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

3-13-2017, A Lesson about Giving Grace (to myself)

Days can be full of the most mundane things. More often than not, we let the mundane become our focus and lose focus on the extraordinary things that exist around us. For example, doing laundry = mundane. Allowing your baby son to destroy your perfectly sorted laundry pile = extraordinary.

Why is that extraordinary? Because it breaks up the mundane. We need both. If we didn’t have the mundane we wouldn’t know about the extraordinary. But if we lose sight of the extraordinary, we will never find lessons in the mundane.

I think Gillian shares that so beautifully below. Grace can be found in both the mundane and the extraordinary. But we need to open our hearts to both so that we can find it.

3-13-2017

The to-do list is long and the done list feels very short.

I reflect on my day and wonder how late I can stay up…
…to switch the laundry (but the shirts in the dryer are wrinkly again)
…and fold the towels
…I should pump and study.
…Help jumpstart tomorrow. Prep lunch. Make coffee.

I think about all of these things and about how much I stressed today,
and how I didn’t just take a deep breath and find joy in the moment,
and how much I fretted about being too tired and was too impatient,
and how often I cursed the time change.

I think about how my day needed a little bit more love and grace,
because I think when I talk to Jesus about my day, he doesn’t see my to-do list,
He sees my done list, but it looks very different from my own.

He sees how I loved my child and gently washed his hands after each meal.
He sees how we clapped hands a million times today,
and that we laid down and took a nap together.
He sees that I called my friend just to see if she was okay,
and spent a little extra time listening to a new game invented by a most creative 8-year-old.

So maybe my lesson for today isn’t what I did or didn’t do,
(yes, maybe I looked away too long when Simon spilled coffee on the carpet)
but that I tried to love today – that’s the takeaway.
I hope tomorrow I can give a lot more grace to myself and just as many kisses to Simon.

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Simon’s Thoughts

After all of that, I sat down to process. I ended up with a poem that brings me joy every time I read it. It may not end up in the anthology of the world’s greatest poems, but if I were to compile a collection of my own, this one would certainly be included.

I like to think of myself as an aspiring poet. Although, ‘aspiring’ is a bold word but I certainly would never claim that I am a poet. Perhaps, it is more accurate to say that every so often I write down words that may pass as a poem if you stand on one foot, close your left eye and look at the text from an angle.

A couple of months ago I was throwing Simon up in the air and finding great joy in the way he laughed. It caused me pause. I wondered what he was thinking and feeling in those moments. Did he know just how much I loved him and how much I loved being with him in that moment? Was he enjoying my presence as much as I was enjoying his?

I gather from other parents that these questions are common for our kind. I suppose we all ask them in our own way.

After all of that, I sat down to process. I ended up with a poem that brings me joy every time I read it. It may not end up in the anthology of the world’s greatest poems, but if I were to compile a collection of my own, this one would certainly be included.

Simon’s Thoughts

Peek-a-boo just one more time!
I’m still learning how to smile!

Where’d you go mom?
There you are! Giggling away.

Lift me up! I want to fly!
Daddy don’t put me down!

I love to fly high toward the sky!

I love how you catch me
before I hit the ground.

At nighttime when I miss you
I snuggle in your breast.

I love to hear your heart beating
As I fall asleep nestled in your chest.

When I wake up in the morning
I love to find you looking back at me.

I like to smile big and bright
To welcome in all the sunlight.

I like to stretch and reach out for you.

Now throw me up! It’s the morning time!
We have some playing to do!

-Christian

 

 

 

 

10-10-2016, Goodnight Simon. I love you my son.

Oh my gosh, Simon. One of my favorite moments of ours just happened. It’s late at night, 11:41 p.m. to be exact. I just turned in an assignment for school. You woke up. You don’t typically cry, just gripe and grumble through sleepiness. I could hear your dad shushing you through the baby monitor. Ha! I went back there and your eyes were open and you were excited to see me!

You kicked your legs and flailed your little arms in your fleece polar bear pajamas. I’m so glad you sleep in our room. I don’t even mind getting up with you. You’re amazing.

Anyway, you grumbled through your diaper change but I got you to smile a few times once your eyes peeked open. You made a bob-bob-bob sound, seeming to say mom, please come on and feed me I’m so hungry!

As I nurse you, sometimes you pull off, lean back and smile. Wow, does that melt my heart. You show me your sleepy, toothless grin and laugh. I can’t help but laugh out loud too. You go back to eating, but I’m still laughing, so you do it again. And again. And I can’t stop laughing!!

And we are just staring at each other laughing. I see it in your face, a sparkle of myself. I see your personality and your light shine through. I feel our bond grow before my eyes.

Now you’re asleep again. Nestled right across my whole body, your head bobbing every now and then and milk trickling out of your mouth.

I’m not in a hurry to get to bed. This peace is the perfect rest. I’ll nod in and out of sleep; finally let the pillow drop from my lap and place you into bed. Your pack and play next to me. Until about 5-5:30 when our tiredness is too much, and I’ve already gotten up 2-3 times, so I’ll remove all the pillows from bed and place you in the middle.

Goodnight Simon. I love you my son.

-Gillian