Stoke the Fire

Dreamers and doers, you know what is difficult? Maintaining the fire.

It’s been a tough month with juggling time and fatigue. The full time job has been consuming. The babies, not sleeping. Home projects falling behind. The entrepreneurial side-hustle? Coals cooling.

If I’m going to use the locomotive as a metaphor, you can’t pull a train when the coals are cold. As I’m looking at my train sitting on the tracks, I know what it’s going to take to get it moving. I need to re-apply myself. One-step at a time, picking up where I left off. While it’s important to break and rest, the train needs to get to it’s destination.

What’s going to get the steam moving? Fuel. What’s my fuel? My purpose. What’s my purpose? My faith and family. Both of those get me up in the morning. I wake up alongside my wife and the kids act as an alarm clock, at 4am, 5am, or 6am and anywhere in between. That’s ok. I know I’m here to serve my purpose, the rest is nuts and bolts. Sometimes, you just need to remind yourself of that to get the fire going again. All the other stuff that slows you down is smaller and inconsequential. You just need to get the fire going again to blow through to the next train station.

As we dig and build out our visions using the various tool belts at our disposal, it’s important to feed the engine that drives it all. What is your purpose and are you feeding it? Are you stoking the fire?

Let’s Go!

I love being a dad. Totally. I love being a husband too and I’ll share that journey with you in the upcoming book but I find fatherhood to be one of the most intriguing things I have ever done.

I have loved watching Izzy grow over the past year in a half for many reasons but one thing I have been dwelling on has been her sense of adventure. For being a year and a half old, she packs a “get up and go” attitude that I’m actually jealous of. She’s a bold kid and I love that about her.

Izzy says a lot of things that sound a lot like an Ewok but the words she has down in English, she nails. Of these, her proclamation to “Let’s go!” just wants to get you moving. It has lit a fire in my belly a little to grow this adventurous heart. This past year we started to tackle the 22 county parks around Buffalo, packing up the girls to go explore and marking off the map with tacks on the cork board. I’m already thinking about what’s next on the board, what experiences to share with the family, where to go, what to see.

One of the greatest tales of adventure ever written, in my humble opinion, is the combined works from J.R.R. Tolkien of, “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”. Reading the trilogy a couple of years ago and now going through “The Hobbit”, I’m just fascinated at the way Tolkien attracts the adventurous heart. It tickles a string that tells you, “Let’s go!”. I think when I get caught up in the ins and outs of life; paying bills, going to work, routine, we lose a little bit of that adventure imprinted on our heart. Sometimes all we need is a little hobbit to say “Let’s go!” to get you moving.

“I want to see mountains Gandalf, mountains.” – Bilbo Baggins

The Discipline Series: Interview with a Corrections Officer

“Without structure, you invite anarchy”

I sat down with Tom Ahearn, an active member of St. Greg’s parish, for a cup of coffee and conversation about discipline in his life. There are a few things you need to know about Tom. Tom is a solid guy. Physically and spiritually. Shaking his hand can be compared to grabbing a bear paw. As a retired corrections officer, he still has the means to flip you upside down. Instead, he uses his heart to make a difference in people’s lives.

All too often we banter back and forth around the cafe with double or triple helpings of sarcasm. You can hear his lighthearted laugh from a mile away.

A: Thanks for joining me today Tom. Tell me about your career working in corrections.

T: I worked at the jail for 20 years. It was a tough role and there was a lot of peer pressure that leaned on my conscience. How did I get to that point? My father was a Buffalo firefighter and we grew up on the East Side. My neighbor, Mr. Simpson was a police officer and was a huge influence on me. I looked up to these guys. They served people everyday and saved lives. I first signed up as a young man to take the civil service exam but the blizzard of 77 canceled it that year. In the meantime I had to buy my time and worked as a manager at a shoe shop.

I took the test for correction’s officer in 1982, I didn’t study and earned a whopping 70%. That’s low but the demand for the position ended up scooping me in. I started in the academy and then completed four weeks of on the job training. Spent the majority of my career at Attica jail with some tough guys. The pay was low but the benefits were very good. It really helped me take care of my family.

Sometimes I see my life as a contradiction. There are times when I think about the things I’ve done at work where I have slipped. As I’m sure you can imagine, prison life is not easy. I’ve been hard on people. Sometimes I would say, “the ends would justify the means and the means justifies the end,” just to get through. It’s difficult to be in a toxic work environment that challenges your faith. I would go to my priest and ask, “how can I do some of these things and be a good person?”

I was injured a number of times, broken nose, knuckles, two total knee replacements. I always went back to work after because I needed to take care of the family. My family is what keeps me focused. Eventually the injury’s finally caught up with me and was officially retired by HR.

A: What keeps you on track?

T: 1. My wife.

I had a great career. I learned a lot about politicians by being the vice president of our union. There are honest ones, fair ones, and liars. I could have gotten into politics and was tempted to. I was invited to run for office a number of times but my wife always said “over my dead body”, and she meant it. So that was that but I found later that it was her disciplining me. I listen to her and trust her judgement. Janet has always encouraged me to keep going through law enforcement but when it came to politics she saw something else. The saying is true, behind every good man is a great woman. She keeps me grounded. She actually brought me back into the Church when I was younger. I found that I was straying but when I met Janet, she kept me on the straight and narrow.

From there I kept getting involved with the Church in various roles from parish counsel to helping with the Eucharistic Ministers. Janet was always behind the scenes but was stronger and smarter than I. If discipline is a backbone, Janet is my backbone. It’s important to get each others back when we are running short. To keep each other disciplined. That’s marriage.

“If discipline is a backbone, Janet is my backbone.”

2. My father.

My father’s discipline in prayer was instrumental in showing me how to be diligent. Being Irish Catholic was unbelievable. We knew how to have a good time but you wouldn’t mess with the faith. He would have us go to church every Sunday and build prayer into our routine as we grew up. This stayed with me as I grew up. Before he passed, he had a Catholic prayer book by his side in the hospital room while waiting for his surgery. I’ll never forget that he carried this faith to the end.

A: What would you want to share with people about discipline?

T: You can look at discipline through a variety of ways. Life, family, church, and prayer. Without structure, you invite anarchy. Prayer is a great way to build that structure. I love the liturgy of hours, a discipline where you pray at certain hours with those around the world. I grab a cup of coffee in the morning and sit down for my prayer time.

If I can give one piece of advice, live your life with Jesus at the head of it. The rest will fall in place.

Baby season – Vocational thoughts

My wife and I are expecting a baby soon, within the month actually. It’s kind of blowing me away. We will leave our house, just the two of us, then return as a trio. Sure baby has been growing for eight months but it gets really different after birth. I’ll be introduced to wiping butts and being thrown up on. Wails and giggles. More Disney movies than I ever thought possible.

I was reflecting on this the other day along with the fact that our first anniversary is next month. Wow, what a year. Marriage is awesome, hard and challenging, but awesome. It’s a very different way of living than during my bachelor years in the wilderness of discernment. Living single-hood out felt like it was the trunk of a tree and I knew inside that at some point that my branches would split the further I got along. I didn’t think I would spend the rest of my life in single-hood but looming decisions on where I wanted to go versus what I thought God wanted me to do had me digging my feet in.
I resisted the thought of anything other than marriage. Single-hood was a no go and priesthood, haunted me. Even years after promising God my life I still resisted giving Him my all. I had a hard time trusting where He was taking me, so I walked the wilderness. With a pull on my heart for the priesthood battling with the desires for marriage I spent over a decade discerning. It wasn’t until God wrestled me into spiritual submission that I relented and offered my heart for whatever He had in store. It could have gone any direction at that point. Enter Ani, my wife.

I wanted to write about this to you because vocations is something that we put away in our head for later or we just assume one is our destiny without any thought or prayer. The challenge for you as you are plotting the course of your life through work and class, is to remember that God is calling you to something bigger than the career you’ve chosen at 18, 19, 20, 21, 22+.

For many of you, you know what you want. Is it what God wants of you? Have you asked? Yes, He wants a great relationship with you but how are you living that out? Have you given your life direction to Him? Have you thought about it? Does it scare you? What is holding you back? What would it take to do so? Just questions I want you to ask yourself. Go ahead. I’ll wait. No no, He’ll wait.

Single-hood, Marriage, Priesthood/Religious life are all good things and God knows your heart better than you. “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4. Need help figuring it out? That’s ok. There are some great places you can turn. All you have to do is ask. Priest, spiritual director, youth/ campus minister, and sponsor are great starts. As St. Gianna Molla advises, “To know your vocation: 1/Ask God in prayer 2/ Ask one’s spiritual director 3/Ask oneself, knowing one’s own inclinations.”

College goes quick, what’s next?

REVISED THOUGHTS 6/5/17 ***

I don’t know how I didn’t include an important vocational milestone here so I’m going to reflect further. Fr. Leon celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary of Ordination this past weekend. That’s a big deal. Fr. Leon celebrated Mass with a full house, surrounded by people he’s built over the course of his lifespan. From his sister, brother-in-law, and nephews sitting in the front pew, his teachers from elementary school, Bishop Grosz as one of his fellow fraternal brothers from Assumption parish, parishioners from every assignment he’s been blessed to serve at, all in the environment of his current home here at St. Greg’s.

Answering the rhetorical question of the priesthood being a solitary life, Fr. Leon looked around and said, “If this is a lonely vocation, then give me a double helping!” Afterwards, over eight hundred fifty guests came over to party at the Ministry Center as a celebration of a life well lived in vocation. Now that’s community!

The priesthood was on full display this weekend with celebrations here at St. Greg’s and across the Diocese as four new priests were Ordained on Saturday.

Whether you’re celebrating one, ten, twenty five, fifty, or anywhere in between of whatever vocation God is putting on your heart, it’s a celebration worth embracing for a life well lived. I’m sure no one will say it’s easy, but it’s certainly a life worth fighting for.

“All the Lord’s ways are beautiful because their end is one and the same: to save our own soul and to succeed in leading many other souls to heaven, to give glory to God.” – St. Gianna Molla

 

*Originally published in Oasis Magazine 6/2/17

The march for Life continues

I’m taking a group to Washington DC this week, joining a large Buffalo contingent, for the March for Life. I’ve done this trip four or five times before. The travel is usually rough; a long overnight bus ride which I don’t get much sleep on and usually end up motion sick, a days worth of sightseeing, followed by unrestful sleep on a gym floor, hit the Mall in frozen temperatures, then get back on the bus for an equally uncomfortable ride back.

You would think that 600k+ people peacefully protesting in the Capitol would raise some eyes from news organizations, but no. Most ignore it or will site the fifty counter protesters standing for a worthy cause. The pro-life cause is often a lonely one however the tides are turning.

A few years ago pro-lifers became the majority in the US and on January 17, the Guttmacher Institute released findings that abortions are now at the lowest levels since the 1973 decision from Roe v Wade. Even Roe herself is now pro-life and is fighting to overturn her own case. President Trump signed an executive order to defund the International Planned Parenthood the day I write this. The rally for life is gaining and not because of force. People are waking up.

I made the case for life here if you want to img_5149see the reason for why I believe this but I’m really writing this as a reflection of where we are at. As a man who has conceived, lost, and conceived again; my greatest work is this developing life. Seeing our child’s heart flutter at 5 weeks and feeling he/she kick at 18 weeks has only strengthened what I’ve known all along, that defiant babe here is a someone. Our someone. That someone, like all the someones that age, deserve the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

 

 

It’s a…

 

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Ani – July 2, 2016, happiest day of our lives. A year of careful planning and lots of prayer had brought us to that joyous day. Everything, from the beautiful ceremony, to the fun and energetic reception, was perfect. We were so blessed to be surrounded by our family and friends, we could not have asked for a better day.

Our honeymoon was just as amazing as our wedding day. From Miami, to the Keys, to the grand finale in Orlando, visiting Disney and Universal Studios. During our three years of dating, we were always so busy and had very little time to spend together. It was so nice to get away and spend 11 days alone together.

Before getting married, we of course discussed the topic of having kids and raising a family. We were open to having children whenever God blessed us with them, however we didn’t expect anything right away. What a surprise it was during our honeymoon to discover that there was a good chance we were pregnant. We were not certain, but there were many signs pointing us to that conclusion. Adam was ready to purchase a pregnancy test before we even came home from the honeymoon, however I was stubborn and thought we should wait until we got home. I had always planned on surprising Adam with a positive pregnancy test one day and figured I could still do that when we got home (even though I think he was more convinced than I was that I was pregnant).

Checking into our first hotel, there was a darling receptionist with a beautiful name: Marisol. From that point on, the running joke (from Adam) was to rub my stomach and exclaim “Marisol!” even before there were signs of me being pregnant. We both agreed we really liked the name (we looked up the meaning and loved that it was a version of Mary, both of our mom’s name) and that we would use it some day for our future daughter.

We kept the name to ourselves, even after discovering we truly were pregnant and later shared the news with our families. We wanted to be surprised regarding the gender and wanted to surprise everyone else with the names that we had picked out. Marisol was the only name that we had agreed upon.

The joy that we experienced on our wedding day overflowed into our honeymoon and continued into our return home. We were on cloud 9, life could not be any better and we could not be any more blessed.

Adam – One week after returning from the honeymoon, I had to leave my bride and growing baby for two weeks. I was leading a group from our church on a pilgrimage to Poland for World Youth Day. While my mind was on work and travel, my heart and prayer was dedicated towards my new life as a husband and now as a father. I prayed for the grace to be a good dad and for the safety of our little one. “Happy, healthy, & holy” was my daily prayer for Marisol. On our last day in the mountains, I picked up a stuffed lamb as a keepsake to bring home for the baby.

On Sunday August 7th, we announced our exciting news to our parents and siblings. We carefully planned how to reveal the news right down to catching their reactions on a Youtube worthy video. The reactions were priceless.

Ani – August 9th, two days after sharing the joyous news with our families. I went to the gym just like any other Tuesday morning. Nothing out of the ordinary, until I went to the bathroom after my workout. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment or the events that followed.

When I finally got home, I became very upset to find that Adam was not home. When I got ahold of him, I could not form words. Just uncontrollable tears. Tears that I have never cried before in my life. He assured me he was on his way home and coming as quickly as he could. I finally made my way into the house and after taking a quick shower, collapsed on the couch and cried some more. When Adam got home, he came and held me. We sat there and sobbed together as reality set in, our baby was gone. I finally composed myself after a while and asked him to call the doctor. They told us our best bet was to just go the ER. We were slightly optimistic after being told that sometimes severe bleeding can happen and it doesn’t always mean a miscarriage. A few tests later, our worst fears were confirmed. Marisol was gone.

There are no words to describe the feeling of losing a child. I was approximately 5-6 weeks along. While many have tried to assure me “at least I wasn’t further along,” a loss is a loss, and I will never get to meet my baby in this lifetime. I will never know if Marisol was really a girl. I will never get to see her walk or talk, or throw her a first birthday party. I won’t know her likes and dislikes, who she will become, will she be a Zumba girl like her mom? That is an inconsolable pain that I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

I am truly grateful for the love and support of our family and friends who shared in our grief and took care of us in the days following. Most of all, I am so thankful to my amazing husband, who was just as heartbroken as I was, but remained strong through it all so he could take care of me. We experienced a lot in less than two months of marriage. Even though this was the most difficult thing I have ever had to experience in my 26 years of life, I am thankful for the bond it created in Adam and I, and for how much it strengthened our marriage so early on. I got to really see his heart not just for me, but for our baby, a love that is so beautiful, pure, and strong. I would never choose to go through this, and I truly hate that I did, however I could not ask for a better man to walk through this with.

Here we are, two months later, the pain is still present, and the tears still fall. It is really hard for me to make sense of how I am feeling most days. I have never experienced so much anger towards God, and I am not sure what to do with that. I know He can take it, and one day He will heal my heart and soften it again. Until then, I have an incredible man by my side who I know is praying for me alongside family and friends. This is not something we will ever get over, we will carry this for the rest of our lives. But we have each other and the hope and promise that we will meet Marisol someday. Until then, we have an angel watching over us.

Adam – Learning more about miscarriages, I’ve come to find that it’s a common experience, with 1 out of 4 pregnancies ending this way. I know friends of ours that have walked this path too, some experiencing it multiple times. It has been a part of the healing process to talk about it with them. It helps to know we are not alone in it. Sisters Hospital also has a great support system and a memorial in honor of all of the babies who were lost. Another antidote for anger has been a beautiful lesson in spiritual direction on Job. Perhaps a conversation for another time…

I wish our reveal to you was different. While so much hope was built and lost we know that God “walks through the mess” with us. This is still a message of hope. We hope that our experience can help others as well. We’re available to talk and walk with you too should you find yourself in this mess.

God bless,

Adam & Ani