Monday, September 15, 2014

Maybe Next Year

I've been a fan of the Kansas City Royals ever since I was a little kid. Some of my fondest memories growing up involved the Royals. Whether it was traveling to Kansas City with my Uncle Mick to catch a game at then Royals Stadium or listening to Denny Matthews broadcasting a game while sitting next to my grandpa. I can remember when the Royals won the World Series in 1985.

Those fond memories seem like a lifetime ago. That 1985 World Series was the last time my Royals even made the playoffs. Since then, there has been a lot of let downs and a lot of bad teams. The Royals have floundered in the cellar only occasionally finishing the season over .500.

It doesn't matter how bad the team is, I've always supported them. I've flirted with the idea of switching allegiances but who would I cheer for? The St. Louis Cardinals? I'd rather eat a bowl full of razor blades. The Minnesota Twins? Nice team with great fans but too far away. Besides, I feel that I owe loyalty to the team for no other reason than because of my Grandpa and my Uncle Mick.

And every winter I always get drawn back. They would make trades and signings and I would think to myself that “maybe they will be a little better this year.” Of course I would also be disappointed when their best players would leave after a few years for more money and better opportunities.

This year has been different though. The Royals finally seem to have their act together and have been playing meaningful games in September. They've lead the division into September. It's been exciting. Fans have been showing up to the ball park and there is electricity in the air.

But it's been so many years since the Royals have been really good and so many disappointing seasons now that even when they do good I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. You aren't sure of a win until that last out in the ninth inning. You are always waiting for the next losing streak. And even this year, two weeks before the end of the season I find myself waiting to be disappointed.

I wonder sometimes if God feels the same way about us. Does He sit there getting exciting thinking, “Maybe Jamie is finally getting his act together. His prayer life seems to be coming together. He's been attending daily mass regularly.” Only to be disappointed when my sinful nature rears it's ugly head and I act like I act instead of how I want to act. God wants to cheer us on but does He hold His breath waiting for us to screw up? Does God get frustrated thinking, “Well Jamie isn't in the cellar. He has been hovering at .500 for several years. But it's time to take his game to the next level and make the playoffs.”

Somehow I doubt it. I expect God maintains hope in us. I expect He has faith in us that He has given us the grace that we need in order to succeed. He is our biggest cheerleader. The biggest homer. Expecting us to succeed even when we have given up on ourselves.


Perhaps, I should hope in my Royals the way God has hope in us. Perhaps, I should have hope in myself the way God has hope in me and take my game to the next level.   

Monday, July 21, 2014

To Love One Another

At the end of May, I went to my high school class's 25 year reunion.   Like many people, I was not a fan of high school.   It was a very lonely time for me.   I felt like no one cared for me and as if I were invisible.    What I didn't realize at the time is that most high school kids feel the same way---lonely, not cared for and invisible.

I figured that out as I grew older but what I hadn't realized until my high school reunion was really, how closed up in myself I was at that time.    I thought I was a caring person and that everyone else were the jerks.    But, as I talked to classmates who were talking about their memories of high school, I learned how much I did not know.  I didn't know that so and so's parents were going through a divorce or that so and so had gotten pregnant.  I didn't know this or that because I was so worried about why people didn't care about what I had going on in my life.

Twenty five years later, and I've matured a little but I think I'm still too wrapped up in my own worries and concerns and I think God is calling me to love others more.    This was realized a couple of weeks ago when I went to the University of Notre Dame for a program for campus and youth ministers called "ND Vision."  

This was my second year at ND Vision and I was intrigued as to what God had in store for me.  Last year, He really put me through the wringer and made me feel His love like no other time in my life--no matter how much I tried to resist.   God loves me despite all my faults and despite all my wrongs.   He loves me because it is what He does.

Now, I believe I am called to love others.   I'm sure you are thinking, "yeah, no kidding.  We are supposed to love others."  I've always understood that but I don't think I've done a great job at it.   I think I've done a good job at tolerating others.  I've done a good job at liking others.  I've done a good job at not hating others.   But I have not done a good job at loving others.  Loving others that way that God wants me to love them.  And not just family and friends but I'm called to love the stranger and the person I'm not familiar with.

It was made obvious to me in the different sessions.  It was made obvious at confession when I laid all my sins out in front of God and was told that if I worked at my vices of not loving others then the others sins would take care of themselves.   It was made obvious in my solitude.  I went to Notre Dame alone and was made to open up with the other youth ministers who were strangers to me and through the week became my friends.

I wish I came home from Notre Dame a changed person and now loved everyone with a new heart.  The fact of the matter is that it is going to be difficult.   I'm a realist and well, lets face it---some people are jerks---myself included.  Some people make it difficult to love them--myself included.    I also have to be self protective.  I have a line of work where people are trying to harm me so I have to leave up a guard.

Yet, still, I need to see people as children of God.  I need to see them as being made in the image and likeness of God.  I need to see them as people that Jesus died on the cross for just as He did me.    I think it will be a challenge.  But I think doing so will not only be pleasing to God but will make me a saint.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Returning to Galilee

At this years Easter Vigil mass, Pope Francis spoke about how the apostles first met Jesus along the shores of Galilee and how after His resurrection they returned to Galilee and met the risen Christ once again.  Pope Francis pointed out that we all have have a Galilee---that moment where we first met Jesus.  He went on to further state that we must also return ther to, "encounter [Jesus] and let [yourself] be embraced by [his] mercy.  We must return, "to see Jesus risen, and to become a witness of his resurrection.  This is not to go back in time; it is not a type of nostalgia. It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the ends of the Earth.
 

My "Galilee" is the Univeristy of Notre Dame.   Last year I went there for what I thought would be a simple retreat, but I had my world turned upside down.  It was the first time I believe that I truley met Jesus.  Oh, I've had conversions and reversions.  I've had those moments where I've felt the presence of God.  But this was the first time that I TRULY met Jesus and he did quite the piece of work on me.  He cracked open my chest and exposed me to His love and showed me that He loves me not because of who I am but He loves me despite who I am.  He showed me how to love.

This week, I am back at Notre Dame for another week at ND Vision.  I don't have any great expectations.  I'm not expecting any mind blowing, mountain top, transfiguring experiences.  I am just hoping to return to Galilee.  I want to sit on the beach while Jesus barbecues me some fish and enjoy His friendship and love.  I just want to rest in prayer and spend some time with Him.  Oh, I plan on having fun too.  I plan on meeting new people and making new friends.  But, I can't wait to return to Galilee.

So, please remember me in your prayers this week if you could and I'll remember you in mine.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

It is an Honor

This last weekend was the North Central Regional Competition for the CrossFit games.  Unfortunately, one of my favorite athletes, Stacie Tovar, did not do well and will not be competing at the Games in Carson, California this year.   In the end, I think that the attitude she displayed when she did not win showed what a true champion she is and she proved herself to be a role model for the rest of us.

Probably the main reason I've always cheered for Stacie is because she is from Omaha, Nebraska which is about an hour an a half from where I grew up in northwest Missouri and I've always been one to support my "local" team.  I'm a Royals fan, a Chiefs fan and a Missouri Tiger fan through thick and thin (and lets face it-with those teams there have been more thin than thick)  So, even though I'm in Kansas City now it made sense to cheer for a top athlete from Omaha.

Another reason I root for her is because I remember seeing her in a CrossFit video from probably 7-8 years ago and she was tiny.  She looked like the average female CrossFitter and nothing like the studette she looks like today.  I realized when I watched that video of her working on her push press how many hours and hours she has put into the gym and into her nutrition to get to the level where she is competitive with the world's fittest.

This weekend's performance solidified me as a fan though.  Friday was rough for her and she ended the day in 11th place.   Saturday was a little better but she was way back in 9th place at the end of the day.  She was in tears on the Update show knowing full well that the odds were slim for her making it back to Carson for the sixth year in a row.  I remember thinking, "how does one even come back and compete on Sunday after two days like that?"  It just had to be crushing to know that she would not only not be competing for first place but she would not end up on the podium at the end of the weekend and would not be competing against her friends come July.  How does on even show up the next day?

Show up she did.  On the first workout of Sunday she crushed it and finished first and actually did better than any female on the day in any regional in that workout.  And she was smiling from ear to ear. Then she did well in the second and final workout.  She ended up in sixth place.  It wasn't good enough to put her in the games but it was a great performance and showed a lot of guts.    Her statement to the interviewer when it was all over spoke volumes about who Stacie Tovar is as a person when she said, "it is an honor to compete."

"It is an honor to compete."  It's a simple statement that showed great humility and one that we should carry with us where ever we are in life.  It's basically saying that we should count our blessings.  It's remembering that everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God so appreciate what has been given to us instead of cursing what we don't have.

When I am at the gym and just sucking air after everyone else has already finished the workout --- it is an honor that I am able to be there, that I am physically able to compete when others cannot, that I'm a few minutes from home instead of being in an austere environment like many soldiers and Marines, remember that I'm surrounded by friends cheering me on.  I'm blessed.

When I'm at work and it's been a bad night seeing the underbelly of humanity--it is an honor that I'm put in the position to help others out in their moment of crisis, that I'm allowed to put this badge on, to lead and give direction to a great group of officers and that I'm kept safe throughout the night.  I'm blessed.

When I am at home and I just want to sleep but the kids are keeping me awake or I have tasks to do--it is an honor to be a father and a husband and have the responsibility to raise three children and an honor to be married to my smoking hot wife who I am madly, passionately in love with.  I'm blessed.

When my spiritual life is turned upside down and I've tripped and fallen.  It's an honor that God has given me the gift of free will and allowed me to grow by allowing me to trip and fall.  It's an honor that God loves me so much that he has afforded me the opportunities, the grace and the mercy to always return back to Him.

So, thank-you Stacie Tovar for not only entertaining me while I watch you compete.  Thank you for showing me what it means to never give up.  Thank you for reminding me how honored I truly am.

Friday, April 25, 2014

JPII And TOTB

The other day I was listening to the radio and they were talking about Pope John Paul II's canonization on this upcoming Sunday along with Pope John XXIII.   One of the things they were discussing was the impact Pope John Paul II had on them.  I grew up with John Paul but I was not really fully involved and formed in my faith until after the Parkinson's had set in and he was in poor health.   Because of this, I cannot say that he had an impact on me growing up, but I think I can say that his teachings have an impact on me now.

In particular, his teaching on the Theology of the Body (TOTB) has had a great impact and my deepest regret is that I had not learned about it twenty years earlier.   The pope taught about the Theology of the Body over a number of years at his Wednesday audiences.   In essence, the Theology of the Body is the study of God through a more profound understanding of the human body and our own sexuality.  

The Theology of the Body helps us understand the church's  teaching on sexuality and explains why she teaches what she does on things such as marriage, contraception and homosexuality.   The Catholic Church's teaching on sexuality, while thought by many to be archaic is anything but. It is beautiful--although sometimes difficult.

It has taught me to not let my life be led by hormones and to allow my soul to have control over my body.

It has taught me to look at women as a people to love and not to look at them as objects to be used.   I realize this may make me sound very sexist but I think it is a safe bet that most men battle lust to some degree and they either succumb to it or they totally shield themselves off and "guard their eyes" when an attractive woman is in the room.  It is still a battle for me and I'm still careful, but I like to think that I can see an attractive woman and appreciate her beauty without seeing her in a sexual way.     To do so would be sinful.

Finally, it has allowed me to have a greater intimacy with my wife.  

It has allowed me to see her as part of me because of our marriage.  We are more than two separate people.   We are made one flesh by the bonds of our marital vows.  When she hurts, I hurt.  When she wants, I want.   I want to do everything I can to make her happy even if I have to make sacrifices myself.

It has helped me see sex as a physical act between two people.  It is an act of intimacy between two people where the husband is giving all of his love to his wife and the wife gives all of her love to the husband and the result of this love is, if God wills it, a child.  Sex between a husband and wife is in reality a reflection of Trinitarian love---the love that flows between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  As the three are one so husband and wife are one.  There is nothing more intimate than a husband and wife in the "marital embrace."

What impact has Pope John Paul II had on my life.  A great one.  He has helped me understand my own sexuality and how my sexuality interacts with my wife's.   So, some how, the little old Polish priest over in Rome, who will be made a saint on Sunday, helped my sex life.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Breathing---My Cross to Bear

My family has a history of bad lungs.   I've had uncles who have won the fight against lung cancer and I've had uncles who have lost their fight with lung cancer.   I've seen yet another uncle wither away due to emphysema.  I remember watching my grandfather have to use a breathing machine when I was kid.   So, while their lung problems may have a lot to do with smoking, I've certainly seen relatives with lung problems.

I also have lung problems, although nothing as drastic as lung cancer or emphysema. I do have to deal with exercise induced asthma though.   The only time it really bothers me is when I'm working out.   And if you look at this amazingly sculpted body, it's no secret that I work out.  Occasionally.   When I do work out, I enjoy doing CrossFit---constantly varied, functional movements done at high intensity.   It's great because no matter how good of shape you are in---it's going to kick your butt.   

It does get frustrating for me though because my lungs do not let me go as fast as I want.   Sure, some workouts muscle fatigue hits me too, but nearly every workout my respiratory capacity slows me down and I have to pace myself so I don't "red line."   And, I know I'm not supposed to let my ego get in my way, but it does suck always being one of the last ones to finish.   Fortunately, all of the other people in the gym cheer me on and encourage me.

It sucks not being able to breath.   It sucks feeling like you are suffocating or drowning.   You think to yourself, I could be home on the couch.   A thought came to me one day as I was praying the rosary (I took it up as my Lenten obligation, and did a good job for the first couple of weeks too).   The rosary is a form of prayer where, as you say certain prayers, you meditate of different parts of Jesus' life.   There are different meditations for different days of the week.  So, for instance, this day was Friday so I was praying the Sorrowful Mysteries.  So for a certain set of prayers, I would meditate on the "Agony in the Garden" and then the "Scourging at the Pillar," for another set of prayers, then the "crowning of thorns," followed by the "carrying of the cross" and finally the crucifixion.

As I was praying on the crucifixion, I was contemplating the agony that Jesus as going through as he hung up on the cross.   The  mode of death for people being crucified is actually suffocation.    With the arms outstretched and the person hanging there, the lungs are compressed making it very difficult to breath and the person eventually dies, sometimes hours or even days later, buy suffocating.   In fact, during our Lord's passion, the Romans broke the legs of the two criminals on either side of Jesus. They did this so they could not use their legs (which were nailed into the cross) to lift their bodies for a few moments so they could breath.   By breaking the legs, they could not lift themselves up to breath and their death was hastened. 

I imagined what a horrible way to die that would be.  Then I thought of what a wuss I must be when I feel like I'm gasping for air and breathing heavy just a few minutes into a workout.    I'm doing the workout for my betterment.   I'm doing it so I can be in shape and look good for my wife.    I'm going it for me.      Jesus went through all of that, for me.  He suffocated and He died for me.  Because of my sins.  Because He wants to spend eternity with me because He loves me that much.

It's one thing to contemplate that while siting in a pew at church.   It is quite another to have that thought pop into your head in the middle of a workout.  While you are doing burpees and just slugging it out---throwing yourself down and picking yourself back up, cursing out the trainer who made up this workout and you realize that Jesus went through worse for me.    At that point, all you can do is suck it up and push on and offer up the pain you are going through.

As an aside, my gym posted this great workout for today--Good Friday---The Jesus WOD!!!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Discernment Can Be Frustrating

Discernment is the act of making a decision and basing that decision on what we believe God wants.   That's not a definition out of any dictionary or anything---it is straight out of my own head so feel free to criticize it.    Normally when we think of someone discerning something, we imagine a young man or woman trying to determine whether they should go down the road to the religious life as a priest or brother or as a nun for the ladies versus pursuing the married life.    But in reality, we should use the act of discernment in any major life decision we face and even in our daily run of the mill decisions.  After all, if we base our decisions on what God's will it we should end up pretty good.

The problem with discernment is that we cannot ever really be too sure that the decision we come to is ours or God's.    It is not very often that God appears as a burning bush and explicitly tell us what to do.   He gave Moses a couple of tablet with His rules and He told Noah the exact specifications on how to build the ark.   No, for us we pray and hope that God gives us the grace to make the right decision.

I understand the rationale----God does not come right out and say, "Jamie, I want you to do <blank>" because He wants to give us free will to make our own decisions and not be mere robots.    He want us to love Him freely.

But what about when we freely want to do His will.   "Here I am, Lord, I'm here to serve you.  Tell me what you want.   Just stinking tell me what you want already!   Whatever it is, I'll do it."   It can be downright frustrating.

I've been told that when you've come to the right decision you will have a feeling of peace.  I can understand that.   I have no doubt that I am where God wants me in life is because one of the places on Earth that I feel the most safe, secure and happy is when I'm with my wife, Abby.   I'm at peace.

But what about when you make a decision and you are at peace with it and you are happy with the decision and you have no doubt that this is what God wants from you and you have obstacles thrown in your way.  "God, I thought this is what you wanted.   Shouldn't the road ahead of me be paved smoothly?  Shouldn't I have smooth sailing?  Why all of the barrier and obstacles?"

I realize that the Devil is the one throwing obstacles in our way just as he is the one that tempts us and lures us to sin.    I realize that you have to have persistence and patience to follow through on the decision you made through your discernment.   But would it be too difficult to give me a little pat on my back or whisper in my ear so I know I'm on the right path??