The Grace of Tohatchi

When I was in college, I took a semester off after I finished at Cowley to do missionary work. For years, my mom had helped to organize clothing drives for a parish mission in New Mexico. Through some inquiries, I found they would be willing to take me on as a youth minister. From December to June, I helped organize the high school youth program, taught PSR for the younger kids, and helped organize Sunday liturgy. This was such a formative experience for me. I thought I was going there to serve and give, but what I received far outweighed what I was able to share. I went with one big question on my mind that I was hoping I could get an answer to: What is my vocation? I would go hiking almost daily on a nearby mountain, and that kind of solitary time in nature was just what I needed. I got to soak up another culture, and learn more about the Navajo people. Internet wasn’t readily available, so I read books and wrote letters. At night, I would relax by picking one of the many VHS classic movies from the friary’s selection, and just like that, a love for cinema was born too. So, yeah…really formative, in ways both trivial and profound.

I really wanted to share all of that with my children- the land, the culture, the faith. Jackie and I decided this was the year to do it. We called St. Mary’s Mission and they said we could stay there at the parish in one of their guest hogans, so we wouldn’t have to spend an arm and a leg on hotels. And after a lot of discussion, we decided that if we were that close, we should trek the extra miles and take the kids to see the Grand Canyon, which would be a first for Jackie and I as well.

We left the night after the last day of school. While I was excited to see Tohatchi again, my expectations for the trip were low. How could 35 hours in the car with 5 kids and a visit to a mile-deep canyon go well? Well, it wasn’t all perfect, but it was a trip of many, many blessings. 99 percent of the credit for that goes to my wife, whose organization superpower planned out meals and itenerary that made everything go smoothly.

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When we arrived in Tohatchi, I immediately took the kids on a hike up Mount Tohatchi. Back in 2002, one of the other missionaries said it was a custom to find a rock while you were hiking and then leave it on a pile before you descended the last leg as a way to thank the mountain for a great climb. My hikes were always a combination of looking up to enjoy the views, and looking down to select the best path and in search for unique rocks. I had amassed an impressively diverse pile of rocks before I left, and I was excited to see if the pile was still there 16 years later. It was, and a flood of memories came back as I remembered many of the individual stones. This left an impression on the kids, and they created many little natural markers throughout the trip that they wanted to see if they would still be there when they returned someday.

Back when I used disposable cameras, I used to be really selective of what I took pictures of, because I was so cheap and it cost money to buy the camera and then cost even more money to develop the film. So, I didn’t take many pictures during my time there, and it was great to see, after all these years, some personally significant landmarks, especially the sweat lodge and the beautiful hogan chapel where we would have daily Mass.

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On Day 2, we left for the Grand Canyon, where we met up with Jackie’s folks. I had heard the Grand Canyon was incredibly awesome and incredibly tourist-y, but I was still surprised by just HOW awesome and HOW tourist-y it was. My favorite parts were when we got away from the rim and all its gift shops and got swallowed by the natural majesty. We did the first mile of both Bright Angel trail and South Kaibab trail, and someday I would really like to return to complete both (they connect at the bottom.) Our campsite was just a few minutes from Desert View Point. No one else wanted to leave the warmth of their sleeping bags and sacrifice precious sleep, so I got to enjoy the tranquil stillness of the sunrise by myself to start off Day 3. Special thank you here to my wonderful in-laws for joining us in our adventures and helping keep the little ones alive! You are the best!

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Day 4 was pretty laid back. On my list of must-dos was a trip to Gallup’s Saturday flea market to try to track down a savory meal that I enjoyed very much back in the day: mutton and fry bread. While I thought it would be impossible to live up to my memories, it was insanely delicious. The market was way bigger than I remembered-it is such an interesting melting pot of Hispanic and Native cultures. Day 5, started with Mass at the mission. Then Jackie and her folks took the 4 older kids to Canyon de Chelly, while me and Packy stayed in Tohatchi and enjoyed a nap and some more time just to reflect and soak up all the peace and grace stored away in the land. It was crazy to consider how much my life had changed in the last 16 years, and that in another 16 years, baby Packy would be starting his senior year.

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Day 6 was our pilgrimage day. We said farewell to the mission and drove to Santa Fe to see the Basilica and the Miraculous Staircase at the Loretto Chapel. The Basillica was truly beautiful, and we also enjoyed looking at the different artists of the city. There were lots of cool St. Joseph spots in this city for me to offer up my school in prayer.

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It was a great trip. A great time to reflect on God’s hand on my life over the years, and to share that with my kids and wife as we advance along his trail for us into the future.

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10 Things I Am Thankful For in 2017 (with 10 photos)

If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times: Life is just flying by too quickly. I actually started to type 2016 in the title above. How can 2017 almost be over? What a year. If I don’t preserve some of these memories, I am worried I will lose them. So, I’ve scrolled through my phone and picked out 10 pictures that sum up our year. Here are 10 things I am thankful for in no particular order.

1. Adoration. Sometimes the kids will come with me and draw or write in their journals. I love seeing them at the feet of our Lord.

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2. Servers-Gus learned how to serve this year and he has done a great job. We had a server’s retreat and 22 our boys came and played Mafia, Murder Mystery, Flashlight Dodgeball, as well as went to Adoration and prayed a Rosary while walking around the perimeter of our church property.

3.  Road Trips-This year we had the painful realization that Gus and Jude would be teenagers before we knew it, so we have been trying to build up some more emotional capital in their relationship accounts. We have had some great adventures together, including a road trip to Benedictine College and their first battle at Laser Quest.

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4. Soccer-My second year of coaching their team. Once again they got to name the team, and they did not disappoint with our name: Industrial Chaos.

5.  My bride-When Jackie is canonized someday, this is the image I would like on her holy card. She is my best friend, my teammate. Some of my favorite memories with her from this year would be our dates to Abuelo’s and The Monarch. We also co-presented a class on Married Saints at the Regan Institute, and we are still talking to each other afterwards!bride

6. Silver Dollar City- We will have lots of memories from this day, but I think the overall favorites were Lost River of the Ozarks and Fire in the Hole. Jude, Gus, and I went on Outlaw Run, Zelie, Gus, and I did PowerKeg, and all the kids did Thunderation, so it was a fun day of roller coaster indoctrination.

7. The CO-OP-Another summer of working harvest here in Kingman.

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8. St. Joseph Catholic School-Every morning, I get to welcome the kids to school, and this fall, I have been able to enjoy the beauty of these trees. This new job has been such a blessing. I love my 96 students. Conway Springs is a great community with caring families. The teachers and staff I get to work with are amazing. We have had some challenges, but mostly, I just feel very, very blessed to face those challenges alongside such great, capable souls, for the benefit of such wonderful little souls.

9. Packy Puppy. He is just too cute these days, and is really trying to learn all about the world around him, exploring and pointing to things and asking, “DAT?” He loves communicating: Momma, Daddy, Zelie (which sounds identical to Daddy somehow), Jude, Hat, Hot, Shoes, More, Ball, Book, Boom,  Door, Dog, Hi, Night Night.

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10. Prayer Time. We are thanking God for our many blessings! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Triumph

One of our favorite wedding photos was taken as we drove away in Jackie’s dad’s 67′ Triumph TR4A. So when Jackie’s little brother was married earlier this month, and the Triumph was just sitting there, we could not resist recreating the picture.

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And then of course, we needed to take an updated picture chronicling the effects of the vow we made 12 years ago.

“Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”

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“We are.”

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Christ Circle Round Us

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It’s fun to imagine we have two sets of twins and a Paschal.

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Merry Christmas! We hope the day is full of joy for you and your family!

Our annual slideshow:

I wish I could take credit for the music selection and the timing in the last minute, but that was all Jude and Gus’ handiwork.

2016. What a year. A lot of people are trashing on 2016. Sure, we had a weird election and a lot of celebrities died. But that doesn’t make a bad year. Ultimately, it is you and I that decides what kind of year we had. And I would say, 2016 was a year of mercy.  This was the year God blessed us with Paschal. This was the year God provided. This was the year I finished my Masters and Jackie wrote a book. This was the year we went on two adventures with Zirk the Cosmic Space Chicken. This was the year my friends adopted their two new children. And I received a new godson and my first goddaughter. I have had two of my favorite classes in all my years of teaching, my ninjas and my knights. 2016 was good.

I had this one moment in 2016. It was so singularly beautiful. I was taking Paschal for a walk in the field. It was late October but there was no need for a jacket. Glowing autumn afternoon sunlight was shining across the grass, warming my face. I felt at peace, as I  soaked up the grace all around me and carried this little beating heart beside my heart. That is how I will remember 2016.

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I debated, do I not take a picture so I won’t risk ruining the moment? Or do I preserve this moment so I can always remember what it felt like? In the end, fear of my faulty memory won out.

Looking ahead to 2017, we don’t know what the future holds for our family. But we have decided to take a step away from the blog. Perhaps we’ll still post a few times, but we are feeling the desire for a little more privacy, and will be unpublishing most of our old stories. Thank you to everyone who has read and enjoyed and been so kind as to share compliments with us. We have enjoyed sharing our little family life with you all, and discussing ideas, folk, work, and place. God bless you in 2017. Peace be with you, dear friends!

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A New Child of God

Just a few Baptism pictures today. Paschal has set our record for baby who spent the shortest amount of time with Original Sin, receiving his first sacrament at 5 days old. With harvest coming, we wanted to get this done, and our awesome family showed up with food to make it a stress-free, enjoyable evening. Thank you, awesome family! Let’s see, we had…(quick tallying) 25 cousins running and crawling around and fishing and playing baseball and frisbee) so it was a full, fesitve night.

Before the Baptism, we were trying to remember which of our kids screamed during the pouring of the water, and which slept peacefully through it, but all we could remember was that Zelie filled her diaper immediately before. But Paschal takes the prize for sweetest reaction. He was awake and I was bracing for some holy screams, but when Fr. Chad poured the water the first time, this little gentle smile spread across his face. Then another smile on the second pour, and a third smile for the Holy Spirit. It was wonderful.

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My sister Mary and brother Daniel are the extremely thoughtful godparents. And here’s our first picture as a family of 7. baptism2

Uncle Daniel and Fr. Chad stayed late to play Acquire with me and the older boys and Jude really enjoyed getting to spend some extra time with his godfather. Few things make me as happy as seeing my kids so happy when they are spending time with their godparents. Final photos that are too cute not to share: Packy wore the same outfit I wore at my Baptism and babies with bow ties are too adorable, and my godson Elijah after catching his first fish that night.

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“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” -Matthew 4:19

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