Trust in Him

Just as frequently as we get caught up in negative thoughts and emotions, positive thoughts and goals can impede a key ingredient in our path towards happiness and a purpose-driven life; Trust in God.

If you’re like me, there are a series of daily, weekly and monthly goals you set for yourself.  As the boxes next to the items begin to become checked off, and the focus of energy towards its continuation intensifies, you can get lost in the mire that becomes planning the next day, week or month without pausing to focus on why these goals exist within your heart in the first place.  You may also, like me, lose focus of your role in these efforts.

My Daily Devotional Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence is all but a daily devotional for me.  I admit I often forget to open its binding, even though it sits in my organizer strapped to my passenger seat.  This morning, having let too much time elapse between now and the last time I opened it, I turned to a day from this weekend.  March 18th’s knocked me backwards, as it rang true for me today, and I’m betting for at least a few of you as well:

“Trust Me One Day At a Time.  This keeps you close to Me, responsive to My will…Exert your will to Trust Me in all circumstances.  Don’t let your need to understand distract you from My Presence…Tomorrow is busy worrying about itself; don’t get tangled up in its worry-webs.  Trust Me One Day At a Time.”

While I find many of this devotional’s messages to be useful to me, none have been quite so well-timed as this one.  For without daily reminders about Trusting others, specifically God, I become to self-reliant and arrogant in my supposing that my efforts have conjured my successes of themselves.  Never have I been so powerful, insightful or wise in a single moment as to attain that which God has Blessed me.  It is unconscionable to believe that I could stack enough of these moments together to deserve what I have.  It is even less likely that I’ll hit a single one of my future goals of my own merit.  So what then shall we do?

I’ve often struggled with the balance required in life relating to these two core principles; do I wait for God’s Blessing, or go get it myself? Often it is logical to believe that one or the other must take the lead.  What I have found most plausible is the idea that exerting my will to Trust in God while giving my best effort in all that I do creates exponential blessings in life.  So too shall I try to behave today.  In hopes of repeating that effort, I will leave this passage somewhere clearly visible to me.  My hope is that you may also find a message that speaks to you, that can keep you attuned to God’s plan for your life.  For how Great must God Be if He’s Blessed Us with this much already?

Yours in the Pursuit of Purpose,

Will O’Connor

Father-Daughter

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Sunday morning our family woke up to shake the dust off of our sleep.  As I prepared for church, our four-year-old daughter stumbled into my room, wiping the sleep from her eyes.  “Daddy my tummy hurts.” A quick check of the forehead – she seemed to be running a temperature.  Changing plans, my wife gathered the kids in front of the television as I whisked away to a rare occasion of church without children.

Throughout the day, running a fever as high as 102, we knew she’d be staying home from daycare Monday.  As do many of my friends’ households, ours requires a dual income to stay afloat.  We stared at our calendars on Sunday afternoon.  Both of us having Monday morning meetings, we triage’d those.  My wife’s being more critical and unique, she went to work in the morning.  I was tasked with opening my job, setting a few instructions to the various crews, and heading back home in time for my wife to make her meeting.

I pulled back to the house at the appointed time.  My wife had a few instructions for what medicine needed to be taken, what food and drink to be consumed.  After breakfast, my daughter announced her intention to topple me in Candyland, which she promptly did – twice.  Sitting on the floor, no noise beyond the laughter and guffaws prompted by the game, we enjoyed the splendid and ever-vanishing luxury of strengthening bonds through meaningless chatter.  The perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. EdisonProject73Then, after taking in a back-to-back viewing of Daniel Tiger, she colored and then moved on to crafts.  In coloring, she chose to depict our family at church.  I’m not sure what prompted this thought.  However, as a man trying to raise his young family on the bedrock of Christianity, I was happy to see the importance with which she places us in this setting.  I was given this drawing to take to my office.  It’s proudly displayed on the wall in front of me.  It is a reminder of my responsibility to curate not just my faith journey, but now also my children’s.  It is not my destiny, nor a statistical probability that I become the subject of a great artist’s master work on any artful medium.  But I am responsible for creating my own masterful work of art in my children.  God is an active agent in that process.  I’m very fortunate to see it begin to take shape.

There are few things I can remember from being four years old.  Handling scissors is not one of them.  But since she’d done it before in our home, and at school, out came the construction paper.  First, a snowman.  Somewhat of a unique snowman, this gentleman featured a yellow hat, a head, two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and two legs where normally the two lower sections of the rounded body would exist.  No feet.  We also made Moana using thin strips of paper for hair, not-to-scale blue eyes and, yes – long, thin strips for legs.  Around the time that all completed, my wife slowed to a stop in front of our home.  The tag-team was nearing its baton exchange.

I drove off to work filled with joy.  I’ve not experienced that phenomenon in some time.  For while we were playing together, I certainly recognized the novelty of the moment.  But it was not until it passed that I was able to properly assess the priceless-ness of the moment.  There are sure to be more moments like this, as long as God continues to bless me with life.  It wasn’t about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  It was about a once-in-a-moment opportunity.  In no time at all she will begin to master formulating shapes with her hand in scissors.  She’ll learn to glue without help.  She’ll become bored with snowmen.  In the blink of an eye my daughter will move ever-closer to reliance upon technology for entertainment.  She’ll experiment with new medium for her artistic creativity.  I should hope I’ll play a part in those events, too.  I’ve had the occasion to look back out the rapid development of my children.  Too often, stages of my children’s lives pass without notice.  My joy had everything to do with the fact that I’d captured one moment in time of this one.

I am eager to experience all aspects of my children’s lives.  I hope to instill in them qualities which I believe will serve them in their own pursuit of happiness and purpose.  Even just by being there, assuring them along the way.  And yet still, sometimes, we get to provide the glue for the snowmen, until they learn to apply it for themselves. There are a few seemingly ordinary events in my life that I’ll treasure forever.  Monday, January 29th, 2018 will be added to them.  For now, I am grateful that I had the chance to be a part of this moment.  That is every bit as intentional as it gets.

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Yours in the Pursuit of Purpose,

Will O’Connor

Founding Principle

Of no small consequence to this endeavor I’ve dubbed “The Edison Project”, from the outset, was the intentional digging into myself I felt needed in order to expand my voice.  That in order to have something to say, I needed to know the core of myself.  While not near the heart of my core, as of yet, I have devised a first tenant of life: purpose.

That is to say that it is in finding purpose that we find what feeds us towards our goals, our ambitions, our happiness.  No matter how small or large a person’s penchant for competition is, at the heart of each of us lie certain constructs of winning and losing.  We set goals and we measure them.  If we succeed in our task, we measure that out to be a win, and are therefore happy.  If we fail in that task, we measure that out to be a loss, and we either are unhappy, or resolve to create happiness by reinvesting ourselves in accomplishing what was once failed.

In setting goals that satisfy our core, we increase our happiness by building further purpose for our lives.  The best way of doing this is to establish initiative and accountability.  No matter how large or small the aim, establishing accountability to the things we say we are going to do ties us to our words, creates a mission and sense of purpose.  By constantly probing our deepest selves, we begin to take initiative to both reach out to the world and accomplish goals, while simultaneously uncovering more of who we are.  I believe there are central tenants which need to constantly exist while we dig, lest we venture off the path:

 

  1. God (read: Faith) – While I certainly advocate for the adoption of Christianity as the pillar behind our faith, any faith with ambitions to achieve the Golden Rule propels us towards enriching the fabric of ourselves and our immediate communities.  An accredited Faith in this sense cannot be one that is warped into maliciously creating harm towards others in the name of that faith.  To be fair, there are pockets from nearly every faith that seek to abuse the central aspects of their theology.  None can be accepted over others, merely because they fit our understanding of what is beneficial to us.  There are other aspects created by faith that are so large and important, that I will list them later.
  2. Family – Whether through the course of marriage, or the family to which one was born, purpose is derived from family.  Role models are created first in this core component of creating purpose.  Ideologies and pathologies are first communicated here and can also be the source of rebellion in later stages of life.  The role of both a father and a mother are critical, as despite recent beliefs, men and women bring to children different examples of love, authority, acceptance of individuality and permission to be oneself that the other cannot mimic genuinely.  Parents must work through differences and set a tone of compassion, teamwork, and handling of conflict in healthy ways in order for children to see compromise as optimal – in order to see that people don’t need to agree completely to get along properly.  Purpose in this sense, is more of a passive understanding of right and wrong.  A foundation of formulating virtue over vanity; where it can never be questioned that moral and philosophical right and wrong are not relative.  They are fixed.  If one strives towards virtue, they can never proclaim to subscribe to a separate set of virtues.  In part, this is why religion and family are so critical to back each other up.
  3. An understanding of the power of evil against the power of good – And the willingness to acknowledge the evil that exists within ourselves.  Dr. Jordan B Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, a man to whom I am now becoming acquainted through his work, describes perfectly the virtue of power.  He dismisses out of hand that power is found through manipulation or exertion of force or the threat of it.  He says that is tyranny.  I agree with him.  Power is standing on moral principles and executing them with the authority and discipline given earned as we move along in the world.  Power is when a man uses his strength, or any otherEdisonProject71 masculine trait for good.  Power is when a woman uses her love, or any other feminine trait for good.  Peterson aptly describes that both men and women posses the same virtues; only that they posses different quantities of each virtue, as well as the focus to develop certain traits over others.  Put together, men and women complement one another.  Neither can be removed, or silenced, without creating a vacuum of virtue in one form or another.  Peterson claims that we are first charged with defeating the evil within ourselves before we can expand that fight towards fighting evil in our communities, or society at large.  I believe that is the inability to do so that creates in our leaders and inability to lead by example.  How many times have we seen authority figures brought up on the very charges they espouse to disdain? It is in understanding evil that we defeat pluralism, moral relativism and vanity – in order to harness that evil and employ virtue against.  The presence of this knowledge cannot be overstated.  When one begins a new effort, if he, or she, has not accounted for the malicious existence within themselves, that effort can be easily forced down a path of destruction.  To illuminate my claim further, one has only to watch Star Wars.  As silly as that may sound, the entire epic rests solely on one’s ability to keep the evil that rests within each of us in check.
  4. Social Connection – A friend and mentor of mine, Andrew Bustamante has said it be when he put to me the thought, backed up by several studies that loneliness may become the next great epidemic in mental health.  The fact that so many people now derive a majority of their interaction with friends and family through social media has led to the distilling of group thought, and advice, as crucial.  I am certainly guilty of this fact.  He has his own plans, which can be seen here, but for the purposes of my thoughts on purpose, social interaction and connection to society must be maintained in order to assure that purpose exists within the framework that society gives us.  Without incorporating our purpose into the greater good, it is impossible to determine whether or not one’s goals and purpose establishes a productive element to society.  As an aside, I’d encourage you to visit his website.  Andrew is an excellent motivator, and has proved an even more valuable curator of ideas, as I try to bounce ideas off of him as often as I can.

TheBestArmourFor it was Marcus Tullius Cicero who said ” The best Armour of Old Age is a well spent Life preceding it; a Life employed in the Pursuit of useful Knowledge, in honourable Actions and the Practice of Virtue; in which he who labors to improve himself from his You, will in Age reap the happiest Fruits of them; not only because these never leave a Man, not even in the extremest Old Age, but because a Conscience bearing Witness that our Life was well spent, together with the Remembrance of past good Actions, yields an unspeakable Comfort to the Soul.  This is invaluable advice.  For each day, age eats at us.  Each moment, we pass up a purpose-filled life in exchange for nothing of benefit to us, we are less likely to reward ourselves with a soul full of comfort and gratitude for the moments we have left to spend.

Yours in the Pursuit of Purpose,

Will O’Connor

My March

This might be heavy.  It also might sound political.  I promise it is as personal as I can approach a thing.

In light of yesterday’s March for Life, the 45th edition of the collection and peaceful demonstration, speaking to my experience on both sides of this issue, and in the middle, felt like something I had to do.  The march for life, sponsored and attended by those who believe abortion ought to be eradicated from the earth gather in our nation’s capital on the third Friday of January and spend the day listening to a great many speakers, while also marching the streets of the capitol to display the mass of their movement. I’ve never been.

Growing up Catholic, it was just a fundamental truth that abortion was wrong and that conception of a child meant only deliver or miscarriage. It was never specifically discussed with me beyond the basic tenants.  I received no defense training of our position as a culture.  It was not until I began expanding my circles that I encountered those who differed.  There were a wide variety of reasons; abortion is a health-care issue, I was told.  Abortion is a woman’s right to choose, because pregnancy requires the mother to endure countless changes to her body, psyche, lifestyle and future.  Abortion is merciful to a child who would otherwise be unwanted.  The one that got me the most; abortion is not a man’s domain because it he has no choices to make, no changes to endure, beyond conception.  As a youth and then a young man, too timid to wade into those waters, I accepted my obsolete opinion, and stowed myself on the fence.  I lived there for many years.  In many ways not able to understand my true roll in the debate until my daughter was born.

At the height of my indifference and confusion, I had ended a relationship with a girl I’d dated for nearly two years.  Knowing I did not want a long-term relationship with her, yet unable to find an alternate relationship that took hold, she and I began interacting with each other merely on a sexual level.  My world shattered on the day she told me she was pregnant.  Prior to even gaining my footing, she told me she wanted an abortion.  I recall feeling relieved, as the alternate would require a commitment on my end I desperately did not want to make at that point in time.  I was able to trade self-respect and accountability to my actions for the elimination of my offspring.  For some time, I felt as though I escaped that crisis on top.

I am not sure where to start to turn the coin here, but I’m absolutely certain I lost – that I created an eternal crisis to escape a momentary one.  Given that it was a direct desire of mine to avoid accountability and honesty from the age of seventeen to the age of twenty-three, its a wonder this event didn’t occur more than once.  I think about what my 10 year old child would have done for my life.  I think about who he/she would be.  I am ashamed I didn’t speak up, that I allowed myself to be persuaded by tertiary concerns to spite primary issues.  Although true that I ultimately could not have held the final decision, perhaps it would have changed the course of events had I possessed the vantage point I hold now.  I am sorry that I ever allowed myself to believe that fatherhood was less vital to a child than motherhood.  I am sorry that I forgot the role my father, his father, and so many other strong men played in my life.  That none of them ever sought to recall their integrity for the course of expediency was a gift I benefited directly from.

Now, nearly thirty-three years of age, I now have three beautiful children with my wife.  Even if they weren’t so stunning, I can’t image ever not wanting to protect their life and dignity with fierce obstinance and pride.  As a Catholic, I value the just law of Jesus to protect and defend every life.  But had I never come across Jesus’ teachings, and somehow still had the three children I have now, I would still know in my heart that these miracles turn every argument for abortion on its head.  I know now that abortion does nothing to advance or protect society, the mother, or the baby.  Abortion, and the arguments for it, have numbed generations of men to the salvation that is a loving and committed family.  The culture of interpersonal communication between men and women in romantic settings has simplified due to the immediacy contact can occur and then be severed, both between man and woman, and the offspring they create.  Culture has plunged with the “me first” mentality that has invaded the public persona of the individual on the path to “enlightenment.”  It isn’t just obvious through abortion.  Countless avenues of human interaction have taken a hit in the past 50 years with the ripening of socialist-styled government programs.

From what I have seen, I feel even more for those young men and women just now coming to the age I was when I traded everything I’d been taught for the immediate freedoms that are delivered when we sit on a fence.  I worry  that those too insecure to properly weigh justice and mercy may overwhelmingly choose the side of mercy, afraid to stand up to pluralism, globalism and the dawning of the age of American Politi-theocracy.  Perhaps they aren’t even afraid.  Perhaps they’ve been convinced that “it doesn’t matter if its true, you just can’t say that sort of thing to somebody.”  These are things I see growing – and they feed the pro-choice argument.  Moral relativism negates the ground held by pro-life proponents.  Secular society demands we separate church from state, even when the framers of the constitution merely wanted to avoid a state-sponsored religion.  The fact that someone publicly proclaims Jesus Christ to be the Lord and Savior of  all is not exclusive of those who would not share the same claim.  It is not hate speech, and it does not foster an environment of discord.  Jesus Christ was the authority of inclusivity, thoughts on love and environments of peace and understanding.  Refusing to agree does not make it less true.  He, and all of His teachings were designed to include those on the margins.  Respect for life, dignity and individual agency are chief among the ways we can include others.  Outlawing abortion would only bring us closer to those ideals.

I’m not sure I have much faith in abortion ever being overturned in this country.  Perhaps I am too cynical, but progressive legislation and jurisprudence seems to be on the down-hill portion of the slippery slope.  I regret contributing a child to the hideously enormous list of children killed at the hands of their parents.  I believe it will be the major sin I will have to do penance for when I meet God in Heaven.  I can only hope that perhaps, someone out there can learn from my mistake.  That they can understand that trading accountability and truth for a pliable moral reality always means we make the least harmful decision for us in the moment, yet very frequently the most harmful choice for our long-term outlook.

Yours in the Pursuit and Growth of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Refining Happiness

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth” – William Butler Yeats

Of late, I’ve found myself furiously taking notes while reading through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  For those not acquainted, Rubin determined for herself a few year’s back that while she led a charmed life, she perhaps did not appreciate it enough.  For anyone who may feel that appreciation is something they lack for themselves or their situation (I do), especially in critical moments where things feel tight and we aren’t sure of important outcomes; this venture hits home.  Only part-way through her report on her findings, I am finding her structure to be something I believe I’d really benefit from.  I have augmented some of what she’s done, but plan to mimic several aspects, tweaking along the way.  I also have found the research she has included, as well as the quotes and stories to fill areas of my quest that I had not yet been able to define.

While The Edison Project is simply a continued experiment to determine a path towards many things; authorship, intentionality, documentation of my life for my children – it is also a probe into what makes me happy.  Striving for positivity and remaining focused on these objectives have led me down extremely intriguing paths.  I have set markers for myself at the beginnings of each of these forks, that I might – much like Hansel and Gretel – find my way back to probe each of these deeply as I move through life.  The timeline for this experiment is a long one.  Such a discovery has led to increased patience as I feel the need to understand these undiscovered aspects of my character before determining a singular course for anything as massive an undertaking as a book.  Where this time last year I was aimlessly creating characters and scenarios, I’ve pulled back to uncover the reasons for why this person might exist in my world – or that one might not necessarily need to be involved.  I’m working to understand how these people may behave in such a world – or worlds – as my ideas vary from month to month on where such an effort should most organically take place.

So here I find myself exploring the quote above.  That happiness is characterized as most likened to growth is the truest explanation I’ve ever felt.  When I read that passage, I looked up from the page, set my book down, and began to investigate that posit within my own life.  Indeed I have always been most happy when at the cusp of something new and important.  I’d add only that to Mr. Yeats’ deep and layered thesis.  That growth must be focused in ways true to our character is as important as the fact that growth is even happening.  Fortunately, there are many areas in which this young man can grow.  I intend to continue to believe that for as long as I draw breath.

At work, new building techniques, applications, building uses and challenges may create a large learning curve, but it is determination I already posses.  When arriving at the apex of the challenge, where the curve drops off and the production takes form, I am exhilarated beyond belief.  Such has been the case for the seven years I’ve now undertaken this industry.

At home, witnessing landmark events, exploring my children’s own unexplored territory with them provides a rush and sense of bonding that can’t come from the dinner table, not to dismiss the importance of a family eating dinner.  Working with them to create their own perceptions of what is good, what is worth exploring, I find myself inspired to look inward on my existing perceptions and alter, perhaps, some of them to include lessons they’ve just then taught me.  The adventure can be as simple as watching my infant daughter lay on the floor giggling.  It can be as trivial as observing the ways my son constructs duplo-blocks to portray, even if in a slightly ambiguous form, towers or castles or rocket ships.  It can be as superficial, yet layered, as interacting with my oldest while she’s holding and caring for one of her many baby dolls.  Watching how she loves these inanimate objects alerts me to what she’s learned through witness, and creates in me a heightened sense of my contributions to this formula.

With my wife, watching each other grow as we establish new roles while learning to balance all of our existing responsibilities as we balance our natural desire to grow with the weight that parenthood can sometimes add to focus and energy; I am bolstered by what the future promises.  I am emboldened to act now the way I want to feel later.  It is in these acts where the depth of our relationship is revealed; that although we have known each other for nearly ten years, we have merely skimmed off a fraction of what we are capable of – both individually and together.  Beginning to depart from old habits in order to create space for new goals makes me love her in a light I haven’t before held vantage of.

These are the aspects of my life that create my happiness.  It is not the thought of becoming happy, but the act of fulfilling happiness that compounds on itself.  And each and every day we are granted here on earth we have the opportunity to invest that effort into areas that will generate into something greater.  Refining that happiness towards growth in the foundation of our character reflects areas, yet undiscovered, where light can be found and happiness experienced in full.

What a truth to explore!

Yours in the Pursuit and Growth of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Listen Up, Son

My wife and I were born to parents who were baptized into the Catholic Church as infants.  That I am aware of, all four of my grandparents and all four of my wife’s grandparents were also born into the church.  Tradition is our family’s thing.  Conversion has historically not.

It takes, I think, total submersion into a Catholic Parish in order to come away from church with more than two readings, a series of songs, a clear understanding of when to sit, stand and kneel and a murky sense of which prayers you may be able to one day convert in your brain to the new version they switched over to ten years ago, and which just are hopeless.  Connection on an individual level, during the process of the mass, is not the highest priority.  While I understand the reasons for why, I sometimes look to other friends, who attend other churches filled with a greater mission to praise through prayer, music, etc and feel a twinge of jealousy.  I have to remind myself that the Catholic Church believes its mass not only provides us with the nourishment of the body of Jesus Christ on Sunday, but sets us up to be good Christian people most every other day of the week.

So as my wife and I, throughout the course of an infrequently granted date night, occasionally danced in and out of what we might do to benefit our spiritual journeys, and those of our children one day, we found ourselves simultaneously upset by the failings of the church – and our inability to grasp some of the greater meanings, and the myriad of reasons we have achieved successful faith-filled blessings throughout our time together.

By all appearances, just as God intended we found ourselves that next morning at 11:15, listening to the sacred scripture for the first week in ordinary time.  The first reading was from the Book of Samuel.  Two prophets, Eli – an established church leader and teacher of students like Samuel, a boy who was one day to be another to foretell the coming of Jesus.  In the story, Samuel is woken many times to a voice saying only “Samuel”.  The logical choice being that Eli, his teacher, is calling him – Samuel goes to Eli three straight times before finally Eli arrives at what is happening – Eli is experiencing his own calling from God.  As Samuel answers Eli the 3rd time, Eli says to Samuel “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  Samuel does so.  When the Lord calls the final time, Samuel does as he is bid.  This results in Samuel knowing God, and God blessing Samuel’s words, that he be heard and believed for all of time.

For the rest of the mass, including the homily, I reflected on the church’s position relative to mine.  I sensed that I’d been thinking as those of old with respect to the earth and sun.  The earth, no matter its significance to us, does not hold the orbit of the sun.  Alternatively, the earth orbits the sun.  Just as I may wish the Catholic Church cater to what I believe I need, it is the centerpiece in this relationship.  Its constant in my life is what has allowed me to know God, even if only in a minor way.  Here I am, Lord!, should be my sentiments toward the possibility of a greater relationship with God, and yet I am worried about comparing the lifeblood of the Catholic Church to that of a non-denominational church that opened 5 years ago and probably won’t survive being handed down to another due to faith-based differences that naturally exist between to lives of faith.

My position within the church is one of many callings.  The trick is to call on those vocations at the proper times.  I am called to listen to those who might teach.  I am called to minister to my children and my friends.  I am called to promote the future of the church.  I am called to be a member of a flock.  I am called to be a shepherd in times in which a wolf presides.

It is hard to know which of these is needed at various times.  Right now I get the feeling that God, and Samuel, are trying to remind me that the parts of me that need to connect with my faith in all of the various ways needs me to listen.  Something that does not come easily, or naturally, to me.  For the time being, my happiness, or the expansion of it, seems to be calling me into the realm of “Speak, Lord.  Your servant is listening.” As I am called by my faith, church community, wife and children to fulfill various roles, I am to listen first.

I’m always amazed at the rate at which at least one amongst the readings specifically speaks to me or to an issue I’m having or concern I’m contemplating.  This Sunday’s was no different.  If we are to truly exist in happiness, then we must do so hand-in-hand with God.  Step one starts with listening.  But we can’t listen without truly first believing there is something to be gained by listening.  I think I’ll start there.  I’ll let you know where it leads.

Yours In the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

We Stand Resolute

Greetings and Happy New Year!

2018 Got off to a slow and quiet start for me, as I was swallowed up by the flu bug on Christmas afternoon, taking all of my energy from me up until this past weekend.  Drained from having completed our family Christmas circuit, focusing on properly stowing all of the gifts the kids got from their overly generous grandparents, aunts and uncles and ready to get some much-needed real estate back from our Christmas tree, writing has not been on the forefront of my mind.  Until yesterday.

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Our nearly 5-month-old daughter, being the last to dispel the flu from her system, was not fit to attend church this weekend.  My wife needed some time and my kids had also recently on the mend, meant that I would attend church on my own.  The sixth of January being the feast of the Epiphany, the gospel at church was taken from that this week.  The priest’s homily is what shed light on my post today.  He spoke about the imagery of dawn, and its ties to the gifts the wise men gave to us when they recognized Jesus as the King of all people, for all times.  Their gift to us is illumination.  When they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to Christ, they illuminated, much as dawn does for a landscape, the beauty of the gift of Christ in human form.  Both the fact of Christ’s divinity, and his humanity, and the new light of day call for us to be a city on a hill for all.

And this got me to thinking, am I truly a Christian in the sense that my life reflects the Love God has brought to my life? Do I reflect God in meaningful ways to my wife, my children, my community? Decidedly, I do not believe I’ve done a good enough job of that task, that requirement.  Whether worn down from a long day at work, frustrated that my individual desires are bogged down by family responsibilities, or just caught up on worldly thoughts, too often I miss my opportunities to be a Christ-like leader in these environments.  So here I find myself taking the time to reflect and resolve what my 2018 goals will be.  Last year, I think I did a decent job of achieving a myriad of goals.  I intend to use these achievements as stepping-stones to a more fulfilling 2018 goal: namely that I will spend more time internally processing where my conflicts lay, and will rise to meet them, as best I can, in the manner in which my faith commands me.

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Lofty tho this may be, it is what I am called to as a Christian husband, father, son and brother.  It is what I am called to as a member of my company, community and country.  I plan on defining these roles, and the ways I can reflect the light of Christ as those opportunities avail themselves throughout the days, weeks and months ahead – but I also know that being present in my daily vocations and responsibilities will help me to reach these on a consistent level.  I intend to report back in the ways in which I’ve both succeeded and failed – and what lessons I’ve learned along the way.  This will be my theme for both my writing, and my living over the next year.

Good luck in your ventures here in 2018! I hope each and every one of you find the path calling you, and stays within its bounds as regularly as possible.  I hope to do the same.

Yours in the Continued Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Laid to Waste by ‘Beneath a Scarlet Sky’

***SPOILER ALERT***

The following are my thoughts in response to having read Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.  If you have designs to read this book, while I appreciate you frequenting my blog, please save for a later date.


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Calamity.  Utter and total heartbreak.  Those are my feelings today, as I’ve closed the book on Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.  I don’t know how I’ll ever open another book.  In the week since I first opened this beautiful, hopeful, inspiring and yet altogether heart-wrenching novel, I’ve cheered for Mimo and Uncle Albert, scorned General Leyers, revered Father Re and Cardinal Schuster and fallen in love with Pino and Anna. The kind of love where your hope resides in a greater future for the love you posses within yourself and for others.  The kind of love only found in Eden’s paradise, before we cast ourselves into shadow.  I don’t know that I’ve ever cursed at a book out loud before.  I probably only did so because I saw it coming, and was powerless to stop it.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky is set in WWII Milan, leading us through the winding trials of Pino Lella.  Pino finds himself in one harrowing predicament after another.  Shortly after the bombing of Milan began, Pino’s parents scuttle him to Casa Alpina, where he’d spent much of his youth skiing and studying under the careful tutelage of Father Re, the remote school’s headmaster and priest.  Pino soon discovers Father Re has other designs for Pino; leading one expedition after the next over a chain of Italian Alpine Mountains with Jews seeking refuge in Switzerland has his repetitious mission.  Pino encounters thieves, doubt and avalanches along the way.  His faith is tested but his outlook on life remains untainted, ever-desirous of finding love.

Prior to turning 18, Pino is jettisoned back to Milan under the bequest of his father, that he might avoid the draft and instead enlist in the German Army under a division that would keep him out of harm’s way.  After a near-death incident shortly into his career, an injury places Pino on leave.  Upon returning home he is yet to even set foot in his home before he encounters General Hans Leyers, the chief engineer in Hitler’s Nazi Regime in Italy.  Having learned to maintain and operate vehicles as a hobby while at Casa Alpina, it is his deft technical skill that earns him the new position as driver for the General.

On Pino’s first day as driver, he knocks on the door of the General’s apartment and is greeted by the maid, a beautiful woman named Anna to whom we are introduced earlier in the story.  The night of the first bombardment, Pino has scheduled a date with Anna to see a movie.  She stands him up, avoiding, unbeknownst to her, a bomb hurtling through the roof of the theater.  Their subsequent near daily interaction quickly leads Anna to reciprocate feelings for Pino, who is now operating as both the General’s driver and a spy for the resistance in Italy.  Pino’s love for music abounds as Sullivan deftly conflates Pino’s passion for Anna, and for music, into one solitary tone.  The two fall in love despite the war-ravaged surroundings and become engaged just before the German retreat.  The love scene depicted in the story was written in such a way that anyone looking for clues as to whether or not their days would entail each other for the rest of their loves quickly becomes aware that Anna will not survive the war.

As much as I knew this to be true, still there was hope.  Perhaps the words would rearrange themselves in the coming pages and the tragedy about to ensue I would be spared of.  Fully invested in their world, their happiness, their continued existence, I trudged forward.  Sure enough, a few calamitous decisions on Pino’s behalf coupled with the ill-timed retreat of the Germans and the vendetta killings required by the Partisans set the stage for Anna’s capture, due to her association with General Leyers’ mistress.  A public gathering’s boisterous atmosphere attracts Pino’s attention.  The strapping young man works his way to the front of the mob as an executioner leads out “collaborators” of the Nazi party.  Anna among them.  Before he can explain the mistake, the executioners try the traitors and kill them by firing squad.  Pino has a front row seat to the barbarous atrocities, his heart breaking mine.

I can think of only one other such case where I felt so abandoned by the death of a literary love interest: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.  All of this leads me to feel powerless and forlorn, with a burning resolution to evade Italian-set World War II tragic novels.

I am glad I encountered Pino’s story, it was a world I relished having a window.  Pino is a hero for so many of his actions.  Much like much war literature, Pino’s humanity befalls his passion and love.  Pino’s misfortune reinforces my good fortune.  I am grateful to have never known war.  I am fortunate to have never been separated by my wife.  Blessed to have never feared what might become of me, my wife or my children.  But yet still, here I am, heart-broken over the evil that stole Anna from this world, even if I’d never known her.  To have come all that way in such a perilous time and die at the hands of your misunderstanding countrymen is what makes Beneath a Scarlet Sky so difficult a pill to swallow.

Yours in the Passionate Pursuit of Happiness – Con Smania

Will O’Connor

The O’Connor Family Christmas Letter

December, 2017

Merry Christmas to All!

The Virginia O’Connors, operating with the throttle wide open, have been up to all sorts of mischief this year, but hope to count ourselves alongside you all on the “Nice List”.  Having gained some footing in Richmond, we’ve stretched out a bit, developed some wonderful friendships, put down some roots, established traditions and added to our family!IMG_4014

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Over a mild winter, we announced the coming arrival of a new baby girl, Eve Corrine O’Connor, and welcomed her to the world on August 9th.  But we’ll get to that.  We’ve worked hard to establish meaningful relationships both for ourselves, and for our children.  We’ve been blessed both at work, and at play and have much to look forward to in the coming year!

Will has been extremely busy with work, having nearly completed 3 projects in the calendar year.  His job in Richmond saw him finish his first pre-fabricated steel building, an indoor soccer facility right off 95 South (he points this out to us every time we drive past it).  He then moved to project on campus at the University of Richmond, where we all saw very little of him required to complete the project in the 12 weeks the students were off from school.  EdisonProject22Finally, a historic renovation of an old automotive service building, along a main artery into the city, to become the show-piece of Midas Tire and Auto.  There is tremendous growth opportunity for Will in this company, so we’re all excited to see where that goes.  Additionally, Will has spent most of his down time collecting thoughts and stories to begin writing a book.  Here’s to hoping 2018 allows a bit more time to delve deeper into that passion.

IMG_5178Carolyn has had an amazing year, as well all knew she would.  Balancing work, daycare routes, taking care of two children and one large man-child, while also bringing another child into the world.  Professionally, Carolyn hit all of her annual goals prior to taking maternity leave.  An achievement all of us are extremely proud of, her ability to excel as a top agent for her company while still being the loving and caring momma bear of the house is not something most people can do.  Carolyn has developed some great friendships with some women in the area and enjoys spending time with them at a book club, among other activities, while giving Will the occasional opportunity to wrangle the kids from the bath-tub to bed while hopefully still finding the tooth brush and pajamas.  In all, its been a banner year for her.

 

Quinn saw August 21st turn the page to age 4 this year, but everybody who knows Quinn knows she’s really 17.  Highlights for Quinn include learning how to sound out spelling of words, playing with various friends from pre-school and being the world’s best big sister to both Xavier and Eve.  EdisonProject60She’s immensely attentive to Eve and has been a great helper to Carolyn when she isn’t busy picking out her own outfits, learning to ride a bike or educating all of us about the most recent thing she’s learned at school.  Quinn has stunned us this year in a variety of ways, most notably her development at school.  While there, she has grown by a factor of ten.  She loves her teachers so much that she wants to be one.  She loves what she’s learned so much that she takes great measures to teach each of us.  Her role as big sister suits her perfectly, and the coming of the next school year will see her in Kindegarten.  It is truly amazing how fast time flies.  Will is already mapping out the bus route, to ensure his baby girl gets safely to school for at least the first few months.

 

Xavier (3) is the archetypical image of a boy.  The bin that once held a few balls now overfloweth.  These instruments include a wide array of baseballs, soccer balls, basketballs and swords of all influences.  When he isn’t busy showing us how high he can throw a ball, or challenging Will to ninja fights, he’s enthralled with Thomas, Lightning McQueen and Raphael.  Xavier also is comedian-in-chief of the household, pausing at nothing to find the hilarity in all situations and displaying his knowledge of humor through his vivacious laugh.7FF47B24-DC72-4034-A9DD-87CE9621B990

Eve (4 mos) hasn’t really acquired any skills to this point beyond holding her head up, but we’ll let that slide this year.  Coming into the world at 10:00 PM on August 9th via Caesarean, weighing 8 lbs 9oz and pink as can be, Eve Corrine has been the perfect addition to the O’Connor family.  Will continues to give thanks that the children mostly look like Carolyn.  Carolyn has filled all of Apple’s clouds with pictures, videos and snaps of Eve’s smiles, giggles and various other new discoveries.IMG_5365

This world is tumultuous.  When we are able to sit down and rest from our own challenges and trials, all we have to do is turn on the television and see the world isn’t done with its own set.  And yet here we are, in the happiest of times, prevailing alongside you all nonetheless.  It is our firm belief that the blessings we have, the happiness we’ve created and the prosperity we enjoy is in direct relationship to the graces we’ve received from each and every one of you.  It is our hope we’ve provided a fraction of the same.  As we prepare to enter 2018, we pray your good health and happiness may endure, that you may rise to meet your challenges, down every road you roam, and that God continues to hold you in the palm of His hand.

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Merry Christmas to All,

Will, Carolyn, Quinn, Xavier, Eve (and Finn)

 

Happiness Through Books v 2017: My Recommendations Based Upon What I’ve Read This Year

In addition to pledging to write more this year, I also pledged to read more.  There is a wonderful website out there called GoodReads.  I’m sure many of you who read are also aware of it.  GoodReads has a book tracker on it, where you can take a challenge, and evaluate your goal for reading on a personalized basis.  The general rubric is 12 books; one per month.  I pledged for such a goal.  I am currently reading my 19th book of the year, which I hope to finish by year’s end: by far the most I’ve ever read in a single year.  I have ordered them here, with a very small write-up.  I’d suggest anyone interested in broadening their book list take a look at the various authors and suggestions that branch off of those authors.  GoodReads does a really nice job of suggesting for you what you may enjoy if your enjoyed a specific book.  So here’s what I learned about this year:

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  1. thirteen moons – Charles Frazier – Frazier’s second foray into fictional novels, thirteen moons is a book a read half of when I was in my early 20s.  I’m so glad I waited until now to return to it, for the book is powerfully potent at allowing the reader to examine his own past choices through the choices of Will Cooper, the protagonist.  Not only is the story beautiful, the prose is masterful and the imagery paints a landscape rich with detail on each and every page.  I can’t wait for Frazier’s ‘Varina’ to come out this spring.
  2. When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi – one cannot simply read this book and move on.  Written in the same vein as Tuesdays With Morrie or The Last Lecture, Kalanithi’s life was truly one to be memorialized.  Having never met him, I mourn his absence from this earth and wonder what medical advances we may have seen if he’d lived.
  3. Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance – The first book I read this year, Hillbilly Elegy knock’s an arrow and find its true target.  JD Vance, a man born to poverty and family drug addiction, tells his story of rising from the ashes by way of his own mistakes and does a masterful job of detailing reasons for why he, and people like him, get caught up in the quagmire of various societal structures, including the education system, the military and the failings of socio-economic mobility.  A must read.
  4. Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell – Of all the books I read this year, I believe none of them have neither the historic nor present-day significance as this book does.  Set in a dystopian future, which has since passed since the writing of this book, Orwell describes a totalitarian regime and the control it exerts and demands of each of its citizens.  I’d read Animal Farm in highschool, but missed this cunning, artful story that very articulately details the risks we run in giving government too much control; in sacrificing freedom for security.
  5. Devil In the White City – Erik Larson – this book is a thriller and at the same time, a wonderful historic work detailing events surrounding the World’s Fair of 1892.  In it, Larson brings together the lives of both the chief architect of the fair, and a serial killer, loose in Chicago at the time of the fairs preparation and commencement.  Great read.
  6. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy – I believe I will make it a law to read at least one McCarthy book a year until I read everything he has ever written.  In reading The Road last year, easily among my all-time favorites, I was turned on to this author.  I told many while reading Blood Meridian that I had seen no evidence McCarthy had used the same adjective twice.  A true test of one’s command of the English language, this book starts off slow and nebulous, but establishes some powerful dialogue and questions of morality and the nature of humanity through war.
  7. Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman – In reality, this book should be nearer the top of the list.  Easily the most piercing book on social economics I’ve ever read, Kahneman details his life’s work in studying how people think, and which parts of the brain command our life’s choices.  While this book is an important read, it is also extremely dense.  The book requires commitment but the reader is rewarded ever-forward with a greater sense of understanding of one’s self and those around him.
  8. Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut – I had to spend some time to determine which Kurt Vonnegut book to read first.  Slaughterhouse Five being my end-choice, I had no idea I was getting into such a humorous selection while simultaneously dragging me through terrible atrocities witnessed on the European front of World War II.  In 2018 I’ll select another Vonnegut work, and hope it proves to be as spectacular
  9. In A Pit With A Lion on A Snowy Day – Mark Batterson – I read this book at the perfect time, having to make some decisions in my life on risk I was willing to take in order to obtain personal and professional goals.  Batterson is a pastor of a large non-denominational church in Washington, DC.  The book is biblically centered.  He does a great job of illuminating and obscure passage of the bible to detail the ways in which we can be purpose-driven in our lives.  I would highly recommend its read.
  10. Killing Reagan – Bill O’Reilly – having a history background as my field of study, I am ashamed to admit I did not know more about the life of Ronald Reagan.  I recommend this book, as O’Reilly, regardless of one’s thoughts on him, thoroughly captures the life of one of our greatest patriots and Presidents.  I also felt, going in, that O’Reilly would deify Reagan to a large extent.  To my surprise, he handled the decisions and legacy of Reagan with significant balance.  If one wishes to learn more about Ronald Reagan, I’d highly recommend this book.

Other works I read:

  • The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  • The Man in the High Castle – Phillip K Dick
  • Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
  • About Grace – Anthony Doerr
  • A Light Between Two Oceans – M.L. Stedman
  • A Torch Kept Lit – William F Buckley, Jr.
  • handling the truth: on the writing of memoir – Beth Kephart
  • American Sniper – Chris Kyle

Memoir, Biography, Thrillers and Ficitonal Novels all, this year was a captivating tour through reading.  I hope to continue placing reading as an integral part of who I am.  For in these works, I can learn, evaluate and lose myself.  I can link to thinks both better and worse than my experiences in life, and hope to encourage others to continually do the same.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor