Broken Man (Original Song)

When I first learned to play the guitar in the early 90’s (when I was in my early 20’s), I used to write a new song almost every week. Now I write something new only every couple of years. But writing this new song triggered something cathartic in me that I can’t adequately express. I’m hoping maybe there’s a few more songs left in me.

If you liked this, check out my unique cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”

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Confronting the Overpopulation Myth

In our 17 years of parenting, we’ve tried homeschool, private school, and public school.

We desperately (and futilely) attempted on multiple occasions to get our kids into Catholic school, but circumstances (geographical, financial, or flat-out being denied admission) always prevented this. And for multiple reasons we’ve explained in the past in both our book as well as our podcasts here and here (and therefore I won’t repeat here), our attempts at homeschooling were always far less than ideal.

Therefore, our five kids all attend public school.

This week, our 15-year-old freshman son, Walter, was assigned a project for his World Geography class to create a video explaining, “why overpopulation is the worst man-made disaster.”

Here’s the video:

First off, this is one of Walt’s best-produced videos. As his parents, we’re enormously proud of how his skills have increased over the past couple of years, and how he continuously tries to do new and different things using video. Considering he’s just 15, we’re impressed by that alone.

But we’re also impressed with the fact that Walter immediately took issue with the topic. As one of five kids here on earth and several more in heaven, Walter has been raised understanding the value and sanctity of human life and the fact that every person has an innate dignity that must be respected from the moment of conception until natural death.

So to somehow suggest, as Walter’s classroom assignment has, that the existence of people themselves is somehow “the worst man-made disaster” is just absurd.

But Walter, knowing a grade was at stake, did the project, with a caveat. In the description for his video he wrote, “FYI I don’t agree with what a lot of what I said in this video. I only did this and said the things I said for the sake of getting a good grade.”

When Walt and his brother Sam were younger, there were multiple occasions when we had them pulled from their classroom for presentations that we found counter to our Catholic faith or simply just against our core beliefs. In countless situations, we’ve sent emails to teachers letting them know when topics, discussions, and assignments were in opposition to what was happening in our home. We still do that for our other three kids still in elementary and middle school.

But it’s an interesting thing to have kids (who you’ve tried your best to raise in the Catholic faith) attending public high school where their daily existences include having to continually be on the defensive in support of traditional marriage between one man and one woman, to explain to their peers why contraception is contrary to God’s plan, to justify why they struggle (or try to struggle) against pornography and why they attempt to remain chaste. These are things that both our high schoolers, Sam and Walter, have had to encounter time and again.

After watching Walter’s video this morning, both my wife and I encouraged him and congratulated him for being willing to publicly share his personal belief that contraception is wrong. He states this himself near the video’s end.

We then pointed out one of the other detrimental effects of the overpopulation myth can be seen in forced abortions and sterilizations in parts of the world. I encouraged him to visit the website of the Population Research Institute, whose executive director had been a guest on our radio show years ago. While some of the information there has been debated for years, it offers many strong oppositional studies that rally against the myth of overpopulation.

Would I have preferred for him to not have to do this assignment? Yes. But God can bring good out of any bad. And in this case, a 15-year-old posted a YouTube video stating he thinks contraception is wrong. There’s a good chance one or more of his classmates will take notice.

Walter took a stand and became a witness for the faith in which he has been raised.

But the thought came to me: does Walter actually understand what he believes, or does he just believe it because that’s what his mom and dad believe?

After pondering that, I sent Walter this text to encourage him:

“Stand firm in your beliefs. And here’s something else I’ll challenge you with (and this will surprise you): don’t believe stuff just because your mom and dad believe it. But we believe what we believe because of tremendous research and discernment throughout our lives. We trust the Catholic Church’s teachings on things like no contraception because the Church is also the original Church, and the only place where you can receive the Eucharist and the other sacraments. We’re proud of you for sticking to your guns. I wish you didn’t have to make a video espousing something you don’t believe in, though. That’s tough.”

Interestingly, the fact Walter had to make a video in opposition to one of our family’s core beliefs that all life is sacred lead to a follow up text conversation. I encouraged him to take the awesome production quality he brought to this video and start creating videos explaining Catholic stuff for teens from another teenager’s perspective.

The idea seemed to resonate with this 15-year-old trying to figure out the world, trying to understand why we believe what we believe, trying to comprehend the contradictions in this world created by God and inhabited by so many people who don’t want to live for God.

I told him the entire Catholic blogosphere would cheer him on. I hope you’d encourage him to do so, and maybe say a prayer for our teens Walter, Sam, and Ben, as well as all the other teens who are indeed trying to find their place in this world by putting Jesus at the center of their lives.

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VIDEO: Saints Among Us

Very proud of this new video my office produced for an upcoming initiative for the Archdiocese of Denver. I wrote and narrated it, but Jason on my team deserves the credit for the amazing animation and bringing it all together. Stay tuned in 3 weeks for a full-length documentary!

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How Old Do I Look?

There’s a goofy trend going around in social media this week called “How Old Do I Look,” which is basically a website that runs an algorithm based on a photo you upload of yourself, and based on data extracted from other photos, the website guesses your age and gender.

Consider it a modern day internet-based carnival act.

Except obviously from the picture below, it doesn’t work! 😉

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Click on the image to try it yourself. What age did you get? How close did the program get to reality?

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Bring Your Child To Work Day

As we mentioned on TCND #084, our local public school system “celebrated” Bring Your Child to Work Day.  Since this opportunity only applied to our youngest two sons, I agreed to let them both stay home and work with me processing rosaries for Rosary Army.

RosaryArmy.com is the main ministry that I have the privilege of managing from the basement office of our home and these boys only know life with rosaries in it.  Not a bad thing in my opinion.

Post Office TripFirst stop was the post office.  It’s always a fun surprise when we check the mail and find all three types of mail inside: envelopes containing rosary requests, donations and more all-twine knotted rosaries to inspect and prep for distribution.  It’s a great reminder for me to be thankful for these individuals in my prayer life.

 

IMG_6994Before the massive inspection of nearly 1000 rosaries could begin, I figured I’d better boost their morale and treat them to a “business lunch” at our local burger joint.  Gotta have fuel for the journey.  And truth be told, the Reuben wasn’t half bad.  Not New York good, but decent.

 

 

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Time to get to work. Ben was in the zone sorting rosaries by color and making sure the rosaries were made according to our quality standards before any tax receipts can be calculated and presented.  (Don’t worry, I handle the tax part!)

 

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Tommy is hard at work filling out the quality inspection paperwork for each batch of rosaries submitted.  He caught on super fast.  Not bad for an 11 year old!

 

 

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No, these are not rainbow dreadlocks on Ben’s head.  One of our hardworking rosary makers decided to have a little fun with tie-dye and Ben decided to have some fun with her creative work.  Who says rosaries can’t be fun!

 

 

IMG_7002Our Lady Undoer of Knots where are YOU!!! Yikes! There were at least 10 rosaries tangled up in this ball of rosaries.  I tried to think of Our Blessed Mother as Tommy handed this giant knot to me to untangle for him.  It gave me a chance to meditate on how us mammas have the skill and patience to untangle knots in our kids’ lives.

 

After several hours of intense rosary sorting work, it was finally quitting time for this Bring Your Child to Work Day.  For their reward, I dismissed them to the basement for some much deserved R&R time with video games.  Or maybe just plain ol’ R&R.

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7 Ways to Blast Through Dry Prayer


When you’re in the desert, if you remain stagnant and don’t try to make your way out, you’ll wither up and die.

Instead of sticking around in the sand dunes, dive into a faith where there is something new to discover each day, and in that discovery, experience the desire of growing closer to God, and the satisfaction of witnessing the Holy Spirit working through you in reaching others.

  • If you say you don’t get anything out of Mass, what are you putting into it?
  • If you say the Catholic faith is boring, when was the last time you read a book explaining the Eucharist or the lives of saints?
  • If you say you don’t feel the presence of God, or that the struggle of learning about and living out your faith isn’t worth it, then perhaps you’ve never opened yourself to experiencing the joy that comes through suffering, in suffering, and after suffering.

Even Jesus Christ found himself in a desert for forty days, but in the midst of those forty days, he turned to prayer and fasting to dive more deeply into His own relationship with God our Father, he fought through the dryness and pain of temptation to allow the strength of conviction to take hold and withstand the attacks of the devil. Being in the desert didn’t weaken His faith, it strengthened it. When we allow it, the pain and desolation and sufferings we sometimes encounter in life can be transformative periods of intense spiritual growth.

But just desiring to get out of dryness doesn’t necessarily facilitate change, particularly when it comes to prayer.

For times when you find yourself in a place of dryness, or feel that your prayer life has become lethargic, below are seven strategies for blasting through dryness in prayer, improving your time in prayer, and creating prayer routines that will help you when periods of dryness return in the future (as they’re sure to do):

1) Consistency
Pick a time to pray each day and stick to it. For me, it’s first thing in the morning, waking up two hours before I need to leave for work so I can pray, ponder, and then work on creative endeavors that perhaps I was inspired to work on during my prayer time.  Prayer makes my days better, including my weekends.  If I schedule the time for prayer each day, I know my days will be better.  Consistency is the key.

2) Pick a place
Create places in and out of your home that become associated with prayer.  I actually recommend trying to create 2-4 prayer spots. Years ago I’d leave work everyday at lunch and sit in my car in a parking lot, eat my lunch, and then spend 45 minutes in uninterrupted prayer.   For me, I have a dedicated “prayer chair” in a room of our house, and when the weather is warmer, I pray every morning on my front porch.  And of course, developing a routine of going to Eucharistic Adoration helps make your local parish a perfect prayer spot.

3) Have a backup plan
Some mornings I sit and draw an absolute blank.  My prayer is like staring at a blank wall.  When this happens, I go to one of my backup prayer plans.  When my prayer seems like a rambling, incoherent mess, I turn to rote prayers like the Rosary or Liturgy of the Hours or simply opening up the Bible and reading for ten minutes.  Some other backup prayer plans including reading the Psalms, listening to recorded audio prayers (like the free audio Rosaries Jennifer and I recorded), or simple journaling out my thoughts.

4) Eliminate distractions
Wherever your prayer spot may be, or whenever you plan your prayer, leave your phone outside of arms reach (and preferably outside the room).  If you’re surrounded by people all day, go for a prayer walk or just go sit in your car to pray.

5) Ask for intercessory help before prayer
This was a huge breakthrough for me.  When I remember to ask my guardian angel to help me to pray, he’ll lead me to ask for the intercession of saints and our Blessed Mother to assist me in my prayer and to make sure I’m focusing on the areas of my life where the Holy Spirit most desires me to grow.

6) Set goals
When prayer becomes particularly routine, I find the challenge praying a novena (such as the Divine Mercy novena or the novena of Mary Undoer of Knots or even a 54-day Rosary novena) will break through dryness like nothing else will.  As a caveat, though, make sure to have a plan in place for what your prayer life will be after the novena is completed so you don’t fall back into old routines.

7) Accept Imperfection
Jesus prays that we may be perfect, but not every conversation with someone is perfect. If your prayer seems dry and pointless, cut yourself some slack.  God cares more about you showing up than what you say when you arrive.  Go back to the first suggestion (consistency) and you’ll eventually break through that dryness in prayer.

What are ways you break through dryness?  Share your suggestions in the comments below!

For more ideas for breaking through dryness in prayer, make sure to check out episode #084 of The Catholics Next Door where we dive deeper into these seven strategies!

For more discussion on dryness, also check out my book The New Evangelization and You: Be Not Afraid!

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Unfinished Basements are Awesome

When we lived in Georgia, we always said our house would have been just right if we had a basement to retreat to, make messes in, and generally just have fun.

When we started looking for homes in Colorado, so many unfinished basements seemed full of bad design ideas.

When we got our house, the unfinished basement only had one electrical outlet and 2 very dim lights. After a minor investment of better wiring and lights, we are amazed how much we enjoy our unfinished basement.

We now run New Evangelizers/Rosary Army out of the basement, we podcast from the basement, the kids have a play area (Ben and Tom LOVE spending the night there), and I even have a dedicated corner for painting and my punching bag.

Every once in a while I imagine what it would be like to finish off the basement, but then I quickly remember if we finished it off, we couldn’t do stuff like this:

Roller chairs + unfinished basement = fun

A video posted by Greg Willits (@gregwillits) on


Or this:

Friday night praying for her life.

A video posted by Greg Willits (@gregwillits) on

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The Accidental Baker


Ben_HeadOur son Benjamin has been through quite the academic journey in public middle school.  From dealing with the shock of actually having to do his assignments to remembering to turn them in on time, it’s been quite the ride.  But mostly, middle school has been rough on him emotionally.  He just didn’t care to be there.  Middle school was something to endure and nothing more.  It didn’t take long for his teachers to notice how disinterested Ben was from his classes.  They could easily see how profoundly unhappy he was. (Not that he tried to hide it!)  It didn’t take long for his grades to suffer from his lack of engagement.

We tried band. But since it was not possible to get the highly coveted percussion assignment, he was forced to choose something else: the trumpet. He tried and tried, but he quickly began to resent that instrument and found every opportunity to avoid it. Since we had to rent it for $25 bucks a month, I was not too happy to see it unplayed so often.  We tried private tutoring sessions to help boost his confidence, but it just didn’t matter.  He genuinely disliked the instrument and music all together.  The band teacher found a way for him to be transitioned out of that year long class despite the general rules of leaving kids assigned to their original schedules.  We were grateful for the end of Ben’s musical misery and I was happy to get my $25.00 a month back.

Honor_RollEventually, he was allowed to participate in Drama, which showed him that school can occasionally encourage playful and silly behavior without being considered disruptive.  Slowly, he started to feel like a happy kid again. His grades were finally leaving the C and D zone and he was consistently getting more B’s.  By the end of the quarter, he was rewarded with an Honor Roll certificate for his efforts at trying to improve in all his classes.

But the real prize of a class was (the super popular and tough to get into) Consumer & Family Studies, aka the cooking class.  There are never openings in that class.  Students have to be very fast to sign up for it before it gets full.  Because Ben has several teachers who care for his success, strings were pulled in all the right ways and Ben was allowed in.  To me, it was an answer to prayer. Ben needed to know that it was possible to have a few positive experiences in his school.

To our surprise, Ben not only enjoys the cooking class, he is thriving in it.  He is loving the chance to explore new recipes and getting his hands dirty in the cooking process.  This warms my heart so much because Ben has such a beautiful and unique soul.  It hurt so much to see him so sad every day after school.  You see, Ben has high functioning autism and he relates to the world around him in a very unique way.   To date, he has largely felt disconnected from his experience in public middle school.  But cooking has made him connect.

His recent cooking assignment was to tackle the German oven pancake.  The teacher demonstrated it first and the next day the kids would get the chance to make it themselves.  Ben was so enthusiastic after seeing the demonstration that he couldn’t wait for the next day to try making it.  But since he was given the recipe, he thought, “Why wait for tomorrow?  Why not try making it as soon as I get home?”  Ben has never baked like this before.  He is quite adept at using the stove top, and even heating up foods in the oven, but never preparing something so raw from scratch.  I was quite happy to let him experiment and just figure it out.

Ben_pancakeHis first attempt came out very flat, much like a traditional pancake.  But we ate it and congratulated him for his accomplishment.  Secretly, he knew something was not right. It just didn’t look like the one the teacher made in class earlier that day.  He would later learn that he didn’t whisk the eggs enough and after having the opportunity to make it correctly at school the following day, he was ready to dazzle us at home.  And dazzle he did!

We all laughed with delight when he opened the oven door to reveal the new and improved German oven pancake in it’s risen glory.  How appropriate for the Easter season of which we are still spiritually celebrating.

pancake

Ben was happy. We were happy.  And the German oven pancake was devoured.  I highly recommend spreading some tasty fruit preserves over it.  My personal favorite is using raspberry preserves.  Our youngest son, Tommy, was so impressed by his brother’s baking skills, that he requested this pancake for his birthday breakfast this Friday, April 24th.  I think I’ll commission Ben to make this delightful treat for my Mothers’ Day breakfast this May.

Our Ben, the accidental baker, is now experiencing the joy of cooking and sharing. Way to go Benjamin Bunny Faces of Love and Happiness!

 

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Join the TCND Community and Get Regular Bonus Content

Want more from The Catholics Next Door? Join the TCND community and get regular updates and bonus surprises ranging from the silly and fun (such as recipes and videos) to serious and faith-filled (such as additional prayer guides and advanced peeks at new resources for your faith journey)!

Here’s how to join the community for FREE:

  1. Sign up for our newsletter below or in the sidebar to the right by entering in your name and a valid e-mail address.
  2. Check your email and verify your address in the message we send you.


That’s all it takes! Sign up right now and we’ll talk to you soon!

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VIDEO: Fishing in South Carolina

What started as a video of my fishing trip in South Carolina this past week ended up being a music video for one of our favorite songs, “Home.” Sung by actor Billy Crudup, this is the first song from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, “Rudderless.” Both the soundtrack and movie are great. Click here to listen to us talk about my trip on TCND #083.

Music is Copyright (C) 2014 Lakeshore Music. Go buy the soundtrack. You won’t regret it.

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New Website Launch!

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 11.41.54 AMAfter months of development, Jennifer and I are ecstatic to finally reveal this new website. We still have a ton of new features (AND FREE STUFF) we’ll be adding in the coming weeks and months, but decided to go ahead and launch the site now so you can be a part of the ongoing development.

Here are just a few cool things to check out:

  • Sign up for our newsletter!  This is the first newsletter that we’ve ever produced just as us (Greg and Jennifer).  We want to be able to truly build up The Catholics Next Door community and provide serious and silly stuff, and regular surprises.
  • Look at the website on your smartphone and discover how easy it is to pick shows to listen to on the go!
  • Comment on posts and podcast episodes more easily!  Like what you heard this week?  Leave a comment!
  • Like a podcast episode? Now you can easily share it on your Twitter and Facebook feeds directly from our site.
  • Check out the entire back catalog of shows directly from our site.

PLUS, we’re actively working on more stuff for the website including:

  • Videos
  • Free downloads (including the 7+ hour “Life Changers” series that our Patreon co-producers helped fund)
  • Blog content from both Greg and Jennifer
  • A few secrets to be revealed soon!

Click here to go look at the new home page and be sure to bookmark the site right now and check back regularly to discover new content!

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How to Pray In 4 Easy Steps

prayerbeginnersIn the last few weeks, I’ve experienced a truly amazing grace in my prayer life, and it stems from an efficient little book I stumbled upon several years ago called Prayer for Beginners by Peter Kreeft.

The first time I saw the book was during a silent retreat back in 2006, during a similar time when my prayer felt dry and ineffective.  I knew God was listening, but it didn’t feel like He was.

I managed to read the entire book during the retreat, but one section stood out in particular.  Unfortunately, as is often the case after a retreat, I forgot 95% of the lessons I learned as the reality of life took over once again.

Then just a couple weeks ago, for no apparent reason, Kreeft’s simplified lesson for prayer popped back into my head.  It started with an acronym that worked as an outline for how to approach God in prayer.

The secret, says Kreeft, is the word RAPT, as in, “when you pray, do so with rapt attention.”

The acronym stands for Repentance, Adoration, Petition, and Thanksgiving.

On a fluke, after all these years I decided to try it a few times, starting privately, and then explaining it to my children, and then even sharing it with co-workers.   But even with it’s simplicity, I find that explaining the acronym is still confusing, but when you actually model the praying technique, people are amazed!

So below I want to briefly explain how I have implemented those 4 steps, and provide an example of how you might use this is in your own prayer life.

Repentance
This has been one of my favorite aspects of the prayer.  I’m the kind of person that wants to rip off the Band-Aid quickly, so jumping right to acknowledging my own stupidity and inadequacies has been enormously beneficial.  When I use this method every day, this acts as a reminder for a daily examination of conscience.  What have I done (or thought or failed to do) in the last 24 hours?  I simply recall all of these things, summon up true contrition, and bring these things to God in prayer.  I’ll still bring these to Confession at a later date, but a daily examination of conscience allows me to allow true contrition to keep me in alignment with the will of God.

Adoration
For this part of the prayer, I take a moment to slow down and acknowledge the sovereignty of God.  I stop and think about God the Father, the creator of heaven and earth. I think of Him truly as my father, and I put myself in His presence, approaching Him as His child.  He cares about me.  He loves me.  He wants to hear from me.

I then acknowledge Jesus Christ, my brother and my king, who loves me so much He allowed Himself to be put on the cross and killed for me.  And I think about my love for Him.

Lastly, I think about the power of the Holy Spirit in my life, and how dependent I am on Him and the graces He delivers into my soul through the Sacraments.

Petition
I love that before I start asking God for stuff, and tossing a litany of wants and needs at Him, that I’ve taken the time to apologize and acknowledge Him as the One in control.  Having done so, I’ve actually found that my petitions are harder to formulate, because I’m more cognizant of my own failures, as well as how much better God is than me at determining true needs.  I’ve also found this method makes it easier and more natural to pray for others, because I’ve already removed myself as the center of prayer.

Thanksgiving
Being thankful is tough for me.  I’m the kind of person who as soon as God answers one prayer, I’m already focusing on the next “need.”

Consciously taking time to be thankful has made a huge difference.   Just as in repenting, with this last step I stop and think about all the ways in the past 24 hours that God has been there for me.  All the small ways (like getting me home without bad traffic) or the big ways (good health reports or answers to past prayers).  I try to think of every single good thing that God has done in my life since the last time I prayed this RAPT prayer, and the peace upon completing it is undeniably evident.

You can make this prayer last as long as you want, but can also pray it in just a minute or two.  With your family, I recommend pausing after each step, allowing each person to silently ponder these things in his or her heart.

So now here’s a short example of how this would all play out (I’ll put the steps in brackets, but that’s not necessary to do when you do this prayer yourself):

Dear Lord,

[R-Repentance] I am sorry for not taking more time to talk with you yesterday, and for allowing the busy-ness of the day to take over.  I’m sorry for yelling at my kid, and for being so angry inside afterward and for not immediately showing forgiveness.      [A-Adoration] You are God my Father, who made me and everything around me.  Everything in my life is a gift from You.  You are Jesus Christ my savior who loves me so much You died for me.  You are God the Holy Spirit, the shared love of Father for the Son and Son for the Father, who inspires and directs me in my life. [P-Petition] I ask you to help me be a better father.  Please help me understand how best to be like You.  Please help the people in my life who are suffering.  [T-Thanksgiving] Lord, I am so thankful for the fact that You hear my prayers.  I thank you for the way things have been going at work, and I thank you for the ways you’ve been blessing my family, and for keeping us healthy and safe.  I thank you for being my God, and I offer up my day – both the good and the bad — to You.  I love you, Lord.  Thank you for everything.  Amen.

It’s as simple as that!

After you’ve tried this, leave a comment below to let me know it worked for you!

 

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