“Are you hungry?”

“Are you hungry?” He asked. I heard his words faintly – carried in my open window by a breeze on a surprisingly warm January day.

I turned to discover it was the voice of the young man who had walked in front of my car just moments earlier. Clad in a black Nike pullover with matching joggers and shoes, his companions were two dogs that pulled him along as if they had something important to show him.

“Typical millennial,” I thought when I saw him then. It was a sight I’ve seen many times. A well-coordinated young professional walking his dogs as the sun peaked through high-rise buildings in the downtown of some Midwestern city. From Chicago to Indianapolis to Columbus to today in Cincinnati, millennials – and I count myself among them – seem to have a love affair with four paws traipsing across concrete jungles.

“Are you hungry?” he asked again, my eyes resting on the woman he questioned. She was enveloped in a coat three times her size with matted hair and dirty pants holding a cardboard sign I couldn’t read but could guess what it said.

My infant son was squeaking in the back seat as music from the car behind us poured into my open window. A pleasant looking older man in a North Face walked briskly past our car carrying a white pastry bag from Starbucks, the kind that is typically filled with those sweetbreads I eat too many of. Maybe it was a breakfast sandwich or a cake pop. The latter would have been daring for this early in the morning, but I can’t say it’s something I’ve never done before.

“Are you hungry?” He asked a third time. I think she answered him, but I couldn’t hear what she said.

The night before our priest preached a beautiful sermon about what it means to follow Jesus. It was a familiar Gospel, the one where Jesus walks by and calls Simon, Andrew, John and James to be his disciples. “Come after me,” Jesus said. “And I will make you fishers of men.”

“Little did they know what was to come,” I thought then. But that wasn’t the point, as our priest pointed out. They dropped everything and followed. That also meant they put everything on the shoulders of Jesus. What would they eat? What would they wear? Where would they sleep? “Do not worry about those things,” Jesus said later on, “learn from the way the wildflowers grow.”

Jesus was a father, brother, provider, teacher, and friend to his disciples. He asked the question, “Will you follow me?” which in my mind, on that day, as I stared at the man in the Nike pullover and the woman with dirty pants, sounded a lot like the question, “Are you hungry?”

The traffic light turned green, I heard the radio again, the chatter of my son and the voice of my wife asking, “What did he say?” as we drove away.

“He asked her if she was hungry,” I responded.

“What did she say?’ My wife asked.

“I hope she said yes,” I said, hoping I would say the same.

 

 

 

 

Oranges

I am laughing because you signed “orange”
for the fourth time today
with such joy on your face

 

and the sounds of this new word

coming from your wide smile
“orange”
and I’m peeling it with my clubbed fingers
my fingers that held yours today
full love of love and trust and confidence
while we walked outside
downtown on cracked sidewalks
and through the hospital avoiding germs
and then I realize your love for oranges
(clementines, really, because they’re just your size)
and my love for oranges
are undeniably connected.
I ate one almost every day
while you grew inside my belly
I ate one the day you were sleeping
during the ultrasound (one of many)
and we needed you to move.
It seems like just a minute ago when
you jumped and swayed inside my belly
and pushed on my strong lungs
and without knowing, I knew you so well.
there is this wonderfully strange
enticing connection
separate but the same

and I never tire of the awe I feel
every time I look at you.

 “more orange please mama”

okay Simon, more orange.

12-21-17: marvelous

marvelous eyes
marvelous hair
deep sea blue
and golden light
this naptime
as you sleep
I drink in the mystery of you.
this beautiful child
one full of noises
and wonder
and pure heart of joy.
you who grew inside of me
with a tiny freckle above your right eye
what a gift it is
to teach you
learn with you
snuggle you to sleep
what a rare and intimate connection
you needing me
just as much as
me needing you.
most at rest
as you rest
relaxed in my arms.

shame

12-1-17

shame
shame on me for shaming you
innocent and naked
we were hurrying to get in the shower
but also wanted some music
to dance to and distract you from the pain
of your chest burn scab
and your two week old fingernail wound
and fresh diaper rash
it is hard to be 18 months old.
so Christmas tunes to the rescue
and I heard you make a quick puddle on the floor
didn’t even think
just exclaimed loud fast SIMON!
mostly out of surprise
but you heard it loud
shame amplified in your new tiny ears
eyes wept immediately
body shook
our hearts sank together.
I know this is a wound I can’t fix quick
I see the hurt in your eyes
“I’m sorry Simon”
are words that feel useless.
I plead with myself to never forget this moment
to stop the murky foul smelling tone of shame
from leaving my mouth again
it came out before I knew it was there
the tone I’ve heard many times from others
and even more from myself
to myself
to my husband
to the people I love
shame

but alas
I did it again at the store later
when you were excited and squealed
about two chimichangas from the freezer isle
“You don’t even know what those are”
I said to you
in a way that quietly steals away joy
that is completely unneeded
I corrected myself.
“do those feel cold to you? Those are called chimichangas.
They taste kind of like burritos. I love
how excited you are about them!”
deep breath
we are both learning about shame.
words can demean, even when we don’t mean for them to.

I’ll hold you now, tight and close
and feed you the best kind of healing food
“more nurse,” you ask
your toddler eyes sparkle bright
while you sing
with the lullaby hippo
my son
my joy
I am sorry
I will try harder
we will learn about shame and love
and many more things
together

11/16/2017

It’s late. Well, it’s 10:00 p.m. and I’m 25 years old with a son, a wife, a house, and a full-time job that supports all three. I wake up at 4 a.m. to pull my son out of his crib because he doesn’t like to sleep alone and every morning I think, “I should stay up and write and pray and not crawl back into bed,” but I crawl back into bed anyway.

Sometimes my son wakes me up to say, “Hi dad” in a soft, scratchy, high-pitched voice that I wish he would keep forever. Sometimes I press the sleep button on my alarm so I can lay next to him longer, my hand on his stomach, his body close to mine.

Love is a tree that climbs tall and roots deep.

Love is a little boy and a wife and a home and waking up at 4 a.m. and realizing how lucky you are. Even though you are just 25 and life just started.

Following My Father’s Example

Last spring, The Atlantic published a series of articles under the headline of “Choosing my Religion.” The articles are diverse in scope, covering the mass exodus of millennials from organized religion, personal struggles under religion’s expectations, and one compelling series where readers responded to the question: “What was your biggest religious choice?”

I have read countless articles on the religious practice of millennials, but none has made me pause quite as much as the series about their readers’ biggest religious choice. The responses were filled with the honest struggle of living a life of faith. The series also included many tragic stories about faithful people becoming disillusioned by the hypocritical actions of religion’s elite.

Ever since discovering this discussion a couple of months ago, the question of my biggest religious choice has troubled me. Being part of a generation that is largely skeptical of organized religion, I feel having an answer to why I practice is important. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of anxiety about this because I find it really hard to come up with an answer.

Lately, every time I sit down next to my wife and son in the church pew, I wonder if not having an answer to that question is acceptable. Am I just wasting my time? Am I setting a bad example for my son? Why don’t I have a clear answer to why I am here?

I’ve always been an observant person, a by-product of my introverted personality. When I was growing up, my favorite place to people watch was church. In the pews ahead of me, I would watch older ladies pray the rosary during Father’s homily. Beside me, I would watch harried mothers attempt to control their bored children. And behind me, I would see men with polo shirts tucked into their jeans not utter a single word throughout the entire service.

It seemed obvious to me why the older ladies were at Mass. I figured they must be praying for something very important to not listen while Father gave his message. I certainly knew why the harried mothers and their children were at Mass, a lesson I learned quickly when I wouldn’t get up for church on time.

My mother, never weary of telling us what to do, would march into my room, pull the sheets off my bed, and tell me that I needed to go to church because Jesus required it of me. I just imagined all of those children were in the same position as me, at church with their mothers because that is what Jesus required.

The cadre of men with their polos tucked into their jeans always perplexed me. They never looked happy and they never said a word. Yet, they were there out of obligation to God, their wives or their children. When I think about not having an answer to my biggest religious choice, I think about this group of seemingly unhappy men. But luckily for me, there was another man I would often watch in church: my father.

My dad distinguished himself from this group of men in a number of ways. First and foremost, his standard church dress was, and still is, a polo tucked into khaki pants with a pair of white tennis shoes on his feet. That outfit is a product of many years in a public school classroom.

Second, he always sang and said the responses. Third, he prayed before church and always knelt down in prayer after communion. Finally, he was anything but faceless around our parish community. He was the director of religious education, the youth minister, a member of the parish council, and the one person everyone went to with a question about this or that.

On Sundays, my dad would wake up early and head to church to roll out tables in the parish school basement, set out religion books, prep the teachers, and then give a morning reflection before religion classes started. After religion, he would put the books away, clean up the tables and chairs, head over to the church to write his name on the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion sign-up sheet, and then sit down next to his wife and three boys in the pew.

He would lift me up and hold me on the church pew when I couldn’t see the priest, he would run his finger across the words in the hymnal so I knew what words to sing, and he would always actively participate in the liturgy.

In all of this, he never once spoke to me about the reasons he worked so hard for the church or why he helped me pray the liturgy. And honestly, I am not certain he has an answer for why he is so obviously committed to his faith. I can say that because my dad has never been a man of many words, but he has always been a man of faith-filled action.

I take comfort in my dad’s example when I am uncomfortable with not knowing the exact reason I show up to church each Sunday. Each time I open the hymnal to sing, kneel down to pray after communion and lift up my son to see the priest, I think of when my dad did that for me.

I am grateful for the faith handed down to me from my father, even if I don’t always understand it. In his example, when I don’t always have the words of faith, I can take comfort in the testimony of my actions. Actions that I sincerely hope my son will pass down one day to his family.

What is my biggest religious choice? Maybe it’s not something tied to a moment in time. Maybe it’s every Sunday when I walk into church next to my wife holding my baby boy and decide to follow the faith-filled example of my dad.

-Christian

Originally published in Saint Meinrad’s Echoes from the Belltower blog on June 15, 2017

One Year Old Hands

Your formerly tiny, balled up hands are different now
Flatter, fatter, moveable, still soft on my cheeks
They explore every surface and texture you touch
Patting and wiggling all day long
Your baby paws dig into the dirt as we put plants in the ground,
Leaving lines of black under your fingernails.
Grasping at strawberries and cheese for your lunch,
Carefully placing them each into your wide-open mouth
With curled up corners and a giggle in the air.
They softly pat my chest as you nurse and find the biggest mole you can pinch
Eyes drifting off into sleep, or at least stillness and rest.
Much needed rest.
Your hands are bigger now, and they do big things
Like pull you up on the furniture as you cruise, lightning fast towards your friends
They learn gentleness to pet the dog, and high fives to greet.
You grasp my fingers when you walk, and stop if I let one go.
As Daddy pulls you in the wagon, you reach your hand out for mine
And we walk, hand in hand, tiny and true and trusting.
I love your tiny hands, willing to open and clap, to be kissed and to hold.
You have your daddy’s fingers.
They are the most natural thing I have ever held in my hands
Like they were always meant to be right there
All this time

-Gillian