Our True Calling

Every once in a while, I like to pour myself a bowl of cereal and relax on the couch to watch some sports on TV.

Who am I kidding? I do that pretty much every night and would gladly order cereal as a meal in a restaurant if it were socially acceptable.

I love cutting up pieces of a banana or a few strawberries over the cereal to enrich my experience, but occasionally, I’ll grab a bag of raisins from the pantry instead and share some with our kids as a special treat.

The boys love raisins and our little snack always takes me back to my childhood, remembering when I would eat a few of those tiny red boxes of Sun-Maid raisins.

But when I grab a handful of raisins and sprinkle them over my cereal, I can’t help but notice how these little dried fruits used to be far more exciting.

Raisins 3Indeed, something so small and unimpressive was once so plump and powerful in the form of a grape.

A mighty grape, so strong and crisp, filled with sweet juice and so rich with taste, now reduced to a shriveled shell of itself.

Once firm and crunchy, joined by its brethren as a cluster, now withered and weak, left to fend for itself in a plastic bag.

It was during a recent class lesson when I was speaking with my students about Moses and his call from God that I recognized we as humans are created to be grapes, but sometimes act like raisins instead.

Moses, of course, led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land.

Regarded as a hero and one of the most impactful figures in Judaism and Christianity, Moses is admired for his courage and leadership.

And yet, he displayed immense worry and self-doubt when he first encountered God in the form of a burning bush, selected to direct God’s Chosen People out of bondage.

Lacking confidence (Exodus 3:11) and seemingly using his struggle with speech as an excuse to try to convince God not to choose him (Exodus 4:10), Moses adamantly aimed to avoid God’s call for him (Exodus 4:13).

Imagine, someone destined for greatness being so reluctant and unwilling to fulfill his vocation.

So many others in the Bible also expressed hesitation, unworthiness and even refusal when given a divine mission, such as Queen Esther and the prophets Jeremiah and Jonah, to name a few.

Grapes & RaisinsA few thousand years later, are we not like this still today?

Created by God to be strong grapes, do we not cower like raisins when called by God to live our best in His image?

When asked a question in class, how many students refuse to raise their hand to offer an answer, dreading any judgment by their peers if they respond incorrectly?

How many of us allow our fear of failure to take hold when presented with an opportunity for a role in a school play, or a spot on a sports team or in a leadership camp?

Or what about turning down a side hallway at the last minute instead of approaching that guy or girl and asking them out on a date because we are afraid of being rejected?

What about those of us who prefer to stay in the status quo rather than apply for a job promotion or go back to school to improve our qualifications?

How many of us decline a chance to travel to a far-off country or volunteer in a group home because of the different culture or environment we would encounter?

God made us to flourish and realize His plan for us, not to flounder by shying away from our full potential.

Because of this, we should never feel inadequate or fearful, believing we do not deserve blessings or opportunities God introduces to us. In truth, God has planned fortune for us since the very beginning, knowing we are worth it. (Jeremiah 1:5)

So no matter our flaws or reservations, let us remember to be secure in our faith, knowing our Lord will always walk at our side. (Matthew 28:20)

Relying on God and believing He leads us at all times, we can rest assured that, even if stretched beyond our comfort zone, God can and will use us as instruments for His ultimate plan of goodness. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Grapes 1Living like this – as the grapes we were intended to be – we will undoubtedly bear great fruit and encourage the same for others.

And the Answer is…

When reading stories and saying prayers with our son Isaac before bedtime, every once in a while he and I will watch a short program on our tablet computer.

My wife and I do very well to limit his screen time and engage his learning in other ways, but a little TV watching or electronics use here and there can also serve to entertain and educate him.

One night not long ago, I was trying to find a children’s show for us to watch together as part of our pre-bedtime routine.

After Isaac decided what show he wanted to watch, I began to locate it on our tablet, only to run into some computer delays.

Growing frustrated after waiting a couple of minutes for the program to load, I chose instead to show him some pictures and videos of family and friends saved on the computer.

That, too, proved to be ineffective, as the screen just froze up after a few moments.

At that point, I was turning somewhat agitated and wanted to prepare something quickly in order to keep Isaac from becoming upset.

So, I resorted to shutting down the tablet and restarting it. After all, a simple reboot would do the trick, right?

As it turned out, the tablet didn’t respond that night, leaving me to think quickly and come up with another plan.

Fortunately, my Daddy imagination charm was in full effect, so once bedtime reading and prayers concluded, I enticed Isaac into listening to a special story. I built it up with the greatest enthusiasm possible, convincing him this hilarious tale would be one for the ages.

Watching his facial expressions and seeing him hang on my every word with both interest and excitement, I led Isaac on a creative journey, all the while feeling exhilarated and proud to have such bonding with my little man.

As I gave him his nighttime blessing, I couldn’t help but think this whole experience wouldn’t have happened had it not been for our tablet freezing up earlier.

answered-prayer-2It was in that moment I thought of God’s responses when we call to Him and how He always replies to our prayers and needs.

While we may sometimes not get what we ask for, we must realize God always answers our prayers and never says no.

If one stops to consider it, we can see how God will always answer us using one of three responses – yes, not yet or I have something better in mind.

For instance, sometimes our prayer request is granted almost immediately.

Praying before a final exam for a feeling of calm and confidence about our studies can lead us to a successful performance and grade. Asking God to help us remain focused when going for our driver’s permit test can help us obtain our license.

Other times, our prayer is fulfilled after several weeks or months.

Wanting to date a particular person, this individual may not immediately be interested until getting to know us much more and appreciating more about us in the process. Or, perhaps there are matters in their lives of which we are not aware, and only when life settles for them can they be in the right frame of mind for there to be a mutual fit.

Our patience and persistence in prayer could be tested even further, discovering our prayer is answered after a few years.

Unsuccessful in an interview for that dream job, we might simply require more experience before being fully qualified. Maybe the company first needs to alter its business planning structure prior to hiring us, or the original candidate leaves for another position. Such situations can certainly swing opportunity’s door wide open again.

What we could also learn when praying is that, while God will not always provide us exactly what we seek, He may ultimately give us what we desire five- or tenfold.

Pinning our hopes so strongly on a particular college or university can be devastating if we receive a rejection letter in the mail. Yet, it is only after we graduate with honors from a different institution – where we wound up meeting our future spouse with whom we are blessed to have children and live in a comfortable home – that we realize it was all part of God’s plan.

answered-prayer-1No matter the example, it is important to have faith in God, believing without worry He knows us and will grant us all that our heart wishes and needs. (Matthew 6:25-26)

Having this certainty in what has yet to happen is by no means a cinch, and yet, we are called to be hopeful that our Lord listens and attends to the voice of our prayer. (Hebrews 11:1 & Psalm 66:19)

I once heard it said, “God does not bend His plan to fit our preference. We must bend our will to fit His.” Now, these words may be far easier to say than to live, and yet surrendering to God is crucial in order for Him to work His mission for our overall good.

It is in so doing that we may grow to be less frustrated and agitated, and more joyful and exhilarated.

His Deer is Always Near

My wife and I recently took our boys to an outdoor animal park, hearing lots of praise about this popular location where you drive your vehicle alongside various species of deer and other types of wildlife.

It was such a splendid and surreal experience being so up close and personal with so many animals – many of which were quite comfortable and energetic in approaching us for carrots during the tour.

While having a herd of large moose or caribou come to your car door and shove their heads through your window for a treat can be a little unsettling, we were amazed at the animals’ beauty and striking but peaceful presence.

Having Isaac and Hugh, both toddlers, stare and marvel at these creatures from their car seats, Catherine and I were filled with childhood excitement (not to mention gratitude for power windows).

Cruising along the park’s car trail, I found it remarkable how we could be so close to these imposing wildlife animals and, yet, feel so safe.

It was during this journey that I couldn’t help but remember another encounter I had with a deer earlier in my life.

It came at a time when I felt at my lowest, and received an unexpected but comforting visit from God.

About seven years ago, I had gone on my annual summer road trip to visit some of my American relatives. While in Rhode Island to see my uncle and his family, I had decided to go for a jog one afternoon to clear my head of some frustrations and concerns.

I had been struggling with several items in my life that were causing great emotional upheaval for quite some time, including my parents’ marital difficulties, my seemingly fruitless pursuit of love and a constant desire for acceptance and belonging.

Running at an increasingly fast pace with footsteps of anger pounding the pavement and music blaring through my headphones, a deer suddenly burst out from the nearby woods and gave me one of the biggest shocks of my life.

deer-staring-from-forestBlurting out a short yell, I could do nothing but look at the deer that stood a mere 20 feet away.

In the moment, I was startled to the point of paralysis, feeling only my heart beat ferociously.

In what seemed like minutes but was actually perhaps 30 seconds, we exchanged an intimate and powerful staredown.

As my heartbeat returned to a more normal rate and my nerves calmed, I was soothed completely by the warm presence of the Lord.

It was at that precise point that I felt God consoling me, reminding me everything in my life would be fine.

As bizarre as it sounds, I simply thanked the deer, saying, “OK, God – I get it. You’re with me. It’s going to be alright.”

As I continued on with my run and the deer returned to the woods, I felt an indescribable peace despite my life worries still with me.

Now, naysayers will undoubtedly contend the deer’s appearance was simply a fluke. However, as people of faith, we believe there to be no such things as coincidences – only God-incidences.

I often share this unforgettable experience with my students to show God’s constant presence and mysterious reassurance. Truly, it is testament that during our suffering, God is always with us, providing His loving compassion. (Isaiah 49:13)

Such an occurrence as my encounter with the deer is but one example of how God reveals Himself to His people in our time of need.

Whether it is a particular song played on the radio when we are feeling depressed, a rainbow in the sky after the death of a loved one, a community rallying around a family hit by tragedy or any other signal, God shows an uncanny knack for comforting His children and restoring us during our troubles. (Psalm 71:20)

Of course, we must be open in faith to discovering how God is guiding us through our dark days.

Calling on Him to help us overcome our challenges can allow God an opportunity to fulfill His promise of unfailing love for His servants. (Psalm 119:76)

Doing so will not only provide us with a sense of peace and encouragement, but also reinforce the reality that God holds His people so dear.

Hold my Reservation

A student of mine asked me a short while back, “if God has unconditional love for everyone, then how come He sends people to hell?”

A very fair question, indeed, and certainly one that can generate plenty of conversation and debate – as it did that day in class.

My response to the student and his peers came in true Socratic form, asking them in turn, “Ah, does God send people to hell?”

I was proud of myself for employing the tactic of answering a question with a question, but I was even more proud of my students for catching on and applying lessons from earlier in the semester with fine critical thinking demonstration.

You see, back in the fall, we had discussed at length one of the greatest gifts God could ever give His children – free will.

We talked extensively about how this entitles us to think, do and say anything we wish, and how we are in charge of our own lives.

Yet, we also learned how all of this comes with consequences – positive or negative, depending on what we choose to do with our free will.

Through class deliberation and examples shared, the students recognized how free will can – directly or indirectly – affect one’s reputation, self-esteem and success in life, as well as those of others. They came to realize how nothing happens without impact, either short- or long-term.

So when we discussed God’s unconditional love for His creation, we then applied free will to the notion of humanity’s welcome into God’s Kingdom in Heaven.

Does God send people to hell, or do people choose to go to hell based on their thoughts, words and actions on earth? (Luke 9:26)

Such questions as these can certainly compel us to examine our own living, helping us better identify if we are worthy of salvation or perdition.

As our conversation continued, I aimed to illustrate to my students a point Jesus once made when describing Heaven, reminding everyone there is a place in His Father’s house already prepared for each of us. (John 14:2)

Imagine a hotel nearby – let’s call it Heavenly Inn. This hotel has an infinite number of stories and rooms, and there is always vacancy.

Next to it is another place of lodging – we’ll call it Motel 666. This building, too, has rooms always available and no one is ever turned away.

heaven-hotelNow, Heavenly Inn’s concierge desk is welcoming and reassuring that one’s room is ready and in true likeness to a penthouse suite. Housekeeping is impeccable, room service is divine, and exercise equipment and décor are provided with state-of-the-art quality.

Oh, and the price for a room is extremely reasonable and more than competitive with marketplace rivals.

All told, one would be foolish not to stay in such a hotel.

In fact, management stands by its hotel’s reputation with both humility and confidence so much so that it never gives away a room to another tenant, should anyone be so insistent as to refuse their hospitality.

For instance, suppose I arrive at the front desk and, instead of checking in, I ask for a refund on my reservation. My assigned room will not be turned over to the next person in line, for that individual has a different, specific room already awaiting them.

Each person has the freedom to accept or reject the invitation of Heavenly Inn and all of its perfect amenities provided. Should anyone willingly elect to turn down the hotel and stay elsewhere (Motel 666, for example), their assigned room will be left vacant forever, since there remains an endless abundance of other rooms immaculate in quality and preparation.

In other words, as freely as Heaven is offered to us, we are equally free to decline it. Doing so, however, will come at a cost, as Jesus reminds us in the Parable of the Great Dinner. (Luke 14:15-24)

You see, come Judgment Day, God’s Kingdom in Heaven will be filled. Knowing God wants to include us and extends an open, unconditional offer with a standing invitation, the question remains – will we be with Him in Paradise?

I suppose that all depends on us and how we choose to live our lives here on earth, repenting and seeing Jesus in the face of everyone, or perishing through our own choosing.

Looking at the options for eternal accommodations, I know I want to confirm my reservation at the Heavenly Inn.

I just hope and pray I live my free will virtuously on earth so that my credit card payment is accepted and I’m blessed to meet the hotel’s management and CEO.

Who am I?

Driving home from school each day, I often find myself lost in thought, ruminating on various ideas or events.

Sometimes, I will play out conversations in my head, so as to better and more appropriately prepare for upcoming scenarios (such as a conference with a student’s concerned parent or a talk with my wife during a period of disagreement).

Other times, however, I will have random points enter my mind and then simply explore these tangents.

Such an occurrence happened the other day, as I was struck by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

At the conclusion of His teachings of the Beatitudes, you might recall how Jesus empowers us to stay true to our convictions despite any and all backlash we might receive from others. (Matthew 5:10-11)

While Jesus spoke these words about 2,000 years ago, it is becoming increasingly difficult to heed them today.

Frankly, in our modern and secular society, it is not altogether easy or popular to stay true to one’s faith. We are constantly bombarded with media messages and public pressures to follow a specific crowd, act a particular way or believe a certain idea or message – all of these often contrary to God’s commandments.

Failure to meet or comply with these social expectations can often lead to isolation, exclusion and rejection.

I suppose the question we must ask ourselves, then, is which path do we follow in our lives – that of God or society around us?

While thinking introspectively in my car on my way home, I couldn’t help but consider this exact point.

Do I overly concern myself with materialism or social status? Do I compare myself too much to others and their clothes, homes, relationships, cars, jobs, travels or other items?

Do I serve social standards or God’s desires for me?

As depressing as this might sound, I occasionally wonder what people would say at my funeral.

Like many others, I would hope they would share compliments about my thoughtful and kindhearted personality, my witty sense of humor, my love for my family and friends, and other common points of praise often spoken about the deceased.

But what would I really want them to say?

Well, I guess I would hope people would identify me without doubt as a man of God.

Sure, being nice to people and making them feel special is important. Sacrificing yourself for others is meaningful. Giving your best effort in everything you do is admirable. But if these practices and traits are not for a greater purpose or being, are they not all in vain?

Indeed, living as a faithful servant to the Lord, serving His will and not being a slave to earthly directions – isn’t this what I am called to be?

Aren’t we all?

sermon-on-the-mountIs our legacy supposed to be wealth passed to our next generation, or buildings named in our honor? Am I to attain a particular salary or social echelon prior to my death or a have a passport filled with country stamps?

Regardless of accomplishment, I believe our legacy is to be a shining example of God’s wonder and awesome love and presence for others to know and apply to their lives.

So, then, what do I want my legacy to be?

Well, while I have no intention of passing on anytime soon, what I want is for my wife and me to enjoy a happy, healthy and holy marriage until death.

I want for us to raise our children into faith-led adults that look to us as their earthly heroes and that make our world a better place by their example.

I want my students to know they are capable of more, always discovering their fullest God-given potential while being pleased with their efforts and achievements.

I want my friends and strangers alike to remember me by how they felt around me, feeling better about themselves after our time together.

In essence, I want to have lived as salt of the earth and light for the world. (Matthew 5:13-16) I want to have realized God’s work on earth, fulfilling His teachings and making Him proud.

Now, none of this is easy, of course. Living in accordance with God’s Holy Word is no small order and often requires going against the grain, culturally speaking. I know I fail at this challenge often in my life.

But despite our many flaws and failures, let us resolve to remain motivated to pursue a greater good and live our Heavenly calling.

Jesus tells us our reward for our loyalty to Him awaits us and will be more than we could ever imagine. Staying true to His Word and living His example will yield a prize and salvation that will put any earthly winnings to shame. (Matthew 5:12)

In the end, isn’t that what matters the most?

So, the next time you’re driving home and are lost in random thought, perhaps you’ll be reminded of Jesus’ Beatitudes and how we are called to live as God’s blessed children.

While it surely would be random, such a point would most certainly be worth it.

Reading the Signals

As many motorists would tell you, driving at any time can be extremely challenging.

There are speed limits and stop signs to consider and obey, as well as construction and rush-hour traffic that can wreak havoc on road conditions and arrival times.

There is the stress brought on by weather for drivers and passengers alike, whether it is early-morning fog, bright afternoon sunshine, late-night heavy rain or any other trick up Mother Nature’s sleeve.

Other vehicles passing by, pedestrians and cyclists to always be mindful of, our favorite song playing on the radio or an incoming phone call on Bluetooth can also serve as some of the countless aspects that test our constant attention when behind the wheel.

For me, one of the items on the driving watch-for checklist has long been traffic lights.

I could be distracted by something around me, in a hurry to get to my destination, lost in thought over an event in my life or caught up in a conversation with people in the car – the changing of a traffic light always seems to catch me at the worst time.

Traffic LightsWhen sitting at the stop line, I anxiously await a red light to turn green and give me the go-ahead. When cruising towards an upcoming intersection, I tense up at the sight of a yellow signal, as I am forced to instantly determine if I can stop safely or if I should proceed with caution.

I wonder if God sometimes chooses to act like a set of traffic lights.

For instance, how often do we want to say or do something despite our conscience telling us otherwise?

Like an audience watching a silent film and yelling “no!” to warn a character tempted to open a closed door, God frequently tells us to stop whatever it is we are thinking or doing, in order to protect us from further harm.

It could be a sudden noise we hear in the midst of a lustful gaze at someone or the appearance of an individual just as we are about to begin an angry and profanity-laced tirade. Whatever the case, God has a unique way of showing us a red light.

At that time, He lovingly places His hand on our shoulder to remind us how to act, saving us from unchangeable and regretful action. (Psalm 101:3 & Proverbs 21:23)

Then there are times we are unsure of how to behave in any given circumstance.

For example, so many of us have, at one point or another, been tempted or pressured to go against our parents’ teachings in order to conform at a party. We may have also had the inclination to speak up in front of a group against an injustice, only to hesitate out of fear for repercussions.

During such moments of uncertainty or trepidation, God guides us calmly like a yellow traffic signal, reminding us of what is most important in the situation. (Matthew 6:21)

Of course, God also clears an obvious path for us to take advantage of various opportunities in our lives.

These green (including left or right turn) lights are found all around us, such as when a neighbor mentions an employment opportunity just as we are desperately seeking a summer job, or when a girl approaches a guy to ask him out on a date after he had been too shy to do so the past several encounters.

Naturally, though, like any green light at an intersection, we must never squander a chance granted by the Lord, for He is blessing us with a happy ending. (John 13:17 & James 1:22)

But just as we choose how to react in our vehicles to any of the three colored traffic lights, we equally have our God-given free will to follow God’s direction in any scenario.

And, just like in driving, we must still remember we reap the results of our actions.

Thus, may we always strive to heed God’s guidance in order that we may drive along the road of life safely and free of both tickets and accidents.

Brushing up on our Faith

When preparing our son Isaac for bed, it can sometimes be challenging to have him brush his teeth.

His younger brother Hugh is much easier to convince. After all, when trying to change a one-year-old’s diaper, I’ve learned the best thing to do to keep him still is to offer a distraction, and a toothbrush to chew on does just the trick for when I’m getting Hugh ready to sleep.

For Isaac, however, there’s something about a bristled stick jabbed in his mouth that he just doesn’t like. Go figure!

Thankfully, our dentist is a natural when it comes to persuading young kids to brush their teeth.

At his first appointment, the good doctor told Isaac about some “sugar bugs” that were living in his mouth. In order to make them disappear, we’d have to brush them away.

In the weeks since that appointment, Isaac has loved his nightly routine of getting rid of the dreaded sugar bugs. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he has a softer brush with one of his favorite cartoon characters on it, or that his toothpaste is really flavorful.

ToothbrushingJust the same, brushing his teeth has proven to be both beneficial and enjoyable (like anything else in life should be, really).

If you think about it, teeth brushing and God are a lot alike.

As any reliable dentist would attest, brushing one’s teeth regularly helps remove bacteria that form in the mouth, eliminating plaque and avoiding tartar build-up. Similarly, having God in our lives strengthens us in our daily battle against Satan and his attempts to contaminate us with germs through the allure of sin.

The more we brush, the more we combat plaque and tartar. The more we turn towards God, the stronger we become in fighting the devil’s temptation to turn away from Him. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Brushing regularly also guards tooth enamel from breaking down, acting as a deterrent to tooth decay. Holding God central in our lives helps us maintain a clear mind so we can make prudent decisions in order to keep our bodies healthy.

Properly taking care of our teeth has further been proven to defend our gums against recession and gingivitis. For His part, God nourishes our soul, steering us on a path to Heaven and away from hell. (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

Furthermore, as we are all reminded by dental advertisements, a proven toothpaste is also key in practicing oral hygiene and preventing cavities. By the same token, celebrating as part of a community of fellowship can certainly bolster one’s faith in God and provide desired support for our life challenges.

You could say brushing your teeth without toothpaste is equivalent to believing in God without going to church. Sure, you are doing some good, but just consider all the advantages you are missing out on and the pitfalls you can escape in the long run.

So, something as routine yet important as brushing our teeth can reinforce how critical and beneficial it is to have God as a focal part of our lives.

And with God close to us, He will always grant us protection from harm and defend us from Satan and his evil ways. (Psalm 140:4)

God ensures this through many means, including sending saints to guide us upon request, as evidenced by St. Michael the Archangel.

But where do prayers for the intercession of St. Michael fit in with teeth brushing?

Well, just as it never hurts to call on the help of God’s trusty aide in our daily living, we can always try to get rid of those leftover sugar bugs stuck between our teeth with a little dental floss.

Gospel as Soul Aid

My wife and I have a plaque above our bed that displays the well-known words of Matthew 11:28. When making our bed every morning, I try to stop and take the 30 seconds required to read and absorb the message of this Scriptural passage.

Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest.

The other morning, I was running on our treadmill in the basement – something I love to do but, admittedly, do very inconsistently. I was hitting a point when my body was growing weak and I felt I was really laboring through my run, unsure if I could continue.

So, as I will often do when I exercise, I reached for my bottle of Gatorade.

Now, it’s normal for me to take a few gulps in order to stay hydrated and to relieve my dry throat. But it wasn’t until after I showered and made our bed that I realized a deeper relevance of that gesture.

Had I not taken a drink at those points of feeling drained, I likely would not have enjoyed as gratifying a run, having to scale back on my speed and incline (lessening the challenge of my workout in the process). Or, worse yet, I would have had to end my run prematurely due to more than simple fatigue (cramping or chest pain, for instance).

The same could be said for cyclists or marathoners who access water stands along their route, in effort to replenish and finish strong as they advance into the final leg of their race.

Other athletes also need to head to the bench for a break so they may return to action in better form to help their team.

Playing tired can compromise their ability to perform at peak level, thereby negatively affecting their team and perhaps putting their chances of victory in jeopardy.

For instance, how often do we see a hockey player refuse a line change and elect to stay on the ice, only to hook or trip an opponent who passes him and takes advantage of a scoring opportunity?

That player must feel oh so guilty watching from the penalty box as his shorthanded teammates surrender a pivotal goal.

Such an occurrence is not limited to the sporting arena, of course.

As a high school teacher, I know far too well how some students fall prey to the temptation of plagiarism on essays or copying classmates’ answers during tests because they do not adequately prepare for their evaluations.

So stressed or tired are they that they choose instead to veg on the couch and watch a movie marathon on TV or scan their social media profiles late into the night.

We are reminded in sports and in school to take a break when tired in order for our bodies to perform at their maximum.

Our bodies are not the only part of us that needs rest, though.

The mind must also work at its highest point and can only do so if given full opportunity.

How many people resort to unhealthy means when feeling pressure in their lives, including drugs, alcohol, adultery or violence? Certainly, none of these methods lead to a promising outcome and do not provide any long-lasting respite or comfort, either.

Our loving God promises us He will provide the energy we require to flourish in life. (Jeremiah 31:25)

But just as we need to rest our bodies and minds, both of these depend on a healthy and rested soul to function most effectively – a soul that thirsts for God. (Psalm 42:1-2 & Matthew 11:29)

Sports DrinksAs sports drinks serve to give thirst aid during exercise, God’s words and teachings provide invaluable aid for our souls.

We find these messages from God revealed throughout the Bible, especially Jesus’ gospel.

Devoting time and attention to Jesus’ calling through Scriptural reading and prayer can lead to the discovery of peace we so desperately crave and need in our lives.

With such tranquility attainable from God, we receive our second wind and can both endure and overcome the many challenges facing us.

Finding this rest through the Lord, then, will help us refuel and recharge for all that may await us in life.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make our bed.

All Treats, No Tricks

Earlier tonight, our family enjoyed the fine tradition of Halloween.

You know the one – kids dressed up in creative costumes, adults handing out candies to scores of children at their door, while spooky music and candlelit pumpkins welcome passers-by in front of homes.

Ah yes, the annual ritual all of us have come to love and embrace as part of our North American way of life.

That is, almost all of us.

Our son Isaac was not too enthused tonight at the prospect of his first trick-or-treating experience.

Sure, things started off promising, as we gathered with some neighbors for a pizza dinner and some pictures of all of the kids in their costumes. However, when the time came to go outside and knock on doors, Isaac would have no part of it.

Nearing two years of age, Isaac was dressed as a cute monkey, with his baby brother Hugh stuffed in a pumpkin costume and wrapped snugly inside my wife’s coat. We thought this would be a real hit for the lad – carrying around a tiny bucket ready to be filled to its brim with chocolate and lollipops. After all, who wouldn’t want to receive plenty of free candy?

To our great surprise, Isaac cried and insisted on sitting in our wagon to be carted around the block instead of walking with Mommy or Daddy and his friends to each house porch and being handed handfuls of tasty treats.

Fortunately, Isaac eventually took the plunge and walked up to a door. And then another. And another.

He loved it.

The amazed reaction of people as he met them at their door, the sight of other children dressed in costumes around him, the sound of Halloween music, the candies dumped into his pumpkin bucket –Isaac soaked it all in. He even got to meet Batman (otherwise known as a neighborhood dad dressed as the superhero).

It got to the point where Isaac was begging us to hurry to the next stop, as compared to us having to seemingly drag him to the first house.

Trick or treaters on the porchLater, my wife remarked how it was so nice for Isaac to discover something so incredibly enjoyable despite his initial hesitation.

I suppose when it comes to faith, many of us are like Isaac and other children so fearful of their first trick-or-treating endeavors.

How often are we presented with a possibility, but our doubts or insecurities prevent us from taking advantage of the experience?

Whether it is a chance to join a school play, run for student council or try out for the volleyball team, so many students pass on a golden opportunity to grow and discover more about life, others and themselves.

Others in society may be offered a set-up date by a friend, or come across a job opening or trip advertisement and elect to decline, effectively closing the door to the unknown happiness awaiting them.

With such subtle invitations from God to venture out of our personal comfort zone, why are we so afraid? After all, are we not assured by God that He is with us always and will never lead us astray? (Matthew 28:20)

Not only that, our loving God reminds us He has set us up for the complete opposite of failure and sadness. He has destined us for greatness and abundant joy. All we have to do to attain this success is trust in Him and give Him a shot. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

In today’s increasingly secular world, however, placing hope in God and opening ourselves to Him is not altogether easy or fashionable.

Yet, we can rest confident knowing God has blessed us with the Holy Spirit and has equipped us with the necessary armor to combat any messages or outlets that encourage us to run from God’s calling. (Ephesians 6:13-17)

With this in mind and nourished by Jesus’ gospel of truth to strengthen our faith, we can move forward despite our fears and overcome any obstacles facing us.

Only then will we be able to stand firm against any tempting tricks so we can enjoy God’s tremendous treats.

All Clues Lead to God

These days, with the world being as busy as it is, it is often hard to sit down for just a few moments to relax and pass the time with a hobby.

With work or school demands, an endless to-do list at home, family commitments or finally squeezing in some time to hang out with friends, it seems any limited opportunity a person has can easily be spent on a cell phone, checking or updating a social media profile, or on the couch, watching part of a television show or playing a video game to distract us from reality.

It could strike you as strange that a person today would actually sit down and read a book, complete a puzzle or play a good old-fashioned game of cards.

With the advance of technology today, I wonder how common it is for people to even sit down at their kitchen table and work on a crossword puzzle.

Sure, looking at the crossword puzzle in the newspaper may not be as exciting as combing through random pictures on Instagram or posting your every thought on Twitter for your friends to follow. Yet, it could be far more educational and gratifying in the end.

And who knows – you might even discover God along the way.

Crossword PuzzleYou see, in the midst of all of those tiny squares stacked horizontally and vertically, God is hidden and available just as much as the answers we’d find in the next day’s newspaper. The only glitch is, similar to the answers for a crossword puzzle, we have to find Him.

We are certainly blessed to have God reveal Himself through regular hints along our journey, as each day, God is present around us (albeit in mysterious ways).

Perhaps He speaks to us through a stranger at a bus stop, or a baby laughing, or the wind blowing.

In His unique way of whispering instead of shouting, God can also reveal Himself through a phone call from a friend at that precise moment when we are feeling down and hopeless.

We can also find God in any number of other ways, such as an ad for a job when we are in dire need of employment, through an item on sale when we so desperately wanted to buy it for a while but just couldn’t afford it, or when we stumble upon something important we had misplaced a short while ago.

Most definitely, we can find God when He is disguised as a person who is homeless, hungry, imprisoned or needing clothing, as described in the seven corporal works of mercy. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Whatever the experience, God is available through daily hints in our lives just like answers available through clues in a crossword puzzle.

But just as God is always with and around us, it is up to us to approach and grow with Him.

As much as completing a crossword puzzle is no fun if all of the answers are provided for us or if the clues are overly simple, seeing God present in our daily lives should not be so effortless, either.

While our Lord offers His unconditional love to us freely, we are still called to seek in order to find, to ask in order to receive. (Luke 11:9-10)

The challenge, then, must remain to explore and discover God for ourselves while sharing Him with others. In so doing, we may develop and appreciate God’s gifts and presence in our everyday living, rather than taking God for granted and never evolving as individuals.

In applying this conduct, we may not just see God through horizontal clues, but also discover with Him new and abundant blessings and life horizons.