When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality

When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality

I missed a plane and then had an extended lay-over due to a late arriving aircraft.  I nervously tried to figure out how to turn the headlights on in a new car for which I had just refused all extra insurance.  In the dark, I navigated along the fast-paced 405 and I-5, following a GPS that was guiding me to a place I had never been.  I circled the hotel to find where I was supposed to park.  Stupidly, I had to ask the hotel clerk if he knew the make of a Sentra.  I later realized Nissan was clearly written on the key I had in hand.  The room wasn’t what I expected based on hotel pictures.  I couldn’t figure out how to make the old bathtub faucet produce the water I desired until the second day of my stay.  I missed the evening part the conference that I had flown half-way across the country to attend.

Perceptions and preconceived ideas greatly change how we experience situations.

In my mind, this conference would go perfectly.  I would fly to sunny southern California, learn mountains of information, meet great people, and then blissfully return home.  The hotel would be perfect.  The drives would be scenic and pleasant.  Everything would go according to plan.

The first evening, I laid on the bed in my less-than-expected hotel room and considered the stress I was experiencing.  While there were delays and inconveniences, nothing that terrible had happened.  No accidents, no major dilemmas, nothing that would ruin my time at the conference.  Yet I still felt disappointed and a bit let down.

My expectations were not met and I realized they had been ridiculously high.  When I thought back to how I expected the few days to go, I imagined sunny days, easy drives, and luxurious sleeping quarters.  I let the novelty of the situation turn the reality into something disheartening.  When I surveyed the past day with few expectations, it turned out that reality wasn’t quite so bad. Continue reading “When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality”

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Seeking the Face of God, Even in Tragedy

Seeking the Face of God, Even in Tragedy

“We live in a crazy world,” I told my class near the beginning of a class period.

“One of you asked if I had heard of the truck bombing and I thought I had, but I wasn’t sure if it was from last week or this week.  Then I looked it up.  Two hundred and seventy people died and it just sounded an awful lot like several other events.  We live in a world where it is possible to be uncertain if a tragedy like this is news or something from a couple of weeks ago.”

This particular class period, we were reflecting on the Ignatian theme of finding God in all things.  It is easy to find God in bits of beauty–in the sunset, the splendor of fall foliage, or the smile of a newborn.  The difficulty is found in seeing the face of God in tragedy–the shooting in Las Vegas, the 9/11 attacks, or the truck bombing in Somalia.

Practice makes perfect, though, right?  Or, at least, better?

So our class time was spent in small groups brainstorming a few tragedies and then considering how we can see God in the midst of these situations.  I challenged them to go beyond the cliché lines they hear or the standard Theology class answers.  Instead, I wanted them to delve into these painful situations and to truly seek the face of God.

This class period had the most somber tone of all my classes and I found myself telling them that I viewed this exercise in a hopeful way.  Yes, we were talking about a loved one being diagnosed with cancer, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and struggles in relationships, but we were doing so because we believe God can be found even there.  Perhaps, especially there.

After a group presented how they found God in a particular situation, I opened it up to the entire class.  Time after time, I asked, “Anything else?  Any other ways you can see God in that situation?”  There wasn’t a particular answer I wanted from them, I just wanted them to deeply reflect on all the possible ways God could be found in difficulty.  My hope was that if they did this while a bit removed from some situations, they will be able to try to do it in the midst of suffering.  I want them to remember that God can be found in all suffering.  And I want them to know it in a visceral, heart-wrenching way and not simply a pat answer on a Theology exam. Continue reading “Seeking the Face of God, Even in Tragedy”

Falling

Falling

The splendor of the leaves and their far-too-fast descent remind me of a beautiful poem by the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.  I’ll let him do the work this time, not complicating the simple beauty he presents with my added words.

Autumn

The leaves are falling, falling as from far off, 
as though far gardens withered in the skies; 
they are falling with denying gestures. 

And in the nights the heavy earth is falling 
from all the stars down into loneliness. 

We are all falling. This hand falls. 
And look at others; it is in them all. 

And yet there is One who holds this falling 
endlessly gently in his hands.

A Beauty Filled Life

A Beauty Filled Life

As I walked the Camino, I found within myself a longing for beauty.  Mile after mile passed beneath my feet and I made commitments to myself about how I would like to live my post-Camino life.

Read poetry every day.
Look at new artwork.
Listen to classical music.

All of those commitments and ideas didn’t translate as neatly into my reality as I had hoped.  In the rush of the daily grind, it is difficult to intentionally set aside time to experience beauty.  Most days, my taste of beauty happens when I remind myself to take in the fall foliage before winter sets in.  But an intentional pursuit of beauty?  Generally, that is non-existent.

Last night, I flipped through a book of poems entitled Poems You Ought to Know.  My English degree (with a concentration in British and American Literature) meant that I recognized most of the names in the table of contents.  Some of the poem names even sounded familiar, but few were ones I could stop and say, “Oh, I love this one!”

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” was there and I recalled that in college I taught a lesson on this to a classroom of high schoolers during an education class.  It is a beautiful poem, I think, even with the natural morbidity found in Poe’s works.  The poetic devices that I had reviewed with the class came to mind dimly.

It makes me wonder why I don’t read poetry like my heart desires.  Why do I not sit down and read a Shakespearean sonnet in the evening?  Why don’t I learn about the famous classical composers?  Why don’t I use the gift of the internet to virtually explore art museums and learn about the different periods in art history?  I desire it.  Why don’t I do it?

Because it is easier to not.   Continue reading “A Beauty Filled Life”

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”

Avenues to My Heart

Avenues to My Heart

When I started college, I wanted to be a high school English teacher.  I have loved reading since elementary school and I wanted to encourage others to love reading, too.  Along with reading, I also enjoyed writing.  With these two loves, I assumed teaching English would be a fitting career.

The second semester of my freshman year of college found me taking a Theology class.  Since I had exclusively attended public school growing up, this was my first formal Theology class.  Other students who had attended Catholic schools didn’t seem as impressed as I was with the class.  Simply praying before a math class at college was an exciting concept for me.  Reading encyclicals and Church documents?  That was a complete thrill and I remember marveling at how accessible I found them.

After this introductory class, I was hooked.

I kept slipping extra Theology classes into my schedule.  Until, finally, my adviser asked what I was doing.  My heart wanted a Theology degree simply because it meant I could study more about what the Church thought and did.  So I dropped my Education major and paired my English major with Theology.  While I still loved reading and writing, I knew that I could never be quite as passionate about English as I could be about Theology.

Even with a Theology degree and a day full of teaching Theology classes, it still satisfies a desire of my heart when I can sit down and read good theological works.  Whether they are more dogmatic or more spiritual, I find the truths they speak to be balm for my soul.  I read Bishop Conley’s address to a group of Catholic school educators and administrators and I found myself underlining several points.  Bishop Conley said, “If you want authentically Catholic culture, you need authentically Catholic schools.”  This makes me applaud and then question, “How?”  Hearing about the faith is enlightening and joyous for me.  Learning about my role as a Catholic educator is inspiring.  It fills me with truths I know to be solid.

Despite the length of time I have spent on Theology (the beauty and the teaching of it), the inspiration for this post is not Theology.  Rather, it was in conversation with a co-worker that I realized that while theological reading is beautiful and soul-lifting, so is literature. Continue reading “Avenues to My Heart”

Wonderful Awe

Wonderful Awe

A couple of weeks ago, I sat at my dining room table with a couple of friends and discussed with awe the world around us.  In the midst of busy lives and increasing advancements, sometimes it is easy to take for granted things that should be amazing to us.  For a few hours, my friends and I moved from topic to topic, considering the world with great awe.

Wonder is the normal response to splendor.

Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty

This event struck me because of how easy it is to view the world in a tired, jaded way.  While I know a decent amount of theology, my knowledge in so many other areas is small and incomplete.  In day-to-day interactions, I take many things for granted.  Things that would astound me, if I paused for just a moment to acknowledge them.  So we conversed with wonder about the internet, smart phones, suspension bridges, wind turbines, time, and solar power.  It was a joy to consider what the human mind has conceived and how it is possible for us to create things.  A couple of months ago, I read a book about a watchmaker who would travel by train to another town simply to get the correct time from an astronomical clock for his town’s clock tower.  We were amazed that now we could just look at our watches or phones to know the time.

I have had multiple situations where I have discussed with others the beauty of things I do not fully understand.  The complexity of a single human cell, the vastness of the universe, and the splendor of mountains have all, at one time or another, been a topic of conversation and awe.  Yesterday, I flew across half the country in less than three hours.  The fact that flying is even possible helps bring wonder into a situation that can be consumed by impatience with security and airline rules.  I looked with curiosity at the mountain ranges that looked like large creases on a landscape far below me.  A patchwork quilt of farmland and mile after mile of straight country roads soon greeted me as I neared my destination.  I spent much of my flying time reading a book, but every now and then I would look and marvel at the world below and this plane far above.

It is troubling that in a universe replete with mind-boggling fascinations masses of people live dull and drab lives….Fully jaded men and women, old or young, marvel at nothing….To be listless, dull, bored, and lifeless is not only a miserable condition, it is an illness, a fact obvious to anyone who is intellectually alive.  To respond to reality and to appreciate it are normal; not to respond is abnormal.

Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty

This world that surrounds us is quite magnificent.  It is beautiful beyond understanding.  People laugh a bit at me when I profess the beauty of South Dakota.  And when I was in high school, I probably would have laughed at myself, too.  It was only after traveling around Europe during my semester abroad, that I began to see beauty in a multitude of places.  The scenery became glorious because everything was surrounded in a golden halo simply because it was European.

When I came home, I found myself wanting to pull over to the side of the road to take pictures of scenery.  I was surprised that a field of corn filled me with joy or that wide open prairies seemed as beautiful to me in South Dakota as they had in Austria.  My eyes were opened to see the beauty that can be found anywhere. Continue reading “Wonderful Awe”

Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty

Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty

I know sacraments aren’t a contest, but how many have you participated in or witnessed in a one week time period?

After I go to confession within the next couple days, I will be at five sacraments.  Five out of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.  That is a record for me, although I can’t tell you what the previous record actually was.

Last Friday, I went to ordinations for six priests for my diocese.  On Saturday, I attended the wedding of a couple friends.  Yesterday, I became a godmother for the youngest daughter of a couple with whom I am friends.  Interwoven over this week were several Masses and soon I will go to confession to bring the grand total of sacraments to five this week.

One of the beautiful aspects of the sacraments is how tangible they are for us physical creatures.  As I stood behind the mother at the baptism, I watched the priest sign the child with an aromatic cross of chrism.  She was claimed for Christ in a physical way so as to show the spiritual reality.  The water poured over her head, reveals the spiritual cleansing that is taking place even though we cannot see it happen.  Long after the scent of chrism has vanished, her soul will still be marked with an indelible seal, proclaiming her as a new creation in Christ.

At ordinations, I watched the bishop trace the hands of the men with chrism, consecrating their hands and lives to the eternal High Priest.  Beyond the chrism, there was the laying on of hands by the bishop and all their brother priests.  Placing their folded hands within the bishop’s hands, they promise obedience to the bishop and to his successors.  Called to conform their lives to the cross, they prostrate themselves before the altar of the Lord, the place where they will daily offer up the sacrifices of the People of God and make present the sacrifice of Jesus.   Continue reading “Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty”

A Sunset’s Two-fold Gift

A Sunset’s Two-fold Gift

On the way back from my nephew’s baseball game, I attempted to distracted my niece and nephews by directing their attention to the sky.  It was sunset and the streaming colors changed minute by minute.  I pointed out the different colors and asked if they could see any others.  As the minutes passed on our drive home, I would sporadically stop and ask what other colors they could see in the sky.  They seemed intrigued by the way the colors would transform after only a short time.  It was also neat to hear them come up with different names to describe the precise shade of color we were witnessing.

At one point, one of my nephews talked about how the sky was like a painting.  Excited that they were no longer touching each other or complaining about being touched, I ran with this.  We spoke about how God is like an artist and how he creates these beautiful paintings each day.  They are never quite the same yet they greet us each morning and each evening.  My second oldest nephew is a big fan of math, so I gave him a few math problems to conceptualize how many sunrises/sunsets God has made.  He seemed a bit surprised to consider the thousands upon thousands of paintings God has blessed us with, just stretching back a couple of millennia.

Simple beauty is not lost on children, sometimes they (like us) just need to be directed to where they can see it.  A few colors splattered on the vast prairie skies can be an opening to recognize the way God works in the midst of our lives.  Whether or not I notice, God is pouring out His blessings upon me in new and varied ways each day.  Sometimes noticing it requires fighting nephews and an evening drive home.

This Is Us

This Is Us

I have a friend who once said that some things are cliché because they are true.  Phrases that seem trite and overused are sometimes the best way to say what we want to say.  They have become clichés because they express a truth like nothing else really can.

At times, I fight against what it seems a lot of people like or consider to be the best.  But sometimes, it is because it is actually good that so many people rave about specific things.  On Facebook, I’ve seen quite a few people talking about how much they loved the show “This Is Us.”  With the school year wrapped up, I decided to give it a try.

I don’t think a show has ever pulled at my heart as much as this one has.

I love how they portray the complexity of the human heart.  In this show, families are messy, imperfect, and crucial to our own identity.  As the show unfolds, perfect facades crumble to reveal that everyone is striving to get through life doing the best they can and making numerous mistakes along the way.  It is very human, which makes it simultaneously beautiful and frustrating.  Though the families can be chaotic, a theme interwoven in the show is the importance of family.  Whether they are blood relations or adopted family, the experiences we have in our homes shape how we interact with the rest of the world.

This Is Us- Season 1
THIS IS US — Pictured: “This Is Us” Horizontal Key Art — (Photo by: NBCUniversal)

In a world that seems to insist that families can be replaced with technology or friend groups, it is refreshing to see families upheld as the place where we grow, change, and become who we are.  Imperfect families, with parents fighting their own struggles and children feeling their own unique pains, are the places that shape us and show us how to love.  “This Is Us” doesn’t claim that all families are perfect or should be perfect.  I would say they are simply claiming that the role of family is irreplaceable.   Continue reading “This Is Us”