Going It Alone

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by our prayers.” –2 Corinthians 1:8-11

It’s no secret that raising kids is difficult work. My wife and I have felt this especially during the last few weeks. Now that our boys are home from the hospital, we have been on a wild ride. When our three-year old and two-year old are healthy and happy, we can balance duties out pretty well. But recently our two-year old developed a fever, and between trying to keep her comfortable, feed our twins, and get some sleep, things got a little out of hand.

Four hours of sleep a night? I can function. But two hours of sleep a night? I’m a drooling, gibbering wreck. When I look ahead to September and going back to teaching for six hours a day, I shudder. How am I going to be a good dad, a good husband, and a good teacher? I wonder. 

Enter this passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, in which he states it plainly: there were times in his ministry when events transpired that were beyond his ability to control or endure. Now, don’t get me wrong; raising four kids under four is nothing like being jailed or tortured for your faith. However, there are times when I have been so sleep-deprived, worried, and upset about my inability to control events that I have been utterly powerless to do anything except throw up my hands and say, “God, you have to deal with this. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen.”

When I’m well-rested, well-fed and have a lot of time on my hands, I hold in my head the idea that I am in complete control. However, the idea that I can function properly or accomplish anything, great or small, on my own, is a fiction. Even when I believe I am operating under my own power, my body, mind, soul, the earth itself, and the laws that govern the universe are being sustained by a loving and interested God. Our God is intensely concerned with His creation. Every moment He chooses to uphold our collective existence. If He chose otherwise, we would cease to be. Since time began, God has been making a moment-by-moment decision to keep this whole grand universe in motion.

This is the strange and beautiful truth that lies in the midst of suffering: when you suffer, the idea that you can “go it alone” in this world is revealed as a lie. This is not to say that suffering itself is an absolute good. Rather, in the absence of a good (whether that’s health, or rest, or freedom), the lack of it reorients us toward it. When you are exhausted, you naturally turn toward rest. When you are persecuted, you naturally desire freedom. As J.R.R. Tolkien so aptly put it in The Silmarillion, evil is not good, but it is “good to have been” because it presents us with the opportunity to turn back toward goodness and the source of good, namely God.

Thus, “I can’t do this on my own” can turn in an instant from a cry of despair into a recognition of our situation. Once that has been established, we are free to choose God: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope…”

Full-Strength Christianity

“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

You’ve probably heard the above quote by Archbishop Fulton Sheen many times, but it is such a true and important one that I believe it bears repeating again and again. To be honest, I have not had a great number of conversations with non-Catholics about Catholicism in the recent past, but from the bits and pieces I hear in conversation and in the media, this quote is possibly even more true now than when the Archbishop originally said it. Yes, definitely, there are those who have taken the time to study and learn about the history and theology behind all of the Church’s teachings and have still chosen to believe something different. But the vast majority of those who have left the Church have done so with a deep misconception about their faith. This saddens me so much.

I haven’t thought much about evangelization lately. Perhaps it’s the fact that I barely have time to think at all between diaper changes, meals, whines, and the sheer exhaustion of pregnancy. Then I stumbled across this article from Focus missionary Daniel Paris that lit a fire under me. Now, I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that fire, but at least it’s there. The article explains how difficult evangelization is in the United States because, in his words, Americans have been “inoculated to Christianity”. They have been fed a weakened version of the truth, either through the media’s portrayal of Christianity or through being taught that to follow Christ means nothing more than to be a good person. He writes, “Who wants to follow all these rules and hold all these unpopular political stances and spend all these hours sitting and kneeling and standing when I could abandon this whole religion thing and still be just as ‘good a person?’” 

So how do we combat the vaccine, the weakened version of Christianity that so many have mistaken for the truth? Paris lists some great starting points at the end of his article, but the main takeaway for me was this: “Jesus Christ was not just a good person. He was the Son of God made man, and he died so that we might live in eternal, loving relationship with Him. It is up to us to respond to this invitation by committing our very lives to Him.” It doesn’t matter what the media says. It doesn’t matter what your friends say. It doesn’t even matter how much sin there is in the Church. In the words of Abigail van Buren, “The Church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” Jesus Christ is the Son of God Who died for us. Let’s get out there and give people the full-strength version of Christianity!

Everyday Systems

(Again, my apologies that the blogging has been a bit spotty lately. Our twins came home on June 30 and in my spare time I’m usually catching up on sleep!)

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
–Luke 16:10

If there is one constant obstacle to a healthy spiritual life, it is stress. The steady, grinding pressures of a busy life can drown out the still, small voice of God and sap one’s desire to pray. Looking back on the past several months, I feel it was a constant struggle to turn to God in prayer. While my wife was on bedrest and the lives of our two youngest children were in doubt, I often turned to more worldly things for comfort: television, snacks, etc.

Now that a lot of this stress has passed, replaced by the more mundane, day-to-day stress of parenting newborn twins, I’ve finally found the courage to re-examine some of these bad habits that have crept in. Enter Everyday Systems. The author of this website has a bunch of simple ways to build virtue and eliminate vice in your life. It’s not specifically religious, but I think a lot of his wisdom applies to the spiritual life. Simply put, every day is a battle between the better and worse angels of your nature, and you need to engage in that battle through virtue building. I’ve used the “No S” portion of the site and I think it makes a lot of common sense. It’s not about miracle foods or diet methods that will somehow turn you into a Greek god, but simple habit-building. Don’t each snacks, or sweets, or seconds, except on days that start with S (keeping in mind that S also stands for “special,” like your birthday.)

If you’re interested, check out the forums on that site for testimonials and day-to-day updates from people who are on the program. It’s a great set of virtue-building systems.


He Knows What He is About

 “God has created me to do Him some definite service.  He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission, I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.

     I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.  He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good – I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments.

     Therefore I will trust Him.  Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.

     He does nothing in vain.  He knows what He is about; He may take away my friends.  He may throw me among strangers.  He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me – still He knows what He is about!”

Cardinal John Henry Newman

I heard this meditation today and simply wanted to share it with you. Read it slowly and think about it, there is such depth and beauty here. My favorite line: “He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.” In other words, I am irreplaceable!

“This nation, under God…”

Like most Americans, I will wake up tomorrow ready to enjoy the annual commemoration of the signing of our nation’s Declaration of Independence.

Independence Day has been a big holiday for my family as long as I can remember. Never spent the lake or at a campground, for us it always meant family. One reason is the fact that the Fourth is also my Great-Grandfather’s birthday. For my Great-Grandfather, there is no birthday song like the one he sings in honor of his country, God Bless America.

God bless America, Land that I love.

Stand beside her and guide her

Through the night with a light from above…

I’m a pessimist and so its easy for me to get cynical about the things we see in our country today, the eroding away of freedoms, morals and the basis of society. I even found a lot to be discouraged about in this week’s Hobby Lobby decision from the Supreme Court. Yet despite the darkness I perceive, it can’t be anything like what our nation’s Sixteenth President felt when he looked out at a new cemetery nearly 151 years ago on a field outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  No doubt, the blood of thousands of soldiers that had covered the Gettysburg battlefield between July 1 and July 3, 1863 weighed heavily upon Abraham Lincoln as he uttered one of the most famous lines in our nation’s history:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  

If you’re like me, you question the laws Congress passes and the policies issued from Washington, D.C.; you wonder some days if it may be better to retreat to the hills and regroup; to live life uninterrupted, seeking the True the Good and the Beautiful. If you’re like me, you fear for the kind of nation your children and their children will grow up in, you worry what will be left of religious freedom and the family. When these fears begin to weigh me down, I think of the scene from the Black Gate in the Return of the King and the speech Aragorn delivers when all hope seemed lost.

Someday we may not recognize the nation we live in and we may need to run to the hills, but it is not this day. Whatever that nation looks like, it is not our nation today; whatever that nation is, it is not our nation’s destiny.  On Independence Day,  I’ll stand when the color guard passes by in our town’s parade, because there is still something to stand for.

When my 102-year-old great grandfather stands to sing God Bless America on the Fourth of July, he will sing a prayer which admonishes us to stand beside our nation and guide her.

This day, there is a great task remaining before us and it falls to us, to guide our nation, under God, to a new birth of freedom.

Old Glory

God Bless the United States of America.

“Don’t we know each other?”

I came across a video today about the European Regional Director of Human Life International, a pro-life missionary movement. It was a simple 4-minute reminder of the importance of pro-life advocacy through personal interaction with at-risk women. I don’t get out and pray on the sidewalks often, and I am not good at engaging with people who don’t share my viewpoints, but this video inspired me to put myself out there again.

Johannes Bucher’s experience of seeing the fruits of his work first-hand must have been incredibly inspiring to him! Often we don’t see the good that comes of the work we do for God, but occasionally He gives us a glimpse of the bigger picture. Pray for the success of the HLI movement and others like it, and pray for all mothers contemplating abortion, that they might experience the joy, the miracle, of motherhood!

Twins and Things

One week ago, my twin boys were born. Elias James and Jude Robert entered the world at 7:35 and 7:40 AM on June 16. They are now at 34 weeks gestational age, and are happy and healthy in our town’s NICU, getting a little bigger every day.

We were lucky enough to have already scheduled our girls for a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house last Wednesday through Saturday, so my wife and I got four days where we did not have to feel torn between home and the hospital. I got in a lot of skin-to-skin contact, which has always been important for our family because all of our kids have been born small.

I’m not ashamed to state it: I’m a dad, and I love having skin-to-skin contact with my newborn children. When our oldest was born, I would come home from work, get her stripped down to her diaper, lay on the coach with her, and take an hour-long nap. It was a huge pick me up at the end of a long work day. I know that my children were “made incarnate” in the womb, but for as dad, who did not feel life growing within him during each pregnancy, these moments of closeness are the times where I wake up to the fact that I have another little person in my life. The little sighs, smiles, and hiccups happening right in front of me are a very potent reminder of the sanctity and beauty of life. It’s an excellent opportunity offer prayers of thanksgiving from the heart.

Have a great week! I hope to be back on the blog more regularly now that my wife is off bedrest. We’ll see. Pray for us!

Small things: babies, rainbows and baseball

This week dawned with the exciting news that our founder, John Rogers, and his wife Sara welcomed their twin boys Elias and Jude into the world. Born at 33 weeks, the boys have some time in NICU ahead of them before coming home. Congrats to John and Sara and know of our prayers for you and your family!

It’s been slow posting lately, with family vacations and babies being born. Here I am, a day late on my posting – stealing an opportunity to post on John’s day.  The summer often passes too quickly, rushing from one engagement to the other. We gloss over the mundane parts of the day, the week or the month, just to get to the next high point. As my wife and I were driving home last night from a meeting on North Dakota’s Human Life Amendment, we got hit with a quick moving thunderstorm that was over by the time we were pulling into the driveway. Looking out the window of the car, I noticed a vibrant, full rainbow. I pointed it out to my wife, who went inside the house and told the kids about the rainbow. They dropped everything and bolted to the front window and front steps to get a chance to see a real rainbow.

The kids needed to get to bed, it was past their bedtime, they needed baths; I was tempted to shoo them inside, to grind out the nightly bedtime routines. But what was just another rainbow for me was the highlight of their night, and watching the joy they experienced from the rainbow brought a smile to my face. It reminded me of an article I recently read from a baseball player who retired from the Minnesota Twins farm system earlier this month. He talked beautifully about embracing the mundane parts of the game and daily life too. I encourage you to read it, it has implications for our lives far beyond the diamond, and to “savor the small moments” this summer.

Epitaphs from Copp’s Hill

I apologize for my absence for the last few weeks; my family was on a two week road trip to the East Coast to visit family, and I think I’m finally back in the swing of things here at home. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to downtown Boston. We spent the month before we left learning about the American Revolution, so to be able to visit Paul Revere’s house was a very exciting ordeal for my 6- and 4-year olds. Along the Freedom Trail in Boston, a path leading to all of the historic sites in the city, we found Copp’s Hill Burial Ground. I hadn’t planned to stop there, but since we were passing it we decided to take a look. The graves were all dated in the late 1700′s to the early 1800′s, and the stones looked paper-thin; I was amazed that they were still standing!

As I wandered the rows, I began to read some of the epitaphs. I quickly realized that epitaphs were done differently a few hundred years ago; row after row of gravestones contained beautiful poems to honor the person who had passed away. I sadly didn’t take any pictures that day, but I recently found a book containing all of the epitaphs from Copp’s Hill, and I would like to simply share some of them with you. They touched me very deeply, and I hope they’ll do the same for you. What struck me most was the hope and deep faith evident in the words chosen for these gravestones. While it is obvious that the families of the dead were mourning their loss, every single one spoke of Heaven and eternal rest, and meeting Christ. Even the parents who lost their six-year-old son wrote of their loss as “his eternal gain.” How beautiful.

“In Memory Of
Cap’t Robert Newman
who died March 23rd 1806

Though Neptunes waves & Boreas blasts
Have tost me to and fro
Now well escaped from all their rage
I’m anchored here below
Safely I ride in triumph here
With many of our fleet
Till signals call to weigh again
Our Admiral Christ to meet
O may all those I’v left behind
Be washed in Jesus’ blood
And when they leave this world of sin
Be ever with the Lord”

“In Memory of
Robert L. Tilden,
Son of Charles & Isabella Tilden,
who died Nov. 6th, 1801,
aged 2 years & 4 months.

Sleep on sweet babe and take your rest;
God call’d you home, & saw it best.”

“Here lied deposited
The Remains of Hezekiah Wyman
Son of William & Elizabeth Wyman,
who died Oct. 24, 1808,
aged 6 years & 5 mo.

Fresh in the morn, the summer rose
Hangs withering ere ’tis noon;
We scarce enjoy the balmy gift,
But mourn the pleasure gone.
Should this assuage our keenest pain,
Our loss is his eternal gain.”

“Here lyes the body of
Sally Goodwin, Wife to
Capt Charles Goodwin of Charlestown &
eldest daughter of Mr John & Mrs Sarah Strong
of Newburyport who departed this life
Aug 23rd 1781 aged
25 years

My hope is fixed, my spirit’s free,
Longing my Saviour for to see;
Such joy and bliss doth fill my soul,
Nothing on earth doth me control.
My loving husband and infant small,
My parents dear, I leave you all.
My soul doth wing the heavenly way,
My Saviour’s call I must obey.
Read this and weep, but not for me,
Who willing was to part with thee,
That I may rest with Christ above,
In peace and joy, and endless love.”