Choosing Beautiful Joy Over Ugly Fear

Department stores across America and the film industry anticipate Halloween well before the start of October. Being in mid-September, it is likely you already watched [or at least heard the chatter about] the cinematic horror film The Nun. Fear, horror, and terror possesses an allure that is sometimes difficult to move away from.

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Scrolling through social media feeds, pushing the cart throughout the store, or even watching television we are bombarded with screams and frights! Increasing new words seem to be added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary related to newly discovered fears. Sesquipedalophobia refers to the fear of long words [this would be awful if you had this phobia and were married to a pharmacist, doctor, or writer!]. Another bizarre phobia is dextrophobia–the fear of having objects to your right. For more information on these two fears and other intriguing phobia please click on this link: https://www.rd.com/health/conditions/strange-phobias/

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In today’s political climate, much discussion centers on whether a border wall should be built around the United States. While concerns about national security certainly are valid, equally valid a question would be how much of this fear of open borders is due to the fearful rhetoric and unknown about other cultures.  Maya Angelou perhaps said it best, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Succumbing to fear we tend to build up walls that section us from fruitful interactions with others.

From my own perspective, fear normally enters my life through uncertainty in my life. As a rationally oriented individual, I tend to dress up my illogical fears in the wrappings of “security” or “control”. Visiting the New Testament on the subject of being afraid, I discovered a better explanation. An increase in fear is directly linked to a decrease in my trust and obedience in God. According to 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” Fear drives all negative decisions. Fear of the unknown leads to doubt and anxiety.

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I am most nervous and afraid when I fail to take proper perspective of the trials that God allows to happen to me. American author Ralph Waldo Emerson pithily purported, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”  That certainly is true from my own experiences. The greatest fears, usually revolving around fear of failing at work, home, and school, involved a lack of complete information about the situation. I tend to stumble through the tangled branches and dark shadows cast by the specific ‘trees’ of my problems instead of raising my gaze to notice the beauty of the forest of my foibles.

French dramatist Jean Marie Lucien Pierre Anouilh  declared, “An ugly sight, a man who is afraid.” Fear prevents man from confidently standing up to gaze at the beauty around him even in the midst of suffering. Instead, paralyzed by fear, man turns towards selfish tendency in a twisted effort to flee from fear, confusion, and the unknown. Ultimately, this leads to an ugliness and seemingly endless pit that we are unable to climb out of our own power. Only by turning back to our Divine Father will we be able to be graced with a chance to overcome our fears and failings.

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Thanksgiving and wonder at the simple things in life equip us in the battle against fear. First, show gratitude to God by praying and perform a simple act of kindness to someone else. Second, repeat the first step as often as you can throughout the day. Third, take notice of the beauty around you–whether that be leaves falling from a tree, an airplane in the sky, animals in your neighborhood, or the smile of a person you meet. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to the truth.” Trusting in the truth–the truth of the Gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior– will cast out the doubts and fears from your life.


“Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid….And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (cf Matthew 28:10, 20)

St. Catherine of Sienna declared, “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear”

Muffins, Magic Words, and Maneuvering through Monday Maelstroms


Me: “Wake up kids! You can have muffins for breakfast once you get dressed.”

My daughter: [sitting up instantly with a grin on her face] Muffins! Yay!

Me: “Who knew I only had to say the magic word of ‘Muffin’ in order to get you to wake up”

My daughter: “Daddy, saying magic words always help me get up better!”


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This exchange took place at 6:32am today as I was getting my family ready to begin the week. Normally, Monday mornings, any day really, waking up my children is akin to prodding a hibernating bear—prodder beware! Happier and calmer children provided good momentum for me to start the week. According to C.S. Lewis, “I’m not sure God wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to love and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.”

While I may disagree with the first half of his statement, the latter part—of desiring us to love and be loved is spot on. Now, love involves sacrifice. Both my wife and I love to be prepared and organized. However, organization, especially with three young children, requires we sacrifice certain things in the short-term for the longer-term goal of having an even-keeled and lower stressed week. On Sunday, we sacrificed watching football and instead prepped our food for the week. The fruit of our labor paid off with that sweet exchange between my daughter and I had about the magic of muffins!

This got me thinking about other possible “magic” words to help stymie your work week stress that Monday’s inevitably throw at us.

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1. Pause: Working in a fast-paced job environment and the incredible hectic daily routine of getting three children ages 7 and under for school/daycare makes stopping to take a legitimate break next to impossible. Some weeks it feels like I underwent the stress equivalent of running a half-marathon when my kids are cranky—and it normally is not even 6:50am! As a result of the daily bustle, I learned of the importance to pause. Short and frequent breaks after a stressful situation comes in handy when trying to disarm Monday’s momentum  from developing into a morning maelstrom that drowns the rest of your day’s hopes away. Pause, pause, pause. Keep that magic word in mind.

2. Thank you: Together with breaks, nothing else takes the wind out of a chaotic stress-storm as much as gratitude.  Your mindset in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day [in some cases even the remainder of the week]. Genuine thankfulness stops negativity in its tracks. But it has to be genuine. Expected ‘thank yous’ in return is not the approach when demonstrating gratitude towards others or for the blessings in your life. G.K. Chesterton said it best, ““When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

3. Help: Closely tied to stopping to clear your mind and developing a thankful mentality is asking for help in times of stress. Sometimes out of pride I fail to ask for assistance from those in a position to help me in time of need. In the midst of a stressful situation, I lose sight that I am not alone in this world. Along with my family, friends, and co-workers, I have a God always willing and able to hear my plea for aid. According to St. Francis de Sales, “We shall steer safely through every storm so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God.”

Whether your week began with a flurry of frenzied customers, unexpected projects, screaming kids, or vehicle troubles please do not throw in the towel. Remember the magic words of: pause, thank you, and help! If you are a good baker, or know someone who is, be sure to make yourself pumpkin muffins for breakfast. I am sure they will be a hit if you have young children or simply a child at heart–unless you are allergic to pumpkin than bake banana-nut muffins!

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“Yet what I discovered is that when you put love first, not only does your life improve, but your work improves.” –Jennifer Fulwiler

5 Reasons to Jump for Joy—with Jump-roping!

The great American founding father Benjamin Franklin once said, “To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.” Well, I re-discovered a life-altering opportunity that I want to share with others—the joy of jump-roping!

Yes, you heard me right—my rediscovery of jump-roping infused joy into my weekend unexpectedly. Along with the clear health benefits and incredible low-cost to purchase this classic children’s toy, I found five reasons how jump-roping benefitted me [and can benefit you!]. In case you are interested in the various cardiovascular and other fitness provided by regular jump-roping please check out the following link: https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/benefits-jumping-rope-you-probably-dont-know.html

1. Time-saving: After only 7 minutes of jump-roping, I felt as if I ran a few miles. Frequent exercise through jump-roping for 3-4 twelve minutes sessions a week will be the equivalent to running several miles. Plus, you may enjoy the workout from the comfort of your living room, basement, or outside on the patio/lawn.

2. Nostalgic: The second reason why I found jump-roping profoundly jubilant and uplifting is due to the sentimental memories it stirred up. In elementary school, our third-fifth grade classes annually completed Jump Rope for Heart. Not only was this a good charity to raise donations and awareness for cardiovascular health, but I made amazing memories. Jumping rope in the gym with friends and playing games became an event I looked forward to and cherish those memories.

3. Versatility: Besides swimming, I cannot think of a more flexible exercise than jump-roping. Using the standard speed jump-rope promotes cardio-vascular health and increases one’s endurance for running. Along with excellent aerobic benefits, utilizing a weighted jump-rope helps to strength multiple muscle groups—legs, arms, and core. Finally, the portability of the jump-rope makes it an easy exercise tool to use at home or on the go!

4. Fun: Jump-roping allows for fast-paced and fun exercise. Enjoyable both by yourself or within a group—see following link for fun activities: https://www.todaysparent.com/family/activities/6-fun-ways-to-jump-rope/

5. Memory-building: The last point I wish to share with my re-discovery of the joy of jump-roping is that this can be an easy and simple summer activity to enjoy with your family and friends. I cannot wait until my children get to the age where I am able to share in this joy, count our jumps, try various jumping styles, and create joyful memories to last a lifetime!

Siphoning Sanctity? Reconciling Mark 5:21-43’s Peculiar Passage with Reality

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Having taught high school Old and New Testament in the past and being a cradle Catholic, the newness of the Good News found in the Bible sometimes gets taken for granted. During the Liturgy of the Word for Sunday’s Mass, the Gospel reading actually penetrated my theological torpor and liturgical listlessness. Mark 5:21-43 details two healing stories in one gospel proclamation. The evangelist began with a synagogue official named Jarius pleading to Jesus to save his daughter near death. On the way toward Jarius’ residence, Mark inserts a seemingly tangential telling of the woman afflicted with a hemorrhage for a dozen years! Jesus heals this poor woman and the passage concludes with Jesus raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead.

Reflecting on this passage the following questions invaded my mind:

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1. Why does Mark insert a seemingly random story within a healing story? Could he not simply detail the healing of the hemorrhaging woman after completing the passage on the healing of Jarius’ daughter?

2. Does this Gospel reading contain the strangest sentence uttered by Jesus: Who has touched my clothes? Is he not omniscient and all-knowing as God?

3. Power flowing from Jesus…what a peculiar way to describe the healing incident?

These questions initially perplexed me, however, when I had time to think about the passage and re-read the evangelist’s words, and interpret in light of the teaching of the Catholic Church I learned of the deeper more spiritual meaning hidden within Mark 5:21-43 and how it relates to my life today.

Christ Willing to Save All—Social Status does not matter

Sandwiched between the beginning and the end of the healing of Jarius’ daughter, Mark inserted Jesus’ encountered a woman suffering from a blood disorder. After careful review, I noticed the juxtaposition between the two individuals. Below is a chart that showing the differences in how Jarius’ daughter and the unnamed woman came to learn about Jesus.

 

Jarius’ Daughter Woman Suffering Hemorrhage
Young Older
Prestigious Family Poor
Father’s Intercedes Actively Passive Request for Healing
Saw Jesus Heard Jesus

John Paul II declared, “[O]nly in Christ do we find real love, and the fullness of life. And so I invite you today to look to Christ.” Certainly, Mark 5 demonstrates people who recognize the importance and power of Jesus.

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According the evangelist, “And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’” Obsessed with superheroes, I recently received Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game from my wife for Father’s Day. Along with my passion for this geeky deck-building game, I have rented a slew of comic books from the library as well. While my fandom seems random to the discussion of Mark’s Gospel I need to provide a little backdrop to my thought process after hearing the priest read Mark 5:30, the first thought that popped into my head, “I did not know that Rogue made an appearance. Sapping or draining of power is the hallmark of that X-Men character. Marvelously [no pun intended], merely grazing the cloak of Jesus provided the woman healing that eluded doctors many years.

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Joking aside, the healing power of Jesus is quite amazing. Previous consultation with doctors failed to ease the woman’s suffering. The passage that may be interrupted as a “power loss” of Jesus is not meant to infringe on his divine nature. On the contrary, Mark, like the other Synoptic Gospels, never dispute the divinity of Christ, he was utilizing language that his audience would be able to understand.

Jesus—Hope in Face of Despair:

Along with Jesus’ desire to save all humanity, regardless of social standing, Mark 5:21-43 focuses on hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. After healing the woman with a hemorrhage, Jesus arrived too late—at least that was what the crowd thought! Urging Jarius to accept his daughter’s fate the onlookers declared, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” Men of little faith and tenacity would have resigned themselves to start the grieving process, yet Jesus urged the synagogue official to not be afraid.

According to Saint Pope John XXII, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” From the onset of this Gospel reading Jarius actively sought the aid of Jesus and pleaded for the return of his daughter to life when all looked hopeless as she appeared to linger in the shadow of death. Below is a link to a story about Jesus providing miraculous healing to another young daughter—prematurely born!

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Uniqueness of the Individual:

A final thought that crossed my mind when reflecting on Mark 5:21-43 was that Jesus focuses on the present moment with grace, love, and resolve. Even on the way toward healing a prominent religious official’s child, Christ paused to listen to the needs of an ordinary, poor woman. Saint Mother Teresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” Do not worry about the past nor the future only concern about the need of God’s children in front of you.

This is exactly what Jesus did in Mark 5:25-34—noticing the presence of the sickly woman Christ stopped to show mercy the person in need at the present moment. As a father of three young children, my focus is frequently divided between juggling the various needs and adventures of my kids growing up. What I learned to devote my attention and time to the present moment and act with love instead of worrying about the various needs and whether it will be adequate or not. The genius of the Gospel message centers on the individual first. Siphoning sanctity cannot occur as love multiplies not divides when more and more individuals come into your life.

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Rocks, Monkey Socks, and Toy Cars—Joy Found on a Summer Morning!

“I love the simple things in life. They tend to get overlooked.” This anonymous quote captured the entire theme of a morning at my home last week. Waking up early, my children itched for an opportunity to play outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun before the humidity set in.  Almost immediately, they rushed to the edges of my backyard to collect and play with rocks.

My son and daughter definitely received their geological glee from me—for a period I seriously considered majoring in geology! Noticing the different colors, sizes, textures, and hardness of the stones captivate their attention. If left to their own devices my oldest children would remain outside for hours and bring inside cartons of rocks.

Along with my children’s joyful “jewel” collecting, their imagination was in full force as well. Albert Einstein once declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I most certainly need to pay more attention to my kids’ imaginative play as my thirst for knowledge has been stymieing my joy lately. The creative juices flowed greatly in the mind of my daughter. “Look dad!” she exclaimed, “Look at this. Taken aback at what I saw I asked, “What are you doing?” Proudly she exclaimed, “I am a monkey! Look at my monkey-socks!” Covering her feet were a pair of garden gloves I bought for her at the local home improvement store. Immediately, a grin spread across my face. Next, I just laughed—not a forced chuckle, but a natural, healthy and joyful guffaw!

The final thing that brought joy to me that summer morn was my youngest son’s continual love and obsession over his toy cars. Being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in late 2017, we discovered that his obsession and impulsive playing with toy cars is part of what makes him unique. Carrying a plastic vehicle at all the time provides him relief amidst daily stresses of toddler life and living with rambunctious siblings. No less than a couple hundred times do we hear our two-year old say, “A car, a toy car! Look a car!” His enthusiasm and unbridled joy at the simplicity of a toy car reminds me of a spectacular point G.K. Chesterton made in his masterpiece Orthodoxy. He stated,

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  

Repetition, work, and habits do not infringe on our ability to grow. On the contrary, finding joy in the simple matters of life and completing “monotonous” tasks regularly with joy instill true life in us. Days where I focus on my vocation as a husband and father with love are the days where my vocation does not turn into drudgery. The same is true when it comes to my daily work.

My dad displays this simplicity and adherence to his vocation as husband and father in an exceptional way. Rarely, did I hear him complain about his family duties. Weariness of parenting did not seen to wear on his face—at least from what I remember! In terms of spiritually living, my father is “younger” than myself in the sense that his obedience and joy in his vocation is anchored in the Pre-Existent God more deeply than my spiritual life is at currently!

I will leave you today with a few simple and profound quotes that I hope with awaken or sustain your spiritual life. I hope you discover the simple joy that children seem to naturally possess.

“What I know of the divine sciences and the Holy Scriptures, I have learned in woods and fields. I have no other masters than the beeches and the oaks.” —St. Bernard of Clairvaux

As St. Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary, He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves,’ but also ‘as wise as serpents.’ He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head.” —C.S. Lewis

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” —Greg Anderson, American author

Creativity—Thinking Inside the Box

Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell once said, “If everyone has to think outside the box, maybe it is the box that needs fixing.” The over-used mantra, “think outside the box” may be misleading to a naturally creative people or someone who struggles with perfectionism. The continual pursuit of one-upmanship in developing more creative and unique ideas can lead to an increase in stress. The great English poet T.S. Eliot declared, “Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.” Oftentimes, apprehension goes hand in hand during a creative endeavor that I am pursuing. Whether it be composing a blog post or writing an article for Catholicstand.com or determining the type of art I desire for the board game that I am developing, a dally exists within my mind.

In an effort to think outside the box, I forget to consider options/ideas that worked for me in the past. Instead of thinking beyond the “guidelines”, it may be helpful to reflect on creative ideas that worked previously. According to Anthony J. D’Angelo, “Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it!” My most successful posts actually involve the least amount of mental strain. Creativity comes naturally in writing such articles. Only in giving up my need for control and desire for absolute perfection do I experience the freedom of creativity—these writings also tend to appeal to a wider range of audience as well.

Trust in your natural abilities. With regard to your weaknesses rely on others for advice. I will make use of Gladwell’s insight again. He stated, “Success has to do with deliberate practice. Practice must be focused, determined, and in an environment where there’s feedback.” Creativity need not always be an anxious and exhausting endeavor. Thinking inside the box does not stymie creativity. In fact, in some cases revisiting the bounds of the box will lead to the recipe to replicate past creative ingenuity with greater ease and ability than thinking outside the box!

5 Matt Maher Songs that Help Develop Trust in God

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The great American poet  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow declared, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” Echoing this truth, U2 lead singer Bono said it this way, “Music can change the world because it can change people.” Over the course of my life, music played a pivotal role—throughout high school I participated in show choir, played in jazz band, and tried out for All-State Choir as well. In college, I even received a music scholarship and completed voice lessons during my four-year tenure. My favorite singer is Matt Maher. His positive and uplifting music soothes my soul.

Through periods of desolation and despair, Maher’s music sustained my trust in Divine Providence even when I did not feel God’s presence. Below are five songs I highly recommend you listen to for inspiration and a positive sustaining message of the Good News when tough times hit.

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  1. Firelight:  From the album Saints and Sinnners (2015) Maher’s Firelight provides a positive and upbeat message. Looking for a new song to incorporate into my weekly playlist the title intrigued me. Immediately, listening to this song I knew that this was a staple song for me to lean during periods of doubts. Below is a short excerpt of the lyrics along with a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kq3-OyRh3Zw

Dear Jesus where are you tonight
I bear a sadness deep inside
I’m aching for a faith in things I strain to feel
I need to know that you are real

 

2. Because He Lives: Coming from the same album as Firelight, Matt Maher’s Because He Lives offers a beautifully simple and consistent message of obedience to God. The word Amen occurs 19 times in this song. Translated into English as “so be it” amen conveys certitude and truth. In fact, amen is derived from the Hebrew āmēn, which means “certainty,” “truth,” and “verily.”  I highly suggest listening to this song as a way to provide a stable mantra of trusting in God.

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3. All the People Say Amen: Along with Because He Lives, the Catholic songwriter’s All the People Say Amen contains a strong theme about confidence in the Lord. This is the song that I probably listened to the most times over the course of my life. Often substituting the word babies for people I jovially danced with my children [and still do currently]. Much laughter and smiling ensue when this song plays in our household–plus the opening words remind us of the promise of Matthew 28:20.

You are not alone if you are lonely
When you feel afraid, you’re not the only
We are all the same in need of mercy
To be forgiven and be free
It’s all you got to lean on
But thank God it’s all you need

4. Hold Us Together: Published from the Alive Again (2009) album, this song always seemed fitting to listen to during stressful periods where I felt rushed and impatient. Right away the tempo calms your nerves and the refrain provides a much needed reminder during the onslaught of today’s go, go, go culture:

And love will hold us together
Make us a shelter to weather the storm
And I’ll be my brother’s keeper
So the whole world would know that we’re not alone

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5. Deliverer: I saved me favorite and from my experience the most powerful Matt Maher song for last. Deliverer came from the epic album Saints and Sinners (2015). Reeling from the losing our unborn child to a miscarriage I sunk into a deep despair. Feeling completely numb and detached from reality and on the brink of near apostasy to my Catholic faith, I hurried searched for YouTube for positive songs to ease my suffering as I wrote my lesson plans for the following week of high school classes that I taught. After listening to my standard playlist [this included the four previously mentioned Maher titles], I still suffered desolation.

Miraculously, his song Deliverer pulled up, randomly–or perhaps not so coincidentally, after one of his other songs. Something about the combination of the opening lyrics, beat, tone, and inflection of Maher’s voice infused hope into my heart, mind, and soul.  I hit the replay button immediately once Deliverer ended. I went on to listen no less than a 12 times that winter night. Here is a link to this incredibly powerful song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pb_DT0MhY0&list=RD2pb_DT0MhY0

For any of my readers that never heard of Matt Maher I strongly encourage you to listen to his music. He is a true disciple of Jesus Christ and the love of his fellow man shines through when you listen to his songs. I am thankful and praise God for the gift of music and the ability to listen to Matt Maher on a daily basis. I hope you find his music positive and uplifting as well!

I was a drifter, I had nowhere to go
I was hanging by threads of dust and bone
Every angel I knew was singing son come home
But the melody was hard to sing along

Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer

I was on trial for everything I did
And there’s no way I could make a stand and win
When you realize the verdict is already in
You let go of the brokenness within
Well there’s only One who can ever stand and win

Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us

And now I’m like a child at night
Who never has to think of why
We’re free to love and live and die
And there’s no need to justify
The sinner that’s inside of me
Has lost all his control of me

My God, from the flood and from the fire
You brought me out, I am alive
With a faith, just like a child
I’m not afraid, I’m running wild
For everything that will be done
I am yours and you are my
Deliverer

The One, the One who carries us
God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
God, You’re my deliverer

I was hanging by threads of dust and bone