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Archive for the ‘Fatherhood’ Category

Being a parent can be an odd experience.

By the very nature of trying to manage a small crew of non-expendables into a squished van or through a crowded parking lot or through a sit down meal….well, in order to do that, a certain amount of coersion is sometimes necessary.

And we end up making a huge deal out of things that in reality are not really a big deal but in order to get the kids to sit down through an entire meal or not kill each other on the van ride to church,  we actually make them a big deal.

(of course the scene depicted below is a very big deal but if you grew up in the 80’s you will remember this commercial and I couldn’t resist putting a picture in)

In other words, we bring up to a moral level rules that in and of themselves are not moral rules…they are rules for managing a house, managing a family.

Parents are more mature than children, there are things that children do that we would never do and yet….

And yet, there are things that we as adults do or could do, that children never do.

Its this strange fact of parenthood that children mess up the “managing the house” rules everyday and yet we, the parents, are the ones who mess up the more serious moral rules.

And so the imperfect parents among us have had the experience of lecturing a child on why oh why can’t he just learn to pick up this thing-a-ma-jigger off of that  diddly-do when in our heart, it feels like we are the ones who deserve the lecture.

For we are the ones more likely to have hate in our heart, to lust after others, to treat a coworker with malice, to gossip, to fail to help the least of our brothers, to worship the gods of power and success more than the Lord God and on and on….

Sometimes, I feel like God the Father uses parenthood as the ultimate prophetic vehicle.  It seems that as the words come out of our mouths to our children…it sometimes seems as if God is really using those words to speak to us, the Parents.

The solution to this awkward experience isn’t to stop telling Brendan not to yell at the kitchen table or to stop telling Jude that two peanut butter sandwiches is quite enough or to stop telling Rachel not to growl at strangers….the solution is to hear the words coming out of our mouths as words that God has meant for us.

Because, as mature as we adults are….we are still children.

God is waiting to lead us.

To a place far better than the kitchen table or a crowded park.

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Classic snippet from my children and from humanity.

Yesterday, at about 7:00 pm, I was a happy man.  I was home with my children, we had just played kickball and nine lives in the backyard, and had come back in the house.  People were happy and nobody was crying.

Nobody was asking for anything.  We were in a momentary state of bliss.

Then the doorbell rang.

Kids hurried down, opened the door and found a huge May Day basket that incredibly generous neighbor had left. Thanks Neighbor!

The large basket contained small gifts for my children. They were wrapped and tagged for each of children.

Pretty awesome right?

Wrong.

My children opened them up to see what they got and then….

….they started comparing what they had.

Four children were happy, two children were miserable….crying, throwing tantrum miserable.

And yet, five minutes before, they were perfectly content…no concerns in the world…had everything they needed to be happy.

And then poof! That contentment was over.

And did it happen because someone came in and robbed them of something?

Nope.

It happened because someone came in and GAVE them something. That’s right. Pretty unbelievable, right?

What a bunch of dumb children, right? I mean, adults would never be so stupid as to be moved off happiness by something like that….would they?

I mean, that’s ludicrous to imagine. Just for a second, humor me. Can you imagine two people, lets say a husband and wife…and lets say they were really happy. Lets say they lived in a really awesome garden, got to eat really good food, and every night, God would come by at the breezy time of evening in order to take a little walk with them.

Let’s say that before this, that the deepest longing in the human heart was only to be able to love and be loved by another. And let’s say that after God gave humans to each other, male and female he created them, lets say after that, the man and woman were perfectly happy…because God had given them everything they needed to be happy.

And wouldn’t the greatest way to screw that happiness be to come in and take the man away from the woman, right?

Nope.

Turns out, the perfect way to screw up their happiness was for some slimy little snake to suggest to them that something else, some other piece of fruit, might actually make them more happy.

Turns out that once they began to think about it, they agreed with that snake….they probably thought to themselves, “Why the heck won’t God let us have that other fruit? What’s he holding back from us? Maybe there is something out there that could make me more happy.”

And then the man and the woman looked at each other and decided that the other person (you know that one that each one of them thought was all that they needed to be happy)…well, that other person was no longer enough…turns out that they thought this other piece of fruit might actually be the thing that Really made them happy.

Yeah, something this silly would never happen to a bunch of mature adults right?

Wrong. My immediate thought when I looked at my eight year old crying was to think “What a fool!”

My second thought was to realize what a fool I am so often.

What my children did wasn’t a kid thing…it was an all too human thing.

We all know, at a very, very fundamental level what makes us happy.

God. Family. Friends. Love.

There are other things of course…but even those other important things aren’t the things talked about on death beds.

Its just that so often, we get distracted.

Some piece of fruit…or some bouncy ball that our brother gets catches our eye…and all of a sudden we’ve convince ourselves that there is one more thing that we are lacking for real happiness…and we let it get us down…or, we go looking for that other thing.

Its an addiction, really. The fundamental human addiction.

And God is the only cure.

Oh shoot…I gotta sign off, I don’t want Teresa to get the last piece of chocolate cake.

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I was in really good shape for about ten minutes of my life, and it happened when I was twenty four.  I worked in a school where I would occasionally have to walk from my classroom to my office and to get there I would have to walk right through a huge room that was built for dancing, and which stil had wall to wall mirrors.

And everytime that there wasn’t anybody else around, I would look in that mirror and remark to myself that I looked good.  Yes, you got that, I would check myself out.

Major D-Bag at the time…and I can see that now.

And yet.  When I was 24 I thought I was the greatest guy ever.  I thought I was religious, prayerful, generous, selfless, oh and talented…did I mention talented.  Yeah, most days I gave myself an A+.

That was then.

The reality is, I’m not a worse person than I was then.  Its just I now realize what a fool I was.  Because when I turned 25, I got married.  And now, 12 years later, my wife and I have six chidren.

Once I got married and had children, I started to get impatient, angry, yell.  I would start to guard my free time and little parts of myself like it was the most important thing in the world.  I have had arguments with 2 year olds that, if taped, would make Alec Baldwin look like a nun by comparison.

The hardest part of being a husband and a father has been realizing that in many ways, I am a total crap bag.  You see, as long as I thought I was an A+ dude worthy of checking himself out, I didn’t have much room for growth.

At least now, its a little easier to see the truth of who I really am, who I’ve always been.

And guess what, it sure is alot more obvious to me why I need Jesus in my life.

And I suppose that’s the best part of being a husband and a father, at least for me.

Although it probably won’t happen any time soon, my doctor still tells me that its medically possible that I could still get in very good shape some day.  So hypothetically, if I ever do, you’d guess that I would  be able to tell you with certainty that I would never ever check myself out again. Right?

Ah, the 24 year old me would have made that guarantee.  But the 37 me can’t.  I’ve learned that much at least.

And you know what else I’ve learned.  There’s some way I act right now, some way I live my life right now, that I think is fine.  But in about ten years, I’m gonna look back and realize what a fool I was.

Maybe it would be a good idea to spend some time reflecting what that be right now…and then do whatever I can to change it…now.

It sure would save me the embarassment of having to write about it ten years from now.

And maybe this applies to you as well.  Maybe there’s something your doing right now, that if you spent some time considering it….would embarrass you a little bit.  If so, ask Jesus for help….to have the courage to change it now.

God Bless!

 

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Ha!  Wouldn’t it be great to write a blog post all about how women need to act?  Wanted to grab your attention.  This post will be way less courageous than that, and hopefully a bit more nuanced.

My starting point for this post is the following.  That you are a woman who first and foremost desires  a life focused on Christ.   That second, you desire a husband who is primarily focused on a relationship with Christ and who can be a great leader for your marriage and your family.

And so the question is, what can you do to help your husband be the man that God is calling him to be?

You love your husband.  You want whats best for him, that’s what great lovers do.  They will the best for their beloved.  But you also believe that the more your husband is focused on Christ and doing God’s work in the world, the better marriage you will have and the better family you will have.  And so although you first and foremost want your husband in relationship with Christ for the good and joy of your husband, you know that the effect on you, your marriage, and your family will be profound.

And again, your question is, what can I do to help my husband?  What can I do to support him?  Or lets be more plain about it.  You think that right now, you are doing a pretty fair job of making God the center of your life…but your husband?  Not so much.  And you really want to know what you can do to change that situation.  Right?

Let’s imagine for a second that what your husband wanted more than anything in the world was the love and affection of his wife.  He dreams about having a wife who thinks the sun rises and sets with him.  You would point out that this is disordered.  That his ultimate goal shouldn’t be what may or may not please him.  Rather, the main goal of his life should be what may or may not please God.  And…you would be right.

However.

I think many women completely underestimate how incredibly inspiring and motivating the love and affection of a good woman can be….to a man.

I love the old Dr. Phil cliche.  “Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be effective?”  I’ll assume for a moment, that you Mrs. Woman, want to be effective.  And so for a moment I want you to put aside the following.   “he should know better”.  “he should want to do that all on his own”.  “if he is just going to Church/praying the rosary/spending time at Adoration etc… to get rewards from me, then he is doing it for the wrong reasons”

Let me suggest to you, that the only way you don’t want your husband to do these things is with bitterness and resentment.  And even then, I would argue that the transforming love and power of Christ can do its work.  I do think you  as the incredible woman you are can be effective at motivating your husband to do any or all of the above and do it in a spirit of love and appreciation.  And I would argue this, if your husband starts to pray, attend daily mass, spend time at adoration (and he does all of this from a starting point of thankfulness, eagenerness, and joy)…then watch out.  Christ will take hold of that man, wrestle him down to the ground, and re-name him for himself.  Your husband’s life will change forever.

Your husband will eventually begin to seek Christ out no longer for you…but for Christ.

So please don’t assume that your husband needs to start out wanting Christ in order to eventually want and desire Christ.

What would be so wrong with your husband starting out by doing these things to please you, to gain your love and admiration?

And so my proposal is the following.

Find out your husband’s love language.  There is a way that your husband desires to be loved by you that he has expressed to you many times throughout the course of your marriage.  What is it?  I don’t know…but if you don’t know by now, then you haven’t been paying attention.

Does your husband want a wife who throws her arms around him and tells him how awesome he is and how much she loves you?  Does doing that make you want to puke?  Well, get over it.  If that’s what he wants, then do it.  And especially do it in such a way that rewards or encourages him to pray, to center his life on Christ.  I don’t need to spell it out for you, you are smart so figure it out.

Or, maybe your husband loves when you keep a clean house (I couldn’t care less about this but maybe some guy in the world cares).  Or maybe your husband loves when you arrange to have time alone just you and him.  Or maybe your husband loves when you compliment him.  Or maybe your husband loves when you fix him awesome meals.  Or maybe your husband loves it when you (fill in the blank).

I don’t care what it is…but it…is something.  Figure it out.

Men might frustrate you.  And if that’s the case, I have no sympathy for you.  You women, are, compared to us men, brilliant.  Brain studies consistently show that women have all sorts of areas of their brain firing all the time while men in comparison look like pre-historic animals.  And what amazes me is how an entire group of people (women) who are so darn smart find it so difficult to understand the simplest creatures on earth (men).

All you have to do with men is find that one thing.  That one way in which they would love to be loved by you.  And then?  Go do it.  Do it with joy.  Do it with the knowledge that you are encouraging and rewarding your husband towards Christ.

Once Christ consistently gets his hooks into your husband, then…well, forget about it.

God Bless You

P.S.    Men are searching for God in much of what they do. Athletics, achievement, money etc… All of it, is in some way an aspiring towards something great that will give them some sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. At different stages of life, the above may provide some fulfillment. But ultimately, all of it…every last ounce of it…is shallow compared to God. 

Only in God, will Men find their true home and contentment. So guess what?  You as wives need to do a better job of encouraging the right kinds of behaviors.  Don’t encourage the race for monPey, for possessions, for power, for achievement.  Neither you nor your husband will be able to take any of that to Heaven with you.  And some of it can derail you from the path to Heaven.  Instead, carefully and thoughtfully encourage and reward your husband’s good behavior.  Reward and encourage him to be a great husband, a great father, a great follower of Christ.

 

 

 

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I originally had a you tube clip from a  movie called Without Limits  but the clip was taken down.

The clip showed a conversation between Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and his famous middle distance runner Steve Prefontaine. 

So, you will have to take my word for it that the clip I wanted you to watch is pure awesomeness.  In it, Bill Bowerman is criticizing Pre for his strategy of always trying to lead all of his races from start to finish.  The way Bowerman figures it, if Pre would just run a little slower at the beginning (and not go out so hard and fast at the beginning) that his overall time would actually be better and that it would be easier for Pre to win races.

But Pre sees it differently and it reminds me of something I’ve heard Doctor Phil say before.

Sometimes Dr. Phil will look right at someone and say “Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?”  Sometimes we are so concerned with winning and argument or proving that our way of thinking is correct that we miss the whole point of what we are trying to accomplish.  Who cares if the way you see a situation is really correct and your wife’s way is technically wrong.  If there is something that you could do which makes everything work better in your relationship, then who cares.  Really.

And this advice is really great advice, most of the time.  It essentially is Bill Bowerman’s advice to Pre, that to be effective is to win races with the lowest times.  Bowerman is telling Pre to abandon his usual strategy of front running in races and Pre will actually win more races with lower times.

And yet? Pre doesn’t see it that way.  This is Pre’s response from the movie.

I don’t want to win unless I know I’ve done my best and the only way I  know to do that is to run out front and flat out till I have nothing left.”

To Pre there is only one way to run a race, all out.   In Pre’s head, to run a race any other way is cowardly.  He calls it ‘stealing a race’.

Again, I said that Dr. Phil’s advice is almost always the correct advice.  Almost.  Every once in a while, something else creeps in the equation, especially for men, something called Honor.

And believe it or not, I actually see something very beautiful about Pre’s point of view.  What he essentially is saying is that to him, the only Honorable way of running a race is from the front the whole way.   I love it.  You may not, but I do.  I think there are all sorts of Honorable ways of handling yourself in sports and in life that aren’t always effective, in the eyes of the world.

Who cares.  Every once in a while (certainly not most of the time), but every once in a while, doing things for Honor is actually more important than being effective!

So the question is this.  What are the areas of your life, where you need to spend more time and energy worrying about being effective and less about being right?

And where are those few areas where it actually is more important to be right, to do something because of the principle of the thing, to stiffen your back, bolt out your chest, and do something for something that’s hard to define but is very real.  Its a man’s own gift to himself.  Its Honor.

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My father, John Kenney, died yesterday morning.  He knew it was coming, he was prepared, and he went peacefully.  What a great blessing for a good man.  You can read more about my father in the previous post, “My Dad Paints A Fence”.

So what is my Dad experiencing right now?  That is the real question.  Our Catholic tradition has an answer.  Not all the specifics mind you, but an answer.

The Catholic answer starts with an assumption.  That after death, there are only two options.  To be with God or to not be with God.   While on the physical world, God’s presence is mediated to us throughout the creation that surrounds us.  Thus, even if we ourselves were somehow separated from God here on earth, its impossible to be completely separate from God’s presence since that presence is mediated to us every second of every day by the people, creatures, and matter that surrounds us.

But once we leave the world of matter, that all changes.  Catholics believe that once we die, there is only God.  And if one is not with God, then one is alone. Utterly completely alone.  Catholics believe that sin separates us from God but that Jesus has come with Good News.  That God understands we can’t not sin.  That God gets that we can’t do this on our own.  And so Jesus sets up a new equation.  “Be in a relationship with me” Jesus tells us.  “Follow me” He says.  “You see, I’m human..and well I lived I had a real relationship with all sorts of people who didn’t love me perfectly; exhibit A is my old friend Peter”.  And the really great news is this.  Jesus tells us that when we inevitably fail to love him, fail to follow him and fall into sin.  He asks us not to be perfect.  He asks us to be repentant.  And so, when we break our relationship to Jesus and break our relationship to God through sin, Jesus says that all we have to do is be repentant to restore our relationship with Jesus, with God.

And if we die in a state of repentance, then upon our death, we will be with God.  There is no other option.

My Dad saw death coming, he prepared his soul, he was repentant unto death.  He is with God right now.  He is in Heaven.

So what about Purgatory?  Many talk about Purgatory as an inbetween state.  A state of waiting in between Heaven and Hell.  Is it? Is it really?

Again, I don’t really know but my favorite reflection on the topic comes from our own Pope Benedict XVI, when he wrote the book “Eschatology” as Joseph Ratzinger.

And so right now, I will, without any attribution, summary my understanding of Ratzinger’s reflection on the topic.  If I do a lousy job, its all on me, not our wonderful Pope.

If a person has made the fundamental choice to be with Jesus, to follow Jesus and if that person is repentant, then upon their death, they are with God.  There is no other option.  However, their experience of God may be different than another persons.  What do we mean?   Upon death, Jesus will be fully present to the Christian.  Jesus will be loving the person, will be loving John Kenney, with everything that Jesus has.  However, the real question is, will the Christian; will John Kenney, be ready, be capable, of fully loving God back.

You see, the Catholic church believes that all sins can be forgiven by Jesus.  That Jesus and his grace are fully enough to make up for our sins and to restore our relationship with God.  However, at the same time, the Catholic church believes that sin does real damage to our selves, and to our souls.  To take an extreme example, lets say that somebody murdered another.  And that after the murder they had true sorrow and contrition.  Once that person attended Confession and repented, Jesus would forgive their sin and as long as they did their penance, the person’s relationship with God would be restored.  But it doesn’t mean that the person has been healed of whatever was wrong with them that led to them murdering someone.  That desire for vengeance, or that hatred or that habit; that doesn’t get erased.  Jesus could forgive somebody for getting obese, but the forgiveness doesn’t make the person skinny.  Catholics recognize that sin does real damage to the person and that it erodes our ability to properly love.

And so the Catholic idea of purgatory is this.  That purgatory is an in between state in the following sense.  That sin has so damaged a particular person, that they need to be made possible or capable of really loving Jesus back.  Or put another way.  After death, there is only God or no God.  If you are with God, you have won the primary battle.  But now the question becomes what level of communion will you enjoy with God.  There are those among the Christian faithful whose lives were so exemplary that upon their deaths, they truly were capable of loving Jesus back.  And so upon their death and upon entering into the full presence of Jesus, these Christians that we call Saints, are able to experience full communion with Jesus.

But many people, possibly my father John, must first undergo a process of being made really capable of loving Jesus back.  And what is it precisely that might get my father John ready to love Jesus back?  Catholics believe it is nothing other than the presence of Jesus himself.  His own presence, perfect and glorious in its love, is the fire that purges away the rest of our impurities.  it is the very presence of Jesus that right now, is probably getting his son John Kenney ready to enter into full communion with him.

We pray for John while he waits in the presence of our lord while not yet enjoying the fullness of communion with our Lord.  And we ask that John can pray for us so that we may follow Jesus, repent, and follow the examples of the Saints so that we might be people capable of loving Christ back.  Amen.

P.S.  A note about how Saints were able to prepare themselves to be capable of loving Jesus back; while on earth.  The answer, they spent time in the presence of Jesus.  There really is not shortcut here.  You have to spend the time with Jesus, in order for Jesus to do an extreme makeover soul addition on you.  Jesus is the one who does it.  We cooperate but its really all Jesus.  And for the Saints, either through time spent with Jesus or an intensity of experience with Jesus, their selves have been made ready to love.  If that hasn’t happened for you on earth, then it has to happen for you in Heaven.  Or put another way, for those who know me.  Assume for a second that I am currently following Jesus and in a state of repentance and that I die five minutes from now.  Who would you say is more capable of loving Christ like he deserves?  Me or Mother Theresa?  Right, Jesus would in affect need to spend some time in the Gym with me to get me ready and prepared to love him as He deserves….time that Mother Theresa has already put in while on earth.

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My Dad Paints A Fence

I wrote this post a few years ago for another blog.  Today, I repost it on my own blog because my father, John Kenney, is dying, and has only a few days to live.  Please pray for John Kenney

My Dad Paints A Fence
It started a couple of years ago when Father Cook received a bid to paint the black wrought iron fence that encircles the Church property. My Dad stepped in to save the Church some money. “If you buy the paint, I’ll do the work….but Father, it will take me a while.”
So when he can, my Dad grabs his cane, hobbles from his apartment and makes the three block journey to the Church that he loves. The Church that my Dad has given his heart and soul to over the last 15 years.

If you were to ask my dad, he would let you know with shocking honesty what a failure he has been in life. Had a drinking problem. Should of stayed in the army. Should have been more disciplined with his money. Should have been a better husband. Should have spent more time with his kids.
Maybe some of these things are true in and of themselves.  But, we are not our failures, and they certainly do not constitute the whole of a man who has reached his late seventies.  Further, the failures of my father’s life do not paint a full enough…an honest enough portrait of who this man really is.

The picture began to come into better focus for me about five years after my parents’ divorce, when my father invited me to come and watch him speak at a big Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  I was nervous because my Dad was kind of a shy guy and I didn’t know how comfortable he would be speaking in front of a large group.
Boy was I wrong. He was incredible. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand. He told the story of his life and oh what a story it was. He told the story of his drinking, and wow…I couldn’t believe he was still alive. When it ended, I looked up to see the crowd of people swarming around my Dad thanking him for his testimony.

In the years since, I have learned about just how many men my dad has helpd in AA. Guys who for whatever reason, got off track. My Dad helped them….saved some lives. To these people my dad was a hero.

Had a relative come up to me once, wealthy guy, much more successful than my dad in so many ways. He took me aside, looked me in the eyes and told me that my Dad was his hero.

So over the years, I have picked up bits and pieces. My Dad was an imperfect man, sure I knew that, if for no other reason than he liked to tell me. But the generosity, the kindness, the support, the prayerfulness, the faith….these parts of my Dad’s life, have all trickled in through the years.
And the portrait that emerges might appear complex, but really its very simple. My Dad is a Man, with his share of Sins and Imperfections. But He is a Christian man, who has given himself into the hands of our Lord and asked for help.
Today, my Dad is an old Christian Man. Diabetic, bad liver, bad knees, bypass surgery survivor, cancer survivor. He uses his ninth life and his cane to visit his grandchildren, he keeps fighting for a few more years to spend with his family…with his sons.
But no matter what happens, nothing seems to erase my Dad’s own regrets…about his life. That grieves me, because I remember the people for whom my Dad is a hero and I remember the precious gifts that my Dad gave to me. First, he always let me know that I was loved unconditionally. Second, he taught me right from wrong clearly with no ambiguity. Lastly, he gave me the gift of faith.

And that’s a lot.
But sometimes, its seems that its not enough for him. So he continues to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. And most days he picks up his cane, walks over to Church and clocks in.
This old man of the parish does what any able bodied young kid probably should be doing. But my dad does it. And you know why?
Because as he sits on his five gallon bucket and scrapes off rust and prepares a second coat, what my dad really does is pray and spend time with his Lord Jesus and his Mother Mary.
And so in the twilight of his life, alongside the black wrought iron of downtown Omaha, my Dad gives me his greatest gift….teaches me his biggest lesson. None of us are perfect…its not about perfect….its about Repentance.
So is my Dad a hero?

You bet.   And Why?
Because my Dad paints a fence.

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