Tag Archives: decisions

It’s Not Just Coincidence, But Providence

My friend Phil and I decided to meet up on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  He and I had not spent much time together recently, so a long “hang out” session was overdue.

I made us some gourmet coffee, he grabbed some pan dulce, and off we went….but we didn’t know where.  My mind scrambled for ideas:  should we go to a Starbucks?  (No, we already had coffee.)  How about a park?  (Maybe.  It was a little warm and we would be better off in some shade.)  Did I feel like going to a mall?  (Geesh. I hate having to be indoors if the weather is beautiful.)

I really wasn’t sure where to suggest we go.  “What are you thinking, Phil?”  “I haven’t a clue.”  That was 5 minutes into our trip.

It dawned on me that maybe we could enjoy the day driving.  Watch the scenery and just cruise; not on surface streets of suburbia or the freeway (I wasn’t insane).  I suggested that we take a scenic drive through the depths of Orange County’s back country.  I had done it before with a dear friend who showed it to me and proved it looped around to a major freeway so we didn’t have to worry about getting lost.

We were soon on the scenic route.  We started talking about fishing at the sight of Irvine Lake.  We were then upon “Cooks Corner,” a famous biker hang out.  Phil asked where the monastery or abbey was.  I hadn’t the faintest idea, but knew that if we were to go there anytime, now was a good time since it was out in the very same back country we were driving through.

I started to grab the phone to look up directions, and Phil pulled off to the shoulder and came to a crawling stop.  I looked out the driver’s window, and there before my eyes was a driveway with a gate and a white brick wall that said “Norbertine Fathers.”

“Um, wait, I think that’s it!”  And so we ascended up the driveway in search of something.

When people visit churches, monasteries, chapels, there is always a “search” that has spiritual roots.  The search for meaning; the search for a place to unload our prayers; the search for sacred silence.  For my friend and me, it was a search for all these, and even for things that our souls and bodies needed but hadn’t placed a word or phrase to that need.

Most of the grounds seemed closed off to the public to respect the atmosphere of the cloister, which means respecting the men who were in their rooms or walking around outside in a state of prayer.  So we headed straight to the chapel.

When I sit down at a church to pray or to prepare for Mass, I tend to be conscious about where I sit.  In this case, I didn’t want to be in the back, and I also didn’t want to be right up front since that might have caused any of the Fathers to come up to me and ask if I wanted to join the priesthood.  I walked until about the middle, genuflected, entered the pew, knelt and prayed.

I thought about how neat it was that we had decided to spend some of our afternoon in prayer, visiting a church that was definitely out of the way.  I basked in the joy of the moment being able to offer up prayers for my friends, family, and myself in a very particular way since I was at an Abbey.   I like this idea that we seemed to have always been on this day’s pilgrimage as if it was planned out, and that it reached climax by having us travel up this small hill to go and pray at this St. Michael’s Abbey.stmichaelabbeyinterior

After a good deal of time passed, my friend nugged me and pointed to the stain glass window that was at the end of our pew.  It was Saint Gilbert who was being honored with this one stained glass window.  Whoa, that’s my name!  Of all the pews I could have chosen, I chose the one with my name on it.  God definitely wanted this.

Our time up on the hill didn’t end there.   I found a very small spot with a bench, shade, and view of the canyon we were traveling through.  We took some more time to rest, adore, and discuss the various Catholic ways of approaching hierarchy and obedience; A random but very informative conversation.

The wind cooled the air, the sun gently lowered itself to kiss the hills, and time itself missioned us to our necessary obligation of going back down the hill, and getting back in touch with our realities of obligations.  Alas, it was not all bad going back to facing what challenges speckle our life.  At least for me, I knew one absolute thing:  all this was not coincidence; truly it was Divine Providence, nourishing us in ways that were enough for our next part of the journey.overviewstmichaelabbey


For Lent: Giving Up…”the World”

There is a common sticker motto I’ve seen around Orange County, CA: “Not of This World.”  It’s so darn common that I almost want to believe it’s a name of a church.

It made me think: am I part of the world or not of the world?  This is the question everyone asks especially during Lent.

I’ve listed the link in this post to a VERY fascinating blog entry in response to a book that speaks about purity and the lack of purity in our society.  You don’t have to be of a “prudish mentality” to ponder such an issue.  Just ask basic questions: What types of books sold the most in the year?  What type of clothing does a department store offer the most to its teens shoppers?  What are the lyrics of the most popular songs?

Purity is far from promoting asexuality.  Purity is knowing the beauty and strength of a healthy understanding of sexuality.

There was one part of the blog I related to the most: what type of music do I listen to?  Recently I was in the car with young children, the youngest being 3 and the oldest being 11.  I wanted some upbeat music, so I requested that the kids play my “groovy” playlist.  Up comes a song where a line in the chorus said, “I will have your clothes off by the end of this song.”  And it said that phrase a few times!  But to all the kids it didn’t really seem to bother them.  In fact, they actually chose the song because they knew it!

What can I do?  Stop the song and then play it later when they are not around?  What does that say about my values?  I LOVE THE BEAT AND THE RHYTHM.  Right.  There is beauty to that.  But it’s the same argument some men make who say they like strip clubs because there they see some great dancing with beautiful women.  “There’s a craft to it,” and I agree with them.  But there’s a craft to anything whether it’s making a great cigar, a great alcoholic beverage, and exotic dancing.  Does it mean that it’s a thing that promotes purity?

So, for Lent, I decided I would be very conscious of the songs I play and movies I watch.  It’s hard, and it will be harder to even delete songs that are far from purity.  But, am I called to be of this world? Or live in it and not be of it?

That’s a higher calling of virtue for all of us to ponder.

CSD Book Club – Blog Entry.

It’s interesting to see what grabs our imagination.

Bitter Transitions Don’t Lead to Healing

I have included below a great passage from a book that sounds like it’s worth looking into.  Thanks to another blogger, Joy Eggerichs, who got the author to write a passage that’s from material in his book, but not necessary a direct quote from it.

It speaks about the temptations we deal with when we come up against transitions that were imposed on us.  In this particular passage, it’s a pondering over the grief and hurt we may carry if we don’t accept and forgive those involved in the circumstances of a broken relationship.

Believe me, I have just recently been going through such transitions, or, as Jeff calls them, the land between.  I do feel the hurt and the confusion, and many other emotions that don’t seem to point toward being loving and forgiving like my God is.  So I’m tempted to stay angry, or to blame the other person for the mishaps and misfortune.

But these feelings will not lead toward freedom to love.  The more I don’t process the hurt and realize that I, too, had my own part, the longer the process of real healing will take.  If anything, I am called to forgive the other person even if it was entirely an issue of theirs.  We are called to forgive all because no one ever fully understands why they do what they do, or realizes the full repercussions.  Jesus said forgive 70 times 7.  That was another way of saying, “forgive and forgive until you die.”

This will take much growth, and much maturity will come from it.  Read on to take part in Jeff’s wisdom and caution for this “land between.”

A Greenhouse for Growth

By: Jeff Manion

When deeply hurt by someone, your future is in jeopardy. When we feel abandoned, betrayed, or deserted, the heart can drift into a grove of lasting bitterness, or a lingering resentment that can poison our other relationships. We also have the opportunity for the grace of God to meet us in the damaged place – transforming us into people who are tender, gracious, and approachable.

I have long been convinced that it is not simply the events of life that shape us but our response to those events. For me there was a lightbulb moment when this truth crystallized.

We agreed to meet at 10:00 p.m. at Denny’s, where we figured we could find a quiet corner for an intensely personal conversation. When I arrived, Tony had already secured a booth and was cradling a mug of coffee. His wife—soon to be ex-wife—had moved out, announced that she had no interest in counseling or reconciliation, and left the state to join the man who had stolen her heart. It seemed that the only remaining conversation was who was going to get what.

Tony quickly realized that with only one income, he could no longer make the mortgage payment on their—his—home and would soon be looking for an apartment. He spoke bitterly of the prospects of selling the house in a down market, projecting the beating he would take on the sale. He was certain that he would realize no equity after all those years of making payments. Foremost in the ongoing conflict was who would end up with the newer car and who would have to drive the beater. But the quibbling extended to the appliances—not only who would take possession of the washer and dryer, but trivial stuff such as the toaster and the blender.

It was tragic to me that Tony was losing his wife, and here we were in a Denny’s talking about losing the toaster. As he spoke about the division of the household items, his energy level began to elevate and the intensity picked up. Customers at nearby tables began to look over nervously as his voice got louder. I could feel his deep disappointment transition into a fuming anger, which in part I found excusable, understandable.

But as he vented, I could sense something inside him turning a deep shade of bitter.

As I sat opposite Tony in the booth, I had a light bulb moment. I realized that in fifteen years, neither of them would be driving either car. Both vehicles would be on a scrap heap somewhere. The washer and dryer would be history. The toaster would be long gone, experiencing a much shorter life span. But the decisions of the heart made in this troubled space could affect Tony’s life fifteen years later.

Certainly he would need to walk through stages of emotion, stages of grief, as he worked to process the betrayal, heartache, and loss. But I realized as we sat together in the late hours in the half-empty restaurant that Tony was in the process of deciding who he was becoming.

I was shaken by the reality that his response to the divorce could end up having a greater effect on his life than the divorce itself.

This is so significant when we pass through seasons of extreme disruption, what I have come to call The Land Between. It is critical to recognize that not simply the hardship, but also our reaction to the hardship, is forming us. With each major disappointment we experience, our responses both reveal the person we are and set the trajectory for the person we are becoming. Whether we age with grace and poise or become bitter, resentful people is largely determined by our response to disappointment.

These deeply troubling seasons can be a greenhouse for transformational growth. It is also the desert where faith goes to die. We decide. Our response to deep disappointment may end up being more defining than the pain itself.


How have your reactions to hardship shaped your life?

Do you believe troubling seasons can be “a greenhouse for growth”?


Jeff Manion is Senior Teaching Pastor of Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he has served for more than 25 years.  Jeff is the author of The Land Betweenand he and his wife, Chris, have three adult children.

Follow Jeff on Twitter HERE.

Relationships Are Not Easy

Image of Intimacy as a process

(Photo credit is unknown. :\ )

I see this saved draft in my blogsite, and decided to publish it.  I guess I forgot to jot down the source!!  But it’s still priceless.

The man on the right is John Paul the Second, a Pope who promoted a deeper and clearer understanding of sexuality’s proper practice in marriage, in single life, and in all vocations.  His most famous work was his lectures on the “Theology of the Body,” now published as a massive book.  Those quotes above him are paraphrases of what he said about man’s and woman’s vocation to each other when it comes to sexuality and dignifying it.

Sexuality is so tricky!  It makes us do wonderful things, or it can destroy our life and the life of others if its misused and squandered on lust.  The sad thing about the issue is that it’s normally not discussed in pop culture in a meaningful way.  See what is at the bottom of the pyramid?  Friendship.  Who would have thought that’s where it all starts with all that we see in movies and TV drama.  It’s more like, “Boy meets girl, he teases her, goes through some short time with getting to know her, and she’s immediately in love with him and they have sex after a few dates.”

But God asks us to take it to another level.  It’s the journey we need to enjoy, not the result.  In fact, according to this diagram, the enjoyment of the journey will make the explosion of deep intimate sex be even more meaningful, even more powerful to change life and deepen each person’s commitment to the other.

What do I know?  As I reflect on my own previous relationships, I realize to my chagrin that I have NEVER followed this process.  Hmm.  So it follows that my singleness may have been the product of not misfortune, but of immaturity.

Okay, God.  I’m ready to grow up now.  Help me be a better…..friend first, then lover.

What We Feed Will Grow

A key theological point I am learning through l’Arche is about accepting the “shadow-side” of my Self.  Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen, two great theologians from l’Arche, speak about our shadow-side as being not “apart” from us, but “a part” of us.  It is never going to go away, and the more we repress it, the more it is bound to explode.  Repression of our shadow is practically the same as “feeding it.”

I ran into the comic strip below from my brother who has always shared great stuff with me.  The story tells everything you need to know about how to handle your shadow side.

Jean recommended that we not feed the shadow, but befriend the shadow so that when others do wrong to us, we will not react with aggression or despair, but will hold a sense of empathy for that wrongdoer.  Knowing how to forgive is also knowing the “bad wolf” of our own, and realizing that the person who wronged you has ultimately a harder battle…within their Self their shadow is winning, and it is not allowing them to become the best person they can be.  And that’s a sad state of being.  So pray for them, and forgive them, for they do not know what they do.

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Reflections from Red Rock Country: Volunteering is Changing the World, One Person At A Time

(Photo Credit: G Marquez Jr.)

I was in Sedona, Arizona for a few days.  I was blessed with the opportunity to pray, to read, to reflect.  I will do a few posts from those days, and title them, “Reflections from Red Rock Country” series.

I was on a retreat and vacation, and therefore decided to treat myself to an event that has hardly ever happened to me: to enjoy a coffee and a newspaper at a local cafe.

(Photo Credit: G Marquez Jr.)

The coffee was delicious (a 12 oz french press brew of “House Blend” from locally roasted beans), and the weather was fantastic.  But what really fed my soul was reading two incredible stories.

One story was about a couple from the Phoenix area who decided to be volunteer as foster parents.  The woman had been through the foster care system herself and so knew what it meant to have an environment that felt like a good temporary home and be emotionally supported through what seems like a vastly uncertain future.

You’ll find the link to the family’s story at the end of this post.  The story is short, but so very deep.  It touched me at the core of my being because it showed that God does do miracles…but often needs our help in completing the task.  The woman admitted that she and her husband were not thinking of being “in it for the long run.”  They wanted to provide a home for children until the foster care system could reunite the parents with the children.  They only thought of themselves as a “haven” for potential children who needed a safe place while the original parent(s) got their act together.

In the case of the Parks, they ended up with the opportunity to adopt.  And they whole-heartedly accepted.  Read the article to see how little by little the Parks moved from “transitional home” to “permanent home” for two very promising teens.  What was the downer in the article was the statistic that there are not enough volunteers to run helpful programs of the foster care system in Arizona.  Again, God can’t make us do good things.  We have to be willing and ready to give of our time when it’s called for.

The other article that wacked me in the face as a wake up call was about five high school teens who were not only doing well in school, and involved in extracurricular activities, but were also faithful volunteers.  One story that was engraved in my thoughts for awhile was the one about Trey Gass.  He’s a star football player, and also has a love for promoting the good work of “Streetlight,” a project to end child prostitution in the USA.  He met some of the girls who had escaped their prostitution, and some were 14 years old.  The same age of his sister.  Trey has been fundraising and speaking about the good work of the organization since then.  He has so much on his plate, and yet gives so much dedication to this worthy cause.  His story and others are at the bottom of this post or click here.

So what do I do?  With the time that I have, the talent I am given….what does it go towards?  I hope that question can inspire any of us to say “Yes, Jesus, I am listening,” and then start giving our time, talent, and funds to something bigger than our selves.  Volunteering changes the world, one person at a time.

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One Nation, Under God, Indivisible

Photo Credit: NYTimes

Living in Orange County, Californiahas a huge effect on my political outlook.  It’s huge because the state of California is ALWAYS deemed to vote for the Democrat candidate for the presidency.  And Orange County is strongly Republican.

So, coming from a very liberal non-Catholic social network that I found in San Francisco and Los Angeles, to the very Conservative and very Catholic network of Orange County was a change for me.

It was a good change in the sense that the Catholics I met and befriended were not just religious, but spiritual.  They were genuinely in love with God and their Catholic culture.  I learned more about being Catholic during my time in Orange County than during my education at two different Catholic universities!

I had become a stronger Catholic, and yet I still kept my intellectually critical approach to information and opinions.  I wondered at some of the statements some Catholics made, feeling like either the statements were misinformed or were not focusing on themes I thought were more important.

Such poor statements rained down in a plethora of Facebook comments during this election session.  There were plenty of my Orange County Catholic friends who were so distressed at the results of this election.  They proclaimed that our nation needed God’s mercy, and they asked God

Photo Credit: “Signs of the Times”

for forgiveness on behalf of the nation’s decision.

Some statements were not offensive at all.  And other statements were pure slander.

Sure, people have a right to free speech.  But are not Christians asked to be on a higher level?  Sure, I could defend my decisions and opinions and be offensive in my speech, but is that the Christian way of acting in society?

I firmly believe that the best witness Christians can give now is to show a firm desire to serve the country in the way they are capable.  I want to see us hold rallies to support the repeal of the death penalty for the next election.  I want to see more fundraisers to build up women-shelters, and create more “holistic” and “spiritually-based” pregnancy clinics.  I want to see churches have more food-drives and “soup kitchens” for the poor being offered.

We are one nation.  We are Republicans, Independents, and Democrats.  We are the poor, the immigrant, the well-to-do, and the very wealthy.  We are a nation of fiercely independent thinkers that want to have their own opinions, and not be given an opinion.  But we are ONE in our desire to allow each other to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

We are under God.  There is so much work to be done to help the outcasts and the forgotten.  Nothing can be accomplished unless God wills it.  And God does need our time and energy to accomplish heroic tasks, as well as very quiet but necessary ones.  God will never leave anyone unaccounted for.

We are indivisible.  In the case of Egypt, they are still working out what it means to work with radicals, moderates, and other political factions.  In the case of Syria, they are without liberty, and if you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time, they will kill you for what you believe.  Thankfully, the United States of America will not go that direction.  Yes, there are a few people who want to riot after the election, or want to slander others for their political stance.  But as a nation, we are indivisible, and we won’t check your political party card when you need help.  New Yorkers aren’t asking each other which person they voted for.  They are asking each other where the nearest gas station with gas is, and where the nearest hot meal can be found.

God wants us to work all of this out.  The nation is divided, that is for sure.  This is the time for Christians to lead the way to civil dialog and civil service for the good of all.  And then the nation’s social fabric will be that much better.

To do anything less is to allow evil to taint our nation, and continue to dig the division to a level that will be nothing but disturbing.