The One Longed For And Yet Present

The One Longed For And Yet Present

The longing of God’s chosen people fills the Old Testament.

For generations they are waiting for God to redeem them, to restore their nation, and to enter into a new and lasting covenant with them. They tell their children and their children’s children about His mighty works and the promises God has made to them. While they don’t know how these promises will be fulfilled, they trust that they will be.

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work and muse on all your mighty deeds….You are the God who works wonders, who have manifested your might among the peoples. With your arm you redeemed your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.

Psalm 77:11-12, 14-15

For years I’ve viewed the birth of Christ as the end to their waiting and a fulfillment of their longing. All that they were waiting for was there, wrapped in flesh, lying in a manger. The King they were waiting for had come. We celebrate Christmas with that in mind: the Hope of the Nations is born and so we rejoice.

Yet this year I was filled with a recognition that one of the most important moments in human history happened and yet virtually nobody knew about it at the time. Similar to the quiet yet monumental yes at Mary’s Annunciation, the birth of Jesus took place in a relatively hidden way. Angels told some shepherds and wise men arrived from the east, yet as a whole, Israel was unaware of what was happening in their midst.

On the day after Christ’s nativity, they awoke….and didn’t know that anything was different than the week before. They still longed for a king and awaited the redemption of Israel. Yet He was there, the little King, already laboring to save them. When they gathered in the synagogue to pray, recalling the promises and the works of God, they did not know that the incarnate God was with them. As they provided work for St. Joseph, they did not know that it was the God-man who crafted and created alongside him.

Christ was living and working in the world and yet the world did not know it.

For thirty years, Christ was hidden. He lived the ordinary life of a son, a neighbor, a faithful Jew, and a carpenter. People laughed, worked, ate, prayed, talked, and experienced life with the God-man and did not know it. The One an entire nation longed for washed His feet to remove the dust, ate His mother’s food, and slept deeply after a day of laboring.

He was there, known and yet unknown.

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Small Things

Small Things

On my drive to and from school, I keep reminding myself to soak it up and take it in. Instead of getting lost in thought or just robotically staring at the road ahead, I attempt to look up and look around. So often I find myself in the early part of winter wondering what happened to the fall days I cherish. The trees seem to be blazing scarlet and golden hues for such a brief period of time. While I think fall is often inconveniently truncated, I also forget to embrace the days we do have.

This year, I’m attempting to make my morning and evening commutes a time for noticing. Noticing the particular blush of the tree near my house, mostly green but with a warm glow on top. Noticing the checker of colors on the trees as I wait for the light to change. Noticing the warmth of the afternoon sun and the slight coolness in the morning air.

There seems to be a need to soak up these moments, to store them away in my heart for the months ahead where the trees will be barren and the air frigid. In those moments, there will be much to be grateful for, too, but I want to relish these days as the colorful glory that they are for me.

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Birth and Death and Rebirth

Birth and Death and Rebirth

In March, before COVID became a full-blown pandemic, I ordered four icons from an Orthodox icon shop I’ve used in the past. They were able to ship two of the icons before needing to close their shop due to state restrictions and for the health of their employees. The other two would be shipped at a later date, as they were able to re-open and continue production of the icons.

When I got an email a few weeks ago, it said the icons were shipping and would arrive the middle of the next week. The situation was humorous since I had been home for weeks on end and during the one week of the summer I was away, the long-awaited icons were delivered to my doorstep, where they waited for my arrival a few days later. Of course, I exclaimed, to anyone who would listen to me, of course the icons arrive when I cannot be there to get the package.

A couple of days later, I learned of the death of a dear friend of the family. There are dozens of memories of my childhood and young adult life that I can return to and find this man filling the scene with his lively personality. He and his wife were friends of my parents. They were present for important sacraments and were the babysitters for my younger sister and me on occasion. Later, they were my bosses as I worked for them during the late-summer and fall. So many reflections on their frequent presence in my life and the unique role they had in relation to my family. Over the next few days, my family and I reminisced over the eccentricities and humor of our beloved friend.

When I returned home a few days later, I retrieved the package on my doorstep, grateful that it wasn’t damaged by rain or heat. I opened up my package and saw the two delayed icons.

The Raising of Lazarus from the dead

“Epitaphios”–an image of the body of Christ used in Orthodox and Byzantine liturgies at the end of Holy Week

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For Such a Time as This

For Such a Time as This

I was listening to one of the first podcasts released by Brandon Vogt and Fr. Blake Britton on their new podcast called “The Burrowshire Podcast.” It was about the call to be saints and they spoke about how although at times they both find themselves desiring to live in different time periods, they were created with souls for now. In fact, it is God’s desire that they be saints right now, in the midst of everything good and bad that surrounds them.

As someone who often feels old (not age-wise, but like from a different era), I resonate with the lingering desire to be alive at a different point in human history. Yet God isn’t mistaken in placing me in this very particular point in time, complete with my longings and desires for things of bygone eras. I suppose many of the saints felt the same way, too. But to consider that I have a soul that is crafted for this point in history is something I hadn’t yet considered.

What does that even mean?

I appreciate the intentionality that this reveals about the Lord’s actions. With our own unique gifts and talents, we were fashioned to be alive today. Instead of misfits from a different age, we are exactly where (and when) we ought to be. Which means holiness is possible now. In fact, for us, holiness in the present is the only option. Despite my feelings to the contrary, I wasn’t fashioned to be holy in a different time period. With all of my intricacies, failings, and strengths, I was created to be holy here and now.

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Joy in Everyday Things

Joy in Everyday Things

Marie Kondo advocates asking yourself if the things that fill your house spark joy. While I don’t live her method, there is something intriguing about asking that question about the items that fill our visual landscape. Many things in my home don’t do that (I suppose I find it hard for spoons and forks to greatly spark joy in me—yet they are pretty useful for eating), but it is perhaps more interesting to consider the things that do fall into that category.

During the pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time at home. But given this abundance of time at home, I notice that my affections continue to be drawn to particular things in my home and I find once again compelled to acknowledge that beautiful, practical (and impractical) items are so helpful for ushering joy into our lives.

For example, I have a wooden serving tray and it is perhaps odd the number of times I stop to admire the varying grains that run across and throughout the wood. Either as I’m arranging food on it or washing it off, I generally am thinking, “This is so beautiful.”

Or I have a serving bowl that was handpainted in Italy that I purchased last summer while in Assisi. The bright colors that fill the interior bring me a thrill of joy every time I fill it with salad or an array of fruit. As I use it, I frequently remember the peace of Assisi, the quiet of the streets during our time there, and the beauty of being in a place so old.

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Two Bearers of Hope

Two Bearers of Hope

So often I find that when I am teaching my students, I am actually teaching myself. I listen to the words come out of my mouth and find that I am convicted to live in a new way. It isn’t as though I talk about the Gospel and the Lord all day long and pat myself on the back. Rather, I find myself over and over having to admit that I am falling short of living the Good News fully.

One of my classes is finishing up a section on martyrs. They researched fairly recent martyrs with most of them living at some point during the 1900s. Then I showed two videos from Chris Stefanick about two priests who lived boldly during times of war. One priest was Fr. Emil Kapaun and the other was Fr. Vincent Capodanno, both of whom are at various stages of the canonization process.

Each video revealed how these men offered hope in situations that seemed hopeless. Fr. Kapaun became a POW during the Korean War and Fr. Capodanno died in a battle in the Vietnam War. In spite of persecution, Fr. Kapaun encouraged the men, leading them in prayer and risking his own safety to help them survive. As a war raged, Fr. Capodanno ran across the battlefield, offering last rites to wounded soldiers and bringing tangible peace with his presence and words. Their ability to provide hope in war changed the people they encountered. For some, it saved their lives and for others, it brought a calm in the midst of the storm.

As we reflected on these priests in class, I found myself inviting them (and by extension myself) to be hope-bearers in this world. High school can be such a difficult place for them, but the frustrations they experience are often carried into life beyond high school. What if they were people that others found hope in? What if we were able to provide a calm in the midst of the storm? A battle rages around us: wouldn’t it be beautiful if others found a place to rest when they were in our presence?

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Maybe I’ll Climb Into My Classroom Through the Ceiling From Another Teacher’s Room

Maybe I’ll Climb Into My Classroom Through the Ceiling From Another Teacher’s Room

GK Chesterton wrote Manalive, a novel that revealed his desire to gaze at the world through a life-giving haze of wonder and awe. I was reminded of this recently at a talk and it made me reflect on the stories that he speaks of taking place in the fictional life of Innocent Smith.

(If you haven’t read the book and want to, you should probably stop here because I need to ruin a few points in order to reveal what is so attractive about his life. This is your warning. Stop here! Proceed no further. Or, if you don’t care, carry on.)

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Traffic and cold, bless the Lord

Traffic and cold, bless the Lord

Yesterday, the exit ramp I took on my way home was overflowing with traffic. The lane that veered off the interstate was filled nearly to the point of backing into the lanes of traffic that were continuing north. I was listening to some lovely music, pondering my day, and waiting for my turn. Despite the traffic, it was a peaceful moment.

Looking toward the west, I took in the beauty of the setting sun. Puffy cotton ball clouds blanketed the sky and slowly turned tropical shades despite the freezing temperatures outside. It was a delight to just gaze at the beauty I saw splashed generously across the sky. I couldn’t help but think that if it wasn’t for the obnoxious traffic, I wouldn’t have had the time to just ponder the sky. Closest to the horizon the sky was a fiery orange tinged with pink and further away the clouds took on a more somber hue.

It was cold outside. The sun’s setting seemed far too early. It had been a long day. There was still so much of the week to go. But, Lord, thank You for this moment of beauty, this moment of peace.

It made me think of something I had seen on Facebook one time regarding the snow. The post said, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but the same amount of snow.” It is simple and yet a needed reminder that gratitude is the appropriate way to approach life. The traffic situation seemed to apply as well. If I choose to not find joy in traffic, I still have the traffic but not joy. So I looked up and saw something to be grateful for as I waited. God was casually displaying beautiful art during the evening commute. And I sought to soak it up this time instead of sink into my own world.

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The Wal-Mart Heart Change

I could feel it increasing in my heart.  My fingers tapped on the shopping cart as the impatience within escalated.

Standing in the speedy checkout line at Wal-Mart, I was feeling pressed for time.  I hadn’t wanted to stop at Wal-Mart, but I needed glitter.  Never in my life have I purchased glitter, so it took a bit of meandering before I found what I needed.  A few other items found their way into my hands and then I was at the checkout.  Waiting.

The sense of urgency was palpable in Wal-Mart.  I could feel it because I had places to be, things to do, and the rush of shoppers waiting at the checkout lines declared that they had similar situations.  The clerk tending the cash register was taking care of one customer and it seemed to take a while.  His credit card wasn’t accepted and he was on the phone.

Minutes passed.  I kept eyeing other lines, watching them line up and pass through while I waited.  Finally, the woman ahead of me moved forward in line.  Change needed to be dispensed into the tray and we watched her unroll two packs of quarters.  Then the cashier counted the gifts bags.


10 gifts bags.  Then she swiped one.  And repeated the act seven more times.  She stopped and began to count the number of bags on the screen.  But she must have lost track of which line she was on so she took a piece of paper, holding it up to guide herself line by line.  The customer told her that she had only scanned eight but there were ten.  The cashier finished counting, swiped another, and then keyed in another.

I’m feeling impatient, inwardly reminding myself that it is Advent, the season of waiting.  But for some reason, my time feels more important.  Perhaps it is part of the human condition.  We are quick to hurry others, almost insulted that they should waste our precious time.

I will my heart to stop pounding with impatience.  Almost like hushing a baby, I remind my heart that there is enough time for what is necessary.  Slow down, slow down.  Do what you tell your students to do: practice patience, seek holiness in the simple, ordinary things in life.  Be faithful in small matters.

And my heart slows.  When I approach the cashier, I am greeting her as though I never waited.  I am striving to not make myself the most important person in the situation.  The anxious tapping of impatience is brushed away for a moment, and I try to hang onto this as I navigate the parking lot and the line of cars waiting to exit.

Later, I will lose this patience and peace.  I will rush about, attempting to do in a couple hours what should have been done in days.  And I will miss the joy of the present moment and seek to tend to things rather than to people.  But for all the missteps that will later follow, I am reminded of that moment in the checkout line.  That moment when my agitated heart encountered the peace that it was always meant to have.

Say to the fainthearted, “Take courage and fear not. Behold, our God will come and will save us.” -Isaiah 35:4

There He is: saving me from myself in the Wal-Mart checkout line.

The Grace of the Present

I’m not opposed to making memories.  As an introvert, I spend a decent amount of time inside my own head, thinking over what has or will transpire.  However, the other day I was scrolling through Facebook and I was seeing pictures and albums that were presented as “making memories.”  Do we prefer to make memories rather than live in the present moment?

Is something off if we spend a large amount of our time documenting for the future moments of the past?  Could it be that the present is not actually as great as we will remember it to be once it is firmly grounded in the past?

I’m sporadically reading One Thousand Gifts and the other day I read about how Ann Voskamp, the author, was struggling to encounter God’s face in the moments where she is stressed and angry.  Seeing God’s face in the brilliance of the morning sunrise or the contented cooing of a newborn is easy.  Yet it stretches us to see God’s face in a belligerent student or a quarrel with a friend.  As I read, I thought of how just that day I had been annoyed with my students not listening to my directions.  It never even crossed my mind to stop and consider, “How are they revealing God’s face to me right now?”

The present moment is the place where we encounter God.

We are making strides when we are able to go back to a difficult situation and see how God was present in that moment.  Yet it is supremely better to be able to, in that very moment, see the face of God present.  If only I could look at my students, complaining and upset about their work, and see Christ in them.  It would take re-training my mind and my heart.

In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp reveals an experience she had with her son that changed them both.  At one point in the conversation, she tells her son that the only way to combat feelings is to have other feelings.  The central feeling we can use to combat unwelcome feelings, she presents, is gratitude.  In the midst of frustration, fatigue, anger, sadness, or annoyance, what a difference it would make if we would begin to be thankful.  Not gratitude for something of the past or the future, but gratitude for that present moment.  What would it be like if in our most trying moments we saw the face of God in His perennial presence?  Surely it would change things.

If we spend our lives trying to simply “make memories,” I fear that the best moments of life will not be what we actually experience, but always events of the past.  I run the risk of sabotaging my present for the glorification of a past that never really existed.

When I look at my semester that I spent studying abroad, I don’t initially recall the tiredness, the inevitable frustrations of group planning, or the desire for American comforts.  Yet those were very real aspects of my semester.  I cannot expect my present moment to measure up to my idealized past experiences.

God is present in the here and now.  In this moment, despite the commonness.  In my quiet study hall on a random Wednesday.  In the lukewarm coffee I’m still enjoying from this morning.  In the satisfaction of checking another item off my to-do list.

This present moment is a moment of grace.  Because grace is only offered in the present.

I desire to teach myself to accept each moment as the grace-filled, soul-transforming, heart-deepening, wound-healing, saint-making, God-given moment that it is.  This present moment is where we encounter God.  Let us not overlook His presence in the now in an effort to live in the past.

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