A Close Encounter of the Whimsical Kind

“Laugh and grow strong,” St. Ignatius said; and to one of his novices, “I see you are always laughing, and I am glad of it.” Humor is a quality I don’t usually attribute to saints, let alone to God. Of all of my defects, perhaps my greatest involves being too serious. Sometimes, I let the stress of daily work and family life hinder my ability to laugh and enjoy life to the fullest. I have often written about how Wednesdays seem to be the highlight of my week. Please see my past articles for a brief history of encountering silliness in the middle of the week: https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/a-whimsical-wednesday-encounter-with-wonder/   and https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/another-whimsical-wednesday-encounter-with-wonder-at-the-pizzeria/   laughter_health_benefits_smiley_face.jpg

This Wednesday I experienced a whimsical and encounter with wonder yet again— this time through the simple joy of reading the Wizard of Oz to my daughter. Our journey to the magical land of Oz Began several weeks ago as I started to read a chapter from L. Frank Baum’s Book each night to my daughter. To quote Andrew Bernard from The Office, “I wish you had a way of knowing you were in the old of days before you left them.” I certainly had that sentiment as I cuddled with my 4 year old on the couch and told her the fantastical journey of Dorothy’s motley crew toward the Emerald City of Oz.

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Divine encounters always seem to occur in the most unlikely of places and manners. In the Old Testament, Moses encountered God in the guise of a burning bush. During the book of Acts, the Gentiles learned about God through the witness of Peter and the rest of the Apostles. My children as fruits of the sacrament of Matrimony—the tangible experience of God’s love and laughter in my life. Reading about Dorothy’s quest to see the Wonderful Wizard, I witnessed the delight of whimsy and wonder in my child’s eyes. Telling her about the cyclone, Kalidahs—hybrid bear-tiger creatures, yes these are actually a thing that the movie left– (maybe there is where the ♫ Lions, and Tigers, and Bears…oh my! ♫ came from Person Shrugging on Apple iOS 11.2),  and the encounter with the Witched Witch renewed my own spirit of wonder and awe.

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Saint Mother Therese spoke of laughter by saying, “Joy is the net of love by which we catch souls.” My whimsical encounter with wonder pulled me out of despair. Sometimes it takes the simple joys in life–in this case, reading to my child a classic book– to remind me that it is okay to laugh and possess hope during my pilgrim journey towards holiness. I need not always be austere in order to follow God’s plan of salvation. God wants us to enjoy the simple joys and wonders this world has to offer!

Praying with Paper Football

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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.

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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!

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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 with the Green Bay Packers out of the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2009 I felt left wanting more football to help keep the stresses of life at bay during the icy winter months.

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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!

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.” While I cannot guarantee my daughter will remember this simple and joyful experience of playing football paper—although I certainly hope she will learn to cherish this time—I am confident that the working of the Holy Spirit through the means of playtime with my daughter 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.

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Bonding over Backgammon

I am a board game super-fan. I own over 50 board games, 15 card games, and I am even in the process of completing a board game. I hope to have it published by my son’s next birthday! I am grateful I found a wife who shares my enthusiasm for board game as well. Over the past years, we have moved toward playing cooperative-based games such as Pandemic, Flashpoint, Police Precinct, and The Oregon Trail Card Game. The driving force toward this shift away from competitive play is that it is easier to adjust two-player cooperative games than creating a two-player version of Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride. Despite our focus on cooperative gaming, my wife and I have made it a habit to continue our summer tradition of playing backgammon. This summer we are playing a 100 point match that will last throughout the season. I wish to share my thoughts and excitement on this endeavor.

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1. Simple, Yet Complex: Backgammon is one the oldest board games in history. Dating as far back as 5,000 years archaeologists have found a board race game similar to backgammon in ancient Mesopotamia! The game’s simplicity is a major reason for its enduring success and popularity throughout history. Another reason I enjoy the game is that although it is a relatively simple game there exists some complexity in the various strategies a player may employ. Relatively recently, a doubling cube has been added to backgammon [mostly for gambling purposes] that enhances and adds depth to each individual game.

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2. Continuous Date Night: Starting in late June, my wife and I started a backgammon match that will conclude once the score of 100 is attained. Each individual game is valued at 1 or more points [depending on the circumstances, the severity of the winner’s victory, or whether the doubling die was used]. A benefit to us playing a game that contains miniature individual games over a long span of time is that our date nights have a feel of being one continuous date night. We have also grown closer as a couple through this leisure activity.

3. Variety: Along with creating continuity between date nights, our marathon summer backgammon match infuses some variety into each of our dates. Some games are quick and one-sided [like this week’s game where my wife backgammoned me and gained triple points for the win!] while other sessions are longer and suspenseful until the final dice roll. I am grateful I took up an interest in this traditional board game in 2009 and my spouse developed a similar fervor toward backgammon as well.

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An important thing I learned over my seven years of marriage is that couples need to set aside quality time together to bond and relax from the stresses of daily routine. We have found our own routine of playing board games after we put our children to sleep. I urge all marriage couples that read this post to reflect on the shared interests you have with your spouse and make it a priority to schedule time to engage in that unique activity. Sometimes grace and help come to us in interesting and fun forms—in my situation it is backgammon!