Last week, fifteen years ago, my sister entered a Carmelite cloister.
At the beginning of the school day, I sat for a couple minutes, looking at my calendar announcing March 19th and remembering what had transpired other years on the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Fifteen years ago, we embraced, believing it might be the final time here on earth. Five years ago, we embraced as she moved north to establish a new monastery. And every year in between, I have recalled with tenderly fond pain the life we have been called to enter into as the family of religious.
I spoke about my sister’s vocation with my sophomores at great length this year. While I didn’t intend to spend so much time on it, they asked question after question and I found myself desiring to share this story with them. They were particularly struck by the great physical sacrifice that is found in the life of a cloistered nun. While I have been able to embrace my sister since her entrance, each time is a gift and never expected or something I can claim as my due. I explained that it is because my sister loves us that it is a sacrifice for her to not embrace us or be present for some of the big moments of life.
“But you didn’t choose that life. Why do you have to make that sacrifice when God didn’t call you to be a cloistered sister?”
Perhaps without knowing it, they stumbled upon the question that must be answered for each family member of a religious brother or sister. Why must I make this sacrifice when I’m not the one with the call?
Whether it is because they are adorable or because we can chalk it up to their innocence, they are able to do things that are unthinkable to adults. The small child that escapes the proper place in the church pew and scampers toward the front of the church is often met with smiles, even if the bishop is offering Mass. A few weeks ago, a child at an audience with Pope Francis ran to the front and when the Swiss Guards tried to block him, the pope welcomed him forward.
They also seem to have the freedom to just ask for things. My nephew once saw some money sitting on my parents’ counter and, after clarifying that it was indeed money, asked if he could have $40. Children are quick to ask for food (even if it is the food you are eating), a drink from your water bottle, and anything else that might be slightly weird for an adult to request.
Yet there is such freedom in their general disposition. A freedom that is nearly enviable when one considers how they present their needs and desires to those capable of actualizing them. It made me consider how freeing it would be to approach God the Father in that way. What would it be like to truly be His child, with all of the fidelity and trust found in the hearts of the little ones? Continue reading “Childlike Trust”→
Ben Rector came out with a song called “Old Friends” and it became a brief topic of conversation with a friend this summer. The song is catchy and provokes an immediate nostalgia within me. However, as I spoke with this friend, we talked about how we don’t have “old friends” and, as Ben Rector spends over four minutes articulating, you can’t make them now.
Granted, I have friends that I went to elementary, middle, and high school with, spending about twelve years in the same classrooms in my small rural public school in South Dakota. A few of them I even catch up with on occasion, but none of them know me through and through. I grew up out of town and my parents were careful not to play the chauffeur for my siblings and me. So I would see them at school, after school activities, and church if they were Catholic.
But we weren’t riding our bikes around town together in the summer or spending every waking minute swimming at the pool. For me, summers were spent at my parents’ farm, isolated from the rest of the town about five miles away. After school, I rode the bus home, preventing me from meeting someone up town at the popular hangout that served fried appetizers. Even when I did drive, I had a younger sister to provide transportation for and it was also generally assumed that I would head directly home after my extracurricular events concluded.
These aren’t bad things, per se, I just offer them to point to the fact that much of what Ben Rector sings about felt impossible for me to have experienced based on my situation. Most of my youthful memories are filled with my siblings. The past couple weeks were filled with pretty intense and intentional family togetherness time and when it ended, it caused me to feel that wave of nostalgia that reminded me of “Old Friends.”
My two older sisters are in religious life and the older one has an annual home visit for two weeks. As far as religious communities go, that is a generous amount of time yet it also constitutes the bulk of what our relationship looks like for the year. Short occasional phone calls and letters (which were non-existent on my part this year) aren’t the best ways to sustain a vibrant relationship. My other sister is a cloistered nun, meaning that she has answered God’s call to live as a hermit within community, essentially. My family visits her annually on a weekend when my other sister returns from the convent. While it varies year-to-year, this year I was able to have two hours alone with her to visit. As with the other sister, the bulk of my relationship is found in those brief moments.
After we had left the cloistered monastery and my other sister was dropped off at the airport, I felt a nostalgia for the past closeness of my youth. Naturally, as time passes, the family changes through new additions, losses, moves, and the like. When my brother married, his wife became an integral part of the family and my nephews and niece also changed the family dynamic. The vocation my older sisters have to religious life likewise shifts the family dynamic. While I am thankful for their vocations and the joy accompanying them, I still miss what could have been. Continue reading “Nostalgia”→
It was a childish expression of frustration and the reprisal was one that kept that outburst of violence to a one-time event. In general, I am a fairly patient person, I believe, and while I might get annoyed or angry, I am often slow to act on those emotions.
Yet I’ve always wanted to be viewed as strong. I’m not tall and I probably don’t look very intimidating. Despite that, it is a desire of mine to be seen as fiery. The punch I threw in my youth didn’t end well, but I sought to prove my strength in other areas. In an elementary school gym class, we were challenged to do as many push-ups as possible. Due to my slight frame and sheer grit, I completed push-up after push-up until my arms quaked each time I neared the floor. When I finally stopped, only one other person was still going.
As kids, my dad would challenge us to completely unfair wrestling matches. Being six or seven and taking on a fully grown man did not present balanced odds. However, I clearly remember wrestling matches where my dad only needed to use one arm or a leg to pin me down as I relentlessly squirmed to get away. Finally, I would concede defeat, but only with flushed face and worn out limbs.
This desire to be strong was evident from my youth and yet it found expression in various ways as I got older. Physical prowess was never going to be my gift and so I exercised strength in witty replies and intellectual knowledge. But I still wanted to be viewed as strong and I had this indomitable longing to be a soldier. I have a fight in me that needs to be revealed in some way. It means that while I “hit like a girl,” I still punch my dad in the shoulder every time I see him. And while I’m not a fan of conflict, I enjoy a good argument or discussion when I’m in the mood.
At my nephews’ wrestling tournament the other day, I saw a woman in army fatigues. The strength that her outfit symbolized was something I desired for myself. Which, naturally, means I went home that night and casually perused the Army National Guard website. I imagined what it would be like to join the military and how that could impact my life. I don’t really want to fight someone, but I want to fight for something. Continue reading “There is a Strength in Faithfulness”→
In our culture’s mad rush to start the Christmas season, I am left feeling a bit Scrooge-like. I like Advent. The anticipation that gradually builds as candle after candle are lit on the Advent wreath adds to the beauty of Christmas when it finally arrives. If we jump headlong into Christmas right after Thanksgiving, I believe we miss part of the joy of the season. Waiting has a sweet longing to it and I want that sweetness for as long as I can have it.
As a child, I remember the eagerness as I would watch the presents beneath the tree grow as time passed. My younger sister and I would check to find the ones with our names and then try to analyze what was inside. It was tempting to tear the wrapping off, but we didn’t. The soft, foldable presents were obviously clothes. Yet the ones in boxes? Those were unidentifiable. We would give them a light shake and then simply wonder about what lay nestled inside for us to discover. The waiting was half the fun. Even if I wanted to figure out what the present was before Christmas (my competitive nature desired to win), I also wanted to be surprised.
I won’t argue that I’m extremely patient, however I appreciate waiting for something good. When I get my mail, I am excited if I find a letter from a friend or a package that I ordered. Yet I generally open the less fun things first, allowing the excitement and longing for the most desired thing to build. After trick-or-treating at Halloween when I was a kid, I tried to eat my least favorite candies first, saving the best for last. Even now, I often find myself saving a bite of the best part of the meal for the end, as if to end the meal on a good note. Waiting doesn’t change the contents of the letter or the taste of the food, but it seems to add a bit of sweetness as I anticipate what is to come. Continue reading “Advent: What Lies Ahead”→
On the way back from my nephew’s baseball game, I attempted to distracted my niece and nephews by directing their attention to the sky. It was sunset and the streaming colors changed minute by minute. I pointed out the different colors and asked if they could see any others. As the minutes passed on our drive home, I would sporadically stop and ask what other colors they could see in the sky. They seemed intrigued by the way the colors would transform after only a short time. It was also neat to hear them come up with different names to describe the precise shade of color we were witnessing.
At one point, one of my nephews talked about how the sky was like a painting. Excited that they were no longer touching each other or complaining about being touched, I ran with this. We spoke about how God is like an artist and how he creates these beautiful paintings each day. They are never quite the same yet they greet us each morning and each evening. My second oldest nephew is a big fan of math, so I gave him a few math problems to conceptualize how many sunrises/sunsets God has made. He seemed a bit surprised to consider the thousands upon thousands of paintings God has blessed us with, just stretching back a couple of millennia.
Simple beauty is not lost on children, sometimes they (like us) just need to be directed to where they can see it. A few colors splattered on the vast prairie skies can be an opening to recognize the way God works in the midst of our lives. Whether or not I notice, God is pouring out His blessings upon me in new and varied ways each day. Sometimes noticing it requires fighting nephews and an evening drive home.
I have a friend who once said that some things are cliché because they are true. Phrases that seem trite and overused are sometimes the best way to say what we want to say. They have become clichés because they express a truth like nothing else really can.
At times, I fight against what it seems a lot of people like or consider to be the best. But sometimes, it is because it is actually good that so many people rave about specific things. On Facebook, I’ve seen quite a few people talking about how much they loved the show “This Is Us.” With the school year wrapped up, I decided to give it a try.
I don’t think a show has ever pulled at my heart as much as this one has.
I love how they portray the complexity of the human heart. In this show, families are messy, imperfect, and crucial to our own identity. As the show unfolds, perfect facades crumble to reveal that everyone is striving to get through life doing the best they can and making numerous mistakes along the way. It is very human, which makes it simultaneously beautiful and frustrating. Though the families can be chaotic, a theme interwoven in the show is the importance of family. Whether they are blood relations or adopted family, the experiences we have in our homes shape how we interact with the rest of the world.
In a world that seems to insist that families can be replaced with technology or friend groups, it is refreshing to see families upheld as the place where we grow, change, and become who we are. Imperfect families, with parents fighting their own struggles and children feeling their own unique pains, are the places that shape us and show us how to love. “This Is Us” doesn’t claim that all families are perfect or should be perfect. I would say they are simply claiming that the role of family is irreplaceable. Continue reading “This Is Us”→
When Jesus appeared to His Apostles after the Resurrection, His hands, feet, and side still bore the marks of the crucifixion. His glorious, death-conquering body held the holes that won salvation. To be certain, His body was different than it was before. He was strangely appearing and disappearing, passing into locked rooms, and yet still able to eat and be touched. Dying and rising had changed His body. Gone was the appearance scarred beyond human recognition. However, His body still showed where nails and a spear had pierced Him through. Why was that?
There are several theological reasons, but I would like to focus on one minor, personal reason. I would argue that Christ kept His wounds to destroy our image of perfection. Here is the conquering King, the One who has fought death and won and yet–He still shows signs of this arduous battle. As the commander of this battalion, as the King who leads His people into battle, Christ is not unaware of the price of this fight. Our whole lives seem to be a battle towards Heaven. Christ doesn’t need perfect looking soldiers; He simply needs faithful ones.
The burden of perfection is one we place upon ourselves. We want lives that are neat and tidy, yet none of us have it. Sometimes we brand others as perfect, but that is only because we see portions of their lives and not the whole of it. And when we expect this perfection from them, we encourage them to fake it instead of living authentically.
Often, when I tell people that my two older sisters are religious sisters, I can see them mentally placing my family in a certain type of box. Years ago, I gave my witness in preparation for a summer of catechizing youth, and one of the critiques I received was that teens probably couldn’t relate to my story. While I understood what they meant, I couldn’t help but take it a bit personally. My story of an aching heart being separated from my sisters was not something they deemed relatable. Since then, I have discovered that it is something to which others can relate. Perhaps they don’t have siblings in religious life, but many have experienced anger and frustration with God and a plan you never wanted for your life. Continue reading “The Burden of Perfection”→
I was a little surprised at this statement, coming from my five year old nephew. We had just started the drive from my house to my parents’ house. Perhaps it was the fact that we were passing a Catholic church or maybe the thought just came into his mind, but the statement seemed like it was out of left field.
“Who told you that?” Even though my mind was immediately jumping to Nietzsche’s famous ‘God is dead’ statement, I was pretty certain my nephew had a different source. Did he have a little atheist friend at school? Did his teacher say something? Was an older student filling his mind with such things?
“My mom and dad.” Well, that changed it a bit.
“What did they say?”
“They said that He died. He really died.”
“And that He rose from the dead?”
“Yeah.” That detail didn’t seem quite as important to him.
Yet the Resurrection of Jesus is one of the most important details of all. If He was who He said He was, then the Resurrection verifies His claims. If not, then there could be no greater blasphemy than claiming to be God and, by all rights, the Jewish leaders were correct to condemn Him to death.
The incredible aspect of the Resurrection is sometimes lost on those of us who have spent our whole lives hearing about it. But if we take a step back, we might be able to appreciate more fully the bold claim we are making.
We claim the Incarnation is true, that God took on human flesh–He didn’t just appear to be human or was merely human–and dwelt among us.
Later, He was condemned to death, scourged, crucified, and then died. After wrapping His body in clothes, He was laid in a tomb, which was sealed with a large stone and had a Roman guard stationed in front of it.
Three days later, the tomb is empty, the guards are confused, and His body is nowhere to be found.
We claim that He rose from the dead. He actually died and then He resurrected. Not “came to” or was revived, but entered into a new life, one that could never end again in death.Continue reading “God Died”→