Tag Archives: God

Do You Want to Get Well?

When we give ourselves and our problems over to God, He is faithful and will help us.

Yeah, right.

During the years that I was a church-hopping Protestant, I would hear personal testimonies about how God miraculously helped someone become a brand-new person in Christ. The Bible talks about this in several places; for example, 2 Corinthians 5:17 (RSV) says: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”

I used to read about all the men and women in the New Testament who were changed like this: Paul, Mary Magdalene, Peter, etc. I listened to individuals stand up in front of churches and give testimonies. I would see people in church and wonder how they had their lives changed by Christ. Was it because they naturally had outgoing, ambitious personalities? Was it due to their being on a spiritual high every Sunday? How come God didn’t change me? Was it because I was a self-doubting introvert? Then there was no hope for me. I resigned to the belief that it just wasn’t part of God’s will for me to be a new creation. Maybe the Calvinists were right. I was starting to fear that Unconditional Election was indeed true.

I remember watching Pat Robertson on The 700 Club or other televangelists who would look into the camera and tell me that my life would be transformed and I would be a new man, able to flippantly dismiss sin as a king shooing away a servant.

There was something wrong. It was looking more and more like the Bible and Christianity were only for “winners” who already had positivity beaming out of their orifices like rays of sunshine.

Yelling and forcing did nothing. I didn’t last very long at non-denominational denominations because I had absolutely no interest in emulating the fake smiles and loud, obnoxious good ol’ boys who were “on fire for Jee-zus.” It just wasn’t me.

So, I figured I had two choices: 1) give up and become an atheist or a neo-pagan; or 2) pray like crazy.

I chose the latter because I still had a mustard seed of faith and, darn it, I was bound and determined to have this Holy Spirit live in me.

Matthew 16:25 says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Sorry, Jesus. That’s too cryptic for me.

There is a hymn that I remember from my college days that goes, “…we must die to ourselves and live through Your death.” What the heck does that mean? I have to give up everything and be a monk? That was a pretty scary thought.

So I prayed and prayed. I read everything that I could find about what it meant to surrender to God. I listened to religious call-in programs. I was doing and doing and doing.

I was thinking, I’m doing everything right, so how come I’m not growing in my faith? How come I’m not getting closer to God?

And, wouldn’t you know it, I took an inventory of my life one day and it dawned on me. I was going through the motions of being Catholic, but at the same time I was looking at Internet porn whenever I felt like it, listening to Satanic metal, masturbating regularly, using my illness as an excuse to be down, neglecting my family, and so on. I either had to do something drastic or remain miserable. I was like the invalid in the story from John 5: 1-9 (emphasis mine):

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

It was incredibly hard to cut off social media contacts with all of the negative influences in my life. I quit drinking (because it would sometimes lead me to sin), I stopped looking at porn, I stopped masturbating, I quit whining about being in a sexless marriage — basically I did some major spring cleaning.

That made all the difference.

What about you? Do you want to get well? Tired of being miserable year after year like the man in the above story? You gotta get the sin out of your life and turn to God.

And, yes, it is as hard as it sounds, but it’s what you need to get well.

~t

(photo by Topaz)


The Luminous Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday was a challenging day. The beginning of the semester is always hectic, and I end up running on just four or five hours of sleep each day. Not even a Starbucks triple espresso could help me much this morning.

Driving to campus, my anger, fatigue, and frustration from work and other life events became too much. What to do?

I tried spontaneous prayer, but my heart just wasn’t in it. Someone told me once to recite the Our Father or Hail Mary prayer in such times. The key to recited prayers is to say it with all your heart, though — “say it like you mean it.”

So I prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. During rush-hour traffic, my mind and heart were taken away to a higher place, above the hustle and bustle of daily life. I no longer focused on being at a standstill on the highway and possibly arriving late for class. The holy power of the Rosary lifted me above all that.

I’d like to share with you some of the thoughts and meditations that I had while praying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary this morning.

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1. The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River – Fruit of the Spirit: Openness to the Holy Spirit

This really set the tone for the Mysteries. It humbled me and caused me to examine my anger and frustration issues. Why was I letting petty things get the best of me? Don’t I have the Holy Spirit in me?

Even Jesus, the Son of God, is baptized. The Scriptures say that the Holy Spirit came down like a dove upon Him (Matthew 3:16). God was showing me that I had to let go of control; He is Lord and, until I surrender to Him, I will continue to be frustrated and angry at the little things in life — and everything is little in God’s eyes.

wedding-feast-at-cana

2. The Wedding Feast at Cana – Fruit of the Spirit: Fidelity

I particularly love this Mystery because it shows Mary’s maternal bond with Jesus. The wedding feast at Cana is where Jesus performs His first miracle of His ministry; and, at first, He tells his mother that it isn’t time yet. But, how could he refuse his beloved mother? At her request, Jesus changes the water into wine so that the wedding party could continue (because what is a wedding reception without wine?).

Interestingly, Mary tells the attendants to “do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5) This opened my eyes and forced me to examine my heart. Are there any areas of my life in which sin still dominates? What do I need to do to get rid of it? Fidelity means being true to your spouse; Christ wants our full loyalty and not just part of it.

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3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God – Fruit of the Spirit: Desire for Holiness

For me, this is the high point of the Luminous Mysteries. Jesus’ ministry is in full swing, and it’s now time for Him to announce to the world that God’s Kingdom has come! What a glorious image.

One thing I love about the Rosary is that it is meditative: I can picture Jesus among the people, His dusty sandals leaving prints on the ground, the murmur of the townspeople as they marvel at His words, and the sun beating down on His flesh.

I’m reminded of the Good News of the Scriptures and how God has called me to be one of His children. I desire what The Lord desires, and we become one.

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4. The Transfiguration – Fruit of the Spirit: Spiritual Courage

This Mystery somehow reminds me of Jesus driving out the moneychangers from the temple (Matthew 21:12), displaying the fire of righteous anger and zeal for His Father. When Christ is transfigured before the eyes of three of His apostles, it is a dazzling and radiant event that they would never forget.

The fruit of the Spirit compels me to view my trials and tribulations in light of the transfiguration (no pun intended). When someone opposes me or sets out to cause me harm for whatever reason, I must remember that the Devil is at war with God, and that unseen warfare also plays out in the material world. Seeing the bigger picture is comforting and takes the focus off myself.

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5. The Institution of the Holy Eucharist – Fruit of the Spirit: Love of Our Eucharistic Lord

What would my faith be without the Holy Eucharist: the body and blood of Christ? If it weren’t for Jesus offering Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for me, then everything that I believe would be in vain; life would be meaningless.

Christ is always present in the Eucharist and desires to help us. However, we must allow him to do so. Revelation 3:20 essentially says that we must make the decision to let Jesus heal us.

By this point in the Mysteries, my batteries are fully charged and I’m ready to stop my “woe is me” whining. Jesus came to set the captives free. Prayer and meditation on these Mysteries allow me to let Him set me free.

Final Thoughts

Of course, prayer, whether it be vocal, meditative, or contemplative, isn’t the same as chanting a magic spell and seeing the immediate effect appear before your eyes. If God doesn’t answer, it doesn’t mean He is ignoring you or is indifferent to your problems and concerns. God has a reason for everything that He does.

So, if you’re feeling F.I.N.E.* (faithless, insecure, neurotic, emotional), stop for a moment and pray. If you can’t bring yourself to pray, then at least think about everything in your life that you’re thankful for. We should all count our blessings.

~t

*title of an Aerosmith song


If I Were the Devil

Credit: Linda Lisa

If you’re like me and don’t get out much — in the cyber world or in the real world — then you might not have heard the essay by radio broadcaster Paul Harvey entitled “If I Were the Devil.” Apparently it has been making the rounds again.

I heard the broadcast for the first time on Catholic radio a few months ago and was very intrigued; it’s from 1964 and is quite prophetic.

Since the original broadcast, Paul Harvey periodically updated the text to reflect the constant changes in society. So, if you scour the Internet, you’ll run across this recording in various forms.

The following is the transcript of the original 1964 broadcast:

If I were the Prince of Darkness I would want to engulf the whole earth in darkness.

I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree.

So I should set about however necessary to take over the United States.

I would begin with a campaign of whispers.

With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve, “Do as you please.”

To the young I would whisper, “The Bible is a myth.” I would convince them that “man created God” instead of the other way around. I would confide that “what is bad is good and what is good is ‘square.’”

In the ears of the young married I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you. I would caution them not to be “extreme” in religion, in patriotism, in moral conduct.

And the old I would teach to pray — to say after me — “Our father which art in Washington.”

Then I’d get organized.

I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull, uninteresting.

I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies, and vice versa.

I’d infiltrate unions and urge more loafing, less work. Idle hands usually work for me.

I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could, I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction, I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

If I were the Devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions; let those run wild.

I’d designate an atheist to front for me before the highest courts and I’d get preachers to say, “She’s right.”

With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to vote against God and in favor of pornography.

Thus I would evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, then from the Houses of Congress.

Then in his own churches I’d substitute psychology for religion and deify science.

If I were Satan I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg

And the symbol of Christmas a bottle.

If I were the Devil I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. Then my police state would force everybody back to work.

Then I would separate families, putting children in uniform, women in coal mines and objectors in slave-labor camps.

If I were Satan I’d just keep doing what I’m doing and the whole world [would] go to hell as sure as the Devil.

Below is a video featuring an updated version from c. 1996:

~t


The Sorrowful Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Monday was the first day of classes at my college. The first week is usually chaotic as I try to get on top of my classes, serve on committees, get late students into correct classes, and so on. By the end of the day yesterday evening (only the second day!), I was exhausted, stressed, and reeling from sin and temptation.

Even though the fall semester has started, it’s still hot as blazes here in Texas, so a lot of students are still wearing as little as possible. Needless to say, it is not uncommon for me to encounter “spiritual landmines” throughout my day: lust and temptation.

I prefer to pray the Rosary at home in a quiet place, but I decided to play the CD during my commute home. I don’t listen to the Rosary on CD very often, especially while driving, but it was one of those days. What better way to cleanse the mind and refocus on God?

The calming background music and soft voice of the narrator immediately took the focus off myself. God knew exactly what I needed because yesterday happened to be the Sorrowful Mysteries. As I prayed along with the CD, the Mysteries and fruits of the Spirit totally matched my struggles. Not only did God put the idea on my heart to pray the Rosary, He also, in His glory, matched me up with exactly what I needed to hear and pray about.

I have listed each Sorrowful Mystery below, along with my thoughts and practical applications that I gleaned from my meditation.

Agony-in-the-Garden

1. The Agony in the Garden – Fruit of the Spirit: Sorrow for Sin

Three words stood out to me on this one: agony, sorrow, and sin. As I mentioned, it was a day filled with temptation (which day isn’t?), so I was feeling really guilty and sorry for letting my mind dwell on forbidden thoughts throughout the day. Even before I started the CD, I was already asking God to forgive me for not avoiding everything that led me to sin.

Plus, the image of Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane puts everything into perspective: I’m the sinner, so I should have been the one crying out to God to “take this cup away from me.” (Luke 22:42) Instead, out of His love for me, Christ took my place.

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2. The Scourging at the Pillar – Fruit of the Spirit: Purity

There’s that word, purity. The Lord was speaking directly to me. That’s God: He always knows what we need and when we need it.

While I was letting my thoughts run loose, at one point Christ was being beaten within an inch of His life. He is the essence of purity yet was treated as a common criminal for my sake. Remember, He is God in the flesh, and He stooped down to this level for me.

That’s love. Not the warm-and-fuzzy sort of love that comes with infatuation; rather, it’s the self-sacrificing kind that a mother has for her child. I know that my mother would give her life for me, just as I would for my children.

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3. The Crowning of Thorns – Fruit of the Spirit: Courage

Of course, when the word courage was mentioned during the introduction of this Mystery, I said a special “thank you” prayer to God. He was allowing me to see the progression I was to take: be sorry for my sins, vow to be pure, and now He was showing me that I must have courage to “fight the good fight.” (1 Timothy 6:12)

Let me tell you, when you give your whole self over to God, he will rock your world. And it’s scary. On one hand, you know that God is with you — you can just feel it. And it feels awesome! However, it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and you will periodically have doubts. For me, those doubts are crippling to me because I’m now doing something totally out of character like leading a men’s purity group or helping struggling Christians regain their faith.

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4. The Carrying of the Cross – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

Okay, so you’re feeling pretty fired up and are living out your faith. That’s wonderful. Now another hurdle is in your path: patience. Just as Jesus endured the long, arduous walk to the place where He was crucified, we must also carry our own crosses (Luke 14:27). There will be times that you stumble and drop your burdensome cross due to its enormous weight; those times call for patience, a fruit of the Spirit.

Actually, even when things are going well for me, just one unanswered prayer can sink my mood and discourage me like crazy. I need to remember that God has His own plan, and it’s usually different from mine!

There may have been a time when Jesus merely wanted everything to be finished. Imagine going through a hyped-up trial, a severe beating and torture, and then, half dead already, having to carry an instrument of your own execution for what seems like miles and miles.

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5. The Crucifixion – Fruit of the Spirit: Perseverance

Being a Christian isn’t a part-time job or hobby. It’s a lifetime commitment. So it’s not by accident that the last fruit of the Spirit of these Mysteries happens to be perseverance. God never said it would be an easy life. In fact, the Bible says to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

We must persevere and not give up because the cycle will repeat itself: commit sin, resolve to be pure, find courage, exercise patience, and not give up. Persevere because we will fall again. When (not if) that happens, we must get back up and keep trying our best.

I always thought that crucifixion was an immediate death, but it’s not. The Romans perfected this method of execution to prolong the suffering of the victim as long as possible. When criminals were crucified in the first century, they most likely died from asphyxiation after hours or even days of excruciating pain on the cross. (Actually, the word excruciating is derived from crucifixion).

Conclusion

I am so thankful to God for teaching me this lesson as I calmly fought rush-hour traffic on my way home yesterday. Just typing this out helps me to recall and meditate once more upon these Sorrowful Mysteries.

I pray that The Lord will inspire me to write reflections on the other Mysteries of the Rosary as well: the Joyful, the Luminous, and the Glorious. I’m in no hurry, though, because I will wait on God to inspire me. In the meantime, I’ll be putting into practice the five fruits of the Spirit from this post.

~t


Into the Abyss

Credit: Eddi van W.

hello Scott:

 

i would like to go, but i really have to leave after work today.  sorry.   😦

 

maybe another day

Well, I’ve told you nearly everything about my suicide attempt almost a year ago (August 24 to be exact) and the aftermath: the psych wards, doctors, therapists, meds, second attempt, etc.

But there are some details that I’ve hesitated to reveal. Details that I thought were too personal, too embarrassing to me. Things that, if you knew about them, would make me look bad, like some kind of jerk — or hypocrite.

Maybe it has more to do with that H word. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been a Catholic for three years, blah, blah, blah.

I’m sure you’re wondering by now why I began this post with a cryptic note. It’s actually an email from my work account that I received at 2:22pm on August 24, 2012.

The evening of my attempt.

The above email message was from a single female colleague of mine. Needless to say, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was in response to my asking her out. I thought I had deleted it, but, in the process of cleaning out my inbox recently, I ran across it and froze as all of those terrible memories came rushing back at me.

There may be people reading this, religious or otherwise, who will judge me. I can’t help that. It was one of the lowest points in my life. Nothing was going well: my marriage, job, finances, and so on. The future was obscured by dark storm clouds that weren’t going anywhere.

This lady, I’ll refer to her as Maria, had just started working in our department. She was a single mom, attractive, and very intelligent. I fell for her. Plain and simple. She seemed to show interest in me, and we started having lunch together in the break room. Every day we were around each other due to the close proximity of our offices, and each day I walked deeper and deeper into a fantasy world: I no longer thought clearly. I withdrew from my family, and all my thoughts were about Maria.

I even had entire therapy sessions that were about her. I told my therapist that I was ready for a divorce and that I didn’t mind not seeing my sons regularly because I would have two stepdaughters instead. I feel so ashamed right now while typing all this.

My therapist yelled, screamed, and threatened me to stay away from Maria. He told me I was becoming unattached from reality. I replied that I had finally found someone who I was compatible with. He couldn’t reach me.

Maria and I had lunch twice off campus during our lunch break. We talked about her two grown daughters and she proceeded to inform me about her nasty divorce years ago. (The only physical contact we ever had, though, was when we hugged on her last day of work before taking a summer break.) I thought it was only fair to tell her that I was married since my wife and I don’t wear our wedding rings anymore. She seemed completely taken by surprise, and then things went downhill from that day on.

She kept a distance, and the only emails we exchanged were business-related; no more smiley faces and cute little greetings. Anxiety overtook my whole body, and I was going insane from the panic of everything falling apart.

What would I do? Maria was my last hope. My depression became so intense that I refused to get out of bed on several occasions during the week, missing more and more days of work. I didn’t care. Nothing mattered anymore, and I just wanted all the pain to end.

When I did go to work, I searched frantically for any signs that Maria might still have an interest in me. What I had perceived as flirting only turned out to be wishful thinking. In no way did I want to face the truth, but my fantasy world that I created was crumbling all around me, and I was devastated.

That email was my last-ditch effort. I was already at the edge of madness, and the above reply that I received was the final shove that pushed me into the abyss.

You can read more about my suicide attempt later that evening in this post.

I am still here today by the grace of God. Apparently it just wasn’t my time. I like to believe that I was spared in order to give my testimony to help others who may be in the same situation.

Since late last year, I have rededicated myself to God and am free from being emotionally wrapped up in bad situations. My eyes have been opened. I’m human and am still tempted by sin of course, but I pray daily that I will never be blinded again.

~t


The Downside of Being Holy

Credit: Creative Commons

Living a life fully devoted to God is difficult. In a previous post, I mentioned that, since I had nowhere else to go, I decided to step it up a few notches from being a lukewarm pew-warmer to someone who totally surrendered himself to God (Revelation 3:16).

I have also written about my Josephite marriage with my wife. Basically we are friendly roommates who are raising our two kids together — nothing more. I met with my therapist this past weekend, and I told her that I came across this phrase on a Catholic radio program. Trying to justify the reason that my wife and I have been celibate for nearly five years, I told my therapist that my wife and I have this Josephite kind of marriage — end of discussion.

I even told my therapist that I was okay with this type of arrangement. Actually… I’m not sure if I am; that’s just what I tell myself in order to try and overcome the frustration and emptiness. Five years is a long time. Since it was basically my wife’s decision (a Josephite marriage needs to be mutual), I just got plain worn out and tired of harping on the subject of sex with my wife. I really would like to think that it is God’s will, and I pray and cry out to Him all the time to show me, but the only response I get is… nothing. Just continued abstinence.

My previous therapist used to spend half of each session drilling it into my head that we were not normal, and he actually gave me homework: to have sex with my wife and report back to him about it. I soon left him and found another therapist that I felt more comfortable with and who didn’t keep pressing the issue. However, my new therapist does say that it’s not normal. Duh. I already knew that. I’ve tried everything: talking with my wife, asking her if there’s something about me she doesn’t like, asking if there’s something about her that she doesn’t like, telling her that we are not being a normal married couple, etc. It is to no avail.

So, I chalk it up to being God’s will. I have thought about being a priest since I love my faith and I love helping people, but (another duh), I’m married. Unless my wife passes away or we become divorced, it ain’t gonna happen.

I get extremely guilty when the thought crosses my mind of her dying early. Sometimes I have thought about our getting a divorce, but I couldn’t live without seeing my kids every day; plus, I can’t bear the thought of another man raising my kids. Yes, they will always be my kids, as my therapist says, but it wouldn’t be the same.

Well, it looks like you’re stuck, Topaz.

By the grace and power of God, I have overcome pornography and masturbation and no longer have any inclination for either. However, lust and impure thoughts constantly haunt me. Most of the time I don’t allow myself to dwell on these, but sometimes I do.

The bottom line is that I’m lonely. I live with a slim, attractive woman and I literally can’t touch her. It’s torture. I see women at church and long for a marriage with a good, faithful Catholic to share my life with. I see images on Facebook and other sites of a man and woman holding hands or hugging, and my heart aches so much. Oh, how I desire affection and intimacy.

I used to fall asleep at night imagining my soul mate curled up next to me. All that did was incite temptation, though. Now, I imagine the Blessed Virgin Mary, my mother in the order of grace, sitting in a chair beside my bed, her arm around my shoulders, whispering to me that everything will be all right. It always helps me drift off to sleep.

I’ve been a Catholic for three years, but I’ve only been a faithful, practicing one for the past 12 months. Since my mindset has become more in line with God’s, I no longer look at a woman’s chest, backside, or legs. Instead, I notice qualities like hairstyle, personality, and a sincere smile, and it makes my heart race just as quickly. My point is that I’m still struggling; it’s just in a different, non-sinful (?) way.

I refuse to give in to impurity. God has taught me how to channel my stubbornness into my battle with spiritual darkness. Instead of taking cold showers when I’m hit with lust — because that would be a lot of showering — I literally brace myself and pray until my hormones die down.

Some Christian leaders say that the only way to overcome pornography and masturbation is to get an accountability partner. I think that is very wise. However, I overcame by my sheer hatred of always sliding down the mountain after nearly reaching the top every time. I was sick and tired of not growing in Christ. I longed for a better life, one that I read about in the Bible over and over again but just couldn’t believe was possible for me. I’m not saying my “do it alone” method will work for everyone, but it did for me.

I would never consider infidelity. I love God too much and am faithful to my marriage vows. Maybe God is preparing me for the priesthood down the road. I’m in no way saying that I’m a saint, but maybe my celibate marriage will help me focus more on God and His will for my life. I will keep praying that He continues to unfold His plan for me. I guess I’m on a need-to-know basis with the Almighty. It sure would be nice to know, though.

~t


It Was a Good Week

Credit: Stock Free Images

…nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A.

                                                           –Ice Cube, “It Was a Good Day”

I really enjoy reading blogs. Not just the ones on WordPress, but in other regions of the blogosphere as well.

I have to admit, I am drawn to those that are humorous or that cheer me up. No offense to those who have dark, serious content (ahem); it appeals to a part of me for sure. The other part of me, though, really wants to feel good and smile sometimes (Yes, I have been known to smile from time to time.).

I was kicked to the curb recently by yet another psychiatrist who claimed that my particular health insurance was a “headache.” I’ve also been having lots of trouble adjusting to my new medication: I am constantly in a daze, and a few days ago I mistook a red traffic light for a four-way stop. Luckily my wife was beside me; without her scream, something terrible could have happened.

Back to the point of this post. I wanted to write about the positive things that have been going on in my life. God reminds me ever so often to count my blessings.

This was a good week. For one, I was off the whole week, my stretch of R & R before the fall semester begins later this month. My sons are still on summer break, so we’ve had a terrific time. Some of the highlights include: spending the day at a water park, one of the few places that all four of us really gel as a family — and where my wife and I laugh and play like kids; having an afternoon snackfest at Starbucks — another place where my wife and I forget our “problems” and chit-chat endlessly while sipping our Frappuccinos, our kids silent as they wolf down lemon pound cake and double fudge brownies; a trip to the aquarium (My sons are obsessed with sharks, so watching them squeal with delight made my wife and me extremely happy.); and yesterday I was able to attend church for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary since I normally work until late at night on Thursdays.

Sure, there were moments when things weren’t “perfect,” but I chose not to dwell on those times. Plus, the enjoyable family time we had far outweighed the problems. I officially go back to work on Monday, so I still have a few days left of my break. I did have to take some naps in the middle of the day due to my medication, however; but, overall, it was a really good week.

Years ago, I attended a teaching conference in Seattle. The highlight of that weekend was visiting the cemetery where Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon, are buried. I went there as an excited tourist, snapping photos of the beautiful headstones, but I left in a much more somber mood after reading the inscription etched on Brandon’s grave:

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

So, even if you’re going through a lot and there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel, count your blessings. Savor every moment with loved ones. Find things that put a smile on your face. Because, in life, unexpected things happen.

~t


I Have Nowhere Else to Go

Photo: Amanda Slater via Wylio

I went to confession this past weekend. I try to go as often as I can; that is, when it doesn’t interfere with my family’s plans. I used to arrive about 10 minutes late. When I did, the line was like Walmart on a Saturday afternoon.

Sure enough, when I show up 10 minutes early, I still have to wait because, wouldn’t you know it, there is absolutely no line, and the priest is still getting ready. So this weekend I decided to arrive right on time. Like a game of roulette, I had to wait and see; I wasn’t able to let my wife know when I would be back.

It turned out there was only one person in line when I arrived. I noticed a man in his 30s who had just walked out of the confessional. He was looking around as if he wasn’t sure of the way out. He asked me if I knew which door led to the west parking lot. I told him and expected him to go on. No one usually speaks when they’re in the confessional line. It’s much too somber. Plus, I was feeling awkward as usual. Anytime that I’m outside of my home I feel awkward and self-conscious, as if everyone is staring at me, gazing at all my faults.

But the man didn’t go. Instead, he spoke to me. My heart sank; I knew what was coming. Those two dreaded words: small talk.

I was wearing my Knights of Columbus T-shirt, so I didn’t want to appear rude or odd. Like the vehicles that have the fish logo on the back: If they don’t drive like Christians, it would make them look bad.

Luckily he opened. “So, you’re a Knight?” he said, nodding toward the logo on the left breast of my shirt. Thank goodness. Something I could talk about with some degree of ease. He said he was also a Knight, but he wasn’t active. His council was located on the other side of Dallas, a very spread-out metropolis, so he was definitely far from home. His name, he told me, was Jim. Jim had just started a new job in the vicinity and was interested in joining my parish. I told him a little about my council and the parish in general. The confessional door opened, and suddenly it was my turn. We exchanged pleasantries and then parted ways.

The whole time my conscience was screaming at me inside my head. Invite him to the next council meeting! Tell him about the next pancake breakfast!

But, like so many times, I had blown my chance of helping someone. All because of my timidity.

I won’t even blame it on my illness. My awkwardness appeared worse than usual, probably because I was too focused on something that never materialized anyway: gaining the nerve to invite Jim to check out our council. I mean, the man could have been single and alone in this new phase of his life. He could also have been married or even widowed. I have no idea because I didn’t ask.

I could have stepped aside to speak with Jim some more. It’s not like the priests expect the line to always be full. Then I started thinking about other guys in my council and how they would have “made the most of every opportunity,” like those motivational posters declare.

When I was younger, I was a member of a church that many people, ex-members and others, described as cultish. We were required to “reach out,” meaning evangelize, every Monday. The other days were filled up with meetings, “discipling” groups, and two services per week.

I was forced to walk up to complete strangers in supermarkets, go door-to-door, and stop students on campuses with the pressure of getting a name and phone number. Every Friday we had to report our “numbers” to our superior, the dreaded “family group leader.” I hated this so much. Of course I never got many names and numbers because I felt so out of my element with those particular approaches.

Maybe those difficult years are still ingrained in my head. Maybe that’s why I avoid opportunities to meet new people or to suggest a church activity to interested people like Jim.

Yes, I’m expected to share my faith and evangelize because I’m a Christian. The Church recognizes this and has called for the New Evangelization. In the Bible, Jesus calls all believers to go forth and make disciples. But there’s a way to do it, and there’s a way not to do it.

I want to help people. I know what it means to suffer from mental illness and to start my life over after returning from the brink of death. We’re human; we all long for love and fellowship with one another. Atheists are starting to form their own “churches” on Sunday mornings because they realize their need to be loved, strengthened, and encouraged by others, even if they don’t believe in a Creator.

A lot of times it seems so hard to be a Christian. A lot of days I want to give up in order to ease the stress. But I have nowhere else to go. I’ve tried making my way in the world without God. I always ended up in my own hell. I am reminded of someone I heard on Catholic radio recently who said, “Atheists say we use God as a crutch. Why not use God as a crutch? People who are hurt and injured need crutches.”

Yes, I let Jim wander back outside into an unfamiliar and uncertain new life without offering anything. I pray that our paths will cross again soon. If they don’t, I pray that someone else won’t be too scared to offer a hand to him.

There are so many people in the world who are hurting. I am one of them. However, I’ve found that by taking the focus off myself, I can better help others. I mess up a lot, but I’ll keep at it. I have to. I have nowhere else to go.

~t


Homosexuality and Bullying

Credit: Fotolia

I have taken part in several flash fiction challenges over the years. I love writing, and writing extremely short pieces of fiction really pushes me and helps me to develop more as a writer. Hopefully at some point I can make time to continue this guilty pleasure.

I had wanted to discuss two different issues on this blog at some point in time; however, after going through my old file of stories, I found something that should really be categorized as “flash flash fiction:” The challenge was to write a story in only 100 words. 100. That is probably as long as my “About Me” page on my blog. Ridiculously brief. And that’s why I took the challenge!

What’s interesting is that the 100-word flash fiction piece addresses both of the issues that I wanted to write about. Why not kill two birds with one stone? I originally wanted to discuss each topic in separate posts, but I will attempt to merge them here and try not to bore you with an outrageously long post.

Anyway, here is the flash fiction piece entitled “Bullies and the Bullied:”

We always made Todd close his eyes in the shower after gym class.  Once, during our barrage of insults, I threw his clothes in the trash barrel.

Todd spoke softly with a lisp and only hung out with girls.  As far as I knew, he never got beat up; no guy wanted to touch him.

After that school year, we never saw him again.

***

My son’s junior high photo smiles at me from the mantle. “Of course I still love and accept you, Michael,” I say to it, wiping my eyes.

When you get home from school, I’ll tell you that, buddy.

(I wonder how many of you counted those words…? I might have been off by a few.)

The inspiration for the second half of the “story” came from a conversation that I had with my wife shortly after our oldest son (now seven-years-old) was born. I have read about quite a few parents over the years who had to come to terms with the fact that their son or daughter was gay. When I lived in Japan, I had a Canadian friend who was disowned and told to “go to hell” by his parents after coming out to them.

Of course my wife and I didn’t have to think about our response at all; we would love and accept both sons because they mean more to us than life itself. I would never have the heart to cut off all contact with my two little buddies.

Now, that doesn’t mean we would support the lifestyle. I’m sure you noticed that this blog is written by a Catholic, and I accept and believe what the Catholic Church teaches on homosexuality. But nowhere does it say that anyone should be looked upon as sub-human.

I am really ashamed to admit that the first part of my story really happened. I was young and foolish. Too concerned with trying to fit in, I joined in on the taunting and verbal abuse of my fellow seventh-grader. How I wish I could go back and shake my younger self by the shoulders and scream, “Look at yourself! Think about what you’re doing to this poor kid!”

But I can’t go back. All I can do now is hope and pray that “Todd” is safe and not going through the harassment like he did every day after gym class so many years ago.

Maybe I joined the crowd because the focus of my peers was temporarily off of my awkward, uncoordinated self. Or maybe because I had to take my frustrations out on someone more vulnerable than I; anger and hurt from my father’s continued physical and verbal abuse during my entire childhood would build up from time to time.

There is never a legitimate reason to bully or hate someone. In fifth grade, our family moved to a new city, and that meant a brand new school for my sister and me. By that age, every kid in my new class already had their social groups fixed, and they made it clear that I wasn’t allowed in. Needless to say, I was bullied and even had mud thrown at me. It wasn’t until later in junior high that I finally made a few friends: other outcasts who knew that strength in numbers would be the only way to survive the dark, scary corridors of high school.

Going back to the topic of homosexuality, the Bible and the Catholic Church have never taught that it is a sin.  Rather, they teach that homosexual activity is a sin because it goes against the laws of God.

God gave each and every one of us dignity when He created us. As a result, every person on the planet deserves our love and respect.

~t


The Thorn in My Side

Credit: Carl Heinrich Bloch

Things have been pretty difficult for me lately. I made the mistake of going off my medication because it was making me too groggy to perform my job. At first I felt like, “Wow. I’m doing all right! I’m glad I got rid of those blasted pills.” However, weeks later, my mood began spiraling downward: I no longer desired to interact with colleagues and students (which is unacceptable since I am a teacher), and the time I was spending with my wife and kids was starting to suffer.

In a panic, I resumed the normal dosage after being off the meds for so long — a big mistake. Needless to say, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.

As a way to cope with all this, I felt the need to share some things with you.

I believe that God put it on my heart to begin this blog. Before I post anything, I pray about it and let the draft sit for a few hours just to make sure that it meets my/God’s standards. I have messed up a few times, though. For instance, I thought by posting censored images of pornography that I would, in essence, be smacking people in the head with a wooden staff, waking them up to how degrading and inhumane porn is to the women who are displayed — and to women in general.

I also thought that by throwing in a few cuss words here and there, it would make me “relatable” to non-religious people who read my posts. I have since come to my senses; I should “not conform to this world.” (Romans 12:2) Rather, by trying to be a good example of a Catholic and upholding God’s standards, I can “be transformed by the renewing of my mind.” (Ibid.)

Anyway, I believe that God allowed the thorn of mental illness to be stuck in my side, and, by surviving two suicide attempts, He has allowed me to live in order that I may share my experiences with the world.

Maybe it’s a result of quitting my meds cold turkey, or maybe it’s because they weren’t working properly, but since I started blogging, my heart has felt like it is ready to burst with fountains of tears. It’s a feeling that I’m used to experiencing, but not on a constant, day-to-day basis.

There are so many people whom I am meeting in the blogosphere and beyond, individuals whom I wish more than anything I could hug and comfort. I have sobbed from reading their blog posts, and I have cried during our correspondence. How I wish I had God’s healing power as the apostles had in the Book of Acts. I wouldn’t attempt to be like Jesus and perform public miracles or anything. Instead, I would visit these poor people with broken hearts and broken spirits and heal them in private, avoiding any limelight or fame. These feelings of yours are not healthy, some might be thinking. But only God knows the answer to that.

When I was in graduate school, and before I became a Catholic, I led a small Bible study through a non-denominational campus ministry. It was a small group that I shepherded: only about four other members. They have gone on to become professional artists, engineers, and physicists, but back then, we were just a ragtag band of emotional outcasts who needed each other. I include myself because, although I was chosen as the leader by the pastor, I was “one of them.”

One time, a member who went on to become a physicist heard through the grapevine that I was thinking about quitting leadership. “You can’t quit,” he told me, tears welling up in his eyes. “You are a true leader in ways that you cannot imagine.” I didn’t know what he meant, although the encouragement was nice to hear. However, due to such low self-esteem, I never considered myself a leader.

Another time, a member who is now supporting himself as a very talented artist in California told me as we were driving, “You know why we follow you? Because you feel. You really feel.” Again, I appreciated this, but I didn’t (couldn’t) fully comprehend it.

It was after years of seeking God and praying to find Him that I discovered that my ability to feel and suffer with those who were hurting was perhaps connected to my being diagnosed with mental illness. I’m not saying that only those struggling with mental illness can most effectively help others. However, it helped me to begin learning about this stranger who was myself.

I used to pray daily that God would take away my illness and make me normal. When I was hospitalized, though, I learned from one of many counselors that there is no such thing as a “normal” standard by which to measure others, including those with mental health issues.

My favorite time to pray is at night. I go into the walk-in closet with my Bible and saint cards and gaze at the crucifix above the doorway. After learning that St. Dymphna was the patron saint of those suffering from mental illness, I bought her saint card because it had a special prayer on the back. I soon discovered that God was communicating with me through the words in the prayer (the bold words in italics are mine):

…Give those whom I recommend the patience to bear with their affliction and resignation to do Your divine will. Give them the consolation they need and especially the cure they so much desire, if it be Your will. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen. (Prayer to St. Dymphna)

If it be Your will. These five words pierced me like a silver-tipped arrow. God will cure me or leave me like this according to His will. But why would God leave me in this condition? Doesn’t He help those He loves? Does that mean God doesn’t care about me? Quite the contrary. St. Paul struggled with a mysterious thorn in his side and pleaded with God to remove it. However, God’s response was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

For some reason, God is allowing my illness, my “thorn in my side,” to remain. Perhaps He will remove it at some point. Perhaps it will be there for the rest of my earthly life. I do know that St. Paul was able to accomplish great things for God and His Church because he was forced to rely on God and His strength, and what an awesome strength it is to have!

On a related note, if you’re suffering or hurting in any way, don’t keep it bottled up inside. Tell someone. Tell me. Call a help line. Do something. Please.

And be assured that even Jesus needed comforting during dark times in His life. (Luke 22: 41-44)

~t