits are creatures that traditionally kept to themselves and stayed out of the political affairs of Middle-Earth. Hobbits enjoyed farming and living a quiet, peaceful existence. Is that true of yourself? Perhaps you are an individual that prefers solitary and silent times for reflection. If you are not like a hobbit that is certainly alright as well, but there may be times in your life when you may desire the craziness of life to slow down. I know that is definitely true for me. I am naturally a hobbit at heart.

Life always seems to throw a wrench into my plan. Just like Frodo Baggins’ life was interrupted by the War of the Ring and Gandalf’s strong urging to bear the ring, so too I experience expectations thrust upon me that I am ill-equipped to face. Suffering is universal. It is inevitable. Humans do not have to travel long or far in this world before suffering rears its ugliness! This is the primary reason why I believe my writing on my personal suffering appeals to others—because people suffer daily.

Sometimes quotes from a fictional character seem to ring truer or strike a chord closer than words I can provide myself. Frodo’s best friend Samwise Gamgee sums up humanity’s worry against suffering best, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” We put ourselves into a paradox if we avoid suffering—we never step onto the road of life, but it is only stepping on the road that we are able to life. Avoidance of suffering is not fully living!

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2. Honesty is the best policy: To continue on the fact that suffering is universal, I think that by truthfully acknowledging my limitations and sinful nature I open myself up to let others into my life. My favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, Francis de Sales, and G.K. Chesterton [to name a few]. The reason for this is due largely to their candor and admittance of their limitations. I experience Lewis, de Sales, and Chesterton’s humanity through their writing.

In a similar fashion, I have noticed that my own personal favorite and best works are done when I am most honest—not when I utilize the best vocabulary or sentence structure. Half of the times, I am not even aware of what I am going to write about on a particular day or even how I am going to finish a post. Words flow from my mind more easily when I draw upon my experiences of suffering and strife. I cannot explain why that is the case. I can only say that my honesty about my past suffering acts as a cerebral embolectomy for my occasional writer’s block!

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3. Fellowship Leads to Fitness in Battle: My battle against personal vices [anger, greed, impatience, pride, etc] is daunting. What makes my encounter with these evils more bearable is community. Through the fellowship of my family, faith community in the Catholic Church, and my readership I am soothed. I am reminded again of Tolkien’s trilogy during my personal struggles. In the third book The Return of the King, weariness weighs down on Frodo as he ascends Mount Doom in his attempt to destroy Sauron’s Ring. Listen to the hero’s lament when the evil of the ring tempts him:

Frodo: I can’t recall the taste of food, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. I’m naked in the dark. There’s nothing–no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I can see him with my waking eyes.

Sam: Then let us be rid of it, once and for all. I can’t carry the ring for you, but I can carry you! Come on!

The main hero in the story experiences weakness and laments to the last individual from the original Fellowship formed at the beginning of the journey— fellow hobbit Samwise. Here a fellowship becomes incarnate in Sam. He is not the strongest, smartest, or most clever hero, but he is present in Frodo’s greatest time of need. It is only through Frodo’s donning of the ‘armor of weakness’ [making himself vulnerable and feeble to his friend] that true fellowship happens. Instead of becoming weaker when I show my limitations and failure the fellowship around me [wife, family, faith, and friends] is galvanized and I am made stronger. Together a fellowship stands the test of temptation and vice.

Thank you for sharing!

Pilgrimage toward Patience: A Progress Report

Depression, a short temper, and negativity have haunted me for a large part of my life. This summer has been a season of change and improvement for my family. We have been actively working to obtain academic and early childhood services for our kids. My wife and I are exercising more regularly and eating healthier as well. Together with the physical aspect of self-improvement, I have focused on my mental health as well. I started seeing a counselor to assist me with my anxiety. I want to provide you—my readers—with a progress report of how I am doing in the realm of mental well-being. Furthermore, I am writing on my progress for two specific reasons: to journal my journey and help me maintain my commitment and to provide tips for others who struggle with similar vices. I want to be a beacon of hope for you and my family!

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1. Help is Healthy: The old me used to shudder at the thought of asking for help. Resulting from a combination of my hubris and a misconception of counseling by our culture, I used to believe that people who went to counseling sessions failed at life. I dragged my feet at the idea of seeking professional counseling to help me deal with my daily anxiety. Through the fervor of my wife and my mother I finally scheduled—and kept—a counseling appointment! I actually felt relief after our session. In the following weeks, I have incorporated the tactics provided by the counselor.

Needing help is not a sign of weakness. Instead, accepting authentic help to remedy an illness or vice indicates a person’s strength of character. It shows humility and trust- both virtues I need to continue to learn and master daily!

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2. Learning Opportunities instead of Failures: A former manager of mine had a poster outside his cubicle that add an euphemistic acronym for the word F.A.I.L.—First attempt in learning. This simple, but profound message has always stuck in the back of my mind.

To be honest, living out the poster’s lesson is a constant challenge for me. However, during these last couple of weeks, my patience level among my failures improved. Re-orienting my negative thoughts on failure, I have moved toward seeing situations that did not go my way at work and home more in a neutral light [tip I got from counselingJ]. Putting a positive, or at least neutral, spin on a tough circumstance allowed my patience to grow.

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3. Stockpiling Strategies: Along with acknowledgment help as healthy and donning my positivity glasses, I have collected a sundry of tools to aid me in the battle against anxiety and impatience. I am grateful for the fidget cube craze is coinciding with my oldest son’s

current obsession over Legos. I use the various stress relievers on my generic fidget cub and comic book caricatures of my favorite DC superhero Lego mini-figures to center myself during a stressful situation at work. An added bonus if I get to think about comic books during my break and lunch times!

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4. Fleeing My Fortress of Solitude?: Superheroes tend to house their headquarters in locations away access to the general populace. The Bat Cave is underneath Gotham City. Superman’s Fortress of Solitude is away from civilization on a frozen environment. These heroes are strong individually but combining their talents and experiences led to the development of the Justice League.

Living in a detached manner from others leads to despair and lack of patience. During these past few weeks I have moved out of my figurative fortress of solitude and found a Watchtower [HQ of the Justice League!] through increased communication with my wife. Together we have leaned on each other for support and help during our summer busyness. I am more relaxed and patient as I work toward teaming up with my wife [and the Holy Spirit!] in the sacrament of marriage.

My pilgrimage toward patience is fresh with excitement that I have not hit any speed bumps or roadblocks. But hardship, difficulty, and strife will happen. I sense it coming soon on the horizon. I ask for your continued thoughts and prayers for me to keep steadfast to me helpmates and strategies as I continue the long and joyous path of holiness.

Thank you for sharing!