Expect Nothing Gain Everything

Author Chris Tiegreen wrote, “Thankfulness is difficult to express when one starts with an attitude of entitlement.”  From my experience, I noticed that whenever people claim to deserve everything– I am including myself as the prime perpetrator of this attitude— rarely do things work out. Since my family starting praying the Rosary on a nightly basis, my attitude and approach to situations outside my control began to change.

After several months in a row where I went into work with high expectations, I quickly discovered rarely did the reality match my ideals. Anger, resentment, frustration and negativity came forth from my unrealistic anticipations. Falsely equating high expectations with my desire to be entitled to high production metrics and quality scores caused me to dive into a den of despair. Oftentimes, I came home from work with these feelings still churning inside me. Lacking patience, I lashed out at my family whenever the kids made messes or my wife made excessive requests for help. I sought to control all facets at home in hopes to gain a sense of control in the workplace. Ironically, by expecting everything oftentimes I gain nothing but disappointment and distress.

Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed, “Everything is a gift from God: it is only by recognizing this crucial dependence on the Creator that we will find freedom and peace.” Shifting my mindset to viewing all things in life as a gift greatly helped lift my gaze upward and in turn raised my hopes. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the most perfect role model as someone who graciously accepted unexpected news that the world would consider an upheaval—an unexpected pregnancy in the most unexpected of all situations!

With my wife being pregnant with our rainbow baby, we viewed this child as a total and completely free gift from God. Moving away from the entitlement mindset, I am able to embrace, ever so slowly, this gift of the sustained and healthy pregnancy. St. Therese of Liseux declared, “I understood that love comprises all vocations – that love is everything, and because it is eternal, embraces all times and places.” Without love all else in life ultimately is moot. Humanity truly deserves nothing. Nevertheless, the Creator of the Universe granted life and even became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Since my move away from my selfish, entitled, greedy mindset, I seek to thank God for the blessings in my life. I ask the Holy Spirit for the graces to continue with this mindset and I pray for you to encounter the same joy that gratitude brings as well!


“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” –G.K. Chesterton

“Gratitude comes naturally when you take so much responsibility that you expect nothing except what you’ve earned through hard intelligent work and always see where you can improve.” –Anonymous

Fortress Mentality—Why Creating a Stronghold Keeps Negativity at Bay

Growing up, I enjoyed constructing blanket forts in the living room or playing under the deck with my siblings in our dirt-laden bunker. Something about forts invokes nostalgia. Security and strength also are words that immediately come to my mind when I think of fort [and fortresses]. Over the past few years, I have noticed an increased anxiety, not only from myself, but from society as a whole. Americans enjoy the pleasure of living in a wealthy and free society—privileges not afforded in other places and times. My aim here in this post is not to analyze the causes for the increased angst. That I will leave to professionals in psychology, medicine, and psychiatry. Instead, I am going to share a couple reasons why retreating to my cerebral citadel as opposed to actively engaging the stress inducers has worked for me for the past month. Please be aware, that while this approach may work for me I am in no way endorsing a fortress mentality being a miracle-cure method to fending off fretfulness for everyone.

1. Defense Beats Offense Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote,

Negativity can only feed on negativity.” From personal experience, I know that negativity only grows when you give attention to it, too much attention will lead to negativity consuming your life. Fighting negativity with an offensive attack does not work. I came across this anonymous quote that stuck a cord on this subject, “When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department generally uses water.” Different approaches are necessary when battling stress and negativity in your life. An image of a faucet comes to mind when complaining controls my life. Last month, I allowed my emotions to get the better of me: both at home and work. Frustrations about unmet expectations caused grievances which poured out like water running from an open faucet.

To combat my weaknesses, I simply went to source—my words and shut off the valve of verbal complaints. This month instead of vocally sharing my grumbles aloud, I created a laconic lock for my tongue. According to James 3, the mouth and tongue act as a gateway for various despicable behaviors. Keeping our words bridled is key to stopping negativity.  The Apostle writes in James 3:2-5,

If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.a 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. 5In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.

2. Fortifying not fleeing: The brilliant Albert Einstein once declared, “Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” Sometimes turning away from the stresses and negativity going on in life gets equated with running from your problems. Withstanding the temptations to give into the negativity that surrounds you displays strength.

Known as fortitude, courage is the foundation upon which virtue and the ability to withstand the assault of pessimism is built on. Author Maya Angelou succinctly states, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” Shifting my mindset toward stoicism and fortress-like greatly helped me weather the storms of stress.

Becoming more self-aware of my vocal complaints, grumbles, and murmurings prevented me from stumbling into the sea of stress. Distancing myself emotionally from the “bad” or “negative” experiences I faced in the workplace or at home helped me to move more quickly onto the next task or event of the day. The image of a fortress best represents for me the virtue of fortitude and ability to block negativity.


“But you, O man of God, must flee from these things; and strive for uprightness, godliness, good faith, love, fortitude, and a forgiving temper.” –1 Timothy 6:11

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.2 Timothy 1:7

The Morning Everything Went Wrong…and Why I Didn’t Freak Out


Me [on the cell phone]: “Honey! Just what? I just got locked out of my car! And I am locked out of the house too.

Wife: “We cannot afford a locksmith today. You don’t get paid until tomorrow.

Me: I will try my credit card.

Wife: I am leaving work to at least let you in the house. Maybe we have a spare key.

Me: Thank you! But, I am pretty sure we don’t have any extra keys…


To say that my morning began a little off course or on the wrong footing is a big understatement. More accurately, Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day better describes the beginning of my Thursday. After my door dilemma, I make a few fast errand stops at the grocery store and the library before coming home again for my 2 year’s back-to-back speech and occupational therapy sessions.

Because of having to wait for the locksmith to free my keys from the car I had to really rush. My final errand was the library where my son toted around merrily a plastic box of toys. As we started to leave the library atrium, he tripped over his shoes and face planted on the floor—crying ensued and his lips started to seep crimson blood. Having no napkins, I could do nothing except for rushing my toddler to my vehicle and pray that the bleeding stopped before I would be able to get to wipes at home.

The morning smoothed out for my toddler, at least, as he did tremendously well during his therapy sessions. I still felt the busyness and wayward nature of the morning still pursue me as I had to make several phone calls to settle things with my student loan and an application on another loan my wife and I applied for recently. The off-kilter day continued a bit even when I arrived at work. My anticipated meeting with my manager on my monthly progress was unexpected cancelled and moved to the following day. Oddly enough, as someone who normally desires—actually craves—routine and regimen, I was fairly calm considering the maelstrom of morning madness! Certainly out of my natural character, upon reflection I came up with the following three reasons below for why I didn’t freak out.

1. Past Suffering Helps Present Pain: The great American Helen Keller once declared, Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Being born both blind and deaf, she overcame more than the average person. However, suffering if part of this fallen world. Past suffering from years, and months ago, helped prepare me for the stresses of yesterday. Former President Harry S. Truman stated, “The reward of suffering is experience!” We can learn how to cope with or overcome present pain from lessons in the past.

2. Monkish Methods: My primary objective this week was to limit complaining. If something frustrated me, I really made an effort to act as a mute monk in the situation. According to St. John of the Cross, “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” Reflecting on the simplicity of this basic truth helped reframe my mindset when “everything” didn’t go my way.

Cardinal Robert Sarah also promotes the monkish method of silence as well. In his book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise Sarah purports, “Man must make a choice: God or nothing, silence or noise.” There is no middle ground for the red-hatted Prefect for Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. This hard-lined approach toward negativity and complaining worked wonders for me so far! Reticence reverses resentful thoughts. Peace and tranquility ensues and takes place of the former chaos. Sarah beautifully compares silence to visible icons by saying, “Silence is an acoustic veil that protects the mystery… a sort of sonic iconostasis”

3. More Help from Mama Mary: Along with adding a “silencer” to my spiritual weapons against complaining and gossip, a healthy dose of praying a decade of the Rosary nightly with my family protected me against the wiles the Evil One set me that Thursday morn. St. Josemaria Escriva boldly claimed, “The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you’ll be amazed at the results.” There is a reason Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a common title the Blessed Virgin Mary—she is a perfect advocate in times of trouble!

Silence in trying times and refraining from complaining takes strength. Such power cannot originate from within the self. Looking to the witness of the saints, most especially the Mother of God we are provided hope to adopt a properly pious mentality in times of confusion and suffering. Cardinal Robert Sarah again speaks of the importance of silence, “Without silence, God disappears in the noise. And this noise becomes all the more obsessive because God is absent. Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost. The earth then rushes into nothingness.”


“The Rosary is the ‘weapon’ for these times.” -Saint Padre Pio

Fixing Our Gaze on Golgotha

Lord Jesus Christ, I petition you as your most unworthy servant and adopted child through the waters of Baptism to hear my petitions. Please soothe the anxiety in my heart, mind, and soul over the pressures, toils, and attacks of despair the Enemy sends my way. Self-doubt and self-loathing pervades me mind throughout today. In keeping with the words of the great Doctor of the Church St. Catherine of Sienna, “Every great burden becomes light beneath this most holy yoke of the sweet will of God.” May I receive the graces from the Holy Spirit to love myself and confidently seek your Will, not for my sake but as in loving myself I make a worthy offering to you Most Holy God.

While my sins wound me and damage my relationship with myself, my neighbors, and ultimately You Most Holy Trinity, I petition for intercession from the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints in Heaven to help re-orient my gaze from the gutters of the troubles of my life to gaze upward to the Cross of Jesus—crucified on Golgotha.

I recall the words from a homily by my parish priest who declared, “It is through the atmosphere of Mary that we truly are able to receive the light of the Son.” According to John 19:26-27, “When Jesus saw his mother* and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”n 27Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted his beloved disciple [and all humanity] to his mother. More important, Jesus gifts us the blessing of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well.

Despite the failings, trials, and doubts that surround us, be assured that peace and joy canbe found in uniting ourselves to Christ’s suffering in Calvary. Remembering that we are all in this pilgrim journey, towards holiness, together helps sustain me in my downtrodden times

Unexpected Joy in Expected Suffering

“Is your happiness contingent on whether the cat peed on the carpet or not?” This question was posed to myself, other catechists, and parents by our parish’s Director of Faith Formation. She was referring to events that frustrate us on a daily basis where we may question the purpose of these interruptions in our daily life. Her unique query provoked some thoughts about my recent attitudes towards situations that appear to evade my control. Over the past week and a half, my two-year struggled with allegories, constipation, and changes with his schedule. As both a toddler and someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, my son certainly hated these disruptions. Consequently, these sufferings spilled over into our family life. Chucking of food items and toys ensued when he did not get his way or when my son could not fully communicated his needs.

For a control freak, such as myself, toddler temper explosions wreak havoc on my patience levels. Is my happiness dependent on whether everything is in my control? Would I be truly happier if my toddler followed my commands robotically to the “t” and never had meltdowns?  This question about the source of my joy and happiness continued to sow its roots into my heart, mind, and soul.

The work week began with the traditional Monday agitations: technology issues, annoyed customers, and confusion. To add to these annoyances, I woke up with an intense headache that lingered throughout the day. What is more, my personal goal of finishing the month with an impeccable quality score hit a potential hurdle when I failed at a complex call. Hopefully, the quality monitoring team does not review that call! Despite these expected sufferings, an unexpected joy [and peace] existed within my being. My natural inclination to messing up on a call or the craziness of home life would be to develop an anxiety and anger at things outside of my control.

Something provoked me to change my attitude from focusing on the suffering to looking at the opportunity for joy to be found in the suffering. More accurately, Someone provoke me to look deeper beyond my suffering and see the purpose of pain. St. Madeline Sophie Barat declared, “As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.” God cannot get more real, as He is the fullness of all reality, but through the trials of our life we can enter into a deeper relationship with Him. The grace of unexpected joy in my expected suffering cannot originate from my own willpower—it is a free gift granted by the Holy Spirit.

I desire to impact the knowledge of peace and joy to my children. Among caring for their primary physical needs, I am charged with passing on the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, safeguarded in the Catholic Church to them. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2223,

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.32

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.33

What struck me most telling about this passage from the catechism is that the home is likened to an apprenticeship. My children will learn how to love others and God from my interactions with them. While home life seems like corralling a bunch of elephants, lemurs, birds, cheetahs or bears depending upon my children’s mood, I am able to control my emotional state. This morning I failed by provoking my kids to anger unnecessarily—my own pride failed to humbly step away from the situation and to listen to their pleas for help.

Actively picking up our crosses daily will not be easy, Jesus never guaranteed this, however freely choosing to embrace suffering instead of fleeing from it will provide an immeasurably and unexpected joy. Still impressed with the candor and articulate manner of phrasing, I am going to conclude with the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s list key items for embracing freedom [and as a result joy too!]. “The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom” (CCC 2223).

Is the lack of suffering the driving force of our happiness and joy? Do we only love life when things go our way all the time?  If you let the Holy Spirit into your life, be prepared to experience an unexpected joy in expected suffering!

Apostolic Analogies—Similarities with my Namesake Saint

According to Rick Riordan, author of the acclaimed young adult series Percy Jackson, “Names had power!”  Among the first questions people ask parents upon the birthday of a child is “which name did you choose? Names also possess a meaning. Now you may or may not be aware of the meaning or purpose of the name your parents choose for you. If you are not aware, it would be an interesting conversation to discover why they choose a particular name? If there was no particular reason, it would still be interesting to look up the history of your namesake or the literal meaning of it! The general reason for my name selection is due to my parents being Catholic had myself and my siblings to be named after a holy person who espoused the truths of the Gospels. While I am not entirely sure why my parents, specifically picked Matthew out of the myriad of Catholic saint names available. Celebrating the feast day of the St. Matthew is something that I regrettable not truly did until last year. Along with eating a special dinner with my wife, reading today’s Gospel, and playing a fun board game, I am going to also celebrate by recognizing a few similarities I share with my personal patron!

1. You Owe Me:  Within the past year, I took on a new position in the company as a student loan debt collector. Although the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and modern technology certainly has softened collection practices in recent year, debt collectors still do not have a positive connotation in today’s society. Back in the time of 1st century Palestine, the stigma against debt collectors was especially prevalent. In fact, tax collectors were especially hated by the Jews as they were viewed as sell-outs who worked for the “evil” Roman Empire.

My new association with debt collections brings the challenges of dealing with angry, concerned, confused, and desolate customers. However, my new job comes with a hidden joy of being more closely linked with St. Matthew.

2. Lover of Theology: Along with sharing similar occupations with St. Matthew, I possess a thirst for discovering knowledge about God just like the Gospel writer. Theology refers to faith seeking understanding. Among the saints Matthew possessed a privileged opportunity of being selected as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. What is more, Matthew together with St. John are the only individuals able to claim being both an Evangelist and Apostle! Laden with parables and the incredible Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s Gospel shows Jesus as the Good Teacher always willing to shed light on the truth of God’s love. I am always emboldened by the following words of Christ proclaims to conclude Matthew’s gospel, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20, emphasis added mine).

3. Called by God: While the saint whose moniker I bear did not always believe in Jesus, he experienced a profound conversation. The significance of Matthew’s calling is so significant that all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) include this episode as important in the public life and ministry of Jesus. Being a cradle Catholic myself, I lack that momentous public conversion that St. Matthew experienced. However, this does not mean that I never underwent a conversion. Actually, my Catholic faith and reliance has slowly deepened over the course of my college years, and nascent parenting years.

A couple years ago I took an assessment on the various charisms that would most likely be my natural God-given gift. My two highest [according to the questions I answered] included the charism of writing and evangelization. Looking back in hindsight, I cannot help but wonder if St. Matthew is interceding in my life to help foster my talents that he too shared with the early Christian community—and today as well!

The craziness of wrangling three overtired kids and bustle of the workday delayed my celebration of Matthew the Evangelist’s Feast Day. Tonight, I plan on celebrating my patron saint and fellow writer’s gift of the Good News. I am encouraged that Jesus desired to choose a man from such a hated profession to be part of His Divine Plan of Salvation. If God can choose sinners and tax collectors, certainly we are called by Him to follow in the footsteps of the saints who came before us.


Collect [From the Liturgy of the Feast of St. Matthew] O God, who with untold mercy were pleased to choose as an Apostle Saint Matthew, the tax collector, grant that, sustained by his example and intercession, we may merit to hold firm in following you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen

Saint Matthew Prayer for Us!

Muffins, Magic Words, and Maneuvering through Monday Maelstroms


Me: “Wake up kids! You can have muffins for breakfast once you get dressed.”

My daughter: [sitting up instantly with a grin on her face] Muffins! Yay!

Me: “Who knew I only had to say the magic word of ‘Muffin’ in order to get you to wake up”

My daughter: “Daddy, saying magic words always help me get up better!”


muffin meme

This exchange took place at 6:32am today as I was getting my family ready to begin the week. Normally, Monday mornings, any day really, waking up my children is akin to prodding a hibernating bear—prodder beware! Happier and calmer children provided good momentum for me to start the week. According to C.S. Lewis, “I’m not sure God wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to love and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.”

While I may disagree with the first half of his statement, the latter part—of desiring us to love and be loved is spot on. Now, love involves sacrifice. Both my wife and I love to be prepared and organized. However, organization, especially with three young children, requires we sacrifice certain things in the short-term for the longer-term goal of having an even-keeled and lower stressed week. On Sunday, we sacrificed watching football and instead prepped our food for the week. The fruit of our labor paid off with that sweet exchange between my daughter and I had about the magic of muffins!

This got me thinking about other possible “magic” words to help stymie your work week stress that Monday’s inevitably throw at us.

help on the way.gif

1. Pause: Working in a fast-paced job environment and the incredible hectic daily routine of getting three children ages 7 and under for school/daycare makes stopping to take a legitimate break next to impossible. Some weeks it feels like I underwent the stress equivalent of running a half-marathon when my kids are cranky—and it normally is not even 6:50am! As a result of the daily bustle, I learned of the importance to pause. Short and frequent breaks after a stressful situation comes in handy when trying to disarm Monday’s momentum  from developing into a morning maelstrom that drowns the rest of your day’s hopes away. Pause, pause, pause. Keep that magic word in mind.

2. Thank you: Together with breaks, nothing else takes the wind out of a chaotic stress-storm as much as gratitude.  Your mindset in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day [in some cases even the remainder of the week]. Genuine thankfulness stops negativity in its tracks. But it has to be genuine. Expected ‘thank yous’ in return is not the approach when demonstrating gratitude towards others or for the blessings in your life. G.K. Chesterton said it best, ““When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

3. Help: Closely tied to stopping to clear your mind and developing a thankful mentality is asking for help in times of stress. Sometimes out of pride I fail to ask for assistance from those in a position to help me in time of need. In the midst of a stressful situation, I lose sight that I am not alone in this world. Along with my family, friends, and co-workers, I have a God always willing and able to hear my plea for aid. According to St. Francis de Sales, “We shall steer safely through every storm so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God.”

Whether your week began with a flurry of frenzied customers, unexpected projects, screaming kids, or vehicle troubles please do not throw in the towel. Remember the magic words of: pause, thank you, and help! If you are a good baker, or know someone who is, be sure to make yourself pumpkin muffins for breakfast. I am sure they will be a hit if you have young children or simply a child at heart–unless you are allergic to pumpkin than bake banana-nut muffins!

pumpkin spice.jpg



“Yet what I discovered is that when you put love first, not only does your life improve, but your work improves.” –Jennifer Fulwiler