A Life-Giving Intentionality

A Life-Giving Intentionality

In the first few weeks of school, I find myself swinging between this isn’t that bad and then suddenly falling into I’m not sure I can do this for an entire semester or an entire year. What I keep returning to is the knowledge that this year, perhaps more than ever, needs to be filled with intentional work-life balance and an abundance of good, life-giving things for me. It is always the desire and goal each year for those things to have a critical place and yet this year I think they need to be a desire turned into reality.

With everyone masked, I find myself trying to guess more and more what my students are thinking or how they are receiving the information presented. Not every student gives away their inner thoughts on their faces, but it certainly helps me know more about what is happening internally when I have an entire face to view and not simply a set of eyes.

I realize the same is true for them, too, when I re-watch videos of me teaching and I see how crucial the facial expressions were for the lesson. I don’t claim to have the most interesting face, friends, but the whole face is incredibly helpful when lecturing. Even though I was raised by a man who disciplined with his eyebrows, I cannot convey every emotion purely through raising or lowering my eyebrows. I attribute at least part of my excessive tiredness to this COVID-induced reality.

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The Gift of a Slower Pace

The Gift of a Slower Pace

Of course there was some stress involved, but the school year ended with fairly little fanfare and at a much slower pace than usual. No massive liturgies to plan for hundreds of people, no finals to prepare, no feeling like everything needs to happen right now. I fully understand that this pandemic is causing suffering for many people, but I can’t help but consider the blessings found in the midst of the difficulties.

For a variety of reasons, this school year was difficult in different ways. I found myself stressed and in continual need of a break. Many life-giving things were happening in my life, yet the breaks from school were never long enough, the time to relax never quite rejuvenating enough, my grasp on responsibilities never quite firm enough. After overcoming the initial stress of the transition, I slid into an indefinite period of teaching from home….relieved.

The time gave me the gift of reading a little more, enjoying the comforts of home much more, and the unchosen halt of many ministries. Things I could never say “no” to before (and I don’t generally have a problem saying no), like some work responsibilities, and things I enjoy, like prison ministry, were suddenly over or put on a long pause. While there was a sadness in missing some things, I mostly found the break to be good for me. And as a definite introvert, I was really okay with hours spent alone at home. With nine weeks of teaching from home wrapping up, I can honestly say I never got very sick of being at home. Sometimes staring at a computer screen was painful or the endless assignments that needed grading were unwelcomed. Despite all of that, the pandemic provided the opportunity to come up for a breath of much needed air.

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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.

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The Gift of Too Many Homes and Good Health

The Gift of Too Many Homes and Good Health

While personal difficulties can be genuine, regardless of their large-scale importance, sometimes it is helpful to put them in perspective. The Lord cares about what I care about and so I try to be careful to not dismiss hurt feelings, stress, or joy simply because it isn’t life altering. Yet when I do feel overwhelmed or a bit shaken, it can help to focus on the aspects for which I can be grateful.

There are two recent examples that come to mind. The first is my living situation. Currently, I am in the process of moving into a new house, but I am not quite moved in yet. Over the past couple weeks, I have stayed mostly at my parents’ house in the country and sometimes with friends who live in town. It isn’t that difficult of a life, but the slight upheaval of transitional homes adds a bit of extra stress to the day-to-day life.

Yet when I was sharing this stress with a few different people over the last couple of days, I was struck by the fact that I am not homeless. In fact, it is the opposite. I have an abundance of homes–there is the home I am working to move into, my parents’ home where I have my own bedroom when I stay there, and friends who generously offer a room to me when needed. The added stress I feel is real, but the things I can be grateful for far surpass the inconvenience.

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Healing, Truth, and This is Us

Healing, Truth, and This is Us

It is necessary for me to fight the urge to write about each episode of This is Us.  Although God is rarely mentioned, I discover ribbons of truth interwoven into every episode.  The authenticity and genuine growth of the characters is unlike anything I have seen in a TV show before.  I encounter truth in their interactions and truth in their experience of a beautiful, broken family.

One aspect I have particularly appreciated is the way they show that past hurts influence our current perspective of the world.  The viewers see glimpses from different points in the characters lives and we begin to understand why different experiences crush them or fill them with joy or anger them.  Through beautiful storytelling, we see, perhaps clearer than the characters do themselves, why they respond in different ways.  In a brief flash, we are shown a moment of their life from twenty years earlier and then see how they respond to something similar as adults.  They don’t respond entirely as we would expect, yet we are able to see how their choices are colored by past experience.

As the audience, we have questions about what happened in the missing years that we haven’t been shown, but I appreciate that there are few nice, easy answers for the characters.  Situations aren’t simple.  The correct move or response isn’t always obvious.  Life isn’t always clear and we don’t always grasp how the past has a hold on our present.  Yet This is Us attempts to show that facing our past, with all the hurts and wounds, seems necessary if we desire to move forward in wholeness and freedom.

Or perhaps that is what I read into it.  Either way, it seems relevant in my life.  Over the past few years, I have been going to spiritual direction and that poor priest has watched me dissolve into tears innumerable times.  Sometimes it is because of a situation that recently happened, but many times it is due to something I thought I was “over” but was not.

The past is a powerful force.  Our negative experiences are real, valid experiences and yet they should not be given the freedom to wreak havoc in our present life.  Running away from these moments doesn’t transform the past nor does burying them deep within and trying to forget them.  It is only in confronting them, in the light of the Father’s love, that we release ourselves from the chains our wounds can form.
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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.

Maranatha!

Maranatha!

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  (The Summer Day, Mary Oliver)

We are on the brink of something new and something old.  Hundreds of years have passed since the birth of Christ and yet we have never before been in this place, at this time, with these graces being offered.  What will we do with it all?

Never again will I be right where I am right now.  And part of me rejoices that this will not always be my lot because I eagerly look forward to the future.  I want my life to change and be different than it is now.  Yet in some future day, I may look back at right now and realize only then all that was good about this time.  I do not want it be that way–I want to, right now, recognize the blessings of this moment, subtle though they may seem to my slow heart.

How is Christ being born into my life this day?  How is He striving to shake up the world I’ve known for twenty-six years and say, “Behold, I am doing something new”?  The graces He offers me today are not the same graces offered yesterday or the day before.  They are always new.  Jesus doesn’t offer left-overs, but rather He offers what is most fitting for the moment.  He only ever offers the best to us.

In a special way, Christ is offering the gift of His birth this weekend.  I cannot go to Bethlehem and see Him be born, but I can experience His birth in my life.  Scripture is living and effective.  It is not a nice story from hundreds of years ago, but rather it is a living reality now.  How am I the innkeeper, refusing room to Jesus?  How am I a shepherd, kneeling before a king yet uncertain of what He is asking of me?  How am I St. Joseph, following the promptings of the Lord when He speaks to me?  How am I the wise man, leaving home in search of a king for my life?   Continue reading “Maranatha!”