Choosing Beautiful Joy Over Ugly Fear

Department stores across America and the film industry anticipate Halloween well before the start of October. Being in mid-September, it is likely you already watched [or at least heard the chatter about] the cinematic horror film The Nun. Fear, horror, and terror possesses an allure that is sometimes difficult to move away from.

What-is-Fear-Phobia-Types.jpg

Scrolling through social media feeds, pushing the cart throughout the store, or even watching television we are bombarded with screams and frights! Increasing new words seem to be added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary related to newly discovered fears. Sesquipedalophobia refers to the fear of long words [this would be awful if you had this phobia and were married to a pharmacist, doctor, or writer!]. Another bizarre phobia is dextrophobia–the fear of having objects to your right. For more information on these two fears and other intriguing phobia please click on this link: https://www.rd.com/health/conditions/strange-phobias/

too many walls.jpg

In today’s political climate, much discussion centers on whether a border wall should be built around the United States. While concerns about national security certainly are valid, equally valid a question would be how much of this fear of open borders is due to the fearful rhetoric and unknown about other cultures.  Maya Angelou perhaps said it best, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Succumbing to fear we tend to build up walls that section us from fruitful interactions with others.

From my own perspective, fear normally enters my life through uncertainty in my life. As a rationally oriented individual, I tend to dress up my illogical fears in the wrappings of “security” or “control”. Visiting the New Testament on the subject of being afraid, I discovered a better explanation. An increase in fear is directly linked to a decrease in my trust and obedience in God. According to 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” Fear drives all negative decisions. Fear of the unknown leads to doubt and anxiety.

running through forest.gif

I am most nervous and afraid when I fail to take proper perspective of the trials that God allows to happen to me. American author Ralph Waldo Emerson pithily purported, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”  That certainly is true from my own experiences. The greatest fears, usually revolving around fear of failing at work, home, and school, involved a lack of complete information about the situation. I tend to stumble through the tangled branches and dark shadows cast by the specific ‘trees’ of my problems instead of raising my gaze to notice the beauty of the forest of my foibles.

French dramatist Jean Marie Lucien Pierre Anouilh  declared, “An ugly sight, a man who is afraid.” Fear prevents man from confidently standing up to gaze at the beauty around him even in the midst of suffering. Instead, paralyzed by fear, man turns towards selfish tendency in a twisted effort to flee from fear, confusion, and the unknown. Ultimately, this leads to an ugliness and seemingly endless pit that we are unable to climb out of our own power. Only by turning back to our Divine Father will we be able to be graced with a chance to overcome our fears and failings.

choose joy daily.jpg

Thanksgiving and wonder at the simple things in life equip us in the battle against fear. First, show gratitude to God by praying and perform a simple act of kindness to someone else. Second, repeat the first step as often as you can throughout the day. Third, take notice of the beauty around you–whether that be leaves falling from a tree, an airplane in the sky, animals in your neighborhood, or the smile of a person you meet. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to the truth.” Trusting in the truth–the truth of the Gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior– will cast out the doubts and fears from your life.


“Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid….And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (cf Matthew 28:10, 20)

St. Catherine of Sienna declared, “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear”

Terrifying Joy

what are you afraid of gif

What is the most terrifying thing that happened to you? While this likely will look different for everyone what I have learned throughout my life is that all the horrifying moments of my life consistently involve the following—a complete and utter lack of control.

Now, I am going to ask you to do a complete 180°. Reflect on the most joyful moment(s) of your life. Again, these will be entirely unique and different for anyone. A common thread that connects the joyful experiences is that joy is a received gift. It is not something that I am able to manufacture or produce of my own volition. In a sense, joy too may be something outside of your control.

Over the course of the past several months, I experienced a unique and incomparable feeling that I am going to try my best to describe with words—terrifying joy. Is this not an oxymoronic pairing? How can joy be terrifying? How can terror be joyful?

Doesnt-make-sense

For those that have following The Simple Catholic will know that I have frequently wrote about the despair I experienced through the painful deaths of my unborn children via miscarriage. Both of these miscarriages occurred at the end of the first trimester. In fact, the despair got to be so severe that I nearly jettisoned my faith in God completely. As time passed on, I learned that the suffering of losing my child was not the fault of God. He used those horrifying events to draw me closer in trusting the Mysterious movement of Divine Providence.

Although I am stronger in my faith than four years ago, I am still petrified with fears as my wife bears our rainbow baby currently in her womb. Our current pregnancy started off almost identical as the two previous miscarriages. We even had our parish priest administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to my wife when medical avenues were exhausted.

Cautiously optimistic, we slowly started taking down our self-crafted walls built to guard our emotions, expectations, and hopes. Dismantling emotional walls take time. While we carefully controlled our excitement, as the pregnancy progresses along, and our daughter grows, so too does our joy.  With the increase in joy, an equal amount of terror, for all that might possibly go wrong, plagues us.

PitifulSmugDamselfly-size_restricted.gif

My wife detailed out this insanely apocalyptic dream that invaded her sub-conscious last night. It began with the bleak news that we actually were never pregnant with our baby to begin with. Next, her nightmare involved witnessing a panoply of natural disasters: blizzard, floods, hurricane, wildfires, tornadoes, and lightning storms! After telling me this terrifying dream, she said, “We need to check [referring to sonar Doppler we purchased to check on the baby’s heartrate] on the baby tonight!” Later that night we listened to our baby’s strong and consistent heartbeat. Confidence and joy for this gift to our family returned.

Not exactly certain how I would end this topic, I took a break from writing and slept on it. The next day, I suddenly realized a way to describe this Mysterious union of terror and joy—the Incarnation of Jesus Christ helped provide me a little insight to my unique experience. Just as God became fully human while retaining the fullness of His divinity, so too, I posit that perhaps we sometimes partake in that Mystery of the Incarnation, at least a hint of this reality in our own life. While fully being joyful during our recent pregnancy, my wife and I also fully experience terror [of the unknown and potential loss]. The human side allows fear to set in, but as we as God’s adopted children through our Baptism—the Holy Spirit breaks into our life with the gift of joy as well!

Keep calm and ask for help

A tangible way I receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit to sustain me in time of discuss and terror is by petitioning God for aid. To quote acclaimed Catholic author Jennifer Fulwiler, “I wanted to tell stories to relieve people’s burdens.” So too, do I desire to share my own joyful [and terror-filled] to ease others trials, doubts, and fears. Please continue to pray for the Lord to guide my family and I am certainly going to continue to petition on your behalf.


“Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.” St. Augustine

“Act in a way that all those who come in contact with you will go away joyful. Sow happiness about you because you have received much from God.” St. Maria Faustina

Mentality Agility—Joy of Calm Mind

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.

1a. 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. Certianly, 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 have since learned that prayer is effective. 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.

1b. Remind Yourself to be Thankful: For those of you who are observant or a formatting nerd may notice that this point is not numbered 2 but rather 1b. 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.

2. 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.

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

rainbow baby1

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!

burying a child

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.

God-Is-Always-In-Control-2

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