It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

Whether it is cleaning a room, getting into an exercise routine, or starting a new school year, I’ve discovered that it gets worse before it gets better.

Somehow, I’ve managed to turn a blind eye to the state of my bedroom for the entire summer.  I knew it was a mess and yet it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I saw it with the eyes of reality.  As I began to move some boxes around and sort through a pile of clothes, I realized that it was getting worse.  My attempts to clean were making my room more unlivable.  Yet I reminded myself that it needed to get worse so it could get better.  It still isn’t great, but my room is looking better, bit by bit.

The same was true a couple of years ago when I picked up running for a while.  The first run was tiring as I realized how out of shape I was.  Yet the next couple runs were worse as my sore muscles protested being used again so soon.  Eventually, though, it did get better.  In fact, I ran a 5-mile race and finally understood why runners say they need a few miles to warm up.  Having never been a “real” runner, I always thought I should conserve my energy, but as I finished the race, I could feel that I was running far better than the first couple miles.   Continue reading “It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better”

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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”

The Anticipation of New Beginnings

The Anticipation of New Beginnings

“Are you ready for school to start again?”

The short answer is no….but it will happen anyway.  And, although it will be crazy, busy, and a bit stressful, I will be glad when I am back into the “routine” of school.

I am not, however, one of those people for whom breaks are too long and is itching to be back in school.  At my young age, I’m quite certain I would make an excellent retired person…right now.  I enjoy traveling, being at home, reading, sitting in the sun, attending Mass when the rest of the working world works, and whatever else it is that retired people do.  I get a taste of it every summer and I believe I would do quite well with it as a full-time profession.

Yet there is a certain goodness about a new school year.  As a teacher, I have the luck of starting over each year.  There are new students (mostly), new energy (hopefully), and new faculty (always).  Even as I dread a bit of the crazy that comes with a new year, I cannot entirely squelch the excitement of beginning again.

Each beginning offers a new chance to do better than I did before.  And if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that with me, there is always, always plenty of room for improvement.  I plan for new ways to interest the students, new methods to interact with my staff, and new hope that this year I will be the missionary of the classroom that I deeply desire to be.  The new school year is home to my litany of new year’s resolutions for my teaching life. Continue reading “The Anticipation of New Beginnings”

A Heart Like St. Mary Magdalene

A Heart Like St. Mary Magdalene

Tastes and preferences change over time, for which I am grateful.  When I was younger, I didn’t like spicy food like hot sauce or horseradish sauce.  Over the past couple years, I’ve started to enjoy sprinkling (sparingly) some fiery sauce over my eggs or potatoes or whatever might seem good.  The surprising craving for horseradish came as a result of an encounter with a Blue Apron recipe I tried.  After roasting broccoli and potatoes, the recipe called for a creamy horseradish sauce to coat the vegetables.  Since then, I’ve been randomly working the interesting flavor into different meals.

As taste buds change, so also personal preferences change.  What used to be unattractive, has changed over time into something which draws my heart.  St. Mary Magdalene is one person who fits into this category.  I’ve met several people over the years who have loved her and for many of those years, I was a bit confused.  The people seemed to have nothing in common with this well-known sinner-saint, yet they were attracted to her life and witness.  I can now number myself among those who love St. Mary Magdalene.  While I don’t identify very closely with the particulars of her life, I identify very much with her heart.

She was a woman who was forgiven much and loved much.  In an act of total self-surrender, she broke her jar of precious ointment and poured it on the feet of Jesus.  Wiping His feet with her hair, she laid her entire life before Our Lord.  In exchange, she was one of His closest followers, one who sat at His feet to listen to His stories and who was driven by grief to weep at His tomb after the crucifixion.  In her need to be close to Him, she was sent as “the apostle to the Apostles” and was the first to witness the resurrected Christ.

St. Mary Magdalene loved with a love that was all-encompassing.  That need, that desire to be a total gift for the Lord is something that resonates within my own heart.  Earlier this summer while on retreat, I prayed with that passage of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus.  In a way that it hadn’t before, the words of the Gospel moved my heart and invited me to share more deeply in the relationship Mary had with Our Lord. Continue reading “A Heart Like St. Mary Magdalene”

When God Calls You to a Kitchen

When God Calls You to a Kitchen

The image of the Polish Madonna was one I never really cared for until a few years ago.  In the artwork, Mary is hanging clothes on a line as Jesus sits on the ground nearby, playing with a couple sticks that form a cross.  While I didn’t initially love it, later I realized the beauty of the image.  In the simple, ordinary events of everyday life, Mary was pursuing sanctity.  Laundry (clearly, a result of the Fall) was a part of Mary’s life and she did all of it with a gaze towards Our Lord.

The past few days I have been cooking for a summer camp that I attended in my youth and was a counselor for in my college years.  Now, I spend hours in the kitchen, preparing food that will be consumed in mere minutes.  As soon as one meal is finished, preparations begin for the next one.  The work isn’t overly complicated, yet it is more tiring than one would think initially.

I strive to meet Jesus in the ordinary moments of the day, knowing that I am helping nourish bodies so that the souls may be formed.  Yet it is an encounter with humility, too.  My heart wants to make some sort of impact, so I flip the hamburger patty on the grill and flinch when the flames flick toward my hand.  I desire the campers to encounter the mercy of God, so I wash the same pan for the fifth time that day.  I want to create a space where the Lord can move, so I reach into the ice water, crack the egg on the counter, and peel off the shell. Continue reading “When God Calls You to a Kitchen”

Minimalism, Fasting, and Meatless Mondays: The Secular World’s Abbreviated Gospel

Minimalism, Fasting, and Meatless Mondays: The Secular World’s Abbreviated Gospel

In my foolishness, sometimes I am more inspired by trends than by the Gospel.

Minimalism is a trend that has been around for a few years.  Whether it involves paring your wardrobe down to a few essential items or selling everything to live in a van, the belief that less is more appears to be appealing to people today.  The reality that minimalism is a trend in a world overrun by material possessions seems to indicate that the Gospel applies to the human person, not simply to the Christian.

There are books that speak about keeping only your cherished items, blog posts galore about capsule wardrobes, and podcasts about how to fully embrace a lifestyle of few possessions.  People speak of how there is freedom that is found in ridding themselves of excess and instead focusing on what is needed.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.    (Matthew 6:19-21)

This passage from Matthew’s Gospel was read at Mass last Friday for the martyrdom of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher.  After watching a short video clip where a young woman experimented with minimalism, I was struck by how many things in our culture are simply the Gospel repackaged and devoid of Christ.  I don’t believe these trends are a bad thing, but I find it interesting that lifestyles that would ordinarily be considered burdensome gain traction when shown to be an alternative lifestyle.

Another example is fasting or intermittent fasting.  Research done by some scientists indicates that fasting can actually be good for your health.  The different studies and programs encourage people to fast for several hours and increase up to full day fasting.  Interestingly, fasting can now be considered a healthy, trendy choice.  In the Church, fast days are often viewed by the faithful as begrudging days of denial.  For me, mandatory days of fasting are strangely always more difficult than voluntary (or accidental) days of fasting.

Finally, abstaining from meat is also being proposed as something to do for the sake of your health.  Secular advertising suggests that we should embrace “meatless Mondays” so as to help the environment and our bodies.  Some think the Church is irrational for asking adherents to abstain from meat on Fridays, definitely during Lent but encouraged year round.  My students can’t imagine what it would be like to never eat meat on Friday and many profess to forget several times during Lent.  Something seen merely as a duty can be viewed as burdensome, but when it is undertaken for personal health it is manageable. Continue reading “Minimalism, Fasting, and Meatless Mondays: The Secular World’s Abbreviated Gospel”

In Defense of Summers

In Defense of Summers

A lovely perk of teaching is that most of my work stops in mid to late-May and resumes in early to mid-August.  It is a schedule I have held since I was about seven years old when I started school.  Since I have never known anything else, I sometimes have to remind myself that this is not the norm.

People frequently ask me what my plans are for the summer.  Sometimes they are curious about where I am traveling or what extra activities I will be involved in.  Other times, however, I think they are questioning why I am not getting a job for the summer.  Isn’t that what adults do?  This lingering question is also mixed with the slight jealousy that I have a few months to not work a 9 to 5 job.  I wish I had a job like that, I can almost hear them say.

Well, I’ve decided on a newer tactic this year.  If people comment on wishing they had the luxurious schedule that I have, I will tell them a little secret: this dream can be yours, too!  All you need to do is go to school, get the appropriate degree, and get a job teaching.  Last I heard, there wasn’t a surplus of teachers in our state and teaching here doesn’t require advanced degrees.

But, you see, that is the thing–there just might be a reason schools aren’t overflowing with insane numbers of candidates, at least not where I live.  I do get a summer to step away from it all, but that is a perk that must be taken with the less preferable parts of the job.  I never argue that I have the most difficult or demanding job in the world.  I don’t believe that I do.  Yet I hear over and over again from various intelligent people, “I could never do your job.”  Which I think is slightly exaggerated, but also quite telling.  I think many people could do the job I do, it is simply that many don’t want to. Continue reading “In Defense of Summers”

Writing: The Success is in the Offering

Writing: The Success is in the Offering

The first blog I started was in the early 2000s.  Way back then, I didn’t call it a blog and neither did anyone who read it.  It was a very short list of distinguished people who read it, but it was there, a precursor to what I would do here and now.

I was imitating my older sister.  She sent emails to her friends about life ponderings that she had during the day.  There were religious reflections, philosophical musings, and simply ideas she had as she went about her ordinary high school life.  Wanting to be like her, I started my own little email list.

While I don’t remember how many emails I sent out, I do recall one topic.  Blue toilet paper.  My mother purchased blue toilet paper and, for some reason, this was the thing I felt most compelled to write about.  I know that I sent at least two emails about it.  The first had an intriguing subject line of “Blue” and the second was titled “Still Blue.”  And then, for one reason or another, I stopped sending the emails.

My next foray into the world of writing was in eighth grade.  Apparently, my English teacher thought I had something to offer the world and contacted the local editor of the town newspaper.  The editor agreed to let me write occasionally for the paper about virtually whatever I wished.  I wrote about my sister entering the convent, the death of a classmate, summer church camps, dream jobs, my dad’s retirement, the holocaust of abortion, and my trip to Ireland and Scotland.  The writing continued sporadically until my graduation.

In college, I wrote a couple of times for a few different campus publications.  I was too busy writing papers to publish many articles just for the enjoyment of it.  College also had the knack of tempering my perceived self-importance.  I’d been told for years that I had a gift for writing, largely from family and friends who are supposed to say those kinds of things.  In college, however, I received authentic criticism from my Honors and English professors.

Admittedly, it took me by surprise. Continue reading “Writing: The Success is in the Offering”

Gratitude Begets Gratitude

Gratitude Begets Gratitude

Do you know what it takes to get a compliment from a senior?  You keep them after class under the threat of a detention and listen to them try to get out of it.

Some students are just harder to love than others.  It isn’t impossible to love them, but the effort that goes into desiring to love them is significantly more.  So when a student that fits in this category pushes matters too far, I have to reflect more about the consequences that behavior should incur.  Because part of me wants to go all out and give them a harsh consequence.  The cumulation of past difficulties with that student or the tension of the particular day must all be weighed to guarantee that the punishment given fits that individual crime.

Yet I’m certain that just as some students are harder by nature to love, some teachers must fall into the same camp.  I can definitely acknowledge that I’m not the most loved teacher and I am pretty convinced that I never will be.  That doesn’t generally bother me because I’ve experienced life in a rather similar state.  High school and college didn’t find me as the most popular person around; therefore, I didn’t expect something magical to happen when I started teaching.

Despite not being the most loved, I do find comfort in being loved by some.  As an introvert, that is all I really need anyway–a few people who see under the often reserved exterior.  Those glimpses of love and appreciation from students does far more to boost me than they know.  At the end of the school year, a student stopped in with a present for me and she thanked me for my patience over the past year.  A few students wrote appreciation letters when given the chance for teacher appreciation week.  Another student chose to write his own addition to the journal entries I assigned.

That last one perhaps struck me the most.  Continue reading “Gratitude Begets Gratitude”

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”