Last week the editor of Franciscan Media informed me that my article about raising special needs kids in the Catholic faith is going to be the cover story for the May 2023 issue.
I’m not crying my eyes are just leaking a bit of joy and gratitude. 🙂🙏
Having an article published on a prominent Catholic magazine has been a dream of mine for some time. It has been almost a decade in the making. Below is a brief glimpse regarding the lead-up to the fruit of my work and the entrustment of my writing to God.
2015 was a rough year for me as I lost a job and struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts in the aftermath of losing my unborn son Jeremiah to miscarriage.
I remember telling my wife some night in June that year, “I just want something good to happen in my life.” Obviously, she and my older two kids were good things and so were my friends, but grief hinders one’s ability to have perspective at times. I was still quite angry with God for allowing us to lose a child.
Less than a week after my “wish/lament” we found out we were pregnant with Josiah. His name means “healer” but I didn’t have that as a reason for picking the name. In hindsight, I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to pick Josiah as my son’s name.
He was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2017. This led to many challenges but also immeasurable joys. Josiah has been a source of inspiration for some of my best articles and he helped heal me (and still melts my hardened, and rehardened, heart).
God does work in mysterious ways and he does use all things for the good (cf. Romans 8:28).
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on June 13, 2015.
Yesterday, I encountered God and reflected on his majesty during three rather sprightly activities: lifting weights at my local fitness center, reminiscence of my childhood through classic youth books, and playing a game of cornhole toss in my basement with my toddlers.
Encountering God through Exercise
After eating breakfast, I went to my local fitness center to do my daily 45 minute exercise routine. Since Thursdays are chest/back exercise-days I bench-pressed. I have been lifting consistently for a while and I started to notice that I improved on my weight goals. Great. But how does this relate to God?
Well, a motivational quote posted on the mirror in the weight room stated, “If it does not challenge you, it won’t change you!” This means that if I want to get stronger I have to increase the amount of weight I lift. From the eyes of faith I interpreted this as “While God is everlasting and eternal, he sent his Son in the world to give us a path to change humanity for the better. This is known as the way, the truth, and the life and it is preached by the Catholic Church.” Just as reaching a weightlifting goal is challenging, so too, living a life of love and forgiveness is challenging.
Discovering the Creativity of God in Books
Secondly, I noticed the creativity of God during my time of scanning through classic books I purchased from a local used book store. Authors like Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Jerry Spinelli were just some of the many writers that I recalled from my childhood as I peered over the yellow-paged, but still nicely preserved copies of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Ramona Qumiby, and Maniac Magee. Here I realized that the genius of these mere human writers pale in comparison to the Author of the Universe–who composes each and every one of our stories. Nevertheless, it is through human ingenuity that God can be glorified.
God did inspire human authors to write out his love story to humanity and that collection of books would be canonized as the Bible. In other words, the brilliant human mind–in this case, I noticed it in children’s book authors– is a reflection of the creativity found most perfectly in God. Genesis 1:1-2 states, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters”. A more literal translation Genesis 1:2 has the “might wind” rendered as the “spirit of God”. This matters because the creative power of God the Holy Spirit has in fashioning the universe in 6 days [stages]. I refer to this passage because the first biblical image of God, as creator, highlights his creative energy.
Finding Joy in a Lawn Game
My third and final example of how I encountered God through play this Thursday occurred during my afternoon cornhole toss game with my children. For my readers that live outside of the Midwest, cornhole toss is lawn game with a objective similar to horseshoes– one must throw an item to score points. In this case, there is two inclined wooden boards with a circle in the top. The boards are placed 20 feet away from each other and two teams compete at trying to reach 21 points by tossing beanbags either onto the board itself of into the hole. That is the game in a nutshell. If you want more information I check out the American Cornhole Association’s website [yes this is a thing and the website is AWESOME].
To get back on track, cornhole toss is a remarkably simple activity and people of all ages can play. While playing this game with my children I realized that there is a certain type of beauty to cornhole toss–that although is is an incredibly simple game I could play it for hours and still be captivated. Analogously, God is a simple being do the fact of his remarkable unity and oneness. God is not composed of multiple deities but rather simply one Lord over the whole universe. Like cornhole toss, I can contemplate the beauty of God for hours on end.
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on January 13, 2019.
The legendary Italian artist Michelangelo once purported, “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.” I once traveled overseas on a college trip around Europe. One of the stops our tour group was in Rome. Seeing Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel certainly allowed me to encounter the mysterious and awesome presence of God. My sublime experience in Rome lasted only a few minutes and occurred over a decade ago. I am extremely grateful to have seen with my own eyes one of the greatest and most beautiful works of art in all of human history.
Fast-forward ten years and a lot has changed in my life: I am married with four children, and in the workforce. While life brought me many struggles since that moment in Italy, my Catholic faith is stronger and more real because of those trials. Throughout much of 2018 I wrote frequently about my wife and I’s struggle with despair, loneliness, and sadness at the loss of our unborn children. Losing a child, you never could hold takes an indescribable toll on a person’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
A Christmas Miracle Child
This Christmas season our family was blessed with the healthy birth of our daughter. From the onset of the pregnancy complications developed. God interceded and saved our daughter from being miscarried. He accomplished it through the power of prayer and healing graces of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Our parish priest administered this sacrament to my wife. In my post, Containing Joy—Rainbow Baby After Miscarriage Maelstroms – The Simple Catholic, I talk about the struggle be joyous throughout the pregnancy. Hope always permeated our thoughts, but we tempered our joy just in case our daughter did not make it to term.
God’s Peace in the Pain
After my wife’s contractions got frequent enough for the delivery doctor and nurses to arrive, a calming presence overcame me as I gazed into my wife’s eyes between her painful contractions. An otherworldly peace entered that delivery room. Joy, peace, and confidence radiated from my wife’s eyes in the moments before our daughter was born.
Skeptics may doubt Divine Providence had anything to do with our experience in the delivery room. All I can speak of is my experience and that was an encounter with a reality, call it what you will, whose origin is not of this earthly existence. Long anticipation of seeing, hearing, and holding our daughter seemed to have time at a standstill those short minutes before the arrival of Avila.
Bishop Robert Barron once stated, “Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to the truth.” Our joy-filled yet anxious laden pregnancy delivery began with the beautiful―the news of the conception of our daughter. That beautiful news led to the good. Good through the form of good friends, family, and priests praying for us on this 9-month journey.
Finally, the good of fellowship and prayer led my wife and I to the truth― this reality is not the sole mode of existence. The God who is above humanity’s total and complete comprehension decided to reveal himself in the material world. God became man in the person of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in Bethlehem, and I had the privilege of encountering the peace of the Holy Spirit that early morn in the hospital room before and during the birth of my daughter!
“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 4, 2018.
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.
Random or Intentional Detail in the Gospel of Mark?
On the way toward Jarius’ residence, Mark inserts a random tangent. He tells 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:
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?
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?
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.
Woman Suffering Hemorrhage
Father’s Intercedes Actively
Passive Request for Healing
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.
Encountering the Power of God
According to 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 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 healed the woman right away.
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
Mark 5:21-43 also 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!
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. He noticed the presence of the sickly woman. And Christ stopped to show mercy the person in need at the present moment.
As a father of four 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.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 28, 2019.
According to C.S. Lewis, “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” Recently, my faith has been lacking so I was missing the miniature and miraculous letters forming a story before my own eyes. I have previously written about my family’s journey of finding out our youngest son, Josiah, has autism spectrum disorder, but I will provide a short recap for any new readers.
Josiah’s Journey [So Far]
In the summer of 2017, my wife and I noticed our son struggled to make sounds and form words. Because Josiah could not communicate with us he started to bang his head on the ground when he got frustrated. This habit became so bad that we were basically homebound unless both my wife and I were off work at the same time. On good days we could only take our son out for one errand as any transition proved too overwhelming for him.
We knew something had to change—he had to get better help then what we could offer at the time. In December 2017, Josiah was evaluated and diagnosed with autism. We enrolled him in a birth to three program offered by the city. He received speech, occupational, and development therapy. Eventually, his speech therapy was increased to weekly hour long sessions. It took a lot of time, focus, and diligence, but with consistent therapy with professionals and reinforced at home Josiah made tremendous gains. He was able to learn to talk and show us his needs for water, food, a preferred toy, and diaper changes. This summer he said his first 10+ word sentence!
Power of Words
Over the weekend, Josiah hit another milestone goal—telling me his full name and recognizing the letters to his first name. As I was in the playroom getting him dressed, Josiah pointed at the letters on the wall. For each kid, my wife and I hung their names in wooden letters in their rooms. We recently moved Josiah into the older kids room so the wooden letters remained in the “new playroom” (formerly Josiah’s room). Our exchange centered around those letters:
Me: “Yes, Josiah that is your name on the wall. What letter is that [pointing to the ‘J’]?”
Josiah: “J, O, S, I, A, H!”
Me: “And what is your name?”
Josiah: “Jo-sia-ah, Fabian, Sha-qin [Chicoine]!”
Practice Makes Progress
Some people have told my wife, “Aren’t you hoping that scientists find a cure for autism? Then you won’t have to waste all the time doing therapy.” This is the wrong thing to say to a parent of children with autism. Thankfully, my wife is quite professional and always tactful otherwise a vicious verbal exchange may have ensued. Autism is not something to be cured. Instead, it is something to be explored. Different does not mean diseased. Unfortunately, people naturally fear the unknown and sometimes treat it with disdain.
The reason I continue writing daily and sharing my thoughts is because I want to provide hope, perspective, and joy to families and individuals going through similar situations. Our world does not readily accept differences. I want to be a help change that. I want to bring tangibility and reality as to how autism looks in our little boy.
The Gift of Healing
Before he was born, I struggled mightily with depression. Our previous pregnancy due to miscarriage. We named our unborn child Jeremiah. Josiah proved to be God’s healing gift to us. His name literally means “healer”. All our triumphs are intricately tied to our struggles, doubts, fears, and worries parenting Josiah. We all have a cross to bear. Our cross is not more difficult than most people’s. It is merely different. Josiah’s smile and giggles are infectious. Hearing him tell me his name meant everything in during that moment in the playroom.
Do you have special needs or have a family member with special needs? I would love to hear your story. Please feel free to share in the comments.
Miracles do happen we just are too busy to see them sometimes. Our son’s special needs forces me to slow down and view the world differently. I am thankful that I embraced that change of pace this past Sunday. I pray for the strength and humility to be more willing and ready to learn from my son in the future!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 5, 2018.
Albert Einstein once stated, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Simplicity is an attractive quality. I experienced simplicity in a unique and seemingly ordinary way—through a game of paper football with my 4 year-old daughter!
Too often I strive for the complexities in life—whether that be in solving difficult problems or seeking joy in extraordinary things. Technology is also a double-edged sword, its purpose is to simplify human life, however, because of the explosion of technology in the 21st century we face a digital deluge—I feel the daily pressure [that I impose on myself] to constantly check my social media and blogging sites.
Why do I inflict such frivolous constraints upon myself? What do I need to prove by keeping up with the trending blogger scene and marketing on various social media platforms? Will my family love me any less if I fail to hit my target goals for views and monthly posts? Certainly not! My struggle is that I tend to implement false activity to mask my slothful tendency.
Raising children—especially children who recently suffered continual fevers—takes a toll on a person. The daily grind of parenting wears on a father, mentally, physically, and spiritually. While I strive to live a virtuous life, I fail, and fail often as a father. Love for my children is replaced by a mindset of viewing children being burdensome. When that occurs the seed of sloth blossoms into a tree of acedia!
Paper Football and Prayer
The Holy Spirit conferred graces to help me withstand and eliminate my slothful nature through the simplicity of a paper football game. Triangular paper footballs are becoming common in our home. I recently renewed interest in the classic middle school table-top game. Football is my favorite sport to watch. And I always enjoy football to help keep the stresses of life at bay during the icy winter months.
Having to stay home [YET AGAIN—at this rate I may be burned completely out of my PTO before spring 🙁 ) with my children because of low-grade fevers, unbeknownst to me a fantastic, yet simple encounter with love. After dishing out a bowl of cereal for my daughter, I sat at the kitchen table with her. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the paper football and flicked the triangular toy across the table. This simple gesture turned into several minutes of laughter and great fun!
Find Joy in Play
St. Mother Teresa speaks of joy in this way, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” I’m not sure if my daughter will remember this simple and joyful experience of playing football paper. I’m confident this memory will stay with me forever. Both the Holy Spirit and my daughter taught me that play and prayer do not have to be mutually exclusive, instead God intends to use all types of interactions to draw us closer knowledge and love of Him.