“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am”- A Book Review

By Reverend James O’Leary, copyright 2002, Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, 180 pages

Here is a book with a title that, if you cannot relate to it, you only need read a few of the short essays and you soon will. These “pastor’s thoughts” wake you up to just how good life is even if a few bad moments come in an otherwise pretty good day.

When Father Jim O’Leary first released the book, I was so happy to see it. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand his words of wisdom, humor and kindness. Reading the book again after many years, I hear his voice and see that twinkle in his eye.

Father Jim shares insights into Catholic traditions, travels in Europe associated with his calling, missions trips, parenting, growing up in Michigan, and eventually serving there. He tells stories about simple living and what he learns from everyone he meets. While he may have rubbed elbows with some pretty important people, it’s obvious he’s energized by conversations with folks like you and me.

Each essay is a reflection of Jim’s heart. Like this:

“Our world is so full of people who are planning to change the world. They are simply waiting for the right time. I do believe that I must include myself in this group. We wait and wait and the right moment never comes, and we never make our contribution to the improvement of our world. Opportunities to serve people surround us. The right time is now. Always, the time is now.”

I haven’t met many people as humble as Jim O’Leary. Of course, he’d get a sour look on his face, glance at his feet, and shake his head if he heard me say that. And that’s because, as I knew him, he really was a self-effacing man.

One day, during one of our brief meetings, I wanted to get a rise out of him. “Jim,” I said, “since I’m not Catholic, instead of calling you ‘Father,’ can I just call you ‘Dad?’”

He did laugh. “Just don’t call me what my parishioners call me,” he said.

“What’s that?”

In a matter-of-fact style and with a straight face, he said…No, I better not. It wasn’t a nice name. But I’m sure he was joking with me as well. That twinkle in his eye, you see.

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am” is filled with stuff like this. No, not bad words. But his way of seeing things. His constant love for God and for people. His explanations about Jesus and His earthly ministry. Metaphors for life derived from everyday observations. Father Jim doesn’t try in his book to convert anyone, but it’s plain he hopes you’ll believe in the One who was born, preached the Good News, and died to save us from ourselves. Jim always admitted that he needed saving from himself and his stories reveal his gratitude for God’s mercy.

The essays are gleaned from his columns originally published in the weekly St. Joseph Parish bulletin. Jim was a priest in the Battle Creek parish where I live. He was not my priest; as I mentioned, I’m not Catholic. But he was a good friend. The last time I saw him, we were both at a local American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Both cancer survivors, we met on the track and shared our news, chatting like old friends do.

I’m so glad I read the book again. It feels like we’re having another of those chats. Gosh, I miss him.

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Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13

In our relationships, we value trustworthiness in people. We want to be able to rely on them.

The Holy Spirit grows this virtue in us as we follow Jesus, being obedient to God and His purposes.

God is the One we can trust for everything. When friends and family let us down–and they will–we know God is faithful even when we and others fail to be all we could be.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Growing in the other Fruit of the Spirit, we learn to be trustworthy. We are faithful to God and begin to improve our earthly relationships because God is teaching us a better way.

 

 

 

Living the Fruit of the Spirit 2: Joy

 

Joy is a gift. Like the other fruit of the Spirit, it’s not something we conjure up. It’s present in our lives because it’s the joy of our Lord. What a gift to receive. Why would anyone not want the joy of our God?

Joy is a permanent possession while happiness is fleeting. Our happiness quite often is expressed as something we have or we don’t . “I’m not very happy today.” or “Oh, I’m so happy right now!”

Joy can be described as exhilaration, delight, sheer gladness, and can result from a great success or a very beautiful or wonderful experience like a wedding or graduation but the definition of joy that the world holds is not nearly as amazing as biblical joy.

The joy we experience as we follow Jesus can be overwhelming and it’s often associated with gratitude, lack of worry, a simple life, a full life. Not to mention being in constant contact with God and availing ourselves of His love. When we know our identity in Christ, joy must naturally follow. That’s a joy we want everyone to experience, so we take the story of Jesus to everyone as often as possible.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

“At that time, Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Luke 10:21

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:`3 (Jesus’ high priestly prayer)

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8:10

Dear Father in Heaven, remember your promise as Jesus said that His joy would be in us and that our joy would be complete. We praise you in our joy for your faithfulness to complete the work you’ve begun. Help us to walk in the Spirit and show the evidence of you which your Holy Spirit provides. Amen

 

God Uses Ordinary People

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled , ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things o the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world…” 1 Corinthians 1:26-28

We all can be used by God if we belong to Him. Young, old, man, woman, child, educated, without education. No matter who we are (or what we have done), we’re the people who fulfill God’s purpose.

Be glad He chose you and be a blessing to someone today.

Foodie Failure? There’s Grace

What have been some of your worst foodie failures? Seriously, share in the comments and let us know. We’ve all had them. From poached eggs that wouldn’t stay together, steak too well done (can you say ‘burned?’), cakes with a soggy middle, to pudding that wouldn’t “pudd.” If you putter in the kitchen, it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

I subscribe to a few Foodie blogs and it’s fun to read their posts about exotic recipes and drool over the photos accompanying the descriptions of that food. But sometimes I wonder how many tries it took to get the recipe right. And how many actual photos were taken before they found the one shot which had the food situated just right on the plate, the lighting was correct, and the food didn’t melt into a creamy mess.

Remembering that I’ve had my own Foodie failures, I’m inclined to offer grace to my fellow cooks. Getting a cheesecake loosened from a spring-form pan the first time is tricky. That’s okay. It tastes the same as if it had beautiful edges.

You get the idea.

I have a classic Foodie Failure story which I posted just so my readers could see how people will extend grace when we flop at cooking.

That was a great experience for me. Those friends were women from my church and fellow choir members. They knew the story of how God has extended grace to us by sending his son, Jesus, to die on a cross to save us from sin. Grace to me for how my zucchini came out that night was the least of the things they could forgive me for. After all, they knew me well.

Today is Good Friday. It’s a good, if not great, day for us, because it’s in remembrance of that day when the ultimate story of grace occurred. From the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them.”

Enjoy this Easter season any way you prefer. I hope you find a way to fit in the story of Christ loving us to the ultimate, despite our failures. Because of his sacrifice, he makes all things new. If you haven’t experienced a relationship with Jesus by receiving him as savior, please consider it.

I’m going now. It’s time to fix a traditional breakfast for myself today. I don’t usually do that. But I’m hoping for no Foodie failures like when the toast is the wrong brownness, the poached eggs are too runny and the bacon gets a little too crisp.

Happy Easter, Eat Hardy, and Be a blessing to someone today.

When “Holding On” is Unhealthy

Heavenly Father, I’m holding on to something which I need to release to you. Give me strength to trust your love. I want to be free and receive your blessings and the only way to do it is to believe you will do what you promise. Give me peace about this decision because I’m fraught with fear of the unknown. I pray this for your glory and in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Patience of Job

When I was growing up, occasionally I’d hear my mother refer to someone as having “the patience of Job.” I went to Sunday school and then upstairs for ‘big church’ with her, but we didn’t learn about Job in Sunday school.

Our flannel graph stories revolved around stories that didn’t include Satan, for the most part. You know, Joseph and his coat; Noah in the ark; Moses with the burning bush; that little guy Zacchaeus; and the loaves and fish miracle.

Now that I know Job’s story, I still enjoy reading it even after years of study. The more I learn about patience and how God works, the more I learn not to pray for it. A friend once shared in a group which I belonged to that she had prayed for patience.

“God didn’t send me patience in a package tied up with a bow,” she said. “I got pregnant.”

That’s a funny line from my friend. But I don’t believe God was playing a joke on her. What I do believe is that God uses our circumstances – the ones he causes and the ones he allows – to help us grow in character and in virtue (among other reasons).

Job grew from his experiences of loss and from the aftermath. He also learned some things. I don’t know if it was patience he learned. But I do know he grew in his knowledge of God.

“The theme of (the book of) Job is not ‘Why do the righteous suffer?’ The theme of Job is ‘Do the righteous believe that God is worth suffering for?’” ~ Warren Weirsbe

“They (Job’s three friends) plead a poor cause well, while Job pleads a good cause poorly.” ~ John Calvin

 “Be silent about great things; let them grow inside you.” ~ Baron Friedrich von Hugel

“The book of Job is not strictly a pessimistic book. It does not despair of the universe, despite all its sorrows. What it does despair of is the adequacy of any one of man’s theories, or all of these theories united, to furnish a solution of its sorrows.” ~ George Matheson

“I had a million questions to ask God: but when I met Him, they all fled my mind, and it didn’t seem to matter.” ~ Christopher Morley (Job 23:3-4)

While we read the book of Job, we get to see what happened behind the scene. But Job had no knowledge of it. We can be assured that God works for us in unknown ways and what may look like a setback becomes the setup for a blessing if we trust God and remain faithful.

When the Enemy Weasels In

“Around, around the cobbler’s bench, the monkey chased the weasel. The monkey thought ‘twas all in fun. POP! goes the weasel.”

As I turned the little crank on my grandson’s jack-in-the-box, it played that familiar song. Like a little kid who had never played with such a toy, I was startled when the clown popped out of the lid. My daughter-in-law had been watching and laughed.

“You always know he’s coming,” she said, “but somehow he always surprises you.” Yes, I had been caught, but I think it’s a natural thing. The little guy does seem to spring out of nowhere. But I guess that’s the point.

Later, I considered how the enemy, Satan, works the same way. I’m just going along, when suddenly, I realize there’s something amiss. That haunting melody of lies is playing in my head and I feel out of sorts. Everything seems to be falling apart. I can’t concentrate when I pray. Even my best Christian friends are getting on my nerves. The pastor sounds like a drone. Oh…I get it…I’m under spiritual attack.

The Bible says that we should be self-controlled and alert because our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. It’s possible for me to let my guard down with Satan taking full advantage of my lazy attitude. Sometimes by the time I recognize the culprit he’s already pounced, robbing me of joy and peace.

Jesus told his followers that Satan is a murderer and a liar. Lying is his native tongue. What is he killing and with what lies does he try to accomplish the kill? Here are a few of the things he’ll use as ammunition:

  • You’re so inadequate (as a Christian, spouse, parent, employee, etc.)
  • God can’t forgive that sin
  • People are out to get you
  • It’s okay to indulge this once
  • Your attempts to succeed will fail
  • And a host of other equally damaging attacks

Recognizing the lies means the difference between victory and defeat. Knowing the difference between his condemning voice and Holy Spirit conviction is the key.

Those in Christ Jesus are no longer condemned but live under grace. God examines our hearts and we can turn to Him to discover the truth of any message we suspect may be a lie.

We don’t need to go looking for the enemy under every rock, but we need to be aware of his schemes. If, indeed, we’re under attack, we stand firm and claim truth. We should also call on a trusted friend to stand with us in prayer. And there’s no substitute for wearing our spiritual armor.

If the enemy is toying with you, like with the little clown who jumped up at me, slam down the lid and walk away.  He just needs to be reminded that we know he’s a liar. He knows that he is powerless when we live in the power of Jesus Christ.

Live Christmas All Year Long

(reposted from 2016)

The sentiments expressed here still hold for me. As many of us enter a new calendar year, we’re thinking of how we can make 2018 a good one. Whether you had a generally good 2017 or not, I wish you God’s best in the coming year.
Be a blessing to someone today.

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We’ve reached it: 2016 A.D. Just a week ago, we were celebrating Jesus’ birth; today we look expectantly into a new year. At least as far as calendar years go. With Christmas and the beginning of a new calendar year occurring a week apart, I pause to consider how the two might tie together.

What if we made a resolution to live the Christmas spirit all year long? Take a look at some ideas I thought of and see if you can come up with a few of your own. I’d be glad to hear of them.

Incorporate Music
Occasionally around the first of December, I’ll see my friends post on social media or say outright that they listen to Christmas music all year ‘round. They often sound like they’re apologizing. “I confess,” they say. I don’t think they need to apologize.

Think about it. Traditional Christmas carols are some of the best praise and worship music you can find. Most of them are ancient songs or at least from the last two centuries. o-come-emmanuel

I defy you to read––not sing––the lyrics of a Christmas carol and not see the true message of what Christmas means to Christians all over the world. Consider how listening to these hope-filled songs can turn a trial-filled time of life into a time of remembering God’s faithfulness.

Enjoy Fellowship
Throughout the year we naturally think of some specific days to enjoy fellowship with family or friends. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day for example. Why not go the extra mile (and avoid some of that grocery shopping craziness) and plan a get together in March? September? For no reason except to enjoy the fellowship.

Not to be maudlin, but we are never promised another glimpse of our loved ones once we’ve parted. I’ve heard too many stories of people who lost someone dear to them and one thing they regret is not getting together more often. Just celebrate life together. It doesn’t even have to revolve around food. But do it; you won’t be sorry.

This is one resolution I plan to carry out for sure with as much time as I’m given in the next year.

Enjoy the Wonder
The Christmas story I’m familiar with involves a single star guiding several men from the near east to a place in the Judean countryside. They found Jesus there. While I don’t claim to know how the tradition of lighting up our homes came into being, it has a place in my history.

As a child, my father would drive us around town to look at the brilliant light displays other people had come up with. We kids ooh-ed and aah-ed the same way we did during the 4th of July fireworks display.

Have you ever gone out to take a look at the starry sky on a clear night? It’s worth it to drive out to the country (avoiding light pollution) and watch the “silent stars go by.” That’s truly a credible use of the word ‘awesome.’dew covered web

Consider also that God has given us wonders closer than the starry sky. We often forget to notice the everyday happenings that, if we think deeper about them, are miracles. His creation gives us reason to stop and wonder. Colorful birds. Fragile, intricate spider webs. Clouds building into a thunderstorm. You get the picture. The birth of a baby–even if it’s not Jesus–is always considered a ‘blessed event.’

Be Generous
One of my favorite Christmas stories is “A Christmas Carol.” Even though I know the story inside out, I’ve always enjoyed the end. Scrooge discovers what it really means to give to others; the act makes him feel incredibly alive.
Love, generosity and need know no season. We all can find ways to share more of our treasures: time, money, resources and affection. I’m encouraged by the words of Paul the apostle:

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

In addition to noting that God is generous, Paul says He is gracious.

Keep Hope Alive
If we can say one thing about Jesus coming to earth and the purpose of His life, ministry, death and resurrection, it’s this: We have hope for the future.

During any given year we may face trouble which seems to be more than we can stand. Perhaps you’re thinking of the past year or one in recent history in which you experienced a heavy burden. We all can; it’s one of those things common to all of us.

However, for those who receive Christ, the message of hope stands stronger than any trial. Jesus told his disciples that in this world there would definitely be trouble. He also assured them they could “Take heart” because He’d overcome the world.

Remember that hope is something we keep in our hearts to keep us going. It’s also a message we share because we want everyone to know what we know. God has a plan and that plan is for us to be His.

Anno Domini
A.D. stands for anno Domini. It means in the year of the Lord but is often translated as in the year of our Lord. It is occasionally set out more fully as anno Domini nostri Iesu (or Jesu) Christi (“in the year of Our Lord Jesus Christ”). The term anno Domini or A.D. is used to label or number years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

This calendar era is based on the traditionally reckoned year of Jesus’ conception or birth. The dating system was devised in 525, but was not widely used until after 800. The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used calendar in the world today.

So, is it any wonder? He who gave so generously, with an accompaniment of angels’ music and the wonder of a bright star, also brought to us the idea of fellowship in the Church and the reality of hope for our eternal future.

TGIF: Just Scream

This would normally be a Foodie post because it’s Foodie Friday. But my mind is elsewhere.

Yesterday a friend shared with me a text from her daughter-in-law. The poor woman was recounting every challenge which happened in just the past week alone, including a scare with her husband being hospitalized for chest pains. I told my friend, “Well, life is like a roller coaster, and it’s okay to scream.”

If you’re one of those people who is saying to yourself, “Thank God it’s Friday,” hang on to that bar in front of you. God will be your source of strength and comfort to get through any challenge. And, even though screaming may help in the moment, remember that the ride eventually evens out.

The more we get used to the roller coaster ride of life, the more we realize that the steep climbs, crashing plummets, and speedy curves are all part of it. Our approach to God in facing the roller coaster’s intensity–even while screaming–makes sense as we approach each challenge on the ride of our life.

Be a blessing to someone today.