I can’t afford to be a “good Catholic parent”

My two year old is getting more precious (and vocal) by the millisecond.  Her sponge-like ability to retain information for longer periods of time and then have that information explode at the most inopportune (and hilarious) moments is uncanny.  And as we giggle our hineys off at her innocence and pure joy, the vibration that resonates in the back of our minds while we enjoy this time in her life to the fullest is- what we are going to do to educate her and her sister in the most Christian (Ok, Catholic) way possible?

Here’s what my Catholic prejudice tells me:

TJ, you have two options- either send them to Catholic school or school em’ yourself.  

And then, my economic stinginess pipes in,

Ha!  Silly Catholic boy, don’t you know that costs money?  You are a Teacher.  So is your wife.  If the pay freeze continues in your district, you’ll just barely be able to send them to public school!  And you want to pay Catholic school tuition or, perish the thought, ask your wife to stay home with the kiddos and teach them yourselves?  That means you’d have to survive with just your tiny, insignificant, public servant’s wages.  Then it will be ‘good luck if you want to follow God’s order to be fruitful and multiply’.  You can’t be serious!

Dang money.  Dang it all to heck.

Please pray that my kiddos can be taught by the most capable teachers in their lives during their school years and beyond: their parents.  I don’t want to miss a single inopportune (or hilarious) moment with them.  I also want them to know, love and serve God in the most profound way possible.  My wife and I can make that happen if my pay-scale will play nice.

Image Credit:the-friat.blogspot.com

Is laughing with the Eucharist in my mouth sacrilege or God’s way of telling a joke?

After celebrating the 5th anniversary of my matrimony to my wife and my daughter’s baptism, we woke up the next morning and realized that even by our mexican standards we would arrive late to our parish’s 11 o’clock mass.  When this happens, we take the opportunity to travel to our city’s Cathedral to celebrate the noon o’clock mass with the rest of the folks who were a bit hesitant to get out of bed.  This is where the following hilarity took place:

All was fine throughout the mass.  My youngest was chillin’ with her abuelita after being doused with chrism and holy water at her baptism roughly over 24 hours ago.  My wife was still a bit sleepy from a long night of baby watching and my two year old was gazing at the beauty of the Church’s architecture singing her own hymns “Ringo, ringo little star!” (A remix of the original version commonly titled Twinkle, twinkle little star) However, as soon as we went up to receive Communion, God got humorous.

I didn’t even see it coming.  She had been a bit sick the past week and her lack of food and sleep made her laxidasical at best.  But when the Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist placed Christ’s body upon my tongue, my little angel, now clinging to my shoulder, was inspired by the holy Spirit to say the first thing that came to her mind…


Immediately, I almost burst out laughing, but I couldn’t because the host was still in my mouth.

She thought that Jesus was one of the corn tortillas we ate daily in la casa.  I closed my eyes to keep from crying with laughter and as I approached the chalice, I pulled myself together.

I mustered out an “Amen”, grasped the cup and took Christ’s blood into my soul.  He wasn’t halfway down when my daughter struck again…


I. Lost. It.

When I got back to my pew, instead of the silent prayer I usually share with my wife, I attempted to explain to her what had just happened.  We received a couple of stares and shhhhs, but eventually died with that kind of laughter you can only make when you are unable to because of the “serious” environment you are in.

Regardless, I think God had a good chuckle too.

What about you, do you have any “dying of laughter but not culturally appropriate to laugh” church stories?  If not, here’s another one you might like.

Accountability- a dangerous word for many, the key to success for all

I recently sat down to lunch with a colleague of mine to ponder the problems of the world and figure out what we can put into motion to solve a few of them (because that’s what teachers do during their lengthy summer vacation).  I came out of the restaurant with two truths-

Photo by David Roseborough @ Flickr Creative Commons

1) the tacos at El Ganadero on the northeast side of Grand Rapids are undeniably flavorful and

2) everyone in the world needs someone to keep them accountable.

It is true.  It doesn’t matter if you are a lawyer, doctor, teacher, student, writer or professional base jumper, if you don’t have someone motivating/ guiding you to be the best you can be, you will inevitably become mediocre.  And mediocrity spawns a life of disillusionment, fear, and spite towards those who have people keeping them accountable.

Here’s the irony, accountability requires people to humble themselves in the criticism of another.  This means that a certain degree of trust must be established in an accountable relationship.  Trust and humility are two aspects of life that most would prefer to do without.  The “I don’t need nobody” and “I can do this myself” attitude springs forth and a series of unfortunate events ensues.

My colleague and I talk often about our teaching crafts and we have scratched the surface of what our writing means to us.  He, very unknowingly, keeps me accountable in these two portions of my life.

My wife keeps me accountable as a husband and father.  She even gives me time to write and go to adoration to foster not only my spirituality, but that of my family.

So who keeps me accountable to God?  That is the question I have meditated on for many years now.

My wife?  To the (GREAT, WONDERFUL & AMAZING) extent that the sacrament of marriage allows, of course.

My parish priest? En persona Christi during Mass and Confession, yes.

But even with such spiritual giants as these keeping me somewhat accountable, how can I seek even more spiritual growth?

Answer- get a spiritual director.

After reading countless biographical and autobiographical pieces on the Saints, there is one common strand almost all of them share besides loving God more than all things- they all had spiritual directors.

And so, this Monday, I have my first meeting with a spiritual direction pro.  Let’s hope it goes well.  I’ll let you know what we come up with.

What about you?  What are your dreams? Who keeps you accountable for striving for them?  Do you have a spiritual director?  If so, how is it going for you?

Do you stink?

The other day my daughter was eating dinner on my lap and I caught a whiff of a disturbing stench.  Being the father of two kids below age three, these aromas aren’t normally a surprise, but this one was.  I checked my girl’s diaper, sniffed her sweaty head, and checked her arm pits.  Nothing outside of the norm.

Then I thought, maybe it is me…

When one sweats, it is because their body temperature has risen too high. The body’s natural defense against overheating is to release liquid though the pours of the part of the body that is overheated. This sweat acts as a refresher in that it absorbs the heat and provides the body with a cooler temperature.  I can safely say that the majority of Americans are quite overheated as this heatwave continues to roll on.

So when Jesus was praying in the Garden the night when He was betrayed, His body was overheated. This heat was not caused by an exertion of force. In fact, it was more likely that at the hour of His prayer, the temperature was probably quite cool. I would venture to say that He was not running a marathon inside the Garden. In fact, the Bible tells us He was “prostrate” and very likely immobile on the floor, during the cool nighttime hours. (Matthew 26: 39)

So what caused this immobile man to sweat that night during His prayer? Some say it was the pure stress and they might be correct. But, could it be possible that, like the transfiguration, Jesus, in this intimate conversation with His Father, was transfiguring Himself once again into the blazing fire, the heat that other Biblical authors refer to when they speak of the Cherubim angels (Ezekiel 1:13), or the Holy Spirit (Revelation 4:5) or even God Himself (Exodus 3:2)? Could it be possible that, because He sweat blood instead of regular sweat, He was bathing Himself in the purifying “blood of the lamb” (Revelation 12:11) prior to the ultimate sacrifice on the cross? Could this blood have anything to do with “spiritual overheating of the soul” that came to save the earth? Could this be the spiritual refreshment just as sweat is physical refreshment?

I believe that this “sweating of blood” is the Spiritual defense against the overheating of a perfect soul. I believe that this blood was an effect of the raging fire of burning love that dwelled inside the carnal body of God. I believe that this serene soul lives within those today who are able to hear the sound of His resurrected voice when He says “I came to set the earth on fire. How I wish it were already burning!” (Luke 12:49)

Finally, I believe that when we drink this blood at mass, we too cover ourselves in the sweat of our souls so that they might be cooled down from the temptations of this world. Better yet, this blood transfigures our souls to become more like the raging fire of burning love for others. When we are on fire and actively participating in the Will of God, it is then that we become Jesus for others in the most profound way: by accepting the Eucharist we become the fire!

It turns out, the combination of my daughter and I after a day of playing outside in the humidity was the source of the foul stench.  That just made me think about Jesus’ sweat.

I hope that both my daughter and I can stink like God too.

My Ironic Journey Toward Learning the Spanish Language

The Spanish language is something of awe to me. I remember taking intro classes in High School and hating it with all of my being. I thought it was useless for an American like me to learn a language I would never use in the future. Little did I know how much this language would have in store for me in the future, and how God decided to use it to humble me.

When I arrived back from Oaxaca, Mexico in January of 2005, I was very distressed that I could not offer as much help as I wanted to during our 2 week mission trip. It was frustrating that I could not speak with a 5 year old child who wanted nothing more than a piggy back ride. In my misunderstandings, we occasionally were able to communicate through body language, but we wasted so much time that could have been spent helping and loving. It was then that I realized that if I wanted to be at all effective as an inner-city school teacher (or missioner for that matter, a vocation that was also on my heart), I was going to have to learn the language.

I got quick to work taking my first introduction to Spanish class with complete seriousness. My teacher was excellent, Maria Villalobos Beuhner. She made me work very hard and I was up to the task. She planted the seed in me that would eventually become my motivation to make Spanish my major.

After one year of constant study, I was off to Spain to study abroad. The language was very difficult at first, but by the grace of God, I was able to find new ways, new friends, and new dictionaries that helped me learn the language. After 3 months, the language was a part of me and I became addicted to it even though I didn’t completely understand it.

When I came back to the States, I attempted to find any outlet to use my Spanish, but it was not welcomed very well. I watched Spanish TV and read Spanish books, even completed a few more Spanish classes, but it didn’t seem like it was enough.

It was then that I met my wife, Maribel. We fell in love and have spoken the language ever since. I recommend falling in love with someone who speaks a different language than you do (as if you really had a choice). It forces you to listen to every single word whether you want to or not. It leaves no room for laziness and a lot of room for patience; these being two great foundations for marriage.

As it is, the language that I hated for so long and to a certain point despised has now become the language in which I love. God has given me this gift to love my wife, my mission, my students, and of course my family in a whole new way. It is a language of love that I personally cannot speak without smiling. It has humbled me in ways that are only explainable by God. For this gift, I am both in awe of God’s power to change people’s lives in creative ways and I am also thankful.

To top it all off, this is the language in which I have been given the mission of proclaiming the gospel both in my hometown of Grand Rapids and in my second home in Mexico. The Lord certainly does work in mysterious (and ironic) ways.

Money “Inhales Wind Violently”

I just finished writing a prolifically short book review in which I stated that I was going to write something fun as a result of reading the book.  I am a man of my word.

Every time I muster up the gusto to review my online banking and watch as my measly earnings fall like plinko chips into the “bills paid” tab, I get frustrated.  Seriously frustrated.  I often ponder what life would have been like had the industrial revolution not happened.  Would I be living?  If so, would I be a farmer, hunter or cattle driver?  Would I be as worried about being financially stable?

I’m sure you’re in the same ideologic boat. But hold on, without the big buildings, boats, trains, planes and automobiles we wouldn’t have Macbook Pros, so the advantages surely outweigh the disadvantages, right?

I digress.

The point I am (failing while) trying to make is this: money sucks.

Father Robert Barron mentioned in his Catholicism Series that the most arbitrary things in life are the ones that matter most.  These trivial actions serve no particular purpose and are done for the sake of themselves which, in return, makes them more important, more meaningful than “justified” undertakings.  Watching a game thus becomes more important than jaunting to the barbershop for a haircut.  Sitting down for lunch with a friend is more important than cleaning the house.  Writing in your blog is more important than working…

You see the dilemma?  Of course you do, you experience it every day.  We would all much rather participate in those meaningless, yet profoundly satisfying activities that we love so much.  What stops us from doing them 24/7?  Money.

We can’t live without money so, we must work.  I won’t spend much more time on this because it depresses me (and you) but we must take into account the great blessing that work is.  God has given it to us for our survival, so that we can complete the meaningless tasks we love so much.  We should appreciate it as a means to prolong our love until we accomplish our missions and can spend eternity alongside Jesus doing them.

Here’s the kicker: we’re stuck here on earth for a while (especially the safely employed).  As long as your job doesn’t involve exposure to toxic materials or strenuous/demanding physical feats of strength, your time to participate in the pointless joys of life are far greater than many starving people in the world who deserve it more than you.  If you own a computer, for example, that purchase took more money than 80% of the people in the world make in an entire year.

I know, money sucks.  But don’t let that hinder your talents.  In fact, we’d be better off living simply and giving our money to those who need it so that they too can stop worrying about their survival and start thinking about their salvation.

You’ve been blessed with work and time to enjoy the pointless jubilations of life.  Take FULL advantage of it and make it your priority to see that others have the same opportunity as you. Otherwise when we arrive at the pearly gates, St. Peter will be like:

*Note, if your name really is “Outcho Mind”, you’re totally in, so no worries.

Words from a Missionary

Psalms from Saltillo- download now for free.  This compilation is a poetic manifesto of what God does to a soul who chooses to give it all. Called to serve the abandoned and abused youth of Saltillo, Mexico, my wife and I were lucky enough to work alongside present-day saints whose reflection of God’s light shone on us. To this day, their examples and the trials faced while helping those most in need have taught us more than we could ever have dreamed of about regarding Catholic social justice. These poems allow readers to relive that experience.

If you missed it I published another book you might like for free yesterday too.

Hey Dad,

Hey Dad,

I know you read about Mom during Mother’s day, and I thought I’d write something for you on Father’s day, but for some reason or another, writing about you is near impossible.  Why?  Let me put it this way:

If God is an artist (and He is), then His masterpiece is humanity.  Since we are made in His image and likeness, we are reflections of Him which makes us perfect (in principle), right?

Well, suppose each sin we commit makes us less perfect (which they do).  We start distorting ourselves to look more original, more “like us” so to speak.  Adam and Eve covered themselves with leaves behind a tree and at the climax of human existence, Jesus came and was nailed naked in front of another tree to make up for all of those sins that our original parents (and their kids) committed.

So now, we are forced to go through life as sojourners looking for the shards of this cross and the light that they produce so that we too might share in the pains and sufferings of salvation.  We imitate Christ first by imitating those who we recognize to be most like Him, those who have taken the pains and burdens of their lives and turned them into glorious works of art, masterpieces if you will.

Pop, you have taken on five crosses that bear your (and mom’s) DNA and turned them into masterpieces.  What you created with the shards of wood under your care was brilliantly crafted by your gentle affection, humble common sense, and constant patience.  Wiping the sweat from your brow, the sawdust of your fatherhood has constructed our family into the foundation of love of which you are the common nail and Christ the foundation.  I love you like I love Christ, but it wasn’t until I recognized the intense reflection of Christ within you that I even understood what love was.  It is a paradox, but without you, my supreme Christ with skin on, I would never have met Him.

So why is it so hard to write about you?  Well, frankly, for me to write about you is like a painting trying to complement its artist.  Words wouldn’t do you justice and so, I’m left to live my life imitating Christ by imitating you.

Happy father’s day pop, I pray to our Father that I might be as good a father to my children as He is to us and as you have been to us.

I confuse white people

I have a confession to make: I’m white.  I have another confession to add: I have a joke I like to play on folks of all races, but primarily white folks.  Allow me to elaborate…

¡Qué guapa!

My beautiful wife is from Mexico.  She came to the States when she was 18 and although her English is flawless (she graduated from one of our high-class universities), her accent can be pretty thick at times.

¡Qué guapo!

This is me.  I’m from west Michigan which has a history of being dutch and protestant.  Since I am neither dutch nor protestant, I find myself chucked into the American melting pot above a flame that sears me at times, but one that I can manage to live with.

When my wife and I go out, it never fails that every cashier, waiter or grocery store employee takes a good look at us and then promptly directs their first words to the tall white guy who they assume speaks English.

“Hello, can I help you?” they say.

This is when I get a bit mischievous.  Without prompting my wife, I look at the kind greeter with a confused look and then to my wife.  Then I break into Spanish mode.

“¿Qué dijo?” (What did he/she say?)

My wife plays along. She looks back at the greeter and translates for me in Spanish. We go like this until the greeter leaves us.

I don’t know if this joke is friendly or even courteous, but the teacher in me loves it. Did you know that a very small portion of Caucasians and african americans speak a language other than English?  Did you know that the majority of monolingual people on the entire planet live in the United States?  Don’t you find that quite odd considering how multi-cultural our Nation is?

About 10 years ago, my language skills were fossilized because I, like many Americans (especially in western Michigan), was under the impression that my mandatory language classes were a huge waste of time.  “Why do I need to learn Spanish?” I would say to myself.  “I’m never going to need it.”

Well, if you don’t know my story, the Spanish language has become my life.  I’ve been studying and traveling for seven years now and thanks to my favorite and most attractive teacher, my wife, my children and I are becoming bilingual.  We’ve registered with the “hispanic” Church in our diocese and our ministry has rooted itself in the foundation of the Spanish language and the various cultures that make up our faith community.

So what’s the point?  Well, God resurrected my fossilized linguistic skills and gave them life in abundance (against my will).  Without this gift, I would not have a job, I would not have become a missionary, I would not have met my wife and I probably would have ended up like the majority of the monolingual Americans who surround me.  Granted, I would probably still be happy and faithful to my God and His Church, but it wouldn’t have been so spicy.

Pica mucho

If you are one of the millions of monolingual Americans out there, go ahead, have at a language or two.  Conquer that tower of Babel and play some jokes on those who take the road most traveled.

5 Rules for Blogging, Working Parents

With the recent birth of my second daughter, I’m quickly realizing that the time I dedicate to writing is thinning as quickly as my hair.  That’s why this post isn’t for everyone.  In fact, its really just for me.  I’m hoping that writing it will solidify my priorities and where writing fits into those priorities.  If it helps benefit your life too, then please read on.  If not, you’ll have to wait until 20 years from now when my kids are out of the house and I can finally get the time to get something up that’s fun to read (and write) about (sarcasm intended).

And so, here are the regulations I am imposing upon myself so I can be the best Papí, husband, teacher and writer that the 24 hours in each day will allow me to be. My wife is going to love this:

1) Keep prayer the most consistent part of your day

The sign of the cross you make when you open your eyes and the final moments on your knees beside the bed before you collapse into yor pillow might be your only conscience prayer, but don’t let the idea that you are constntly in the presence of God leave you.  Recognize Him in your thoughts often, but most importantly, recognize Him in the eyes of your family who reflect your vocation with every smile, hug, and dirty diaper.

2) Plan and prioritize your internet surf

When you hit the power-on button, travel into the deep sea like Jesus did with Peter and Andrew and take the big waves first. Pay your online bills, balance your budget, write a chapter in your book and then write your blogpost.  Finish up by replying to important Emails, then semi-important Emails and finally, if you have time, waste it on facebook and/or twitter. (Note, your priorities might be different than mine.  Where you waste time is quite different than where I waste time.  The point is, get the important stuff done first).

3) Set aside “screen time” for your kids and for yourself

The worst thing a parent can do is to be so entranced by technology that they miss out on the little (but very significant) moments of their children’s lives.  However, our culture is turning digial at an alarming rate which means not only do you need the internet to function (take online bill paying as an example), but your children will too.

This doesn’t mean that nature is left out.  In fact, since we Catholics have always been the greatest counter to worldly culture and lovers of nature, so we should limit our time with technology to a point that we are getting the best out of God’s natural creation and using our own technological creations to grow closer to Him. We can do this if we use technology to honor God and then teach our kids to do the same.

So, when you use the computer (and set reasonable time limits), allow your kids to use their’s.  However, when you are offline, they should be outside with you getting dirty, being curious, and scarping their knees from time to time.

4) Keep a pen and pad of paper handy

If you are a writer and a parent, ideas for posts and books (maybe even poetry) will pop into your head at the worst moments.  Odds are, you will be occupied with your family when this occurs and will feel guilty if you need to leave them to turn on your computer and write (especially if it isn’t during the previously mentioned screen time).  Don’t let this happen. Reach for the easy solution and use the ancient method of papyrus and ink to get your thoughts down on paper so you can return to them during your allotted tech time.

5) Writing is basically watered down actions

Writing is your last priority. Make sure you see your family’s eyes more than you see your computer screen.  Your life will be judged by what you do, not by what you write.  If you want to imitate Jesus best, then writing should be smal part of your ministry.

There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written

~John 21: 25

To dedicate too much time to your writing is like believing in the Bible alone.  As we all know, that’s just not Catholic nor reasonable.  Jesus was only only recorded writing once, which gives us a good model to follow as bloggers.  If we wish to write, our daily actions  must share the same “writing:non-writing” time ratio as Jesus’.

There they are.  My self-imposed regulations.  Now to adhere to them, eeek.