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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The Gift of Self-Knowledge: The Good and The Bad

The Gift of Self-Knowledge: The Good and The Bad

Seeing a list of my strengths is a vastly different experience than seeing a list of my weaknesses. That being said, I am incredibly aware that I have a great many flaws. There are probably areas I overlook, but as a melancholic, I am pretty introspective alongside possessing a generally critical nature.

I had my seniors take a temperament quiz at the beginning of the semester, partly for fun and partly so I can get to know them better. As they read through the descriptions they gave for their temperament, I was surprised to hear many of the lamenting the list of weaknesses for their particular temperament. Some commented that they were pretty harsh in the assessment of weaknesses and others were a bit more defensive as they said they didn’t have a bad temperament or were a bad person. Nobody, however, complained that they had an excessive list of strengths.

It made me wonder why they were so bothered by an impersonal test telling them which weaknesses they might possess. I wasn’t bothered by it. It was easy enough to read through the list and admit that I lacked in that area or recognize that I didn’t struggle with that particular flaw. Had they never considered what weaknesses they had? Were they bothered even considering that they might have weaknesses? What moved them to pull back as though someone had specifically told them where they fell short?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. I’m not sure if the weaknesses rang a little too true or if they all felt wrong based on the person they knew. It seemed, however, that they needed to be reminded that we all have areas to work on, things that are just a little more difficult for us based on our personality. And so, having never made this connection before, I connected their temperament to the faculties of the human soul, to our intellect and our will.

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Trading Frustration for Affection

Trading Frustration for Affection

It was either annoying or endearing.

The student said “hi” at the end of class, as he looked over my podium to casually glance at my computer screen. Then, he went to a stack of books, picked them up and looked at them, despite the fact that it seemed like they were not in a place where students should peruse. It was either annoying because he clearly didn’t know boundaries, didn’t respect my space as a teacher, and appeared to not know what should be private.

Or it was endearing because his attitude indicated the great comfort he felt in my classroom. Something about the way he was performing these actions seemed innocent and naive. Like a child who glances at a parent’s phone with interest rather than intrigue. Or a teen who roots through the cupboard looking for food to consume.

“You seem at home,” I said after he placed the books back on the stack.

“Yeah, I feel pretty comfortable,” he replied, most likely oblivious to what his actions could have meant.

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When Beauty Bores

When Beauty Bores

The first day or two that we were on pilgrimage in Rome, the students were entering church after church with necks that craned heavenward. It was the natural response to the beautiful architecture that we were encountering. They took pictures galore, marveling over magnificent domes and intricate mosaics that adorned the walls. Our hearts were overflowing with beauty. My students from South Dakota were encountering some of the greatest artists the world has ever had to offer.

By day three, however, they were growing bored with the church after church schedule, regardless how beautiful they were. One of the girls that seemed quite invested in photography went from executing creative basilica photo shoots to nonchalantly sitting in a pew during a stop in another church.

“Isn’t it funny how quickly we get bored of all this beauty?” I asked her as I watched other students mill around aimlessly.
“Yes!” she replied, perhaps noticing for the first time how much her response had changed to the loveliness around her.

And we spoke for a few minutes about how amazed we all were the first day and how quickly we were tired of what had been novel only a couple days before. My tiredness didn’t match the students’ expressions, but I did have to remind myself to keep looking at the churches with wonder and not simply let my eyes glaze over.

Too much beauty–is there even such a thing?

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That Missionary Life

That Missionary Life

“Who is a missionary?” I asked my class, not too long ago.

They came up with a variety of answers: someone who preaches in a foreign country, someone who has very little, someone who doesn’t make money, and the list continued.

It was difficult for them to wrap it all up neatly. Several wanted to insist that you had to leave the country. I think it was because it fit their idea of a missionary better. Flying to a foreign country steeped in poverty seems far more missionary-esque than serving on a college campus.

FOCUS sends people to college campus and calls them missionaries. Are they?”
“Do they get paid?”
“They fundraise their salary.”

Many were on board with that. But for them, there had to be some type of leaving happening–going to a new place, even if they would begrudgingly accept work in the United States.

“What does a missionary do?” I asked.
“Preach the Gospel.”
“So who could be a missionary?”
They discussed for a while. One said, “You?”
“Am I a missionary?”

The whole issue of pay came up again, some saying that would disqualify me from missionary status.

Am I a missionary?

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Learning the Way of the Cross

Learning the Way of the Cross

Lord, what are you saying to me in this situation?

I was in the chapel with a class of students as we prayed the Stations of the Cross. Only a few were actually praying the words out loud. Others were loudly flipping their papers every time they needed to turn a page. Some acted like genuflecting was a gargantuan task when I know they will go work out at the gym after school. Others were barely alert, kneeling and standing only because the people around them were doing it.

Frustrated and a bit angry, I wondered what I should do about it. It wouldn’t go well to stop them all to tell them to pray louder or ask for more of them to pray. Telling them to not act like kneeling was difficult would only draw attention to it if they continued to carry on in that manner. So I tried to forget about their indifference and enter into the Stations myself.

Interestingly, the words of my spiritual director kept coming to mind. He mentioned that teaching and following the Lord might look like the Stations of the Cross. My life might have to resemble that suffering if I was to do the Lord’s will. And here I was: actually praying the Stations and feeling so done with the antics of teenagers.

Lord, what can I see in this?

As I watched them mechanically perform the proper actions, I thought about how they don’t care. Ah, Lord, sometimes I don’t care, too. I imagined myself on the couch watching a movie and the Lord inviting me to pray yet not caring enough to do so. I pondered the Lord asking me to love my neighbor yet realizing that I do not do that very well at all. The very thing I was lamenting in my students was rooted deeply within my soul, too.

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The Gift of Too Many Homes and Good Health

The Gift of Too Many Homes and Good Health

While personal difficulties can be genuine, regardless of their large-scale importance, sometimes it is helpful to put them in perspective. The Lord cares about what I care about and so I try to be careful to not dismiss hurt feelings, stress, or joy simply because it isn’t life altering. Yet when I do feel overwhelmed or a bit shaken, it can help to focus on the aspects for which I can be grateful.

There are two recent examples that come to mind. The first is my living situation. Currently, I am in the process of moving into a new house, but I am not quite moved in yet. Over the past couple weeks, I have stayed mostly at my parents’ house in the country and sometimes with friends who live in town. It isn’t that difficult of a life, but the slight upheaval of transitional homes adds a bit of extra stress to the day-to-day life.

Yet when I was sharing this stress with a few different people over the last couple of days, I was struck by the fact that I am not homeless. In fact, it is the opposite. I have an abundance of homes–there is the home I am working to move into, my parents’ home where I have my own bedroom when I stay there, and friends who generously offer a room to me when needed. The added stress I feel is real, but the things I can be grateful for far surpass the inconvenience.

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Heart of Jesus, Sanctify my Heart

Can you imagine how large the heart of Jesus must be?  How patient, how loving, how gracious, how kind, how relentlessly unfathomable His mercy?

I wish I had a heart like that.  A heart that could encompass the entire world.  A heart that was large enough to love all I encounter, sincerely, truly, seeking the best in them regardless of how they respond to me.

My heart, tiny, puny, cold thing that it is, is impossibly small.  It is not enough to envelope my students.  It is not enough to embrace my family.  It isn’t even enough to surround myself.

They frustrate me.  I can be lead to feel defeated, disheartened, angry, annoyed, sarcastic, listless, bored, and on the verge of tears.  My life is not based on teenagers, but I don’t think they quite realize how much of my life centers on them.  For hours I am with them.  My offerings are typically rejected because students (surprise!) don’t like homework and seem particularly prone to dislike even more “religion” homework.  Because it is supposed to be easy.  And Jesus is always the answer.

Part of me wants to lecture them for an entire class period–about how I don’t like grading their papers but I do it because it is asked of me.  I don’t like their attitudes but I try to be forgiving without being a push-over.  And I try to remain calm when they so flippantly assume that teachers desire them to fail and want to push them to the limits of sanity.

Why would I want that?  I’m on the limits of sanity myself, how would an entire class of teenagers bordering on madness help me?  One day last year, when the comments were more than I could bear, I asked them to think logically about what they assumed.  Unless a teacher really derives pleasure from their pain, what benefit would we gain by making our students hate school?  We are the ones that have to be with them all day, anyway.  Why would we want to make them miserable and then try to teach them?  The answer that they didn’t give me?  The students feel better when they assume it is simply out of spite that we give them homework.  That we challenge them, not because we desire their growth, but because we desire their tears.  It’s an obnoxious assumption that I am certain I entertained as a high schooler.  Now, on the other side of the desk, I see the ridiculousness of it all.

And this, readers, is why I need His heart.  Mine is clearly too small.  It gets annoyed at many things and subconsciously chooses favorites.  It makes hasty judgments, harbors unforgiveness, settles for mediocrity, and all sorts of other vices.

They deserve so much more.  They deserve a wide-open heart, one that has room for and welcomes all.  They need a heart that is tender yet firm, tangible yet limitless, patient yet demanding, relational yet depths beyond imagining.  They need Jesus.  So until they understand where He is and that He is, I must be a witness of that heart of His.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, sanctify us.


“He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, “is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that. . . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings” without exception.”  –CCC 478

Surrogacy and Women: A Rant

“Wouldn’t spending the money and going through the extra effort prove they loved the child more?”

“Isn’t is just nice to do for someone?”

In a move that was perhaps questionable from the outset, I decided to open the floor to questions for the entirety of a class period.  After a couple weeks of my classes being off-sync, I wanted to finally draw them together and the rampant questions of one class had provided the perfect opening.  However, that class asked questions that flowed naturally from one to the next and with only thirteen in the class, there was a feeling of closeness and simplicity.  Trying to re-create that atmosphere for a class of twenty-nine was a different story.  I offered to them the chance to simply ask questions that they had about the Church or the faith.  The first class had found questions that flowed from Our Lady to salvation to exorcisms.  The next class found a different route and were spurred on by different questions.  They followed the line of exorcisms with a leap to evolution and surrogacy.  The result was a class that ended with a bit more intensity and moral depth.  Time ran out and they left unsatisfied with some of my answers.

I have never really discussed surrogacy with a class before but I had recently talked about such things with a friend of mine.  One girl originally asked the question and she seemed alright with my answer.  Others were not.

“Wouldn’t spending the money and going through the extra effort prove they loved the child more?”

I tried to explain that spending money doesn’t mean more love.  (Only later did I think of prostitution as a fitting example.)  Can the couple love this child?  Of course.  I’m not denying that a couple can love a child they “paid” for, but I don’t think it means they love him/her more.  A great example came to mind (thanks, Holy Spirit) that the true statement of love would not be that I can afford to create a life in a laboratory but rather that I can let go of my desire to have a biological child and rather adopt.  (They argued that adoption was spending money, too.  A different matter, I believe.)  The love is found not in the willingness to spend a large sum of money so that their desires can be fulfilled but rather that they can accept the disappointment and then love a child that isn’t theirs biologically but is accepted totally into their loving family.  That seems to indicate a great love.  
“Isn’t it just nice to do for someone?”
The heartache of infertility is not one that I have experienced nor one that I hope to experience.  However, lending my womb to a friend doesn’t seem to fall under that category of “nice.”  This world tends to approach situations with an “how can I get what I want?” attitude.  The desire isn’t simply, “I want a child.”  That would be easily remedied.  The desire is, “I want a child that is biologically mine even if I cannot carry that life in my womb.”  Perhaps, even, the “want” is changed to “deserve” or “have a right” to a child.  
It isn’t “nice” to let yourself be a host for a child.  You can love that child, you can love that couple, but you are not permitted to let your womb be used in a paid/unpaid transaction.  The worth of woman is more than just a womb.  I don’t quite understand what people mean when they say the Church suppresses women or has a negative view of women.  They have never read Chesterton.  Chesterton will throw men under the bus and elevate the dignity of women in one fell swoop.  They also have never looked very closely at theology.  The Church says no only so that she may say a greater Yes. 
Woman, you may not engage in sex outside of marriage because you deserve the lasting love and devotion of a man who will offer his very life for you, not just a few moments right now.  

Woman, you may not have an abortion because that little baby in your womb needs you and you will only inflict a great wound on yourself.  You deserve better.  

Woman, you may not use contraception because you are a precious gift in your entirety and when you offer yourself to your husband, you must offer your whole self holding nothing back, masking nothing of your beauty.  Your ability to create life is not something to be disabled but something to be exalted.

Woman, you may not be a surrogate mother because you are far more than a host for the baby of your friends or strangers.  You are not an object to be used but rather you are a person to be loved.  It is beautiful for the gift of life to grow within your womb but it should be planted there by God and your husband, not by the doctor in the laboratory.  You are more than what they would lead you to believe.
How any of this becomes heard as “Women are stepped on by the Church” is beyond me.
This “niceness” is not something that should be encouraged because it is the same “niceness” that will cause me to put you out of your misery if I think your quality of life is not good enough.  “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” is a cliche because there is truth to it.  It is not enough to just intend to do good things, you must actually do them.  And this good must go beyond my personal understanding of good.  (Cue Hitler and his quest for what he deemed good.)
I was surprised with the direction the class took the Q&A session and how we wandered into the realm of sexual morality.  Again I am convinced that the way to win the next generation is to have holy couples that teach their children the faith in their home and live it out daily.  My rant is finished but I cannot help but wonder what the future holds for this world.  The youth are such an important part of the future and their hearts can be in a world-imposed ignorance.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Making Excuses with Moses

Moses and I might as well be twins.  Yes, I am aware of the historical, ethnic, and cultural difficulties associated with that type of relation, but it is very true.  Moses and I both balk at what the Lord asks of us and then we make excuses.  Not just one excuse that can be neatly answered, but multiple.  And if we run out of excuses, we start re-using the old ones, just in case they appear any stronger after a period of neglect.  I don’t even need to alter much to make the excuses of Moses my own.

Granted Moses faced a bit more of a challenging task then I do.  He was saved from infanticide, raised in Pharaoh’s house, sent into exile after killing an Egyptian, and called by God from a burning bush to march his people (that he never really lived with) out of slavery and into a Promised Land.  No big deal, right?  I, on the other hand, am simply told to be the best teacher I can be, proclaim the truth without fear of the consequences, and become of a disciple for the Lord.  When placed in that light, Moses had very good reason to throw up excuses while my position has a much weaker foundation for it.

Q: “Who am I that I should…?” (Ex. 3:11)
A: “But I will be with you…”
Q: “If…they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
A: “I AM who I AM.”

Excuse: “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice…” (Ex. 4: 1)
Reply: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak.  Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” (Jer. 1: 7-8)
Excuse: “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent…”
Reply: “Who has made man’s mouth?  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

Final plea: “Oh, my Lord, send, I pray, some other person.” (Ex 4: 13)

This final plea is sometimes what I find myself reduced to.  Just send anyone but me, Lord.  I think of others who are clearly more qualified for the job than me.  I wonder how the Lord could make such a large mistake, could have overlooked their finer qualities and overlooked my giant deficiencies.  This feeling of “Please, Lord, someone else!” isn’t just with large missions, but is with lesser things.  When there is gossip taking place and I feel uncomfortable, but I don’t want to be the one to squelch it.  If I see something that is wrong but wish I hadn’t seen it so that I could simply be naïve. 

When I was offered the teaching job I felt incredibly inadequate.  I had just finished convincing people quite a bit older than me that I was the person they wanted for the job.  Then I was offered the job and I had a more difficult time convincing myself that I was the person for the job.  In fact, I began to compile a mental list of people that would be better at teaching than I would be.  I thought of intelligent priests I knew, passionate young adults filled with both knowledge and fire, and young religious sisters who would be able to articulate the faith in an eloquent manner.  Then I thought of my own abilities and talents.  The list seemed to be woefully short.  I hadn’t lied to the interviewers…I had simply spoken with more confidence than I actually had.  Who would hire someone who said, “I am pretty sure that I can do this job, I think.  _________ and ___________ would be perfect for this job but they aren’t available.  At the very least, I think I could be a decent babysitter for high schoolers.  Hire me.  Please.”  That probably wouldn’t be sufficient.

Instead of relying on my own incredible speaking abilities (which I don’t have) or my limitless intellect (again, fictional), I was forced to rely on the Lord.  Of course, I failed in that but I was forced to try more than if I was gifted with all that was required of me.  I knew that I could not do the task properly on my own.  However, I did know that the Lord could use me to do His will. 

How did I know this?

Past experience, yes.  Bible stories, yes.  Witness of the saints, yes. 

Abraham.
Moses.
David.
Our Lady.
Padre Pio.
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.
St. Faustina.

It is not my job to tell the Lord that He has chosen the wrong person or that I am under-qualified.  He already knows my gifts and He knows my weaknesses.  I am convinced that often the Lord chooses people with major weaknesses so that it may be evident to the world that He is doing the work and it is not his/her own skill.

The requirement is a wholehearted yes.  Or at least an openness to being used for God’s will.  It is saying, “Please, Lord, choose somebody more qualified” and then going to talk to Pharaoh anyway when the Lord tells you to.  You are required to be uncertain of the future yet entirely certain of He who already knows the future.  It is surrendering your weaknesses to the bridegroom on the altar of sacrifice and welcoming into yourself the bread of the angels, the strength from heaven, the necessary graces.  It is allowing His to overflow in you and into those in your life.  It is hands wide open, entrusting everything to Our Lord even when we don’t know what that everything even is.

Moses and I both question the Lord and ask Him to choose someone else to do the hard work.  Yet God is unrelenting. 

He crafts our souls, breathes life into us, nourishes us, and then poses a question to us that is hard to refuse. 

“Trish, I created you to reveal an aspect of Myself that nobody else can reveal.  I have a plan for you, I have graces for you, I have a mission for you.  Will you reveal Me to the world and be a part of salvation history?”

Whoa. 

How can I refuse?