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!

Containing Joy—Rainbow Baby After Miscarriage Maelstroms

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Life events such wedding your best friend, celebrating an anniversary, graduating school, overcoming major illnesses, and learning to overcome addictions normally lead a person to joy. Usually such cathartic experiences bring incredible joy—joy that cannot be contained! However, I am currently struggling to bring myself to seize the joy of the anticipate birth of my fourth child. Let me provide a little background to clarify my hesitancy.

Dating back to late 2017 and beginning of 2018, my wife and I lost two children due to miscarriage. Because of the previous loss, and the insane amount of pain associated with it, I conditioned my heart, mind, and soul to be cautious. In fact, I guarded my expectations to prevent possible pain of future loss so much that I am neutral, stoic, non-responsive to the current joy in my life!

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Sifting through writings, thoughts, and quotes about miscarriage I came across profound wisdom from the great C.S. Lewis,

If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing that she may still hope to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.

While I am not a mother, the Christian apologist’s words still pertain to me and my fatherhood [really any father who suffered the misfortune of having a child not survive pregnancy. A lot of my writings over the course of the year relate to my suffering, pain, distress, worry, and ultimate purgative experiences with miscarriage. Along with the pain and memory of hope dashed, I struggled mightily with letting my guard down to feel joy, to reacquaint myself with happiness of a birth announcement, and to re-orient myself toward hope.

According to Bishop Robert Barron in his book Catholicism, “We say something is beautiful—a face, a painting, a golf swing—when it hangs together as one (it has wholeness), when all of its parts work together in consonance (it has harmony), and when it shines forth as an archetype of what such a thing should be (it has radiance).” A family missing a member(s) cannot reflect the truth and power of the Holy Trinity. I sense that same is true for my family now.

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Gazing at my three children playing at the park and helping each other go up the various climbing apparatuses or going down the slides, I imagined a fourth playing. Difficult to describe this scene it occurred more in the inner recesses of my heart that actually a physical vision or daydream.   During my wife and I’s engagement we talked about being open to life, raising a larger family, and we both seemed to desire [at least open to the desire] for at least four children. I cannot quite fully articulate this desire into words expect that I believe God’s Providential plan is at work in my life.

I pray for continued support, strength, and opportunities to unleash the joy of the Gospel during our family’s time of anticipation and cautious yearning for a safe birth and delivery of our child!

 

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

Universal Antidote to Loneliness and Despair

Confusion, misunderstanding, strife, and conflict pervade our modern world. “Fake-news” recently become a moniker attached to popular United States media outlets. The human race seems to be more splintered and fractured now more than ever! Ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles declared this timeless truth, “Despair often breeds disease.” Viewing life from the singular optic of the self-perspective also leads to despair. I am most troubled and experienced hopelessness especially when my daily living is self-centered.

According to the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” In high school I used to listen to Green Day [not sure if this is a good thing to admit or not! :P] when I ran for cross country practice. The song Boulevard of Broken Dreams had a catchy beat and was always on the top of my playlist. Not fully reflecting on the meaning of the lyrics, in hindsight the words hint at a forlornness that is sadly all too familiar in the modern world:

I walk a lonely road

The only one that I have ever known

Don’t know where it goes

But it’s home to me, and I walk alone

I walk this empty street

On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Where the city sleeps

And I’m the only one, and I walk alone

Last week, I previously wrote about how hope fends off despair. Because of the incessant onslaught from our Adversary despair creeps into life each and every day! Being aware of our daily battle as humans and knowing our ultimate aim in this journey in life are excellent ways to help ward off despair.

Along with hope, being thankful daily is essential to combat devilish despair and pessimism. St. Gianna Beretta Molla spoke of gratitude in this way, “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” The days where I experience greater peace, joy, and contentment are the same days where I make a point to be thankful for the simple blessings. As a Catholic my faith life centers on the Eucharist. A few years ago, I discovered that the word Eucharist comes from the Latin Eucharisiai which translates as thanksgiving. The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life (CCC 1324).

Despair, worry, and anxiety sprung up on me suddenly several times this week. Usually it stems from hearing news that I perceived as bad, viewing it solely from my perspective, or possessing an entitled mindset. Giving myself a small five or ten minute break allowed me to reframe my mindset.

Reminding yourself to be thankful throughout the day is absolutely key to fending off despair and anguish. Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Times where I am angry or frustrated with my children or wife usually is not indicative of their behavior. Rather, it is an indictment on my attitude of ingratitude for the blessings that God bestowed on my daily. As a father, I need to be more thankful—promoting this mentality will flow to the rest of my family and create a culture of love and compassion.

We all come from different backgrounds, past, and family make-ups, but holds humanity together is our ability to be thankful daily! Let us start anew and don a thankful attitude to combat despair and loneliness.

“Gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature.” –Ven. Solanus Casey

The Simple Joy of Holiness: Reaction to GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE

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Jesus’ charge to his disciples in Matthew 5:48, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” His declaration formed the longstanding and consistent Catholic Church teaching that holiness is a universal call for everyone. Sainthood is not meant to be reserved for priests and nuns. St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, Lumen Gentium, and the writings of St. Josemaria Maria Escriva acted as watershed writings that helped me understanding the catholicity of holiness. Now, I have another work to add to this tremendous list—Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete Et Exsultate.

Maintaining the traditional claim that holiness for both laity and ordained alike, Francis communicates this message in a fresh manner that still adheres to traditional Catholic teaching.  Below are key points from the exhortation that stood out to me and believe echo important wisdom and truth for all.

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  1. Universal Call to Holiness: The pontiff’s aim in writing Gaudete Et Exsultate is clearly indicated from the beginning, “My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges, and opportunities” (#2). Pope Francis goes on to describe sanctity as a process that is available to all—referring to the need for “saints next door”. Salvation is a communal endeavor and not meant to compartmentalize individuals in isolation. The Argentinian pope declares, “In salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved along, as an isolated individual” (#6).

I am reminded by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring as the best fictional analogy for humanity’s journey towards holiness. Although Frodo is the primary ring-bearer he is surrounded by a cadre of helpmates in his journey to destroy the One Ring. In similar fashion, while you may be the primary character in your unique quest towards sanctity, God provides coworkers [your spouse, family, friends, and the saints] to assist.

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  1. Progressive Nature of Holiness: Along with sanctity involving a fellowship, the universal call to holiness involves a journey across the timeline of your life. Pope Francis states in Gaudete Et Exsultate #50, “Grace acts in history; ordinarily it takes hold of us and transforms us progressively.” In other words, it takes time to become a saint! Processes contain both blessings and challenges. On one hand, God mercifully affords humanity multiple opportunities to repent and seek his will. However, the journey of life sometimes becomes difficult and we oftentimes yearn for union with God in Heaven before our earthly affairs complete. The drudgery of life is exhausting and temptations of the world constantly allure and assault us. How may be combat these continual attacks? Communicate with the Holy Trinity. “Prayer is most precious, for it nourishes a daily commitment to love,” the Argentinian pontiff writes (#104).

 

  1. Realness of Holiness: Sainthood is not meant to be an ephemeral experience. Instead, holiness involves raw, concrete living with our neighbors’ best interests at heart. To quote St. John Paul II from his Apostolic Letter Novo Millenio Ineunte, “If we truly start out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified.” Jesus Christ advised us in Matthew 25:40 “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Pope Francis unabashedly stated, “If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an annoyance, an idler, an obstacle in my path, a troubling sight, a problem for politicians to sort out, or even a piece of refuse cluttering a public square” (Gaudete Et Exsultate, #98). How easily do we pigeonhole holiness within the walls of a church or within the realm of the Scriptures? Most of humanity work within the world and face opportunities to be charitable to others on an hourly basis.

Throughout the work week, I struggled mightily with anger and contempt towards co-workers who differed in their approach and willingness to assist customers in need. When I allowed anger to color my outlook on justice I don a metaphorical judge’s robe–such sentiment is not healthy for my spiritual well-being. After a frustrating day at work, I called my brother for support. His first reply upon hearing my concerns were, “Matt, are those people still children of God?” Humbly, I had to retracted a bit on my anger and cede to his point. “Yes, of course they are!” I emphatically admitted. This moment coupled with Pope Francis’ charge to be holy in everyday situations helped re-frame my mindset.

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 4. Surprise of Joy:  Together with realizing that holiness is meant to be a tangible experience with love of God and neighbor, Pope Francis reminded me that humor and joy are key components to holiness. He states, “Far from being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy,  or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humor.  Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit. The Christian life is ‘joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 14:17), for the ‘necessary result of the love of charity is joy; since every lover rejoices at being united to the beloved…the effect of charity is joy'” (Gaudete Et Exsultate, #122).

In the midst of seemingly harrowing situations saints wear the face of joy. Holy men and women unite themselves to the Holy Spirit through constant prayer and reliance on God.  Francis urges, “Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shadow, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy that ‘adapts and changes, but always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.’ That joy brings deep security, serene hope and a spiritual fulfillment that the world cannot understand or appreciate” (Gaudete Et Exsultate, #125).

The Lord desires us, his children, to be joyful and fulfilled in this life–and the next. Reading Gaudete Et Exsultate helped remind me that the simple joy of holiness is our ultimate aim in this reality. Sainthood is a calling for all–not the few– and it is possible, but it takes time and the grace of God!

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Finding Joy–My Accidental Discovery of St. Philip Neri

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The great Italian saint Philip Neri once declared, “We are not saints yet, but we, too, should beware. Uprightness and virtue do have their rewards, in self-respect and in respect from others, and it is easy to find ourselves aiming for the result rather than the cause. Let us aim for joy, rather than respectability. Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment, as the all-wise God sees us.” How easy it is for us to perform acts of charity in hopes of the reward? I struggled with this temptation recently– instead of serving others out of love of God and neighbor, I oftentimes think of the long-term benefits I may receive– the favor may be returned, customers act nicer towards me, work is lessened in the time-run, etc. Seeking the results the cause [as Philip Neri put it] leads to joylessness.

I started this blog bring joy into my life and into my readers lives as well. Pursuing my daily feed, I came across a post about the patron saint of joy–Philip Neri. His name and patronage stuck with me throughout the workday. “I need to learn more about this saint of joy!” I thought to myself driving back home from work. As soon as my wife went to bed, I google searched Philip Neri and discovered the along with being the patron saint of joy he is an advocate for humor and, interestingly enough, U.S. Special Forces! Please know that I will be incorporating more quotes, writings, and wisdom from St. Philip Neri over the rest of 2018. I am excited for this journey to deepen my relationship with God through the witness of Philip Neri this year. Below is the link to the article that I was referencing above:  https://aleteia.org/2018/04/03/want-to-be-more-joyful-pray-this-prayer-to-st-philip-neri/

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I will close with a prayer that incorporate into my spiritual arsenal [and I hope you do too!]:

Prayer to Saint Philip Neri  

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice! (Phil. 4:4)

O holy St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy, you who trusted Scripture’s promise that the Lord is always at hand and that we need not have anxiety about anything, in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows and lift the burdens from our hearts. We come to you as one whose heart swells with abundant love for God and all creation. Hear us, we pray, especially in this need (make your request here). Keep us safe through your loving intercession, and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, St. Philip, transform our lives and bring us peace. Amen.

Happy Autism Awareness Day!

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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.” 

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