I have always wished I could do a backflip. Now, the type of backflip I’m referring to is not a backwards roll or a back handspring. I’m talking about the backflip where you throw your entire body backwards, tuck your knees to your chest, and pray to God that you have the momentum to land on your feet rather than your head. Mastering the art of successfully landing a backflip actually used to be something on my bucket list, but not anymore.
Let me tell you the backstory to my backflip experience.
One summer, my aunt and uncle were having a family reunion on Lake Michigan. A good portion of my cousins were going to be there, and I don’t get to see them all that often. The reunion always falls on Labor Day weekend, and we spend the majority of the time hanging out on the beach.
On this particular trip, as we were hanging out, I noticed two guys doing all kinds of gymnastics on the sand. Their acrobatics were impressive, least of which was a backflip. I talked to them a little bit, hoping to get a few tips on learning the art of doing a backflip.
As it turns out, one of the guys was a trainer and he taught people how to… yup… do backflips! It was my lucky day. Finally, I would be able to impress everyone with my new skill.
They told me a few tips and tricks, and then they took me to a spot on the beach where the waves had formed a drop-off in the sand. By standing on the edge of the “step,” I would have a few extra inches to get in my rotation before landing on the soft sand. It was the perfect place to learn, and the perfect opportunity with my personal trainer.
I was so nervous to try, but the guys assured me that they were spotting me, and no matter what happened, they would catch me — after all, they had trained many newbies just like this. I finally got up the courage and jumped. Their arms were positioned on my lower back and as I jumped and tucked, they gave my back a little push and I flipped around and landed on my feet! Not graceful by any means, but I was alive!
The flipping was disorienting. My mind was trying to process the jumping, spinning, and landing process. They encouraged me to try it again, and I did. Again and again I flipped, each time getting more comfortable, controlled, and confident. And each time, I got a little nudge to help me complete the rotation.
My teachers were convinced that their taps were not necessary, and that I was holding back a little because of the crutch that was their spotting. So, taking their advice, I was going to do my first ever solo backflip. By now, many of my cousins, aunts, and uncles had gathered around, ready to witness one of my bucket list items being crossed off the list.
On the count of three, I bent my legs and threw myself into the air with more umph than any of my previous attempts to compensate for the lack of external nudges. In some ways, it went in slow motion, but in reality, it happened so fast that I wasn’t sure what happened. All I knew was that I was in pain. My knees hurt, my face hurt, my neck was sore, and I was more than slightly embarrassed.
After processing my pains and asking those watching, I deduced that my feet easily went over my head, but my head landed in the sand first stopping it instantly and doing a number on my neck. My legs, however, kept traveling at full speed until my knee collided with my face giving me a fat lip. It could have been worse.
That was when I decided that I didn’t really need to learn how to do a backflip.
We are all called to be courageous in our Faith, but not the life risking, crazy stunt type of courage. I read that courage is the balance between fear and recklessness. I like that. We can’t be afraid; Jesus tells us that many times. St. Pope John Paul II used “Be not afraid” as his catch phrase. But that doesn’t mean we should go out and risk our lives for a kitty cat. We need to be thoughtful, not reckless with our bravery.
If I’m completely honest, it probably takes me more courage to stand up for my faith in a crowded room full of people who don’t believe the same things as me than it did to try that backflip by myself on the beach. It also takes real courage to defend marriage as the institution that God created between one man and one woman. It takes courage to proclaim that the Eucharist truly is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It takes courage to pray in public.
What kind of courage do you have in your life? Is it the courage to do some crazy stunt to impress your friends, or is it the kind of courage that can change hearts and bring both you and others to Christ? Or do you need to pray for more courage?
With your faith, do you lean toward the side of fear or recklessness?
Have courage… the real kind. Don’t be afraid to share your faith. Stand up for what is right regardless of the risks. I’m going to keep taking risks, but a backflip isn’t one of them.
In college, I went on a canoe trip. We got in an old school bus that was no longer fit for hauling children and were taken upstream on Sugar Creek (don’t get excited, this isn’t anything like Willy Wonka – the name is a bit misleading).
About halfway through our paddling journey, we stopped to eat our packed lunches under a bridge for a little shade. Before getting halfway through my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two groups that were behind us had caught up and docked their boats next to ours.
We watched as our peaceful lunch turned into a party. The other groups had obviously done this trip before and they walked up the hill to the bridge and, that’s right, jumped off. My friends looked at me — knowing I have a hard time passing up on an adventure.
I couldn’t believe it; everyone was jumping off a bridge and I had to decide if I would as well. By now you are sitting at the edge of your seat to find out what I’m going to do. Will I give in to peer pressure? Well, relax… of course I jumped off the bridge!
And here was my logic — follow me for a second: Everyone was jumping off the bridge, and no one was getting hurt. The bridge was clearly low enough and the water deep enough for bridge jumping. Had everyone been jumping off the bridge and getting hurt, or worse, dying, I wouldn’t have jumped off the bridge, and instead, would have gone to get help!! I mean, this is pretty simple logic right?
I think peer pressure has a bad reputation. Peer pressure needs a new public relations person. Just like the Internet, movies, books, and blog posts, peer pressure is neither good nor bad — it is neutral. It all depends on the situation, or the content.
Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with.” Let’s ignore for a moment that he ended a sentence with a preposition, and focus on the rest of the quote. I don’t know how he came to the number five, but looking back at my life, I have to agree.
When I was in high school or college, I would have denied that this was true. I would have told you that I was unique and independent, and blah, blah, blah… but in reality, the people around me heavily influenced me.
Despite my parents suggesting that I not hang out with Todd (not his real name), I thought I would be a good influence on him. After all, Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes (I’m not saying Todd was illegally collecting taxes, or that he was a prostitute, but you get my point). But, spoiler alert, I’m not Jesus, and while Jesus was never negatively influenced by His peers, I was. Instead of challenging Todd to be a better man, I ended up at the police station, explaining why I had a stolen CD player in my car.
On the other hand, in college, I often say that I was a victim of “positive peer pressure.” I was volunteering with the youth group and hanging out with people from church and they would pressure me into going to daily Mass or adoration.
So, I challenge you to look at the friends around you. How are they influencing you? What about the books and magazines that you read? What about the websites you visit, movies and TV shows you watch, or music that you consume? We can say these things don’t influence us, but I assure you that it does. [See what I wrote about Facebook]
So, would I give into peer pressure? It depends. I’m trying to surround myself with positive influences. I try to fill my life with people, shows, blogs, books, magazines, twitter follows, and music that will challenge me to be a better person. Would I jump off a bridge if everyone else is? It depends on what happens to everyone else. The hard part is knowing if the influences around me are positive or negative, because I’m not always honest with myself.
I had committed to service in Honduras for a year (link to that blog here), but as part of my visa, I had to leave the country every three months. It was an odd requirement because I only had to leave for a few days and then come back, but it was a great opportunity to see something new.
Two of the other missionaries and I wanted to visit some Franciscans that were living in Nicaragua. We hopped from bus to bus and finally made it to Managua, Nicaragua. The buses in Managua were much more crowded.
When we got on one of the buses, it was standing room only, and at every stop more people got on until we were so packed that I probably could have lifted my feet off the ground and been held up by people smashed into me on all sides. Although, not many people spoke English, it was common for people to try the few English words they knew on the white guy. “Haylow.” “How are jew?” Stuff like that. (I can’t imagine how bad my accent must have sounded to them.)
Well, on this bus there was a guy that was pretty proud that he knew a few profanities and kept yelling the “F-word” at us along with a few other colorful expressions. We pretended like we didn’t know what he was saying, as if they weren’t really English words and someone had just played a trick on him.
It was finally our stop and we wiggled our way to the door. I’m pretty sure there was a popping noise when we got off the bus like when you put your finger sideways in your mouth — you know what I’m talking about?
As the bus pulled away, we were figuring out where we were going next. Then I realized, someone had picked my pocket. My I.D., credit cards, cash… it was all gone. I checked my backpack in case I had just misplaced it, but it was definitely gone. The other guys were missing things too. We deduced that while potty mouth was distracting us with his linguistic skills, someone must have been going through our pockets.
Losing the money was unfortunate. But canceling credit cards and getting a new identification while in a foreign country, well, that is not fun or easy!
In the chaos, my friend Tony said, “Let’s pray for the person who did this.” Wow. Praying for the guy that just stole all of my money and my I.D. was literally the last thing on my mind… so I let Tony say the prayer. It was beautiful. And he was right.
He didn’t pray that the thief would bring the money back. He didn’t pray that the thief would break his leg. It was a prayer of love — that the man would come to know God, follow Him, and seek forgiveness.
We are supposed to pray for our enemies, but how often do we really do that? When was the last time that you prayed for someone that hurt you? When is the last time we prayed for people that disagreed with us? When is the last time you heard a prayer intention at Mass for a terrorist group? And I’m not talking about a prayer of revenge or restitution, but a prayer of love for the person, the soul, regardless of how misguided it might be.
Back in Honduras, I was leaving the Missionaries of Charity (Blessed, soon to be Saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s order), and I asked one of the sisters to pray for me. Side note: If you see a religious sister, ask her to pray for you. She has to say, “Yes.” (I think.) Free prayers! Anyway, the sister looked at me and said, “I pray for everyone.”
I thought, wow, what a cop out! Does she sit down at her hour of adoration and say, “I pray for everyone and everything, Amen” and then daydream about breakfast for the rest of the time? But I thought, no, she probably actually prays for everyone that she encounters, anyone that comes into her thoughts! Even people that annoy her or hurt her… probably especially them!
So, I’m saying this as a reminder to myself. Let’s pray for our enemies. Honestly, most of us don’t have enemies. I mean, it’s not like we’re superheros with arch rival villains going after us.
We need to pray for those who hurt us, and for those that annoy us or frustrate us. And especially, pray for those that steal from us… whether they steal our money or attempt to steal our joy. It’s easy to pray for our family and friends, tax collectors can do that, but we are asked to love the difficult, just like God does (Matthew 5:44-48).
One morning, I walked into the kitchen and noticed a few ants crawling around on the counter. There were a few crumbs hanging out that didn’t get cleaned up well, so I got rid of the ants, wiped down the counter, and felt pretty good about my domesticated self.
After dinner that night, we cleared the table and I went outside to play with my boys for a bit. When we came back in, we noticed that while there were only small remnants of food on the plates in the sink, this was a mountain of food for the ants. They lined up all organized, as if they knew we were going to wash that dish if they didn’t get all the spaghetti sauce off it in the next five minutes.
Even after wiping down the counters, the sink, washing all the dishes, taking out the trash, and flossing my teeth (for good measure), the ants kept coming back… probably just to laugh at me.
So, I got out the bleach and scrubbed everything. I vacuumed the floors; I even wiped down the chairs (which might sound obsessive until you see how much food my kids can spill on a chair).
I was certain that I wouldn’t see an ant in the house again for at least a week.
But you are already ahead of me aren’t you? You know that when I walked into the kitchen the next morning, I was shocked to see (yeah, you guessed it) ants wandering around as if they were saying, “I heard you were giving out free food here.” [face palm] What?!!? Did someone hang up fliers on the anthill or something?
Well, that was it. These ants were not going to win.
While I was at the grocery store that day, I bought some ant poison (let’s ignore, for a moment, the fact that the grocery store sells stuff that will kill you, a mere 15 feet away from the milk).
I got home and opened up the package, riddled with warnings. I sat and watched as the ants explored this circular plastic dome; home to an abundance of ant deliciousness. I let out a maniacal laugh while twisting my mustache. Things were going just as planned.
It was slow at first, but within a few hours, our kitchen had ants hanging out like it was Spring Break and my counter top was Miami. They could not get to the stuff fast enough. On top of this, if the instructions were correct, not only were they consuming this “goodness” themselves, but they were taking it home and sharing it with their friends and family. It was only a matter of time before the ant apocalypse would strike, and none of these ants would be “left behind.”
By the next day, the ants were gone, and my kitchen was back.
These ants had no idea what they were doing. They thought the circular all-you-can-eat ant poison buffet was good for them. They had no idea that the food they were bringing home to their ant children was going to kill them (OK, now I’m feeling a little bad about all this – wait – no I’m not).
But let’s say that one ant had learned how to read ant poison warning labels. When he got to the circular disc of ant glory, he read the label and realized that it was poison. What would he do? What shouldhe do?
Would he eat the poison? Would he tell his friends and family that it was poison? Would he even try to stop random stranger ants from eating the poison?
What if the other ants didn’t believe him, and thought he was being too uptight? What if they thought he just wanted them to be unhappy?
Can you imagine the difference that one ant could have made on the entire ant population if he told others about this poison that could kill them? However, in order to tell others to avoid the poison, he had to avoid it first.
If you saw all your friends lining up to consume poison, wouldn’t you say something? Wouldn’t you try to stop them? This may seem like it’s a far-fetched idea, but people consume poison everyday.
To put it quite simply, sin is poison. It is poison to our soul, which is even worse than poison for our bodies (check out last weeks post about my moped). It may not kill you physically, but spiritually, sin killsour relationship with God. For St. Paul tells us “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
But before we can tell another to stay away from poison, we need to avoid the poison ourselves. What good is it to tell someone not to do something, while we are stuffing our face full of this deadly concoction?
We need a relationship with God, and a desire to love and serve Him. With this foundation, we will want to learn more about the teachings of the Church and the Bible. As we learn it, we can live it. And as we live it, we can share it.
If that educated ant that could read warning labels cared about the other ants, he would want them to know the truth. This is the (perhaps weirdest) definition of evangelization: Sharing the good news with others. We are called to share this same good news and help others avoid the poison of sin.
And the good news is that if you leave that poison alone, there is some grape jelly right around the corner!
In college, I bought a moped. I saw it as an opportunity to save some gas. Not to mention, it was a great opportunity to look cool since a moped is practically a motorcycle, and anything that remotely resembles a motorcycle is really a Harley, right? Plus, it could fit in the back of my minivan!
With a minivan and moped, I was really maxing out my “cool” potential.
The moped needed a little work, so I took it to a shop downtown. Meanwhile, I made a promise to myself that I would always wear a helmet, even though the law didn’t require it. I knew I was going to be a safe driver, but I wanted to protect my brain from the crazy drivers around me.
Well the day came and the moped was working and running! I sat down on the vinyl covered seat and could feel the fuel-efficiency rumble. I grabbed my helmet and looking like some guy from an X-Games competition, I put my helmet on and gripped the handlebars.
I began to accelerate and before long, I was going a solid 28 miles-per-hour. If only the minivan naysayers could see me now! I slowed down to turn the corner and then picked up speed on the straightaway when, BAM!!!!!
Something hit me! Or let me rephrase that… something flew into me. I experienced my first fly-to-the-eye collision. And yes, that’s a real thing (that I just made up). A fly was flying by and I must have been going too fast for him to get out of the way and he had a head-on collision with my eye! Oh, man did it hurt. I took off my helmet and (probably against any doctor’s recommendation) began to rub my eye, hoping to wipe out the bug remains (are your eyes watering yet?).
With my helmet back on and one eye closed, I slowly idled around the block and parked my ride. No matter how much I rinsed my eye, it felt like there were still a few insect legs under my eyelid. Don’t tell me this isn’t making your eyes water just reading this.
The next few mornings, I woke up with my eye sealed shut from sleepy-dirt, which was my eye’s way of trying to flush out the fly parts.
Here’s the deal: I wore a helmet, but I didn’t put down the visor.
A fly could have hit me anywhere else, but it hit me in the eye. I was worried about protecting myself, but I wasn’t protecting the most fragile things that are necessary to operating any moving vehicle: my eyes.
Oftentimes we get caught up worrying about what other people think of us, our diet, our grades, our income, our future… and we don’t worry about the most fragile thing: our souls.
There is nothing more important than our souls and yet, it is often the last thing we worry about (if we worry about it at all). Our souls will long outlive our bodies (by about infinity), so what are we doing to protect them? And don’t worry, we can still take care of our souls and look cool.
Protecting my eyes was simple: use my visor. Had I put down my visor, I would’ve avoided the week of recovery that accompanied seeing eye to eye with a fly.
Protecting our souls is important as well. It starts with a relationship with God through prayer. Take advantage of Mass (the greatest prayer), the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and building virtue in your life and your soul will be better protected rather than ignored. The visor is like building up virtue to protect your soul from the fly, I mean sin.
So don’t just protect the external things, protect the one thing that matters most: your soul. And if you need any tips on cool modes of transportation, you better ask someone else.
Have you ever felt like something didn’t fit right? Not like a pair of pants, but maybe a relationship or a job. Maybe you couldn’t quite put your finger on it, but something inside you said, “This isn’t going to work long-term.”
There is a very popular baby toy with a yellow plastic can and a blue lid. The lid has holes in the shape of a circle, square, and triangle. There are also blocks in the shape of circles, squares, and triangles (I know these are actually cylinders, cubes, and triangular prisms, but let’s keep it simple for the kids).
The goal for the child is to pick up a shape, and put it in the correct hole. When he is finished, he takes off the lid, dumps out the shapes and begins again. This should keep your kid occupied for at least two or three years.
The way the shapes are designed, you can only fit a circle in the circle hole, triangle in the triangle hole, and yep, the square in the square hole. This isn’t rocket surgery, but what do you expect from a toy for 2-year-olds?
Each of my sons have gone through a phase of figuring out this game. The first step is frustration because it seems like none of the shapes fit. The second is a few accidental successes. Eventually, the kid will figure out which shapes go where and get hired at Google (I think that’s how it works).
Sometimes I wonder how hard it would be to get the plastic circle into the triangle hole. What would I have to do? Smash it with a hammer? Melt it with a blowtorch? Cut it with a saw? When you start thinking outside the box, nothing is impossible! I can hack this system.
But there is no way to get the shape through the wrong hole without destroying the block itself, or the hole. Whoever invented this toy had a very obvious intention for the circle block. It doesn’t matter how the circle feels, or where all the other triangle blocks are going, the creator of the toy intended for it to enter through the circle hole.
Similarly, our Creator has a specific place for us, a shape for our life that matches each one of us specifically and perfectly. We can come up with our own path, we can ignore the intention of our designer, and we can even make it work.
We are able to do whatever we want, go wherever we want to go, and be whoever we want to be because of our free will. God has given us the gift to freely choose to follow Him, or not.
But when we defy our Creator, and do our own thing, a part of us is mangled. Is it fixable? Of course. But we will be so much happier if we can figure out why we are “shaped” the way we are (not our physical dimensions, but our gifts, strengths, weaknesses… our purpose).
Just because all the triangles are doing one thing, doesn’t mean that we should do that. If you are a circle, be a proud circle.
Someone called to the priesthood can get married and make it work, but they won’t have the joy that they would’ve found as a priest. Our school, occupation, dating relationships, vocation, and thousands of daily decisions can be slipping us nicely and neatly through the hole God created for us, or can push us violently into a place we were never designed to be.
As for me, I am going to go get a blowtorch and teach my kids a lesson about vocations.