Softball and Camaraderie

The best thing I did this weekend was definitely play softball. On Saturday morning, Sidney and I seized the opportunity to hit the diamond with some of our favorite friends. But our weekend fun would not have happened without the vision and hard work of others.

Our pastor at St. Mary Parish in the Spokane Valley, Fr. Jeff Lewis, loosely challenged our Young Adult Catholic group to develop a recreational opportunity, such as softball, for parishioners and others to partake in. Brian and Hailey Eames, a dynamic couple in our group, took Fr. Jeff’s challenge and ran with it.

Members of our Young Adult Catholic group surround Bishop Thomas Daly (center, with hands in pockets). Also pictured is Fr. Jeff Lewis (back row, tallest person in photo). People in this picture who played on the softball team include Dylan, Fidela, Brian, Hailey, Sidney, and myself.

Brian and Hailey chatted with their neighbors who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They pitched them (no pun intended) the idea of parishioners from our church playing a softball game against members of their church. The planning took place in June and a date for the matchup was set for August.

Toward the second half of July, Brian and Hailey held practices for us. Man, how nice it was to pick up a glove and bat again. Our coaches were so organized and encouraging that it made the practices a blast and instilled confidence in us for gameday.

A look at one of our practices held on a ball field at St. Mary Parish in the Spokane Valley.

At about 9:15 a.m. on Saturday, Sid and I left the house and headed in the direction of the Mormon temple. Our Latter-day Saints brothers and sisters were gracious enough to host us on their fields. Our worthy opponents generated a lot of interest among their ward, attracting enough players to field three teams compared to our one Catholic team. Although outnumbered, the arrangement allowed us to play a tournament.

Sidney up at the plate. It was nice to play on a team with her.

Our team won our first game. The team that was victorious on the other field then came over to play us. In a competitive nail-biter, our Catholic squad hung on for an 8-7 victory and a tournament championship.

Yeah, it was cool to win, but the morning was more special for various other reasons. Fr. Lewis and Fr. Kevin Oiland, the other priest who founded our Young Adult Catholic group, were both present to cheer us on. Also, Sidney and I got to play on an organized team together! Not only that, but we batted back-to-back in the lineup and played right next to each other in the field (me at first, Sid at second). I even got to meet some St. Mary parishioners for the first time.

Another person in the crowd was my brother. He took this photo of me. When our team was at-bat, I would serve as the catcher.

But the absolute best part of the day was the fellowship with our new friends. Everyone on the Latter-day Saints teams were kind, supportive, and humble. Players from both sides played hard but there was a lot of humor and encouraging words mixed in. After the softball concluded, our two groups walked to the picnic area for a joint cookout. Does it get any better?

What a thrill it was to play softball with our Latter-day Saints brothers and sisters.

On a sunny Saturday morning, Catholics and Latter-day Saints prayed, competed, and ate together. As we enjoyed the cookout, one lady approached us and mentioned that cars driving down the road by the fields were literally stopping to watch the action taking place on the diamonds. Of course they wouldn’t know that two faith communities had voluntarily come together in such a meaningful way, but that would be cool if they did. In a day and age where division is so strong and toxic, the example that was set over the weekend was a powerful one.

After the softball was played, there was a cookout for players, families, and spectators.

Thanks to Brian and Hailey and their Latter-day Saints counterparts who worked so hard to make this thing work out. What a success! Don’t Blink.

Friends For Life

When you get a text message notification from your parish priest, it is natural to tense up a bit. Did something bad happen? Did I do something wrong? Is he summoning me to confession? Those thoughts quickly ran through my head a few months ago when Sidney and I received a text from Fr. Jeff Lewis, our pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church in Spokane Valley. But before my thoughts could get too out of control, I simply ripped the band-aid off and opened the text.

Hey, good afternoon. So, do you two still want to be mentors to an engaged couple?

You bet!!

By saying “yes” to Fr. Jeff, we would end up meeting this very special couple.

——————

Nearly seven years ago, Sidney and I wrapped up our Pre-Cana program with our sponsor couple, Tim and Kathy McCormick. The McCormicks embody what a beautiful, fruitful marriage is all about and they provided us invaluable guidance as we prepared to get married in the Catholic Church.

The experience with Tim and Kathy was inspiring and faith filled. Beyond instilling in us the magnitude and beauty of marriage in the Church, it was also the beginning of a special relationship that Sidney and I hold extremely dear with them to this day.

I have always hoped that Sid and I would get the chance to give back and help prepare a couple for the sacrament of marriage in the same loving way that the McCormicks did for us.

Sidney and I with our sponsor couple, Tim and Kathy McCormick.

——————

In early April, we had the blessing of meeting Kailey and Corbin, a young engaged couple who will enter into holy matrimony in August. Fr. Jeff placed his trust in Sid and I to serve as their sponsor couple. With our pastor’s vote of confidence came our promise that we would do our best to help prepare Kailey and Corbin for their lifelong commitment. Over the course of six different lessons, my wife and I vowed to give an honest perspective on the joys and challenges of marriage.

Before we jumped headfirst into the heavy stuff, we invited Kailey and Corbin over to the house for dinner. Over pizza and wine we got to know each other. It was immediately apparent that we were in the presence of a very mature and humble couple. The evening was delightful and a seed was planted for future growth!

The marriage prep program we did was the Beloved series presented by Formed, a Catholic digital content apostolate. As I mentioned, this particular program had six different lessons, all delivered via video. The weekly lessons explained holy matrimony through its relevance, history, self-sacrifice, reliance on the Cross, and sacramental bond that it establishes. Each of these themes would address certain specific aspects of marriage such as conflict management, hardships, children/family planning, past baggage, traditions, sexual intimacy, and more.

The marriage prep program that we did with Kailey and Corbin was called “Beloved.”

Kailey and Corbin would watch the video together while Sid and I would watch the video together as well. After we had viewed that particular week’s video with our respective partner, Sid and I would send reflection questions to Kailey and Corbin to consider. The four of us would then gather and discuss the questions. These discussions were always deep, honest, and thoughtful. Although these conversations were designed to primarily benefit Kailey and Corbin, I can unequivocally say that they were such a blessing to Sid and I as well.

Our fruitful meetings didn’t always take place on the same day of the week nor at the same location. Although most did occur at our home, we also incorporated one lesson into a couple’s date night in Post Falls and another lesson we did entirely over Facetime. But perhaps the final lesson was the best of all. We met at a Mexican deli for dinner and a special guest joined us—Fr. Jeff!

What a joy the evening was. Fr. Jeff sat at the head of the table but basically allowed the four of us to navigate the lesson ourselves, waiting to offer his incredible insight and guidance as we came to an end of a discussion question. As we concluded that final lesson, we asked Fr. Jeff what themes he usually preaches about during his wedding homilies. He told us that he underscores the value that God places on marriage. Not only was marriage instituted very, very early on with the creation of Eve, but it went from important to sacramental by Jesus Christ himself. Jesus didn’t just sanctify marriage with his teachings, he did it with his actions as well. Christ’s death on the cross is the ultimate model of self-sacrificial love, the same self-sacrificial love that we must embrace and give in marriage.

After our final marriage prep lesson, the five of us, Fr. Jeff included, took this picture inside De Leon’s Foods.

——————

During that final lesson, Sid and I gave a resounding recommendation to Fr. Jeff that Kailey and Corbin are ready for marriage. On all levels—including spiritual and emotional—those two are ready to be joined as one. They are an impressive couple who will no doubt accept God’s grace throughout the course of their marriage and enjoy many years of happiness together.

What makes that positive outlook even more exciting, at least from the perspective of Sid and I, is that we plan to be part of those many blissful years. Just in the same way that we have a special relationship with our own sponsor couple, all signs point to a similar bond with Kailey and Corbin. We grew close during our marriage prep sessions and as Kailey mentioned in a Facebook post, that time together has resulted in us becoming “friends for life.”

It is an understatement to say that we are excited to be part of Kailey and Corbin’s special day when they are married this August in Hawaii. It will be a joyous and holy occasion.

Corbin and Kailey with Fr. Jeff at the end of their marriage prep program. What a blessing it was to get to know them!

——————

There is only one final thing to say and that is thank you. We extend our gratitude to Fr. Jeff for allowing us to be a sponsor couple and to Kailey and Corbin for letting us mentor them. As we stood outside the deli, Kailey explained that Pre-Cana has been her favorite part of the wedding planning/preparation process.  But for any good that our time together did for Kailey and Corbin, it did just as much for Sid and I. To dive deeper into the awesomeness of what makes a marriage rooted in the Church so holy made us appreciate our own vows even more. What a blessing that we were able to come to this realization while journeying with the future Mr. and Mrs. Schafer. Thanks be to God!

Please pray for Kailey and Corbin as they inch closer and closer to their wedding date. Don’t Blink.

Lilac Thursday Rundown

Good evening everyone and welcome back. I know a lot of us are hurting right now after the unimaginable and horrific events in Uvalde so perhaps the following random five topics can provide you a short respite if you desire it.

Happy Ordination Anniversary, Fr. Jeff – I want to start by recognizing Fr. Jeff Lewis as he marked his 11th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood today. Fr. Jeff is the pastor at St. Mary Parish in Spokane Valley and is an invaluable influence on my family. In two years since we have become parishioners at St. Mary, Fr. Jeff has graced us with spiritual guidance, his valuable time, and the holy sacraments as we try to walk closer with Christ. He is also a great friend with a spectacular sense of humor. Sidney, Sloan, Beau, and I are so thankful to have a true disciple like Fr. Jeff in our lives.

Fr. Jeff Lewis celebrates his 11th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood today. He means a lot to our family

Lilac Parade – This past weekend, I took Sloan to the Lilac Parade (also called the Torchlight Parade) in downtown Spokane where we met my sister and her children. Sloan had a blast as she soaked in her first night parade by dancing the night away and exchanging high fives with the parade participants as they walked by. For me personally, it marked another annual Spokane event that I was able to experience again after a couple decades missing out. To view a video from our adventure, tap here.

We had a great time at the 2022 Lilac Parade

Seven Years In Tibet – I spent a couple hours this week watching “Seven Years in Tibet.” The movie was made in 1997 and stars Brad Pitt who assumes an Austrian accent for the role. The film depicts Pitt’s triumph in Tibetan culture and favor with the Dalai Lama in relation to his brokenness with his own family back home. I liked “Seven Years in Tibet” for its west vs. east comparisons, historic lessons, and chilling musical score. It is currently on Hulu.

I watched “Seven Years in Tibet” this week. Decent movie.

Flashback – I took the below photo on May 26, 2020, as it was one of the first images I captured of Sid and Sloan after their move to Spokane. It also happens to be one of my favorites. We were exploring an undeveloped area close to my parents’ house and the sun seemed to shine perfectly as they flashed their million-dollar smiles. Such a nice memory!

This photo was taken exactly two years ago on May 26, 2020.

Innocence – A tragedy like the one on Tuesday hits parents extremely hard. It makes you look at your kids with even more love and protection than usual. I took the below photo last night. We let Sloan and Beau watch TV in our bed so we could devote our time to the special engaged couple we are meeting with for Pre-Cana marriage prep. When we finished up, this is how we found them. There truly is nothing more precious or innocent than the life of a child.

Sloan and Beau fell asleep in our bed last night. Observing their peacefulness had an enhanced meaning for me.

———————————-

As we conclude, I did want to say one quick thing: It is trendy these days when violence strikes for people to discount and scorn prayer. My friends, never cease to pray in the face of tragedy, especially for the victims. Prayer does help and don’t let anyone else tell you differently. Don’t Blink.

The Inspiring Fritel Family

Every so often we attend the 5 p.m. Saturday vigil mass at St. Mary Catholic Church. As we enter the worship space, we always walk past a parishioner sitting in the back row. He chooses this spot because it allows space for his wheelchair. Toward the end of communion, Fr. Jeff Lewis will walk out to him and administer the blessed sacrament via syringe. It is always a touching moment to see both the man’s reverence and respect for the sacrament and Fr. Lewis’ dedication to make sure that he receives it.

Up until a couple months ago, I didn’t know much about this faithful parishioner. But at one of our Young Adult Catholic meetings with Fr. Jeff and Fr. Kevin Oiland, I learned some sobering and powerful information. Fr. Jeff opened up about the wheelchair-bound man named Garth Fritel, disclosing that he has ALS. He talked about Garth’s faith and then mentioned an effort he was going to spearhead.

Venerable Aloysius Schwartz is on the track to sainthood. Fr. Schwartz lived an extremely holy life in which he set up Catholic communities in some of the poorest countries on the planet and saved thousands and thousands of lives. He did this while battling ALS himself.

Fr. Lewis gathered the St. Mary community to pray to Fr. Al for the healing of Garth. If successful, it would help Fr. Al’s canonization process, establish a patron saint of ALS, and, most importantly in my eyes, cure Garth. A grounded man, Fr. Lewis has tried to manage expectations by saying there is no guarantee for healing but prayer is always a worthwhile endeavor, especially when the cards are stacked against you.

But for a moment, I just want to focus on Garth and his wife, Adeline. If you have not read the article yet, please do so. Seriously, read it. The piece written by Kevin Wells of National Catholic Register is simply superb.

Garth is pictured with his two daughters, his wife, Fr. Lewis, our St. Mary formation director, and NCR’s Kevin Wells (this photo is courtesy of Kevin Wells).

Garth had it all. Important job, beautiful family, and a genuine love for life. Then ALS hit. The savage disease ravaged his body over the course of five years and now he is unable to move any body part below his neck. He needs to use a computer to communicate. His parents moved into his house and they help Adeline provide Garth with 24/7 care. At least 12 times a day, he has to have his throat sectioned to clear it.

The attitude that both Garth and Adeline embrace is beyond inspiring. Garth has accepted his illness as his cross. As Fr. Al described it, they are nailed to the ALS cross. Like Fr. Al, Garth frames his ALS as a sign of love and special favor from Jesus. Garth’s life is extremely difficult and he has found himself in dark places, which the story does a phenomenal job of describing, but he has chosen life over the prospect of quitting.

The love and loyalty that Adeline has for her husband is pure and unwavering. Instead of bitterness, she focuses on the blessings generated by Garth’s ALS, quantifying them as “too many to count.” The way Adeline compares her family’s suffering to that of the Stations of the Cross will blow your mind.

Perhaps no other part of the article painted a more vivid picture in my mind than nightly prayer for the Fritels. They gather every evening and identify a blessing from the day. Garth always has one. Always.

Please keep Garth, Adeline, and their two children in your prayers. Let us pray that they continue to draw on their strong faith and that Fr. Al can provide healing if it is God’s will. What an inspiration. Don’t Blink.