Nostalgia

Nostalgia

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.

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During my semester abroad, I spent some time making my “snow family.”  This is of my two older sisters.

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”

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To Apologize

After three years of teaching high school Apologetics, I believe I understand the concept.

The idea of going into a full-out debate about religion, is a little frightening to me, even with a Theology degree and three years of teaching experience.  My fear is partly because I don’t like tension-filled debates; I prefer discussions.

Outside of the classroom, I have had three notable theological discussions in the past year.  They were good experiences because I had started thinking that I teach a class while I have little practical experience with the matter.  Now I am realizing that I do have experience and it happens more often than I realize.  My three “big” discussions were memorable because of the length of time spent talking as well as the breadth of material covered.  Yet a similar experience happens on a more frequent basis–when my students, friends, or family ask a question and I attempt to explain the Church’s teaching on the matter.

Nearly as important as knowing the theological answer is one’s disposition.  I don’t claim to do it perfectly, but I try to listen to them and to not become offended when their belief differs from mine.  While I do want to make my points clear and provide good arguments for my beliefs, I don’t need the other person to feel trapped or badgered.  If I wouldn’t like to be backed into a corner, then I try not to do the same to the other person.  It isn’t being two-faced if you approach issues differently with different people.  My discussions on abortion are incredibly different based on if they are with my immediate family or my students or with a woman in front of an abortion clinic.  The varied people and places required customized responses.  In most situations, there is no one-size-fits-all response, as convenient as that might make things.

I could be wrong about this last assertion, but I believe Apologetics works best when it comes in the context of a relationship.  It is possible to give a talk to a group of strangers and have someone change their heart because of that talk.  But in one-on-one Apologetics, it seems crucial that there be some sort of relationship with the person, a sense of trust that the other person (though they might be wrong) is entering into this discussion out of love and not a desire to just win.  Our family and friends might be some of the most difficult people to engage in conversation, but I think it could be some of the most fruitful.  In my conversation with a friend, we were able to challenge each others positions without becoming offended.  Why?  Because we were able to see that the other person respected us and desired our good, even if they were presenting something contrary to my own beliefs.  The result was a beautiful discussion that still makes me marvel.  I left the conversation knowing that I hadn’t completely changed her mind, but rather had given her food for thought.  Walking away, I wished that more in our country could have debates like this.  Not devoid of emotion necessarily, but filled with reasons for belief and presented freely with the understanding that the other person would not attack me for my beliefs.  It is my mental model for how Apologetics can be done.

Even if you do not have a doctorate in Theology or have the ability to quote Scripture off the cuff, you should be engaging in Apologetics.  In the simple truths of explaining why Catholics do what we do.  We engage in Apologetics by striving to live the Christianity that Christ proclaimed–with humility, gentleness, self-control, love, boldness, zeal, and a willingness to suffer persecution for the sake of the Gospel.  And we engage those around us, in our imperfect, unique, striving-after-more ways.  You might be the only Gospel someone encounters.  Live it well.

Another Weary Day in the Battlefield…

It has been a rough day and a long week.  One of those weeks where I look at how many months it is until summer break and I realize that I have only just begun.  My thoughts should still be turned to those of excitement and eager anticipation of the events yet to come.  Maybe I feel so worn down because I’ve been lacking in prayer.  Perhaps I’m simply tired.

At times I feel this weariness deep down in my bones that shouldn’t be found within the person of only 23 years.  I long for Heaven.  At times, I seem to ache for it.  I’m weary of life.  Already this year I’ve had my fill of teenagers and they are the source of my job.  I’m tired of rolling eyes, softly muttered comments, overly talkative classes, looks of pure boredom, and the list continues.

Last week I asked my students if they would rather work a job where they make lots of money but hate it or a job where they make more than enough to survive but have to forgo fancy extras but love their job.  In one class the majority chose to work a job they hate so that they could have all the things they want, take nice vacations, and retire early.  I always figured I would rather work a job I love but this week confirmed it.  Sitting at the dinner table, exhausted and wanting nothing more than to sleep for a week, I thought of what a horrible existence it would be to spend 8 hours at a job I hate, spend the rest of the day tired and dreaming of sleep, only to wake up and do it all over again.  Not for nine months but for the entire year.  Where is life in that?  Where is the time to actually live and be with people?

I do not hate my job.  On some days, I love it.  On days like today, I go to the chapel, beg the Lord for help, and return to the street/battlefield/classroom.  And this idea begins to grow in the back of my mind–what if the Lord desires something else from me?  Maybe He doesn’t want me to teach next year but rather to……  And I draw a blank because there isn’t exactly an application for “wife and mother”.  [And I would cringe at the thought of answering that kind of help wanted ad. “Help wanted: woman to marry and rear children.  Will be paid in a decent house, being woken up in the middle of the night to feed/change/rock child(ren), and beautiful drooling smiles.  Mail application and sample of chocolate chip cookies to…..”]

Lord, I pray, I’m lonely.  I want a “kindred spirit” or a “bosom friend” with whom I may pass through this world.  What a feeling it is to be surrounded by people all day long and yet desire to be alone, but not truly alone, just away from the maddening crowd.  Sometimes I blame God because I feel that He should have made me more adaptable to this world.  My heart shouldn’t get hurt so easily by a few rude looks or a handful of subtle attacks.  I shouldn’t long for solitude so much if I was to have a profession that deals with so many people.  I know God didn’t make me for this world but it seems I could have been made with slightly more skills suited to life on Earth.

Convents sound like beautiful places at this point.  Not because I believe they are easy but because in many ways my heart feels very much aligned with it.  I like to be quiet and by myself.  I enjoy work and prayer.  I would love a community of sisters.  My two older sisters in religious life have made me quite aware that there is more to monastic life than that.  Nevertheless, I desire it.  Yet not the vocation itself.  I desire marriage.  I am a contemplative thrown into the world who seems to not find time to pray.  I am a fish thrown out of the water and I refuse to admit that the water is my source of life.

I’m unsure if any of this makes sense.  All I know is that today I nearly cried during a class and I’ve thought several times over the past couple days, “What if I didn’t come back next year?”  My spiritual director has been helping me find areas of hurt and bring healing to them.  We are trying to make my heart whole again.  Today I began to believe that teaching was simply destroying the whole process.

Maybe I love far too many ideals and not enough realities.  I love my students–as they should be.  Yet when faced with a teenage girl who is subtly mocking me in front of the class, I have to keep myself from crying tears of rage.  I love teaching–on the days when things goes perfectly and my students radiate with kindness and sincerity.

Heaven help me.  So if you are reading this, stop right now and say a prayer for me and my students.  We can definitely use it.  For all of those out there facing far more difficult battles in the streets, know that my little sufferings and prayers are with you.  And let’s all get to Heaven so this can all just look like one inconvenient night in a hotel (thanks St. Teresa of Avila).

Step One: Be a Saint

I know that I am far from being a saint, yet I have this great desire to be one.  Over the past few years I have begun to realize the beauty and necessity of friendships rooted in Christ.  Some friends that I have I would love to speak with daily yet even when months separate our communications, we are able to pick up right where we left off.  Sisterly spiritual encouragement is something for which I am presently grateful.  While they aren’t necessarily my biological sisters (although sometimes they most definitely are), we have a friendship that digs deep into the heart of the matter.  I am able to cut directly to the truth and not hedge around political correctness.  I want these e-mails, letters, and phone calls to be saved as aspects of these stories of souls on their way to Heaven.  Of course this evidence would immediately reveal our imperfections but they would also unearth the deep desires of our hearts.  It is the beauty of the Body of Christ, separated by space and time yet united in the intimacy of Our Lord’s Eucharistic Heart.  When I encounter priests, religious sisters, elderly, young people all striving for Christ, I am renewed and reinvigorated.  The Church is not dead.  She is marching onward.  She is wounded, She is weak, She is comprised of sinful people.  Ah, but She is being sanctified.

Persevere, dear readers, in running the race for Christ, in striving continually for holiness.  Look not at what you are, but what He desires you to be.  Focus not on your imperfections but on His perfections.  Never put out the desire to be a saint.  God wants it of you and the world needs it of you.

“Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. Many have gone before us along this path of Gospel heroism, and I urge you to turn often to them to pray for their intercession.”   -Pope John Paul II

In times of darkness Our Lord raises up saints.  Well, there is no need to ask if this is a time of darkness.  Therefore, we must be saints.  Anything less is settling.

 

The Beauty of Not-New Friends

This week I had the privilege of being able to speak to a couple friends I hadn’t in a while.  As we were talking on the phone I realized how much I love friendships that are already formed.  Teaching has put me into contact with many new and wonderful people but making friends isn’t exactly my strong point.  I would much rather be with close old friends than off forming new relationships.  So as I spoke to my friends I was reminded of the joy of friendships that are already grounded, that I don’t need to put so much effort into because they just come naturally.  One of my conversations in particular was very good and I loved that despite the months of not talking, we were able to talk and talk with ease. 

One of the ways the Lord loves me is through friends like these.  Although I wish the love would be made evident by utterly surrounding me with these friends instead of having them be a phone call away, I am deeply indebted for the ways He touches my heart through others.  It teaches me to cherish these friendships and to not take that gift for granted.