Mystery, Modesty, and Romance

When I was a college student, the director of the Catholic Student Union at Florida State University, Br. Sam Gunn often had words of wisdom to us college kids and the one that I want to write about today concerns dating and romance. At the end of a weekly gathering, Wednesday Spirit Nites, Bro Sam got up and wrote on a whiteboard three simple words, “Mystery, Modesty, Romance” and said something like, “If you don’t understand what this means, then figure it out.” That’s all he said and the night ended.  

This was nearly 20 years ago and I haven’t stopped trying to figure out what he meant. His words were exactly what us college students, stuck in a hook-up culture, needed to hear… when sex becomes cheap and casual, true romance is dead. Basically, in order to have true romance there must be something worthy of pursuing, a great good worth seeking, and a mystery worth discovering. Every person is a mystery and true Eros is the type of love that draws us closer to one particular person with wonder and desire. So, how does one safeguard their mystery from false Eros? Modesty.

Modesty is not synonymous with puritanical prudishness, which purports to cover-up out of fear or because erotic desire is bad. That’s just wrong. Authentic modesty is rooted in a profound understanding of your goodness and knowing that only someone truly worthy has the right to see it. “Don’t throw your pearls before the swine,” Jesus said in Matthew 7:6, resist the pressure to show off what you got, choose modesty. Without modesty, there is no mystery, and without mystery, there can be no romance. MODESTY IS SEXY! (Yes, you are reading that correctly!) Without it, we perpetuate a culture of cheap and empty encounters that degrade human persons of our dignity nor will ever bring satiation to our everlasting desires.

Here’s a quick Theology of the Body lesson that makes these points clearer. John Paul II stated that the body alone is capable of making the invisible visible. The body reveals the person. The goodness of a person’s soul is revealed through the body. Yes, this is a mystery, but the mystery is part of the reality of who we are as people made in the image and likeness of God. To dedicate one’s life towards the exploration and understanding of another person’s deepest mysteries is called sacramental marriage. Only when I have made a covenantal vow to love you until I die, have I earned the right to your most intimate parts (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). It all works together.

The funny thing is that even though Br. Sam stated those words for college students to encourage modesty, as I continue to reflect on them now as a married man, I find that these are also the keys for continued marital romance. I have a deep disdain for the cultural narrative that states sex and romance die after marriage. It’s just not true! In the book, The Case for Marriage, the authors state that according to research married couples report a higher frequency of sexual encounters and higher satisfaction with those encounters than their non-married counterparts. (Take that hook-up culture!) Still, that narrative exists because there is some truth to the challenge of not losing romance in the midst of the craziness of life, work, and raising kids. We like to compartmentalize tasks in our minds to make things more efficient and so we can swiftly move through our day, checking one box off after another. The problem here is that our spouse (or sex with our spouse) should never just be a mere check off the list of things that need to get done. Counselors have a fancy technical term for when that happens in marriage, it’s called Boredom (which is the opposite of sexy).

In this context, the temptation for married couples is not revealing the mystery too quickly (like lusty college students), but the opposite, feeling that you have solved that mystery. Once you state that you have the other person figured out, that is when romance dies, because there is nothing left to pursue. Eternal mystery means that even after 50 years of marriage, there will still be some truth, goodness, and beauty inside my wife that I would not fully understand. There would be some mystery still worth pursuing. Repeatedly finding that newness is crucial to keeping the romance alive. Because newness is sexy. For married couples, the advice usually given to spice things up is euphemistically couched in the term “novelty items.” I caution that because the high of trying a new product is always temporary. It is a bit misguided to expect consumerism to solve bedroom boredom because novelty is primarily a disposition of the heart, not a new toy.

Married couples, this Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to find new ways of reconnecting. Instead of the same old date night, try something different. Do an adventure together. Start a new project. Do a work of service together. Something that gets you working as a team again and gives you the opportunity to see your spouse’s strengths shine again. Discover something new about who he/she is. And whatever the date is, choose to avoid talking about the duties or checklists of the day, but the hopes and longings for the future. When was the last time you talked about the bigger questions of life? When was the last time you and your spouse wondered together? Reconnect with that sense of wonder for the person you married and use that as fuel for the marital embrace.

Dating and engaged couples, this Valentine’s Day, choose modesty and preserve the goodness of your mystery. Take this as a time to continue learning how to love one another and enjoy this season of discovery in your relationship. Every season is a gift and possesses its own challenges. It is hard to believe that now, but you will understand that in time.

St. Valentine, pray for us!

Masculinity is Not Toxic

I’m feeling fired up right now about the many recent charges against men and “toxic masculinity.” I think we have to calm down a bit, see the goodness in manhood, and not merely define the entire male side of the human race in negative terms.

 Is there a toxic masculinity? Of course, because sin manifests in every heart and often takes on the form of sexual lust in the male heart. Case in point, I recently attended a Pelicans’ game with my third son and overheard a conversation between the two men sitting behind us. They were ogling over the women on the Dance Team and one was telling the other that he would leave his wife to be with one of those dancers. That is a clear example of when masculinity becomes toxic.  

There is no apology for the sexual sins of men. I absolutely applaud the #MeToo movement and the brave women who have shared their stories of pain and brought to light something that far too long has been kept quiet. Yet, as a society, we are notoriously prone to overgeneralize and quick to cast wide dispersions on groups of people. Yes, we still do this even in our modern pluralism. And I worry that, as a man and a father of four boys, the typical message communicated about men is one of fear and suspicion. Or worse: be weak and goofy.  

Listen, I know about the rambunctiousness of boys, as I said, I have four of them. We don’t own nice things in the house because accidents are common in our home and things typically break. They are like wild mustangs that need appropriate outlets and focus on their energies, which takes time to cultivate. Yet, to shame them by telling them that their strength is bad or a threat to society is awful. (I don’t think anyone is saying it that bluntly, but the cultural milieu certainly points in that direction.) Not all men are pigs. Not all men are sexual offenders. Not all men are losers. The strength of men is a gift. But like all gifts, it must be tempered and sharpened, not disregarded, and not overindulged in.

Even when I was in my wayward-preconversion-years of late high school, I understood that a man should offer his strength to the women he cares about. When we would go Latin music dancing at clubs, we had a rule that if a suspicious guy would come over and dance with one of the girls in the group, one of the men would need to step in, and take her away from the situation. She just needed to give a certain glance back at us and we would head over to remove her from the creepy dude. Another simple example of this is walking a girl to her car at night. Whether you like her or not, it is still the right thing to do. Chivalry is not dead. I believe these examples highlight the key to an authentic masculine expression of love: creating safety.

In this context, masculine strength is not primarily for chopping down trees, combat, or personal gain. It is for creating a safe space for those whom we love. Safety is one of the best things a man can offer the women and children in his life. A woman senses this in her husband, she feels safe when she trusts that she will be taken care of. Unfortunately, lazy, selfish, and immature men don’t provide that for the women in their lives. And neither do nice guys.

Dr. Louann Brizendine in “The Female Brain” stated that when women are looking for a potential mate, that question of provision is very active in her mind due to primal and evolutionary needs for survival: Can he take care of me and my children? Or is he a bum? Is he worthy of my heart and body? Or are we just going to be friends? Physique, power, and status go a long way in attractiveness, but again this becomes toxic when men use those traits to take advantage of women rather than protect them. Dr. Jordan Peterson has stated something similar in his lectures; a woman is looking for a man who can offer her more than what she already has. Woman are always looking to marry up not down.

Therefore, men need to have something to offer. We need to get our act together and find ways to mature. We need to “stand up straight with our shoulders back” (borrowing Peterson’s First Rule) and not settle for lazy slobbery, quick gratification, or just being nice. The challenge is on us to step up to the plate and push past the cultural forces that want to say that our physicality is a curse to society. In doing so and taking the initiative to show love in a masculine way, we can change the cultural narrative and bring back hope to relationships. This isn’t going to happen overnight, but if we can just commit to being 10% better today, then we certainly will be heading in the right direction.

For more on this topic of masculinity, please listen to the first episode of Always Hope, where I interview Dr. Jennifer Miller on the topic.

All Ways Hope

As God would have it, the greatest gift I received this Christmas season was not under a Christmas tree or mistletoe, but at a graveyard, of all places.

On January 18 of this year, my family commemorates the third anniversary of my brother-in-law’s death. Roger, married to my oldest sister Rosie, was a faithful husband, father, successful surgeon, and a renaissance man of sorts: he could paint, play blues guitar, garden, and draw iconography. In early 2012, Roger was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), which would eventually claim his life.

As I watched Roger’s illness progress, I learned much about life, suffering, and death. I learned that life doesn’t stop just because you are sick. It is almost cruel the way that the stressors of life continue to pile up. Rosie and Roger have two girls that they still needed to raise and decisions they still needed to make about school, discipline, vacations, extra-curricular activities… all the normal stuff that you and I fret about, just they had to do it all with his declining health. Looking at them evoked the same panicked feeling I get when I am about to lose a round of Tetris; the blocks keep on falling regardless of how you have them organized. Yet, through the instability of their lives, love was ever present.

Roger and Rosie were devout Catholics and graciously received the gift of their local church. Every day someone from the parish would come at 6am, get Roger ready, and take him to daily mass. Then, in the evening, someone else would come and get him ready for bed, taking him to the bathroom, picking him up from his wheelchair, and placing him in his bed. For a man who was a doctor and used to being in charge, he accepted his fate with grace and humility. Roger died peacefully in his sleep in his home. When the nurse assistant found him the next morning, Roger had somehow turned himself towards the wall where the pictures of their wedding day hung, staring at the framed picture of Rosie in her bridal veil with an eternal smile on his face.

I promise you, I’m not making this up. We forget in life that there is a larger story at play and we often do not see all the interconnected parts due to our limitations of time, senses, and space. We cannot possibly be aware of everything God is doing. That is way we trust in His providence in all things. And that is precisely why I have called my show “Always Hope,” because I believe that we just need a little more instruction of how to see God’s goodness in the midst of the struggles of life.

For our recent Christmas vacation, we took our annual tour of the state of Florida to see our family. One of our regular stops is seeing Rosie and her growing daughters. It was December 31 and we all went to mass to celebrate the vigil of Mary Mother of God. Even though we had been in Stuart, FL a few times since Roger’s passing and funeral, we had yet to revisit his graveside and thought it would be nice to pay our respects. Here is where I received my aforementioned Christmas gift.

As we approached his graveside and read his headstone, there were the usual inscriptions of his name, loving daddy, husband, brother, son, date of birth, and date of his passing. But at the bottom there was a distinct phrase in quotations, “All Ways Hope.” My mouth floored. Even now as I write this, I’m still in disbelief. Apparently, when Roger got sick, “always hope” became his motto; his standard response when people expressed their pity or sorrow over his condition. So much so, that when my two sisters and their families did an ALS charity ride with him before he died, “All Ways Hope” was the team name. They wrote it that way as a play on the words: we don’t just always need hope, but we also need to see all the ways hope manifests in life.

I had no idea about any of this. I have long desired to start a podcast and went through many, many different names and ideas before settling on “Always Hope.” Now, this could just be a massive coincidence or it could be the clearest moment of grace I have received in a long time. Call me crazy, but I am choosing the later. Since, it is a young show, I must confess that I have been filled with the same worries and questions that anyone starting out feels: Is it worth it? Is it helping people? Does anyone care? How long will it take to grow an audience? Therefore, seeing the name of my show on Roger’s headstone was the greatest gift I could have received this Christmas. It was a pat on the back and encouragement from both God and Roger to keep going with the show, trusting that it will do what it is supposed to do. It put all those fears to rest, because for that moment I was reminded how ignorant I truly am to the Will of God. It felt like the dose of humility that often comes to the impetuous child when he realizes that he is about to get what he asked for and wasted all that time throwing a fit for nothing. (btw, that’s me in a nutshell).

I never get signs like this. I’m too practical for it. And God knows that. But this one I could not deny and I wanted to share it, so that you could be blessed by it, too. God bless.

P.S. I had written a previous article about about Rosie and Roger as a guest columnist for the Clarion Herald, click the link if you are interested.




Advent: A Season of Memory

“Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child.”

Ratzinger, Seek that which is Above, p16.


Before rushing into the New Year, the season of Advent is an opportunity to pause and reflect on what has been. As we approach 2019 with hope and anticipation, this liturgical season is an invitation to tidy up the lingering memory of 2018. As Dr. Brant Pitre said in episode 6 of Always Hope, in order to cultivate the virtue of hope, we must work on our memory. In as much as Advent is a season of hope, it is a season of memory.

The year is coming to a close, new beginnings are just on the horizon. Whatever 2018 brought, is already in the past. Whatever 2019 will bring, has not yet been etched into history. Advent finds us in between what has been and what will be. And although past behaviors are not always a good indication of future results, only the fool refuses to examine his life and learn from his successes and failures.

We can and should celebrate the joys of this year: A new baby! A new job! Graduation! A new love! Overcoming an illness! Weight loss! Whatever blessings came to you this year, praise God and rejoice! Or maybe this was a hard year for you and there were areas of deep struggle: Continued stress at work. Cancer or illness. Adult children troubles. A messy divorce. The lingering tension of having put off that difficult conversation yet again.

As we take this season to pause and reflect on what has been, the intention is not to get lost in those memories or to make reflection an end to itself, but rather to draw into our conscious awareness the gifts and struggles of the year and lay them before the infant child in the manger. We always journey through Advent towards Christmas. And we go through Christmas into the New Year. Jesus is the hinge of time. He is the Alpha, the Omega, and the Ever Present I Am. This is the season, as the Earth is approaching the end of another lap around the Sun, that God invites us to reflect on the past, rest in the present, and ultimately rejoice for the future.

It is with full intention that Christmas was placed near the winter solstice since it is the darkest night of the year. (Unless you’re in Australia, then it is the middle of summer. Sorry Mates for the Euro-normative biases!) In the shadow of night, Jesus comes to save the world. Recalling this event should bring joy. That’s an understatement. Let me say that again… the single greatest event in history isn’t God creating time, but stepping into it and redeeming it. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus is the reason why we look at Christmas with wonder. How is it possible that this little Child will save the world? How is it that God Almighty would personally experience every aspect of human life (except for personal sin)? And for no gain of his own! The only reason he steps into time is for us, to elevate humanity to its proper dignity. God became man, so that we could, too.

In the midst of the shopping and commercialism of the season, please take time to think about the events of this year. Was it a good year? Was it hard? Did that risk pay off? Did it flop? Is that yet to be determined? How did I grow this year? How did I take steps back? Am I physically healthier? Am I more loving today than I was on January 1?  Meet these questions, not with judgment or condemnation, but with the tender love of the Child Jesus. God can and desires to bless every memory of 2018, we just have to pause and actually bring them to him.

I’ll end with this, one of my favorite Christmas songs is Little Drummer Boy (if you can forget the anachronism and false historical narrative). I have no gift to bring, Pa rum pum pum pum, That’s fit to give our king, Pa rum pum pum pum…” Do any of us really have a gift that’s fit for the King of Kings? Probably not. But the best we can give is the same that he has given us… life, memory, and relationship. Our history, our present, and our future. As God has given us Time, we, in turn, give our subjective use of that time back to him. In that vein, we can offer everything that has happened in 2018 like the little drummer boy, as a humble attempt to bring our very best to him.

Therefore, REJOICE and see 2018 in the lens of Providence. We are all a work in progress. Take time to rest with Jesus during Christmas, before we get back to work in 2019.

Happy Advent, Merry Christmas, and may your 2019 be filled with blessings and grace!

Darn It St. Nick

When couples first get married and start the process of sharing their lives together, it is often the little things that trip them up. It is those accidental encounters that you cannot fully prepare for that cause some of the most heated disagreements: Why did you fold my t-shirt in half and ruin the collar? Who puts the toilet paper going under instead over the roll? Did your mom let you get away with squeezing the toothpaste tube from the middle? Those aren’t the questions that come up in the standard marriage prep inventory, because they only arise as a result of living together and two separate traditions colliding together in the holy union of marriage.

Every couple goes through these growing pains and one such incident for us was the jolly fat guy in the suit, Good Ol’ Saint Nick himself. Laugh now, but Santa Claus hung over our newlywed home for years. The question was quite simple, “Are we doing Santa Claus with our kids?” But the answer was not. We literally had to shelve the conversation and did not come to a full resolution until Gabriel (our firstborn) was old enough to care about Santa.

Kristin grew up in a typical American home, she lived in the same house her whole childhood, with three sisters, various pets, and a chimney that Santa could go down. She was taught that Santa brought the gifts and everything was okay. I, on the other hand, am an immigrant from Nicaragua and my parents had to leave the country with their four children to flee communist persecution in the early ‘80s. By the time I was 10, we had lived in two countries, three states, and 7 different homes. Eventually, we settled in South Florida, where there are no chimneys for Santa.

This might be a news flash, but other countries in the world have different traditions for Christmas and gift giving. In Nicaragua, it is the Niño Jesus who brings the gifts, yet I remember the one Christmas when my parents tried to do the Santa thing as a way of assimilating into the American culture. I was 5 and my older brother was 7, we had very specific requests for our toys and when we opened the gifts from “Santa” I saw that my brother got the gift I asked for and he got the one I requested. We just looked at each other, laughed, switched gifts, and knew that our parents had tried their best, but there was no Santa.

Kristin grew up with Santa Claus, I did not. Gabriel was three years old and now it was time to decide, were we going to do Santa or not? I was adamant against Santa, not just because of my cultural upbringing but because I had also heard too many stories of people being crushed when they found out that Santa did not exist and left wondering if God existed, too. That wasn’t a risk I was willing to take with my kids. Kristin thought I was being overly-dramatic and looked at the beauty of wonder, the sacrifice of parents to help their kids see the magic and mystery in the world. Whose perspective was correct and what would we do?

After years of back-and-forth conversations and prayer, we finally came to one of the best compromises we have ever come up with in our marriage. We decided that on December 6, which is the feast day of St. Nicholas, we would read stories about the real St. Nicholas to our boys and have them write their Christmas lists as a letter to him. We would teach them that the letter is a form of petitionary prayer to the great saint, asking him to ask God for these gifts on their behalf (as well as other prayer intentions for the family) and to remember that “all good gifts come from God,” as it says in James 1:17. Through this, we have been teaching the boys how to pray to the saints appropriately and acknowledge that every gift ultimately comes from God, not from the petitioned saint himself.

Then on Christmas morning, after a period of waiting, they can open their gifts with a spirit of gratitude for whatever they receive, even if it is not exactly what they requested. As in life, we should certainly make deep and earnest requests to God, yet wait with expectant faith as He answers those requests appropriately.

Now we had found a way to honor the mystery of Christmas, the truth of St. Nick, and create a new family tradition that was uniquely our own! God is good. While certainly, not every one of our little squabbles has had this clean of a resolution, I can honestly say that I’m grateful we could find a peaceful solution to this problem. My encouragement to each of you is that if you are finding yourselves in a tense disagreement, to continue to be patient, pray for wisdom, dialogue with each other, and be open to a surprising solution to present itself. You never know what little gift God has for you.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

Til Death Do Us Part

On October 19, 2002, I had no idea what I was committing to. I mean, I loved the girl and understood enough about what marriage was to make a full consent to the union, but I didn’t really know what I was embarking on. And how could I? I was 22 and just graduated from college. I had no money to my name, but love and dedication were enough to give a wholehearted “Yes” on the altar.  

Now, 16 years later, I’m starting to understand what I said yes to. I said yes to love, with all its glories and struggles. Certainly, we could have just lived together and forgone marriage, which would have seemed like the easier thing to do. However, “living together” and “marriage” are not synonymous terms. There is always an out-clause in cohabitation, and while we think “having our options open” is what is best for us, in relationships it is not. If we always hold back a piece of ourselves, then we will never be vulnerable enough to know what it means to love. Love always carries an element of risk. The abiding commitment of marriage is what makes it unique among all other relationships. Marriage is not just a “piece of paper,” it is a vow, an unbreakable promise to love another person until death does you part.

The indissolubility of marriage has to be the most misunderstood part of the union. Often, it is scorned and ridiculed. It is viewed as some lofty ideal that is no longer practically attainable. Or it is met with outright disdain and referred to as a “ball and chain” locking you down and preventing your freedoms. That is all horse manure. If we can reorient ourselves to see the true intention behind it, we will see that indissolubility is not about staying together for the sake of it, but rather it is meant to be a tremendous source of consolation. Do you know how comforting it is to know that no matter what happens in my life there is always someone there to have my back?I cannot even begin to describe how reassuring that is to me. Just think about that for a second. Imagine the worst thing that could happen: cancer, loss of a child, bankruptcy… no one wants to face this in life, but bad things will happen to us and would you rather face them alone or with someone else? But let’s not just focus on the negative, imagine the best things that could happen: getting a gold medal at the Olympics, visiting the Eifel Tower, raising a child…again, would you rather embrace those successes alone or with someone by your side? The gift of marriage is that whether I am in the high-highs or the low-lows, there is always someone there with me because she made a promise to love me through it all.

The converse is true, too. No matter what happens in Kristin’s life, she will never have to face them alone (as long as I have air in my lungs and blood pumping through my veins). That is the greatest gift I could ever give another human being because I only have one life to live and it is fixed and limited. I will only be here for so long. Therefore, my life is my most precious possession and I have willingly chosen to give it to another human person. That type of commitment shapes me. That type of love is the most real and important thing I could ever do in my life. No other relationship carries that weight and it is the gravity of the bond that makes it special. Through loving my wife, I will become the best me that I could ever be. My poverty gives me opportunities to receive her love. And her poverty gives me opportunities to give her my love. We go back and forth, giving and receiving, and never letting our cups run dry.

There is nothing easy about loving this way. Which is why we need grace. In Jesus’ teaching about the permanence of marriage, even his disciples found indissolubility to be a far-fetched idea:

“[His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word,but only those to whom that is granted…Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” (Matthew 19: 10-12)

He is saying that grace is granted to those are disposed to receive it. There is not some exclusive club of a small number of people who can receive that grace. God’s love is given in superabundance to anyone who opens his heart to receive it. Marriage, as a sacrament, is a pipeline to that grace.

I still believe in marriage. Not just my own union, but as an institution. Nothing else lets us feel the fullness of our human capacities than journeying through life with our spouse. It is sheer grace that transforms our human love into something Divine… which is hopefully what will happen when death does me part.

The Wisdom of Sport

A couple of weeks ago, I was woken up in the middle of the night when a band of thunderstorms came ripping through New Orleans. And once I’m up, I’m up. After tossing and turning for a solid 45-minutes, I finally got out of bed, grabbed my iPhone, and headed to the living room to piddle online until I felt tired again.

I opened my ESPN app and was greeted with a story that reminded me why I love sports. Derrick Rose, a point guard for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves had a career night, scoring 50 points. Why did I care? (you may be asking). I don’t live in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and while scoring 50 points is a lot, it wasn’t the full reason for my jubilation. The reason was that any basketball fan knows that Derrick Rose is one of the ultimate “What if he had never been injured” stories. He was selected by the Chicago Bulls as the #1 pick in the 2008 draft and the youngest player to win the NBA’s MVP award. He was a star on the rise and Bulls fans were having dreams of Championships again, but his career was derailed by one significant injury after another and is on his fourth team since 2016. That’s why that night was so special. I’m a Bulls fan, have been for 30 years since seeing Michael Jordan play when we lived in Chicago as a kid. So, yeah, I couldn’t hold back the tears as I watched D-Rose’s interviews after the game talking about how he worked his “rear-end” off (except he used that other word for donkey). He knew and every fan of the game knew that what he had just accomplished was more than just a good game, it was redemption; an exhale after years of dealing with unforeseen events and still pushing through with hope and hard work. Just awesome.

I love sports the same way that I love good art. They both are a clear way of seeing a human person assimilate and express their God-given talents. While it is true that the desire for “celebrity” can get in the way of good art (as I talk about with Greg Boudreaux in episode 7 of Always Hope), at its core, good art reveals a human person’s capacity to do something truly extraordinary. To be a professional athlete, you need to be blessed with natural gifts, but also a hard work ethic to fine tune those gifts. As fans of the game or consumers of media, we rarely see the amount of work that goes into a final product or don’t fully understand how hard it is to perform at the most elite level in professional sports. After you watch a movie do you ever wonder how many names appear on the credits? In a big summer blockbuster, it is thousands of names! So many people who have dedicated years of their lives for a single two-hour feature film.  

D-Rose had a moment that night. I know the phrase “overcoming adversity” seems like a cliché, but there was a guy who had one unfortunate injury after another. His career has been more defined by those injuries than his successes. And while none of those were life-threatening issues, it still is real-life drama on display for all of us to see. That’s what makes sports great. I long ago gave up a dream of being a professional athlete or lead guitarist in a band, because I do not possess the sufficient talent to succeed there. But God knows what he is doing and certainly has given me an abundance of other gifts that I am called to cultivate and fine tune. It is an easy translation for me to see a guy like D-Rose shine and take that as encouragement in the work God has called me to do. We are all just human after all.

In June of this year, the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life released a document entitled, “Giving the Best of Yourself” which draws connections between sports, the human spirit, and faith. Giving the best of yourself in sports is really just an icon of giving your best in life. Unfortunately, sports have become an idol for many people, but if we see sports in the proper context, we get to see what the church sees: that “nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo” (paragraph 1.1).

It is not so much about winning and losing, but that healthy competition can bring out the best in us. Athletic training and competing are means of purification and building virtue. Sport can be at the service of attaining human maturity. The Vatican’s document says that dedication to excellence, camaraderie, and respect for the rules all help in the journey of faith. After all, does not St. Paul use the analogy of running a race? And to “run so as to win.” (1 Corinthians 9:24). That formational aspect is what I try to inculcate in my boys through their various sporting activities and is what I appreciated when I saw Derrick Rose score 50 points. We cannot always control what comes our way, but we can always choose how we respond. Success does not come easily or often, but with grace and virtue, we too will all have our moments to shine.


Staying Connected: Part 3

Spiritual and emotional connection is important, yet there is one more piece to this puzzle, physical love.

Reconnect Physically

Before the desire for intimacy was expressed verbally, we felt a connection through physical gestures. A baby is formed inside the body of his mother and over the course of her pregnancy, a mom knows who her child is even before seeing him. The child comes into the world not fully developed and it is up to the parents to listen to the various intonations of the cry to learn how to respond to his needs. Often, a mother will soothe her child with sweet caresses and cuddling. Even though as adults we grow in our capacity to verbally articulate our desires, there inevitably still comes a moment when we just need a hug. The physical dimension of an enduring relationship cannot be overstated. The regular release of bonding hormones through physical touch, caressing, and sexual intimacy are keys to the survival of a long-term marriage.

However, physical affection has to mean more than just sex. Yes, sex is an amazing gift to married couples, but every relationship should have healthy amounts of non-sexual physical contact. That freedom of physical expression will, in turn, bless the sexual embraces, too! This is because if every kiss is signal for sex, then kisses will start to be viewed suspiciously: “What does he want?” “I’m not in the mood.” “If I kiss back are we going all the way tonight?” That pressure will quickly eat away at a relationship. Freedom and respect of all forms of physical affection make for a healthy marriage.

If you are disconnected outside the bedroom, usually that disconnection will manifest in the bedroom, unless there are medical issues at work. If you are working on reconnecting in your marriage, work on your physical love, too. Yet, not in the way you might be thinking. Unfortunately, in our culture when the physical connection is lost, we turn to things like “Novelty Items,” which are really euphemisms for buying things that only further the objectification of our spouse. Make no mistake, objectification is what happens when we lose sight of their eternal goodness. If you have lost the spark, you do not need to buy “Adult Toys” or read books to spice up your romance. You just need each other. That’s it. God is enough and his grace is sufficient.

Do the harder work of rediscovering your spouse and sharing who you are today. When you get this right, you will see a deepening and more profound love because it honors both the history of time together and the newness that is ever unfolding in a relationship. Holding the tension of both is the key to everlasting love.

Couples have the freedom to express themselves in the bedroom, but just make sure that those expressions draw you closer together and make you think about the person in front of you. The way you dress, what you say, and how you act should all be things that are a manifestation of your unique relationship, not influenced by an external stimulus like pornography. I know it is hard because what we define as sexy tends to be influenced by our cultural notions. But our cultural tastes of sex are just off because the world does not understand marriage anymore. Rather than being harsh, we should be loving. Rather than being fixated on our personal pleasure, we should be attentive to the desires of the other. Sex is about “us” not “me.” Each time is a gift and opportunity to share in that togetherness. Talk about your preferences and share with your spouse when things are good and when they are uncomfortable.

Final Thoughts

Marriage is not rocket science. The things that make a marriage work are actually quite simple. Yet, as one of my clients said in a counseling session, “this is hard as sh–!” True. Simple but hard. Over the course of our lives, intimacy will ebb and flow. Interests change. New responsibilities. Life stressors. All of these things will try to pull apart. But resist that pull, because the truth is you need each other. The grace of marriage is that you have a partner to journey with you through each of those dips, changes, twists, and turns. As a sacrament, this means that God (through your bond) is present in each of those moments, too. Grace is real, but sometimes we have to work in life. Keep focused on loving each other daily and keep striving to stay connected through it all.    

Staying Connected: Part 2

In the first part of this series, we explored what it means to respect our spouse’s eternal mystery, the importance of regular conversations, and how prayer blesses a couple’s emotional life. Now let’s go deeper into how to support a spouse’s changing interests, without feeling like we are losing him (or her).

Respect their freedom to cultivate new interests and skills

Sometimes we lose interest in life because God is calling us to mature. We stop listening to the songs we liked as a teenager. Movies become dated. The things we liked as a kid often are not the same things we like now. Interests change as our lives change. That’s okay and to be expected.

Under that premise, we should then respect and encourage shifting interests by our spouse. We should not feel confused or threatened by that, because it means that they are growing and learning new things about themselves. I want Kristin to expand her knowledge and I want to share in that with her. If we respect that freedom, are curious about the things they are learning, and commit to regularly asking questions about those new things, that will perpetuate the “Getting-to-Know-You” phase of relationships. We should not presume that any marriage is above dating. Yes, this can be hard, especially when our spouse makes a dramatic life change or becomes interested in something we just do not care about. (As a caveat, I am not talking about anything immoral here. We should not engage in immoral behaviors, even if it is with our spouse.) Here is an example of what I trying to say:

Hypothetically, if a couple meets while working on a sales team for a technology company, naturally the things that they are going to first connect on are related to their jobs: conversations with potential buyers, success over securing big clients, learning about the latest company products, office politics, etc. As they live life together, these conversations would continue to be regular. However, the husband might realize after ten years that he hates his job and is ready to quit. Is his wife supportive of that? Are they ready for this big change in the identity of their relationship? Is their marriage more than shared conversations about work? These are hard questions but if they have been regularly connected, then the wife would not be surprised by her husband’s desires and they would have already been discussing potential next steps so that when the decision is made to quit his job, the husband knows that he has his wife’s support. This is certainly better than if he kept his angst a secret and suddenly informed his wife that he was quitting. Again, it takes regular commitment to have these reconnecting conversations and praying for the grace to respect and understand our spouse.

Remember why you fell in love

If you have been married for a few years and find yourself coasting in your marriage, the first thing to do is remember why you fell in love you with your spouse. If you have lost any spark, it is important to remember when you had it and when it was lost. It is good to recall the beginning of your relationship; what it felt like to talk and date, to remember that you had meaningful conversations and shared time together. It is okay to have an ache for that connection again, that means you still care and desire it.

Just like it took time the first time to build connection, so it will again if it has been lost. Share with your spouse the longing in your heart, not in an accusatory way, but in a way that invites connection. Make time to start talking again. Go on a date and ask the type of questions you would ask if it was the first date. The basic stuff: Tell me about your day. Tell me about your work. What’s your family like? What’s your favorite movie? Which musicians are you listening to? How are your kids doing? What do you like to do in your free time? How do those questions get answered in light of who your spouse is today? Not yesterday. Not last year. Today. As I said earlier, no marriage is above dating. Rekindle the feeling of first dates. That sensation of new-ness causes butterflies because we are sharing about ourselves and not fully sure how that will be received. We desire to be accepted by the other and fear their rejection. How much more do we desire the acceptance of another when we have given them 20 years of our life?

When I was in Tallahassee, one of the counselors in that practice was celebrating a milestone anniversary with his wife (I think it was 30 years) and they went to a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains for a week-long getaway. When he came back, he said the funniest thing about the trip: “My wife kept saying, I feel like you are having an affair…and I’m the other woman!” If you knew him, you would know that this irreverent humor was right up his alley. Of course, he is not condoning adulterous relationships, but what was sparked was a renewed sense of wonder about the person, they tapped into a long-dormant newness in the other and reconnected in a way they had not for a long time. What a gift!

Hope you are enjoying this series. Part 3 is coming soon!

Staying Connected: Part 1

Staying connected with your spouse over the course of a lifetime is no easy business. Not just because of the expected moments of disagreement in marriage and not even for the unexpected hardships that life throws at you. The challenge is just simply trying to stay connected in the midst of all the dips, changes, twists, and turns that come with being together for years. This is the first of a three-part series where we explore what it takes to stay connected and what do when things start drifting apart.

A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a colleague at Notre Dame Seminary, a brilliant scholar and faithful husband. At the time, I was going through my doctoral studies and he shared with me some guidance that he had received when he was doing his graduate work. He said that the gift of graduate work was that you get the opportunity to dive deep into research and grow in the real knowledge of one subject. (That amount of reading and studying may not sound like a joy to you, but just amuse me for a second and go along with it!) Yet, that expertise can sometimes come with an untended price. There comes a moment where you simply know more than the average person on that specific topic and that can cause distance with those closest to you, particularly with your spouse. He didn’t imply that in an arrogant I-Am-Smarter-Than-You mentality, just that it becomes hard to continue a meaningful conversation with the person you are closest with when all your time and energy is focused on something that they cannot share equitably because they have not had the same opportunity to grow in their knowledge of that material. Makes sense?

Case in point, you want to catch up at the end of the day, but all you did was read comparative thoughts on some deep theory, and you want to share that with your spouse, but realize that she is not capable of ‘talking shop’ with you at that level. This colleague said that this situation often causes a disconnect in relationships and the way to avoid it was to keep her connected with your research all the way through the process. I thought he was right on and I took his advice to heart.

I have been married to Kristin for 16 years. That’s a fair amount of time and we have experienced a lot together. I have counseled many couples who have been married for much longer than that. Through my personal and clinical experience, I have seen this dynamic mentioned by my scholar friend as a consistent challenge to many married couples, even for those who are not pursuing doctorates. It is perfectly natural to presume that over the course of a lifespan, your interests will change, your expertise will change, and the things that brought you together will fade in the rearview mirror of time. So again, how do you stay intimate and connected through it all?

I propose four key points. First, it is important to never forget that your spouse is a mystery. Second, always respect their freedom to explore new interests and skills. Third, it is good to cultivate good memory and remind yourself why you fell in love. Finally, the power of physical affection should not be underestimated.  

Yes, they are a mystery! (and that’s a good thing)

This might sound a bit too pious, but the truth is that each of us has an eternal soul, some immaterial form that we cannot measure scientifically. In practical terms, this means that we will never fully understand our spouse. That last sentence is not meant to be depressing but liberating. Since that mystery is what connects us to God, there is an eternal goodness within your spouse that surpasses understanding. We can and should take the time to understand our spouse; to know the things that make her tick and to avoid his emotional triggers. Yet, we should never take him for granted or say that we have her “figured out.” If we do take our spouse for granted, then the relationship will very quickly become stale in our mind and heart. This is not good.

Rather, we should presume their mystery and seek to encounter that goodness every day. This means that every day you are growing and learning something new and every day your spouse is growing and learning something new. This means that every day you have something new to discover about your spouse. Awesome! Your relationship cannot be built solely on the interests you shared when you were first dating. Those things change over time, but your spouse is still your spouse regardless of those changes. That is what it means to love a person over time.

When we talk about the day and hear the joys and struggles of our spouse, this is not only a chance to connect emotionally but an opportunity to pray for her. Praying together as a couple gives space for the Holy Spirit to come into the relationship and work like glue to keep you together. Moreover, you should share deeply about what God is doing in your life, things that spoke to you in prayer, and burdens that you might be carrying. It is all part of walking the faith journey together.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for Part 2!