Try, Try Again

Try, Try Again

One day, during the upheaval of school from home, I was helping my niece with her homework. While smart and a quick learner, she didn’t appreciate the corrections I was offering as I critiqued the direction of her 2s or her S. I encouraged her to try again, despite the initial frustration of getting it wrong.

As she was begrudgingly doing it again, I thought about how so much of a child’s life is learning how to do things. Naturally, that involves a lot of trial and error as they learn to walk, read, write, ride a bike, hit a softball, do a cartwheel, snap their fingers, and the list goes on and on. Children have to start so often from a place of humble acceptance of their inability to do something they want to do.

I think I could learn a lot from that disposition.

In my life, it is easy to stay safe and do the things I know how to do or think I can do well. When it comes to looking like a fool, I’ve never been much of a risk-taker. I much prefer to watch and see how others do it before attempting something on my own. Yet some things can only be learned by trying, failing, and trying again.

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From My Heart to Yours: A Lenten Devotional

From My Heart to Yours: A Lenten Devotional

Lent is fast approaching.

Even though I’ve been consistently thinking about Lent over the past few weeks and prepping my students and small group for it, I still haven’t fully decided what I will be giving up/adding to my life for the next 40 days. Many ideas are swirling around, but I haven’t landed on specifics yet. This morning, I was talking with one of the prisoners and after I explained a little about Lent, he asked what I would be doing for it. Great question, friend, I thought, I’m not quite certain yet.

However, there is still time to decide. Time to prayerfully consider how we can draw nearer to the Lord’s heart as we wander into the desert so that He may speak to our hearts more intentionally.

To that end, I created a Lenten devotional for you (and me)! I’m excited about this little project and I hope that it will enable us to have a more fruitful Lent. (Click picture below for the pdf)

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Amazing Grace: A Weekend in Prison

Amazing Grace: A Weekend in Prison

Humans are surprising creatures.

They have the unique capacity for acts of tremendous, selfless good. Yet they also carry within themselves the capacity for unspeakable acts of horror. Perhaps even more significant, though, is the capacity humans have for change and transformation.

I spent this past weekend helping with a retreat at a men’s prison.

Several times, I was asked by the inmates and the volunteers if it was what I expected. The truth was I didn’t quite know what to expect from the weekend. I was a bit nervous to enter in. Not nervous for the gate to slam behind me or to be locked into the prison. Not nervous that a riot would start. Not nervous that I would be injured or harmed. Rather, I was uneasy about how I would be received. What would we talk about? What would the men be like? Would they make me uncomfortable or would they be kind?

In the reality, humanity inside the prison is very much like humanity outside the prison. Some of the men were very kind and genuine. Others seemed to want an unhealthy amount of attention. Some wanted to share their hearts. Others wanted to stay only on the surface. Some admitted they made mistakes. Others insisted everything was fine or that they weren’t treated fairly. Some respected authority. Others used each opportunity they had to poke at the officers responsible for them. They reminded me an awful lot of my students and the world around me. Which isn’t all that surprising, but it was different to experience it instead of just think about it.

There was a unique point in the retreat when the group reflected on how God uses all for His good. In our small group, my sister mentioned that God uses everything and that even though they were in prison for something wrong they had done, they were still encountering Him on a retreat. Maybe this time in prison was a good, because God can use all for good. And it was beautiful to see at least some of them agree. They talked about how it was likely that they could have been dead if they weren’t in prison. If they continued on their previous course, it was easy for them to see how it would have led to their demise.

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You Have Something Unique to Offer the World

You Have Something Unique to Offer the World

It is true. You have something unique to offer the world.

In case today or this week or this month or this year led you to believe otherwise, remember that you have God-given gifts that the Lord desires to use. And even if you aren’t using those gifts to the utmost degree, the Lord still has a profound love for you. On those days when you cannot even recall what your gifts are, remember that your very existence is a gift and that regardless what you do, the Lord is ridiculously in love with you.

If the gifts that others possess tends to make you feel less gifted, shift your perspective. Thank the Lord that He gave those particular gifts to someone and that they are able to use them to shape hearts and minds. Then re-offer yourself to His service, permitting your heart to be a vessel for His transforming love and mercy.

Where you are is not accidental and Christ can use all for His good and perfect will. Trust the process.

My Ars

My Ars

St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars. Not just one time, either, but multiple times. He wanted to leave Ars for the peace and solitude of a monastic life. And while I lack the great holiness and fervor found in the Cure d’Ars, I definitely identify with his desires to leave the world behind and live quietly removed from the chaos.

My spiritual director reminded me that St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars as we meandered down the sidewalk.

“So this high school is my Ars, huh?”

“Yes,” he replied, “there are a few similarities there it seems.”

“He died there, didn’t he?” I said, in an attempt at wry melodrama.

He paused for a moment as my imagination latched onto the idea of decades spent at this one high school, right up until the moment of my death. (I’m a melancholic–we consider death often.)

“You might not physically die at school, but, yes, I think you will die there.”

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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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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. 

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?”


How can I refuse?

I’m Worn…

I’m Tired I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left….

My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah, I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah, I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So, heaven come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause all that’s dead inside will be reborn
–“Worn” -Tenth Avenue North

That was how my week ended.  It found me filled with a great sense of tiredness and my inability to be perfect and teach as well as I desire.  I want perfection or at least success.  It is hard to remind myself that God is desiring my faithfulness far more than my success.  My competitive nature wants to win and even though I don’t quite know who I am in competition with, I can feel that I am not winning.  Perhaps part of my mopey feelings stemmed from remembering that I was a natural at school as a student but am not quite a natural as a teacher.  For some reason I assumed that those two went hand-in-hand.  But, alas, they do not.

I received some criticism, some fair and some unwarranted, from a student as the topping to my Friday.  Those words echoed in my mind throughout that evening and into the rest of the weekend.  We are an ungrateful society but it is difficult to find gratitude in the faces of students who don’t even want what you are offering.  So I spent the weekend wondering what God wanted, frustrated with my students and more so myself.  If I was less stubborn and bull-headed I might have considered quitting or finding a different job in the near future.  This sounds dramatic considering the conversation that took place wasn’t earth-shattering.  Primarily what topped the feeling chart was that I was tired of not adequately communicating the love I have for Jesus and the Church and wondering why I was in a position so obviously ill-suited to my temperament.  Yet the weekend continued on and all of this pondering and wondering led to much fruit.  On Sunday I watched “Beyond the Blackboard” and I began to put my situation in perspective.  The movie is about a teacher who faces seemingly insurmountable odds and yet, of course, she manages to come out ahead and be a wonderful inspiration.  I knew the ending would be triumphalistic but it was what I needed to get me back into a “I can make a difference and help people” mindset.

So I decided to pursue a course of change.  For a melancholic, this is a quite a feat in itself.  Monday I started all of my Apologetics classes with my students writing down what they like and dislike about my class.  I encourage charity and criticism with the intention of being constructive.  For the most part, my students were very good.  While my ego was wounded a bit in the reading of them, I found much that encouraged me.  Some students were encouraging since I was a first year teacher and others told me to not take it too personally because religion isn’t well-liked by many people.  It also reconfirmed the realization that no matter what I do, I will never please all of them at the same time.  The weekend gave me time to build things up and feel as though everybody hated me and my class.  Some of the students claimed to have no complaints, others had some reasonable complaints, and others took the opportunity for what it was worth and, hiding behind the anonymity of it, let me have their unadulterated criticism.  I shared with my mother that I was beginning to partially understand how God could be frustrated with us–I have only 115 or so students that I am trying to please while God has 7 billion.  No matter what I due, someone will be displeased.  God does things far better than I and still people are continually unsatisfied with what He is offering.  Too often I am among that number.   

I wonder at times if the Lord has placed me here not because of anything I can teach my students but rather because of something that He desires to do in my own heart.  Perhaps in some way teaching can convert my heart like nothing else could.  Sometimes my stubborn heart is my downfall and at other times it is that which keeps me from giving up and surrendering the battle. 

Lord, I am still in this battle until You take me home.  But I renewed my desire again today that it be Your classroom and not mine.  You are a much better teacher.   

If I do not love….

Perhaps this will simply reveal my vast flaws as a Christian, but teaching seems to highlight difficulties that I never noticed before.  I know that it is difficult to love others.  I’ve done Totus Tuus, I’ve been a part of a family, I’ve done mission trips, and I’ve driven on the interstate.  Love is difficult. 

Teaching high school has brought a whole new aspect to the “Love is difficult” mantra.  I find myself unable to love firmly.  While I don’t enjoy it, I can be tough and strict with my students.  And when I want to (sometimes when I don’t want to), I can be a push-over and let them get away with things.  What I have yet to perfect (after an entire 6 months of teaching) is the art of loving firmly.  To maintain order and get things accomplished while yet being kind and loving. 

If we are speaking of a battle of the wills, I can fight them to the death.  But (luckily) I realized fairly early on that it would be in my best interest to not make my entire profession into a battle of wills.  So I have to decide when to be stubborn and when to give a little.  That is still a matter that is difficult to master.  Yet regardless of that battle, I need to be charitable.  I need to be Christian.  I teach high school students and at times I can feel myself desiring to play at their level.  My feelings are hurt when they fall asleep in class, do homework for another class, roll their eyes, dismiss my ideas, and attempt to cast doubt on every aspect of the faith.  Instead of being mature, I want to roll my eyes back at them and spit out a couple perfectly formed sarcastic retorts. 

If Christ taught the Gospel of love it would seem that I should be quite proficient in it, seeing as I am teaching about Christ.  But teaching has revealed to me all sorts of weaknesses that I didn’t know I had or that I had thought were sufficiently concealed.  How would this be my mission field if I didn’t begin to see my failings and question why God placed me where He did?  I have had to remind myself several times (I should do this more, perhaps) that while God could have placed someone in my position with more knowledge and skill, He placed me here for some reason.  There is some way that He wants me to grow from this experience.  Growth hurts, it is painful.  Yet the reward is far sweeter due to the bitterness and pain.  I think of intelligent people I know (priests, nuns, lay people) and I question why I have been given the task of instructing the youth in the faith.  There are so many who could do such a better job.  Maybe this is largely the task for my sanctity, as well as their sanctity.

If teaching is my mission field, then I need to reveal Christ to them primarily through my personal Gospel of Love.  How can I convince them of the radical love of Christ if they don’t experience love from me?  Ah, the mission field!  I find myself dreaming of returning to “my” Honduras–a place I grew and loved.  But the Lord blessed me in those mission trips and made them so beautiful and easy.  Now He is sending His little daughter into the “grown-up” missionary field of a high school.  The commitment is longer, the results seem less tangible, and the people I am ministering to don’t realize it/aren’t thankful.  Quite a change from Hondurans eager to welcome us and sacrifice food and rooms for us.  But the Lord has this beautiful way of easing us into things.  He will give us sweetness and then bitterness to test our motives. 

So I go into this mission field with a heart deficient in love yet deeply desiring to excel in it.  What would a mission be without challenges?  Perhaps life is a constant learning how to love–whether it is God or neighbor.  We fail but we continue to try.  Because we were made for, by, and in Love.  Since we have received much we must go and give that to others.  Starting with that which is nearest to our hearts, which hurts the most to give when we know it may be rejected.  This battle is where I can learn to be most like Christ–being willing to love even when pushed away, rejected, crucified.  As St. Paul Miki and companions died heroically for the faith, so I am called to be martyred daily for my faith.  Impossible on my own.  But I know a great Teacher who can show me how. 

We love, because He first loved us. ~ 1 John 4:19

 St. Paul Miki and Companions, pray for us!