Joy

Cardboard Boxes, Zoo Animals, and Creative Joy!

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One of the more interesting and exciting days of the month for my children is the day our monthly Amazon prime orders of diapers arrive. There is an inherent excitement in their eyes at the knock of the FedEx delivery on our front door. What truly enlivens my children is not the package of diapers themselves, but rather the cardboard delivery box itself. I can only use mine and my wife’s experience to draw on. Nevertheless, I will contend that one of the only thing a person is certain on in this life [along with taxes and death] is that children love cardboard boxes!

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Today, I want to share my observations about the creative joy that my children found, and continue, to find in the seemingly mundane realities of cardboard boxes and McDonald’s HappyMeal toys.

1. Animals Assemble!: The first step towards my children’s goal of transforming our home into a furry zoo was to acquire a cadre of little stuffed animals. One of the blessing my son has with his autism is the ability to hyper-focus on certain subject and quickly learn about the topic. Passing by the golden arches on a Saturday morning errand drive, my children’s stomachs started to take control. As a result, my wife and I decided to get them Happy Meals. Immediately seeing his stuffed lion, my son knew he wanted more animals for his collection. Koalas, elephants, bulls, seals, moose, and a jaguar eventually picked up residence with the lion at our home. I think we almost have the entire animal collection. Our furry zoo assembled!

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2. Researching Residences: Stage second began when my son took a cardboard box and started putting grass, rocks and rhubarb leaves into it. That coupled with his keen interest in animals and daily watching of an educational animal show on PBS and bringing his zoo-themed books to bed allowed my children to learn more about animal habitats. While this stage is technically never over, my kids gather enough information where the single cardboard box was not enough for their animals. Now they want separate zoo habitats for each kind of stuffed animal.

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3. Burgeoning Biomes: Earlier this week I noticed a careened cardboard box at the bottom of our basement stairway. My OCD tendencies involve making sure all recycled materials go into our recycling bin as soon as possible. As I was bringing the cardboard box out the door to our recycling bin, my wife stopped me in my tracks. This box was for our kids’ animal biomes. My actions almost proved fatal to our furry friends’ way of life! Thank God for my wife’s quick thinking. We acquired two additional smaller cardboard boxes from another online order yesterday. As soon as my kids saw the boxes they immediately gathered their entire miniature stuffed animal collection. Imagination ensued as I heard lots of laughter and animal sounds coming from their room. We hope to decorate the boxed biomes with crayons, pictures, and other art supplies to create greater habitat diversity.

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It is truly the simple things in life that elicit authentic joy. Seeing the enthusiasm in my children at the arrival of mere cardboard boxes reinvigorates my outlook on life. I need to be reminded sometimes that life is too fleeting for me to take things so seriously. Joy may be encountered in simple, daily, and normal activities. I am grateful to view joy through the lens of my children. I hope you stop and examine the world around you and experience the joy among you!

Toddlers: An Adorable Trace of the Trinity Part II!

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This past Sunday was the celebration of my favorite feast day of the liturgical year—Feast of the Most Holy Trinity! According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the teaching of holy Trinity is the central doctrine of Christianity. Clear evidence of this in found in paragraph 249 of CCC, “From the beginning, the revealed truth of the Holy Trinity has been at the very root of the Church’s living faith, principally by means of Baptism. It finds its expression in the rule of baptismal faith, formulated in the preaching, catechesis and prayer of the Church. Such formulations are already found in the apostolic writings, such as this salutation taken up in the Eucharistic liturgy: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”81

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Revealed to us in the New Testament by Jesus Christ and later clarified by the Holy Spirit working through the Catholic Church in ecumenical councils, our understanding of the Holy Spirit as developed but we still fall short in obtaining a full grasp of this mysterious reality and nature of God.

I have heard plenty of satisfying analogies that brought me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Holy Trinity but the best example I have experienced so far is not academic or philosophically driven. The closest analogy I found to describe the love within the Trinity is the human family! Today I want to share my humble experiences as a young father where I see traces and hints of the Trinity in my adorable toddlers.

According to St. Paul, Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,d 5it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,e 6it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I definitely do not possess all those qualities all the time. However, my kids have allowed my virtues or patience and humility to grow—albeit slowly by surely in my case! Oftentimes, at Mass I get almost as good of a workout as when I churn out a 3 mile jog on the treadmill. My youngest son constantly finds himself dashing away from us in the pew so we have to take him out of Mass frequently. If I stay within the pew with my older children I often act as a diplomat to promote sibling civility during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Along with providing growth of my virtues, my toddlers are traces of the Trinity in their daily creative play. My older two children play in an imaginative world of ninjas, superheroes, princesses, and Lego-building. When I pay close attention to this mysterious play I am reminded of the Mysterious Nature of our Triune God as well. Something about the joy of children’s play piques adult interest. I find the same to be true when I reflect on the mystery of God being united as one but as a company of three divine persons.

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To wrap up, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity will always be beyond our total grasp. We are not meant to fully understand this doctrine. Nevertheless, God revealed his nature as love and as a relationship of three Persons in Scriptures and hints is found within the family unit as well. Interestingly, God must have known I needed rest from my Sunday liturgical workouts. My wife and I were able to both listen to every reading and the entire homily for yesterday’s feast! Truly God works in Mysterious and in my children’s case humorous ways too.

The Joy of Autism

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Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communications, as well as by unique strength and differences. As science progressively gets diagnosing individuals our awareness of autism continues to develop and today more than ever, autism spectrum disorder contains as much variance as color wavelengths in the rainbow. Why am I talking about this? Isn’t autism a hot-buttoned word? There are organizations such as Autism Speaks that gives voice to this matter. Why should you care about this topic?

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These are all valid questions and concerns. To be honest have a limited knowledge about autism I learn mostly through osmosis from my wife who is a special education teacher who works closely with students on the autism spectrum. What I can provide is my experiences, albeit limited with autism spectrum disorder. I will use my practical experience with my son who was diagnosed to be on the spectrum in summer 2016 and my year of teaching students with special needs. Here I hope to share the joy autism provided [through my students] and continues to provide [through my son]!

  1. Experience teaching students on the autism spectrum: Lack of interest in class and little to no eye contact was normal for my students that I taught in my sophomore Old and New Testament Scripture classes. Help from both my wife and the special education educators at my school made day to day interactions easier for me and allowed me to better understand my students’ situation. Despite the challenges of teaching students with autism spectrum disorder, joy and strengths become apparent.

a. Questioning: As the year progressed my students learned my teaching style and knew that I enjoyed questions to generate critical thinking. One student in particular who had Asperger’s Syndrome- which is on the autism spectrum, had a penchant for asking a myriad of questions. While some teachers may viewed this as an interrogation, I welcomed my student’s curiosity. All of his questions opened up doorways for discussion. His thinking outside the box was quite beautiful and I wished I thanked him more often for his participation.

b. Clarity: Students that I taught on the autism spectrum had an ability to ask crystal clear, point-blank questions that their peers either failed to recognize or maybe were too self-conscience to ask. I respect that ability to be clear and forthright

c. Honesty: Similar to the joy of being clear, my two students with Asperger’s Syndrome were honest. They made me aware when my lesson was boring or if I needed a better handle on classroom management. At first, I was little hurt by the seeming callousness of their words. It was not after learning more about autism spectrum disorder that I saw the joy in having honesty as a natural inkling. Whenever I doubted my teaching on a tough day, my students on the spectrum assured me I was doing a great job—that reassurance acted as a balm to remedy me through rough days and weeks of teaching!

2. Experience as a father of a child on the autism spectrum: Along with my experience of joys teaching high school students on the autism spectrum is my involvement with my son who is five years old and diagnosed last year. Below are the following hidden joys of autism I discovered as a father

a.Incredible Memory: My son remembers things he did as a 1 and 2 year old. He is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about lots of topics: animals, dinosaurs, and ninjas to name a few!

b. Beautiful Mind: My wife and I knew we had a special child when our son was speaking in full sentences and knew his alphabet at 15 months. He even used complex sentences complete with subordinating clauses! I am blessed with a child who has language ability many grade levels above his age and he has recently learned and practiced subtraction with double digits numbers on his own.

c. Inconsistencies Noticed: My son is detail oriented and he is quick to remind me of whenever something seems out of place with our daily routine or activity. While some days his frequent corrections bog us down overall this ability to recognize inconsistencies in both life events and logic with serve him well in the future.

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Kaleidoscopes took on a new meaning since I taught high school students and my son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The ever-changing images and panoply for hues remind me that despite the daily challenges my students and my son face with having autism, they bring to the world a diversity that colors the world in truly indescribable and joyful ways! I encourage you to discover a kaleidoscope moment today.