Happy Autism Awareness Day!

autism awareness day

This is the first year that I actually paid attention to Autism Awareness Day. With a second child diagnosed on the autism spectrum as a parent an awareness increased in my personal life that children with autism are unique. My oldest son excels in language and articulating complex sentences, yet he still struggles to formulate his needs at times. On the other hand, my younger son was diagnosed with a more severe form of autism. He qualified for more special services such as speech therapy, OT, and special education.

My hope is that I continue to grow as both a parent and citizen of the world in my knowledge and compassion towards individuals with autism spectrum disorder and the families who support them. Parents naturally strive to attain to find all the answers. When questions abound and various strategies need to evolve to best serve your child tensions sometimes rise. I often struggle with doubts and depression as a parent to children with special needs. My wife and I constantly worry about if the world will accept and love our sons. Autism Awareness Day is a start–a sign that hope is on the horizon! I am comforted through the intercession of St. Thorlak an individual commonly believed to be on the autism spectrum [see link below for more information]. During sessions of stress I mediate on this short prayer:

“Holy Thorlak,
Cut with the scythe of your workings
the thorns casting shadows
in my unclear mind!”

For more information on St. Thorlak please click this link: http://www.mission-of-saint-thorlak.com/patron-of-asd.html

I thank the Lord for the blessings of my children. I am also appreciative that greater awareness is being brought to people with autism. Knowledge is truly a necessary step towards a truer and deeper level of compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters. I will conclude today’s post by reflecting on a simple, but powerful anonymous quote, “As special needs parents we don’t have the power to make life ‘fair,’ but we do have the power to make life joyful.” 

choose joy

 

3 Incredibly Simple Tools to Incapacitate Anxiety 

According to Derek Beres, a Los Angeles-based author, music producer, and fitness instructor in a 2017 article Why is Anxiety Increasing in America?,

Anxiety is one of those phenomena that non-sufferers sometimes claim, ‘it’s all in your mind.’ That’s simply not true; panic attacks are also a somatic experience. With a growing awareness of what creates anxiety and a captive online community searching for solutions, we’re learning more about what those triggers are and how they interact with our mind and body.

stress breaker.jpg

While I am far from an expert on the psychology or neurology, I do have knowledge about anxiety from my own personal experiences. Suffering from anxiety and depression myself I learned methods to combat worry and constant anxiety. As a father and husband I learned that the bustle and complexity of family life ultimately points me toward growing in the virtue of patience and gentleness instead of being a burden to my career endeavors. Facing a barrage of continual interruptions, meltdowns, and challenges from my youngest son–who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder– some days I feel like giving up. Ironically, enough, this is the seventh attempt to finish this paragraph already this morning [my two-year old wanted me to get a particular toy-car from under the couch and then he proceeded to open the fridge and point to the pickle jar for his second-breakfast snack! :)]

second breakfast.gif

Sadly, I momentarily allowed the stress wanting to post today’s article sooner rather than later to get the better of me. Suffering interruptions and being compelled to exercise patience I believe actually strengthens my message rather than weakening it. I am reminded by the words of St. Maria Faustina on the subject of suffering, “O, my Jesus, I understand well that, just as illness is measured with a thermometer and a high fever tells us of the seriousness of the illness; so also, in the spiritual life, suffering is the thermometer which measures the love of God in a soul.” Below I am sharing three incredibly simple tools to help to incapacitate anxiety.

Disclaimer: Please remember that the battle against depression and anxiety must be continually fought so while these tool are effective they may not all apply to you now, but I promise you it would be wise to keep them on your utility-belt for the future.

checkpoint.jpg

  1.  Checkpoint victories: Recently, I learned that the best way to develop a strategy against stress, anxiety, depression, and fear of failure is to focus on miniature goals. As an avid runner in high school, I utilized this practical strategy when finishing a 5-6 mile training circuit. Focusing on a point close ahead [i.e. a stop-sign, a large tree, or the corner of the block] I made checkpoints for me to continue running towards. As a result of these minor checkpoints, small victories led to the major victory–finishing a training session without stopping or setting a personal record during a race.

While many of you may not be a runner, and some may even despise exercise [believe me I understand some days I dread working out and simply lack the energy to do so!] the idea of setting short-term and minor goals is something that is transferable to managing daily anxiety. “Focus on two or three specific goals instead of trying to succeed at mastering many, many things at once. This will help reduce your stress,” my manager told me yesterday. Today, I am heeding his words by incorporating these three tools today and for the rest of the week.

Even as I write/wrote this post, I am making bit-sized victories as my kids demanded/asked for my attention. Consequently, the involuntary writer hiatus count is up to 18–it may be up to closer to 30-40 by the time this post is complete that may depend on whether my kids place nicely together the amount of times I decide to help of my favorite literary creature the Thesaurus for inspiring me to come up with fancy phrasing/names such as the involuntary writer hiatus count [as opposed to the boring “interruption-count”]

list

  1. ♬ Make a list, check it twice ♬: No, I am not referring to the Christmas classic song Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Thank goodness, right! We already have Christmas in July specials do we really need Santa in Springtime? The second tool to incapacitate anxiety is to make a list of all the blessings in your life. A simple way to incorporate this into the work day is to put a blank Post-It note on your desk. Next, as the day progresses [if there is no time in the morning] start to jot a names of people that bring you joy. Include as well any material goods that you are grateful for as well: shelter, sunlight, water, food, clothes, and other simple joys. Trying this yesterday allowed me to re-orient any negative and anxious feelings towards a mindset of thanksgiving.

 

  1. Acid Attack:  According to research [see link for more information: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/tamara-star/post_13013_b_11766146.html%5D , eating citrus fruits is a practical tasty way to lower anxiety. Noticing a fellow co-worker eating an orange everyday on her morning break piqued my attention especially because she shared her daily struggles with anxiety and depression. I tried this simple strategy this week–and it worked! The citric acid and taste of the orange calmed my stress. I even kept the orange peel and smelled a few times the oil from the peel and scent of citric acid continued to provide soothing relief.

oranges-foto.jpg

Well, I finally finished this post. Anyone interested in the grand total for the involuntary writer hiatus count: it reached 30–and no, I did not visit my friendly online Thesaurus again, that was all my children–impressive to say the least! Hopefully, you find these tools invaluable in your war against anxiety. Once again, it you do not find them useful currently, please keep them in your anxiety armory for the next skirmish against stress. After all that writing, I am famished, I think my second breakfast will consist of a couple oranges! Thank you again for reading.

 

Columnist Opportunity I Received!

opportunity

I hope everyone’s start to 2018 is off to a good start. We have been experiencing an frigid beginning to the new year in the Midwest. Despite the frozen conditions, my hope in the Lord always melts away the rigidity of my wounded soul. I am pleased to announce that I will be featured as a columnist for Catholic Stand starting January 12th. With my commitment to writing for that site my work on this blog has taken a little bit of a backseat. I do apologize for the diminished content. Writing for multiple platforms is a new venture for me. While balancing the two will contain challenges, I will still be making regular posts on The Simple Catholic blog.

I also want to say that I appreciate all my readers commitment and support of me during this new [and still learning] phase of my writing career!

FYI: I will update this post later to include the link to Catholic Stand upon publication of my article.

My 2018 Resolutions

Normally I do not formally publish my New Year’s Resolution as I try to incorporate my goals throughout the calendar year anyways. This year is a little bit different as I currently am in a slump of desolation.

2018 resolutions.jpg

Writing down a list of goals would be able to jump start my personal development. While smaller miniature goals will come and go throughout 2018 as the seasons change I want to spell out my top five 2018 resolutions I want to strive constantly:

  1. Attend Eucharistic Adoration Once a Month: Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life. It only makes sense that in order to grow closer in my relationship Him I go more frequently to Eucharistic Adoration. I really have no good excuses to fail this goal.

 

  1. Attend Confession Once a Month: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23) God gifted humanity with the opportunity to receive forgiveness of our sins against Him, our neighbor, and ourselves. This grace is free and I need to make better and more frequent use of this opportunity to experience God’s Mercy in 2018.

3. Exercise Patience: As a husband and a father of three young children, I am given many opportunities to share God’s love. Unfortunately, in 2017 I failed a lot. I pledge to use family life as a way to grow more in holiness in 2018.

4. Exercise My Muscles: Along with growing in holiness, I resolve to exercise at least three times a week to acquire a healthier lifestyle. I always felt more energized after working out and hopefully this momentum will propel me towards a better spiritual life as well!

5. Read at least 10 Minutes a Day: I am already doing this goal for the most part. From the time of elementary school to the present I have always been an avid reader. I want to continue this part of my life in 2018.

scripture_i_can_do_all_things_through_christ_favorite.jpg

St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in his spiritual work The Way, “Make few resolutions. Make specific resolutions. And fulfill them with the help of God” (no. 249). We need the Holy Spirit to aid us in our life’s journey and maintaining our New Year’s resolutions in 2018 [and beyond]. I ask that you pray for me to help me in my spiritual journey on this earth and please know you all are in my prayers as well. God Bless you and your family during 2018!

3 Reasons Why Children are Good Teachers in this Schoolhouse We call Life

schoolhouse.jpg

George Washington Carver once stated, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” Over the course of the centuries education has changed, developed, and evolved. As a society we are becoming more aware of the benefits of education, both at an early age and at later stages in life. Continual learning past the traditional high school, college, and even post-graduate levels is essential for living a healthy and fulfilling life.

As a husband of a special education teacher and a former educator myself, I am attune to the importance learning holds for a person both professionally and personally. Having earned a Master’s in Theology, I once thought myself to be an expert, or master, in that particular field–the study of God. My vocation as a father proved this arrogant premise to be contrary to what I once believed. Children–my three incredible adorable and sometimes obstinate offspring–are in fact good teachers in the school of life.

knock-knock-jokes

  1. “Knock, knock who is there?”: Eight o’clock at night arrived in my household. Both my wife and I were scrambling to get our older children to bed. My son and daughter finished their evening snack of a cheese-stick, clothed in their pajamas, and teeth brushed. We prayed the Guardian Angel prayer before shipping them off to the bedroom. I thought we were in the clear when I heard my daughter asking, “Daddy, can I get a book? I don’t have one in my bed!” Begrudgingly, I harped, “Yes, go quickly into the living room and pick one off the shelf.”

Oddly enough–or maybe not so oddly– my daughter grabbed a joke book filled with riddles, knock-knock jokes, and other corny puns. As I tucked the blanket around her, my daughter insisted I read a few jokes. I conceded and read a couple knock-knock jokes. Her eyes lit up and dimples appeared in the corners of her smile. Reflecting upon this seemingly mundane experience now, I realized that laughter is okay–even during bedtime routine. My children taught me that lessening my serious demeanor will not kill me. Instead, laughter enlivens my spirit. New life is breathed into me as I gaze at the humorous antics within my home.

pinky swear.gif

2. Keep your promises: Our oldest son is a “rules kid”. What do I mean by this? He is quite bright, detail-oriented, and observant. I am convinced he possesses a photographic memory. My children taught me that the stakes for making–and breaking–promises exponentially increase when you become a parent.

During the hustle and bustle of daily living, I sometimes say things to assuage my son’s persistent pleading. I am not proud of it. As a member of the human race, I suffer from original sin as much as anyone. My promises do not always get fulfilled. Oftentimes, I fall short of the expectations my son and daughter have for me. What parenthood has taught me is that I need to be honest when I break a vow. I need to continually strive to be better at keeping my promises. Most importantly I have learned that children are fairly quick to forgive– I have learned forgiveness is key to becoming a better father.

enjoy the little things in life.jpg

3. Joy in the little things in life: Our youngest son was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Daily life is frequently tough as he struggles to communicate his needs and wants effectively. Meltdowns and tantrums occur regularly. Despite his struggles and limitations, my son teaches me everyday to look for the simple joys in life. For instance, he finds an inordinate amount of joy in anything containing or resembling the shape of a circle. If we go grocery shopping, his eyes light up whenever we pass a helium-filled balloon or whenever he gazes up at the round light bulbs in the store ceiling. Similarly, at house he plays with the same toy cars and trucks without getting bored. Although he has a social-communication disability, in some ways my son has a special ability– to see joy in the seemingly mundane.

Fatherhood reminds me of the words of Aristotle, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Personal growth and learning take time and oftentimes are painful. By focusing on mere snapshots of my parenthood journey I fail to see the fruit that family life fosters. I am incredibly grateful for the life lessons of humility, humor, and joy that my children taught me. I pray that I continue to strive towards being an open and honest student!

3 Tips to Guarantee You Will Overcome Adversity

According to Thomas Paine in The American Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Written almost 300 hundred years ago, the American philosopher words remain fresh and relevant to our age as they did back in the time of the American Revolution. Facing deluges of stress, busyness, and changes in the workplace, I experienced difficulty in tough times. Last week the stress drowned me and I let anxiety overwhelm me. Probably the best thing I did for myself [and my family] was to receive the Sacrament of Confession. Here I obtained the graces for a clean start, a theological re-booting of my system, and aid to face the adversity this week. Along with Divine assistance, I also had a counseling appointment where I received additional help to stay even-keeled as I boarded the “ship of life” and sailed out against the sea of stress. Below I discovered [actually re-discovered] three practical tips that guarantee you will overcome adversity.

mulan gif.gif

  1. Seek Help: As a perfectionist I often struggle to admit I need help. My drive to succeed and do the right thing is both a blessing and a curse. In the storm of adversity, sometimes I am not able to keep afloat by myself. Jesus Christ said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew  7:7). To ask for help means to submit yourself to the possibility that you may not have all the answers. Being uncertain about something or not a sign of weakness. Rather, seeking help demonstrates a powerful humility–a mighty weapon to wield in the face of adversity.

great power great responsibility

2. Own Up to Failures:  Similar to the first point of asking for help and demonstrating humility, acknowledgment of my limitations provided another bulwark against adversity. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.” His words carried real weight for me this week. Working for the banking industry involves balancing regulatory compliance with superb customer service to our clients in order to treat them with dignity and respect. To be honest, I feel like an actuarial acrobat most of the week. A situation arose where I placed more priority on company risk prevention then serving a customer impacted by Hurricane Irma. I felt guilty–even though I really did nothing morally culpable nor illegal. Still, I realized I could have provided our client a better experience. So, I took initiative to actively solve the issue by simply calling him back to inform him of the complete breakdown of disaster assistance our company provides. Almost immediately, I gained a strength to persevere with mettle despite encountering other stressful situations that day.

accountability.gif

  1. Learn, learn, learn: Albert Einstein once said, “A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”  Despite, being a professional physicist, the German genius gave us profound philosophical wisdom in this quote. Throughout my life I encountered people I consider to be “learner yearners”. In other words, people who commit themselves to life-long learning and study. The common thread among “learner yearners” is that they seem to deal with adversity in a calm and controlled manner. Adversity will always pester us and follow us in our earthly existence. The key is donning an educational attitude and seek opportunities to learn. Learning leads to perspective. Perspective leads to patience. Patience is the virtue that allows us to disable adversity’s assault.

adversity.jpg

The great English prime minister Winston Churchill stated, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” More colloquially put, “With great power comes great responsibility,” attributed by Ben Parker [uncle of Peter Parker/Spiderman]. Facing turmoil and adversity head-on seems brings a sense of joy and peace. This seems counter-intuitive, but from my personal experiences so far that has been the case. A habit of seeking help, taking ownership of my failings, and continual learning leads to overcoming of adversity!

***”It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.”***

A Simple Catholic Man’s Pursuit of a Joyous Life- Part 1

Michael Scott gif.gif

Well, I achieved what I thought was the impossible for myself—completing my 100th blog post! Filled with lows, highs, and average experiences, a transformation occurred within my faith life over the course of the past several months. To be honest, as I mulled the title of my hundredth post for many weeks—an anxiety set in. I thought, “What if the title is not perfect or how will I capture the most views?” In the end, the Holy Spirit, I felt, truly inspired me to settle on a title I had the entire time—hidden in the recesses of my mind. It was also existed in plain sight as the subtitle of this blog. A Simple Catholic Man’s Pursuit of a Joyous Life is the most honest and real way to describe my writing over the course these past few months. Struggling with inner conflict, depression, while achieving successes, gaining insight from the Holy Spirit, and living through mundane daily routine has shown me that joy is not an instantaneous attainment. Rather, finding true joy takes an entire lifetime.

finding joy in journey.jpg

According to my favorite modern day philosopher Peter Kreeft, joy is to be distinguished from mere happiness. He states in his work Joy, “Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness, is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind and feelings. Joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of the self…St. Thomas says, ‘No man can live without joy’”. The Boston College professor is most certainly right—at least based off of my experiences. Life experiences have taught me more than books or a formal education on the subject of joy. I learned that suffering when encountered against the armor of faith and prayer, instead of destroying my being, I experience joy—I encounter the person of Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis talks about the elusive nature of joy in this life in his work Surprised by Joy. Lewis states, “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.” I would definitely say that Lewis is on to something. I find momentary joy on my pilgrim journey towards Heaven, but it is not lasting. No matter my successes, both worldly and spiritual, I still long for something greater than any award, pleasure, or spiritual consolation I have received.

trust in the lord find strength.jpg

Without re-hashing my pursuit toward a joyous life in grand detail and boring you with the minutiae or writing pages upon pages I will share my top five most joyful moments I experienced since my journey began. Please feel free to read [or re-read] and share these posts via the links below. My ardent goal is to reflect Christ’s light daily in hopes to providing joy for a least one soul each day.

top five

1. A Letter to Jeremiah- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/a-letter-to-jeremiah/ 

2. Lewis, Tolkien, and the Creative Power of Music- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/lewis-tolkien-and-the-creative-power-of-music/ 

3. Why Wearing the Armor of Weakness Makes Me Stronger- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/why-wearing-armor-of-weakness-makes-me-stronger/ 

4. Organized Chaos or Chaotic Order: Which Do I Prefer?- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/organized-chaos-or-chaotic-order-which-do-i-prefer/ 

5. Sweat, Stress, and Shenanigans: Why Do I Even Take the Kids to Sunday Mass- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/sweat-stress-and-shenanigans-why-do-i-even-take-the-kids-to-sunday-mass/

Joy occurred when I learned of the will of God and acted in obedience to the Father’s plan. While God’s providence may not always feel like a thing to go after, what I have learned is that joy is beyond feeling. Kreeft tells us,

Every time I have ever said yes to God with something even slightly approaching the whole of my soul, every time I have not only said “Thy will be done” but meant it, loved it, longed for it – I have never failed to find joy and peace at that moment. In fact, to the precise extent that I have said it and meant it, to exactly that extent have I found joy.

I will continue to pursue the joy of the Good News in my daily life. Sometimes I will feel defeat and desolation. Other times I will experience great moments of spiritual consolation. Neither end of the spectrum defines joy properly. Continual prayer and loving my fellow mankind are the truest signposts toward my pursuit toward a joyous life! Finally, I will take today to thank God for the endurance to write, patience to listen to the Holy Spirit, and opportunity to celebrate this little success in my life.

Ron Swanson gif.gif