Monday, July 17, 2017

Happiness while in Pain

Its July here in Oklahoma which means humidity and more humidity, and evenings filled with the mass chirping of cicadas and blinking white dots of fire flies giving charm to the night sky.

And so I Joseph Ostermeir, yours truely the Okie Traditionalist, once again sit here in my Okie armchair ruminating and reflecting on this here Valley of Tears.

In a recent past post I listed a summer To-Do Bucket List dependent upon my health recovery, yet the all wise and good Divine Physician has extended my penitential period of rehabilitation.  Weekly physical therapy sessions, daily exercises and a health regimen, occupy my front lobe.  Its one day at a time until we resume our weekend country roadtrips and dip into the cool waters of eastern Oklahoma's finest swimming holes.

And so I turn to the subject of this latest installment of The Okie Traditionalist--happiness while in pain.  Until now I never knew, I really had just an inkling of understanding on the level of the abstract and academic, that it IS metaphysically possible to experience a state of peace and spiritual happiness while enduring constant pain.

Something surreal happens and you're just going to have to take my word for it, like people had to believe Jodie Foster's character in the movie Contact when she returns to Earth from her alien visit.  Imagine being at the bottom of a vertical tunnel of fire burning alive, but making the raw decision to accept it and pray.  Part of your soul ascends out of the pit into the blue sky and gentle breeze.  Mind you, your lower nature is still down there in the fire, but the fire itself propelled your higher nature to ascend and calmly settle at the level of the intellect and will.  

Its a paradoxical experience I'm sure some of you have had the misfortune fortune to have.  This wasn't me; it was Grace and I've tasted it just a few times now.  Folks, this is me bearing witness that divine spiritual sweetness and delights await us.

At any rate, if God lets me choose, I choose recovery and normality asap, to get back my duties of state.  But this thing has changed me.  As I talked about in an earlier post about three choices we can make when confronted by serious calamity, the only choice is to "grab that bull by the horns." Pray for me I dont let go.

Wishing you all a cool summer.  Will post again soon.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Thoughts on Life and Purgatory

I was pondering this today trying to finish my book on purgatory while recovering from some recent serious illness.  Purgatory and life here on Earth have metaphysical differences but seem to me to essentially to be the same thing.  In a way this life is purgatory. A constant state of suffering of some kind in reparation for our sins.  Check.  A temporary place.  Check.  In reality nothing compared to heaven.  Check. Where comfort is always secondary to suffering.  Check.  Where suffering prevails over reliefs and comfort. Check.  Yup, they sound to have enough of the same characteristics in common to place them in the same category of "Valley of Tears."

Its nice to think of having a full, happy life here in the natural sense, without much suffering, and to avoid purgatory completely just by being ordinary Catholics saying our prayers and earning indulgences.  I've always thought that way more or less, truth be told.  Deep down I still do. I'm still choosing the easier road to heaven hoping indulgences will make up the difference. 

But from what Ive been reading about purgatory, if we really understood the hard data about the place, we would gladly suffer terrible crosses here.  And apply our indulgences to the Poor Souls themselves out of charity because to be holy--ironically therefore to avoid purgatory--we should want to first relieve the suffering of others before ourselves.

If you want to avoid purgatory by gaining indulgences youd probably need a plenary indulgence right before a holy death considering even the best of us commit venial sins every day.  But we have to be detached from venial sin to gain the full indulgence.  Even if that does not have to be an extraordinary, mystical kind of detachment, it seems to me to be assured you will have it before you die, its important to already have that as a habit.  And to have it as a habit, not to mention to have a basic "holy and happy death," it is very important to live a penitential life beyond that of being an ordinary, devout Catholic.

Consider St. Padre Pio, our own contemporary saint and mystic. From the different Lives of the Saints I've read over the years, arguably he is one of the most holy saints who suffered the most.  The full stigmata, chronic GI pain/vomitting/migraines all his life, persecutions from religious superiors and members of the hierarchy, nightly attacks of body and mind by demons, crippling diffuse arthritis later in life, etc, etc.  None of which he sought out, but simply accepted because he had no other choice.  Yet he waited until just the last moments before his death for his final confession!  He must have known he had at least one venial sin to confess that could merit him some serious purgatory time.  He could read souls after all--why not his own?

Maybe Im taking this too seriously?? But if you study purgatory--shouldn't we all spend some time studying it ?--it is to a certain degree frightening...but ultimately consoling.  You realize that as strange as it may sound to earthly ears, all the countless revelations of the Saints about how long and terrible purgatory is for most who are saved, are really a gift from Gods mercy.  He has revealed them to Catholics--or rather to Catholics today fortunate enough to have stumbled across these private revelations--to actually help us suffer LESS.  And to help many of us practicing Catholics avoid damnation from just one mortal sin, who are just lax enough to think "I'll be fine if at least I make it to purgatory."  

In the most raw pragmatic sense of a believing Catholic human being who naturally wants less pain as long as they exist, it only makes sense to seek out more suffering and penance on this side of the grave.

I hope I'm not sounding or being scrupulous.  But its never resonated with me as much as it is right now deep down that this life IS essentially purgatory and that it is wiser to be more penitential now.  Not that most of us should be Religious or practice severe penances all day long.  But that we should embrace this life for what it really is--a kind of purgatory.  

Thoughts?  Objections? Counter-points?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Living in the Present aint Easy

A year ago a good priest recommended reading Kiersey on understanding my temperament $1.99 here.  If you've ever taken a personality test before, you may know the akward feeling you experience after discovering your psychological profile with unexpected results.  Turns out my profile is "INFJ" which is code for "Idealist-Counselor."  In a nutshell, I am so driven by idealism to better society and others around me, that I am almost exclusively oriented from the past towards the future.  My psychological DNA programs me to think of everything along a timeline of to-do lists and goals.

The INFJ wakes up driven by what will happen later that day.  What transpires over breakfast means very little compared to the grand goals of the day.

Going off to work or school is all about progress in the future.  Projects are about reaching future mile stones more than simply achieving a good in the present tense.  That's how I'm wired anyway.

The wife on the other hand is the complete opposite.  Her habit is not To-do-lists or exacting punctuality, but living in the needs of the present.  This is why she'll never forget to turn off the oven, and I will as my aloof mind ponders the future in reference to the past.

And it is this quality that is presently extremely challenging for me right now as work and educational pursuits were completely haulted recently by my medical deprivation from the normal world of work and leisure.   

The future hangs in a silent state of limbo. My life continuum has been temporarily dislodged from my psyche.  The past seems like a distant past life, with just recent memories of emergency rooms, specialists, and evolving symptoms.  The future looks like a foggy haze of uncertainties mixed with visualizations of renewed goals and hopes.

For an INFJ, living like this feels like being stuck in a limbo-like present surrounded by the once familiar mystical clouds of past and future.  The last time I was in this "place" was probably early childhood before that Ericksonian stage of development kicks in called "industry."

But so be it.  God has His reasons and I'm sure one intention He has is for me to spend more time in the Present, contemplating the Eternal Now, as St. Augustine calls it.

I'm learning lessons that have eluded me.  To not base my happiness on success in this life, or the esteem of others (except in spiritual and moral stsndards).  To no longer expect my life will or must follow my own plans in order for my life to be fulfilled.  To detach from hard to break bad habits that have kept me too many times from living a blameless life.

Today was not a great day, health wise.  I do not know what tomorrow will hold.  Perhaps I will experience more shifts back to restored health.  Perhaps not.  I don't know when I'll be back to my old self and reattached to the linear traintrack of my life moving familiarly forward towards future goals.

I am forced to go above my temperament for a while, to follow the good example of my wife, and many of the contemplative saints, and to just take one day at a time.  But still be goal driven to accomplish the life priorities just for that 24 hour day.

Time for my bath and moonlight rosary.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Daily challenges and blessings

I'll get the challenges over with.  My TMJ syndrome pain flared up unusually high today, I figure meriting some higher glory in heaven God willing I make it through the Pearly gates.  Offered it up for a certain someone out there.

That was actually the one challenge.

The blessings were just that.  Spent hours of quality time with the wife and mom, savored a Braums cheeseburger (eaten in small bites) and had a couple hours of so little pain I actually felt like my normal self and relaxed enough for us to visit my aunt.  Tonight enjoying the A.C.

Thank God for today.  A day closer to restored health in Gods time and our eternal reward.

How was your day?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Another thing to add to my summer bucket list: dinner at the Amish

Well I'm waiting on God and Mother Nature to decide when I recover from my health situation.  In the meantime, I ponder the pleasant things we might partake in during this summer season which at present I'm limited to be able to do.  A few posts ago I mentioned going to Blue Hole Springs, Eureka Springs, among other local outings.  And I forgot to mention one of my most favorite daytrips that perhaps the Divine Physician in His good humor will make soon come true.  And that is dinner at a local Amish farm.

You gaze across the table at roast beef and fried chicken, the creamiest mashed potatoes, green beans, German noodles, huge yeast bread rolls, real butter, and a pitcher of ice tea.  Later each table gets their choice of two pies.  We usually pick the coconut cream and pecan pies, plus of course served with coffee.  Mind you the mother of the house woke up at 5am to prepare everything from scratch with the best ingredients.

Its the Earl Miller family about five miles southwest of Chouteau an hour east of Tulsa on 412.  You see how they live and dress.  You'll probably pass by horse and buggy on the way there, and maybe even their K-8 one room school house.

They host several dinners a week.  Bring a church group, or if there's already people there, a family can have their own private table.

Despite their Anabaptist rigorism, their traditional way of life is something I'd bet would intrigue many a traditional Catholic.

Just call the Dutch Pantry restaurant in Chouteau and ask for Earl and Lisa Miller's cell # to make reservations.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

My Wife

I call her my honey bunny, my best friend, my little tarsier (tiny Filipino monkey).  I gaze at her.  The innocense, beauty, and inner strength that shines through her face.

She is my help mate.  A home body, for her cooking, cleaning, and doing the dishes are relaxing forms of leisure, while for me they're chores.  She's been blessed with an unusual work ethic that seldom complains or shirks duties.

She is no less a saintly example when we pray evening prayers than she is working in the kitchen.  She's usually the first to light the candles at our family altar and ring the bell which says time for the rosary.  How many times I've called out from the other room "I've only got a few minutes left on this YouTube video."

Its just that her strengths compensate well for my weaknesses, and I hope it is also vice versa.

After all we are to be a model of the Holy Family.   The Blessed Virgin Mary is her model as wife; St Joseph is mine as husband.

She might read this post. I hope she does.  Honey Bunny, my best friend, my Tarsier, I thank God for you everday!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Peanut butter and jelly

It was Friday, so being a traditional Catholic I followed the old custom of abstaining from meat today.  Some penance united to the Good Friday cross, we are taught.

So what would it be?  Well I ended up not settling on something all that penitential.  Turns out I made a childhood favorite made popular probably back in the 60s or 70s, and that is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with good old fashion white Wonder bread, Peter pan, and Welch's, slid onto a paper plate accompanied by, what else, Frito corn chips.  

I needed to eat after all.  Plus I did abstain from meat.  The ingredients just jumped out at me as an easy meal.  But truth be told there was really no penance in the meal, unless you count the paper plate--which I actually find makes for a more classic, eye-appealing presentation that indirectly somehow affects the palate.

But you've got to love a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich...but next time polished off with a glass of ice cold milk.

Can I make you one?

TGIF fellow Catholics and my Okie trad patriots.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ruminating and Reflecting on Peace

Just polished off a plate of comfort food--tender roast beef, creamy mashed potatoes, and green beans with bacon, all smothered with a thick dark gravy.   It was medicinal and just what my body needed right now.

And so I lean back in my Okie armchair, take a good, deep breath, and ruminate and reflect on life.

Last night I wrote about suffering. Tonight I think I'll muse about peace, because I read recently that while the souls in purgatory suffer more than they did in this life, they are somehow actually simultaneously in an actual bona fide state of happiness.

Turns out that "somehow" is that they're in a state of perfect peace.  There is absolutely no disharmony or conflicts among the Holy Souls or with God.

I confess for years I've lacked a level of peace that should be becoming of a practicing Catholic.  I could lay out the series of conflicts and misfortunes years ago that tilted my soul away from the abiding peacefulness and easy-to-forgive attitude God singularly blessed me with in my youth--instead towards an attitude of tension, irritations, and even anger foreign to me in childhood.  But such corruptions of heart I think are common even among some of the most admirable men.

The young man emerges from the garden into the jungle.   The colors of the rainbow and warmth of the Sun give way to grey shadows and cold valleys.  Petty neighborhood childhood disputes are replaced by betrayal, malice, egoism, and cold wars.  Amidst all our shopping malls and ubiquitous sea of restaurants, in the middle of all the pleasure and prosperity is a constant battle between husbands and wives, siblings, friends, and coworkers.

If an abiding, spiritual, Christian peace is a prerequisite for happiness, even in the midst of the worst sufferings, then Id reckon most of us, including yours truely, are not exactly happy.

Can a paraplegic in constant pain be happy?  Can a man wrongly sentenced to life in prison for a murder he didn't commit be happy?  Yes and Yes, but humanism cant explain how.

Peace.  Suffering.  Happiness.  These are pieces to the puzzle of life that cant be fit together using human reason.  Philosophy or science cant solve the mystery of the paradox of life.  It takes Revelation from God, i.e. the Catholic Faith.

Part of me thanks God for this Faith; without it Im not sure how I could have so far coped with the jungle of adulthood.  The other part of me is mystified how anyone without Christ, without a spiritual life united to Him, is getting through this valley of years.

I want to be like the souls in purgatory.  Wanting 100% to embrace my crosses to do penance for my sins, but at the same time in a state of peace with God, my neighbor, and myself, and therefore to be truely happy.

Well its time for the evening rosary.  That's where I can work all this out.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Suffering.  A personally relevant subject that has admittingly been compulsively occupying my mind as of late.  I've learned in new ways there are degrees of suffering that, if it weren't for faith in the Revelation of a divine, eternal reward vs. a black, eternal punishment, would lead one to despair.

I mean if a car swerved on the highway and hit someone's car, making it flip, severing their spinal cord, leaving them bedridden, paralyzed, and in constant spastic pain for the test of their life (btw this sort of thing happens all the time), and the victim was a secularist (ie your average American), from tpohe point of view of today's values, what would be the point of their life?

My wife sadly sees these kind of patients often in the hospital.   Miserable and lost.

Faith is a gift, much more than an intellectual achievment, and so few people have this gift.   Without it, people are sitting ducks.  In an instant, an act of nature can turn someone's life upside down.

There is a long member of Suscipe Domine traditional Catholic forum named Chestertonian whose illness and physical suffering makes that of the Elephant man look like a case of the flu.

Ches, as we call him, has mitochondrial disease.  He is bedridden, almost completely paralyzed, can't breath, cant speak, can't eat.  He has all sorts of tormenting kinds of pain.  He's in his 30s, sick like this for several years, and could still live another decade with ever worsening symptoms.  He is constantly in a state of struggle going back and forth between his home, hospital, and nursing home, having surgery after surgery, and procedure after procedure.

And Ches is a devoted traditional Catholic, husband, former teacher, and father of two young boys.

I confess I am too weak to simply accept these stark realities without questioning or rather becoming bewildered about God's ways.

Right now out there is someone who suffers very little.  God gave them excellent health, properity, success, and a rich family and social life.  They may even be close to God yet live a nice, long, healthy life devoid of tragedy.

Then there's someone out there whose one of the most suffering souls on Earth.  Imagine a blind, deaf, mute, retarded, quadriplegic little girl, who has never been taught about God or the hereafter, sold into a dark underworld of prostitution, to be raped over and over, day after day, for decades.  In some sick pagan corner of Asia, I could imagine a victim like this.

Suffering is a mystery.  All we know is suffering is in reparation for our sins, gains us merit for salvation and a higher reward in heaven, and to help convert sinners.

That's it.  That's all we know.  We suffer.  And by Gods grace we are saved.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Summer Bucket List

As some of ya'll may know, I've been going through a health challenge.   Been doing all I need to do to overcome it, praying I'm back to normal life soon, as in by this summer which we're about to go into.   As I wrote about before, I'm keeping up my new garden and daily exercise.

God willing here's some things I'd like to do this summer, a Summer Bucket List.

1.  Outing to Blue Hole Springs near Salina, OK, a privately owned Eden-like oasis park built up around a refreshingly cold Spring.   Its a must go for Okies, but a hidden gem.  I've got the low down on the details, but they are on FB.

2.  Trip to Eureka Springs, AR, another surreal spot of heaven, imo, i.e. if you can ignore certain local politics if you know what I mean.  European village-like arts and crafts, bed and breakast getaway nestled in the Ozarkmountains.  Serene, relaxing, otherwordly.

3. Beach picnics.   With Oklahoma's endless lake shores--we've got a lot--there's plenty of little beaches, some very nice out of the way hidden ones, that would make you think you weren't in Oklahoma.   A little hibachi grill to grill tilapia and salted sweet potatoes, a few towels, and some sunscreen.  Nothing like it.

4.  Set up a bird bath.  To compliment my bird feeder I made last summer.  By the time our flowers bloom and garden starts producing, it will be invigorating to see the lawn come to life.

5.  Bbq on the front porch.  Admiring the garden--God willing it is bountiful--while sipping diet Coke with Rum.  Maybe some sparklers too.

6.  Adoration chapel visits. I should already make more, but a renewed health would compel me to give thanks after thanks to the good Lord.

7. Participate in some local trad events.  You can count on them over at St Peter and Paul parish or Most Precious Blood. Hope to visit with old friends again.

8.  Hiking in Arkansas.  Maybe Devils Den day hike.   Their camp restaurant makes the best butterscotch pie.

9.  Picnic at Greenleaf lake. Then visit Batfish submarine museum on the way home.   My present nerves would prevent me squeezing through the submarine, but by then, God willing, I'm comfortable again in situations like that.

10.  More summer blogging.   To refocus daily health challenges back to my old daily past times.   Would be nice to chime in on President Trump and Church events.

Dear Readers, please keep me in your daily prayers I recover my health and can take on some of this Summer Bucket List.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

My Dog Today

The morning sun was streaming through the blinds.  I was curled up under the comforter, hugging my pillow.  The wife up earlier than me, as she usually is, opened the bedroom door and in skipped Peanut, my canine "man's best friend."  She leaped across the room and jumped on the bed.  One of my doggie commands I've managed to master with her is the command "Curl!" which means to curl up next to me in bed, which she did.  I tucked her under the covers, and she nestled next to me, her head on the pillow, staring up at the ceiling.

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I was in the middle of eating my sunny side up eggs, mackerel fish, and oatmeal breakfast (cue my recent blog post about renewing my lower carb diet: here), when I heard a high pitched yelp from the living room. It wasn't our mild mannered, quiet Japanese Spitz named Snowy.  Of course it was Peanut, saying "Hey, when are we going for a walk?"

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Morning walks have become a habit the last month or two, and that usually involves Peanut, and sometimes Snowy if I'm up to two dogs pulling me like a human dog sled through the neighborhood.  "Bobo, Peanut, Bobo!" I called out.  That's another command for the dogs, but one that doesn't always work, which means to me, and hopefully by now the dogs, "No bark! No bark!"

This morning both Peanut and Snowy enjoyed the walk.  It did help the wife joined in, with Snowy on her leash.  By the way, if you're a regular reader and forgot, Peanut is a Dachshund.

If you know Dachshunds, they have a particular set of behaviors specific to this species.  They love to dig their noses in the dirt, they can use said long nose to unfold any blanket and wrap it around themselves.  And they are hyper.  Peanut is hyper, especially when it comes to any opportunity to go outside.

So it was this evening going out to water the garden.  Yes, still keeping up my renewed hobby I talked about here.   A little, tolerable bark reminded me to take you-know-who outside.  One thing I have to always watch our for about Peanut, when we go outside, is her untethered compulsion to squeeze through the side gate of our front fence and head towards the nearest stray cat or dog (which we get a few of on our street).

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Peanut's been doing this.  

Right now as I write this, its just past 9pm, and I'm sitting in my proverbial Okie Armchair, glancing to my right across the room.  Peanut is curled up under her blue blanket, with her head set on part of the blanket puffed up like a pillow.  She looks tired, a good tired, because today she spent a lot of time outside!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sitting on My Perch: a Personal Reflection

Recently, as I looked out across the landscape of my little life here in Oklahoma, across this state and diocese, across the historical timeline of my own life and the last several decades, across the crisis in the Church that deepens every day even in our own backyard, I actually became very acutely aware of something.  Something I've noticed before, but not given much attention.

That something is that when I think and talk and write about life and society and church, in my mind's eye I am often "sitting on my perch" looking down on it all.

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What do I mean?  Imagine sitting on a branch in a tree looking down on people.  You have a distant, imperial vantage point in your mind to look down on everything and make judgments and prognostications.

For example, imagine this historical timeline:

1900------------1950----Vatican II, etc-------2017

I know every mind is unique and has its own ways of imagining and conceptualizing.  I often literally imagine this timeline in my mind.  And it is like I am perched up above it looking down from a distance, judging and prognosticating.  

We do have to step back and look over things objectively. When monks take their afternoon walk up the hill to look down on their monastic grounds, it affords them a brief retreat to look at their life from a different vantage point, the advantage being a moment of calm recollection.

But folks, I must confess I too often perch up high looking down.  There's wisdom to be gained, but its also dangerous.

We see so little from even the highest spots, with the highest IQs, and with the most information.  We see so little.  But we (I) pretend to see so much.

There's an awesome power and talent in being able to rise above events and geography and look out across it all with logic and vision.  Perhaps traditional Catholics, especially those who read and think a lot, as it seems we often do, have that ability, but its a powerful, potentially harmful gift, if we are not humble in our intellect.  And the older and more aged I get, the more I realize I need to spend more time on the ground.

Am I making sense?  What are your thoughts?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

More Thoughts on Friendship, part 2

I reflected yesterday and today on these posts I've been making about friendship, and was reminded of a major point Aristotle made (who St. Thomas calls "The Philosopher" by the way) about Friendship, in his book on Ethics.

In a nutshell, he said one of the main mistakes people make about friendship is mistaking what kind of friendship it is in the first place.  He delineates three kinds of friendship:  friendship of pleasure,  friendship of utility, and friendship of the good.  The third one is the ideal, which the first two should tend towards.

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He does accept the legitimacy of the first two kinds, but notes one of the fatal mistakes people make is in misconstruing the nature of the relationship.

People need people.  If your car breaks down, you may need a friend to give you a ride. If you're bored, if you need someone to just hang out with to relax, there are plenty of average folk out there that will do just fine.  That other person doesn't need to be very wise or virtuous, as long as the nature of the friendship isn't misunderstood.

I confess that has been one of my mistakes.  My Myers-Brig temperament is INFJ, which is called "Idealist-Counselor."  I'm wired to think in high ideals, with lofty, optimistic expectations.  Pragmatism isn't part of my DNA.  We're all different.  After all, there's something like 16 personality types.

Is it even possible to have more substantial friendships today, of the third kind described by Aristotle?  Not necessarily a sublime communion of holy men, but a meeting of sincere minds and hearts, united along a common path towards similar, virtuous goals, those goals being in tune with Our Lord.  The older I get in this dark age we live in, the more I realize that is a rare gift.  But likewise, I also understand more and more how important it is, so I continue to hope and search for these kinds of friendships.

They can be found.  It might be someone unexpected. Someone who may not even be religious. A coworker, a neighbor, a pen pal you meet in a forum.

But at the same time we need just pals to talk to, to hang out with, as long as there is a mutual respect of each other.  But even that is a special fortune, since "respect for each other" does require at least a basic amount of Christian civility.

Friendship.  It's a lost habit, a forgotten virtue.  But I still believe in it, as I do any other Christian truth.  I'll always seek out good friends, because being a good friend to others is part of what it means to be a good man.

What are your thoughts on friendship?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

More Thoughts on Friendship

Last night I reminisced on what I think was the best friendship I've ever had, a happy memory from childhood, and how true, lasting friendship can be a rare thing, especially in adulthood.  I had a couple readers comment about friendships that have lasted the test of time.

One reader, signed in as "Anonymous," shared how they had a friendship that was loyal and lasting despite some heated conflicts.  Their friend recently passed away, and he and his wife were able to comfort him in his final hour.  My condolences, and may he rest in peace.

Philosophers, theologians, and poets have waxed and waned about the virtue of friendship since time immemorial.  I've read some of their pages over the years. What does it mean to be a friend?  When do you know that someone is an authentic friend?  I've asked these questions many times as an adult, with all the experiences I had with "friendship."  I'd venture most of you have too, if not in such formal, philosophical terms.

I believe we need friends like we need anything.  We need food and water.  We need health care, shelter, and social support.  And we need friends.  That's a Christian truth.  It is essential to our human nature, and when we are without friends, or sincere friendships, it is like being severely malnourished or blind.

But I think most moderns don't believe this.  They think an individual is somehow fine on his own, a world to himself, a separated reality, and that if there is friendship, it is mainly for pleasure or utility.  

The Christian ideal of friendship based on mutual respect and self-giving, based on a shared wisdom and virtue--or at least the pursuit thereof--is treated as something odd if not repugnant.  Expecting friendship to be long-lasting, civilized, and loyal is almost considered a sin against modernity.  That's what I sense from most anyway.

Well, I could have easily subscribed to the pop-cultural mindset about friendship.  It would definitely have been an easier philosophy to follow.  Ironically, truth be told, if I did, all or most of those I've called friends over the years wouldn't last all that long as friends, since they haven't exactly been the most pleasurable or useful people to know.  But there was a reason beyond pleasure or utility I sought out their friendship.

For all the effort you can make in making friends, and nurturing that friendship, whether or not it turns out a success is as much partly outside of your control, as is good health or financial success partly outside of your control.  It is a myth that the best efforts always spell success; or inversely, that failure indicates a lack of effort or character.  

At least from your own perspective, whether or not the other person actually returns the friendship with an equitable respect is 100% not in your control.  That's what makes a good, lasting friendship a blessing, a fortune from God.  It's 50% up to you, but the kicker is it's also 50% up to them, and you have no control over that part of the equation.

I've been blessed with lasting friendships, but I know firsthand how rare they really are.  And as much as I must always seek out food and water, I will always seek out true, Christian friendships.  I have to because I am a human being.  

In the end, despite my best efforts, I may or may not be successful in friendship just as I may or may not be materially successful.  How poor or blessed we are in this life, when it comes to money or relationships, it is mainly up to God.  Not us.

In the end, isn't it true that what matters is becoming saints, that ultimately is why we must be true friends to others?

Monday, May 1, 2017

My Best Friend

It was a warm summer afternoon and I was playing outside, exploring the grass and trees.  I was four years old.  I looked up and coming down our cul-de-sac was a four year old boy on a Big Wheel.  His name was Randy.  He saw me running around the yard, and got off his ride and ran over to play.  The rest is history. 

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For the next 14 years, Randy and I were best friends. Maybe the best friend I've ever had.  We spent endless days, evenings, and weekends playing anything and everything.  You name it.  We were truly best friends.  True friends.  We would have laid down in traffic for each other.  I remember when his parents got a divorce, and I spent extra time with him since I could tell he was having problems with the change. He spent more time at our house, and going with us to Mass.

When neighborhood rivalries sprang up, we stuck by each other's side.  The authenticity of the friendship just was.  I didn't philosophize about it.  The loyalty didn't take long hours of discernment to commit to.

Flash forward to senior year high school.   Randy jumped off the deep end of sex, drugs, and alcohol. Looking back on it, I am sure his bad choices reflected his increasingly difficult home life.  But his departure from innocence divided us.  I was not willing to jump into the deep end with him, and in a year or two,the 14 year friendship--which was probably one of the most authentic and truest friendships I have known--unfortunately faded away forever.

The thing is Randy was not raised in a religious home.  One time coming with us to Mass, when he heard the reading from the Epistle of St. Peter, he asked if one of the altar boys was St. Peter.  When it came to religion or God, he was largely ignorant.

But for those 14 years, that friendship was the most Christian friendship I've ever known.  It wasn't a fair weather friendship, or mere utilitarian friendship.  Since adulthood, I've not been lucky enough to have such a lasting, authentic friendship.  Perhaps such is a rare gift in life.

How about you?  Have you been blessed with true friendship?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Some Daily Thoughts

I love my dog Peanut.  What a loyal friend.  She has a keen sense of what I'm going through.   She's basically been a barometer of my ever-fluxing state of well-being.  In a moment she is on my lap to gaze into my face, give me a little kiss, and push her chest up against my own. I love that dog.

The love of a good wife is infinitely better and more comforting.  My wife is a saint.  Hard-working, dutiful, pious, and cheerful.  I admire her positive spirit in the face of adversity.  If everyone in her life died and she was homeless and destitute, I'd bet she'd still be able to sleep, get up and carry on through her day with sustained faith and buoyancy.

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Oklahoma weather.  Well, I've talked about it before, how our weather is very unusual and unpredictable.  I have memories of Spring-like weather on Christmas day, and snow in April.  Today is April 30, and it was chilly with a whistling wind reminiscent of winter.  Had to turn on some space heaters.

West Wing.  I'm rounding 3rd base now on season 6.  Very liberal, yes, yes, I know.  But the plot and character development got me hooked.  I especially like the character Josh Lyman, a special advisor and writer for the president.  He's got a lot of energy, spunk, and enthusiasm for his job.

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Ok.  Got to go to sleep soon.  Tell me your thoughts.  Pleasant dreams, and that include's Matthew over at Matthew's Dreams Blog.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Way I See it, You've Got Three Choices

Imagine the poor souls who become disabled by a serious medical illness.  Or someone who loses a spouse or child.  Or someone who is unjustly sent to prison for life.  The list could go on.

And imagine there is no way to undo the situation.  No way to go back and prevent it, or to go on living as if the circumstances of your life haven't been permanently changed.

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I listed above some extreme examples, but many of us have or will deal with some life-altering personal challenges.  A surgeon has to quit doing surgery after losing some fingers to frostbite climbing Everest.  A married couple can no longer have marital relations because of some kind of unusual, medical complication.  One day you wake up and your vision is so bad you can no longer drive a car--at least legally anyway.

Many of us will have some kind of mutilating experience in their life, or know someone first-hand who has.  And a choice has to be made.

The way I see, you've got one of three choices:

1.  Jump off a bridge.  I don't see any upside here.  Either you go from a state of seeming misery in this life to an infinitely worse and permanent state (hell), or if you'd be lucky to make it to purgatory, the suffering would be instantaneously worse.  

2. Give up on life and sit around feeling sorry for yourself.   Become a drunk, druggie, self-loathing, life hating, morbidly depressed dropout on life.   I can see one upside here.  In the moment, there might be some relief from escaping reality.  But given enough time--days or weeks would do the trick--you'd have sunk into a deeper state of misery.  Life would be even worse.

3.  Which brings us to door #3:  maximize your life the best you can despite your handicap or debilitating cross.  If you lose your legs, learn to walk and run using artificial prostheses.   If you lose a spouse to death, mourn and then move on, finding new or renewed relationships.

In the end, no matter how awful the situation may seem, if we care about God and our life, we don't have any other choice than #3.  That's the raw fact of life.

This post is a bit of hyperbole.  Many fortunately will not face tragic change in their life.  Not sure the % in that category, but reflecting on the three above choices, I can see how they'd apply to any trial or cross you're facing, whether it is small or large, temporary or permanent.

In the end we can a) completely give up on a situation, b) retreat into self-pity and a kind of self-indulgence that really hurts more than relieves, or c) grab that bull by the horns, overcome the setback, refuse to throw in the towel, and choose to live fully and as blessedly as possible this little life God has given us.

Our Faith tells me that's the only way to be happy in the next.  And ironically, common sense tells me that's actually the only way to be happy in this life too.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Committed to My Hobby

I did it!  I resurrected my old hobby today, planting a vegetable garden + some flowers.   I was following through on a promise to myself about having regular hobbies--which I chatted about here.  There's something cultivating and rejuvenating for the soul when making something--whether it's a birdhouse, song, recipe, or a garden.

I headed over to Home Depot for some cheap seeds--cucumber, zucchini, and swiss chard.  Last summer the cucumber harvest provided us with endless cucumber salads, but the zucchini plants were a flop--I'll give it a go again.  The Swiss chard package said it can be planted as late as May in Oklahoma, so we'll see.

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Then I headed over to a local specialty gardening store which happens to sell a bunch of vegetable plants at very inexpensive prices.  For about $2, you get four plants.  I picked up tomato, yellow summer squash, and eggplant plants.  Plus some yellow and pink flowers--didn't look at the name--but these are the one's we planted last summer which exploded in color and lasted until October.

Later at home I pulled out my Joy of Gardening book--which seems to be popular among trads btw, considering it's for sale by the Angelus Press--and set the plants and seeds on the front porch.  Some weeds needed weeding, and my hoe came in handy chopping up the soil.

What makes my garden this year unique is that it's all in our front flower beds.  Would take too much labor to dig up all the grass from the garden patch I prepared last summer all by hand.  When you're pocketbook and yard size is limited, you make do with what you've got.

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Dreaming of Tomatoes

In the front row I planted a big yellow to it a small summer squash plant...then a pink flower, repeating that combo a few times down the line.  In the side bed, I spread out some swiss chard seeds towards the front, and in back cucumber seeds, planning for them to grow long vines across the sidewalk and spread out across the yard.  In the very back is a large square bed, where now resides four tomato plants, four eggplants, and some sewn zucchini seeds.

On the porch I planted more of the yellow and pink flowers in a large pot, and in some small pots, and in a middle-sized pot I planted tome red, tropical-looking flowers my wife likes since she is from a tropical country.

If the success of this garden/flower planting is anything like last summer, it will make for a beautified front yard to give pleasure to passersby for months to come, and supply some fresh, organic, homegrown produce for the kitchen!

Every man needs a hobby.  This summer at least, gardening will be mine!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Our First Day in Heaven??

I wonder what our first day in heaven might be like?

After a long, valley of tears.  After a long series of crosses and mystifying sorrows.  For some, after a good spell being purged by fire in purgatory--if we're blessed to die in God's grace.  When all the suffering this side of heaven seems unending.

Think of all your ailments, failures, rejections, hardships, and dark periods.  Think of all the inconveniences, aches and pains, sleeping troubles, depressed periods, loneliness, etc, etc.  Think of the eternal relief and reward that awaits us.

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The Valley of Tears, bu Gustav Dore

I'd like to think our first day of heaven will be like a marathon runner crossing the finish line, being brought refreshments, as a reward for being dehydrated, hungry, and tired.  After all, that initial reward and relief is something the runner aims at in finishing the race.

Perhaps that first day of relief will be different for everyone.  For a poor, deaf and mute, blind, quadraplegic (I imagine there is someone out there so afflicted), that first day through the pearly gates, they will get to run through wide fields of fresh grass, hearing symphonies, and viewing majestic panoramas, while speaking with the angels.

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For me I would like to think on my first day in heaven, I will be surrounded with family and friends who have passed on and made it to heaven, to really have long talks and to laugh.  It would be splendid to have a long, blissful sleep, and to awaken refreshed like I use to as a child.  I would love to experience perfect mental and emotional clarity.  I would also love if I can practice any of those talents and gifts God gave me in this life that circumstances have not allowed me to fully express.  It would be awesome to experience what it would be like to be a surgeon.

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Then again, our first day in heaven may be angelic simplicity gazing on the Beatific Vision.   God knows.  But looking forward to that first day in heaven is one thought that keeps me moving forward in this marathon of life.

What do you think your first day in heaven might look like?  The Comment box is open!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Good Sunday Memories

It's Sunday morning and I'm sitting in my Okie Trad armchair starting season 4 of The West Wing on Netflix.  The show is liberal, and not all that interesting, but I'm sorta hooked on it.  The characters are interesting.  The plots are a good mental challenge to follow.

And the little lady is in the kitchen making scrambled eggs and bratwurst.  Mass is later.

This restful Sunday morning, I'm reminded of good experiences I've had over the years on Sundays.

Growing up we either went to the 5pm Saturday Mass, or 11:30 am Sunday Mass, so when we got up at 7 or 8 on Sunday mornings, we had the liberty of a fine, Sunday breakfast and to lounge reading the funny papers.  I remember waking up my parents by crawling into bed with them under the sheets, asking for pancakes.  Pancakes were a Sunday special.  I have a warm memory of Sunday mornings laying on the living room floor, basking in the morning rays of the Sun, reading the comic section of the Sunday paper.  Dad would be reading the news.  Mom would be checking out the advertisements.  Those Sunday mornings are a warm memory from childhood.

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As a teenager, I became best friends with my older sister's boyfriend--now husband.  During their few years of courtship, it was a Sunday habit for them to come to our childhood parish for Sunday Mass.  Sundays would become a close time for family.  I remember the first time I ate pizza dipped in ranch dressing.  One restaurant we frequented after Sunday Mass was Simple Simon's pizza.  My brother-in-law and I mused how customers were using ranch with their pizza, and it caught on.  Next thing you know we were drenching our pizza slices in ranch.

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Most Sundays we had dinner back at the house, and it was my mom's homecooking that filled the house with a delightful aroma.   Our favorite Sunday meal was spaghetti with all the sides.  We would play chess, other board games, and Nintendo.  But we spent more time outside playing basketball, hitting plastic golf balls, and building tree houses.  As time has passed, those relationships are now substantially different, but those Sunday memories will live with me all my life.

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Flash forward, and in my 20's, when I lived in another state, a good friend of mine and I liked to attend a very conservative novus ordo parish far removed from the city, and along the way go bouldering and hiking at a mountainous park surrounding a lake.   Over the course of a year, we probably took a half a dozen such trips, which were surreal to me.  We had so much fun.  It was a day full of spirituality and adventure.  After climbing a tall rock face, we would perch on a ledge and pray the psalms.  On our way home, we stopped at a rural Catholic retreat center immersed in nature, to pray at their Perpetual Adoration chapel which looked like a log cabin.  These were unforgettable times.

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Probably for most of us, most of the time, Sunday is a simple day like any other Sunday.  Hopefully that means Sunday Mass.  But how much do we really keep the day holy?  How much true leisure rules the day?

I can imagine an idealistic Sunday.  Sunday morning Latin High Mass.  Coffee and donuts with fellow parishioners.  A full Sunday brunch of eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and OJ.  Family games and quiet time to study the catechism and for leisure reading.  A visit to a family member in the nursing home, or a shut-in at home to give some comfort.  Then a hike in the park, dinner, and an evening bonfire.  I do hear-tell there are families that manage to live Sundays like that.

Tell me about your Sundays, and fond Sunday memories, in the Comment box below!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Our Dads

Yesterday I talked about how I managed to force my mind to slip into a subconscious, trance-like state while my head was bolted inside a helmet, and my body stuck in an MRI tunnel for 30 minutes.  Good times.

When your fight-or-flight response wants to high jack your psyche, unnecessarily, there is an alternate impulse minds are meant to resort to--the parasympathetic response.   To slow breathing, heart rate, and calm the mind.
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Being stuck in that MRI, my mind managed to do that, and part of what carried me through a half hour laying in confinement, was imagining in exacting detail my teenage camping and backpacking trips with my dad.

I should preface this post with the admission that in my 20's my relationship with my dad did shift from something benign to a very strained situation.  BUT, by the grace of God, however, we made our peace before he died.  That period is come and gone. May he rest in peace.

So this post is about my father, and our fathers.

Except for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it seems according to some Doctors of the Church St. Joseph too, all of us are a mixture of virtue and sin.

So it is with our fathers, with my father.   They go off to work and bring home the bacon.  They change the oil and balance the checkbook.  

Like many men out there, my dad had a good side and a dark side.  There's the side that wants to do good by their wife and children.   And there's the side where...well, fill in the blank.

Our backpacking trips were magical.  Something eased my dad's nerves into a state of sustained serenity and well-being.  Even mishaps and misjudgments were met with a very moderate response.  Something about the outdoors.  Something about taking a Time Out from the social grind.  It's a natural mystery, how the outdoors, at least in my experience, is civilizing and balancing.

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Perhaps you have experienced the vexing and strained side of your father, or worse.  I'd imagine most have.  But for me these outdoor trips were a taste of heaven.  A time of serenity and joy.

Looking up the side of the small mountain (I say small because the "mountains" we backpacked in Oklahoma and Arkansas were, relative to most, small), I took the backpacks out of the trunk.  Dad had the map spread across the hood of the car.  It was always a pleasure to scan the map and see where the sites along the way were marked by symbols in the map's legend.   It was as much a symbolic journey of accomplishment, to make it through the ups and downs marked by the map, as the actual physical accomplishment.

Before passing the trailhead, we checked our gear and food, but once we stepped onto the trail, we entered a new reality.  The reality of father and son enjoying the pure outdoors.

One of my fondest memories is of our times, at the end of a day of arduous backpacking, when we reached the bottom of a valley along a creek or small river.  Tent set up, water gathered, campfire roaring, dinner cooked, the nearby stream giving gentle, relaxing sounds, father and son would settle in by the fireside for a good long talk.

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We told stories.  We talked about life.  We celebrated our day's accomplishment.  We planned the next day's route.

Those were blessed times.  As a nature lover, and a Catholic believer, I imagine heaven being a natural place of mountains and streams.  It was the book of the Apocalypse after all that revealed heaven would be a "new Creation."

And so that is my hope.  My hope is that one day, when we have steadfastly endured the hike of life through this valley of tears, we will join our loved ones in the new Creation.  There I hope to enjoy a campfire again with my dad, and a good, long hike.

Friday, April 21, 2017

CT Scan Today. Wondered if It'd be like my MRI Experience.

I have a fullness in my right and left middle ears, with some recent tinnitus (which I pray is temporary either from allergies or my TMJ issues), and also some painful cheekbones.  My ENT recently thought I'm having sinusitis and ordered a CT scan.  I finally made it in today to get 'er done.  Boy was I relieved it was no big deal.

I was somewhat resolved to doing it going into the radiology department at the hospital down the road, not knowing how confining and prolonged the CT experience would be.  Back in February, I had a first time MRI to rule out some things (which it did), and that was purgatorial.  When I made the MRI appointment they asked if I'd like "conscious sedation" which I'm still unclear as to what it exactly is, but it's for people who are claustrophobic.  I am historically not.  Until this MRI anyway.

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The MRI machine they used for me didn't have a round tube.  The ceiling came almost down to my nose.

For the MRI, I walk into a small room and there is a large machine with a tunnel.  I think "no big deal" until after I lie down my head is completely locked into a bolted-down helmet and when I am transported back into the tunnel, there is maybe an INCH between my nose and the ceiling of the tube, and I'm immersed in it from the top of my head down to my elbows.

You might think "yeah I can do that, no problem."  But the sucker took 30, yes 30 minutes with no stops, the whole time my head completely locked in the helmet.  If I should want out, it would take a chunk of time, and ruin the scan.  This is what you're made aware of by the tech who counsels you before he sends you into confinement.

Oh and just for fun, you're hearing clunking, electrifying, weird Star Trek kinds of sounds of all sorts.

The first few minutes I felt okay, but then it starts to sink in you're going to be in that stuck position for a Half Hour!  Deep breathing helps, but when those strange sounds start pounding and clicking, you have to resort to other measures.

So for the next 25 or so minutes, having made a deep down decision I MUST do this MRI and endure it, for my health, my subconscious mind reverted to an ever more subconscious trance-like state.  I would transport myself back in time and relive every camping and backpacking trip I took with my dad as a teenager.  That's how I got through it.

I imagined the car drive, the food and gear prep, stopping at the ranger's station, what I was wearing, the feeling of excitement to explore the outdoors, the various vistas and valleys we hiked through, the campfires, stories, mishaps, and thrills.  I relived several of those trips in that half hour.  It was a mental marathon.

So going in to do a CT scan today of my sinuses, I had no idea if I'd be confined like that to a tunnel or for how long.  Boy what a relief when the tech said it'd take 5 minutes, and it really only took 2-3 minutes. There was no tight tunnel, and most of the time my head was covered just to the neckline, and just for a short time down to my shoulders.

Fun times.  Anybody ever had the fun of an MRI or CT scan?  Share in the comments section below.

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The CT scan today looked like this.  So much bigger diameter, and no tunnel.