The Gift of Chaos


On November 28, 1998, the priest presiding at our wedding asked, “Will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” Jill and I answered, “We will.” In the moment, the question didn’t seem especially significant. We had no idea how profoundly it would impact and shape our married life.

Both Jill and I were cradle Catholics who came alive to our faith during college. We shared a vision for a life together on mission, and shortly after our marriage, we landed in Wellington, New Zealand, for the first of many evangelistic adventures. But just before we arrived for those months in the land of kiwi fruit, our life was turned upside down by a diagnosis of infertility. While we were growing as disciples of Christ, we were grieving as Mr. and Mrs.

“We Want to Be Their Parents.” We were confused, angry, and sad, but not defeated. Remembering our wedding day yes to children, we began imagining other ways God might want to bring kids into our home. Private and international adoption, working with birth moms considering abortion, adoption through foster care—each of these choices presented unique opportunities and daunting challenges. Our hearts moved toward foster care, the one option that didn’t seem to be attracting a long line of applicants.

Top Left: Adam, Malachi, Andrew, Christian, and Jill (Summer 2018)

Top Left: Adam, Malachi, Andrew, Christian, and Jill (Summer 2018)

In our first eighteen months as licensed foster parents, thirteen children came through our home. Some would return to their birth families; others would be adopted by another family member. Jill and I decided that if any of our foster kids didn’t have those possibilities, we wanted to be their parents. That’s how our family grew to include four boys, each one as lovable as he is unique.

Andrew is the barefoot snake lover and winner of pie-eating contests. Christian is the imaginative, tree-climbing bookworm. Then there’s Malachi, the high-energy, athletic, and risk-taking socialite. Finally, there’s Adam, the cautious, cerebral Lego master.

Adopting these boys turned out to be the easy part. Becoming a virtuous father for them is a much harder process—not because they are bad kids, but because the challenges they present have often mixed poorly with my dreams and expectations.

Mysteries and Mayhem. Growing up, I was a son who knew what was expected of me and gladly fulfilled those expectations. There wasn’t a rebellious bone in my body. Getting grounded or opposing my parents was foreign to me. Our home life was remarkably free of conflict. It was peaceful and happy, marked by deep mutual respect and great love for one another. From Sunday morning hikes to regular card games to cheering on our favorite sports team, our family genuinely enjoyed being together.

Naturally, this is how I envisioned my own family would be, even if it came together through foster care and adoption. Joy, love, mutual respect. It’s what families are made of, right? Why would ours be any different? But it hasn’t always been that simple.

While there have been times of profound love and happiness, my experience of being a dad has been marked by seasons of pain and heartbreak. What caught me off guard was the sorrow of not recognizing myself—my mannerisms, preferences, or personality traits—in my adopted sons. Kids, even biological ones, don’t come with user manuals, but my boys were an absolute mystery to me.

They love mud, snakes, and danger; I want things neat and tidy, nonreptilian, and safe. But it wasn’t mainly our differences that distressed me. It was the fact that, like many kids from homes without safe and trustworthy parental figures, these boys found it normal to openly challenge authority, treat each other without respect, and damage property like it was their job. My response was to blow up and scream, “You just don’t do this!” What I was really screaming was “You aren’t behaving like I would!”

I was at a loss. How much patience and self-control was it going to take to be a dad? Apparently, a lot.

A Father’s Day Gift. One Father’s Day morning a few years ago, when my boys were between five and ten years old, I reached the limits of my endurance. Even before we were able to start breakfast, a disagreement broke out. It might have been about who would lead the prayer, where someone might sit, or what was for breakfast. Chaos again—and on Father’s Day no less! It was better to walk away than blow up.

I lumbered into my bedroom and wept. Loudly. I knew everyone could hear me, but I didn’t care. Years of heartbreak over “how things are supposed to be” came gushing out. “Why did you do this to me?” I asked God. “I wish I had never said yes.” There it was: my first admission of something akin to regret.

And then, from within, I heard a still, small voice. It whispered, “Gift.” Immediately I thought, “Yes, God, you are right. Jill and I are a gift to these boys. Where would they be without us?” Again came that inner voice. “Not only are you a gift to them, but they are my gift to you.” Life-altering words spoken into a heart hanging on for dear life.

The Gift of Chaos. With those little whispers, I realized that the very chaos of our situation is also God’s gift to me. He is transforming a judgmental, demanding dad-heart into something more patient and understanding, amid the uncertainty that is our family life.

How else was I going to be released from the hold that selfishness, a thirst for praise, and a desire for control had on me? God knew that it would take a calling much bigger than myself and my own resources. Now I can better imagine how Paul might have felt when he begged God to remove the “thorn” from his flesh and was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7, 9).

Since that moment of surrender, my parenting style has changed. Instead of reflexively yelling and doling out punishments, I now value remaining calm and responding in a way that fits my sons’ actual needs and temperaments. Harsh punishments aren’t motivating for them; love, patience, and understanding from Mom and Dad are.

And here’s another change. Now, the joy of being right where God wants me outweighs my old dreams of a “perfect” family.

There’s the joy of watching my eleven-year-old serve at Mass, as he does his best impression of a Little League right fielder: winding his altar server ropes instead of holding the prayer book for the priest.

The joy of lying in bed with my nine-year-old, helping him get to sleep by talking about what heaven might be like—even though the football game on TV awaits.

The joy of repeatedly reminding my ten-year-old to twirl his spaghetti with his fork and not his fingers—and remembering that it’s an honor to be his dad, no matter what he does with his food.

I’ve come to grips with the truth that God never promised me a perfect life, only a perfect Savior. And that Jesus has been—and always will be—for me.

Question: Let's keep the discussion going in the comments below. How has 'chaos' been a blessing in your life? What would be different for you if problems became opportunities for growth, not simply nuisances to be avoided? 

Note: This article was originally published in the June 2016 issue of The Word Among Us. (

The Secret Weapon to Help You Pray Better and More Often

Photo Credit: <a href="">Jeremy Royall</a> via <a href="">Compfight</a> <a href="">cc</a>
Photo Credit: Jeremy Royall via Compfight cc

Ever tried to paint a wall with a hammer or pound a nail with a paintbrush? Having the right tool makes the impossible possible.  When I first got a ratchet set I marveled at my newfound ability to tighten and loosen all the bolts. It felt like cheating. There was no longer any bolt that could get the best of me and my superior toolset. 

Keystone habits, as Charles Duhigg defines in his book "The Power of Habit", are tools like this - but for your life.  

He noted that there are certain habits that have a cascading effect. They make it easier and more likely that other good habits would follow in their wake. Just as regular excercise reduces my dependence on caffeine and spurs me on to healthier eating, some choices we make, make other great choices easier, not harder.  

But what if we could apply this principle to the one habit every disciple of Jesus (at least all the ones I know) wants more of in their life? 

Daily. Prayer. 

Yes, please. I will have more of that. 

And so would you. 

Yet, if you are anything like me you've decided (many times over) that you want to pray everyday, but unlike showering and brushing los dientes, the habit hasn't quite stuck. Sure, you win at prayer during Lent, but then again, who doesn't? I've been doing better spiritually in Lent, except for that one year, since Marky Mark was a part of the Funky Bunch. 

In January of 2011 something happened though that made it more likely that I would sit down to pray and that I would actually pray while I was praying.  

I bought a journal. And started writing in it during my personal prayer times. 

More than any other 'tool' that journal, which is almost completely full now five years later, has helped me pray better and more often. 

A spiritual journal has become a keystone habit for me and my prayer life.  

Here are four reasons why: 

1) A journal makes prayer more real.

Prayer is conversation with God, but I still can't actually hear or see who I am talking to. Can you? A journal makes the experience of praying more tangible.  I can write things down that I would say to God and then compose ways in which I imagine God might respond. A real live conversation unfolds right in front of me. 

2) A journal keeps me focused, engaged, and less distracted

Ever been distracted during prayer? No? That must only be a me problem. The act of putting pen to paper keeps me focused and engaged on the task at hand: talking and listening to God. 

3) A journal brings to light new insights about God, myself, and His word

Here's how it goes down for me.

Fig 1 - Psalm for 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Fig 1 - Psalm for 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time.

First, I slowly read a verse from the Bible, two or three times (either from the daily mass readings - See Fig 1 - or one of the psalms from the Liturgy of the Hours). Slow works best, because when I'm praying I'm not trying to set any records. A measured pace ensures that I don't miss the treasure God so desperately wants to give to me. 

Second, I write out, word for word, the verse(s) or phrase(s) that jumps out at me. The first time through is simply to understand what I am reading, the second or third time through is to be attentive to the particular words or phrases that might jump off the page. When I get a verse that says "PICK ME", I write it down, double-spaced, in my journal.  (See Fig. 2)

Third, I try to draw connections between God's word and my life. The space between the lines of scripture allows for the conversation to more easily go back and forth.  The scripture is God's part of the conversation, what I fill in between the lines is mine. I circle words. I underline phrases. I write out synonyms above and below words to get the fullest picture possible of what God might be saying to me. At this point I pause to reflect and ask "where does this verse/idea/truth need to match up with my life?"  

Fig 2 - The check-marked verses were the ones that stuck out to me from that days' Psalm.

Fig 2 - The check-marked verses were the ones that stuck out to me from that days' Psalm.

Fourth,  I land on the main idea for the day and write out some sort of prayer or statement of faith that expresses what God and I have just discussed.  (See Fig 2.1  God, as portion, is 'all I need.' God, as cup, is a container big enough to 'handle' all that I need. This was a powerful truth for me that morning.)

Lastly, it's worth noting that this process isn't something I just made up, but corresponds with the ancient prayer practice of lectio divina (divine reading).  I start with lectio (read), move to meditatio (meditate), and finish with oratio (pray). And I aim, even if for just a few moments, before I get up from my chair, to simply rest in the truth given to me that day (contemplatio, or contemplation). 

4) A journal gets me going when I don't feel like praying.

My routine for each new journal entry is first writing down the date and location of my prayer time.  And once I've done I don't want to leave that entry blank, so something has to give.  When I don't know what else to say or do I might write down something as simple (and yet, profound) as "Come, Holy Spirit", or "Jesus, I trust in you."  That's usually enough to get the train going and before long, the conversation is underway.  

Yes, a spiritual journal is a keystone habit for me and my prayer life.  Maybe it would be for you too?  It's certainly not magic and everyone will have a different experience, but I would encourage you, especially if you are at a dry time in your prayer life to give it a shot.  

In fact, why not try it on for the next seven days and see what happens.  The worst that could happen is that you are out $9 and you put in writing seven different bible verses. The best that could happen is that it helps you pray better and more often.  

I think it's worth the risk. 

Question: Do you use a journal in your prayer time?  What impact has it had on your prayer life?  What specific part of using a journal in your prayer time has benefited you the most? Let's keep the conversation going in the comments below or on your favorite social network. 

What the Wienermobile Taught Me About the Goodness of Jesus

Photo Credit: Chris Skrundz via Compfight cc

I have four sons.

If you've met them you know there isn't a non-boy bone in any of their squiggly little bodies. So when you are driving in a car with three of them (ages 5, 6, and 7) and you see the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile parked in front of the grocery store you hit the brakes. Hard.

Like a gift from above came two golden opportunities:

  1. Get three boys out of the steel cage that is my compact car
  2. Get three boys into a giant hot dog bus

There was literally no good reason to not do either of those things.

After a few minutes of oohs and aahs at the reality that they were hanging out inside a giant piece of pork, like Jonah in a pig-whale, the boys were asked: "Do you guys like hot dogs?" They responded like the males they are "Yeah, we do." Then one of the Wienermobile drivers asked: "Do you think you could eat a hot dog the size of the one on top of this vehicle?"

Thankfully, they said "no." Then one of the boys quickly chimed in: "We do know somebody who could." The driver responded with a grin: "You do? Who?"

"Jesus", responded my favorite son.

And just like that I knew something was working right in my house. Our domestic Church rocks!

Jill and I have always drilled into our son's heads (and hopefully their hearts too) that Jesus is a super big deal (obviously with an emphasis on "super big"). But Jesus isn't a super-hero. He is a savior. And while we've repeated over and over His greatness, what about his goodness?

My experience has been that it's talent that wows us, but character that wins us. Talent gets our attention, while character keeps it. The same is true of Jesus.

I'm afraid that if I don't course-correct soon Jesus will become, to my sons, just a giant hot dog eater and an irrelevant one at that. Stories of Jesus' greatness may have gotten their attention when they were young, but I'm guessing it's testimonies, that Jill and I share of His goodness that will keep them around long after the "Jesus is a super-hero" phase wears off.

In other words, speaking of his goodness, over and over.

Remember it's his impeccable character that puts us in position to be saved in the first place. St Paul speaks of Jesus this way:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
— Philippians 2:6-8

And then because of who he was and the perfect life he offered for us, he was raised from the dead, thus ensuring the same opportunity for you and for me. Paul continues:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:9-11

Great and good.

So during this Advent season I resolve to speak often to my sons, not just of what Jesus is capable of, but of his unrivaled character.

Here are three places a Catholic can go to learn more about the character of Jesus:

1) The Bible: As the Gospels recount the life Jesus, we find hundreds of stories of his faithfulness, mercy, and patience.

2) The lives of the saints: As the saints imitated Jesus, we discover true tales of his generosity, humility, and selflessness expressed through ordinary (made extraordinary by grace) men and women.

3) Our own lives: As you and I have experienced Jesus, testimonies of his compassion, kindness, and forgiveness abound in a life lived as his follower and friend.

Question: Have you experienced personally the 'goodness' of Jesus, his faithfulness, mercy, patience, etc..? If so, how could you share that experience with others in your life?  Share about it in the comments below or on your favorite social network. 

One Thought That Needs to CHANGE When it Comes to Sharing Our Faith

Catholic author and speaker, Matthew Kelly once said: "Our lives will change when our habits change." I couldn't agree more.  

Our habits, though, don't come out of thin air.  They are born in our brains. Our actions stem from our thoughts.  How we actually think about something determines what we actually end up doing. It's why St. Paul tells the Romans that they will "be transformed by the renewing of their minds." (Romans 12:2)

So, before we can get into the habit of sharing our faith, we need to acknowledge what comes to mind when we think about discussing our faith with someone else. 

And if you are anything like me you've given into a particular way of thinking that might prevent you from sharing the love of God with others before you even get started.

Here's the kicker.

When we hear someone say that we should “share our faith with others”, what I think we often hear is that we are supposed to “increase the faith of others.”  

Well, those are two very different things. 

One is under our control the other one isn’t.  Can you guess which is which?

Yet, it's no wonder we stop dead in our tracks.  We are so hungry for results, we forget, in this situation that's not our job. 

Repeat after me:

"I can't be expected to increase somebody else's faith (that's a job for grace and the Holy Spirit), but simply to share my own."

Still you cry, "BOOO!!" because you want to see the fruit of your labors, return on your investments, and results for your hard work.  I'm with you.  I do too.  But that's not how the spiritual life works, and the sooner we get our thinking right about what's our responsibility and what isn't, the sooner someone's life might change because they've heard the good news. 

Jesus says it best: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." (Mark 4:27)  

  • It's my job to pray, it's God's job to set people free.

  • It's my job to trust, it's God's job to transform.

  • It's my job to to speak, it's God's job to convict.

  • It's my job to scatter seed, it's God's job to provide the growth.

Question: Is sharing your faith with others something you aspire to? What thoughts spring to mind at the prospect of talking with others about God? Are they positive, negative, or just plain overwhelming?


Hey Catholics! Which of These 4 Obstacles Prevent You from Sharing Your Faith?

Photo Credit: Daniel Kulinski via Compfight cc

Recently I asked my elementary school aged sons if their friends like to play video games and they all said “yes!” Then I asked, “how do you know?” They each responded “because they talk about it all the time.”   

When something adds value to our lives we make it known.  Whether it’s a new diet, latest task management app or a great television show, if it’s working for us, we bring it up in conversation with people we think might want to hear about it. 

But why does this principle seem to disappear for many of us Catholics when it comes to talking about our faith?  Jesus and the Church have deeply impacted our lives, changed them even, but when it comes time to sharing personally about it, many of us still clam up.  I think there are four reasons that this happens to you and to me.

We are afraid - I am very uncomfortable with the unknown. How about you? There is absolutely no telling how someone will respond if I openly share about my relationship with Jesus and my love for the Catholic Church. Will they agree with my response, tear it to pieces, or just shrug it off?  As a people pleaser, there are very few things that scare me more than the awkwardness of being on the opposite sides of a religious conversation with someone else (especially with someone close to me). This fear then often prevents me from being completely authentic with others (friends, family members, and strangers alike). 

We are ashamed - I suppose there are two ways to prevent a message from getting out - you can either attack the message or the messenger. Fear is about the content of the message.  Shame is about the character of the messenger.   Fear persuades us from without, but shame condemns us from within.  Shame prevents me from sharing, not because of a lack of confidence in the message, but because I am not confident in me, the messenger. Questions like, “I’m pretty screwed up, who is going to listen to me?” stop us from talking openly about our faith. 

Shame and fear often work hand in hand.  Which of the two are you more likely to listen to?

We don’t really believe it’s that important - You want to know what you really believe?  Look at what you really do.  You make time for whatever you believe is important.  Your actions and your *actual* beliefs are aligned.  Our actions, more than our intentions, reveal what we truly value. If sharing with someone about your relationship with Jesus rarely happens then there is a good chance that one of two things is true about you.

- Jesus hasn’t risen high enough up the importance ladder in your life.


- Sharing about him isn’t something that you really think is that important.  

We are too dang busy - Most of us live at the corner of last-minute and throw-me-a rope-I’m-drowning.  So, based on the pace most of us live (on top of the first three reasons) it shouldn’t surprise anyone that sharing our faith doesn’t often make the cut.  In most of our minds, it’s important, but not urgent.  We say, “I’ll get to that later”, “maybe next time I’ll bring it up” or “I need to pray about that some more.”  We aren’t too bothered to mention to the Great Clips lady where we go church, but to invest many hours into the long journey, emotionally, and relationally with someone outside of our typical circle of friends is often another question.  It might be the very thing we are supposed to do, but we are often too dang busy for that. 

But don’t take it from me, take it from Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini (Pope Paul VI).  In one of the most searing passages from the game changer he wrote on evangelization (long before it was cool to talk about these things) he says: 

“It would be useful if every Christian and every evangelizer were to pray about the following thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them; but as for us, can we gain salvation if through negligence or fear or shame—what St. Paul called “blushing for the Gospel” - or as a result of false ideas we fail to preach it? For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this grows into trees and produces its full fruit.”
Pope Paul IV, On Evangelization in the Modern World, 1976

Our Church leaders are wise and often understand the realities of what us Catholics are going through much more than we might think.  Fear, shame, false ideas, and negligence have been roadblocks for me in sharing my faith, roadblocks that need to be carefully dismantled (crushed) one at a time.

Lastly, when re-reading Paul VI’s quote above, don’t miss it the bomb he is dropping. He is asking if Christians will be saved if they aren’t preaching the Gospel. That’s a serious proposition.  A question, when recalled, that stops me in my tracks and returns me to the truths that:

a) Faith wasn’t given to me to be hoarded, but to be generously shared

b) Only when I become a good news share-er, not just a good news bearer, has the good news taken full root in my life.

Questions: Which of these four obstacles get in the way of you sharing your faith with others? What has worked in your life to overcome these obstacles?  Share your answers in the comments below or on your favorite social media network.