surrendering

Advent: 4 Ways to Become a Better Man & Father this Season.

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Happy New Year!

In the Church, Advent commences the Christian New Year. Advent is the season that most retailers miss between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Advent is a preparation in anticipation for the coming of Jesus. Most people focus on Jesus coming during Christmas, but there are two other “comings” of Christ that occur. The Second Coming refers to Jesus final coming in time where He will take His peeps to Heaven and the rest well…you know. The third coming, which technically should be called the second coming since it happens between His birth (first coming) and the final coming at the end of time (second coming) is what I call a daily coming. This is the daily decision to let Jesus come into our hearts and literally reign over all we do.

For many people Advent is completely off the radar and gets surpassed by shopping, planning family gatherings, etc. I want to challenge all men (and women too. I know you read this, but I’m focusing on dads primarily) to use this season of Advent as a way to help you become a better man and father. So here are four ways to let the season of Advent transform you.

  1. Daily Invitation: Does Jesus have a place in your daily life? Is He a Christmas and Easter thought only? If so why? There are many reasons why this could have happened. The question is do you want it to stay this way? If the answer is ‘no’ then challenge yourself to doing some daily reading this Advent. Go online, to a bookstore, etc. and find an Advent Companion. Here are a few: Magnificat, LivingFaith. Maybe you are one of those dudes that don’t like to read, so here is an option for you: redeemedonline.com. This website gives you a 2 minute daily video on Advent that you can reflect on.
  2. You are going to die: Eventually we all do. Advent has us reflect on the reality that Jesus’ Second Coming is going to happen and how we lived will have a huge impact on what happens after you die. The point here isn’t so much to focus on death, but to help you reflect on how you are living so that you are on the right side of this Second Coming. If you dropped dead right now where would you go? Something worth thinking about.
  3. Serve your family: This may seem like a no brainer and something you already do. The question is how can you do this better? Most men are really good at serving their families by working and providing for their material needs. What about other needs like quality time with your spouse or kids? When was the last time you had a good conversation with your son or daughter? When was the last time you did something for your wife so that she could have a few hours of free time? I don’t know about you guys, but I find myself constantly trying to get things my way and this is not ok. Being a man means being able to sacrifice and serve—it is at the core of who we are.
  4. Your family’s overall health: How is your family doing in the following areas: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually?
    1. Are you all overweight and not eating well? Do you have some way to be physically active? If not, walk around your block once a week as a family, or go to a park and walk together.
    2. Can your family members communicate emotions, feelings, thoughts in a healthy loving, yet challenging environment? Having a dinner or after dinner discussion once a week on how everyone is doing is a great way to check in.
    3. What is your family’s prayer life like? Is it just grace before meals? Besides the fact that Church on Sundays should be a priority what are you as a father doing to lead this effort? How about taking that Advent companion and doing the reading and reflection during dinner and have everyone go around and share their thoughts.
    4. How are you challenging your family intellectually? Do you read articles, books, etc. on things that help them flex those brain muscles? Why not once a week present some discussions on a topic that will make your kids think beyond what they are accustomed to? It could be political, moral, ethical, etc. The key is getting them to think and grow in their intellectual capacity.

I know that these four things may seem like a lot, but the whole point of having a time to reflect and push ourselves is so that we can live better lives. Advent is here and will be gone in the blink of an eye; will you be a better man and father after the fact? Will you have helped your family be better after the fact? Maybe all four of these are too much for some of ya’ll. That’s fine. Do two. Do one, but definitely do something.

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Categories: Advent, being a man, best self, Catholic, christianity, christmas, fatherhood, fully alive, God, home and family, Jesus, surrendering, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dust

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Today is the beginning of Lent and in the Catholic Church it begins with going to Mass and having ash put on your forehead with the following words said, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.  It is kind of a weird thing to say, but it is a physical symbol of death. We recognize that we were created out of the dust and that we will die and become dust again.

There is nothing like the reality of death to put things into perspective.

Death is that inevitable elephant in the room that no one really wants to talk about. Death is very real and it will come to all of us. If you have ever spoken to someone who is dying they will usually talk about things like family, friends, relationships they had. Rarely does a dying person talk about wanting to get the latest iPhone or regretting not having more stuff. Death pushes away the junk of life and prioritizes it.

Thankfully I am not dying, but I still need to prioritize, reflect on my relationships—the things that are really worth living for. Lent begins with dust—death—but more importantly Lent ends with life, new life. A life that is better than the one we have. At the end of Lent we have Easter, the empty tomb, resurrection—New Life.

Lent is an intense time of prayer, repentance, sacrifice, reflection, denial, surrender to God, acceptance of our weakness, recognition of blessings, etc. At the end of Lent I should have a new focus, a renewed desire for all that is most important: God and family. Not stuff.

My wife and daughter need a husband and father that is being purified of all that is not good. They deserve the very best of me and I can’t give them that if I don’t take stock of where I am and focus on the important things of life. It’s too easy to get distracted and knocked off course. That is why I love having Lent every year to help me refocus.

I think that if every father took these next 40 days to pray, reflect, repent, sacrifice, deny, surrender to God, accept our weakness and recognize all our blessings we would be better men. The men our families deserve, the men God has called us to be. In the end we will all face death…return to the dust. I hope that we can all face death joyfully, with the understanding that it isn’t the end but the beginning of something great, a New Life.

May this Lent transform us all!

Categories: best self, cleansing, dying to self, fatherhood, God, home and family, Parenting, surrendering | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nails

Hands and feet

One of the more challenging things I do with Claire is trimming her finger and toenails. I remember the first time I did it. It was traumatic—for me. I had the clippers out and was able to get a few fingernails in a half hour. I was so scared I would take a chunk of her finger! I didn’t take a whole finger, but unfortunately I got a little bit of skin and it bled. Man talk about feeling like a bad father.

At 10 months old trimming her nails isn’t a traumatic experience anymore, but it is still challenging. I find myself giving her shinny things to look and hold with one hand, while I try and trim her nails with the other. It is a bit rough to say the least. Claire is able to twist, turn and yank her limbs away all while screaming at the top of her lungs. I guess this is why surgeons have anesthesia.

A few days ago we were at it again (I swear they grow overnight). Claire fought like a mad woman. I would try to calm her with monkey noises (one of her favorite sounds), handing her a tiny flash light we keep by her crib, and finally by trying to reason with her. The monkey sound was the only slightly successful tactic. At one point I pinned her down and tried overpowering her, but quickly realized that this would only lead to more trouble.

Force never works.

As I stood frustrated over Claire, clipper in one hand and pinning her with the other I came to the realization that Claire’s attempts to keep me from trimming her nails is something I do…with God.

God is constantly speaking to us—even to those of us who believe He isn’t there. God is constantly trying to steer us towards Him and all that is good. God does all He can to help us to see that what He has to offer is what we need. I’m sure God has His own monkey noises for us; shinny things to attract our attention and heaven forbid He would try to reason with us. I know I fight Him just as much as Claire fights nail trimming.  Claire’s nails must be trimmed so she doesn’t hurt herself, but she will fight it. There are things in my life that must be “trimmed” yet I fight it.  I kick and scream and in the end the only thing I’ve done is cut myself with my own nails.

I often wonder how incredibly frustrating it must be to be God. To have a bunch of whinny, difficult and crazy children that reject every good and perfect thing He offers. It must be exhausting and infuriating. As I think these things Claire smiles as she lies pinned down by my hand.  I smile back and realize that even in Claire’s fighting and whining I love her beyond her fighting me. I know this is a lesson for me. In all my fighting, whining and rebellion God still loves me.

 

Categories: children, dying to self, fatherhood, God, Parenting, surrendering | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Old Days

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There are moments like today where I miss the calm, ordered, predictable life I once had. I had an apartment that was clean. Everything was placed in a particular way that made logical sense. I got up at a certain time. Went to sleep at a certain time. All was calm, ordered and clean.

Life is not like this anymore and there are moments where I miss the old days.

I miss it because it was easy. When you are alone you can set your own pace. Do what you want and have no one disrupt that. It’s nice because it’s predictable, constant and oh, so comfortable.

Life is anything but predictable, constant and comfortable with a family. Everyday has something in it that you were not expecting that frustrates you, changes your plans, leaves a mess, etc. I currently stand in the mist of toy shrapnel in my living room. It looks like Fisher Price sent bombers and toys blew up everywhere. There are socks (none matching) all over the place. Food is smeared on the baby chair and dinning room table. My wife’s school books are sprawled out on the kitchen table, her own socks lie before the grown and there are at least 2 cups of water lying around in precarious places. Dishes peek over the sink and there is a particularly yellow stain on the kitchen counter that I think just winked at me.

Not predictable…not constant…not comfortable and certainly not clean…

Seven years ago I left the Catholic seminary. I was studying to be a Catholic priest; something I had felt a calling in my heart for a long time. After a few years in the seminary I was hooked and thought this was where I belonged. It was predictable, constant and comfortable. I felt like this was where I was supposed to be. Yet, God had other plans. During my second year I began to get a sense from God that this was a pit stop and not my final destination. I was not comfortable with that. I liked seminary and what it was. Needless to say I left the seminary. Not because I didn’t like it, or had a bad experience or any of the sorts. God had made it clear, that for me, this was too easy. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Being a seminarian and eventually becoming a priest is not easy. Priests have very demanding and difficult lives. Ask to shadow your local priest and you’ll see how not easy it is. However for me, and the way I am wired it was going to be too easy.

This may seem confusing to people. Why not do what feels predictable, constant and comfortable? I thought the same thing until I got married. Pope Benedict 16 has a quote that I love, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” In my life that which is comfortable and easy never helps me to grow. Sure, it’s predictable, constant and comfortable—all things I love. However, these things only help me to live a life that is comfortable and not great. Comfort in this sense is not the comfort one looks for in their couch after a long day of work. Comfort here refers to someone seeking to do that, which is less arduous, and doesn’t demand as much. Comfort in this sense is a lack of living to our full potential—half-assing if you will.

You and me are made for greatness, but a lot of the time we settle for comfort. It’s predictable and constant. But to be who we are meant to be requires effort, pain, sweat and tears—none of which are comfortable.

I stand before a room that is messy; a life that is no longer done “my way”; a life that demands that others be first and myself to be last. There are moments like this one where I miss the old days. Yet, I know that this new life is turning me into the man I am called to be. The lack of predictability, constancy and comfort makes me a better man, a better father, a better husband and a better person all around. It’s like going to the gym and working out. If I only lift weight that my body is comfortable with I will never breakdown the muscle fibbers that will in turn rebuild stronger and bigger muscles, which will make me a stronger and bigger person.

There are moments when I reminisce on the old days, but these new days are better. I have a loving wife and daughter that make life so much better. We can all look to the old days and say they were good. There was a lot of good stuff there that made life predictable, constant and comfortable, “but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

Categories: best self, complacency, dying to self, fatherhood, fathers, home and family, manhood, Parenting, surrendering, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Live, Fight, Die

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We have a serious problem with manhood in our society.

I recently gave a talk to 8th grade boys on this topic and when I asked them to raise their hand and tell me if they understood what it meant to be a man, most of them didn’t. When I asked them to raise their hand if they have 1-2 adult men in their lives that they think would be considered good examples of men, most of them again kept their hands down.

What’s the deal with this? Why is it that we know how to do manly things like chopping wood, fixing cars and homes, shooting guns, etc. but we don’t know what it means to be a man? Obviously, those things listed above are not enough to make someone a man. So, why is it that a wood chopping, car fixing, gun shooting male can look the part of manhood and yet not be one?

I know plenty of men who outwardly do manly things but are really boys playing the part. I also know men who do none of the traditional manly-type activities and yet are the shining example of what being a man is.

I think discovering what it means to be a man comes down to how men do 3 things:

How we live, how we fight and how we die.

Video games like Skyrim, Modern Warfare and Assassins Creed are really popular. Most guys that play these games do so because these stories speak to the very heart of a man. The desire for purpose, battle and sacrifice are essential to a man. We are wired for that stuff and the video game industry knows it and spends a pretty penny on researching it so that we get hooked on their games.

Take the game Skyrim for instance. The game is about a guy who is in the wrong place at the wrong time and is about to be killed. Nobody knows who he is or cares. You end up escaping and find yourself battling a dragon that, after you defeat it, reveals your incredible power.

You are the chosen one. No longer a nobody. You have gifts and talents, but more importantly, a mission and a reason to live. From there, your character goes on a journey, a battle where you are fighting to save the world of Skyrim. This battle requires incredible strength, mastery of skills and courage. It may even cost you your life. There is another dragon you must battle and it is no ordinary dragon. He is the “world eater”. He is the one that you have been chosen to fight against and it’s very possible you may die in the process.

Men are hardwired for this type of adventure and even though you and I may not find ourselves picking up an axe and shield to go fight a dragon, we are meant to do battle. It is something that we are made for and I would even say that the man who doesn’t do this is finding himself empty and questioning his place in the world.

What do you live for? What are you fighting for? What are you willing to die for?

These are three questions at the heart of what it means to be a man. These are three questions that every man must ask himself and answer. If we have nothing to live for, we have nothing to fight or die for. And if we have nothing to die for, we may find that our lives are not worth fighting for.

As husband and father I recognize that I live to serve God by serving my family. I recognize that the battle I am fighting is primarily against myself—my selfishness (the dragon within). Overcoming myself so that I can serve my family is key to this process. I cannot die (sacrifice, surrender, etc.) for my family if I am not willing to fight, and give all of myself for them. As in the game of Skyrim, I must master the skills needed for this battle. I must master patience, fortitude, temperance, sacrifice, selflessness, and willingness to serve and not expect to be served in return.

My wife is studying to get her masters degree and so it requires a huge amount of time and energy. My job is to make sure that she has the time and energy to work on her studies. I live for her, and my fight is to make sure the house is clean, laundry is done, dinner is ready and our daughter is being taken care of. I don’t necessarily want to do all these things, but I live for my family and I will do whatever it takes for them—even doing most of the chores around the house. It requires a sort of death to self to win this battle, because the dragon within wants to be selfish and inconsiderate and egotistical.

What do you live for? What are you fighting for? What are you willing to die for?

I think that the more men ponder and search the answer to these three questions the more they will find themselves in the path of manhood. The more our children, friends and family see us striving to answer these three questions, the more they will recognize what a man looks like. Our boys and girls need to see this more than ever because what movies, TV and the media reveal about manhood is pathetic, watered down—cheap at best.

So, pick up your battle-ax men. You are the chosen one. You have been given a mission to live out. You have a family to defend. There is a fight before you and it will cost you everything. But it will be the greatest battle of your life.

Live well, fight well and die well.

 

Categories: adventure, battle, best self, dying to self, fatherhood, fathers, fighting, living, manhood, Parenting, surrendering, Uncategorized, video games | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fully Alive: Part II – Waking the Dead

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So complacency has led us to not live our lives to the full. Complacency has in many ways stolen our ability to see what this fullness even looks like.  Worse of all, complacency has stolen our heart—the one thing we need to be fully alive.

How did this happen? How is it possible that we could have our hearts taken from us? Here is the thing, our heart is not something that can be taken from us—we give it away.

We hear the phrase, “He/She stole my heart” all the time. The reality is that when we say that phrase what we really mean is that we gave that person access to our heart and they did something with it—good or bad. My daughter has stolen my heart in the sense that I am so in love with her. That love is so strong that it physically feels like she has my heart in her hands. Another example can be a girlfriend who you have given your heart to that breaks it and causes it to ache. That pain is so strong that it physically feels like she has taken your heart but in this case has done harm to it.

We give our heart over to people and things. Some of these people or things never should have had access to our heart and this, is how we lose it. Here are some examples:

  • The man who goes online to watch porn. He gives those images permission to access his heart. He lets them in and those images speak to his heart in a destructive way.
  • The man who chooses work over family because he’s successful there. His heart connects to work more so, and family loses the rightful place of that heart.
  • The man who plops himself in front of a TV connected to a X-box and plays shoot ‘em up games till 4am. His mind tells his heart he is “saving the world” but it’s virtual—fake.
  • The man who has no control over food and eats everything and anything placed before him. His heart longs for pleasure and satisfaction but its disordered.

These are just some of many ways we give our heart away. I’m sure you can come up with others yourself.

To whom, or to what have you given your heart to? And does this person or thing deserve to have it?

I have been thinking, wrestling and praying about those two questions for a long time and the answer is: I have given my heart away to things that do not deserve to have it. Those things suck the life out of my heart and have led me to complacency, this sort of zombie like state I mentioned in my last post.

I recently watched this movie called Warm Bodies. It’s a zombie comedy that has a really interesting twist to the zombie situation.  In the movie a zombie pandemic consumes the whole world. There are a few humans who are surviving and fighting the zombies. The movie follows R, who is a young zombie that really doesn’t know what he is doing, how he became a zombie, or why he is living at an airport. R feels…dead. Yet, he knows there is something out there, something more to his current state.

Eventually R meets a human named Julie and this is where things get interesting. Julie’s company does something to R that begins to change him. R recognizes that Julie is beautiful, strong and that her presence begins to wake him up from the inside out. R starts to become human again. He is reclaiming his humanity and the way he does this is through whom he gives his heart to. R falls in love with Julie and love awakens him. By the time the movie gets to the end R protects Julie from a fall and as they get up they both realize that R has woken from the dead—he is fully alive. R comes back from this zombie-like-complacent-state due to his desire to love the right thing; in this case it is a person—Julie. R reclaims his heart by giving it to Julie and he comes back to life.

Giving our hearts to the wrong things leads to death. Giving our hearts to the right things helps us to be fully alive. This is how we reclaim our heart. We love the right person, the right things.

So what does this have to do with fatherhood?

To be a good father I must be the best version of myself—that is who God has called me to be. To be fully alive is the best thing I could ever be for my family. To be anything else is simply unacceptable.

So rise up men! Reclaim your heart. Wake the dead. Be who God has called you to be.

Because the glory of God is you fully alive.

Categories: best self, complacency, fatherhood, fathers, fully alive, God, holiness, living, Parenting, surrendering, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time-free-carelessness

ImageI was talking to a friend the other day about trying to get things done when I have Claire with me and how impossible this seems. I shared that the Saturdays when my wife is working and I am home alone I can’t mow, fix or do the guy-type-things I need to do. I will try to figure out how I can get a task done with Claire, but it usually doesn’t go far.

“Maybe she would enjoy a ride in the wheelbarrow full of mulch? She can hold the shovel!”

When I accept that my guy-type-things are not going to happen I will sit on the couch with Claire and hold her while I watch TV or surf my iPhone—something I consider productive. Claire will usually get fussy and begin to cry and squirm. I’ll try to give her a bottle: she isn’t hungry. I’ll change her: she isn’t dirty. I’ll try to get her to nap: she isn’t tired.

A few days ago I sat down on the couch and forgot my phone in the bedroom and didn’t get the remote off the TV stand. I was sitting on the couch holding my baby girl with nothing to distract me. We sat…that’s all.

Claire didn’t fuss.

Claire actually goo-goo gaga the whole time and I responded with daddy’s own version. Forty-five minutes had passed and we were still hanging out without any distractions or interruptions. We were simply spending time together doing nothing in particular.

Why is it that spending time doing nothing in particular with my daughter is not enough?

I think many of us have lost the ability to be present to one another. To sit still, without a task, a text to check, an email to respond to, a dish to wash…the list goes on. One of my favorite authors/speakers, Matthew Kelly, says that we must develop the art of “time-free-carelessness.” Time-free-carelessness is being able to soak in the moment you are in without thinking of other moments to come.  To simply be in that moment and surrender to it.

The moments that I am able to have time-free-carelessness with my wife, daughter, friends, and self are usually the moments I enjoy the most. These are the moments where I don’t give other things permission to pull me away. Time-free-carelessness is a moment when I can give myself completely, and also receive fully.

I think that the issue with me lies with physical vs. emotional/spiritual tasks. A physical task such as feeding, changing or putting Claire to bed is got some substance. I can concretely establish the need and do the task necessary to accomplish the mission. An emotional/spiritual task such as playing, holding, or simply laying on the floor with Claire doesn’t have an immediate, tangible end goal. I can do these things a million times a day and there isn’t a physical need per say that is being accomplished.  I feel like a physical task is easier to do since it has an end goal whereas an emotional/spiritual task depends on many different variables.

I really need to just shift my way of thinking. My daughter is not a thing to fix, she is someone to know and love. Time-free-carelessness needs to be a priority because lawns do need to be cut and guy-type-things are necessary but Claire is more important. Those emotional/spiritual tasks may not have concrete manifestations now, but they will in the years to come. Lord, knows there are too many of us with daddy issues based on a lack of care-free-timelessness. I for one, definitely do not want to add to that.

Categories: dying to self, enjoying the moment, fatherhood, fathers, God, Parenting, patience, surrendering | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Holding on to you, dear life

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Before getting married I thought I was a pretty selfless person. When I got married I thought I needed to be a little less selfish. When we had Claire I came to the realization of the full extent of my selfishness.  It was real, big and in every facet of my life!

There is nothing like giving your life to someone else to make you realize your desire to hold on to it. I think we all come to a point in life where we recognize that to truly live we must die to ourselves, but the distance from dying to self…………and actually doing it…………is quite…………far.

Claire is a pretty easy baby. She has been sleeping through the night since she was 2 months old.  I am told that I am extremely lucky, even blessed. There are those moments of crankiness, random crying and 2 am feedings that I can handle, but it’s the moments when I am unwilling to be interrupted because I am doing “my thing” that I recognize the full extent of my desperate hold onto life. Whether it’s watching re-runs of Arrested Development, praying, or trying to finish that book I started 5 months ago, I recognize that I am unwilling to fully surrender myself to my role as father.

I recognize that when I hold onto my life on my own terms I end up enjoying it less. When I am willing to surrender, sacrifice and serve my wife and daughter I am fulfilled, happy and joyful. However, 2 days later I am at it again desperately clinging to my own life not realizing that by doing this I am actually chocking it to death and keeping it from being what it should be—a gift.

I think all of our lives are a gift. And gifts are meant to be given away…to others. Discovering fatherhood is helping me to realize the power that this gift of life can have… if only I would be willing to let go of it.

Categories: dying to self, fatherhood, Parenting, selfishness, surrendering, youth ministry | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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