Birthdays Were the Worst Days

141928ce7a354b62e3a050b003751abf--pictures-of-jesus-bible-pictures.jpg

Growing up, birthdays were the best days.  For one reason… I got to pick the restaurant.  There were no worries about what my siblings and parents thought.  No quiet whisper of guilt brought on by Oldest Child Syndrome.  It was the one day of the year I could put my hopes, dreams and desires out there in the form of a Chili’s Awesome Blossom and feel like, you know what, I am going to be loved in return.  I remember the day, pretty vividly in fact.  One of those glorious days that rolled around on the calendar and here I was, restaurant choice in hand.  I went for it… “Agatucci’s,” I said closing my eyes and wincing.  I opened them slowly to see what I sort of expected.  They were nonplussed to put it nicely; horrified and passive aggressively un-affirming. But we went.  It was my freakin’ birthday after all.  The car ride was awkward.  The dinner conversation was awkward.  I was doing what I do best in trying to make sure everyone was happy in that tiny booth with jokes about my dinner choice and stories that usually got a laugh.  But nothing. Maybe Biggie was right.  Birthdays were the worst days.

BIG11.jpg

I think our relationship with God can be seen through this lens.  If I put myself out there too much, show my hand too much, express my deepest aches and desires, what will I get in return? A sense of disappointment for even asking?  Scraps from the feast we long to partake in?  So what do we do… we give with clenched hands and wincing eyes. We hold back our deepest selves from the Source of our deepest self in fear that we will lose the little bit of identity that we think we own.

This Sunday, the Gospel rocked me.  It gave me a glimpse of the full nature of God in three short paragraphs. 

He is healing.  So much so that entire towns are after him. 

He is teaching.  Everywhere he goes he takes with him those few people he called to walk with him at every turn.

He is praying.  Beautifully and profoundly, his closest friends find him early in the morning, in an intimate place, praying and tell him, surely with a sense of urgency in their voices, “everyone is looking for you!”

But to me, Jesus showed the deepest identity of God is found in winning his mission one person at a time.  They take him to see Simon’s mother in-law who lay ill with a fever.  He enters the house and her bedside is the first place he goes.  The beauty of this passage is not just that Jesus heals, it is how Simon’s mother in-law receives this love.  With a posture of receptivity and with what little strength she may have possessed, as Jesus reaches out to grasp her hand, she brings hers up to meet his.  Jesus waits to give her the fullness of her life with that intimate and affirming grasp of the hand and she gives the fullness of herself in response.   A beautiful challenge indeed.  To first trust that the fullness of God is given and then to give ourselves in return.  His healings were not just to show the power of his life, but even more so to show the power of our faith in his promise. 

So go ahead, its your birthday.  Live like it.  Get that Awesome Blossom.  Trust the Lord with your whole being.  Bring him your deepest aches and be ready to receive the overwhelming gift of the fullness of your life in return.  And like Simon’s mother in-law, get up and immediately bring that love to Jesus and the world.   

 

 

The One About Becoming a Dad

I have learned a lot since becoming a Dad...

  • I have learned of my capacity to put my nose directly in a butt without thinking twice.
  • I have learned to fall in love with my wife all over again.
  • I have learned that I am a terribly imperfect human being and that I cannot run from my imperfections anymore.
  • I have learned that I am actually a complete and total weirdo just from the things I say to my daughter and in the voices and decibel level I say them. 

But above all, I have learned who God is. 

When I first found out we were pregnant, I was beside myself.   I cussed in disbelief, numerous times in a row, but was of course flooded with joy.  I still remember the moment vividly when my wife called me at work.  It was unreal.  But as the days and months flew by and we trudged through a mostly difficult and trying pregnancy, one filled with doubts and what-ifs, that feeling slipped away.  The closer we got to the due date, the more I worried how my life would be once this little human came into the world. 

Sure, I was worried about the superficial things - my time, my money, my life.  All those things truly were, like for real this time, never going to be mine again.  But I knew it was part of the gig.  That’s what I signed up for and I was ready for that.  The heart of the issue for me was my connection to this child. 

I remember sitting on the bed with my wife a month out from the due date.  She was smitten.  She could feel our child kick harder every day.  Wherever she went, our first-born went.  They were two different, created souls sharing the same real estate and my wife was living in the eschaton.  That day she rested with her hands on her belly, staring off into space with a sly smile as she intermittently moved to try to find that sweet spot of a comfortable sitting position.  I looked at her and shared a thought that I hoped would go away,

“I don’t know how I am going to be able to love this baby.”

I felt no real connection to this child.  Sure, I prayed for her daily, gave an unsolicited belly rub from time to time, but emotionally, I felt like the Tin Man.  As badly as I wanted it to be, nothing was there. 

See, at the time, I liked kids.  Sort of.  I am an older brother.  But real talk here... other people’s kids annoyed me.  I did not really care about your baby pictures on Facebook.  Deep down, I was nervous that this would be my life as a father.  I would witness life’s great miracle and after a few weeks, be wholly unchanged.  I was fearful, because of this lack of a connection, that I would be lost in the ether of less important things the rest of my life as father. 

Fast-forward three weeks. 

Labor starts.  We see more strife with my wife and baby’s health. Things don’t go as planned.  I am cool as a cucumber on the outside but inside I am drafting various strongly-worded, anonymous emails to every resident doctor that thought it was a good idea to conduct business secretly, huddled in groups, right in front of my tired and frightened wife.  But here we were, three pushes away from the birth of our daughter.  

And finally, I watched this miracle take place before my eyes. 

Side-note - I always knew women were incredible and created as the crown of God’s creation, but C’MON.  Do you realize what they were created to do!?  It is absolutely mind-boggling the beauty and power they possess.

Back to the story…

That moment was surreal.  But still, I felt like I was on autopilot.  I am looking at this child in wonder and awe but with a still distant heart.  I wanted so badly to feel something, but I kept asking myself, “Is this it?”

 Great hair, hippie.

Great hair, hippie.

 

After a whole day of purgative moment after purgative moment, the craziness died down.  My wife finally found her rest.  And there I was, sitting close to her with my baby girl directly to my right swaddled in a bassinet.  I looked around, wondering if it was OK for me to pick her up.   I went for it.  And here I was, holding this child for what felt like the first time. And what I felt… what I felt at that moment… was Heaven.  Not the kind that we conjure up from bad CCD classes, but heaven in the truest sense. It was Love.  It was purpose.  It was peace.  It was identity.  My daughter and I were one.  I felt her innocence, her purity.  I felt her trust in me as her father as she melted into my chest with an assurance that she brought with from the deeps of eternity.  My heart was pierced.  And I wept. 

I was overcome.  I laid on that sterile, stiff couch in our hospital room and felt the world disappear around me.  I had so many thoughts in that moment, but the one that was loudest was this… I could never love anything more than I love this child right now. 

And she did nothing to earn it.  She just was.  And so was I.  I loved her with every fiber in my being and she loved in her turn.

“This is God,” I thought. 

Everything I had known about God theologically flooded my head and heart.  It was like an ocean.   This God whom I knew as an idea became a God I now knew as my identity and deepest longing.   

“God is love,” my stream of consciousness began.  “And communion.  And not just the nice Christian idea of communion that we say too much, but like real communion.  A communion of persons… Remembers a quote from Genesis…  And these persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - live in this eternal, life-giving exchange of love.  And… Oh My God …  I was created, with a body, to share in that beautiful reality of God.  In communion with my wife, new life happened.  And I just did it! That must be why it is so awesome to create a life.  There was ecstasy and agony like all the mystics say and we lived it.  I created life with God.  And now I am a Father, just like Jesus tells us to call Him.  That means I share in the nature of God.  And … OH YEAH …  I am created in the image and likeness of God.  And I just said to myself as a new father, 'I can never love another human being like I love Bernadette right now…'  THAT IS HOW GOD SEES ME.  God is Love.  And my Father.  And everyone else’s Father.  It all makes sense.   GOD LOVES ME LIKE HE LOVES NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD.  This is God.”

(cries like a baby for another hour while my wife is sleeping obliviously and does this with a thousand other theological thoughts)

And it continued on.  Four weeks after B was born, we were in Mass and babies were crying.  Like, one of those times where it feels like they are having a competition.  I was standing away from her across the other side of our church talking with friends letting the noise of the crying babies drown out the echo.  And then, all of a sudden, I stopped.  “I hear my baby crying.”

Up to that point she had been quiet.  But as soon as she started to express her need, her hurt, her hunger, I could hear her as if she was the only one in that Church.  This is God.

My daughter is two now.  And she talks more frequently and more eloquently than her introverted father.  Not exaggerating.  But she does not always sound as if she has a golden tongue.  In fact, like most toddlers, she has her own language.  And who understands every word that comes out of her mouth, no matter how hard to translate?  Who knows the language of her little heart at its deepest level?  And who knows how to respond in a way that only she will feel loved?  Me.  Her Father.  This is God. 

The great mystic St. Teresa of Avila shared in deep union with Our Lord.  One that we all have access to, but also one that spoke only to how God created her to hear.  One of my favorite quotes of all time came from Jesus directly to St. Teresa…

“I would create the universe again just to hear you say that you love me.”

This is God.

And I think I get that now.  Maybe God is not that hard to find after all.  He is everywhere. In the secret of those daily moments and sufferings I get to experience as a father where he whispers His love into my life and beckons me to let go of the things I cling to so that he can give me this love that I desperately look for.  But even more so in the very creation of who I am.   My deepest identity and the source of all my actions is that I desire a love that created me and I am created to find it.  

And I want to see pictures of your baby on Facebook now.  I actually go out of my way to look.   I get it now.  I have to exercise restraint the four times a week I look through my photos.  I want the world to see what I see.  This is love.  And this, in all its beauty and simplicity, is God.   

 

 

 

 

 

Debunking 5 Myths of Sex, Love and Dating

If you are like me, you have a love-hate-but mainly love relationship with the internet.

While Al Gore has brought us so much life-giving goodness (hat tip to the year 1997 for that joke), there are a few things on the intergoogies that have ruined the fun for the most of us. One of those things, alongside porn, comment boxes and LinkedIn invitations is BuzzfeedBuzzfeed and its never-ending carousel of time-wasting listicles has effectively changed the way we consume information. It has brought us timeless pieces of news such as 15 Hedgehogs With Things That Look like Hedgehogs. And 18 Photos of Albert Einstein Being Super Chill. And my personal favorite, 13 Potatoes That Look Like Channing Tatum.

So in that same spirit, and more so knowing that this is probably the only way I will get traffic to these posts, I want to speak some wisdom into your life, from my heart to yours… in the form of a listicle.  See, we Catholics, Christians, humans are good at a lot of things.  One of them is not always being honest with ourselves. We say we want to live differently and we parade as if we are, but are we really?  Truth, Beauty and Goodness, the trap doors, the primal desires of every human heart, have become blighted by things not worthy.  The world is a beautiful siren. She takes our hand and sings us sweet melodies that gently lead us away from a wholly integrated life without our knowing. And this has become our normal.  We have become OK with being different, with being our true, created selves, but only to a point.

This does not manifest itself more clearly than it does in our lived relationships.  Our relationships reflect how we view ourselves, our world and our God. In that order.  So from experience, some good but mostly bad, I hope to enkindle a desire in your heart to look a little deeper.  Read along as I unpack this idea one myth at a time.  An idea that I have been ruminating since the end, middle, and beginning of every relationship I was in since coming back to the Church with my whole self as a wide-eyed, young dude. Enjoy it and look out for the first post within a few days.  That post?  Myth #1 – You Have a Soulmate

The Great Pursuit

tom.jpg

“I do not want to be in love,” said nobody ever.

Love is real.  It is, unequivocally, the greatest desire of the human heart.  

This is not news.  It’s like Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber, “No way.  That’s great!  We landed on the moon!” news.

EVERYTHING we do is in direct correlation to our desire to love and be loved.  You have heard of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon?  You know the idea that everyone in Hollywood can be traced back to Kevin Bacon in six easy steps by the laws of separation?  It is the same with our desire to be in love.  I dare you to try this.  Every memory, every joy, every sin, every shortcoming, every wound we carry can lead us back to our search for this desire in some way.

As sure as the sun is in the sky, we desire love.

As products of our generation, products of our culture and sons and daughters of God our Father, we do not just desire love itself, we desire to be in love.  We desire relationship.  We feel something is inherently broken if we are living life out on our own.  This fact is true on many levels, but we are falling in love and waiting to fall in love the wrong way.

But who can blame us really?

“I love you. I am who I am because of you. You are every reason, every hope, and every dream I’ve ever had, and no matter what happens to us in the future, everyday we are together is the greatest day of my life. I will always be yours”  (The Notebook).   CUE THE RAIN.

 “You.  Complete.  Me.” No, Jerry Maguire, you are a spaz. 

“When love feels like magic, you call it destiny.  When love has a sense of humor, you call it serendipity”  (Serendipity). WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN, JOHN CUSACK!?!?

“I love you. You’re my only reason to stay alive… if that’s what I am”(Twilight).  No need for snark… this speaks for itself.

We are in pursuit, looking, hoping, waiting for the things that will fill the void left in our heart.  Even as good Christians, we can get caught in this pursuit.  Praying novenas and looking for signs instead of seeking first the heart of Christ.  Now don’t get me wrong, these are great things (I am in middle of a novena right now), but sometimes they can keep our eyes fixed on the idol instead of the real thing.  We want to be that big, Catholic family that everyone whispers about in amazement at Mass.  We want the 10-passenger vans, kids named after popes, and at least two vocations from our family.  But before all of this, we need to want to be wanted by the God who created us to love and be loved.

Truly, our world is not complete if we are not in love because that is how we were made.   These desires to follow the promptings on our hearts are there because our Lord put them there. Again, we are sons and daughters of God and we are created to be in relationship with Him.  This is our first identity and our deepest longing.

But still, we look for serendipity (still not sure, Mr. Cusack) to fall into our lives.  We pursue that one ideal who we just know will give us every reason, every hope, and every dream we have ever had.  We look for the by-products of love instead of Love itself.   We look for this love on our journey when God Himself is looking to be this love.

Listen to how our Lord speaks to us through the prophet Hosea:

“So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.” Hosea 2:14

You see, you and I, we have been doing it all wrong.  We fall into the temptation of thinking that the responsibility is all on us and that a person will be the answer.  Ever caught yourself thinking this or telling this to your friends… or your mom?

“I am in my 20s, I am not married yet, I probably never will be now.  What is wrong with me?”

“Once I am settled, life will make sense.”

“Until I find my other half, I feel like my life is on hold.”

“Well, it is just me and my cat again tonight… what opportunity did I miss along the way?”

We can let go of that.  If we are living as women and men after the heart of God, we can let go. God is pursuing us!  Like a lover, he beckons us, leads us into the desert (our most intimate place) and speaks to our hearts.  What a relief!  This great pursuit, our life’s mission to find the answer to the desire to love, is actually not just on us.  We love because God loved us first.  And not only does He love us, He is after us.  He pursues us and never lets us out of His reach.

We just have to let Him.

But what is holding us back from being pursued by God?  Trust? Not feeling worthy?  Fear of surrender? Fear that He will not fulfill your deepest longings? Fear that maybe He isn’t our deepest longing?

I want to share with you a story that happened to someone very close to me.  She gave me a look into God’s heart by sharing her story of love, longing and heartbreak.  This young woman has been living and looking for answers to her heart’s deepest longings for years.  She was on her own great pursuit and had looked everywhere, but mostly through relationships.  Like many of us, she found her worth through the eyes of another.  And like most of us, she had come to a point in her life where she was tired of the disappointment, tired of the wounds, tired from the pursuit. The walls that she put up started to come down and as she slowly opened her heart to let the Lord in, a flood came to cover her with the love she had been searching for.  It happened one evening in prayer. In the chapel, the Lord spoke to her.  Her is an excerpt of what He said:

I pray specifically for the vocation of marriage… I pray to be married to you, Jesus.  I want you to ask me for my hand.  I want you to be the first one I talk to when I wake up and the one to hold me as I fall asleep.  I want to be pleasing to your eyes with how I sound, how I look, how I think and what I do for others.  Like a doting wife, I want to brag about you to my friends and make my Father proud that I fell in love with the best man possible.  I want to know you… really know you… know you like you have taken the time to know me.  You have studied me, cherished me, formed me loved me through the best and worst of times, saw me as beautiful when I could only see ugliness.  You complete me and you are all that I need and all that my heart desires.  I am nothing without you.  Love, you are mine.  And I am yours.  I promise to always love and honor you for as long as forever is.  

Wow.  The beauty.

All the hurt, the wounds, disappointment were nothing compared to a heart filled with the love of God.  The Lord pursued her, took her to the desert and won her heart.

What is holding us back from being pursued by God?

This is not just for the women reading as it may sound to some.  Men, Jesus is after our heart.  We seek to be acknowledged for our strength, for our leadership, for our manliness, but often times we look for that from the love of another.  Do you ever notice how men act around women? All you need is three ingredients to test this theory:  a group of women, a group of men and a football.  They are making diving catches, prancing around like idiots and periodically glancing at the women to make sure they saw their awesome skills. Then, when they leave, they are putting Icy Hot on everything that moves.

“Until a man knows he is a man, he will spend all his time trying to prove that he is one.”  Herein lies the explanation for why men act the way that they do.  All too often we find our greatest worth in the pursuit – recognition, money, prestige, and especially the false sense of security that comes from conquest in relationship.  Promiscuity, getting lost in our work, anger, pride… all these things make sense in light of this.

But men, Christ shows us a different way.  Our identity lies in truly loving.  How did Christ love? Sacrifice, courage, humility, service to least, dying to the things other men thought made them men and showing them the true way.  Jesus made himself vulnerable to the love of the Father in his heart.  He opened his heart in prayer and lived his life in the courage that God his Father was going to make him into the man he was created to be.  We know that by following the pursuit of his Father, he was led to die naked on a Cross, whilst the whole world watched.  But what happened?  His courage, sacrifice, humility, service and death to self changed the world forever. Men, don’t hide.  Step out from behind the pursuit.  Hide only in the heart of the Father who wants your heart.  You want to be a man?  Live like Jesus, the greatest man that ever walked this earth.

I ask again, what is holding us back from being pursued by God?  Trust? Not feeling worthy?  Fear of surrender? Fear that he will not fulfill your deepest longings? Fear that maybe He isn’t our deepest longing?

Today and every day, open our hearts.  Open your hearts and let the Lord lead.  TRUST that you are first and foremost a child of God.  He wants nothing but an overflowing, joy-filled life for you like any Father should.  Know that YOU ARE WORTHY of this kind of love.  No matter what you have done, no matter where you are in life, God will pursue you.  SURRENDER your wants and your desires to this same God and live in the freedom that truly will set you free.  And lastly, DO NOT FEAR.  The Lord will fulfill your deepest longings for love because He is your deepest longing for love.  He will pursue you, lead you to the desert and speak to your heart.