Sunday Musings: Weekend Campout

 

Credit: Microsoft images

A few weeks ago, my sons and I had the opportunity to go on a weekend father-and-son campout with my parish youth group.

Surprisingly, my wife didn’t object when I asked her if I could start taking our sons to a Sunday afternoon youth group. At first our kids didn’t quite fit in since they’re not being raised in the most Catholic of households. Before bed, my kids and I pray the Hail Mary, and we read a Bible story each night in my oldest son’s My Little Bible.

With this being my very first outdoor Mass, and having to corral my two muddy little boys through the whole thing, I thought that it would make for some Sunday musings.

 

1. Watching Clark Kent Change into Superman

I thought it was cool that the two young priests put on their vestments among us since there was no sacristy at the campgrounds. It was kind of like a behind-the-scenes moment that I probably won’t see very often.

 

2. The “Choir”

Mothers and daughters, how we missed you.

 

3. The Spirit of God Was Alive and Well

Missals being blown off the lectern, altar cloth billowing in the wind, ball caps flying across the seats. Oh, and the now-infamous highlight of the Mass for the kids: watching some poor family’s tent being blown into the lake directly behind the altar.

 

4. A Scary Cave Experience

The homily was really gripping. The Gospel text was John 9:1-41 which was about Jesus healing a man who was born blind. The priest, a native of Arkansas, shared a personal account of exploring some of the state’s many underground caverns.

He described one cave as a five-level maze. Sure enough, his helmet light wasn’t fully charged, and it died at the wrong time. I wouldn’t want to imagine the fright as he tried to find his way out of the total darkness. Eventually, he saw a tiny speck of daylight far off into the distance. Relief flooded over him as he made his way to the light.

Needless to say, it put the Gospel reading into full perspective for me. You know, “blind but now I see” and all that.

 

5. Feeding Frenzy

No tabernacle = nowhere to place the Eucharist after Mass. I suppose the priests erred on the side of caution, because after communion, both of them stood at the altar for a very long time consuming all the leftover hosts. I bet there were a hundred extras that had to be consumed before Mass could continue. Talk about an awkward moment.

~t


And God Said No

Credit: Alexandre Buisse

My wife, who is not a Christian, reluctantly agreed to attend a baptismal class for our youngest son. I figured she would be bored out of her mind: The hour-long class would be full of Catholic terminology regarding a sacrament that Ayako had no clue about.

And there would be praying.

That evening, I found the courage to glance over at Ayako at some point during the class, and, sure enough, her eyes were glazed over. “How are you doing?” I asked meekly.

No response.

I got worried. The whole idea of baptizing our children was mine. I was the reason we were all here on a weeknight instead of at home in our highly-structured routine.

In my mind, I tried to hurry along the class so that I wouldn’t feel like I was keeping my wife hostage inside a Catholic church. Just a few more minutes, right? I kept asking myself nervously.

After 90 minutes, we were dismissed. Leaving Ayako with both kids, who were going stir crazy by then, I went up to the individuals in charge of the baptismal class to ask some questions.

Outside in the parking lot, I expected Ayako to either give me the silent treatment or start complaining about wasting her time. Instead, the first words out of her mouth were: “I liked that prayer.”

“Which one?”

“The one at the beginning. It sounded like a poem.”

This is a very good sign! I thought, shocked that she actually enjoyed something about the class.

I went home and punched in some key words on the computer; I had no idea what the poem was called or anything. That’s why God gave us Google, I reminded myself.

Ayako even wanted me to print a copy for her which she now reads every night before going to bed.

The moral of this story? God is in control. He can work wonders. He changed a big fool such as me, and He can surely convert the heart of a tough little non-practicing Buddhist/Shintoist Japanese woman. Just not according to my timetable.

Anyway, here is the poem that I tracked down. It’s called “When God Says No” by Claudia Minden Welsz.

 

I asked God to take away my pride,
and God said, “No.”
He said it was not for Him to take away,
but for me to give up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole,
and God said, “No.”
He said her spirit is,
while her body is only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience,
And God said, “No.”
He said patience is a by-product of tribulation.
It isn’t granted, it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness,
And God said, “No.”
He said He gives blessings,
happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain,
and God said, “No.”
He said, “Suffering draws you apart from
worldly cares and brings you closer to Me.”

I asked God to make my spirit grow,
and God said, “No.”
He said I must grow on my own,
but He will prune me to make it fruitful.

I asked God if He loved me,
and God said, “Yes.”
He gave me His only Son, who died for me.
And I will be in Heaven someday
because I believe.

I asked God to help me love others
as much as He loves me,
and God said,
“Ah, finally, you have the idea.”

~t


I Should Be Happy

I should be happy with my life because I’ve found God and His Church, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because I have two healthy, happy sons, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because I have a wife who is honest and loves our family, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because I have a full-time job, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because I am healthy, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because my family and I aren’t homeless or starving, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because I can just change my thinking and be positive, but I can’t.

I should be happy with my life because I can make changes and please my wife, but I can’t.

I shouldn’t be happy without my life because all my pain and suffering can end right here and now, but I am.

 


You Can Get Better: Struggling with Panic Attacks

I was inspired to write this post after reading an article about a former CNN reporter who struggles with panic attacks. Although both of ours stem from PTSD, my experiences seem to pale in comparison to the reporter’s; witnessing an electric-chair execution of a convicted murderer is something that I cannot fathom.

I can trace my PTSD back to my childhood. I lived in constant fear, wondering when my dad would explode with rage and begin beating my mother and me. Even now, when someone is walking too closely behind me, as the reporter states in the article, I “feel as if [my] world is ending. [My] heart is racing, [I] begin to hyperventilate, every nerve in [my] body is exploding — it seems [I'm] about to die, and [I] have an overwhelming sense of doom.”

Luckily, I now have medication and coping skills such as breathing techniques and prayer that help me when I get panic attacks.

The worst attacks come when I’m driving on a wide-open interstate or highway, however. The above symptoms usually force me to pull over to the side of the road. I have often been late to work or late getting home as a result.

I can trace this back to my college days when I used to fly single-engine airplanes (Cessna 150s and 172s). One time in particular, I made the huge mistake of making a solo cross-country jaunt without feeling totally comfortable with my instruments. Who needs instruments when it’s a clear day? That’s what landmarks are for.

However, I failed to realize the consequences of a recent flood in the region: Once I got in the air, a uniquely-shaped lake had become completely unidentifiable. Seized with panic, I tried to figure out which way was which. I had to make it back to my tiny airport which had no control tower. It didn’t help that (a) the short runway resembled a postage stamp tucked away in the hills and (b) my precious fuel was being depleted.

I will probably always struggle with these panic attacks. What encouraged me about the reporter’s story, though, were his words toward the end: “For those going through anxiety issues, I have a message: You can get better, you can work through it. It may be therapy, medication, or just the realization that you aren’t alone.”

You are not alone. No matter what you are struggling with.

You can get better. There is hope.

~t


Sunday Musings: Do Not Worry

credit: wallpapersus.com

This is a section entitled Sunday Musings. It consists of thoughts, observations, and experiences that I have during or immediately after Sunday Mass.

It is a semi-regular feature; I will update it on Sundays as I feel inspired to do so.

 

1. Running into Church

I cant believe it. Yesterday I was wearing shorts and sweating at the park in 80 degree (26 C) sunshine. This morning, the temperature had plunged to 40 (4 C).

You would have thought the world was ending: everyone sprinting into church from the parking lot. Alas, no spontaneous conviction of sin; just cold Texans headed into a warm place.

 

2. Mass Disruption

I’ve been reading blogs by traditional Catholics who prefer the pre-Vatican II Mass in Latin. It’s definitely given me food for thought as to the modern innovations that have taken place in the past 40 years or so.

All of this came to mind in the middle of Mass this morning when the priest suddenly asked all parishioners to come to the altar in a chaotic mob and pick up a copy of a Lent booklet. It just didn’t seem like the appropriate time to do such a thing.

Maybe the complaints of the traditionalists are starting to influence me, or maybe I’m being too uptight about the whole thing. I don’t know. I’ll just continue to trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding us as we are fumbling along into the third millennium of the Church.

 

3. Do Not Worry

The homily and Gospel reading today fit perfectly into my current positive-thinking discipline. Matthew 6:24-34 reminded me to stop worrying about things and trust that God will provide in all situations.

It also helped me to remember that the upcoming Lenten season is a time to draw closer to God as we make sacrifices that might otherwise distract us from Him.

My fear for this Lent (as well as previous ones):  Will I be holy and pious enough during the upcoming 40 days? Do not worry, Topaz.

 

4. Men’s Club vs. K of C

After Mass, a representative from the parish Men’s Club gave a recruitment spiel about the benefits of joining his “social and service brotherhood.” I don’t know if other parishes have a Men’s Club, but I found myself being offended that this group would (gasp!) dare to compete with the Knights of Columbus. We are better! You few guys need to join us! 131 years and going strong! Definitely a pride check from God.

 

5. Chalices are Back

During the winter, the chalices (communion cups) weren’t being used due to flu season. Today, all of a sudden, they were back! I know it’s the very beginning of March, but… What if flu season is still here?! After my initial panic, I got in line for the chalice. Do not worry…

~t


Positive Thinking and the Mind of Christ

One week after being ordered to attend anger management classes by my supervisor, I finally met with a counselor that was assigned to me.

On the phone, she sounded very kind, like a grandmotherly type. I was surprised that she answered her own phone. I guess her schedule was pretty open because I named a time and date, and she immediately said she’d see me then.

I wasn’t greeted by any receptionist window when I entered her office; a nice, cozy, empty living-room-type area was all I saw. I wandered around the “office” until I finally heard voices coming from a back room. Feeling more at ease, I plopped down on the fluffy sofa with plenty of mismatched pillows surrounding me.

Finally the other patient left, and the therapist, a tall, thin lady in her 60s, came to get me.

Her office, what looked like a converted bedroom, overwhelmed my senses in a good way: shelves of stuffed animals, knick-knacks everywhere, flowers and plants placed all over. I got the impression right away that she counseled lots of families and children.

Taking my seat on the comfortable sofa, I immediately noticed her main bookshelf, where The Secret was prominently featured. Hmm. She is wearing lots of bangles and stuff. I pegged her as a New Ager right away. What the hell, I thought. My school is paying for all this, and I’m allowed to miss work, so relax.

Before we started, the doctor (she has a Ph.D.) asked me what my goal for these sessions was; my school is only covering three sessions after all.

“Anger management. How to control my anger at work and be professional. Even when I don’t feel like it.”

That seemed to satisfy her.

The rest of the 45-minute session was straight out of The Secret: our positive thoughts flow into the universe, and the universe sends back positive energy and results. And vice versa.

I felt like I was trapped inside a giant infomercial for that book. The doctor went on and on, sharing testimony after testimony about how positive thinking and will power changed her life for the better. No mention of God or Jesus.

I told her I would give it a shot.

On my way home, I started thinking about the session and what I was learning. Then I realized that I could take the “normal” things, like positive thinking, and leave the universe-energy-Secret stuff.

Then a Scripture came to me like God whispering in my ear:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

And then another:

…I beat my body and make it my slave… (1 Corinthians 9:27)

This last one didn’t mention mind, but I believed it involved making every effort to be positive. Anyhow, I was on to something.  I went home and searched the Scriptures for mention of the word mind. Here are some verses that I found:

I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind… (Jeremiah 17:10)

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)

And then this one:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Why hadn’t I paid attention to all this before? Well, one doesn’t seek medical attention until one is convinced of an illness. I do suffer from mental issues, but nobody (that I can recall) had ever taught convinced me that even I could take control of my mind and feed it positive thoughts.

It would take some work, like giving up some extreme metal music that I had come to enjoy and putting aside some of those dark independent films that I’m fond of.

I met with the doctor for a second time this morning and told her of my progress: I had actually seen some sort of improvement from our first session! By feeding my mind positive thoughts, I had been able to enjoy work more and get along better with my students and colleagues.

And I was overjoyed to finally discover and put into practice the idea of taking on the mind of Christ.

…But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)

~t

(photo by Topaz)


Seeing Things from God’s Perspective

Last week I had yet another meeting with three individuals: my new supervisor, the dean, and the HR director. Talk about déjà vu. Sheesh.

I was actually hoping that this would be the final straw. I’m sick and tired of being the whipping boy for new supervisors and deans who want to make an example out of someone.

I told a colleague whom I despise how something was supposed to be done. She went above my head and right to my direct supervisor who is basically the assistant dean. This isn’t the public school system, for crying out loud! It’s higher education; you know, where instructors have a say in what they teach and how they teach it.

But I learned yet again that some people you can’t mess with because they are too connected to the right people.

So, the HR director, my supervisor, the dean, and I sat at the dean’s cramped little table in his office. Surprise! Another written warning. God was looking out for me because, technically, I was supposed to get a one-week suspension with pay, but HR said that since I have a new supervisor, they will just give me a second written warning. That was bittersweet. It was good because I still have employment. Bad because I really was hoping that they would terminate me.

At home, my wife lectured yelled at me for not changing. According to her, this was all my fault because I haven’t been giving my best to my colleagues, supervisors, and students. I didn’t want to hear it, so I argued back.

Anyway, I spent the night thinking about what she said, and then I prayed like crazy for God to help me in such a difficult situation.

The following morning, the truth hit me square in the face. I jotted down as much as I could from the revelation that The Lord was giving me. I have listed my notes below.

 

1. Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30)

Verse 29 is the summary, but I read the whole parable which opened my eyes to how I’m letting God down.

For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. (v. 29)

 

2. Elisha and the Chariots of Fire (2 Kings 6: 8-18)

This is an awesome story about how God opens our eyes to see that He will deliver us from any predicament. This is why staying close to God is so important in our spiritual life.

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (v. 17)

 

3. Our Battle is Not Against Flesh and Blood (Ephesians 6: 12)

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

It’s not my supervisor I should be angry with; rather, I need to see this as a learning opportunity: God slapping me upside the head and finally saying, “Wake up! You’re headed the wrong way!”

 

4. Bloom Where You Are Planted (Jeremiah 29: 4-14)

Although these words are implicitly stated in the Bible, it is a wonderful passage about God speaking to His people who had been exiled to a foreign land. There was nothing but struggle after struggle for them. Instead of God saying, “I will help you right away! Your problems will disappear immediately,” He says the following:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ (verses 4-7)

 

In summary, do the best with what you have and always be faithful. God will act according to His timetable, not ours.

~t


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