OCD

2 Ways I Relate to Max Lucado’s You are Special

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John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae reminds us, “when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence” (no. 21). Admittedly, I have seen the danger of the reduction of humanity which results in a loss of dignity of the individual person. Days when I struggle with patience, I sometimes reduce my children as tasks to be managed and the ultimate goal is getting them to bedtime by the arbitrary deadline I impose on the family.

As a person with OCD, it is a daily battle to combat my compulsive urges for order and stability. Unfortunately, my control-everything mindset does not simply reside in my home-life—it seeps into the workplace as well. I get to be so goal-driven and task-oriented that sometimes I miss the entire purpose of my job [and well, any job for that matter]—to help others! Over the past couple weeks, I sought out acknowledgement from the superiors in my department and I got a little frustrated when I did not constantly receive “corporate praise”.

St. Teresa of Avila once said, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” I would do well to heed this advice. I am grateful I came across the saint’s words as I began a fresh week. Focusing on the virtue of humility got my mind thinking. Eventually, my thoughts landed on a book from our living room bookshelf—Max Lucado’s You are Special. A staple in any children’s library, this is a story that I relate to more and more with each passing year. As amazing and wise as John Paul II and Teresa of Avila, are God mysteriously stirred the story of the Wemmicks in my long-term memory bank to remind myself the true meaning of life! Let me explain:

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  1. God is a Merciful Judge: The tale begins with the average day for wooden creatures known as Wemmicks. Tirelessly, grey dots and golden stars are being placed on each individual. Dots represent a defect in a Wemmick whereas stars signify a positive attribute. All the Wemmicks were created by the same woodcarver—Eli. Punchinello is a Wemmick who receives only grey dots—and a lot of them! Over the course of the book, he gets to encounter an unblemished Wemmick without the stain of either dots or stars. Punchinello learns that visiting Eli on his hilltop residence grants Wemmicks the knowledge that they do not have to be defined by the type of markings they gave each other, and we even find out that the love of Eli prohibits dots or stars from sticking to the wooden creatures!

An obvious allegory for the Christian life, I am reminded that any good reward [or lack thereof] I receive at work does not increase or decrease my dignity as a human person or as an adopted son of God. God is a merciful judge in that He allows every day to be a new opportunity to love Him and to love my neighbor. The reception of confession is a powerful tool I have utilized in the past couple months to help combat my scrupulosity.

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  1. Doors of Hell are Locked from the Inside: A second lesson gained from You Are Special is that it is my own pride and limited world outlook that prohibits me from experiencing a foretaste of Heaven in this life. I am reminded of the famous quip of C.S. Lewis about the Afterlife, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside!” What this means is that the misery and despair of hell—that is existing apart from God—is self-imposed. I certainly experienced a hellish existence over the past three weeks. I sought to gain control over both work and home. I veered off the road of holiness . Max Lucado’s book reminded me that despair may be cured with a visit to my Heavenly Father. I need only to give permission to the Holy Spirit to enter into me.

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You are special. I am special. Because of the sin of pride, constant temptations of material goods, and the busyness of daily life we forget the merciful love of God. I will conclude with the Act of Contrition to remind us of God’s mercy and forgiving nature:

O my God, I am sorry for my sins because I have offended you. I know I should love you above all things. Help me to do penance, to do better, and to avoid anything that might lead me to sin. Amen.

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Crossroads

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“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads,” wrote G.K. Chesterton. I came across this quote earlier this week as I read Orthodoxy. Immediately, I picked up my mechanical pencil off the living room floor and underlined this concise, but brilliant message. As a former cross country runner, street intersections always remind me of the choice I had as a runner. Which path should I take? Do I take the easy and high trafficked path [normally I feel motivated by an audience of automobile drivers on the busier streets to help me continue to run] or do I take the road less traveled? Little did I realize how Chesterton’s statement would be actualized in my life. Less than a day after reading that passage, I arrived at a junction.

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Some brief background is needed as I believe God has prepared me for this moment for a while now. My youngest child was evaluated by early childhood developmental professionals and diagnosed with some learning and cognitive disabilities. Along with this challenge my wife started a new teaching job. Bills seem to continually pile up with little end in sight [at least immediate end]. Over the past few months I struggled with anxiety and my vocation in this world. I knew that I was meant to be a husband and father, but sometimes I felt like I needed to do more, to be something more, and to provide more light to this world.

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Counseling sessions and anxiety medication help me cope with the daily stresses of this ever-changing and chaotic world. Thankfully, my son was approved to receive weekly special education services to assist him in limiting his incredible tantrums and frustration levels [he was at a point where he started banging his head against the ground and hurt himself!] and increasing his ability to socialize and communicate. Small gains are being made, yet he has a long road ahead.

Together with counseling and medicine, listening to Christian music daily and reading literary Catholic giants like Chesterton and Tolkien provide me with relief when self-doubt and despair assault me. In the weeks preceding  my crossroads experience I had yesterday.  “All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.”

Talking with my manager during our weekly meeting, I looked for feedback on a new company position I was interested in. “Why did you apply for this position?” he asked. I replied, “The creative aspect and the possibility to increase my writing skills.” He continued to press on as to why exactly I enjoyed writing and advised that my career is what I choose to make of it. As a person who struggled [I guess still struggles] with OCD, I tend to like to view the world as black and white; either/or; through an if/then lens. I tried to get my manager to make the choice for me on my next path. “Where do you see yourself [career wise] in the next few years?” he asked.

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There are a few moments in life where you experience a profound clarity. Almost eerily clear. The best example I remember is when I started dating my [then future] wife in college. A mere month into dating I got a sense that I was meant to marry this girl. I heard a voice in my mind saying, “Matt you are going to marry her!” Yesterday’s conversation with my manager produced a similar lucidity of thought. “What do you want to do with your career Matt?” I responded [in my head] almost immediately, “A writer, I want to be a writer and spread the Catholic faith!!” Outside of my mind, I replied to my manager, “Well, you know I am not completely sure…” I continued to make general statements about how I enjoyed writing and about becoming a stay-at-home father to assist with my son with special needs.

Why do we shy away from God’s clear direction at a “crossroad moment” of our life? Personally, I struggle with the notion that such clear moments exist. Clarity in this chaotic world is bold. Truth is daring. As Chesterton put it, “Life [according to the faith] is very much like a serial story in a magazine: life ends with a promise (or menace)…But the point is that a story is exciting because it has in it so strong an element of will, of what theology calls free will” (Orthodoxy p. 128).  Sometimes I wish there was a pre-determined path laid out for me. In some ways, lacking freedom is less stressful. But such mentality stems from the Evil One and leads to doubt in God’s providential plan for us. It seems crazy that I am so sure that I am called to be a Catholic writer. Looking back on my life, I had the exact same doubt when I dated my wife. I thought, “It is not possible to be so certain about marrying so short in the dating process!” Marrying my wife, my best helpmate toward Heaven, was [and is] in God’s plan.

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“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.” I sincerely hope that I am able be an instrument of God help bring peace and clarity to people who suffer periods of doubt and confusion. Thank you for reading and continue to pray for me to follow God’s path!

A Humble Hue: My Story about Autism

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On a beautiful Thursday spring afternoon, I was counting down the minutes until closing time at the Municipal Museum. Employed as a part-time custodian and studying as a full-time graduate student, I had a busy week. I was ready for my shift to end. I looked forward to having a sit-down dinner with my wife. Fifteen minutes before five o’clock, a mom with a young boy entered the facility. Sweeping the entryway at this time, I politely greeted them and advised that we would be closing shortly. The mom quickly acknowledged me and rushed after her galloping child as he pursued the exhibits in a seemingly haphazard manner. I immediately noticed this and nonchalantly started to follow the museum visitors as I dusted the display placards. “Why is he acting like this?” I thought.

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The boy appeared to lack listening skills and roved in a peculiar pattern. I immediately thought to myself, “Oh great, I always get THESE kind of customers right at closing time. Don’t they know we close at five. And why is that mom not paying attention to her hyperactive kid!” I forget the details of the end of that work day. But what I do remember is that before the family left for the day they visited the gift shop. “He has autism. My son has had a particular obsession with dinosaurs that past few months,” the mom casually remarked to the museum cashier and myself as the boy searched the gift shop for dinosaur paraphernalia.

This seemingly mundane work experience happened over five years ago. Why am I telling you about a random encounter I had with a child with autism? I have never seen this family ever again. Nevertheless, after my oldest son was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum a lot of my past experiences with individuals sharing similar traits to my child revisit me in my dreams and thoughts throughout daily life. See, I thought I knew things about autism before I had children. I acted self-righteous toward that mother five years ago. Today, I want to share three ways my child with autism has humbled me and how our family’s path toward a diagnosis educated me on the uniqueness, trials, and joys of autism!

  1. Kaleidoscopic, not monochromatic:  The error of my previous way of thinking stemmed from a simplistic view of the world. I tended [and oftentimes still do today!] to reduce, or place people into categories. Individuals are either good or bad, respectful or disrespectful, educated or ignorant, right or wrong. I lumped individuals into general categories. Perhaps that was my way [and still is my way] to come to grips with difficult situations and reconcile seemingly contradictory events with the rules and laws of nature. What my precise motivation for having this black/white dichotomous worldview is for another topic. The point is I did not view each person as an individual.

In my journey with learning about my son’s diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum, I entered a new realm of possibilities. My old way of seeing the world did not line up with the increasing awareness and knowledge on the study of autism as a spectrum.  According to the dictionary, the word spectrum is defined as “a broad range of varied but related ideas or objects, the individual features of which tend to overlap so as to form a continuous series or sequence.” Synonyms include: gamut, range, span, or rainbow.

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Individuals with autism spectrum disorder generally exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others
  • Repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests or activities
  • Symptoms that typically are recognized in the first two years of life
  • Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life

During our journey toward a diagnose, my wife and I had our son evaluated because he exhibited OCD tendencies, social-communication issues, and various periods of obsessions . We learned that our son was on the higher functioning side of the autism spectrum– he needed some interventions and therapy. Overall, he is still able to communicate pretty well. In other words, my son could hide his autism well, but my wife and I wanted to obtain a diagnosis to grant him services to best help him succeed in daily life. In telling his teachers and caregivers, our son’s great gifts and needs due to his autism diagnosis we get a nearly ubiquitous reply:  “Really? He doesn’t look like he has autism.” Autism spectrum disorder is an invisible diagnosis. Being on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum my oldest son appears to be a regular kid. That is the beauty and challenging nature of autism– one shoe does not fit all kids!

Currently our youngest son is trending toward a path similar, yet different from our oldest. He shows the same characteristics as outlined above. A pattern of autism is already present in our family, however, our youngest son experiences different struggles compared to our oldest. Kids with autism spectrum disorder are unique. There are a broad range of issues and gifts, along with a wide array of services available to assist individuals.

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  1.  Ever-learning: According to the Autism Speak website, almost 1 in 45 children, ages 3 through 17, have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A few years ago, I heard a commercial on the radio advising that 1 in 88 children were diagnosed with ASD. Why the big increase? Not being an expert myself, I have thought about this situation many times. My wife recently completed her graduate studies on special education and she took several classes relating to autism spectrum disorder. Talking about the rise of ASD, she mentioned that an increased awareness and broadening of the spectrum [recently Asperger’s Syndrome was added] is a factor of such increase.

It is important to realize, that since ASD is a spectrum professionals, in education, psychology, and counseling are constantly learning about autism. In fact, the logo for Autism Speaks is a puzzle piece. Puzzles, like a mystery, contain constant changes in knowledge and basic assumptions may be overturned upon the arrival of new evidence. It is important to realize that if you have a family member, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance with autism be prepared to be open to learning. Winston Churchill once said, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” Actively seek knowledge about autism spectrum disorder and learn to develop empathy. I am certainly working on this and wish I learned this lesson five years ago.

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3.No One is a Full Expert: “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!” This adage summed up my mindset on the subject of autism. Acting in ignorance and pride, I limited individuals with autism spectrum disorder to a generality instead of unique cases. Truly, no one really in a FULL and complete expert in the field of ASD. I need to continually to be wary of judging my oldest son’s struggles and strengths against my youngest child’s limitations and  skills.

As a new parent, I got lots of parenting advice from “so-called” experts. My son did not sleep through the night until he was three years old. I felt like I was being told, “You do not know what you’re doing”. To be frank, a large majority of the time, I spent self-critiquing and self-doubting my ability to parent. Once we got a diagnosis for our son, a weight was lifted. We had an explanation. We had options. I may not have been an expert [nor still am today] but as least my family as direction to help our son.

Please learn from my mistake. Autism spectrum disorder is not uniform in its scope. Initially I failed to see the beautiful hues of humanity within ASD. Individuality exists for people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, not conformity or homogeneity. I am by far and expert and I can only see from my humble hue in the case of my son. What I do know is that I am always ready to learn. Although I do not always like being taught I pray for the gift of understanding and patience from the Holy Spirit to be open to teaching with grace.

 

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***The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.***

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!

pet avengers

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!