OCD

Why St. Martha is the Perfect Saint for My Birthday!

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July 29th was my 30th birthday! More importantly it is the Feast Day of St. Martha the friend of Jesus Christ and brother to St. Lazarus and St. Mary. I have always shared a special connection to this ancient Christian role model. My own personal journey to overcome anxiety, worry, OCD, and constant movement in both my daily and spiritual life. Here I want to share a couple ways by which Martha is a perfect person to share July 29th.

  1. Action, Action, Action: Diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, I remember always being in motion as a kid. I know that sounds cliche to talk about children move around, wiggling, and lacking focus, but for me that was and still is some days true. I struggled with sitting still. I seen this trait passed on to my own children as well. Both my son and daughter rarely are able to sit down for a complete meal. In fact they have a tough time sitting still for more than a couple minutes at a time. Needless to say, the action and constant movement of St. Martha appeals to me on a personal level. busyness.jpg
  2. “Martha [Matt], Martha [Matt], you are anxious and worried about many things”:  Another reason the patron saint of homemakers is a perfect person to share my birthday with is due to her anxiety. Martha complains directly to Jesus about her sister Mary in Luke 10:40, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The hospitality of Martha was negated by the tactless manner upon which she communicated her frustrations about her sister to Jesus. Jesus calmly replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.42 There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” How often do I experience similar frustrations when I think I am doing more to prepare for guests than my wife or other members of my family. Preparation and hospitality are good in and of themselves. Where the trouble lies in Martha’s situation is she worried about something fleeting [the itinerary of the feast]  instead of cleaving to the eternal [sitting at the feet of Christ].
  3. Initial doubt, then Trust: Along with both the personal limitations Martha struggled with constantly and the focus on the minutiae of daily life, her initial doubt of Jesus’ ability to help Lazarus reminds me of my own frequent self-doubt. According to John 11, Jesus heard news of the Lazarus– the brother of Mary and Martha– being ill.

    I always found these two sentences in this story interesting and bewildering: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was” (John 11: 5-6). Wait. If Jesus really loved his friends, why in the world did he procrastinate the equivalent of a weekend’s worth of time? Basically his response is no different that if I heard that my parents were severely ignored and instead of rushing to the hospital immediately I stayed at my house for the weekend. To be honest, this passage was a difficulty for myself. It is reading the entirely of the chapter– and reading it in light of the Resurrected Christ– that I realized John is preparing us for a tremendous miracle– the raising of Lazarus.

    Martha’s reply to Jesus entering the city of Bethany is similar to something I would say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!!”  (John 11: 21). I often lament to God saying, “If only you answered my prayers timely would I not be suffering at this moment!”

    St. Paul reassures us that even in the face of suffering, doubt, and strife, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). This was actually the first line in the second reading of the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 30th). I actually planned to write this post on Saturday. I am grateful that my friend took me to see the newest Spiderman movie in theaters for my birthday because I would not have  made the connection to Paul’s message and the anxiety that both St. Martha and I share. We know that all things work for good for those who love God. This timeless message also reminds me of this Lauren Daigle song I heard on the radio this weekend as week. The song is titled Trust in You  and here are the lyrics:


    Letting go of every single dream

    I lay each one down at Your feet
    Every moment of my wandering
    Never changes what You see
    I try to win this war
    I confess, my hands are weary, I need Your rest
    Mighty warrior, king of the fight
    No matter what I face You’re by my side
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings
    There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
    So let all things be my life and breath
    I want what You want Lord and nothing less
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    You are my strength and comfort
    You are my steady hand
    You are my firm foundation
    The rock on which I stand
    Your ways are always higher
    Your plans are always good
    There’s not a place where I’ll go
    You’ve not already stood
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
  4. Cleanliness is next to Godliness: Martha is known as the patron saint of housekeepers, cooks, laundry workers, and servants. While I am not a great cook, I am a clean-freak. As a result of my OCD, I tend to do the majority of the household cleaning chores [I have control issues that I am currently working on]. I also helped my mom with her cleaning business as a kid and I worked in the fast food industry cooking and serving food for almost seven years during high school and college. Little did I know God was using my experiences with menial jobs to forge a relationship with one of the New Testament saints.

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Going into writing this post, I had some anxiety about how I would finish it properly. What I have learned is that God will transform the ordinary– in this case my anxiety and work experiences and raise it to a newness of creation. Sharing my birthday with the feast day of St. Martha of Bethany is an honor and a privilege. While I can wait to get another year older I cannot wait to celebrate this wonderful saint’s feast day again next year!

 

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How to Roundhouse Kick My Daily Precipitation of Precipitateness

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Joseph Pieper, a 20th century German Catholic philosopher, once stated in Happiness and Contemplation,“Repose, leisure, peace, belong among the elements of happiness. If we have not escaped from harried rush, from mad pursuit, from unrest, from the necessity of care, we are not [fully] happy. And what of contemplation? Its very premise is freedom from the fetters of workaday busyness.” I think every person needs to be daily reminded of this message. It seems that lately I have been encountering a flood of fleetingness. Craziness abounds in both my work and home—demands piles up both from company leadership and my children.

Instead of me thriving and managing the stresses of daily routine, life has become a panicked response to these hurried stimuli. I wish there is some why for me to fight this raining of rashness. I really mean to fight it. I wish I this precipitation of precipitateness could manifest itself in a physical form so I could perform an epic beat down on it. My wife recently started kick-boxing for her morning exercise routine—so please do not think I am always a violent person! Would it not be nice to pull a Chuck Norris and roundhouse kick stress, busyness, and hurriedness into oblivion? Although it may be a pipe-dream to pull that off this donnybrook on stress literally, there are a few tips I have learned from my Catholic faith, my counseling sessions, and through my own life experience that help me stave off the burdens of busyness.

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1. Present Before the Greatest Presence: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1323, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”136 “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.” Oftentimes I fall into the trap of citing official church documents in hopes of slamming the door on any possible counter-argument to the truth. I have recently learned the errors in my line of thought. Great, I cited the official teaching of the Catholic Church on the sacrament of the Eucharist. But what exactly does this mean for me on an individual level. Do I experience any sort of change or transformation through my encounter with this divine presence?

I wish that I could provide you an answer to all possible questions on this topic. But to be honest, I would only be kidding myself and I would fall short. I would be an inadequate emissary for the Catholic Church. For more information on rational arguments for belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist please refer to my post What Happened When I Critically Read John 6?. What I can provide is my perspective, despite the fact that it is limited. I am actually most at peace in this life when I sit quiet before the sacrament of the Eucharist in Adoration. As a Catholic, I truly believe that during the Mass the bread and wine is transformed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Communicating with God through the form of the Blessed Sacrament is where I am most at peace. Sacraments are visible signs of an invisible reality.

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The second place I am most at peace is when I make myself vulnerable to my wife and share my dreams, fears, and worries to her. In the sacrament of marriage the love of God is made manifest in the exchange of a husband and wife [I rely on this type of presence of God more frequently than the Eucharist simply because it is more readily available].

Jesus never stressed about the busyness of this world. Even when he heard the terrible news of his close friend’s Lazarus dying Jesus never hurried. In reply to the concerned words of Lazarus’ sisters Christ calmly states in John 11:4, “This illness is not to end in death,* but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Perhaps the worries and stresses God allows in my life was a preparation for his glory and display of mastery of them later in time. Through the sacraments I acquire calmness of mind and heart.

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2. Cudgeling through Communication: How do you handle stressful situations? This was an interview question a prospective employer once asked me. I paused for a couple moments to collect my thoughts. I then provided two simple ways: communication and patience. As I stated above, I increase my patience through the graces I receive in the sacraments. Regarding communication, I have worked to consciously improve the manner and tone by which I rely information both at work and home.

What I have found out is that clearly and concisely conveying information is a surefire way to mitigate or defeat stressful situations. My counselor at my appointment today advised me to take a different perspective [i.e. try to see things from my manager’s vantage point] before I react and communicate something in a stressful event.

3. Perfectionists are not Perfect: Something I struggle with frequently is my tendency toward perfection. I have always been a perfectionist and an idealist. A large part of this may be due to my OCD inclinations and strong desire to have things in an straightforwardly organized manner. I want things to be predictable. There is an internal conflict within myself over desiring control over situations. I am blessed to have my wife in my life to provide an alternative approach to life. Through her example, I have slowly [hopefully surely!] worked toward a balanced approach to the stressful situations in life. Perfectionists are not perfect. We seek to attain it daily, but we will always fall short.

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Does that mean I need to lower my expectations or my standards? There is a question that I may have an answer to later in my life. What I do know is that I need to come to grips with the reality that humanity is fallen. Perfection is not to be fully attained in this life—it is hinted at through the holy witness of the saints and the life of Jesus Christ!

What is True Freedom?

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Tomorrow the United States celebrates its 241st birthday as a nation that champions the following freedoms expressed in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution: freedom of religion, speech, press, and right to a peaceably assembly. Much debate and discussion has been generated over the proper interpretation of these enumerated freedoms spelled out in the primary American document. Today, I do not want to continue or add to the debate. Rather, I simply want to contemplate the question of what is true freedom. Where does mankind’s freedom originate from? Is it possible to achieve complete freedom in this life?

Before I proceed with my thoughts on freedom, I want to define which specific sort of freedom I will be referring to. Throughout the centuries humanity occasionally conflates freedom to[i.e. ability to do anything a person wishes] with freedom from [liberty from an oppressive force or evil]. I am going to dedicate my attention to the later definition of freedom. As a Catholic, I admit that much of my world outlook is influenced by my faith. Because of this I will view the subject of freedom through the lens of Christianity.

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According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom (CCC 1739).

Despite this despairing truth, the Catechism states that hope is not all lost. In paragraph 1741 the Church teaches that, “In him [Christ] we have communion with the ‘truth that makes us free.’” In other words, true freedom is not the ability to do anything we want. Disguising freedom under the camouflage of the self leads to chaos and strife. For example, if people chose to have complete freedom from obeying traffic lights and signs traffic jams, car accidents, and even vehicle caused deaths would ensue.

From my own experience, I have learned that this struggle between freedom to versus freedom from is real. Battling the sin of stubborn pride and possessing OCD, I often lack humility to admit I am wrong. I obsess over possessing control at both work and home. In the short term, I receive peace and relief when I exert control through daily OCD rituals of cleaning and limiting my email inboxes. Sometimes my utopia lasts for a few weeks. However, such utopian bliss is fleeting and temporary. My self-centered approach to freedom hits a roadblock when my family’s needs come in conflict with my own desires.

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I wish that I had better news. Like, I am winning this war against my pride and OCD tendencies! Sadly, I am not. I lost a battle last week. What I do plan on doing is going to daily Mass to celebrate the 4th of July and to make an effort to put my wife and children before my needs this week. I plan on going to Confession to obtain the aid of the sacramental graces provided by the Holy Spirit through the priest. True freedom [that is freedom from sin] may not truly occur until our death and hopeful union with the Trinity in Heaven. I ask for your continued prayers as I seek to become a more humble man. My road toward true freedom only exists through the narrow path provided by Jesus Christ! I pray that I continue to have strength to get up and walk this path daily with Him and I am thankful for God’s continual mercy towards me.

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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!

A Whimsical Wednesday Encounter with Wonder

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There is something special about Wednesday. Maybe it is because it is the halfway point of the week and the journey toward the weekend is on the downhill slope. When I used to teach I always loved Wednesdays since that was the day we had our all-school weekly Mass. I mentored this past school year on Wednesday to a 2nd grade student and I will continue this going into the next school year. Wednesday is simply wonderful. The same is true during the lull of a humid summer day.

I want to share the whimsical Wednesday encounter with wonder I experience on the waning part of yesterday [Wednesday]. My wife took our three children [we have an almost six year old, three year old, and a 1 year old] to the library to get both her library card and their first ever library cards. Coming home from work I sensed a wonder about in our house. Gone was the normal tumult of chaos and sibling fighting. My daughter ran up to me as I entered our house with a beaming smile and holding tightly onto her new book about pigs! In the living room, oldest son was reading his book aloud.

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I am a bibliophile! During the summers of my youth, I checked out a minimum of 20 books a week from my local library. I immersed myself with fiction and non-fiction books alike. I was an equal content opportunity reader—I read about every subject and still do! To find my children experience the wonder and joy of the library at such an early age, even earlier than I remember myself going, is a delight.
Little did I know that I would experience such wonder and joy on this Wednesday evening. A few weeks ago I would not have noticed this joy within my children because I was struggling with my OCD tendencies and my own personal struggles. I have since made efforts to slow down my pace and find the hidden joy and wonder in life. I thank my wife for taking time to bring our children to our city’s library and foster a love of reading! Whether you are a parent or not I strongly encourage you to visit your local library this week and encounter a wonder hidden in a story!

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Am I Trending Toward Megalomania With this Blog?

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Breaking away from my more theologically oriented topics I normally focus on, today I need to discuss something that I cannot put off any longer. Has this blog made me power hungry? More importantly, am I trending toward megalomania through my writing endeavors on this blog? While it is may be safe to assume I am not a megalomaniac yet, I have my concerns about my past desire for power and control.

1. Obsession or passion?: Whenever I discover an interesting field of study I plunge my heart, mind, and soul into learning the entire subject and am quick to develop an adroitness to that subject. My OCD tendency brings me to the precipice of passion– where I choose between sanity or diving off the edge toward obsession– and seek mastery of a subject. This fine line between the inherent goodness of passion towards a field of study and the danger of obsession is a grave concern I have about whether I am trending toward megalomania with my writing.

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2. Means to Go Down this Path: Along with my inherent natural tendency to fall prey to obsession I have the means to succumb to this darkness—experience with successful writing and free time. I finally pushed through the large world of publishing by getting an article published into a Catholic magazine. What made it official was that I actually got paid an honorarium! Back then I did not have the free time I have now so my means to achieve power and attaining notoriety has never been better.

3. Pen is Mightier than Sword: This metonymic adage seems to be truer with the passage of time. The inception of the Internet in the late 20th century and the burgeoning of social media allows the pen grow sharper and the sword duller. I am blessed to live in a country where the First Amendment grants the right to freedom of speech. My existence in a social milieu that encourages expression of thoughts leads to the temptation for power in pushing out as many publications and gaining as many followers. To be perfectly frank, I get a sense of happiness when I notice I gain a follower. It pleases me. But I am not satisfied long because I continue to seek to gain more and more prestige and power from the little blog I re-started to months’ ago. I need to beware of wielding one of the greatest weapons of all-time—power of print! If I am not aware of this peril I may plummet to a pitfall I will struggle to escape from.

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Despite my pessimistic language about me teetering on the brink of megalomania I do have reason for hope.

1. Preparedness: My OCD may sometimes lead me toward obsessive and megalomaniac paths but this is a nice benefit to my personality and my autistic tendencies—I always am prepared. Hints at my propensity for organization and planning flashed up during my childhood. Even when playing board game I have a certain readiness about me. For example, whenever my wife and I play the cooperative game Pandemic I usually don the role of the contingency planner. My recognition of my leaning toward megalomania is a good sign I can stop it from coming to fruition!

2. Allies: Being Catholic I have a wealth of resources and allies for me to draw upon for courage and endurance. After completing my first Marian consecration with my wife on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, I have gained a new awareness that I may rely on my Holy Mother to bring me closer to God. Secondly, I have a plethora of examples of Catholic saints who struggled with the sin of pride just like myself. St. Paul and St. Jerome are the first that come to mind.

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3. Weapons Against Wickedness: Together with my penchant for strategy and the saints to guide me in battle against megalomania, I have access to an arsenal of weapons guaranteed to defeat this pride I face—the sacraments! First the sacrament of Baptism I received as a baby erased the stain of original sin. I died to sin and became a new creation. Secondly, the sacrament of Confession is especially powerful in my battle against megalomania as through the priest Jesus Christ grants the forgiveness of sin and graces me with strength to carry on anew. The Eucharist is food that fees me on my journey and graces me with Jesus’s own Body and Blood to defeat any sinful inclination. The last sacrament I want to focus on is marriage. While the Eucharist is the most powerful and source of life of the Church, I experience the sacrament of marriage more frequently. My wife and helpmate toward holiness graces me with the gift of perspective and she is like the DC Comics superhero Wonder Woman since she is able to kill any prideful tendency of mine and puts me on the right path toward humility.

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I think one of the main reason I love writing is that I am changed and I seek to change others as well. Going into writing this post I honestly thought I would end on a pessimistic and apocalyptic tone. Somehow I was changed through the process of writing and reflecting on my sources of strength: Jesus, Mary, the saints, sacraments, and my wife. Remember despite the seeming darkness in the world hope will always prevail!

Organized Chaos or Chaotic Order: Which Do I Prefer?

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My son was recently diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum last year and it is highly likely that I myself am on the spectrum as well. Having my son diagnosed has been both a relief and a trial. I received answers for why I think the way I do. Journeying with my son to embrace the joy of autism in addition to learning new opportunities to grow helped me learn and change as a father and spouse. Struggling to adapt to an ever-changing world following college and during my nascent marriage, I fought temptation after temptation to try to control nearly every aspect of my life. My OCD instead of being strength transformed into a fatal flaw. To be clear I have improved on this area of my life, however, it is a temptation that I need to slay each and every day!

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Unless I utilize my daily strategies and pray daily my mind goes into a frenzied state. Distraction, irritability, low patience, struggle to let things go are just a few of the side effects of my condition. I am so detailed-oriented that I could tell you genus of every “tree in the forest” whether it be a “deciduous or a pine” I focus on the minutiae, the seemingly mundane details in life. Led in the right direction my penchant for noticing daily inconsistencies that escape others’ radar will be an amazing skill. During the last few years my search for control and order has led me to find not organized chaos [i.e. life] but rather chaotic order [a self-imposed hell]. C.S. Lewis states this type of mindset best, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”

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The best example that comes to mind to describe the difference between “organized chaos” and “chaotic order” is looking at a piece of art. If you stand closely to a painting and only focus on a portion of the painting it may seem chaotic. Yet by shifting our gaze from the portion to the whole of the painting this seeming chaos focuses into a beautiful organization—similar to the din of instruments in a symphony work to produce harmonious music! I need to pray constantly and rely on the help of others—my wife especially who is a special educator teacher!—give me fortitude to slay my controlling tendencies.

St. Jerome struggled mightily against the sin of anger and sought to have control over thing in his life similar to myself. In fact, Jerome had such a hot-temper that he even pissed off St. Augustine himself! Many times I exhibit similar qualities as the great bible scholar: tactlessness, judgmental words, and low patience. Something that has helped me in the past that I need to get back in the habit is praying the liturgy of the hours. St. Jerome’s most famous quip is, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”. The divine office incorporates a salubrious mix of the psalms, saintly homilies, and Gospel readings to medicate my soul. Finally, I need to realize that autism is not a disability it is simply a part of whom I am and who my son is. The only defining characteristic I need to focus on it that I am a child of God and caretaker to my family. May anyone you know who is touched by autism realize that it is a gift from our Creator!

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