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.

The Discipline Series: 1/3 through Exodus

We are over a 1/3 of the way through Exodus 90 and it has been a difficult journey through the desert for the guys. We’ve been shedding the distractions and toxins in our life and that doesn’t come without a cost. I noticed early that taking sugar out of my life was much more of a challenge than I thought it would be. Wasn’t expecting that all. I see sweets and all of a sudden I’m jonesin’ for it. While prepared for temptations, that was least expected. I’ve resisted.

I also noticed that by getting rid of distractions like TV and apps on the phone I’ve had to reconnect with the world around me. From my journal on day four,

“What comes to mind today is the word, “presence”. I’m sitting at our middle school youth night and found myself wanting to look at my phone, no reason. Had I pulled the phone out I would have just been filling space. I realized I have been caught up in that. When a lull happens the auto reaction is to fill the space by staring at the phone. News, texts, social media notifications, etc. I would just mentally disappear. Check out. I’m detoxing now and opening my eyes to the moments I would automatically skip.”

I have since been stopping to smell the roses even in those little moments and lulls.

Also unexpected, anger and frustration has become sharper in my days. No longer resorting to distractions to dull away or forget issues, I am forced to take a head on approach to resolving problems that arise. Big and small. And it seems new. Almost like I forgot how to resolve conflict. Nevertheless, I am now solving problems as opposed to distracting myself.

I asked a couple of the other guys to share a few thoughts about the first 30. Bob writes on day eight in his journal,

“Temptation has started to set in, but not in the way I’d expect. It is such a pain to know how the enemy works and yet still fall for the same tricks. Yesterday was tough for me, I won’t lie. While I enjoyed the first weekly meeting with the Brotherhood, I was met with a lot of pain and torment (and no, I’m not talking about the P90X workout). It has come and gone since then, but a real sadness came over me, that thankfully was healed by going to Mass and Life Teen. I still have mixed feelings about the temptations in my mind. I feel helpless and powerless, but I suppose this is where God comes in. I fully recognize that in order for me to be changed, I have to allow God to do it, even if it means breaking me in ways I’ve never been broken before.

Bob continues,

As this day ends, I am reminded that even with the pain/frustration/loneliness/temptation I am beginning to be met with on this journey, there have been many victories so far that I ought to remind myself of and celebrate. It is by God’s mercy and grace that we have made it this far and will continue to progress.

Greg also contributes from day 18,

I struggle to be the lord of myself. I must come to terms with my human limitations and submit myself to the will of God or I stand to lose everything. The further from God I stay, the further from my true destiny I will be. Either a man governs his possessions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.

When I achieve something or something goes my way, how often do I puff out my chest and disregard the involvement that God had. I must submit to God and raise those around me up.

As you see, each guy is on his journey and is battling through. As we enter into the second third of our journey, we are building good habits, defeating old ones, and most importantly letting God heal and rebuild us into better men. St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us.

The Discipline Series: Interview with a Youth Minister

I sat down with Jeremy Dolph on February 12 to discuss how he applies discipline in his life. As a new husband and leader as the Director of Youth Ministry at Sts. Peter & Paul in Hamburg, NY, Jeremy provides a perspective that is both relatable and fresh. When I first put the call out to interview people with something to say about the topic, he said, “If you’re looking to interview someone who’s considering Exodus 90, but who is also a huge chicken and scared of it… let me know!”

I thought that was a curious place to start. So here is the first interview on my blog with Jeremy Dolph.

A: Where do you see discipline fall short in your life?

J: I get excited for something then lose momentum. It happens in a downward spiral and it is easy to get discouraged. I start on an initiative and when I hit the first road block, stop. It’s difficult to overcome that first hill. I did a six week workout program awhile back where I had put money on the table. Either complete the program and get my money back or fail and lose it. That forced me to stay focused. My trainer also held me accountable during that six weeks and it kept me in the game. Felt good but after I finished the challenge and that accountability was up, I stopped.

A: Why do you think you stopped?

J: I don’t know. Following the quote from Pope Benedict XVI you sent me, “You were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness,” I guess I like being comfortable. I feel like in a way, I’m ok being expendable. Like the 301st soldier in the Spartan army. ‘You 300 go ahead, I’ll stay here.’

A: Do you think this is the result of fear, laziness , or lack of will?

J: Definitely lack of will. I need something that I need to achieve but if I screw up, I get off track. It’s like if I screw up the day after Ash Wednesday, there goes the other 39 days of Lent. I think I avoid this whole process because of complacency. It’s easier to not start than to get down on myself about starting and failing. We can blame the devil or the way of the world but my will should be stronger than that.

A: How are you applying discipline to achieve your goals?

J: I don’t think the short boot camps are for me. I want little achievements to add up over the years. Making the daily sacrifices pay off. I can look back now and say that I am better now than I was before. Events in life have been the catalyst of small changes. I can see that looking back.

Getting married has made me a better man for example. It has changed my mindset from doing things because ‘I have to’, where now ‘I want to’. Household chores for example, dishes. I want to do them for my wife. Before, I’d just say “Hey, I’ll get back to it,” and have her do them. Now, I don’t want to let them sit for her. I got this.

I want to make more out of the day so I have been more intentional in my commute. Instead of learning the Spanish parts of ‘Despacito’, I’ve been digging into more podcasts and audiobooks. I’m learning to say ‘no’ to things I don’t want and ‘yes’ to things I do. Saying ‘yes’ to spending time to my wife requires me to say ‘no’ to staying later at work. I know this is small but before going to bed I put my watch, my wallet, and keys on the bed stand so I can be ready to go in the morning. It’s given me real practical results and I’m hoping these add up over the years.

Long term, I want to be a Saint. I’d love to walk that path that takes me to Heaven. Maybe this is a matter of pride but I’d love to have a church named after me. St. Jeremy’s parish maybe? Should I be thinking that? I’m just kidding of course but whatever that path is, I want to walk it. I need to be disciplined to do what God has called me to do. I’m reminded of the quote by William Law, “If you look into your own heart in complete honesty, you must admit that there is one and only one reason why you are not a saint: you do not wholly want to be one.”

A: You signed up for the Tough Mudder, how are you preparing for this?

J: Like I did for the “Couch to 5k” and pacing through training. If I can run for two minutes, I can do three tomorrow and move up from there. I have to start early though, like now, to be ready by summer. The plan was to start this week but I got sick so I’m planning on starting next week. I have a group of guys I had as prayer accountability partners that I’m reconnecting with. They’re going to push me through. I love accountability but hate being held accountable.

There are many ways to find and execute discipline in your life. Jeremy has shown the everyday pursuit and application of discipline in the little things. The big and brash boot camps can often psych ourselves out by compare-and-contrasting ourselves with an image of bravado. It can be intimidating and for many of us unattainable or unrealistic. I’m hoping with this series to uncover the disciplines we apply in our life to build our interior strength. So let’s apply that to virtue and grow stronger together.

As a husband and a leader, Jeremy has been building and growing intentionally all along. Don’t sell yourself short and take a realistic assessment of where you’re at.

What intimidates you?

Where are you victorious?

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

 

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Part 3: Happiness vs Joy

This is the third and last of a three part series on Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, wrapping up with happiness. Coming from the first line of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, these inalienable rights for all make up the foundation of our society. Not to be viewed as an ancient scroll but a living manifesto of the U.S., it is something that any shade of American can hold as their own. Left or Right, all people in the melting pot can subscribe to this. The Constitution is what sets it in practice. While the Constitution has mechanisms to adapt to the times, its strength comes from being nearly timeless. It’s important to note that these rights are not given by man but by the Creator or for you atheists out there, nature. The point is still sound; the Founders recognized a truth, a truth that mankind’s basic rights are not subject to the will of those who hold power. These are your rights. You own them. The original entitlement. This is what makes us, U.S.. Don’t throw them away. Embrace them for yourself and those around you.

I’ve been chewing on happiness for a while. This has been the most difficult of the three rights to write upon. What is happiness? Merriam-Webster defines it as “feeling pleasure and enjoyment of life, situation, etc,”.  Ok, that’s easy to grasp. Happiness is a vague and general term that can change from one person to another. There is no doubt when you feel it. If I were to ask you if you could recognize when you feel happy, you wouldn’t hesitate to answer, “yes”. You know what it is.

Ask yourself this, are you happy now? When was the last time you felt happy? Are you happy often? Don’t you deserve to be happy?

Now seriously, think about that for a second. Really. How often do you think about the happiness in your life? Do you lack happiness or are you overflowing with it? Why is that for you? Do you know why? Do you know the root cause of your happiness or lack of?

Defining what happiness is, is the easy part. Finding and maintaining it is difficult. I would like to define happiness into two categories. The first is what I think many confuse with the second, and that is a shallow, self serving, “happy”. A materialistic and consuming happiness. It’s the feeling you get when you go shopping and grab a new pair of shoes, get likes on Instagram for that cute selfie, or even a first date. When I say shallow, I don’t mean it in a deragatory way, just simply, that it lacks depth. It’s fleeting, circumstantial, and momentary.

The second, is a profound, selfless, purpose driven joy. It’s Love or service to others without repayment. This one is expensive however. Not in money of course, it’s a different kind of currency. A currency of the soul. It requires that you pay in time, attention, and dedication. It requires growth and perseverance.

Happiness is something that has been written about since the start of time for us. We the people though have been losing sight of what that means and have been confusing the selfie happiness for selfless joy. American’s are notorious for consuming. We consume materials, things, money, time, and people.

An abundance of likes is not equal to abundant joy. This isn’t a tirade on the shallow happiness and by no means seek to avoid it. It happens all the time. Just recognize it for what it is. What I am advocating, is the pursuit of joy. Dive deeper than the whimsical happy. Get your hands dirty. Commit your heart. Suffer the pain that can come from the risk of opening your soul.

As a man of faith, I draw unending joy from the pursuit of the power of God and the blessings put upon me, like my family and fiancé. I highly recommend it but if you’re not there, simply looking up from the phone or beyond the mall could be a great step for you.

The Forefathers knew that happiness is different for all. You have the right to pursue it anyway you choose. Free will is an awesome thing. However as a man who has chased the cheap and moved towards the deep, I recommend taking the dive.