The power went out amid the wind, rain, and intermittent hail. With each candle that was lit, the room was filled with softness as light bounced off the walls, wrapping us in a welcomed coziness. I don’t think of lightbulbs as harsh or overpowering, but being suddenly engulfed in hazy candlelight, the shift was tangible. A peace and calmness was present, a stillness that said more than that the air conditioner was retired due to the lack of energy.

The shift, produced by a simple cessation of electricity, seemed considerable. The house was quieter, the atmosphere more serene, and my desire for it to remain so more intense. What if we could live this way? Or what if we could live this way some of the time? Armed with a taper candle, I retreated to my bedroom for the night, reading a little by candlelight and admiring the warmth on the pages which was quite different from the typical glow of my bedside lamp. I admired the flame, simple and powerful, as it embraced the room in a flickering of radiance.

My fearful and practical side saw how this situation could be fatal, with people falling asleep before blowing out the candle beside them. And yet, my romantic and traditional side wondered what we lost with the ease of flipping light switches and beams of light that made us think it was daytime in the middle of the night. Could there be a way to recover the naturalness of following the rising and setting sun? Could there be a way to enter this peace wrought by a flickering flame in a way that didn’t mean upending the advantages of living in the modern era?

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Peace Not From the World

Peace Not From the World

Peace is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift to you; I do not give it to you as the world gives peace. Do not be distressed or fearful.

John 14:27

I feel obliged to keep somewhat informed about the spread of COVID-19 (the coronavirus) and as I was looking on a news website, I saw a link that said “Should I be panicking?” My students, naturally, are buzzing with news about the spreading virus and beneath the nervous excitement, some are truly concerned about getting sick. It is understand that fear should start to set in when it seems like very little time passes between various people mentioning something else about the coronavirus.

Apart from practical common sense attempts to not get sick, there isn’t much I can do. Yet similar to how listening endlessly to political news reports can fill me with unrest, countless stories and updates about the virus can begin to make me stressed. Jesus, despite showing concern for the poor and the suffering, doesn’t want us to be pools of despair, overcome with anxiety and worry about what may happen. We have an intellect that we ought to use, but He doesn’t want us to be frozen in isolating fear. Christ came to set us free, even from the slavery to fear.

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Traffic and cold, bless the Lord

Traffic and cold, bless the Lord

Yesterday, the exit ramp I took on my way home was overflowing with traffic. The lane that veered off the interstate was filled nearly to the point of backing into the lanes of traffic that were continuing north. I was listening to some lovely music, pondering my day, and waiting for my turn. Despite the traffic, it was a peaceful moment.

Looking toward the west, I took in the beauty of the setting sun. Puffy cotton ball clouds blanketed the sky and slowly turned tropical shades despite the freezing temperatures outside. It was a delight to just gaze at the beauty I saw splashed generously across the sky. I couldn’t help but think that if it wasn’t for the obnoxious traffic, I wouldn’t have had the time to just ponder the sky. Closest to the horizon the sky was a fiery orange tinged with pink and further away the clouds took on a more somber hue.

It was cold outside. The sun’s setting seemed far too early. It had been a long day. There was still so much of the week to go. But, Lord, thank You for this moment of beauty, this moment of peace.

It made me think of something I had seen on Facebook one time regarding the snow. The post said, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but the same amount of snow.” It is simple and yet a needed reminder that gratitude is the appropriate way to approach life. The traffic situation seemed to apply as well. If I choose to not find joy in traffic, I still have the traffic but not joy. So I looked up and saw something to be grateful for as I waited. God was casually displaying beautiful art during the evening commute. And I sought to soak it up this time instead of sink into my own world.

Continue reading “Traffic and cold, bless the Lord”

On being alone when it’s disconcerting

The hardest part of college for me was always the going back to it.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like school, I loved school.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends, I did and they were amazingly wonderful people.  It wasn’t that I had bad roommates, really awful food, or difficult situations with which to deal.  The reason it was hard to start a new school year was the feeling I felt at the beginning of the new semester.  It would be exciting, but I had this fear that I would be forgotten.  With new classes, I didn’t know when my friends would be going to lunch or supper and I would have to establish a new routine for myself.  The fears weren’t particularly overwhelming, but they were real.  My heart would feel like it was caged in a bit the first few days of school.  Contrary to my natural introverted temperament, the first days of the semester I didn’t want to be alone.  Being alone made me a bit anxious and nervous.

The fear always faded quickly.  Within the week, I would study alone in my room and be completely fine with it.  I would call up a friend and we would go get lunch.  It was all fine.  As the years of college passed, the fear was less and less prevalent, although always subtly present.

I felt that little fear again when I moved into my first new home post-college.  My parents and sister helped me move the stuff into the house and then they drove home.  None of my housemates were home and for a little while, I began to question why I moved.  I felt isolated and alone.  That fear of being alone that is strangely so frightening to a natural introvert was again present.

I would like to say that since that point I’ve never again felt this disconcerting anxiety.  That, of course, would not be true.  It was the inspiration for this post.  At times I am able to feel overlooked when I come home and can’t find someone to talk to, when everyone I seem to know has plans each night of the week, or when I see other people’s lives moving forward while I think mine is standing still.  There is just enough truth in each of these events to make my little mind wonder if I’m not being forgotten or overlooked.  It is then that the anxious feeling returns and I don’t want to be alone.
So this time, when it happened, I laid on my bed and I asked the Lord what was going on in my heart.  I asked Him to tell me the truth because my heart is getting tangled in half-truths and full-lies whispered by the evil one.  The anxiety I feel at times, isn’t desired by God.  He desires peace for me.  He desires not a spirit of comparison, but a spirit that is directed toward His unique love for me.

The fears that plague our heart are not foolish, but they are not necessary.  God desires to hear about these troubles and aid us in our response toward them.  Through that conversation, our fears and anxiety will necessarily subside and peace will reign.

“Dear young people, like the first disciples, follow Jesus!  Do not be afraid to draw near to Him, to cross the threshold of His dwelling, to speak to Him face to face, as you talk with a friend.”     -St. John Paul II 

Pacem in Terris

This September 11th is one of sifting back through old memories and reliving as an adult the stories of my youth.  The feelings have a strength fourteen years after the fact that is surprising.  As an 11-year old, the gravity of the situation was not lost on me.  Yet what was unknown or scary to me then has been replaced by a deeper empathy, sensitivities that are born through maturity and growing more into a woman’s heart.  Even at the time, the events of September 11th, 2001 impacted me greatly because of my father’s profession.

I live in the Midwest and before that day, I didn’t know what the World Trade Center even was.  Nobody I really knew even lived on the east coast and so my feelings were based on the stories I heard, wondering what was happening in our country, and recognizing that if I had lived in New York, my life might be very different.
For all of my youth, I was proud of the fact that my father was a firefighter in a nearby city.  On September 11th, as I saw firefighters respond for their duties, I felt a kinship that is born of knowing your beloved firefighter would race into that building right along with them.  The stories of firefighters climbing dozens of flights in full gear, directing people to the exit, telling them they were going to make it out as they continued to climb higher, reduced me to tears.  It didn’t take too much of an imagination for me to picture the same being true of my father.  Fire engine crews being absolved by the department chaplain before entering the burning building.  With hearts beating wildly in their chests, a brotherhood of firefighters carrying out the wounded.  That would have been my dad, too.

This year I didn’t just recall 9/11, I returned to the news footage, I heard the confusion in people’s voice, I re-read stories of heroism.  My heart felt again that ache and my patriotism was again aroused.  Because I remember after 9/11 how the country was bonded together and how “God bless America” was not uttered as a passing comment but as something we infused in our very marrow.  In a country that now daily bleeds division in terms of political party, religious creed, color, and wealth, it was refreshing to go back to a day of devastation and remember the unity that is forged through suffering and pain.  The 11-year old Trish wept for people she had never met, for families she never knew.  It was not anger that drew us together, even though there was a decent amount of that, but it was a mutual love of our own country and the experience of communal woundedness.

I watched most of the CNN live coverage of 9/11.  Story after story, I read about firefighters who offered themselves for those they had a responsibility to protect.  For my students, this is an event they learn about in history class, something foreign to them that they are told is important.  Yet for me it is a defining moment of the age I grew up in.  It is one of those memorable historic events that makes an impression on young and old souls alike.

Despite my love for my nation, conflicted and tormented though it be at times, I cannot simply stop at recalling 9/11.  I must extend this awareness of suffering and warfare to those around the world.  The Syrian refugees who are fleeing, the conflict in the Middle East, the impact of radical Islam on their neighboring Christians.  September 11th is but one of the instances of humanity willingly inflicting pain on humanity.  On that day of national remembrance, I led a prayer with my students, pleading for peace for the whole world.  It isn’t as though there are just wounds that are fourteen years old, there are daily wounds being made, blood still pouring out, “the voice of your brother’s blood is crying…from the ground.” (Gen. 4:10)  And the Lord is asking, “What have you done?”  It is not enough to recall, we must respond.

Peace is fervently needed.  Our world is aching for peace, our country’s deep-seated tension is pleading for peace, our families are battle-weary, and our very souls are hungry for internal unity.  Global peace is only attained through the soul-peace being achieved by each person.  When we experience honesty and integrity in the most difficult areas of our life.  When I cease to battle against the Lord of my soul and seek to understand my very self in way that may seem frightening or off-putting.

As we sift back through the memories of old hurts, of the traumas of humanity, may we also experience a renewed desire for peace and hearts of compassion to encounter those in their war-torn moments.  May our yearning for union override our wanting to win at all costs.  May the Queen of Peace pour grace and mercy upon our world that will bring us to unwavering peace, starting with our own souls. 

Peace Begins With a Smile

“How do you do it?”
“How do you not respond to all of our comments?  You just smile.”
Unconsciously, I smile as I consider my response.
“See.  Like that!” she says to me.
“Sometimes,” I say, “that is the best response.”
“Really?  You are supposed to just smile?”
“Well, sometimes smiling is the best response for me.  I’m not always certain what I would say would be good.  You guys definitely make me grow in patience.”

That is entirely true.  Teaching forces me to grown in patience in a way I never really considered.  My first year of teaching found me horrified at myself as I realized that I had picked up a behavior from my students I didn’t want: rolling my eyes.  I guess I had seen so many eye rolls that I just began to mirror their behavior back to them.

My students probably view me as quiet, gentle, and “nice.”  They have experienced little of my sarcasm and sharp tongue.  Perhaps they would be surprised if they had a glimpse into my mind, a taste of the quick retorts my mind can come up with when faced with their behavior.  I like to think of myself as “long-suffering” and attempt to wade through their comments, ignoring many and responding to a few.  My goal is to have the best response for the given situation.  Sometimes it is acting like I never heard their groans.  Other times I confront the student and then send them to the office when their behavior becomes too much.  I probably get it wrong 80% of the time.

Patience.  I’m slow to learn it.  Driving across town I’ll get cut off in traffic and I am amazed how quickly my temper can flare.  It is as though the greatest injustice has been done to me.  On good days, I will quickly remind myself that it isn’t that big of a deal and will try to regain my peace.  In a similar way, by 8th period my patience can wear thin and what wouldn’t have bothered me earlier in the day is nearly unbearable at that moment.  I’m weary and ready for the day to end and instead I find myself justifying a ten minute assignment to an eighteen year old child who thinks they are an adult.  Perhaps the Lord placed me here to acquire this virtue and my deficiency in patience will be overcome by teaching.

However, until my stubborn little heart learns to respond with tact and grace to complaints and criticisms, my best response may be a smile.

“Peace begins with a smile.”  -Bl. Teresa of Calcutta