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

Harvesting Gifts—Reflections on the Parable of the Talents

Over the past couple months, I received several opportunities that I am incredibly thankful and humbled by to further develop my gift of writing—a chance to contribute for the ‘epic’ website [no pun intended] and as a content writer for the Sioux City Diocese Catholic Radio website. The timing truly could not be more fitting as August is normally the beginning of the harvest season for farmers and the fruits of labor arrive. On top of this seasonal serendipity, the Gospel reading for September 1st seemed appropriate as well. To begin the month, Jesus told his disciples [and us through the Church] the parable of the talents.

Basically the story goes where a man went on a trip and entrusted his servants to 10, 5, and 1 talents respectively. He expected them to grow and nurture these gifts when he returned. The individuals granted 10 and 5 talents honed and multiplied their gifts, whereas the third servant miserly buried his sole gift in fear of losing it. Praising the good stewards the master declared, “Well done, my faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy” (Matthew 25:21, 23). The miserly servant did not get the same generous reply. Instead, the master declared,

His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!* So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? 27Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? 28Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. 29* e For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30* And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’

1. Use Your God-given gifts for the benefit of others: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 791, The body’s unity does not do away with the diversity of its members: “In the building up of Christ’s Body there is engaged a diversity of members and functions. There is only one Spirit who, according to his own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives his different gifts for the welfare of the Church.” We are all endowed with a unique personality, unique soul, and unique gifts to help further the Kingdom of God here on earth and to promote peace and justice in the world as well. Be diligent to foster your gifts to share with others instead of selfishly squandering them away.

2. Do Not Fear Failure: St. Pope John Paul II once said, “There is no place for selfishness and no place for fear! Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice”. I have noticed that whenever I narrow my perspective towards selfishness instead of widening my scope of reality by trusting in God I tend to fear the unknown and fear failure. As a writer, this fear frequently hits me. The following thoughts invade my mind from time to time: “What if my topic I write about today is boring?” “I am concerned about getting writer’s block!” “I am just lazy today, I do not have the energy or motivation to write!”

Jesus teaches us in the Parable of the Talents to exercise our gifts, in spite the fear of failure. Succumbing to fear only leads down a desolate and destructive path!

3. Responsibility Leads to More Responsibility: The great English Prime Minister Winston Churchill proclaimed, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” Utilizing your God-given gifts provides not only an immense joy and a deepening of that charism, but also your responsibility increases as well. In the Parable of the Talents the master informed the responsible servants, “Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities” (Matthew 25:21). When we ask for help the Holy Spirit answered and grants us the ability, resolve, and grace to make it through difficulties utilize our gifts to help others!

Heavenly Lord, do not let us neglect Your Spirit or the gifts You have given us. Give us courage to use these gifts and the humility to not use them for our glory, but for You and Your glory. Help us see the good work You have ready for us and embrace that work with willingness and joy. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

5 Things to Sacrifice to Help Sanctify Your Domestic Church

No doubt you have all heard about the heinous news of the sexual abuse committed by Church leaders and silenced by their protectors for decades. Anger at this betrayal and breach of trust leads to sorrow and despair. It is natural to become pessimistic and lose hope. I am still stomaching this news as well, especially the allegations by Archbishop Vigona against the upper echelon of Church leadership that possibly reaches all the way to Rome! What is a simple lay person such as myself to do to affect change? How can I rid of corruption within the Church hierarchy? Seeing yourself as a small part in the overall picture of the Church can definitely be overwhelming. What has helped me [and this is something I need to continually remind myself of] is recognizing what exactly is within my realm of influence.

While I cannot travel to Rome, like St. Catherine of Siena did in the 14th century to fight papal corruption, I am able to influence and help my immediate church—my family. St. Pope John Paul II spoke of the importance of the family unit in this way in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, “Since the Creator of all things has established the conjugal partnership as the beginning and basis of human society,” the family is “the first and vital cell of society.”

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1666, “The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is rightly called ‘the domestic church,’ a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.” As father and husband, I am called to be a leader of my own family am able to bring my wife and children closer to Christ. I am able to raise [God-willing] responsible, charitable, and truth seeking Catholics to carry on the next generation of the Church. While ecclesial policies may be set in place to ensure that the sexual abuse does not happen again, I realize that I am not able to control those things. My primary function as a husband and father is to get my family to Heaven. In other words, I need to cooperate with God to help create saints!

The primary way to grow in holiness is through prayer. St. Alphonsus Liguori saliently spoke of the importance of prayer in this manner, “Were you to ask what are the means of overcoming temptations, I would answer: The first means is prayer; the second is prayer; the third is prayer; and you should you ask me a thousand times, I would repeat the same.” Today’s post discusses a topic closely related to prayer—fasting. Far from being a replacement to prayer, fasting help us deepen our relationship with God when it is united with a constant stream of prayer. Below are five things I pledge to sacrifice in the upcoming weeks that will help sanctify myself and my [AND YOUR] domestic Church.

1. Drink Only Water: I have previously wrote about my struggle against coffee addiction—especially Iced Mochas from Burger King.  Starting the first Friday of September—and every subsequent Friday in 2018, I pledge to abstain from all sugary drinks, and all drinks in general, save for water. This may seem like a simple sacrifice, but I struggled mightily with the sin of gluttony. My 2 year-old even talks about going to Burger King because I have purchased their coffee so often!

2. Jettison Junk Food: Along with being healthier for you and your family, getting rid of junk food from your meals will be an exercise in abstaining from worldly pleasures for the sake of growing in holiness. This wisdom is found as early as the Old Testament. According to Sirach 37:30-31, “for overeating brings sickness, and gluttony leads to nausea. Many have died of gluttony, but he who is careful to avoid it prolongs his life.” What is more tastiness of chips, candy, and other unhealthy food creates an unnatural and sometimes possible sinful attachment to food, not for the sake of alleviating hunger and surviving, but rather for pleasure’s sake. St. Paul spoke of the evils of gluttony as well, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19).

Start with one day of the week to limit eating junk food—you need not completely go cold turkey on junk food, this may lead to binging later down the road!

3. Shield Yourself from Your Screens: Man in the 21st century appears to be defined by the amount [and type] of “smart” device that he owns. Peering at a computer screen seems unavoidable. Most jobs demand it. Furthermore, when we get home the television screen, tablets, and our cellular devices surround us as well. According to a 2018 study (, the average cell phone user checks their device on average 2,617 times a day! Yes, you read that right—2,617 times a day!!! Even as I compose this blog post, I am staring at a computer screen. Oh, how I wish I have a team of scribes to pen my posts for me—but that would be probably considered a hostile work environment by today’s standards as fingers would cramp up just from writing with a pen and paper!

4. Careen Complaints: American author Maya Angelou declared, “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.” I certainly could have taken this advice last week. During my struggles both at work and home, I am ashamed to admit that I gave into negativity. I did not simply allow negativity to enter into my life, I was conquered by complaining. I complained over large problems and small.

In light of the recent Church scandals, I gained a perspective that my grumbles truly are minor. I really need to man up and focus on being more grateful. The Apostle of James wrote in his epistle about the power [and dangers] of the tongue,

The tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. 6The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:5-8).

While human beings lack the natural ability to eliminate the evils flowing from the tongue [complaints, gossip, malevolent words to name a few], hope should not all be lost. God grants man the supernatural graces to overcome the natural tendency to complain. Prayer and fasting will aid in this battle.

5. Drink Only Water: Along with my original pledge to fast from all liquids except water on Fridays, I hope to eventually expand this sacrifice to at least another day(s) of the week. Please pray for me for the resolve to withstand the Burger King blandishments!

Growing and nurturing your faith and your family’s faith through prayer and fasting will be an antidote to the Church’s larger issues. If you feel helpless and afraid of the cancerous effects of this recent sexual scandal please do not give up hope. In the words of Bishop Robert Barron, “Now is not the time to leave the Church, it is the time to fight for the Church!” Ask the Holy Spirit to give your strength to battle Satan with the weapons of sacrifice and prayer. Remember, we are all in this fight together.

“As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  –Joshua 24:15