A Million Possibilities and Infinite Desires

A Million Possibilities and Infinite Desires

A few days ago, I attended my sixth high school graduation as a teacher.  The following day, I attended the first funeral of a former student.

I had wondered before, briefly, at a few sporadic moments, what it would be like to go to the funeral of a former student.  Of course, I hoped that it would be several more years before I would find out.  At the graduation, I watched the students parade by, diplomas in hand, with an unknown future filled with a thousand moments they couldn’t expect.  As a whole, they were excited, ready to leave the halls of their high school and venture into a bigger, bolder world.  The next day, I stood before a woman who had crossed that same stage three years earlier, but, too quickly, now rested in a coffin.

My beautiful, wonderful, frustrating, and interesting students have a million possibilities in their lives.  Some will go on to achieve great things, things that will cause them to be well-known and highly esteemed.  Some will go on to achieve small things, things that will make them loved by a few and yet will impact the world in an authentic way.

And some won’t last very long at all.  They get caught up in addiction or depression or violence.  It was no secret at the funeral that we shouldn’t be there and that there should be a very different ending to the story that was before us.  It was also no secret that drugs were responsible.  As I watched her mother in a mournful embrace with her husband, I wanted a picture to show my students.  I wanted to tell them, “This is how drugs impact your family.  This is what you are doing to your parents.” Continue reading “A Million Possibilities and Infinite Desires”

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Tears Are Good For The Heart

Tears Are Good For The Heart

One of the gifts of having a spiritual director is experiencing in a new way the love of the Father.  My spiritual director hears about the good, the bad, and the ugly–and, believe me, there’s plenty of each in my life.  Yet what amazes me is his gaze, how it never wavers, how it doesn’t narrow as I describe melt-downs or frustrations.

I’m a woman (obviously) and yet one of the things that has taken years for me to understand is that it’s alright to cry.  The fairer sex is usually portrayed as emotional and weepy.  Perhaps it is for that very reason that I never wanted to be that way.  My innate desire to be other than what is expected caused me to desire toughness and logic.  Despite being logical and (fairly) tough, I still have emotions to deal with and my spiritual director has told me over and over that tears are good.

Yet even after hearing tears are good dozens of times, it is hard to believe it in the moment that the tears want to come.  I’ve had several difficult conversations in recent weeks and they have been truncated by my need to either cry or yell.  Neither seemed appropriate at the time.  Neither seemed to be things from which I could tactfully recover.  So the conversations had to end because tears seemed to be the only thing that could accompany more words.

However, when I don’t cry and when I don’t say what needs to be said, I do not remain the same.  I steel myself against the tears, which can be helpful at times (like in my “early years” of teaching and students’ comments made me want to cry), but sometimes it just makes my heart like steel.

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
(Ezekiel 36:26)

This must be the struggle of the Christian life: to keep our hearts ones of flesh and not of stone.  There is a false security in letting one’s heart become a piece of rock.  It makes me imagine that hurt will not come and that hopes won’t be disappointed.  If I have a heart of stone, then I will be steady and be secure.

Those assurances of security are all lies.  A heart needs to be a real heart of flesh.  Which means that it also must be capable of being wounded, bent, and broken.  And that, I am nearly convinced, is worth the joy that comes with being real. Continue reading “Tears Are Good For The Heart”

I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent

I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent

Lent seemed to be forty days of falling on my face.

As Easter approached, I found myself holding back, wishing the days would reverse and I would have the gift of more Lent.  I was annoyed with myself because I knew better.  The Lents that are the most intense and where I am the most faithful yield the best Easters.  After forty days of extra prayer and penance, I burst with joy into an Easter that truly finds me resurrected and renewed.

This time, I wanted an extra long Lent.  I wanted more time to make up for the ways I failed day after day.  I wanted more time to get it right.

I walked into Holy Week and then into the Triduum with a bittersweet feeling.  After such a pitiful Lent, it didn’t seem as though I deserved to rejoice in the Resurrection.  At some point between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil I became convinced of one thing: I am in incredible need of a Savior.

On Ash Wednesday, I had great hopes of competing well and running this sacrificial race for Our Lord.  I wanted to do great things and to show how much I love the Lord.  When I arrived at the altar of repose on Holy Thursday evening, I had to acknowledge that the Lord was the only one professing the depths of His faithful love.  I desire to be a follower of Jesus and yet I quickly become like the disciples in that night of testing.  I run away, I hide, and I wonder what Jesus will do with someone so small and pitiful. Continue reading “I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent”

Advent: What Lies Ahead

Advent: What Lies Ahead

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”

To Be A Disciple Is To Be A Contemplative

To Be A Disciple Is To Be A Contemplative

There is little doubt, then, that the disciple will spend the greater part of his time and effort, not ‘doing God’s work’, but simply in yielding to the work God wants to do in him.  No one can be a disciple without first being a contemplative.  The heart of Jesus’ intention in choosing his followers is that they might be with him: above all, Jesus wants to share his life with us, and this too—the longing to be with Jesus—should be the gravitational pull to which all our desires should hasten….

The Way of the Disciple, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis

This reminder of the true order of life is necessary as I near the end of the semester and as I consider my role as a high school teacher.  The most important thing is not doing more but in being in the transformative presence of Our Lord.  St. Teresa of Calcutta spent hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  I heard it said that when they were overwhelmed with work, she would instruct the sisters to spend more time in prayer, not less.  She knew her littleness and her dependence on God in a tangible way, enabling her to acknowledge her limits and radical need for God.

In college, I had a taste of short-term missionary work as I participated in a mission trip every spring break.  I loved seeing how the Lord provided for us in the midst of mission and the experience of going out to preach the Gospel was enlivening.  While we offered different assistance to people, I discovered that much of the fruit of the mission was the internal change in me.  Simplicity had a more beautiful sound as I encountered people in extreme poverty who were filled with great joy.  There was a greatness found in traveling, meeting others, and sharing the joy of the Gospel with them.

It is a greatness that I desire to find in every mission.  As a missionary of the classroom, it is easy to lose sight of the goal.  Students turn in late work, homework/tests must be graded, schedules must be followed, and the list of responsibilities goes on.  In the chaos, it takes very little for the mission to become a job and the job to become “just get through today” and so on.  Instead, I desire to view my work as long-term missionary work.  I’ve been in the trenches for over five years and I must strive to remember that I have really good news to proclaim to everyone, attentive or not.  And, what I’m probably the worst at, I am called to serve my co-missionaries and be a witness of Christ to them. Continue reading “To Be A Disciple Is To Be A Contemplative”

A Grateful Mission

A Grateful Mission

Like a mother who gushes with affection over a sleeping child, I often feel particularly fond for my students when they are taking tests.  They seem so quiet, so studious, and so devoted to the task at hand that I find myself gazing at their little, intent faces and being so thankful to be a teacher.

In all honesty, that isn’t the only moment I am thankful to teach, but it is one continually recurring theme.  Moments of quiet, moments of humor, and moments of profound learning make me grateful to teach.  The inside jokes we share and the relationships that are built over time make me thankful to interact with so many high school students.  When I am able to step back from the late papers, endless questions, and constant repetition of directions, I see young people seeking.  Seeking just like I am–for happiness, for joy, for love, for peace, for life.  When I see that perspective, I am grateful for the time to be with them, accompanying them for a short while on their journey to eternity.

It makes me wonder if I have any type of impact.  This little heart inside of me longs so much for a great mission.  And then I remember that I teach.  I interact with young people daily and if that isn’t the rich soil for a great mission, I don’t know what is.  Grades, dress codes, and attitudes can make me forget the mission that is in front of me every day.  Yet every now and then, I will get a glimpse of what God might be doing in souls.  I see that perhaps my littleness might be in the midst of something great right now and completely unaware of it all.

Still, the heart longs to know a difference is being made.  Thankfully, God gives me reminders in little moments.  There is enough to assure me that it isn’t for nothing and yet little enough so that it doesn’t all go to my head.  It is found in class camaraderie when one class writes me up for a detention when I return a little late for class.  I see it in a small group of women who enter into conversation about pursuing true beauty.  It is experienced in random after school conversations and hearing that my class is teaching something.  The look on some students faces as we tackle the problem of evil and honestly question how a good God could allow awful things to happen.  Brief moments, easy to pass by, but ones that remind me that something is happening here and now.

It isn’t because of me.  It is because of God’s grace.  Continue reading “A Grateful Mission”

Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

I have a problem with weakness.  When a person’s weakness is on display in a way I don’t like, I find it difficult to be welcoming and open.  Yet I also am convinced that being honest and sharing your heart is a necessary part of living an authentic Christian life.  I understand that seeming as though I always have it together is detrimental to myself and others.  However, seeing weakness in a way other than what I believe is an acceptable display is hard for me to embrace.

This realization–my understanding of vulnerability and yet my dislike of apparent weakness–makes me pause and wonder what is in this little heart of mine.  Sometimes, I see weakness and I am drawn to the person.  In a way, I suppose my heart responds like the Lord’s heart–the misery of another makes me desire to love them in the midst of the struggle.  However, sometimes, I see weakness and I am repelled by it.  I question why they struggle in that particular way or in such a public manner.  Instead of feeling compelled to reach out to them and help them, I withdraw and wish they could get their act together.

Like I have said before, this heart of mine is far, far away from being a perfect heart.

I think a theme that has been woven into several of my posts is one of brokenness and seeking the Lord in the midst of that break.  Yet I also want to have it together and I want other people to be composed.  The other day at Mass, I found myself asking my heart a question, “How is it that you want people to share their brokenness and yet you don’t want to see weakness?  Is there an appropriate way to be broken?”

Is it fair to criticize people for the way they fall apart?  For the way they fail and are weak?  I like when people talk about their humanity, but I’m less interested in actually seeing their humanity.  It is silly, but I find myself arguing that I think there is a proper way to be broken.  A recent experience in prayer highlights the freedom that can be found in being broken and revealing that brokenness.

Fr. Timothy Gallagher has a book called An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer: Scriptural Reflections According to the Spiritual Exercises.  The opening meditation uses the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in Mark 10.  In the opening lines of the meditation, I was directed to take my seat with Bartimaeus.  Soon, this blind man is calling out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

In prayer, I was surprised to find an annoyance with him.  He was obnoxiously calling out to Jesus and I resisted the urge to shush him.  How could he be so shameless?  In the midst of the crowd, he was crying out, causing people to acknowledge his blindness and his complete inability to change his situation.  I wanted Bartimaeus to be more discreet and not draw so much attention to himself.  However, to Bartimaeus, his helplessness was paradoxically a place of hope. Continue reading “Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong”

A Random Mom: How God Showed Me He Cares for Me

A Random Mom: How God Showed Me He Cares for Me

It was in the middle of a meeting and she got a call.  Stepping outside the room, she spoke for a moment and then quickly came back to collect her things.

“One of my children is bleeding everywhere.  I’m sorry, I have to go.”  With a hasty flourish, she was out of the room and jogging towards her car.

My first thought?  Such is the life of a mother.  Simply, such is the life of a parent.  You put aside your own plans, needs, and desires because you immediately respond to those of your children.

My second thought?   Continue reading “A Random Mom: How God Showed Me He Cares for Me”

Joyless Pragmatism

Joyless Pragmatism

“I just wanted you to know that I won’t offer to pray in class because I’m not Catholic.  If you want, you can email my parents and ask them about it.  But when you look around the room for volunteers to pray, that’s why I’m not offering.”

A student had approached me after class one day and started our brief conversation with that explanation.

“Oh?  That is fine that you aren’t Catholic.  I assume your parents are not either, so I wouldn’t email them about it.  I still expect you to answer questions and participate in class, though”
“No, they are Catholic.”
“They are, but you aren’t?”
“Yes.”

I’ve often wondered why some people remain faithful to the religion of their parents and others don’t.  Considering that this student brought this conversation up in the first place, I figured I could try to ask some questions to get some bearing on the situation.

“Are you Christian?”
“No.  I believe in God, because I think it is silly not to.  I just believe he created the world but isn’t really active in it.  I’m not against Christians or anything.  I just think you do your thing and I’ll do mine.”

This student seemed so…pragmatic.

I think the thing that struck me the most was how reasonable the student was striving to be.  Granted, I am grateful when students are reasonable, but I couldn’t help but sense an absence of joy in this system of belief.  In many ways, I was impressed with the responses I received to my questions.  Yet I also wondered if this lack of belief stemmed more from a desire to be intelligent rather than closely examining the issues.

The popular notion of ‘you do you, I’ll do me’ continues to baffle me.  If there is any honest pursuit of the truth, then clearly you doing your own thing and me doing my own separate thing cannot both lead to the correct answer.  Continual diversity in beliefs cannot lead to unity in the end. Continue reading “Joyless Pragmatism”

When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

Over three years ago, I filled a hiking backpack, flew to Europe, and walked El Camino de Santiago.  The first day on the Camino, though difficult, was exhilarating.  We walked from the beautiful little town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, over the Pyrenees, and into Roncesvalles in Spain.  The newness of the adventure combined with spectacular views made me excited nearly every step of the way.

The next morning, we were tired and sore, but eager to continue this 500-mile trek.  So we set out again, walking for hours, taking in gorgeous scenery, and dining at little cafes or from our packed lunches.

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Then we did that again.  And again.

Sleep, rise, walk, eat, walk, Mass, eat, sleep.  Repeat.

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The tiredness soon was eclipsed by pain.  My feet ached in a way they never had before.  Blisters developed in tender places.  The beginning of the day meant pressing my feet into my shoes and then starting the delicate process of walking.  After a while, the pain dulled and seemed to fade into my subconscious.  However, if we ever paused, my feet gave a fiery reminder to sit down or keep walking.

Yet even these blisters didn’t completely dampen my spirits.  I knew they could happen and it was, in a way, part of the Camino adventure.  Each day, I offered up my pain for different intentions and this made the journey a pilgrimage instead of a hiking trip.

One day, I no longer wanted to walk.  

The intense desires to sleep in, be in the same place for more than 15 hours, or watch a movie were things I hadn’t anticipated when I started walking.  There was a definite shift from “This is fun!” to “This is a pilgrimage.”  Internally resistant to another day of plodding along, I realized that this adventure would require work and an embracing of the daily struggle.

And then I realized, this is a lot like life. Continue reading “When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On”