When I Had an Encounter with Divine Reality


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

 

Thank you for sharing!

The Miracle of the Boy and the Wooden Letters

Wooden letters


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!

Hello My Name is

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

Rainbow Baby

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!

Related Articles

Miscarriage and the Sacrament of Time

A Humble Hue: My Story about Autism

Thank you for sharing!

3 Ways You Can Actually Get Rest through Play


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 24, 2019.


According to Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” This weekend I found a temporary fountain of youth—at a pumpkin patch!  Celebrating the birthdays of two of my nieces and my daughter, we visited a small-town Nebraskan pumpkin patch on Saturday.  This experience was what I needed to infuse live into me.

Rest and play

 

 

 

 

 

My overnight work schedule has been challenging.  Getting naps throughout the day are hit or miss depending on how fussy or not my teething 8 month old daughter is on a a particular day. Balancing work and life has like trying to battle 16 monkey ninjas on your own. Our three year old has regressed over the past few weeks, meltdowns are on the rise, I only get to see my wife about 30 minutes most days, and the list of struggles goes on and on.

The purpose of this post is not to complain, but rather give a bit of context as to why my content has been irregular recently. I am thankfully for people providing guest posts in the midst of my chaotic schedule. I will be publishing more guest posts to help give me a break during this season. Rest. I did not appreciate sleep until I lacked it. This post will focus on a few ways I have been able to discover how to get rest during a grueling schedule. If you are in a similar or more serious situation than my family I hope you find value in these tips.

Play and Positivity

A common factoid you may have learned in school is that it takes less muscles to smile than it does to frown. If you never heard this amazing fact, please check out the link in the related resources section at the end of this post to read about the science behind smiling. This weekend I smiled.

Traveling on a zip line, sliding down the barn slide, pedaling a cart, and chasing my kids on the pumpkin patch playground incited smiles. We need playtime help reset our mindset. Going into work on Monday I was much more motivated and cheery. Playtime leads to positivity.

Observational Play is Still Fun

According to Angela Schwindt, “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” During the breaks between pumpkin patch activities I got the chance to watch my children caper with their cousins. The joy and excitement in their faces caused me to beam with gratitude. I rarely have the opportunity to simply rest and observe them in the middle of play.

Overcoming from a recent sinus infection and my continual job hunt for work from home opportunities has drained much of my energy the past few weeks. This weekend provided me the chance to pause and have fun watching my kids play!

Recapping the Day is Restful

Another way to fit in play during a busy schedule is to reflect on the revelry throughout the day. We had a three hour drive back home so I spent some time replaying the fun our family had in my mind. Next, my wife and I talked about our favorite moments. I asked each of my children which activity they enjoyed the best. “Pumpkin, I have a pumpkin daddy!” my three year old exclaimed from his car seat. Looking back, I saw a wide grin on his face and the orange vegetable proudly held in his hand.

Pumpkin Patch

Memory gave me the ability to play again while sitting down in the car. As I recapped the day, I regained my energy that was completely drained during the week.

Make it a priority to get daily playtime. It is necessary for a healthy body and mind. Play renewed my endurance. Rediscover joy in life by embracing playtime. A work and life balance is important. How do you plan on resting and playing this week?

Related Links

How Playing Paper Football Led to Prayer

Finding the Creative Spirit of God in Play!

Why Being Funny Helps You Seriously Practice the Catholic Faith

 

Thank you for sharing!

How Playing Paper Football Led to Prayer

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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.

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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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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.

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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!

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.

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Thank you for sharing!

Use Imagination to Relate to Your Children Better

Tolkien quote about imagination

💡Dadhack #123—Think like a child to relate better to your children

Someone made a comment to me that everything is rainbows and unicorns to me.

Initially, it upset me. But after thinking about it I realized he was right.

The young don’t have a monopoly on imagination.

Thank God for it because reading only the news or talking about serious stuff makes me curmudgeony.

Amelia had trouble sleeping because of her brother making noise (she had a long week at school)

I hugged her tight and told her,

“Tonight you’re a caterpillar. I’m wrapping you tight into a cocoon. Tomorrow you will be able to fly like a butterfly. Maybe we will see a butterfly and say, ‘Is that Amelia?'”

🦋 She gave a sheepish grin and a tired laugh.

I could have easily got frustrated (it’s been a long week and I have failed in similar situations in the past).

🌈 But I think the Holy Spirit gave me patience and the ability to summon up silliness (who doesn’t like butterflies or find them calming?) to help her calm down.

Imagination isn’t merely child’s play or silliness. It’s living life open to the possibility of a higher reality—a world where anything is possible.

Unicorns rhinos

I did end up replying to that comment 👇

🦏🦄I do believe in real unicorns (rhinoceroses).

😊😂😆

How does imagination help you as a parent?

Thank you for sharing!

On Autism and Fatherhood: An Exclusive Interview with Andrew Garofalo


Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted via email communication in September 2019. Some of the answers provided by the interviewee were edited to provide clarity for the reader. The integrity of Andrew’s answers was not compromised in the editing process.


Describe the special needs of your daughter

Evangeline was born with tethered cord syndrome (lipomyelomeningocele), which is a type of spina bifida. At 4 months old she required a surgery to detach her spinal cord from a large lipoma on her lower back.

At 3 years old she had a second surgery for cosmetic purposes to remove the large lipoma at the base of her back. Hopefully, there are no other surgeries for the future (the cord could re-attach, but it is unlikely in her case).

When was your daughter diagnosed with autism?

At about 3 1/2 years old Evangeline was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. She has been delayed mostly in speech, but due to her spina bifida, she has also had physical therapies to strengthen her legs and improve her walking. She walks very well, but she still does not have the lower body strength and mobility of a normal child her age.

Overall, Evangeline is doing well. Though a bit delayed in certain areas, once she gets the hang of something, she usually excels at it very quickly.

What challenges do you face as a parent to a child with special needs?

My wife and I face many challenges. Evangeline is able to receive most of her therapies at her school (she is currently enrolled in a special needs pre-school program), but she still has many regular appointments with various doctors and specialists in addition to her normal pediatric care (e.g., orthopedist, neurosurgeon, neurologist).

Evangeline looks a little different than most other kids and her behaviors stand out. Because of this, we are aware she may be teased by other kids as she gets older. Though Eva is well-behaved most of the time, she has certain ticks (she might make a strange noise now and then). She has certain rituals too. Some include singing a song she heard in a cartoon when the microwave is on or closing the front door anytime someone leaves our house.

If she is not able to do her rituals or do them the way she wants to, she often becomes distressed and cries. We try not to accommodate her rituals because we don’t want to reinforce them, so we patiently allow her to go through the process and console her when she is distressed.

How do you think these issues will change in the future?

My wife and I also have some concern over Eva’s future. We don’t know how well she will fit in with other people as she gets older and also how she will fit into the workforce as an adult. And sometimes I think about how she will be cared for after my wife and I pass away.

Hopefully there is a lot of time before she has to deal with that (Julie and I are in our 40s), but it is a reality that I still think about. Evangeline has two older siblings who love her very much, so when my wife and I pass we hope they will be there for her if she needs it.

How has raising a child with special needs impacted your approach to the liturgy?

We have not had parishioners with similar struggles approach us, but we have a group of close supporters we are linked to through a retreat called Emmaus here in the Miami area. When Eva was going through her surgeries we had a strong prayer community within the Emmaus men and women at our parish. Our friends at the parish are still interested in Evangeline’s progress. They love her!

Eva has been generally well-behaved at Mass, but sometimes during quiet times she will make strange noises (not like “normal” fidgeting or talking that young kids do) or she may want to sing a song (not so quietly). She seems to be growing out of that now. We have noticed that her peculiar behaviors usually come and then go after a while.

We have had to leave Mass early only once and we have had to take her outside to quiet down maybe a half dozen times ever. Thankfully, Eva shows an interest in the parts of the liturgy including the Our Father and some of the music. I think Mass is just part of her routine now.

What trials have you experienced?

Those uncomfortable moments when Eva is disruptive during Mass and I get the feeling some people around us might be annoyed and not understand she has ASD. Mostly we do our best to be respectful of the Mass and the other people there. We  ignore any unfriendly looks we might receive from a very small minority of people there. It is harder when we are away from home and visit other parishes because they do not know her there.

What joys have you experienced?

Seeing Eva put her hands in the prayer position during the Our Father with a big smile on her face and seeing her become enraptured by any particular song during the Mass.

We are united in constant prayer for Evangeline and all other special needs children. God bless you.

 

Thank you for sharing!

Why Teaching Your Children to Do the Chores will Save Your Sanity

Dad hack #4— Train the kids early to help clean 🧼 🧽 around the house (it gives me time to post more #dadhacks 🙂)

Avila and a broom

The Muffin Miscreant doing community service to atone for her shenanigans.

This summer my wife and I taught our kids how to:

🧺 Fold the laundry

🗑 Take out the garbage

🧽 Load the dishwasher

😜 Battle the shenanigans of their 18 month old sister

It took a lot of time, patience, modeling good behaviors, and reteaching but I’m glad we did.

Teaching kids chores result in:

Teamwork

Learning a mop was not something you hit your brother in the head with (my daughter may or may not have done this)

 More gratitude

Instill a good work ethic

Play/work balance

How did chores play a role in your childhood and later professional work?

What was your favorite chore (mine was drying the dishes— my brother and I usually made my sister wash 🙂)?

Thank you for sharing!