In March, before COVID became a full-blown pandemic, I ordered four icons from an Orthodox icon shop I’ve used in the past. They were able to ship two of the icons before needing to close their shop due to state restrictions and for the health of their employees. The other two would be shipped at a later date, as they were able to re-open and continue production of the icons.
When I got an email a few weeks ago, it said the icons were shipping and would arrive the middle of the next week. The situation was humorous since I had been home for weeks on end and during the one week of the summer I was away, the long-awaited icons were delivered to my doorstep, where they waited for my arrival a few days later. Of course, I exclaimed, to anyone who would listen to me, of course the icons arrive when I cannot be there to get the package.
A couple of days later, I learned of the death of a dear friend of the family. There are dozens of memories of my childhood and young adult life that I can return to and find this man filling the scene with his lively personality. He and his wife were friends of my parents. They were present for important sacraments and were the babysitters for my younger sister and me on occasion. Later, they were my bosses as I worked for them during the late-summer and fall. So many reflections on their frequent presence in my life and the unique role they had in relation to my family. Over the next few days, my family and I reminisced over the eccentricities and humor of our beloved friend.
When I returned home a few days later, I retrieved the package on my doorstep, grateful that it wasn’t damaged by rain or heat. I opened up my package and saw the two delayed icons.
I don’t generally consider myself to be vain. Perhaps I have a sort of intellectual vanity, but physical vanity doesn’t usually seem to be my downfall. There was an article I read that said my personal hell would be that every time I open my mouth to say something intelligent, something completely idiotic would come out instead. Based on how strongly I felt that, I assume I must have a rather decently sized strain of vanity when it comes to if people think I am smart or stupid.
A few weeks ago, I asked some of my family if they would rather have people think they were smart or beautiful. For me, the answer was pretty clear—I don’t care too much about beauty, but I care a great deal about intellect. So it seems I would be rather virtuous when it comes to physical vanity.
Continue reading “Vanity of Vanities”
About five years ago, I prayed that the Lord would help me finding a parking spot. And He did.
It was at a bar for a Theology on Tap event and tired, introverted me was trying to muster up the energy to attend a talk when I really wanted to fall into bed for nine hours of sleep. As I circled the parking lot, I told the Lord that if He wanted me to go to the event, then I needed to find a parking spot.
Weaving my way through the full lot, I saw a man talking on his phone at the apartment building in front of me. He waved and pointed to a spot nearby. I hadn’t parked there because it was for a business, but upon closer inspection, I realized the business was closed and the spot was fair game. I laughed, pulled into the spot, and got out of my car. The man waved and smiled at me. Wondering if he was someone I knew or was perhaps at the same event, I slowly turned and saw that the apartment building was completely separated from the bar I was going to enter.
A random guy pointing out a parking spot at a bar was a concrete example of God’s love for me. Walking into the bar, I was convinced the Lord loved me and cared for me. It was humorous, but it was an encounter with God’s providence of something unnecessary yet greatly desired. The Lord provided for such a small need so promptly. An occasion that wasn’t really that spectacular–looking for a spot in a crowded parking lot–remains embedded in my memory because of how God moved in my heart.
In actuality, the Lord was fulfilling my deeper desire for good community by providing a spot that allowed me to go into the bar so I could listen to a talk and meet up with friends and acquaintances. That evening, I ended up chatting for quite some time with someone who would become one of my dearest friends. Yet in order for this deeper desire to be fulfilled, the Lord had to satisfy the initial desire of finding a parking spot. Continue reading “The Parking Spot God Gave Me”
At different times I find myself missing college. While it was stressful and filled with numerous papers, I miss the unique setting that is found in living in the dorm and sharing my daily life with many others. The fact that a perpetual adoration chapel was only a short walk away was also a major benefit. Sometimes I was overwhelmed by the constant stream of people around campus, prohibiting any chance of being alone and filling my melancholic soul with stillness and silence. Despite that, I found it invigorating to be surrounded by young people my age who desired to zealously live out the faith. Of course they failed, but it was to my never-ending joy to be able to enter into deep theological discussions at the drop of the hat.
Once experiences the beauty of such an environment, everything else seems to not compare. Now I don’t live in a place that is teeming with young Catholics. I have a real job and I have to concern myself with money. The goal now, as opposed to the liberal spending of college, is to earn more than I spend. College was a steady stream of cash poured from my pockets and from the pockets of a couple banks.
Yet every now and then I am able to recognize the beauty of the present moment. I remember that I live with three young women that are on fire for the Lord. That we do engage in deep conversations, that we are sharing our lives together, and that we can challenge each other to delve deeper into our faith. Last night we had a women’s prayer group meeting at my house and I was filled again with a sense of gratitude. Women from different jobs, places, backgrounds, and lives came together to be rooted in prayer. At one point I was concerned that our conversation would be offensive to some of the new ladies but I was even more encouraged to find out they weren’t. We could talk about praying outside Planned Parenthood, contraception, ObamaCare, medical ethics, Catholic hospitals, and much more without any tension or conflict. We seemed to be in one accord.
I thanked the Lord that I didn’t live on my own but with women I can grow with. I am not alone in my faith or without Catholic friends, but rather the Lord is increasing and strengthening these friendships. My community may be small, but it is sufficient for me. The Lord provides. He knows what I need and He is supplying. Perhaps not in the abundance that I dream of or desire, but in the amount that is perfect, necessary, and manageable.
College seems to be my constant reference point for things. At times I have to remind myself that I am not going back to my undergraduate years, that this isn’t an extremely long vacation, that this life that I am living right now is, in fact, reality. My memories of college are so vivid and life seemed to be filled with so much learning, wonder, and beauty. These days are filled with those things, too, they just happen to filled with a lot more day-in-day-out routine. Some of the best stories that I tell for classes are ones where I was gallavanting around Europe for a semester or feeling hard-core praying outside an abortion clinic in downtown Pittsburgh. Now I look up and realize I have been teaching high school for nearly two years. In some ways, it feels like forever. Yet it also feels like it has happened so fast. Was it really two years ago that I was preparing to graduate? That I was living on a campus teeming with young Catholics? These days I am invigorated to spot another person below 40 at daily Mass.
This Palm Sunday four years ago, I was soaking up the sun from the steps of the basilica in Fatima. It was the start of a ten-day break and I would then travel to Madrid to work with the Missionaries of Charity during Holy Week. I experienced vividly the providence of the Lord on that trip. While the Lord provides for me everyday, I recognized it and relished it more at that time. It seemed to be in such magnificent ways. The Lord provided a train at the appropriate time. He provided a kind Portuguese family that drove us from the train stop to the town of Fatima. He was constantly looking out for us and giving us glimpses of beauty along the way.
The same is true for my life today but it seems to be less spectacular. My students participated in a discussion I tried to lead. My meeting with my principal went better than expected. I didn’t feel like dropping into my bed at 3:30. I managed to stay awake for a whole holy hour. Little things. Things that don’t feel extraordinary or all that spectacular. That is my life.
It is easy to feel a little trapped. I teach high school students in a not-too-small town but one that seems a bit stifling anyway. My heart doesn’t long for a metropolis or an accolade laden teaching career. I simply desire to be fulfilled. In many ways I feel fulfilled but in many ways I feel a lack. I cannot help but at times looking around me and wondering when it will be my turn…for so many things. I’m young but I feel so old sometimes.
I need a new reference point. College continues to fall further into the past with each passing day. I cannot go back there, as much as I may wish to some days. The future I imagine may not be at all as I expect when it finally comes around. All I truly have is the present and even that I do not really possess. Christ needs to be my new reference point. Friends will come and go, family members will pass away, gifts will fade, and abilities will be lost. But Christ is ever-new.
I don’t quite recall how we got on the topic, but I was talking to my first period class about how we will experience Heaven differently. My reference was to the idea that Heaven will be experienced as deeply as we allow Christ into our lives now. To be sure, Heaven will be fantastic, beyond anything that I can imagine. When we get there (if we get there) we won’t be comparing our Heaven and wanting somebody else’s Heaven.
One of the students didn’t understand what I was saying. How could we experience Heaven differently? Will we each have our own Heaven? It was about this point in time that I wondered why I brought this topic up, since it didn’t have a lot of bearing on the subject at hand.
Then the Holy Spirit (He gets the credit/blame, anyhow) provided the perfect analogy for me in the situation.
“Heaven is like a symphony.” I said it and I liked it, the richness of a symphony and the depth of Heaven. I went on to briefly explain that we could all go to the same symphony but some of us would appreciate it more. Perhaps someone knows more about music and they would be able to understand and love aspects of the symphony that others might not notice. We are all at the same symphony, but we are able to experience it in different ways.
His face seemed to lighten in understanding. I, on the other hand, was particularly pleased with this off the cuff analogy. However, I know it had little to do with me…
The Lord provides. Thank the Lord He provides!