Rebirths on Birthdays

My friend Chris turned 30 and got depressed. We both worked in radio and while it’s a fine occupation, one can begin to wonder what difference that last show really made in people’s lives. Ask anyone who works with the public and they’ll tell you that people don’t call when you’re doing well and tell you how great things are. They instead call when they are annoyed and often Chris would be the fielder of those calls with me picking up his slack.

He was at a crossroads and for Chris, an upcoming promotion would indeed change his career, something us men define ourselves by all too often. Turning thirty was his re-birth into a greater way of life. I trailed him by a mere year or so, if memory serves. But at 30, I left my radio career behind for ministry and I never looked back. Besides a wonderful marriage and the love of a loyal dog my career has hinged on two web-ministry ventures, a semi-rebuilt Campus Ministry and a book with one on the way.

Recently, I’ve felt called to do more with spiritual direction, and specifically with those folks who are in transition at a young age–those looking for rebirth in their lives. I’ve been blessed to do this with university students, recent graduates, Catholic volunteers and a random older parishioner or two. Some days I’m challenged by them, wondering if their darkness will ever lift and why God doesn’t seem to lift their dread. Most days, grace abounds and we’re able to God working in our lives clearly and abundantly. And all days, regardless of desolation or consolation, I am simply blessed by the lives of these people. It is a privileged position that I have to sit and listen–and listen carefully. Some are asked to repeat an important line to bring it more into their consciousness, so as to witness to God’s love and life exhaling from their lips. It is there that we find grace in noticing, noticing our life and God’s love for us embedded somewhere in it–perhaps so deep within that it went unnoticed until that very moment where the lightning of grace strikes.

It seems to me that this is what a birthday should really focus on. We are not merely a year older, nor a step closer to death–two inevitabilities, we realize right off, of course. Rather, we are also entering a rebirth. An opportunity to find grace, notice it and move into life–more abundant life and to have it to the full. Where will this year take us? Where are we feeling reborn in our careers, our relationships, our life in conversation with Christ? Where will God call us and will we be willing to answer “yes” or “not now”? Who brings us into this abundant life and do we show them overflowing gratitude?

St. Ignatius would call this the search for the Magis, the greater, and a birthday for me, is an opportunity to look for just what that is in my life. The truth is that I really am becoming more generative as I age, I give back a bit more to others as a mentor now, than ever before. To do this, I also need to stay current and invest in new ventures for myself–being gutsy to try new things and open to God’s grace to witness to something new. Often it’s not for the feint of heart, finding myself amongst donated human cadavers, in the heat of Nicaragua’s summer, playing with refugee children, or simply living amidst the sacred and the secular on a state University’s campus and finding where religion is both neglected and openly welcomed.

Turns out most days, my life is quite exciting. And yet, the prospect of sitting and listening to others and noticing where they are and where they’ve been is where I find myself most joyful. Whether that’s as a ministry mentor for others like myself or a spiritual director with the young or as a writer, hoping to bring some inspiration where times are gloomy–it is all grace and peace and stillness and a great time to rejoice in what life God has given to us all.

So today, I ask for prayers for me on my 42nd birthday. That I may always be open to what God has in store for me. The number 42 is the number worn by Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball. Robinson, may not have been the best player in the Negro Leagues, but he was called to take on the hatred of early racism, even from his own teammates. He flew around basepads and was able to bring an entire race of people into a new and wonderful life, filled with a bit more freedom than they had before. Nobody in baseball can wear that number now (unless it was issued to them before it was retired. I believe Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera is the lone wearer of #42 now in MLB).

May we all have the grace to stand up for justice despite what may befall us for our stance or where it might lead us. May we be willing to hear God’s voice in our lives and not harden our hearts in bitterness. Rather, may we take time for quiet to hear the gentle whisper of Christ calling us to listen to our hearts, to the plight of the poor and to be fed with the gift of grace.

My Sister’s Birthday

Yes–that’s right. My sister and I have a birthday one day apart.

But we are also 16 years apart.



That was my sister hitting me for revealing her age on this blog.

But having a big sister was a real blessing to me as a child. She taught me to read and she took me everywhere with her friends without much complaining. She’s got a heart for children and while never married and no children of her own to speak of, she has been a teacher for students with extremely special needs for decades.

She’s also been a primary caretaker for my parents who are now in their 80s and my mother has lots of health problems. So she’s truly someone who I think is a saint, much moreso than I’ll ever be.

In many ways, we are alike, but in some ways I wish I had a heart as big as hers. It’s 40 years and “little Michael” is still chasing his big sister, Kathy.

So Happy Birthday, Kathy…enjoy your day and know that you have a little brother who loves you and always has.

Feb 9, 2010: The End of Young Adulthood

I’m 40.

There I said it.

Indeed the great minister of those in the 20s and 30s has now aged out of the demographic. I remember back when I started I often wondered why people over 40 insisted on grappling on to ministry to young adults instead of paving the way for someone new within that age demographic.

So on my 33rd birthday, I made myself I promise. I would not be working full time at BustedHalo® when I was 40. I started to remember that promise around age 38. And it started to frighten me around age 39. And now it invigorates me at the ripe old age of 40.

I just know someone’s going to send me a rocking chair today.

But the truth of the matter is that the students here find it hard to believe that I’m this old. I guess that makes me a “young 40” which I think is funny because the slightly overweight and bald headed part of me that I see in the mirror used to always think that he looked older than he is.

It seems time has slowed down for my friends and colleagues to catch up with my baldy, paunchy self.

40 years is something though. Over these four decades I have done much to be proud of and I think I have been quite happy with what I have done with my life. As the son of a custodial worker who grew up around a sick mother and who still has these two loving people in his life as they move into their 80s, I have indeed much for which to be grateful.

They say you do your best work in your 40s and so I hope that my next 10 years will bear that out and that my best years are not behind me, as great as those years were.

What I have come to learn over these 40 years is a very simple message: Presence is 95% of life. Noticing what is present is what we are all about. The other 5% is reacting to what God presents to us and what the world in its imperfectness throws our way. Within that 5% however, we meet others who provide us with much companionship and support. It is through those special people that we also meet God.

5%… our reactions need not be profound. Sometimes they result in just listening and sharing from our own experience–the rest of that 95% that we need to allow others to know about–where have we met and noticed the presence of God.

Over the past 40 years, so many of you have come to show me where God is present and thus have provided me with the insights that have made up 95% of my life.

And therefore all of you are hidden here in these posts. Whether you’ve been on a retreat or have sat with me in spiritual direction, or whether we’ve been colleagues, or depended on one another for support in ministry in some way…you indeed are loved.

If you’ve been my family, you gave me life. You were the first teachers of my faith, forming me for nearly half of that time.

Let’s see, that’s 50% of 95% which equals…

I was never great after algebra and that’s why I’m in ministry and not accounting.

If you’ve been my sister, know you are loved and that you have taught me much.

And if you’ve been my wife…you’ve known me best of all and have given me your entire self and for that, I am truly grateful and I hope that I am worthy of your love always and never take that gift you are to me for granted.

What do I want for my birthday…

I don’t know…for I already have more than enough.

A Birthday Prayer

Lord, you have blessed me with more human years
than you even blessed yourself with
My forty years are a mere shadow to your timeless self
But in your 33 human years you changed to course of humanity
Steering all of us from death to eternal life.
Embracing our lives unto our death.

My prayer today is a simple one
From my simple self
A prayer of gratitude and grace
A Noticing of your presence for forty years

For forty years I have felt
Your nearness in your world of distance
My longing for you to be visible in your invisibility
My desire for you to be tangible in your mystery
And yet you are closer to me
Than the breath of my very life
And the pulse of my heart
beating with the rhythm of life that you have graced to me.

Through the love of a wife who brings me your grace
Family that nurtured me into adulthood
Friends who support me and colleagues who challenge me
Through it all you remain hidden within those interactions
and often paradoxically all too easy to find.

Lord, you often call me to places that I’d rather not go
To people I’d rather not see.
I shuddered in your face in the ramshackle house of Nicaragua
where poverty deprives others of a life I often take for granted.

I see your face in the young, who often do not know or trust
That you are all they need.
The chaos engulfs their desires for security and community
where they long for peace and contemplation–
and ease in a world of dis-ease

To do your work I need to know that in fact,
the love of these brings me to better know myself
and more importantly to know and see you
within the very breath of life–mine and theirs.

Even in the least of your creatures,
I am reminded of your care for me
In the warmth of the puppy dog on my lap
with his slurps and barks and love of simply being.

Truly being alive means seeing grace.
Truly being alive means loving those whom I meet.
Truly being alive means loving my love, Marion
Who graces me with a love beyond my comprehension
a love that again easily brings me to see you in her.

Today I am alive and am filled
beyond belief with the grandeur
that is God’s love
And it has been more than enough for forty years…

And it will be more than enough…
forever and ever. Amen.

Doubt, Marriage and the Passing Years

We had a great time last night celebrating the birthday of BustedHalo’s development coordinator, Brittany Janis in downtown Manhattan. On Monday, my wife, Marion and I celebrate 7 years of marriage. So blogging has been light with all the festivities.

Still some reflections:

Statistics show that if you can be married for seven years that you’re likely to stay married (the dreaded 7 year itch–which Lou Costello once said he had and scratched real fast and got rid of it in three and a half years!). So it looks like we did it. I tell Marion that she’s stuck with me now. She seems OK with that possibility so I guess I’m still amusing enough to stick around.

As years pass I’m reminded in today’s gospel of Doubting Thomas that we do not know what will come after us–but in marriage we have faith that we will go through it together. Living in that hope is sometimes difficult and only intimacy–touching the deep wounds that we all have helps us believe. I need to be in touch with what wounds Marion has undoubtedly, but I also need to believe that she will continue to be there for me despite her wounds and my own–and know more importantly that even despite the wounds that I all too often create and even re-open for her, Marion remains my wife, forgiving me and calling me into a deeper love relationship.

The Gospel calls us to believe without seeing. As we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other great moments in our lives we also need to have faith to believe that God can see us through anything, that there is really nothing to fear and that doubting only reminds us that we are not tied enough to the woundedness that we all share and calls us to be back in touch with those and believe once again.

The Two Minute Warning of Young Adult Life

Happy Birthday to me! Today indeed is my 39th birthday. Interestingly enough I have spent nearly the entire decade of my thirties in young adult ministry and working for

Birthdays are always time to reflect on not just the past year but on what we do with the years we have left. Hopefully that means many years for me–but one never knows when God will decide to call us home. So for me, birthdays are often a reminder that we have a limited number of days as well–so Carpe Diem!

Where is God calling me this year? That’s where I’ll be spending most of my praying time, in discernment on how I can spend more of my time helping others do the very same thing–discernment. It’s a particular gift that I think I have to give to others and want to intentionally try to do more of it.

I’m also trying to see how I can be more intentional about being home more. I’ve been on the road so much and miss the rhythms of being at home with Marion and the dog that I feel out of sorts. I get invited to speak a lot around the country and I like doing that but I also feel that my ministry may in fact be a bit more introvert-focused. I think the internet may have lots to teach me in doing that kind of ministry differently–in particular social networking.

But for today….let’s celebrate!

Marion’s taking me to a nice Italian restaurant tonight that I’ve wanted to try for some time. Yay!

Also, a Happy Belated Birthday to Paulist Father Jack Collins.