Gift of God

I want my children to have a strong moral compass and a beautiful relationship with God. These are some ideas that I’ve applied to trying to raise holy children.

A spiritual lesson from dirty diapers

One morning when Trystan was about a year old, Shelly and I woke up to him crying. I groggily walked into his room to check on him and see his onesie is wet. It wasn’t long before the smell made it’s way into my sleepy nostrils and I realized that he had an explosive movement in his sleep and soiled not only his onesie, but his bed as well.

“Shelly! I need help,” I yelled across the hall into our room, “I’ll change Trystan, can you change his bedding?”

I unbuttoned and began to peel Trystan’s soiled onesie off him and realized that his leg was wet. I took him to the bathroom since the mess was bigger than I expected. “It’s okay Trystan,” I said as he continued to cry. I carefully lifted him by his armpits so as not to soil my own clothes and put him down in the middle of the bathroom. I turned the shower on then unbuttoned his clothing to realize that this kid had been marinating in grit, grains, and special s#*t sauce as his back was covered in poop. I quickly jumped away from the already crying toddler. “WAIT!” I yelled. He cried even more, confused by my reaction. “Stay right there!” I said, holding him back by his head as his arms desperately reached out for me.  “STAY!”  At that moment, I saw his face. I saw the embarassment, the sadness, the plea for me to console him. “ARRGHHH!” I said, “just wait a second.” I quickly took my clothes off, held my little “tar baby” tightly and climbed into the shower.

* * *

I really love being a dad. Learning to love my children is also learning how to allow myself to be loved by God. As a Roman Catholic, one of my favorite things to do is also one of my least favorite things to do… confession. Weakness is weakness and I seem to be taking the same sins into the confessional every single time I go. I’ve had the same weaknesses for as long as I can remember, sometimes I handle them better, other times not so well. Sometimes I even think that God must be getting really tired of hearing the same thing over and over. He must be getting tired of having to change my “dirty diapers” over and over. Really? Did I feel like that about Trystan almost three years ago before he potty trained? Do I feel like that about Zoey now as she is beginning to potty train?

No. I love my kids. I don’t see dirty diapers (even the explosive ones) as a sign of my children hating me, or as a reason for me to turn my back on them. As a matter of fact, it makes me happy when Zoey tells me that she went poopoo. The more she matures and progresses in her potty training, she will start coming to me BEFORE she poops. And hopefully, I can get her to the toilet in time before her “weak” untrained body can’t hold it in any longer. Sometimes I find myself “marinating” in my sins, holding it all in within my warm onesie of pride and stubborness. It never fails that the moment I cry out to my Daddy in heaven, and let him know that I have soiled myself, he comes to embrace me and clean me up. I KNOW this. If I, an imperfect daddy can embrace my son despite his mess, then so will my perfect Daddy do even more for me. Every time I bring myself to surrender my sins, I walk out of our church on cloud nine, with a skip in my step, feeling completely loved, embraced and freshly showered.

Seeing Trystan now, fully potty trained, gives me hope that I too will mature past my spiritual weakness.  He inspires me by his sheer will power.  I remember asking him once to stop sucking his thumb (after creatively explaining the consequences) and the subsequent days, Shelly and I noticed him fighting the desire to suck his thumb.  Now he has grown out of that as well.

I am still working on letting my Daddy know BEFORE I soil myself instead of hoarding it like a little kid.  In many ways I look up to my children, I can only imagine how Mary and Joseph felt raising Jesus.

* * *

“Zoey,” she looks at me “did you poopoo?” I ask because I saw her with her thinking face a moment before.
“No.” She says shaking her head.  Her face looks guilty and I can smell the fresh cookies in the oven.

Why? Why does she hide it from me? All she has to do is say yes and I will gladly change her diaper. Then after asking myself why, I just smile because I know that I do the same thing. Then I lift my heart to heaven and say, “I love you too Daddy.”

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A Better Man

Back in December, instead of coming up with resolutions for the new year, I started praying about one word that I can focus on for 2014.  One word that will be on the forefront of my mind, something that will give me purpose for the year.  Little did I know that after a lifetime of not knowing what I really wanted to “do” when I grew up, I had been asking the wrong question the whole time.  The question is not “What do I want to ‘do’?”  The question is, “What is my purpose?”

Asking the question “what do I want to do?”, will give me a job as an answer.  Either that or a job description.  Now, asking the question “What is my purpose?”, gives me an action.  A verb that I can do in whatever job I get.  For over 12 years I have liked engineering, but not loved it.  I have been looking outside of my proverbial window looking at other more “exciting” professions.  This past week, when I was listening to a Podcast called “Living Your List” Ryan Eller talked about that VERB, your purpose in life.  And as he was describing the traits of that verb, I knew exactly what my one word was.  My word is INSPIRE.

My purpose in this world is to inspire others.  The want and the need for it lies deep in my bones.  No wonder I am on fire when I am on stage, singing in front of a band, or when I’m giving talks at retreats, or when I’m acting on a stage, or talking one-on-one with someone trying to get them to see a bright side of life.  I get close to tears when others inspire me.  Armed with this new knowledge and fueled with the confidence that I have a mission, I hit the ground running while I was quarantined at Alan and Marlene’s house.  I started thinking about things that I am already doing that will give me a foothold or handgrip into a career that will nurture my calling.  And what I needed to do so that I’m ready when the time comes that I should come across that job or opportunity…

I started looking at my priorities and using the Eisenhower Method, organizing the tasks in my life based on whether they are important and/or urgent.  After a couple of days, I renamed the sections to:

Kill Quick = Important and Urgent
Focus = Important but Not Urgent
Avoid = Not Important but Urgent
Leisure = Not Important and Not Urgent

My Life Priority Matrix

My Life Priority Matrix

A couple of things on there that I added after my reflection were couch time, and play time.  I know I spend time with my family and I am pretty sure that they are not neglected or abused.  I also wanted to make a deliberate effort to spend at least 1 hour of quality time with Shelly each day.  I called this couch time.  I also want to make a deliberate effort to play with the kids.  For me, writing it out as a priority means focus.  I’m not going to multitask while doing things in the Focus quadrant.

I also noticed that the tasks in the Kill Quick quadrant are things that I tend to procrastinate.  These are the things that I set aside and then get frustrated at myself for not doing because I end up in a crunch.  I mostly set them aside because of the pressure put on by the urgency of the task.  Well, seeing them as things that I need to kill quick has definitely changed my perspective on how to deal with them.  Don’t think, just kill it.

Making myself a better man means slowly but surely moving toward the man I want to become.  It’s about forming new habits, even little ones.  It’s about changing the way I think about the things that I do (and don’t want to do).  I have started a bucket list.  I’m actively tracking my priorities.  I’m not saying I’m doing everything perfectly, far from it.  There are still things I haven’t done that have been on my priority list from the beginning of the week.  I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep, though I was supposed to be resting.  I’ve been so motivated that I think I am at the edge of burning myself out (that’s why I added sleep as a priority).  I have been trying to do so much that I’ve been going to bed at about 2am and waking up at between 5 and 6am, my brain full of plans and schemes and my body full of adrenaline.

It’s my first full day back home after staying at Alan and Marlene’s place.  Still had some trouble napping, but am definitely throttling down the adrenaline flow.  Our family is so blessed to have friends like Alan and Marlene in our lives.  It was Marlene’s invitation to stay with them to prevent the kids from contracting chicken pox that gave me the isolation I needed to reflect.  I was Marlene who watched the kids while Shelly was at work.  It was my chats with Alan that got my mind thinking about possibilities; real possibilities about pursuing my goals and how to achieve them.  Thank you for giving me a place to mend and recover (physically and spiritually).  I know I am never going to be perfect, but hopefully, with the help of grace I am going to be a better man each step of the way.

Trystan’s Night Prayers

Daddy: So, what did we do when we woke up today, Trystan?
Trystan: Ummm, I don’t know.
Daddy: Well, when you woke up, you came into Mommy and Daddy’s room and climbed into bed with us remember?
Trystan: Yeah! Mommy, Daddy and Zoey
Daddy: Yeah, Zoey was there too, good memory.  What did we do?
Trystan: We cuddled and said “Good morning!”
Daddy: That’s right! We all said good morning to each other and cuddled on Mommy and Daddy’s bed.  Then what?
Trystan: I don’t know.
Daddy: Did we have breakfast?
Trystan: Yeah! We have eggs and soldiers. I ate Mommy’s egg.
Daddy: Yes you did.  You wanted cereal and after you finished your cereal, you asked for one of Mommy’s eggs.
Trystan: Yeah.
Daddy: That was nice of Mommy huh? You know she loves you very much?
Trystan: Yeah.
Daddy:  Then what did we do?
Trystan: We played in the yard.
Daddy:  That’s right.  We had a race, remember?
Trystan:  Yeah, you made me sad, Daddy.
Daddy:  I made you sad, why?
Trystan: Because… you made me sad.
Daddy:  Oh, were you sad when we raced and Daddy won?
Trystan: Yeah, you made me sad.
Daddy:  I’m sorry you were sad.  I wasn’t trying to make you sad.  I was trying to teach you how not to give up.  Daddy was winning but then you gave up, so you lost.
Trystan: Yeah.  That made me sad.
Daddy:  You know what?
Trystan: …
Daddy:  I’m so proud of you.
Trystan:  Why?
Daddy:  I’m so proud of you because the next time we raced, Daddy was winning and you didn’t give up and you won!
Trystan: Yeah, I win!
Daddy: Yes, you did and I was so proud of you; for winning and for not giving up.  I’m also so proud of you because you were soooo good at church today.
Trystan: Yeah, I was quiet and I said all the words.
Daddy: Yes, you did.
Trystan: And I sing too!
Daddy:  Yes, you did!  You were quiet, you sang the songs and you said ALL the words.  And I knew you were tired too and you were still sooo good.
Trystan: Thank you Daddy.
Daddy:  Do you remember when you were playing and you hit Zoey in the head with your sword?
Trystan: hmmm
Daddy:  That made Daddy, sad.
Trystan: I hurt Zoey, and I made Zoey cry?
Daddy:  That’s right.  You did, and Daddy doesn’t like it when Trystan or Zoey get hurt.  And I know you don’t like hurting people.  So tomorrow, when you’re playing, can I ask you to be more careful and try not to hit Zoey in the head with your sword?
Trystan: Yeah.  But I catch her Daddy.
Daddy:  Yes, when she was falling off the rocking horse, you caught her and she didn’t get hurt.  That made me very happy.  You’re such a good brother (giving him a big hug).  Zoey is such a lucky sister.  I love you so much!
Trystan:  Thank you, Daddy! I love you too, Daddy.

It is time consuming and it definitely helps to be a stay home parent to be able to do these exercises with your children as part of the bedtime routine.  Trystan goes to daycare Tuesday through Thursday, so I have much less material to address during those days.  But it makes me pay more attention to him before and after daycare.

I have found that not only does this exercise help him grow intellectually, it also fosters our communication and trust.  He is so open to sharing how things that happen to him during the day make him feel. Recently, he started expressing more abstract concepts, like love.  Tonight, for example, he recalled that his cousins came to visit saying, “Charlotte, James and Theresa came to play with me.  I love my cousins, Daddy.”  It makes me so proud of him, so I give him a squeeze and a kiss and say, “You do?  Well, your cousins love you too, Trystan.”

I feel bare sharing this night time routine with the world.  It is something that brings me a lot of joy and peace within my family.  Half of it was taken from the night prayers that my mom used to say with us when we were children.  The other half comes from concepts from The Whole-Brain Child, St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and elements of my and Shelly’s own personal growth.  The whole prayer routine will continue to evolve with the kids until their own personal relationship with God becomes the primary motivation for their conversations with Him.

I follow my inspiration to write tonight with the hope that it inspires even just one other person out there to be a better parent.  Our children will change the world, our guidance will influence how.

Sleeping with Angels

Sleeping with Angels

Trystan’s Night Prayers

1.  Good Night Prayer
Good night my dear Jesus, the one I love best.
This day is now finished, and now I must rest.
You’ve blessed me this day, now bless me this night,
and keep me from danger until morning and light.

2.  Prayer Before Sleep
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
If I should live for other days, I pray the Lord to guide my ways.

3. Guardian Angel Prayer
Angel of God my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here,
ever this night be at my side,
to light and guard, to rule and guide, amen.

4. Intentions
God Bless __________.
This is when we list off the people we have interacted with during the day and others who have asked for prayers.  If I’ve ever told you we’d pray for you, this is where your name and intention would go.

5. Gratitudes
Thank you for _________.
This part is by far the cutest right now.  It makes me laugh and brings me tears at the same time, because as Trystan thanks God for our house, windows, cups, plates, our arms, our hands, our feet, legs, etc…  When he first started, I laughed at the small insignificant things he was praying for, but now I almost cry because he reminds me to pray for those who do not have these simple not-so-insignificant things like hands, feet, legs and houses that I sometimes take for granted.  In this way, my son has magnified my gratitude.

6. Examination of the Day
This is what the dialogue in the beginning of this post captures.  It is my adaptation of Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, for Trystan.  It has evolved as his awareness and sensitivity has grown.   When we first started, I was doing all of the talking and it comprised of recollecting the day’s activities and bringing awareness to the things that I am proud of him for, the things he did that I did and didn’t like, and the words “I love you so much.”  This combined with the formulated prayers that we say every night helps wind him down, and conk out much faster than he used to.  Zoey is still too young, even for just the recollection of the days’ events, but I can’t wait until I can share this gift with her as well.

For reference, here is an outline of the daily examen for adults:
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

May whoever read this post grow in peace, wisdom and grace.