Hugging Lazarus

Hugging Lazarus

“Do you know how long it has been since I’ve been hugged by someone who cared about me?”

The words themselves were striking. And yet it was even more striking as they settled in us, bearing the weight they ought to have, as we simply looked upon the one who had asked the question.

Of course, how could we know the answer?

I think his words were revealing to himself. His eyes were rimmed in unshed tears, the ache visible and arresting. He was surprised by the sweep of emotion and we were likewise caught up into that surprise. The moment before had been ordinary and now we found ourselves in suddenly deep waters, like when you walk along a riverbed and shockingly find yourself underwater when you simply expected the next step to be like all of the others.

It was another evening in prison, practicing the music before Mass. I don’t remember what preceded this conversation, but I remember the moment when we plumbed the depths. One of the men was sharing about how it was against the rules to hug volunteers and then another mentioned how he had recently been hugged by a pastor when he was struggling with a situation. And, suddenly, there we were in the depths as the man recognized the importance of that human contact, the need he had to be embraced by someone who cared about him.

I wondered if he even cried in the moment of receiving the hug. After he asked that question, those of us nearby could only turn and look at him, reveling in the stillness and sincerity of the moment. It was a window into his soul. We didn’t know what he had been struggling with at the time, but we were certain that this simple action from a pastor was life-giving and humanizing.

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Punctured With Grace

Punctured With Grace

The other day, I was surprised when the thought ‘it is good that I am single’ came into my mind. Yet in sitting with these words, I recognized there was a truth found in them. It occurred to me while in the chapel and I found that the truth was seen primarily in how much I desire them not to be true.

Over the past few years, I’ve realized that something interesting happens when a group of people is asked to introduce themselves to the rest of the gathering. Understandably, many people introduce themselves by referring to their spouse or children or even the number or kind of pets they own. Right out of college, I could get away with listing off my siblings, but the more time passes, the more odd it seems to include them in my sixty second about me for a group.

However, what I deeply desire is to have an identity that is solidly rooted in being the wife of so-and-so or the mother of whomever. The idea of having a person I can always show up to things with or children who become the focus of the conversation rather than me sounds incredibly alluring. I’m not trying to downplay the difficulty in these ways of living, but many aspects of it fill me with great longing and deep desire. For all the hard found in that vocation, there is an abundance of beauty and grace found there, too.

It is in light of those particular desires that I was realizing my singleness is a gift from God. One I hope will not continue forever and yet is most assuredly a gift.

Why?

Because my very hope and desire to have an identity shaped by my relation to a spouse or children shows how desperately I still need to root myself in Christ. The goodness of the Lord is found here, in my current situation, and I am being given a privileged chance to become more assured of my identity in the Lord. I don’t get to hide behind attachments or people who I very much desire to be part of my life. And that ever-present ache can be a piercing reminder of my need for God, one which can’t be assuaged by cradling an infant or a date night with my husband.

It is incredibly, boldly present from the fact that my students address me as Miss (or Mrs. but I am reminded of their wrongness when they do it, even if I rarely correct them) to the fact that I’m not helping children through the serving line at family gatherings. The gaping ache can, if I permit it, become a place the Lord can fill, a place of pure desire surrendered to God, recognizing my own inability to fulfill myself. It can be become empty hands, waiting to be filled, trusting they will be filled, and yet acknowledging the goodness of still being empty.

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Leaning into the Longing

Leaning into the Longing

“What could you possibly want?”

I had just given a talk in prison about how the Lord calls to us and yet how there are so many other voices calling to us as well. The goal, I said, was to listen through the cacophony and follow the still, sure voice of God. Afterwards, the small group I was leading commented on my talk, saying they didn’t know I could speak like that. Then we delved into the small group discussion questions. One question asked what other voices we listen to apart from God. I shared that sometimes I listen to the voice of comparison, which causes me to focus on what other people have that I wish I had or experiences they’ve had which I have not.

“What could you possibly want?” one of the guys in my small group asked, with the most sincere look of befuddlement on his face. “I heard you talk and you spoke like no other girl I’ve known. What could you want that you don’t already have?”

This sincere question struck me in two different directions. One aspect was that I should be grateful for the many gifts I’ve received and stifle more ardently that insidious voice of comparison. Having just given a talk about how we should listen to voice of God and not the other voices clamoring for our attention, I was forced to consider how often I do not do that very thing. Here was someone in prison asking what else I could possibly want when seeing a glimpse of my life. And I couldn’t argue that I lacked much considering my position in life.

Yet the other thought that came to mind was surprise that to someone I seemed to have everything. I wanted to pour out a lengthy list of all the things or experiences I long for yet do not have. Marriage, children, a job that completely satisfies me, a published book or two, the perfect work-life balance, the ability to run a marathon, a large built-in bookshelf with a ladder like in ‘Beauty and the Beast’, a perfectly planned upcoming vacation, no mortgage, and the list could go on and on. However, I wanted to tell him that even when one follows Jesus, there are still longings we have for other things, even if we strive to live an ordered life. The desires we experience should be responded to in such a way that we are led to reach for goodness, truth, and beauty instead of making us ungrateful for what we have by focusing on what we lack.

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Being Home

Being Home

I love home.

During the throes of the pandemic, I was unbothered by the experience of being home day after day. I always imagine Saturday mornings going to a coffee shop, but I would generally rather just be home after a long week. It isn’t luxurious or perennially tidy, but it is a place I love to be.

So it probably isn’t too surprising that it is natural for me to find that prayer brings me to a home. While not physically a replica of my home, it is nonetheless an image of home. Sometimes, it happens that surprising, amazing things transpire in prayer while I’m “home”–yet so often it is a source of the ordinary, the seemingly mundane and yet the achingly beautiful. Recently, prayer which includes Our Lady has found me at a large kitchen island, watching her fingers expertly knead the dough, crafting loaves of bread, reminding me that waiting for it to rise is important, and delightfully covered in a dusting of flour.

My mom didn’t make homemade bread all of the time, but it wasn’t an unusual occurrence. It didn’t take too much imagination to find myself watching my heavenly mother do the same thing. In fact, the first time it came up in prayer, it seemed almost too easy, too natural, and thus a little surprising. A simple task, completed numerous times, and yet a joy to watch unfold. Leaning on the counter or helping spread melted butter on a soon-to-be spiral of cinnamon rolls, my prayer was taking me to an encounter with Our Lady which was simple and ordinary. I found myself posing questions to her, pondering the significance of Our Lady creating bread while the Bread of Life had been nourished in her womb, and entering into the life of the Holy Family as St. Joseph and Jesus would casually stop by to speak with Our Lady.

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Like A Lamb in the Midst of Wolves

Like A Lamb in the Midst of Wolves

In Luke 10, Jesus speaks of how He is sending His disciples, the few laborers for the abundant harvest, out like lambs in the midst of wolves. When I heard this at Mass several days ago, an image leapt into my mind which has been with me ever since. I imagined a little lamb, still with softly spun small coils of wool, walking down a path surrounded by wolves, growling menacingly at the tender lamb. Yet the lamb moved forward, head held high, and seemed unfazed by the danger that lurked around it.

I considered how vulnerable this lamb was, unable to defend itself from the predators and with little strength to offer on its own behalf. And I thought that perhaps that was exactly the point. Maybe this image of the lamb in the midst of wolves is exactly what Jesus desires for us. This little lamb is aware of its weakness and it is likely this knowledge of its weakness which is its greatest strength. If it fixated on the vicious wolves that surround it, the sheep could never move forward. It is rather gentle by nature, with no claws or sharp teeth to maim an attacker. The lamb surrounded by wolves finds its strength in knowing that the Shepherd will provide.

The moments or situations in life where I have known God placed me in a particular situation, and yet I felt wholly unqualified for the task at hand, are the situations where I have needed to rely entirely on the Lord. In this reliance, there is a strength that is given. I don’t know that I was a better teacher ten years ago, but I was far more likely to storm Heaven prior to a difficult class or to beg for guidance in the midst of students’ questions. It isn’t that I don’t ask for God to help me now, but I’m more confident in my own abilities than I used to be. Yet the littleness, the weakness I felt as a new teacher was also a source of strength. I’ve experienced the same in different ministries or experiences which forced me to offer the Lord unrestricted access, imploring Him to provide in the places where I saw an abundant lack.

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Though The Fig Tree Does Not Blossom

Though The Fig Tree Does Not Blossom

On one hand, I like to think of myself as rather mellow, a calm person who is generally unruffled. This seems true when I get to the end of the day and have no dramatic stories to tell. Instead of exhilarating experiences or woeful sorrows, I tend to have rather little to say about the day. In fact, sometimes it seems preferred when I arrive at the end of the day and there is no drama, good or bad, to recount. In these moments, I think I am a balanced, staid teacher who has completed her duties for the day.

Yet, on the other hand, I see that I can go through the gamut of emotions in a single week. I can feel frustration and rage at a student’s insolent response. I perhaps experienced sadness over a student’s hatred of the Church or a traumatic experience they have shared. Or maybe I have felt despair, a desire to give up and seek any other profession than the one I am currently in. In the course of a single week, I can plan for next year to be better and I can find myself searching random missionary positions or job postings anywhere else. I can be both sad to see my seniors graduate and uncertain if we will all make it to the end of the semester with our sanity and goodwill intact. It is in these moments, when I survey the emotional landscape of a preceding week, that I believe the calm affect is a total lie, one I tell myself in order to not pay too much attention to the ferocious swinging of the pendulum.

These experiences, of great, immoveable calm and tremendous swirling of feelings, cause me to wonder which is more me. Which one am I more truly? Or am I both? Are all humans simply both, some perhaps more one than the other? I think I’m steady, but maybe it is a steadiness born of fear to move. In a recent conversation with a friend, I was led to wonder what would make me leap into something new. If I refuse to move unless I know all of the answers, then I may always find it easier to be rooted.

My seniors have a sort of privileged position, even if wrought with uncertainty and stress. They must leap. Perhaps they won’t leap as far as they could, but they cannot remain where they are. We won’t take them back the following year and they cannot simply add another major as one could do in college. Next month, we will wrap up, wish them well, and then firmly close the door behind them, never to be opened in the same way ever again. Rarely does such a situation happen in life again and even more rarely would this situation be considered good.

They must leave.

And I?

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To Waiting

To Waiting

At a recent Christmas party, the host invited the guests to share toasts for the new year (and simply life in general) by setting a theme and encouraging us to toast to various things. Standing there, cupping a glass of mulled wine, I listened to people make toasts to fruitfulness, the fullness of faith, wonder, the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit, and so on. After the person would give their ferverino related to the toast, he would lift his glass and say “To fruitfulness” (or whatever was being toasted) and the rest of us would repeat it.

Partly preparing for the potential of being randomly called on and partly because it was a beautiful idea, I pondered what I would toast to and how it could be connected to the previous toasts. So, lucky random readers, you shall hear my toast!

To waiting. The gift of fruitfulness comes only after a period of waiting. A slow, quiet growing (sometimes painful, sometimes joyful) which gives way to newness. The world waited for a Savior and even after the Incarnation, there was still a period of waiting for redemption, waiting for an epiphany. Our lives are filled with waiting, manifold opportunities for glorious encounters wrapped in the seemingly mundane trappings of daily life. May this waiting not be passive, but may it be an active experience of longing, of hoping for what is to come, and trusting that it will indeed come.

To waiting!

Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash

The Teacher’s Own Heart

The Teacher’s Own Heart

I read a few days ago that one of the most prominent failures of teachers is the failure to love and it was a quick jab to the stomach of my pride. Not to mention, it came from St. Augustine and isn’t so easy to dispel with excuses and circumstances.

But the psychological failures that Deogratias must most be on guard against is a failure in love. Deogratias must learn how to step outside of himself. He must learn to teach with joyful self-forgetfulness. The real difficulty lies not in questions of content, nor of technique, but in the teacher’s own heart. For when the teacher takes delight in what he says, that is, when he loves both his subject and his students, then students also will enjoy what he has to say.

St. Augustine” by Ryan Topping, p. 60

So…there’s that.

And I walked back into my classroom with a conscious realization that while I may do many things well, Augustine was right. I fail to love. I love some but not enough. I love in instances but not in entirety. And I couldn’t help but think that this teaching gig is a true preparation for Heaven (or parenthood…whichever comes first).

This teacher’s heart is the reason for this blog. It needed a space to search and question and ache over what happened in the classroom. And while many things in life have changed (and many things haven’t), I still find a need for this continued call for conversion. I need to be reminded that this heart is incredibly important and not just for myself, but for the young souls entrusted to my care.

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Turbulent Prayer

Turbulent Prayer

The plane hit a patch of turbulence and shook.

Not wanting to overreact, I clenched my fists, trying not to grab the armrests and betray my worry. But then we soared into another current in the atmosphere and the plane was shaking and I was bracing myself on the seat in front of me, praying under my breath so as not to alarm my fellow passengers.

Despite the fearfulness I was experiencing, I also chuckled a little interiorly. The seat in front of me couldn’t save me. Clinging to the armrest won’t do much good. If the plane was going down, it was going down. How foolish it seemed to grab onto the material things that surrounded me, expecting them to pull me to safety.

Yet it is what I felt compelled to do. I had to actively think about not grabbing onto something in order to remain steadfast, but it took no thought to latch onto anything close at hand in a moment of chaos. It was an impulse, illogical though it may have been in the larger scheme of things. The actions I took weren’t helpful, but they were something.

As the plane continued the flight uneventfully, I knew that the reason I clutched something was because I wanted to hold onto someone. If I was married and flying with my husband, I would have unthinkingly grabbed onto him. If I was with my sister, I probably would have reached for her arm. And while the bumpy flight did leave me longing for a husband to comfort me, it also reminded me that my fictional husband wouldn’t have been able to change the course of that plane. Like the seatback and the armrest, we would have been going down together.

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Candlelight

Candlelight

The power went out amid the wind, rain, and intermittent hail. With each candle that was lit, the room was filled with softness as light bounced off the walls, wrapping us in a welcomed coziness. I don’t think of lightbulbs as harsh or overpowering, but being suddenly engulfed in hazy candlelight, the shift was tangible. A peace and calmness was present, a stillness that said more than that the air conditioner was retired due to the lack of energy.

The shift, produced by a simple cessation of electricity, seemed considerable. The house was quieter, the atmosphere more serene, and my desire for it to remain so more intense. What if we could live this way? Or what if we could live this way some of the time? Armed with a taper candle, I retreated to my bedroom for the night, reading a little by candlelight and admiring the warmth on the pages which was quite different from the typical glow of my bedside lamp. I admired the flame, simple and powerful, as it embraced the room in a flickering of radiance.

My fearful and practical side saw how this situation could be fatal, with people falling asleep before blowing out the candle beside them. And yet, my romantic and traditional side wondered what we lost with the ease of flipping light switches and beams of light that made us think it was daytime in the middle of the night. Could there be a way to recover the naturalness of following the rising and setting sun? Could there be a way to enter this peace wrought by a flickering flame in a way that didn’t mean upending the advantages of living in the modern era?

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