Monday, February 16, 2015

Brake for Joy

(February 12, 2015)
Wednesday was a beautiful February day in Arvada. After having spent most of the day working inside at home, I decided I was going to take advantage of the great weather and go for a bike ride. My bike that I'd had for about 6 years was stolen last spring in Missouri before I moved home, so I was just going to borrow one of my family member's bikes.

Option number one. I unlocked my dad's bike and started taking it off the bike rack. In the process, one of the pedals from another bike got stuck in the spokes of my dad's back wheel. After failed efforts to get it loose, I had to unlock the other bike and pull them both out to solve the issue. At that, I found that the tires were flat on my dad's bike. And if you've seen my family's garage, finding a bike pump would have the whole garage.

Option number two. My younger brother offered me his bike to use. It being the newest of the selections, I accepted his offer thinking I would have fewer problems. Not the case. The rear brake was hugging the wheel without my engaging it. I loosened and tightened some screws and played with the brake cable. As I was working through multiples steps to find where the issue was, I came to one final possibility. However, when I got there, I searched high and low for an Allen wrench that would fit the hardware. I discovered that we have A LOT of Allen wrenches that are...the exact same size, and none of them the right fit. My frustration was growing, as now over an hour had passed since I began the day's adventure, which still had me working in the garage.

Option number three. I finally decided that, in the interest of time, I would take another look at my younger brother's bike on a different day. So I resorted to my older brother's bike. I cleared the extra helmets that were hanging from his handlebars and placed them in an organized fashion on a box nearby. After getting all strapped up again, I checked the tires. You guessed it! Both more flat than my dad's. Perfect. It was everything I could do not to explode. I hung the helmets back up, put away my younger brother's bike, grabbed my keys and got in my car, frustrated and defeated.
On my drive, I was asking, "God, where are you in this? I just really can't see you." I proceeded with my day's schedule, going to prayer, the gym, and then to a men's group. I pushed through the frustration, but I was still bothered by the fact that that whole situation had become the defining moment of my day. The rest of my day was pretty good, but so much of my focus was on those freaking bikes.

I received some consolation the following morning. There's a large group of men who meet every week at my church for a program called, "That Man is You." After the large group session, we break out into small groups. The first question that we started talking about was, "How can you incorporate joy into your spiritual life?" Some of the other guys offered their answers as I reflected for myself. Then a thought crossed my mind. I told them that I did not think that humor and joy were necessarily synonymous, but that humor is certainly a way we can walk towards joy (another guy chimed in that it helps redirect our negative attitude, which I thought was an excellent point). I continued, saying that it is especially powerful when we can find humor in the more frustrating situations that inevitably arise in our lives. I then proceeded to give them, in a nutshell, my adverse experience with the family collection of bikes the previous day. Embellishing the story by adding a couple of extra bikes to our real inventory, I finally found the comedic relief I was looking for. Saying it out loud to the group, I suppose, brought to light the sheer ridiculousness of the fact that we have all of these bikes in our possession, and yet, I couldn't find one in functional condition. At that point in sharing the story, it seemed only a natural response to just laugh.

Looking back on this incident, I was most content with my genuine response at each stage. I didn't try to just put on a smile and pretend to be happy-go-lucky in a stressful situation. I honestly expressed my frustrations. I stepped back from the situation, and in the end, found a way to laugh. I had to search for it, but I found joy. It was in a place where it was more difficult to discover than during times in life when things are smooth sailing. Next step, schedule tune-ups!


(February 9, 2015)
On Friday, February 6, 2015, an assembly met to discuss House Bill 1135 in Colorado. The bill proposed legislation allowing for physician-assisted suicide. My mom and I were present for the assembly, which lasted about 12 hours.

Coming into the new year, I chose a phrase that I wanted to define my 2015. One of my weaknesses is telling others how I feel – most especially when I am frustrated or upset about something. Consequently, my phrase for this year ended up being: “Express Yourself.” (cue music!) After having written a letter to the representatives on the committee for the bill, I was made aware that the assembly was open to the general public, and that people would have the opportunity to speak before the committee. My first response was, “I wrote my letter, that is enough. Plus, I would have to prepare something overnight.” I talked with my mom about it later in the evening, and she said that she felt like she needed to say something. She was scared because she doesn’t feel like she knows very much about politics.

We decided to at least go and sit in to listen. As we found our seats, my mom asked if I had signed us up on the list for people to give a 3-minute testimony. Honestly, I was going to wait to hear what other people had to say before I committed to anything! But, upon her request, I nervously put both of our names down. “I guess now I’ll need to come up with something to say” I thought to myself. We sat and listened to hours of testimony given by doctors, lawyers, members of organizations devoted to care for the disabled and home-bound. Meanwhile, I was writing down my own thoughts. I kept thinking, “All of these people – on both sides of the issue – are giving relatable, intelligent, and very moving testimonies. What difference is my voice going to make?” I jotted down more thoughts on my iPhone.

As I read my testimony over again and again, making edits along the way, my mindset began to shift. Early in the afternoon, after a lunch break, I entered this thought into my notes: “Other people have very strong, intelligent arguments. Mine is not one on legal or medical grounds; however, it is MY OWN and NOBODY else has the testimony that I have. Therefore, I must offer it.” That was an incredibly empowering thought for me. Still, I was nervous. I went back and forth between introducing myself to the committee as a citizen who has never addressed an assembly before. I thought better of it. That would only shake my own confidence and sabotage my own testimony. I would share my thoughts with fervor, speaking with the confidence of a veteran.
The actual testimony did not come out verbatim what I had written, but that played to my advantage because I made strong eye contact with each of the committee members over the course of my speech. Here is what I had written out, that will give you an idea of my testimony:
My testimony is, quite frankly, less about medicine or legislation, and more about the mindset and direction of our culture. What message are we sending to my generation and generations to follow with this bill? I  want to talk about virtue, specifically, the virtue of courage. Now, I’m a runner, so I like to think about life as a marathon. Pretty easy analogy. When I think about this bill, I envision someone running a marathon and getting to the 25th mile. Exhaustion sets in along with muscle failure. This bill calls a cab for that runner to catch a ride to the finish line. Is that courageous? Or would it be more courageous for that same person to keep putting one foot in front of the other, with people on the sidelines cheering them on? That person would do everything in their power to finish the race, even crawl if they had to. I ask you now, [members of the committee], to consider which of these two scenarios displays more courage and more dignity for the human person when you decide whether or not to pass this bill.

With that, I thanked them and awaited their opportunity to ask questions. Thankfully, there were none! I walked back to my seat standing a little taller. I had spoken my piece. We still awaited the outcome, but I knew in my heart that I had fulfilled my role to the best of my ability. I was proud, the good kind of proud.

Later that evening, we watched the local news. The bill was defeated! I was elated! I was on the winning team! Did my efforts alone sway the vote? Probably not. But my voice was heard, and I know that it made a difference. I felt like Dr. Seuss’s Who, whose one small, “Yelp!” combined with the voices of the other Whos, saved their small speck of dust from destruction.

So many times in my life, I have allowed fear to keep me from speaking my point of view. I don’t expect to always have things go my way in the end – though I will not hide how excited I am that they did this time! – but this experience taught me a very important lesson. I hope those who read this will also be instilled with the confidence of knowing that NOBODY else has YOUR voice. Your perspective is valuable because it is yours. Whether or not people agree with you or not is not for you to worry about. I encourage you to speak – respectfully – into issues that matter; whether it is in your personal relationships, or in the public sphere. Your voice matters. Take courage! Stand up! Be heard!

Journey of the Heart

(October 20, 2014)

I delivered the following as a presentation and received some positive feedback about my reflections. In writing it all out, it is honestly more developed than the oral presentation, so be thankful to have access to the director's cut! I hope that those who read will hear something that inches them closer to a life of more abundance and joy.

As the year 2014 commenced, I selected a word that I wanted to define the year for me. After many words had raced through my mind in the preceding weeks, "explore" won out. There was immediate excitement about its all-encompassing implications. This word meant that I would be open to new experiences, getting out of my comfort zone, and growing significantly as a person.

Consequently, this word led me to places around the world. I traveled to the ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica, where I experienced the real Jamaica that they don't show you on commercials for Sandals resorts on the beach fronts. Additionally, I was stretched on a 13-hour flight across the Pacific to Seoul, South Korea, and onward to Vladivostok, Russia. In a land with people who have often received no less than an unfair stereotype from American films and news media, I got to see those generalizations blown out of the water first-hand through the hospitality and friendship of the Russian people.

While I learned invaluable life lessons in my travels, upon returning back home to Colorado, a realization came that seemed a little surprising to me. As a generally introspective person, I have often seen myself as someone who takes the necessary time for reflection. Well, as it turns out, very little of that time has been devoted to the exploration of my own self. Sure, I've established many of my beliefs and stances on issues in the world, but those don't answer the question: Who is Justin Langfield?

As it turns out, this exploration of self has been equally, if not more, adventurous than even the greatest of global travels. I have learned, and continue to discover, the depths of a heart and soul which have received their fair share of bruises and gashes, as well as the experience of some of the most awe-striking beauty God has given to us on this earth. A mindset that I have found to be somewhat misleading was that I always had to be actively serving others. A noble aspiration, however, while I was off keeping busy with activity, knowledge of myself seemed to be eluding discovery with every passing day. A helpful piece of wisdom that altered this mindset for me was, "Working on and improving yourself will benefit the people around you." Wow. It tugged my heart strings the first time I heard that. As someone who has become very service-oriented, most especially through my formation with Jesuit education in college, this was a perspective that resonated with me greatly. In the past, I had myself convinced that investments in myself were selfish and I needed to allot my time and treasure to helping others. All the time. While there is truth to that, I am coming around to the way of thinking - which is in no way new or original - that the BEST way I will be able to serve others is by being the best-version-of-myself. Thank you Matthew Kelly!

Another piece that I'm managing to slowly overcome is that for a long time, I had myself convinced that this journey of self-exploration was meant to be trudged along flying solo. In stark contrast, in my experience, the best thing I've done for myself in that regard has been seeking outside help from others. Verbally processing through life's complexities has led me to the simplest of solutions. How I've never thought of the things that come out during those conversations, I do not know!

All of this brought my attention to the phrase along the bottom of the crest of my fraternity. "Gnosthentes eph philon." "A man is known amongst his friends." First, a man must be known to himself. Where do I want to end up? What kind of man do I want to be? I am reading a book called, "To Save a Thousand Souls," that has a quote from a Chinese proverb: "If you do not change your direction, you will very likely end up where you're headed." Funny, I didn't know Yogi Berra was Chinese! Once that end goal is determined, he can make his plan for what steps need to be taken to get there. And for me, a big challenge is asking for help along the way. Well, as it turns out, that's about the only way I'm able to stay on track to get anywhere in life. All it really takes is that one friend who is going to be there through thick and thin, and vice versa. That doesn't mean having the answers for the other, but simply standing shoulder to shoulder, celebrating the joys and victories, and fighting through life's challenges together.

That journey of self-exploration has shown me parts of myself that are less than desirable. And one of the most amazing things that can happen is when I am vulnerable sharing those parts of who I am and having someone right there, loving me, not by ignoring those aspects of my life, but taking me as I am. That is the way of love that I have to say I am continuing to grow in. I am not where I want to be yet, but I believe I'm walking in the right direction, even though I often get off track and lose sight of that final destination. My experience tells me not to take this road by myself because of those times when I'm going to need someone to call me from getting lost in the woods back onto that path.

Explore yourself. Take someone with you. Prepare to be amazed at the treasure that lies within. And pay attention to the lives that you impact through the example you set by becoming the best-version-of-yourself!

Change: Life's Only Constant

(May 29, 2014)

God is the only constant in my life. Where do I look for security: income, relationships, my own abilities? But all of those can change. What happens when my expenses outweigh my income? Or when I move away from a familiar place (or even when I return to a familiar place and relationships that I've had for many years have also changed)? Or when I myself...change? I think that "security" ought to be a little more stable. Yes, there are times in my life that I have thought God is different. The truth that I'm realizing is that I only discover new things about who He has always been. And isn't that how any relationship works?

God is not the only incomprehensible being in this world. Human beings. We are made in His image and likeness. Part of that means we too, are incomprehensible. I could spend a lifetime with one special woman for the rest of my days and still not know the complete depths of her heart. It would be very easy to have this realization and cast aside the effort it takes to get to know a person, or to get to know God. What is the point in setting out on an adventure where the goal seems so overwhelmingly impossible? Perhaps it's the glimmer of hope that in pursuit of that goal, our lives just might be changed in a radical way. We might just experience...miracles. And if we don't summit the mountain of life here on earth, is the journey not worth anything? I can tell you from a very literal standpoint, that is not the case.

Three years ago, I attempted to summit a peak in Colorado. My group lost the trail in the snow and had to improvise. We ended up climbing on all fours, spread out across a valley of boulders. We got back on the trail shortly after that and arrived at the base of the final ascent a little while later. Late enough, in fact, for a threatening afternoon storm to take form right above us. Our group decision leaned to the safety of all of us and we did not make it to the summit that day. We did not reach what we had originally set out to do. But that was one of the most memorable experiences of that entire summer. I learned an important lesson that, when in a leadership position, it's okay to make mistakes (i.e. leading the entire group in the wrong direction). Once we recognized the mistake, we stopped, collaborated, and found our path again, through some rocky times, mind you. ;) If you thought you were going to get through something written by me without a pun, then it's been too long since we've hung out and we should go out for a beer or something soon!

We did not take the path that we set out for, but we were in constant search for it. And no, we didn't make it to the summit, but we returned to the base that day with an experience that could never be taken away from any one of us. So it is with our search for God, as well as our search to know one another. We will never be able to grasp the infinite. It will always be at least one more step ahead of us. But the journey is worth it. As for "security," well, accept the fact that the only thing that will never change, is that life is always changing.

David's Christmas List

(December 16, 2010)
I read my youngest brother's Christmas list, and had to share it:

"The first thing I want for Christmas is an IPod. I want an IPod for Christmas because then I can listen to music to pump me up for a game. I also want an IPod for Christmas so that I can listen to music on long road trips.
The second thing I want for Christmas is an iHome. I want an iHome for Christmas because then I can make my music louder and everyone can hear.
The third thing I want for Christmas is an Interceptor R/C Helicopter. I want an Interceptor R/C Helicopter for Christmas because it is really easy to fly. It is also really fun to fly.
The final thing I want for Christmas is a wallet. I want a wallet for Christmas because my old wallet snapped. I also want a wallet for Christmas because I want a new cool wallet instead of an old cruddy wallet. The End."

I this so that you could appreciate the thought process of an 11-year-old boy. Oh! to be young again!

I Live with Virtuous Men

(February 13, 2013)
Over the past 6 months, I have been living in community with three guys. Eight months ago, we were complete strangers. Today, we are brothers; we share in the mission to bring the light of Jesus Christ to the world (starting with Benedictine steps :), we have shared gut-wrenching laughter, failures from our past and in our current ministry, struggles, joys, discernment, everything but the kitchen sink. Well, we haven't shared the toilet or the shower either...I guess we have shared the kitchen sink.

Though there have been numerous occasions for which I have been proud to know these men, today marked an incredible moment. We're a house of four men so, naturally, there is a monthly issue of Sports Illustrated that makes its way to our mail slot. Last month, as I was flipping through some sports-related articles, I came across the page advertising for the February annual swimsuit edition. Now, I love my sports. Grew up playing them, watching them, buying apparel for my favorite teams. The first thing I will say is that I must have missed something along the line when they introduced a degradation of women into the sports arena. My parents never bought me a jersey for that one. Maybe I just wasn't introduced to it. I don't think we have a professional team in Denver.

Well, when I came home this afternoon, there it was. The swimsuit edition sitting on the floor at the bottom of our staircase leading into my home. Without hesitation, I walked it up the stairs and took it straight where it belongs: the garbage. I walked passed the garbage can a little later on in the day to notice that it appeared to be gone. It was then that I realized the courageous men that I live with. Shreds of pages were torn up amongst the old banana peels, empty cans of beans, and other worthless items. These men are willing to take the necessary measures to ensure that if there is even any sort of temptation intruding our home that could lead any of us into sin, it must be properly disposed of. Completely. I have never been more anxious to take out the trash.

Men, if there is anything in your life that needs to be disposed of, take the necessary measures. Don't let anything enslave your thoughts or actions. If you need to, completely destroy whatever it is that leads you away from becoming the BEST MAN you can be - for God, for your future wife and family, and for yourself.

Do everything for the greater glory of God. Be virtuous.

Thank you to the men of the Green Door - Aaron Lofy, Brian Limas, and Jeff Traughber - for sharpening me as a man as iron sharpens iron.

In the Spirit of Christmas

(December 25, 2012)
Yesterday, after a dry advent not really feeling the spirit of the Christmas season, I finally broke into it [on Christmas Eve]. I decided to take a penance from confession to a higher level. Combined with encouragement from KLOVE to "be somebody's angel," I reached out to a man who, if not for his dog, Mennis, would be spending Christmas alone.

I met Brian a week ago today at the exit off of Highway 36 to get onto 287 (near my hometown). He was standing there with a cardboard sign asking for help. My mom grabbed a $5 bill. I talked with him briefly until the light turned green. Then we were off and it would have been safe to assume I would never see him again. The following weekend is when I went to confession, and when the priest told me to reach out to someone in a kind act, I immediately knew who would be the beneficiary.

On Christmas Eve, I made an emergency errand before going to Grammy's to celebrate with family. I bought Brian a Christmas present. I gave him a Bible, a rosary that I had made along with a booklet to teach him how to pray it. Along with the longer lasting gifts, I made sure to provide for his temporal needs in the small way that I could, buying a sandwich, chips, and a Gatorade. This goes without saying, but he was very grateful. He told Mennis to speak (I couldn't make out if he was saying, "Thank you" or "Merry Christmas" - maybe both). He continued to bark as the light turned green and I left once again.

This small act is the spirit of Christmas. And as we are called to give, expecting nothing in return, I think it would be safe to assume this time that our paths may never cross again in this life. I pray for the best of fortunes to come to Brian and his best friend, especially during the Christmas season.
Jesus is real. There is nothing and nobody else that could have compelled me to do what I did for Brian. I gave. Materially, there is not much that Brian could give back; therefore, I clearly expect nothing in return. Society is selfish. Our culture is all about what we can do to get ahead in the world - no matter who we have to trounce on the way to "success." Jesus Christ brings a message absolutely to the contrary. "What you do for the least of these, you do for me."

A couple of months ago, I posted a note about a God-given gift to inspire others. In sharing this story, I hope to mobilize some of the people in my life to perform more acts of charity. It is through these acts - not necessarily always in this context - that this world will be TRANSFORMED. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. For the greater glory of God.

All the best to you and your families. Have a very Merry Christmas!