Awkward Catholic

Living my faith as the awkward man of God that I am.

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The Third Brother

That awkward moment Pope Francis gives an impromptu interview, usually on an airplane; accompanied by an equally awkward moment when you realize that Jesus left out a really important part of the story of the Prodigal Son… he forgot to mention the third brother.

Head in Hands

It seems that every time Pope Francis gives an interview or speaks from the heart he gets in trouble. It’s become almost expected. He says something profoundly merciful and the faithful Catholics around the world give a massive face-palm to themselves while the news media and all those waiting for the Church to “catch up to the times” gives a momentary high-five. In the end both sides are disappointed. Most recently the Pope gave an interview about how he accompanied a number of homosexuals, some of whom found peace and healing.


The thing is each side is expecting Pope Francis to be like them, one of the two brothers from the story of the Prodigal Son. There are those who want the pope to bless them in their actions, to say, “go ahead and throw away your inheritance, I have plenty and whenever you want to squander more, you’re welcome back for a second helping. Go, have fun, enjoy your sin and never worry about suffering the consequences.


Then there’s the group of “faithful” Catholics who demand an accounting of the pope, who want him to stand up and say, “Stop your evil sinning now!” They want the pope to call all those sinners out on their sins and demand they return home and never sin again. And when he doesn’t, when he inevitably fails their expectations, they get angry and accuse him of doing exactly what the group of “younger brothers” want. At the end of the day both groups walk away shaking their head and angry that the pope has failed them yet again.


The problem is, none of us are called to be like either brother. Both sin in their own right. Both have gone astray, one through their actions and distance from the Father and the other in their heart full of judgment and self-righteousness. Rather, we are called to be like the third brother who loves his younger brother and rejoices with him when he returns home.


Oh wait, there isn’t a third brother! Have you ever wondered why that is? The two brothers give such a bad example; shouldn’t there be a third, good example? Well, looking down through history, when has there been a good example? I mean, right from the very beginning all we see is Cane and Able fighting and killing each other, brother against brother.


What we need apparently, isn’t the heart of apigsty brother but the heart of a father, one who loves his sons, who calls them back home to rejoice in the truth; a father who searches, not from afar, but is out there walking the distant roads to bring his sons home. The Father doesn’t just call us home but goes out to us and meets us where we’re at and challenges us to rise above our broken hearts, our pigsties and judgmental attitudes and come to the joyful feast! And that’s exactly what Pope Francis is doing each time he speaks from his heart, because he has the heart of a father, of the Father.


The heart of the Father is one of mercy, infinite, beautiful, incomprehensible mercy! And the word mercy means having a heart for the miserable. You can’t have a heart for the miserable and sit on your white washed throne (sepulcher) and judge them. You also can’t have a heart for the miserable and not try to help them out of their misery but instead condone all they do as good and healthy.


Any good therapist or counselor knows this truth, that when someone comes to you in misery the only proper response is one of mercy and compassion (to suffer with). The best therapist often times simply sits with the person in misery, feels their suffering and holds them close, letting the person know he’s not alone; in a word, accompaniment. What Pope Francis is calling us “faithful” Catholics to do is not have a heart of a brother but the heart of a father, one who accompanies the wayward brother along the road home, who goes out to him in his pigsty and sits with him there, in the mud and filth and loves him with a father’s heart.


Or another way of looking at it, I think he’s calling us to recognize that both brothers stand outside the Father’s house; that we need to find each other along the road and walk together, to approach the Father together and say, “Father, I have sinned against you but I have not abandoned my brother in our misery. Please have mercy on us.”


So instead of a collective face-palm or disdainful wag of the head perhaps we should rejoice in the reminder the Pope gives us of mercy and love that isn’t OK with the sin but loves the sinner, embraces the sinner and accompanies him back to the Father’s house. After all, all have gone astray, you, me, everyone and we all are in desperate need of the merciful love of the Father.

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A Saint Half Full is No Saint at All

That awkward moment when you realize the person treating you like crap is your “neighbor” and you’ve sort of got to treat him with mercy and love. That happened to me recently. I was working with someone on a project (a board game I’m preparing to Kickstart) and I didn’t effectively communicate with him to make my dream a reality. He didn’t take it well, to say the least. I tried my best to apologize and make amends but he ignored all that and in my heart I passed judgment on him.

Judgment Bus

It seems like such a small thing, passing judgment on someone who rubs us the wrong way, it seems such a small thing, a harmless thing, a justified thing at times to judge and speak ill of those who offend us. “They deserve it,” “That person is rotten to the core,” “She is just getting what she deserves,” “I’m only speaking the truth about him so it’s not really gossip.” But in reality, it’s a big problem. I’m not claiming it’s easy, to show mercy and forgiveness, in fact I fail at it myself so often, but it’s worth saying and being reminded of. After all, St. Therese said, “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” And it’s precisely in these little things where we fail to be a whole saint.


Today’s Gospel strikes to the heart of the matter: Luke 10:25-37. In this passage Jesus is questioned by a scholar as to how to inherit eternal life. Is this not the crux of sanctity… uniting ourselves for eternity with God?! Jesus turns the question around on the scholar and asks him to sum up the Law (which in the Jewish understanding meant “teaching”). The scholar responds by stating the “Greatest Commandment”: to love God with your whole self and to love your neighbor as yourself. “Do this and you shall live,” Jesus responds. Easy, right?good-samaritan




The scholar, perceiving exactly how difficult this would be immediately wishes to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” This the way of things, isn’t it? “But Lord, my neighbor s a jerk!” “I’m just trying to teach him a lesson!” “He deserves it!” “He doesn’t deserve my love, he’s a sinner!” “He’s disgusting, his lifestyle is so obviously wrong that I just can’t love him.” “What would others think of me?”


To our limited vision, according to worldly wisdom our justifications make sense. But our ways are not the Lord’s ways. How does Jesus respond to the “justified” scholar? By telling him the story of the Good Samaritan. You know the story, the priest and scholar ignored the dying man on the road but the Samaritan (the one who was considered lower than a dog, to Jews) saw the man’s wounds and had merciful love on him. And that is how we’re called to act to all we meet along this road of life; it’s not easy.


Most people we meet along our road are not literally lying in the street bloodied and dying. As always, when reading Scripture we must probe deeper than the surface of things. Most people look normal and healthy, as you and I do. But that’s only because most wounds are not visible to our senses. Each of us is broken and dying on the inside. Most of us harbor deep wounds that cause us to love like half saints, or even less than that. The robbers who left the man for dead are all those that wound us throughout our lives, who hurt us, abandon us and leave us for dead; those who rob us of our dignity through bullying; those who rob us of our ability to have healthy relationships through abuse and neglect; those who rob us of so much more, often times because of their own wounds.


So that person who “deserves” our justified judgment is wounded just as we are and thus, in God’s eyes demands our mercy and love! It is up to us to enter into the person’s woundedness, even if that simply means forgiving them in your heart and not judging them. A transgression forgiven heals the victim and the transgressor, for “where sin abounds grace abounds all the more”.


But, if possible, more is demanded of us. To love our neighbor as ourselves requires sacrifice and accompaniment. We are called, not simply to have pity on our neighbor but mercy. And mercy doesn’t simply pour some ointment on the wound and walk away. The Samaritan didn’t just pour some wine and oil on the man’s wounds and go on his merry way. No, he lifted him onto his own donkey and carried him to an inn and paid for his care and promised his return.

Pope Francis' General Audience

Do you see that accompaniment?! The Samaritan accompanied this man to safety, to deep healing; he loved him as a brother, a man who likely would have treated the Samaritan as a dog if they’d met under different circumstances. Recall, this is a story directly out of Jesus’ mouth, not just a nice thought of some pious theologian living in a comfy monastery. This is the demands of love, of the Law of eternal salvation. To be a whole saint means to have merciful love on all those we meet, on each and every one of our neighbors, no matter how beautiful or disfigured (inside or out) they may be. We are not called to save them; we are called to love them; just as we are not called to save ourselves but to be faithful to the One who loves us onto eternal life.


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The Life Sucking Monster

The Father and Adam

That awkward moment when you realize that for the last three years you’ve been attacked by a life-sucking monster and had no idea.

* The below post is an article published in “Family Foundations” a Natural Family Planning magazine published by the Couple to Couple League ( It is republished here with permission and some modifications by the author. 

It happened about two months ago, the day our whole world fell apart. It seemed rather sudden, but looking back I can see that life-sucking monster growing in the shadows for months, years even. It grew unnoticed or unchecked and even when the monster did start to reveal itself, we ignored it, pushed it back down and made excuses for it. But the monster of Depression wasn’t going anywhere without a direct fight. Looking back, we see that it was sometime after our 2nd child was born when Maria started feeling the effects of Postpartum Depression. She journaled that  her joy was slowly slipping away as she felt overwhelmed more and more each day and life became a burden, but she soldiered on like a “good wife and mother”. I didn’t notice anything at all; she put on a good front and despite all those communication blessings that flow from using NFP, we never really discussed it.Depression.png

I was consumed in my work doing youth ministry, working 3-4 nights a week… 4-5 nights a week. Maria took on a part time job and then another to help make ends meet while trying to home school our three children and slowly the monster grew. It slowly sucked away her joy, her patience, her hope. She stopped listening to music; she dropped her hobbies and kept trudging along, washing and folding clothes, working on work, feeding and clothing our kids, etc., etc., etc. It was a long day, every day. And I slowly grew accustomed to a joyless wife and began detaching from her as she detached from life. And slowly my joy slipped away too.
After 2 ½ years, she began to cry out in desperation, meekly asking for help. I noticed and tried to accommodate, offering to help, asking what I could do. But we didn’t really sit down and discuss it; neither wanted to burden the other. She started seeing a therapist who suggested depression and possibly medication. We resisted. I resisted. But finally it was too much.

Glass of Water.jpg

If you want to know what it’s like, then pick up a glass of water and hold it straight out for a minute. It’s not too difficult but keep holding it out for 10 minutes, for an hour, for a day. Eventually, your arm becomes numb and paralyzed and it all comes crashing down. That’s what happened, or almost happened. But my beautiful bride cried out and I finally had ears to listen and we sought help, and are now slowly healing and finding our way back to good. I’d forgotten what it was like to hear her laugh, to see her smile. It’s beautiful.

Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I’d probed deeper into her feelings. I wish I’d done more than just ask what she needed. I wish I’d left work earlier. I wish.

I wish I’d used the lessons I learned in NFP and applied them to my life. NFP teaches us to check our wife’s temperature every morning, to record her signs and to reflect on our status; and when one of us is struggling, the other can pick up the slack because we’re a team. And this truth applies to more than just fertility awareness. It applies to all of our marriage… asking not just how I could help, but seeking to understand what is going on inside of her, emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Let’s be honest, most of us men don’t like to do that (stereotypes exist for a reason). We’re often exhausted at the end of our day of work and make excuses as to why I need to “veg” out in front of the TV for 3 hours rather than spend 15, 30 or 60 minutes talking to the woman whom I’ve committed my life to, the mother of my children, my best friend and most trusted confidant. She’s my wife after all, she’ll be there tomorrow when I need her… but when will I be there for her? She needed me then and I’m struggling with the guilt of not doing more when I could have. It’s something I need to come to terms with. Both of us made mistakes. Both of us are in the process of healing. It’s  long road, a hard road, but a road worth going the distance on (if you find yourself on it). We lost sight of who God was calling us to be. We let our immediate desires take the place of our deepest needs. God allowed us to travel on this road and He is is trustworthy; he is good.

God is good… if not predictable in his incessant imaging of himself in his creation. Natural Family Planning doesn’t just help us plan our families. It mirrors life. Theology of the Body is the study of who we are and who God is through our created selves. All of life is a mirror, a reflection of God and our destiny. When we lose sight of that, we lose sight of ourselves. When we lose ourselves, we slowly slip away. The constant daily checkups in NFP are a reminder of a deeper checkup… am I living as God intended, am I being the person he intended me to be?

Maria & I lost sight of these truths over the last few months… years. We lost sight of ourselves as reflected in Christ. But through his grace, we’re finding his vision again, in a greater clarity than we ever had before.

Helping Hand

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When You Feel Like You’re Drowning

— Warning: foul language follows —

Helping Hand

That moment when you’re scrolling through Facebook and realize that all the perfect lives you see in front of you aren’t all that perfect, or that moment as you sit at a long stop light and watch the faces of people as they drive by and you wonder what kind of hidden burdens, crushing grief or soul sucking crap they’re dealing with; because let’s be honest… a great majority of us are struggling with something, whether for a brief period or a long haul that we hide behind a polite smile and a joke.

If we’re really being honest, life’s pretty hard, for some it really just kind of sucks sometimes. I don’t know if anyone has ever said this, but I’m sure there’s some sort of quote by some famous person that basically says, “All of life is one big struggle to pull yourself out of suffering and then you die.” I’m pretty sure that’s how the majority of people feel, at least some of the time.

So then, we have two basic choices when it comes to faith…

  1. There is no god and life is a random accident; so suck it up and deal with it; or,
  2. God exists and there’s either some purpose to our suffering or there’s no purpose and God is just some sadistic asshole.*

If the first option is true then read Ecclesiastes. It’ll do you some good. The point of that most profound of books… there is no purpose, life is one endless chase after the wind and you might as well chase after the “good life” and then die. If this is what you believe then you should stop reading this and go chase after the wind; after all, what you’re reading then really has no meaning, no purpose and no point.

Dung Beetle

If the second option exists then well, you have some real thinking to do. You’re most likely currently carrying a heavy load of skubala** (the Greek word St. Paul used to describe everything that is not God… shit). How do I know you’re carrying a heavy load of shit? That’s simple, we all are. Every. Single. One. Of. Us has some load of skubala. Now then, does God care or doesn’t he?

We have so many pretty songs of hope. Listen to Christian music for just a few hours and you’ll realize that every song basically says the same thing… trust in God’s mercy. Read the Bible for more than a couple of days and you’ll realize that almost every passage says the same thing… trust in God’s mercy. Hope. Hope in God’s love. Hope in God’s mercy. Let go and let God.

Here’s the problem, letting God doesn’t necessarily resolve your skubala, does it? “Letting God” doesn’t really solve anything, other than passing the buck from you to God. Pass the buck all you want but at the end of the day you’ve still gotta deal with the skubala. And sometimes, that load of skubala is just too much to carry. Sometimes, it’s just too much. Can you imagine drowning in a bottomless pit of skubala ? I think you can, most of us can, most of us have felt that way at some point in our lives. In those moments, where is this merciful God we claim to trust in?


Job on his dung heap.

He’s standing at the bottom of the bottomless pit and raising his hands up high in order to catch your feet and hold you up high enough to keep you nose above water / skubala . That’s where he is. He’s a the bottom of the pit. Do you think he descended into hell for nothing? Sure our theology tells us he descended into hell to bring all those souls like Abrahama, Isaac and Jacob up to heaven. But I’ll tell you another reason he descended into hell, so that you wouldn’t have to be alone at the bottom of hole of shit, so that you wouldn’t have to suffer in your pile of skubala by yourself, while all your friends slept peacefully just a short distance away.

I’ve been told that “Your god doesn’t care.” My response? My God cares, he cares so much that he didn’t just look on and hold my hand while I was suffering, he became suffering! He descended into hell for me! St. Teresa of Avila was once granted the “grace” of visiting hell. When she returned she taught that it was worth spending your entire life just to save one single soul from hell. Think about that. Hell is so bad that it would be worth wasting every breathe you are granted just to prevent one single soul from it. For perspective, I wouldn’t spend a day preventing someone from watching Episode 1 of Star Wars.

Bottomless Pit.jpg

And here our God went to hell and back for me. And so I go to hell and back for you. That’s why I suffer, for you. I let go and let God. Letting God doesn’t mean I let him simply take my place or that I let him remove my suffering.

It means I let God take my suffering, that I offer for you, to himself and let him suffer that hell with me… for you. Does that make sense? Through my suffering he continues to stand at the bottom of the bottomless pit of skubala and hold us up. I stand on his hands and you stand on mine and I stand on yours and we manage not to drown in this skubala … this shit.


I’m sure that C.S. Lewis and G. K Chesterton say this all much more eloquently than I do, but if we’re being honest, you’re much more likely to keep scrolling through Facebook than you are to read Lewis or Chesterton***. So I leave you with this: that suffering of yours, that hell on earth, that skubala, isn’t for nothing. It’s for me. I need you. Your life is mine and my life is yours; you’re suffering for me, I’m suffering for you; all for one and one for all. Your suffering has meaning, it’s helping to save my life. My suffering has meaning and purpose because it makes up for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. It helps to save your soul and that gives me hope, it gives my suffering meaning. And trust me, when you feel like you’re drowning in a pit of skubala every little bit of hope helps.


* Don’t worry, if God is really a good and just God and the God of mercy, then me calling him an “asshole” isn’t really a big deal. I think he prefers honesty over false piety.

** Philippians 3:8

*** If you are interested in reading more eloquent verse on this type of topic I strongly recommend you check out the following sources:

  • “Three Philosophies of Life” by Peter Kreeft
  • “Shadowlands” a movie about the life of C.S. Lewis
  • “Turn My Mourning into Dancing” by Henri Nouwen (this is the book I read after my mother died. I can’t think of the words that could do this book justice.)

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The Resurrection – Focusing on the Unfocused

That moment you park your car, step out and look up at the night sky and see all the stars twinkling and a cloud slowly drifts past the moon and you realize that those mountainous stressful struggles you’re dealing with are really ant hills in comparison. Then you realize that they’re actually crosses given as a gift.


What is it you’re living for? What is it that consumes the majority of your thought and time? For me it’s a countless list of things that are a mix of important moments and trivial details. My wife and kids, the teens in my youth program, that dumb driver in front of me and the lack of success of my garden, to name a few. But does that really answer the first question? What am I living for? It often seems to me like I’m stuck in the moment, trying to finish a list of tasks so that I can get to my real goal… relaxing, taking it easy, zoning out. Each night I get home and think to myself, what has to be done so that I can relax? That seems to be my primary goal, the easy life… retirement.

Unfocused Retirement.jpg

Is that the goal of my life, retirement? The good life? I hope not, I pray it’s more than that. I pray that the goal of my life is resurrection… eternal life, because how I live my life affects not just my eternity but the eternity of others. But it’s so difficult to really live that one out, isn’t it? It’s so much easier to simply live to relax or to have fun; the resurrection is so far out there, a long way off and it’s so easy to forget about and to get lost in all the little details, pleasures and stresses in life. But I also think it’s so difficult to live for the Resurrection when I don’t really know what that is. I mean yes, we have our general answers of paradise, the eternal wedding banquet, perfect joy, etc. But if we’re being honest, those things are really quite vague and it’s hard to live life for something so vague and distant. It’s hard to contemplate it; to focus on something that is out of focus.

Out of FOcus.jpg

We need to contemplate it, don’t we? After all, how we live our lives today affects us both tomorrow and for eternity. Every action has a consequence; our lives are a sum total of how we have loved and surprisingly even the smallest of choices play a part in how we love. And in contemplating the Resurrection we can gain perspective on our lives today, we gain direction and motivation for those choices. I recently heard a priest state that the capacity by which we love here on earth is the capacity we will have in heaven to be filled with God’s love. Think about that! If I stretch my heart to the size of a thimble then I will be eternally satisfied with a thimble-full of God’s love! While I will praise God for eternity for him filling me, I don’t want just a thimble-full of God’s love, I want an ocean-full! I want my wife and children to have an ocean-full! I need to focus on the unfocused.

Ocean Full.jpg

St. Theresa of Avila once said, after having been granted the “grace” of visiting hell that it is worth spending your entire life saving just one soul from hell. How many people do we casually let slip into hell because (fill in the blank with some lame excuse)? How we live our lives affects the lives of others and their eternal life. I need to focus on the unfocused!


But I have so many other things weighing me down, so many burdens and stresses and responsibilities! I can’t be responsible for someone else’s salvation! I’m just trying to survive the day!


I hear that excuse a lot… I say that excuse a lot; I probably think something like it at least once or twenty times a day. But the beauty of focusing on the Resurrection helps me to carry the crosses I’ve been blessed with. The Resurrection gives our lives meaning and direction; otherwise I’m just carrying my cross in circles, getting nowhere. Without the Resurrection, Christ was just carrying his Cross through Jerusalem in a never-ending maze of uselessness!

Fuzzy Alley.jpg

The Resurrection of Christ puts everything we do and everything we believe into focus and opens up the potential that even our worst and most meaningless sufferings take on a glorious purpose. The Resurrection wasn’t just a renewal of this life of endless suffering broken with moments of relaxation and pleasure. The Resurrection of Christ is an entirely new life! The Resurrection opens up our lives onto an eternity of meaning, an eternity of hope, and an eternity of love, so vast that these words, “meaning, hope, love” are but straw to a fire (as St. Thomas said after having been granted the grace of visiting heaven). Or, as it says in 1 Cor. 2:9 “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it even so much as dawned upon man, what God has in store for those who love him.”


Eternity is not far off into the future, or even far off into this brief flicker of a life. It is right next to me. Eternity isn’t out there, somewhere in the future. I’m not walking towards eternity. I’m walking next to it. It’s right there just a step away to my right and my left, behind and before me.


Perhaps my resurrection is so out of focus because it’s too close? Perhaps it’s not my resurrection I need to focus on but my neighbors? Perhaps, instead of focusing on my own crosses I need to focus on lifting my neighbors? Then suddenly, I hope, I’ll be able to comprehend a bit of the incomprehensible that awaits each of us and that is worth spending my entire life just to help one other get there?



To Be or Not to Be… a Saint…

That awkward moment when you’re driving down the road and suddenly realize that you forgot how old you are… “I’m 38,” you say to yourself. “No, wait, I’m 39. Wait, did I turn 38 or 39 last month? Oh shoot, I can’t remember. I think it was 39, but I’m not a year away from 40, am I? No, it has to be 38.” Then you have to start from 1977 and count forwards on your fingers until you realize with great despair and sorrow that you are in fact 39.

Fortunately, nobody was around to witness this torturous moment of self-awareness. Yes, I am 39 years old, one year away from 40 and I’m no closer to being a saint than I was at 28, sometimes I feel even further away. Ugh. Think of it this way, my life is perhaps half over and the seemingly “best years”, the ones in which I’m supposed to be fired by passion and hopeful zeal for change have slipped away. It’s funny, I used to think I’d be dead by the time I was 40, it seemed like I would have accomplished all I needed to by then. But now, the deadline looms large and I look back and realize that I let slip by so many of the best years of my life. So many of the saints were saints by now or well on their way. But where am I; still dawdling at the starting line, distracted by things that are really nothing.

This connects to what dawned on me just the other day in my favorite place to meditate, the shower… I’m not sure I really want to be a saint. I mean, sure I want to be a saint, but do I really WANT to be a saint? I don’t know. I want to go to heaven, of course; I love God and I love His Church, its teachings Traditions, doctrines, and pretty much the entire beautiful mess that makes up the Body of Christ. But I don’t think I want to give up my video games, sleeping in, binge watching Netflix, superhero movies, driving too fast and everything else I waste time doing.

Now, if you’ve been reading my blog for some time (there aren’t very many of you, so thanks) you’re probably expecting some deep insight or profound encouragement, but I honestly don’t have it. If I’m being honest, I’m content in my contentedness; I’m content to keep chipping away with tiny little chisel blows at the colossal boulder that sits in place of my heart when I know I need a sledge hammer. (Maybe this means God is going to be swinging that sledge hammer with or without my permission soon enough and he’s trying to get me ready for it… in that case I can only cry, cringe and hope for the best I suppose. – Romans 8:28.)

Why am I being so honest? Because I’m convinced that a majority of people feel the same way and it doesn’t do us any good to pretend otherwise. I’m not saying that I’m giving up, nor am I satisfied with my reality. Of course I’m still going to try to love God, my wife, my kids and my neighbor as best I can. But I need to be honest because I can’t get to my destination if I lie about where I am. If I somehow convince my Waze GPS program that I’m somewhere I’m not, no matter how accurate the program is, I will never reach my destination… to see the Face of God.

But how can I see if I am blind? Am I blind? I feel as if I have a split personality at times, as if half of me were like the man born blind in John 9, who once he was healed believed in God and worshipped him; and the other half of me is like the Pharisees who knew the truths of God but are unable to see… unable to believe and be healed. “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, “We see,” so your sin remains.” (John 9:41)

Please God, let me see my blindness! Let me see the Truth of my sin, my weakness, my false reality (i.e. those things that distract me from you). Heal the brokenness within me and without. Give me the grace to change. I give you permission to change that which I lack the strength to change myself.