Shaping Snowballs

Living in Ottawa, we are blessed to enjoy all four seasons during the year.

Each one presents nature’s beauty and offers ample opportunity to appreciate God’s magnificent creation.

Take, for example, winter. Despite its sometimes brutally cold weather and frustrating frequency of having to shovel after snowfall, our taste of Canadian winter can provide many pleasant experiences before we transition to spring.

CrossCountry SkiingBuilding a snowman, cross-country skiing through forest trails and a cup of hot chocolate after skating at an outdoor rink are just some of the fun activities we can do with the white stuff on the ground.

Not long ago, I was outside for my lunchtime supervision at school on a day when the snow was ideal for making snowballs.

While circulating around the yard, I would occasionally grab a clump of snow and start packing it in my hands.

It was after a few times of doing this that I began to form some serious snowballs.

Snowballs 1I had come to perfect the size and circular form and was concentrating on attaining just the right degree of smoothness.

It was at that point I realized how snowballs connected with our Creator.

Just as the children’s song teaches, God holds the whole world in His hands, keeping us all close to Him and united with one another – much like each unique snowflake is brought together to make a beautiful snowball.

But we should also remember that, just as He holds us in His palm, our Lord shapes us in His image – perfect beings made to reflect God’s unconditional love and everlasting presence to society. (Genesis 1:27 & 2 Corinthians 3:18)

Pottery 1Just as we are the work of His hands, like clay for a potter, God rounds off all of our rough edges so that we can be made smooth just like a snowball.

Each day whenever we sin, God’s bountiful grace, helpful virtues and endless forgiveness are all available to us and offered freely, encouraging us to be our best as He made us.

But just as we cannot ignore the existence of sin, we cannot disregard the temptation to throw snowballs, as students outside were urging me to do during my supervision duty.

Not surprisingly, our school forbids the throwing of snowballs for safety reasons.

Similarly, we can both imagine and witness in society each day the danger that ensues when we give in to temptation and veer away from God’s plan.

Over time, we come to learn that conforming to public pressures that detract from God’s teachings can only lead to a disastrous outcome – much like the splat that results when a snowball is thrown.

So as we continue through this winter season, may we always strive to live lives that are as pure and innocent as the snow that falls on the ground is meant to be.

SnowballsThis way, we can further explore and display the beauty of God’s nature, while springing into next season being shaped perfectly as part of His majestic wonder.

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Evangelizing in the Neighborhood

love your neighborBack in the fall, I described how my wife and I were settling into our new family home with our three little kids. I wrote about how I saw this as an opportunity for evangelization, figuring I’d be able to help spread Jesus’ good news to new neighbors. (Continue reading here)

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Seeking Direction

We all have special gifts and talents, and we all have weaknesses – or areas in our lives we’d like to improve, if you prefer.

While I can humbly recognize I have certain traits and abilities that are very useful and appreciated, I must admit there are also qualities about myself I’d rather change or not have, period.

One of those is my sense of direction – or lack thereof.

As a person who prides himself on being organized, there are few occasions when I actually lose something.

There are, however, many instances when I can easily get lost myself.

My geographic know-how is so sketchy my best friends once sarcastically named me Magellan, a joking nod to the Portuguese explorer of the early 16th century.

49258040 - lost tourist looking at city map on a trip. looking for directions.I can be so bad at finding my way either walking or driving that I hold no shame in asking a passer-by or entering a convenience store for directions, only to feel more confused and hopeless after receiving help.

It got to the point long back where I decided to stick to basics in my route selection, even if it meant using a path that was three times longer than the most efficient option.

Nowadays, though, my ability to find my way or get around from place to place is much better – thanks in large part to a GPS device I keep in my car glove compartment.

This small black square I stick to my windshield gives me several route possibilities, informs me of any delays like construction and even provides a precise arrival time at my destination.

Compass 3Ah, if only life were this simple all the time.

In the hustle and bustle of daily activity where we can feel pulled in so many directions – as if we were the rope in a tug-of-war contest – it can be so challenging to find our way or keep ourselves centered.

With so many distractions and responsibilities, we can easily seem lost, failing to acknowledge our need for some sort of guidance to get us back on track.

It is during these difficult, confusing or frustrating times that we can remember to rely on Jesus as our personal version of GPS, providing us the way, the truth and the life that we crave so deeply. (John 14:6)

While it may seem monotonous to take the same route to work each morning or follow the same path home each time after visiting a friend, walking along the road to Jesus every day in our lives should never be considered boring.

Compass 2Speaking of repetition, though, so often we may slip into our own habits or routines that we can quickly forget how God calls us to follow Him. (Deuteronomy 5:33)

Just as complacency in our driving can deprive us of new paths and better or easier access to our desired landing spot, we are reminded to ask God to recalibrate our lives, challenging us to grow and discover our fullest potential through whatever situations facing us.

To paraphrase the hit country music song Jesus, Take the Wheel, calling upon our Lord and Savior can give us renewed confidence as our JPS, as we can pray Jesus, please steer.

Compass 4Having Jesus as our life’s compass can then ensure we are directed along a path of prosperity and happiness, bringing us ultimately to a perfect parking spot of salvation in Heaven.

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Going Deep

This past summer, our son Isaac and I went for a swim in the lake where my wife’s family rented some cottages for a vacation.

As great as it was to see Isaac demonstrate his improved swimming skills thanks to recent lessons, I was even more proud of him for venturing out towards the floating dock.

You see, Isaac and I swam together to that same dock the summer before, with the intent of jumping off and into the water.

Watching me cannonball into the lake and come back to the surface with a big smile alleviated some of his nerves, naturally, when it came time for him to jump.

Deep Calls to Deep 4Seeing me wait excitedly with my arms open and after a short countdown, Isaac took his first step off the dock.

But when his mesh water shoe caught on an exposed screw in one of the boards, Isaac hung off the dock helplessly.

He flailed in panic as I treaded water supporting him, keeping his head from going under the surface while trying to free him from his shoe.

After a short struggle, I was able to power him back on to the dock but Isaac, understandably, was in tears and screaming loudly in fear.

I was eventually able to calm him down and he clung to me as we swam back to shore. But while he may have escaped the dramatic sequence unharmed physically, there could be no disputing the emotional damage.

Perhaps out of stubbornness, I believed it to be necessary Isaac slay this proverbial dragon and conquer his fears. Otherwise, he could be haunted by them and possibly be resigned to quitting when faced with adversity later in his life.

The sooner he overcame his unpleasant past, the sooner he could forge ahead with confidence to take on new challenges and opportunities.

So after much encouragement and even insistence, I was able to convince Isaac of the importance of returning to the floating dock with me this past summer.

Deep Calls to Deep 2Listening to our son shout “I am not a quitter!” after he successfully jumped off the dock into the water gave me such a thrill, knowing Isaac stepped out of his comfort zone and took major strides of personal growth.

In a sense, doesn’t God call us to do the same, challenging us to venture into uncharted waters with Him? (Psalm 42:7)

At so many points in our lives, do we not shy from risks, resorting instead to playing it safe out of fear that we will figuratively drown?

It could be a teenager declining an opportunity to try out for a particular team or club or attend a conference on behalf of his school, based solely on how it might affect his personal free time.

Or, an individual could pass on a new job promotion, unsure of the prospects she would have to meet increased demands or work different hours.

A person coming off a longstanding relationship may be reluctant to get back into the dating game, rejecting an invitation to dinner due to not wanting to face the possibility of heartbreak again.

It seems we can turn down many different chances to discover God’s presence and available blessings, due strictly to our own comfortable or fearful nature.

Deep Calls to Deep 3Or, much like St. Peter did while on the water during the strong wind, do we stretch ourselves at first, only to hit a snag and immediately lose confidence in the midst of our struggle? (Matthew 14:22-33)

I know for me, our family life is extremely hectic these days, as all of our kids are in some sort of schooling program, my wife has returned to work and my teaching schedule is in full session.

Evenings during the week seem like a blur and weekends are typically pretty jammed for one reason or another.

With tense times such as these, I occasionally find myself exasperated, wondering if our life is too full and if we have reached an unbearable maximum.

However, as a friend reminded me recently, God has not brought me to a tipping point; He has brought me to a testing point.

When I think about this, I can realize God is stretching me.

I can see I am being challenged to grow in faith in Him, believing with conviction that all will work out in the end as long as I hold firm in hope and continue applying myself fully in His Holy Name.

Deep Calls to Deep 1And so, no matter the situation in our lives, may we always remember that, while God may call us into deeper waters, He assures us we will not sink.

While we may feel uncertain or afraid, God promises us we will be better than before, growing stronger by stretching further.

And as we swim out farther and deeper in life, let us never doubt God waits for us happily and wants to swim with us every step of the way.

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Won’t you be my Neighbor?

Several months back, I wrote about how my wife and I were looking for a new house. Our family of five had been living in a three-bedroom townhome and, while we were very much enjoying our location and our comfortable abode, we felt an increasing need for more space as our kids would grow older.

So, after many weeks of actively searching with our real estate agent and placing bids on multiple houses, we were blessed to reach a deal for what we believe to be our dream home.

Striking a balance between needs and wants, and ensuring we could still afford this house without financial strain, we decided to take the plunge and move our family.

God Neighbor 7Thankfully, our new home is only a block or two away from our old one, allowing us to enjoy the same amenities and neighborhood friends with no disruption to our family routine.

Truly, we feel the whole process of finding and moving into this house has been providential, and we firmly believe that – God willing – this will be our family home into our retirement years (which, with three kids aged four and younger, seems eons away).

As we settle into our new place, though, I am reminded of the journey Jesus’ apostles embarked on following His Ascension into Heaven.

Commissioned to proclaim His gospel message to all people (Matthew 28:19), they went in different directions to introduce Jesus’ Good News to as many as they could, happily and openly welcoming disciples into the faith.

In some ways, I feel my family is called to do the same in our new neighborhood.

It’s been nearly two thousand years since His crucifixion and Resurrection, but Jesus continues today to send His disciples to profess His beauty and wonder to the world.

With this in mind, I know moving to a new neighborhood should not stifle my striving to spread Jesus’ Good News – it should only strengthen it.

So I’ve come to recognize that, while continuing to nourish our friendships in our old neighborhood, my family is also gifted with a chance to live and share God’s presence in making new friends.

God Neighbor 3How I interact with others when I meet them is an opportunity to innocently but proudly present God to a stranger.

For instance, seeing a person walking a dog on the street is a perfect chance to say hello and pass along wishes for a great – and blessed – day.

Whenever a neighborhood child knocks on our door to canvas for a school fundraiser, I am invited to show charity for a good cause and help our community, while wishing the young boy or girl well throughout their school year.

Each morning when my wife and I bring our kids to the school bus stop, we can either drum up conversation with the other parents and kids, or isolate ourselves and dismiss a perfect time to grow friendship.

Having guests come into our home for a meal or visit, we also have opportunity to share our life rooted in God through various ways, both powerful and subtle.

Having items such as crosses or plaques with Biblical passages hanging on our walls, or saying grace before we eat together, our friends can easily witness God’s presence in our home.

In a manner far less obvious, we can also reflect God’s glorious image through polite and respectful conversation, genuine interest in their lives and loving support for them in their needs.

You see, as followers of Christ, we are given a great ability to reveal God’s love to those around us, but with this comes responsibility to humbly share the Lord’s presence through our daily living.

In order for the world to feel God giving Himself freely each day, we as His children must offer others a glimpse of His loving invitation to get to know Him by our welcoming actions.

God Neighbor 2Through our hospitality, perhaps others will feel inclined to explore relationship with God by welcoming Him into their homes and lives.

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Laying the Foundation

For the past few months, my wife and I have been eyeing the housing market, on the hunt for our next family home.

We currently live in a townhouse and while it meets all needs for us and our three little children, we’ve been conducting lately a constant search to find our “dream home.”

No matter the house, it seems there’s invariably a concern related to at least one of the three tenets of location, layout and affordability, causing us to wrestle with whether any of the houses seen have been the right fit.

To help with our decision making, we always ask ourselves the same questions: Do we need this? and Is this worth it for our family?

It’s important we examine these points because we wish for the planning of our family home to be as prudent as possible for both the short- and long-term future.

That might sound a tad crazy, given that today’s society doesn’t always promote such careful vision.

Just the same, much like the building structure itself, Catherine and I want our house plans to be based on a secure foundation.

House on Rock 1Such an insistence calls to mind Jesus’ parable of the house built on rock and that which was built on sand. (Matthew 7:24-27)

An analogy so short and simple, Jesus’ teachings of roughly two thousand years ago still ring true today.

Considering His reference of a house as a metaphor for our lives, how many of us are building a firm foundation?

In a world that preaches instant gratification, how many people invest their lives in items so temporary in nature, such as electronics or social media status?

Do we place our greatest value on matters that truly are legitimate and long-lasting, such as quality relationships with our spouses, children and friends?

House on Rock 4Does our increasingly disposable society influence us so much so that we concern ourselves more with superficial things like our name-brand clothing or hairstyle, the car we drive or the party we attend?

Do we involve ourselves with our neighborhood, both offering and seeking support and encouragement at our local churches, schools and outreach centers?

Certainly, as our North American culture has grown more secular, traditional yet reliable faith, family and social values can easily lose some luster.

Ideals like community, sharing and accountability can get bumped to the curb for individualization, self-service and entitlement.

Appreciation for simplicity and essentials has given way to a popular culture of fancy gimmicks and unnecessary extras.

One can argue needs in life are being replaced increasingly by wants.

House on Rock 3For instance, cable TV companies include hundreds of channels in their packages, smartphones store thousands of songs and pictures, and social media outlets allow for millions of followers – and we as true consumers are suckers for all them.

Looking at today’s society, one can wonder where we place our priorities – on a foundation made of rock or of sand.

Among the clothes in our dresser drawers or closets, how many outfits do we wear regularly? How many of those songs on our iPhone include lyrics promoting Jesus’ Gospel and how many advertise inappropriate or unhealthy messages? When was the last time we sacrificed a program or movie on Netflix and replaced it with prayer or volunteer service?

As we continue navigating through today’s challenging times, may we resolve to keep God and His teachings at the foreground of all our thoughts, words and actions. (1 Samuel 2:2)

House on Rock 2May we feel encouraged to turn to God in times of difficulty but also celebrate Him through living out works of mercy and appreciating our many blessings.

Including God as our base, we can ensure we live a life built on a foundation of rock, worthy of eternal salvation.

Doing so can then help us prepare for when we move into our Heavenly house of dreams.

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An Identity Crisis

Two nights ago, I had the pleasure of having a foot bath.

No, this was not some spa experience, where you soak your feet in therapeutic salt water and then enjoy a nice massage from someone trained to relieve all of your pain.

You see, I was approached by one of our church’s priests earlier in the week, asking whether I’d be interested in participating in a reenactment of Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet during the Holy Thursday Mass.

Given the Mass was to be held in the evening in the midst of our kids’ bedtime routine, I was thankful my wife and I were able to juggle matters at home, allowing me to attend on my family’s behalf.

I was so grateful to have been present, as it was truly an honor to be part of the demonstration before the congregation.

As I shared with Catherine at home afterwards, I had taken part in such a reenactment once before, but this time was far more meaningful – and far more emotional.

Jesus Washing Apostles FeetAs the priest moved with his basin of water from one volunteer to another, I felt myself thinking of Jesus.

I imagined Him in a room, kneeling or sitting while pouring water over His trusted friends’ feet, drying them with care and ensuring each one of the apostles knew how cherished he was.

By the time the priest had reached me, I was thinking of Peter and how he asked Jesus to wash not only his feet but also his hands and head. (John 13:9)

I became so overcome with emotion that I was trembling somewhat and had tears beginning to drip from my eyes.

You see, when I look at my life and consider my sins, I know I’m not worthy of God’s unconditional love, despite whatever goodness I’ve contributed in His name.

For this reason, like Peter, I’d rather have an entire ocean of God’s holy grace showered over me, instead of a small amount of water poured on just my feet.

Yet, as Jesus reminded the apostles, only the feet are necessary, for we are healed of our sins and made pure with Him by His blessing. (John 13:10)

In contemplating my own identity and Jesus’ love given to me freely, I can easily ask myself, Who am I to receive this extraordinary and undeserved gift?

Who Do You Say I Am 1But during Holy Thursday Mass, I thought instead of the question Jesus posed to His disciples when He asked them one day after having been approached by crowds, Who do you say that I am? (Mark 8:27-30)

Having my feet washed and already with thoughts of Peter in my head, I couldn’t help but remember his answer to Jesus in that instance – You are the Messiah. (Mark 8:29)

We are challenged in our lives to decide who Jesus is to us. It is times like Easter when we can better concentrate on this question in order to be completely honest with our answer.

Shaking and tearing up the other night when having my feet washed, I came to further understand and appreciate Peter’s answer.

Jesus, You are the Christ – the Chosen One, the Son of God, our Savior.

Pope Francis recently addressed priests, challenging them to discern over Jesus’ identity in the world today and their responsibility to represent and celebrate Him.

“We either make Jesus present in the life of humanity or let Him remain on the level of ideas, letters on a page, incarnate at most in some good habit, gradually becoming routine,” he said.

Who Do You Say I Am 2As we commemorate the Lord’s Last Supper and His death on the cross on Good Friday, and look ahead to celebrating His glorious Resurrection tomorrow, may we find the courage within ourselves to also ponder more attentively who Jesus is for us in our lives.

As Jesus said He was thirsty while being crucified, may we strive to always deepen our relationship with Him, quenching His thirst for relationship with us while being invited to receive a powerful wave of God’s grace in the process.

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