As many of you know my son Luke is autistic. When he was a kid, he brought much joy as well as significant heartache in the midst of his diagnosis.…Finding Joy: Autism and COVID
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 22, 2017.
One of the more interesting and exciting days of the month for my children is the day our monthly Amazon prime orders of diapers arrive. There is an inherent excitement in their eyes at the knock of the FedEx delivery on our front door. What truly enlivens my children is not the package of diapers themselves. Rather, the cardboard delivery box itself invokes joy. I can only use mine and my wife’s experience to draw on. Nevertheless, I will contend that one of the only thing a person is certain on in this life [along with taxes and death] is that children love cardboard boxes!
Today, I want to share my observations about the creative joy that my children found, and continue, to find in the seemingly mundane realities of cardboard boxes and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.
Note: For more fun ideas with cardboard boxes check out the links under the Resources section of this post!
The first step towards my children’s goal of transforming our home into a furry zoo was to acquire a cadre of little stuffed animals. One of the blessing my son has with his autism is the ability to hyper-focus on certain subject and quickly learn about the topic.
Passing by the golden arches on a Saturday morning errand drive, my children’s stomachs started to take control. As a result, my wife and I decided to get them Happy Meals. Immediately seeing his stuffed lion, my son knew he wanted more animals for his collection. Koalas, elephants, bulls, seals, moose, and a jaguar eventually picked up residence with the lion at our home. I think we almost have the entire animal collection. Our furry zoo assembled!
Stage second began when my son took a cardboard box and started putting grass, rocks and rhubarb leaves into it. That coupled with his keen interest in animals and daily watching of an educational animal show on PBS and bringing his zoo-themed books to bed allowed my children to learn more about animal habitats. While this stage is technically never over, my kids gather enough information where the single cardboard box was not enough for their animals. Now they want separate zoo habitats for each kind of stuffed animal.
Earlier this week I noticed a careened cardboard box at the bottom of our basement stairway. My OCD tendencies involve making sure all recycled materials go into our recycling bin as soon as possible. As I was bringing the cardboard box out the door to our recycling bin, my wife stopped me in my tracks. This box was for our kids’ animal biomes. My actions almost proved fatal to our furry friends’ way of life!
Thank God for my wife’s quick thinking. We acquired two additional smaller cardboard boxes from another online order yesterday. As soon as my kids saw the boxes they immediately gathered their entire miniature stuffed animal collection. Imagination ensued as I heard lots of laughter and animal sounds coming from their room. We hope to decorate the boxed biomes with crayons, pictures, and other art supplies to create greater habitat diversity.
It is truly the simple things in life that elicit authentic joy. Seeing the enthusiasm in my children at the arrival of mere cardboard boxes reinvigorates my outlook on life. I need to be reminded sometimes that life is too fleeting for me to take things so seriously. Joy may be encountered in simple, daily, and normal activities. I am grateful to view joy through the lens of my children. I hope you stop and examine the world around you and experience the joy among you!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 11, 2019.
According to the American author Mark Twain, “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” His words definitely rang true this morning. As I rushed to get my kids’ backpacks and lunches ready, my 5 year-old daughter tugged on my jacket and asked, “Daddy! Can I take this [to school] for sharing day?!” Looking down I noticed a leather-bound book adorned with gold leafed pages—it was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit!
Normally, I would be hesitant to allow my precious books to leave the bookshelf without under my protection, especially a classic. Something, a feeling, an inkling, beyond my own power provoked me to let her keep the book for the day.
Letting go of control is not easy for me. This is particularly true when it comes to items dear to me. Releasing control led to a sudden deluge of joy. Excitement brimmed up inside me. Seeing the twinkle in my daughter eyes as she hugged The Hobbit tight simply was amazing. It was also quite unexpected—much like the Unexpected Journey of Bilbo in Middle Earth!
The first requirement for discovering joy is to be among others. After dropping the kids off at school, I wondered, “How else can I find joy? I love this experience and want to share it others.” Joy became my focus for the remainder of the day. While not an exhaustive list, I found three incredibly SIMPLE ways to find joy in your life!
A natural fruit of thankfulness is joy. Harboring a thankful mindset provides stability amid life’s storms, but also gives blossom to delight. I recently came across a post on social media that lamented the “forced gratitude” of Teacher Appreciation Week.
As a Catholic my sentiment towards gratitude is that it is our central mission, the thing we value more than anything else. In fact, the source and summit of the Christian life—the Eucharist literally translates to mean “thanksgiving.” Just because you are not “compelled” or have to thank a teacher this week does not mean that you shouldn’t. More thanksgiving, freely done, only brings joy!
St. Paul recognizes this truth in Galatians 5:22-23. I do not believe it is a coincidence that the ordering of the gifts of the Holy Spirit have joy preceded by love. Where do we most show God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) love? By participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—the prime event of thanksgiving!
Be on the Lookout
G.K. Chesterton captured the essence of joy best as he wrote, “Surprise is the secret of joy”. Joy is not something we can produce from our own willpower. The example I mentioned earlier occurred unexpectedly. Normally, sudden events do not sit well with me. I like to be in control! Being prepared for things helps lead to peace—it decreases angst. While peace is a good goal, joy is an even greater good! Actively looking for joy does not work. I have tried and failed. Every. Single. Time.
As a gift of the Holy Spirit, joy cannot be produced by our active works. I often struggle with a restlessness—a strong urge to keep moving, never sitting still, or slowing my mind. Since Good Friday, my family and I have sung the Chaplet of Divine Mercy nightly. The first fruit of this prayer I noticed was peace. Only recently did I also begin to notice moments of joy breaking into my life. According to St. John Paul II,
Christ remains primary in your life only when he enjoys the first place in your mind and heart. Thus you must continuously unite yourself to him in prayer…. Without prayer there can be no joy, no hope, and no peace. For prayer is what keeps us in touch with Christ.
Prayer helped stabilize me. On my own I cannot run fast even to capture joy. Slowly down allows joyous moments to catch me. You too can wait for joy—be on the lookout, instead of rushing to and fro frantically!
Recognizing Your Place in Creation
Along with thanksgiving and waiting patiently for joy, recognizing my place in the universe, not only humbles me, but fosters me foster joyful moments. Every week Catholics profess our core beliefs at Mass with the Nicene Creed. In the first tenet, we remind ourselves: I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. We are creatures, NOT THE CREATOR.
This takes humility to recognize what you are not. I am not the composer of my story. The Divine Author formed me uniquely—and you uniquely too! Reminding myself of my place in creation helps foster a proper attitude to receive joy.
Be open to the unexpected. Let the Holy Spirit into your life. Ask for the gift of joy, give thanks always, and remember God is your Creator. If you practice these three simple things do not be surprised to discover joy—it might be sooner than you realize!
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The secret to joy & the closest thing to finding peace daily is something people talk about but aren’t consistently doing…
Gratitude is our oxygen
Be grateful. In all things. Literally everything.
Common objection to this claim:
“But you don’t know what I’ve been through. The horrors I faced & currently face.”
Your 100% right. I may not know your situation. Nor even be capable of fathoming it.
However, I have faced hell. 2014 was that year for me.
We wife and I lost our unborn baby Jeremiah due to miscarriage—four hours before his death I heard his heartbeat 💓 . Saw it on an ultrasound.
The horror is loss took my wife by storm immediately.
Me? It poisoned me and slowly I lost my hope. I was on the brink of giving up—at everything.
My faith helped me through it, but I am not completely healed—nor ever will be healed fully.
Be thankful in everything. Matt, are you thankful for losing your son?
It took me several years to get to this point and I would have to say—yes I am grateful.
Loss transforms you
Without that loss I would never be the man I am today. We would never have our son Josiah—whose name actually translates as healer (I didn’t intend for that connection).
I want to let you know that you will survive your firestorm. Ask the Holy Spirit for deliverance daily. It won’t be easy, but God will sustain you.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 3rd, 2018.
Are you feeling sluggish? Groggy? Quick-tempered? Do you struggle to move on from a trying situation despite your best efforts?
If you answered yes to at least one of the questions, or even all of them, please know that you are not alone! I often struggle with keeping up in an ever-changing work-place and quickening of life in general. I struggle to handle difficult and frustrating situations with grace and patience. What is the solution?
Experts, educators, doctors, psychologists, and scientist provide a panoply of tips and methods to improve people who suffer from anxiety and feelings of constant lack of energy. My goal today is not to replace or compete with any of those already tried and true methods. Instead, I want to share my personal experience living with and dealing with ADHD and anxiety.
Although ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, it sort of is a misnomer—people with this diagnosis do not always fail to pay attention. Rather, I go through periods where I actually hyper-focus. What this means is that I tend to fixate or zoom-in on a particular subject/hobby that I am passionate about. When this happens I tend to lost sight of things happening around me—my wife or children asking me a question or other perspectives at work.
Shifting my focus to and from various things in the day is tough for me, but I discovered a few strategies that help me form a habit to more agilely more from task to task throughout the day. The advice below comes from things that worked for me personally to limit my anxiety and increase my ability to move from trying situations easier and more positively.
Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry
Saint Padre Pio, a 20th century mystic and stigmatist, was a man whose powerful presence captivated a multitude of people. “Pray, hope, and don’t worry,” he exclaimed. When I first heard this statement in high school, I always thought it was a pious saying that overly religious people told you when things got tough. Certainly, I did not believe praying, hoping, and simply not worrying actually had a basis in reality.
After nearly a decade of being a parent, I learned about the power of prayer. Hoping even amid a seemingly hopeless situation is effective. The last part of DO NOT WORRY is a part that I struggle with mightily, but at least I am aware of my deficiency. Padre Pio continues to provide comfort to me. He reminded me the importance of the presence of God even when you cannot feel it,
Jesus is with you even when you don’t feel His presence. He is never so close to you as He is during your spiritual battles. He is always there, close to you, encouraging you to fight your battle courageously. He is there to ward off the enemy’s blows so that you may not be hurt.
Remind Yourself to be Thankful
Equally important as praying is reminding yourself to be thankful. In fact, among the most common prayer is that of gratitude for the blessings in one’s life.
Forming a habit of shifting my mindset to reflecting on the blessings in my life took time and work. Ultimately, this habit has paid off! I found a direct correlation with the frequency of thankful thoughts with my ability to more quickly navigate between stressful situation.
Former NFL quarterback and devout Christian Tim Tebow spoke of thanksgiving in this way, “I pray to start my day and finish it in prayer. I’m just thankful for everything, all the blessings in my life, trying to stay that way. I think that’s the best way to start your day and finish your day. It keeps everything in perspective.”
As someone with diagnosed ADHD, I struggle with honing in on the trees of the forest instead of stepping away to notice the beauty of the forest [or life] as a whole. Jotting down a few of my blessings everyday on a Post-It note is an easy way for me to daily remind myself to continue an attitude of gratitude.
Exercise with Exorcise Your Personal Demons
My favorite philosopher Aristotle [sorry Plato!] wrote about the importance of developing a regular routine, “Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” Along with filling myself spiritually and emotionally with prayer and a thankful mindset, frequent exercise combats my inner demons of impatience and anger that get pent up after a stress-filled day at work and home.
Running calms my mind and provides me energy. St. Paul uses the analogy of running frequently in his letters, but among my favorite quotes comes from 1 Corinthians 9:26 when he writes, “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly.”
Jogging intermittently or aimlessly does me no good in the long run. Frequent jogs at least three times a week for 2-3 miles provide me the best defense against my personal vices of anger, bitterness, impatience, and judgmental thoughts.
After a fulfilling 5k, I almost immediately experience a sense of joy and relief. Any lingering anxiety from earlier in the day disappeared. Focusing on a landmark or sign throughout my jog helps motivate me to push past any exhaustion or temptation to take a break.
Forming a healthy habit of prayer, thanksgiving, and exercise [mental and physical] will not happen overnight. The key is to acknowledge your progress and pick yourself up when you fall—believe me falling and failing is guaranteed. Good habits take time. Practice makes progress. Soon you will be able to encounter a difficult situation and more easily able to overcome.
🔷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 my son.
🔷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.”
🧡 My faith has been lacking lately. This resulted in me so I was missing the miniature and miraculous letters forming a story before my own eyes.
🔷Ordinary developmental milestones I see as miracles for my three year old. We did not know if he would ever be able to talk.
🧡Recently, he said his full name for the first time ever!
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, Fa-ee-in [Fabian], Sha-qin [Chicoine]!”
✨Miracles happen all the time we just need to slow down.
✨Have you ever experienced an ordinary miracle? If so, share your experience(s) I the comments.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 19th, 2017
My wife and I stood outside surrounded by our family and close friends at the local Catholic cemetery. It was a cool November afternoon. Gray clouds lined the sky and appeared to be about ready to burst at any moment. The priest from our parish recited the funeral rite.
Throughout this process, my wife and I simply existed. I did not truly take in the meaning or fully process the prayers uttered by Fr. John. Instead, the world seemed to have frozen in silence—a horrific silence.
We lost our unborn son Jeremiah.
The event of our miscarriage immediately effected and crippled my wife. For me, despair and desolation did not actually set in until several months later. I spiraled into a deep depression. Wrestled over the belief in a good and generous God. Doubted my Creator’s providence and presence. Hope seemed futile.
Moment of Transformation
Fast forward almost 2 years; this event has been without question the turning point of my life [so far]! According to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Since the death of our son, his namesake’s words hit much closer to home. What I have come to realize is that St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose” is not a pious clique.
There exists actual weight, real impact, and tangibility to his words. Let me explain. Yesterday, I had a day off from work. I decided to take my three kids to Jeremiah’s grave-site and place flowers on the grave. Before we left for the store, I was trying to wear out the children so they would not be too hyper at the cemetery. I made some paper airplanes for my son and daughter to toss.
Comfort Comes Unexpectedly
Along with making paper airplanes, my son wanted to color on the extra paper. I gave him the closest pen I could find. Soon into the process of drawing, he asked me how to spell three words. I was thinking, “Good, at least he is sitting down and this coloring is keeping him preoccupied. He’s thinking about school since he wants to learn to spell.”
It was not until we were traveling in the car after purchasing the flowers that my son’s true plan came to light. “Daddy, could we please get a little bag to put this book I made for Jeremiah into. I don’t want it to get wet” [it was starting to rain at this point], he said. I was floored by his reply. He actually took what I said to heart and sacrificed play time to make something for his unborn brother.
That was probably my proudest moment as a parent. What I have learned in the past two years is that God works all things for the good through the Sacrament of Time! Below are two ways I learned about this ordinary and sometimes forgotten gift from God.
Time Exists to Show Mercy
According to Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, in his work Time, “We must restore our spiritual sanity. One giant step in that direction is to think truly about time.” He goes on to talk about time existing within prayer as opposed to prayer existing in time. Prayer is communication with God.
Kreeft is saying that time should be viewed under the lens of communication with the Divine. “Prayer determines and changes and miraculously multiplies time…prayer multiplies time only if and when we sacrifice our time, offer it up. There’s the rub. We fear sacrifice. It’s a kind of death,” the Catholic professor tells us.
Through my experiences, I have learned that time grants me opportunities to display mercy as well. Forgiving others and showing mercy is tough. Time is one of God’s gifts to make mercy easier. In the offering of many, many prayers of laments to God in the months after our miscarriage the seed of mercy was planted and came to fruition. But it was not until I sacrificed my time and prayed that I gained the ability to show mercy toward myself and be able to learn to forgive God.
Sadness Remains, but it is Transformed
Time heals all wounds. We hear this phrase mentioned frequently when a person experiences a hardship or loss of a loved one. This adage does not contain the full truth. In reality, time does not eliminate sadness or wounds, rather it transforms them. I still experience sadness when I think of my unborn child.
The sacrament of time has transformed this sadness from a despairing sadness to a joyful sadness [I know if sounds like oxymoron term but I am not sure how else to describe it!].
Time and prayer turn suffering from a destructive force to a purgative, and possibly redemptive force. I posted our loss on social media. People reached out to me saying they wereinspired by the funeral service we provided for our unborn child.
“Your testament and story give me inspiration to have grave markers in our backyard to remember our miscarriages. This was helped me move on and provide healing,”
a friend from high school told me when she heard about my loss.
Seven Other Sacraments
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The sacraments are efficacious[effective] signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC 1131). Formally there are seven sacraments, but in reality time when approached in the right manner may be transfigured into a sacrament as well.
Time exists in prayer not the other way around. Kreeft tells us, “Eternity is not in the future but in the present. The future is unreal, not yet real” (Time). Instead of worrying about the past and future let us embrace now, the present. Let us embrace the sacrament of time– now!