Creativity—Thinking Inside the Box

Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell once said, “If everyone has to think outside the box, maybe it is the box that needs fixing.” The over-used mantra, “think outside the box” may be misleading to a naturally creative people or someone who struggles with perfectionism. The continual pursuit of one-upmanship in developing more creative and unique ideas can lead to an increase in stress. The great English poet T.S. Eliot declared, “Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.” Oftentimes, apprehension goes hand in hand during a creative endeavor that I am pursuing. Whether it be composing a blog post or writing an article for Catholicstand.com or determining the type of art I desire for the board game that I am developing, a dally exists within my mind.

In an effort to think outside the box, I forget to consider options/ideas that worked for me in the past. Instead of thinking beyond the “guidelines”, it may be helpful to reflect on creative ideas that worked previously. According to Anthony J. D’Angelo, “Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it!” My most successful posts actually involve the least amount of mental strain. Creativity comes naturally in writing such articles. Only in giving up my need for control and desire for absolute perfection do I experience the freedom of creativity—these writings also tend to appeal to a wider range of audience as well.

Trust in your natural abilities. With regard to your weaknesses rely on others for advice. I will make use of Gladwell’s insight again. He stated, “Success has to do with deliberate practice. Practice must be focused, determined, and in an environment where there’s feedback.” Creativity need not always be an anxious and exhausting endeavor. Thinking inside the box does not stymie creativity. In fact, in some cases revisiting the bounds of the box will lead to the recipe to replicate past creative ingenuity with greater ease and ability than thinking outside the box!

5 Reasons Why Your Statistics on WordPress do not Define You as a Blogger 

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Mark Twain once wrote, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” We seem to within the age of advanced metrics, statistics, and quantification of nearly all aspects of life. Within the workplace it is likely that you may be evaluated based off an array of statistical categories and metrics. As an avid football fan, I noticed a great increase in the amount of time and column space that sports agencies such as ESPN and network sportscasters spend on discussing [mostly debating] who belongs in the “elite” quarterback conversation in the NFL. Needless to say, statistics have become part and parcel of our daily life over recent history—the same is true for blogging.

Dating back to my high school years I developed a strong interest in gathering various information and analyzing it. For a time, I seriously contemplated going to college to become a professional statistician. The analytical side of me naturally ogles and takes glee in the statistics that I have available through WordPress. Are we to be measured by our accomplishments or by the attitude that we put into our work? The world makes external successful paramount in determining our self-worth, however, is this a healthy way to live? More importantly is this approach to determining dignity of a person actually true? I hope to address these concerns in today’s post.

Depending on your worldview and upbringing it may be debatable as to whether the achievements that we accomplish through our career and hobbies act as the defining feature for a person’s self-worth. What I want to discuss today is that measuring your success as a blogger solely on statistics and viewership is not the entire picture. Below are five reasons to support this claim.

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  1. Why are you writing?: This is the first question that you should constantly keep on the forefront of your mind when blogging. Are you writing to gain notoriety or as a means to improve yourself and others? Put another way is the purpose for blogging ultimately self-serving or for serving others? St. Thomas Aquinas once stated, “The things that we love tell us what we are.” I continually need to remind myself that I write to better myself and to help others find joy in this life—not to amass high stats!

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2. Consistency is King: Although the world is a constantly changing reality, humans still hold a strong desire for stability. Possessing a consistency of character, will, and an even-keel of our emotions is a strong indicator for success. I struggle with keeping my emotions in check at times. What helps me during low points in my writing journey is to continue to focus the reason that I write–to help others find joy! I found this superb yet simple quote from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson helpful. He said, “Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.”

What has continued to provide me assurance and sustained me through periods of writer’s block is to always remember to focus on consistently writing and not worry about the popularity of my articles. Consistency is preferred over flashy statistics or outlandish blog topics.

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3. Quality over quantity: Following closely with the previous point, it is good to remind yourself that while it is important to write on a consistent basis focus on the caliber of your post instead of the number. When I stray away from this principal I generate haphazard articles that are sloppily put together. Although I am able to get an immediate satisfaction from publishing that day, when I reflect on previous blog posts I tend to have a regret about hitting the Publish button.

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4. Self-worth not determined by external measurements:  According to the Catholic Church, the dignity of all human persons is not measured through our social, political, and monetary accomplishments. We are born with an innate dignity. The Second Vatican II document Gadium Et Spes [Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World] declared,

According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.
But what is man? About himself he has expressed, and continues to express, many divergent and even contradictory opinions. In these he often exalts himself as the absolute measure of all things or debases himself to the point of despair. The result is doubt and anxiety. The Church certainly understands these problems. Endowed with light from God, she can offer solutions to them, so that man’s true situation can be portrayed and his defects explained, while at the same time his dignity and destiny are justly acknowledged (#12).

 The key phrase that jumped out to me is that when we place ourselves at the center of attention–the result is doubt and anxiety!  Focusing on how popular you become as a blogger will have an initial rush of confidence and feelings of happiness, but these sensations will pass. Believe me, each time I hit a benchmark goal that I set for my writing career [i.e. landing a columnist opportunity, becoming a managing editor at an online magazine, and even an article published in a print magazine] I experience short term pleasure, but if I continue to judge my worth as a writer on these external accomplishments I soon fall into despair.

Pridefully, I fell into the trap believing that it is possible to achieve success all the time and when I hit periods of drought anxiety soon follows. Please do not falter in the same with that I struggle with frequently. Your self-worth as a writer is not to be determined by the amount of followers you have.

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5. Writing as a Tool to Help Others not for Self-glory: Dovetailing from the last point and also circling around to reiterate the first reason, it is important to remind yourself that writing is supposed to be a tool to help others, not an avenue for self-glory. The Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho appropriately stated, “Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions.” Use your platform on WordPress [or other sites if you reading this elsewhere] to promote your writing as a way to bridge the differences in the world and be an advocate for truth!

I initially wrote this article as a means to help temper my addiction to checking my WordPress app over twenty times a day—I thank my wife for confronting me about this issue. Over the course of writing this article, I realized that others may struggle with this similar obsession. I focused my efforts in trying to be as articulate as possible in assuring any of my readers that are also writers. Please do not despair if you experience a lull in your blogging hobby/career. Please feel free to share this article to any of your friends that may struggle with similar issues of self-doubt or those who have hit a thick wall of writer’s block! Thank you again for all of my followers, readers, and advocates that have supported me throughout my journey.

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3 Tactics to Depress Your Depression

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The beginning of this week continued my struggle with depression. Over the past several weeks, I lacked both the physical, mental, and emotional mettle to write. Journaling and blogging used to come more natural to me, however, lately I ran into a seemingly impenetrable mental wall of writer’s block. During periods of depression, you may feel utterly helpless and lack the motivation to implement means to overcome this vile force. Trust me this feeling is real and appears to be inescapable. I felt the same way to start the week. Please know that hope is always on the horizon—the problem is that you may need to remind yourself of this fact!

Hope arrived on the scene in a unique manner this week—through reading the classic children’s bedtime book Goodnight Moon to my youngest son. Currently he is going through a language explosion—he was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder—he development was delayed but through frequent therapies we are seeing the fruit of his hard work. The story involves saying goodnight to an array of items and characters in a bedroom. Upon getting to the page about the red balloon, my son shouted “Ah a balloon!” This image of a fully inflated balloon stuck with me throughout the night and into the morning. I viewed my current emotional state as a metaphorical depressed balloon unable to lift off the ground due to lack of the energy, gratitude, and hope.

It took a simple image of a balloon to jumpstart my creative juices about what to write about today. I wish to provide three tactics to take the wind out of the storm of depression you may be facing now—or will be facing in the future!

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  1. Shield Yourself with Thanksgiving: Before going into battle, a solider needs to wear armor and acquire the appropriate defensive tool. Just like physical war, fighting depression involves taking the necessary steps to defend against the continued barrage of negative self-depreciating thoughts. The legendary college basketball coach John Wooden once stated, “If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.” Adopting this mindset today defended me against depression’s attack.

Start this defensive tactic to keep depression at bay. For example, at lunch I made a mental list of three specific things I was thankful for today. Strawberries, my comic books, and the ability to write freely immediately popped into my mind as things I feel blessed to possess. Try this simple exercise as a way to easily remind yourself of the various blessings in your life. You may be pleasantly surprised that things may not be as bad as you would think!

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  1. Miniature Victories Win the War: A second tactic to weaken depression’s grip is to focus on minor victories throughout the day. Recognizing that the battle against depression is not necessarily achieved through a once-size-fits-all solution became an important step in my battle. Viewing any positive thing that occurred to me over the course of a day as a win is essential. Fitness trainers tell us the importance of focusing on small incremental goals and the same and spiritual directors remind of the importance of praying consistently in short periods of time first before proceeding to long sessions of meditation—why would it be any different for people who suffer from bouts of depression?

 The relief that arrives when I realize that small triumphs over depression are just as successful and valid as large victories.  According to Andrew Carnegie, “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” Naming your goal and setting forth a plan is a concrete tactic to combat depression. However, in implementing any plan towards your ultimate goal keep in mind that it is important to celebrate the little victories along with the end result. 

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  1. Fellowship not Forlornness: The great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov stated,  “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” When I strive away from a purposeful life that is when depression seems to infiltrate. Sure life has its natural ups and downs. However, for someone with chronic depression it is vital to journey throughout life in fellowship rather than tackle your struggles alone.

The best literary example that comes to mind when thinking about the importance of communion to fight off despair and depression is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. His first installment of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy involves the formation of a Middle Earth menagerie composed of four hobbits, two humans, an elf, a dwarf, and the wizard Gandalf. Similar to depression, the power of the One Ring involved the ability to gain control of its bearer over the course of time. The Fellowship’s singular purpose was to provide aid and companionship to aid Frodo in his journey to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. I found this excerpt that exhibits the importance of friendship during moments of doubt,

But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo.
Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. 

Are you experiencing moments of doubt now? Does it appear that there is no one around you to trust? Please know that this is a false belief—there is always someone who is willing to help. During times of deep depression I too struggle immensely with doubt. I doubt that I am worthy of friendship. I sometimes even doubt that my beloved Father in Heaven care for me.

Surrounding myself with good and holy people help pull myself out of this tendency to self-doubt. Last week, my manager at work provided much needed words of consolation when I struggled with depression in the workplace. Each week I attend the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where I am united in communion with other fellow Catholics. Through reception of the Eucharist I am nourished by the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ to journey out into the world for the next week. Thanksgiving, recognizing the small achievements, and seeking fellowship with others allow you to gain an upper hand in your daily battle against depression. Thank you all for reading my articles and continue to fight the good fight!

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3 Incredibly Simple Tools to Incapacitate Anxiety 

According to Derek Beres, a Los Angeles-based author, music producer, and fitness instructor in a 2017 article Why is Anxiety Increasing in America?,

Anxiety is one of those phenomena that non-sufferers sometimes claim, ‘it’s all in your mind.’ That’s simply not true; panic attacks are also a somatic experience. With a growing awareness of what creates anxiety and a captive online community searching for solutions, we’re learning more about what those triggers are and how they interact with our mind and body.

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While I am far from an expert on the psychology or neurology, I do have knowledge about anxiety from my own personal experiences. Suffering from anxiety and depression myself I learned methods to combat worry and constant anxiety. As a father and husband I learned that the bustle and complexity of family life ultimately points me toward growing in the virtue of patience and gentleness instead of being a burden to my career endeavors. Facing a barrage of continual interruptions, meltdowns, and challenges from my youngest son–who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder– some days I feel like giving up. Ironically, enough, this is the seventh attempt to finish this paragraph already this morning [my two-year old wanted me to get a particular toy-car from under the couch and then he proceeded to open the fridge and point to the pickle jar for his second-breakfast snack! :)]

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Sadly, I momentarily allowed the stress wanting to post today’s article sooner rather than later to get the better of me. Suffering interruptions and being compelled to exercise patience I believe actually strengthens my message rather than weakening it. I am reminded by the words of St. Maria Faustina on the subject of suffering, “O, my Jesus, I understand well that, just as illness is measured with a thermometer and a high fever tells us of the seriousness of the illness; so also, in the spiritual life, suffering is the thermometer which measures the love of God in a soul.” Below I am sharing three incredibly simple tools to help to incapacitate anxiety.

Disclaimer: Please remember that the battle against depression and anxiety must be continually fought so while these tool are effective they may not all apply to you now, but I promise you it would be wise to keep them on your utility-belt for the future.

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  1.  Checkpoint victories: Recently, I learned that the best way to develop a strategy against stress, anxiety, depression, and fear of failure is to focus on miniature goals. As an avid runner in high school, I utilized this practical strategy when finishing a 5-6 mile training circuit. Focusing on a point close ahead [i.e. a stop-sign, a large tree, or the corner of the block] I made checkpoints for me to continue running towards. As a result of these minor checkpoints, small victories led to the major victory–finishing a training session without stopping or setting a personal record during a race.

While many of you may not be a runner, and some may even despise exercise [believe me I understand some days I dread working out and simply lack the energy to do so!] the idea of setting short-term and minor goals is something that is transferable to managing daily anxiety. “Focus on two or three specific goals instead of trying to succeed at mastering many, many things at once. This will help reduce your stress,” my manager told me yesterday. Today, I am heeding his words by incorporating these three tools today and for the rest of the week.

Even as I write/wrote this post, I am making bit-sized victories as my kids demanded/asked for my attention. Consequently, the involuntary writer hiatus count is up to 18–it may be up to closer to 30-40 by the time this post is complete that may depend on whether my kids place nicely together the amount of times I decide to help of my favorite literary creature the Thesaurus for inspiring me to come up with fancy phrasing/names such as the involuntary writer hiatus count [as opposed to the boring “interruption-count”]

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  1. ♬ Make a list, check it twice ♬: No, I am not referring to the Christmas classic song Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Thank goodness, right! We already have Christmas in July specials do we really need Santa in Springtime? The second tool to incapacitate anxiety is to make a list of all the blessings in your life. A simple way to incorporate this into the work day is to put a blank Post-It note on your desk. Next, as the day progresses [if there is no time in the morning] start to jot a names of people that bring you joy. Include as well any material goods that you are grateful for as well: shelter, sunlight, water, food, clothes, and other simple joys. Trying this yesterday allowed me to re-orient any negative and anxious feelings towards a mindset of thanksgiving.

 

  1. Acid Attack:  According to research [see link for more information: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/tamara-star/post_13013_b_11766146.html%5D , eating citrus fruits is a practical tasty way to lower anxiety. Noticing a fellow co-worker eating an orange everyday on her morning break piqued my attention especially because she shared her daily struggles with anxiety and depression. I tried this simple strategy this week–and it worked! The citric acid and taste of the orange calmed my stress. I even kept the orange peel and smelled a few times the oil from the peel and scent of citric acid continued to provide soothing relief.

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Well, I finally finished this post. Anyone interested in the grand total for the involuntary writer hiatus count: it reached 30–and no, I did not visit my friendly online Thesaurus again, that was all my children–impressive to say the least! Hopefully, you find these tools invaluable in your war against anxiety. Once again, it you do not find them useful currently, please keep them in your anxiety armory for the next skirmish against stress. After all that writing, I am famished, I think my second breakfast will consist of a couple oranges! Thank you again for reading.

 

Columnist Opportunity I Received!

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I hope everyone’s start to 2018 is off to a good start. We have been experiencing an frigid beginning to the new year in the Midwest. Despite the frozen conditions, my hope in the Lord always melts away the rigidity of my wounded soul. I am pleased to announce that I will be featured as a columnist for Catholic Stand starting January 12th. With my commitment to writing for that site my work on this blog has taken a little bit of a backseat. I do apologize for the diminished content. Writing for multiple platforms is a new venture for me. While balancing the two will contain challenges, I will still be making regular posts on The Simple Catholic blog.

I also want to say that I appreciate all my readers commitment and support of me during this new [and still learning] phase of my writing career!

FYI: I will update this post later to include the link to Catholic Stand upon publication of my article.

A Birthday Letter to the Infant Son of God

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Below is a letter I dedicate to our Lord Jesus Christ in celebration of his birth, December 25, 2017 Anno Domini. 

Dear Baby Jesus,

In a stable, 2000 years ago, a seemingly ordinary infant was born. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, shepherds and kings from afar learned about His incredible presence. God uses the most common of circumstances to work the greatest of all miracles–the Incarnation. God so loved the world He sent you–His only Son– to bridge the great gulf, the separation caused by sin.

Wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger, you my king took the form of mankind. I have heard the Nativity story dozens of times. This Advent I feared I would took your origin story for granted. Instead, I am grateful for the opportunity to gaze on the Nativity scene through new eyes–not merely of a follower, but also as a father.

My children performed in our parish’s Nativity Play. They donned the roles of a shepherd and an angel. The joy that gleamed from all the faces of my children–and the rest of the children in the play– warmed my soul. People are born everyday on this earth, but only once a year do we remember the greatest birth of all.

Jesus my servant king, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, God-hero, I adore you and celebrate with my family and friends the anniversary of your birth. I pray that my heart is enlarged to make room within the inn of my soul for you, my family, friends, and people I meet daily! Praise we to God in the Highest and Alleluia for our Savior’s arrival.

 

With great love and gratitude,

Your adopted son, Matt

***For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.***

 

3 Ways to Stay Relevant as a Catholic Blogger

“The soul’s true greatness is in loving God and in humbling oneself in His presence, completely forgetting oneself and believing oneself to be nothing; because the Lord is great, but He is well-pleased only with the humble; He always opposes the proud,” St. Maria Faustina wrote in Divine Mercy in My Soul. I am a proud man. Proud in the sense that I strive for greatness daily. I am proud of my accomplishments. I am proud of my growth as a writer.

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There are periods in my life when pride is healthy—I am confident in the gifts and blessings God gave me to lead others to Christ. Lately, I have been veering closely to the sin of pride. I look inward at my accomplishments as if I am the sole reason for my successes. I need to be constantly reminded through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Mass that humility of heart and mind leads to true success. My best writing does not stem from my intellect. From my experiences I have learned that listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit along with relying on the wisdom of Mother Church and Her saints provides the greatest fruits in my writing and personal satisfaction. I want to share three ways that one can remain relevant as a Catholic blogger [or really a Catholic evangelizer in general!]

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  1. Testify to the Truth: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2465-2466,

The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His “faithfulness endures to all generations.”255 Since God is “true,” the members of his people are called to live in the truth.256

In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest. “Full of grace and truth,” he came as the “light of the world,” he is the Truth.257

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This seems like an obvious statement. Of course, any Catholic needs to testify to the truth. It should go without saying…right!? Perhaps, testifying to the truth is a self-evident statement. Regardless of whether it is obvious or not, it is always good to be clear with our mission as followers of Christ. I am as guilty as anyone of preaching the Word of God, but not living it to its fullest extent. I struggle with anger, pride, gluttony, greed, doubt, and sloth daily. I need to renew my mission as an evangelizer of the Good News and it starts with me being reminded to remain steadfast to the truth that has been safeguarded and passed down by the Catholic Church.

My former self used to fall into theological rabbit-holes of speculating random questions about Catholicism that did not truly lead me to an authentic love of the Triune God. As a practical step towards keeping my old self at bay I removed myself from occasions to unhealthy theological speculation by leaving groups on social media that did not lead me to greater love of the Catholic faith!

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  1. Trust in the Truth: Along with testifying to the truth professed by Jesus Christ and passed on down through Apostolic succession, I need to TRUST in that truth. My penchant toward rationalism and analysis sometimes leads me to scrupulosity in matters of challenging Catholic doctrine. I desire to know all. That is quite prideful! The desire for knowledge about God and Catholicism is not bad in and of itself. When I fall into the extreme of seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge that it becomes problematic. St. Cardinal John Henry Newman’s famous quip helps give me perspective. He stated, “Regarding Christianity, ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”

I do not have all the answers. In fact, the Catholic Church does not have all the answers either! Some things are left to ponder. God is ultimately a mystery beyond our total comprehension. However, the Catholic Church does have answers to all the most important questions like: what is the purpose of this life? Can we know God? How can we grow in relationship with God and our neighbors?

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us one of the most important things Catholics should ponder daily: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.”

 

  1. Be Creative: Truth housed within and safeguarded by the Catholic Church is universal. It applies to everyone across the globe—and across time. Different approaches need to be made to teach the truth to different audiences. I have learned that people are at different stages of belief. Even in my own life I need to read various passages of Scripture and diverse writings of saints to help me growth in my spiritual life. Variation in teaching and communication applies to writing as well. I have developed my tone of writing to be less severe.

 

When I become a father and learning that our children have special needs opened my eyes to the message of the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Our youngest son has cognitive delays and requires weekly special education. My previous vision of a black and white, simplistic world was challenged. So was my Catholic faith. I believe the Holy Spirit provided me these difficulties to plant—and later harvest—a creative spark in my writing! The Good News is akin to an acorn that develops from a small seed to a magnificent and beautiful oak tree. The Church wants the world to realize that truth is able to develop and we are still in the process of learning about how to fully describe God’s revelation.

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According to Dei Verbum 8 the Council Fathers declared,

The tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts, through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

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Change is inevitable. Since I started blogging several months ago, my writing and approach to publicizing my message has changed. According to St. John Henry Newman, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” I have to constantly shift my gaze upward to God. I have learned that my successes are gained only through the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching, trusting, and being creative in how I convey the truth of the Gospel!