Trading Frustration for Affection

Trading Frustration for Affection

It was either annoying or endearing.

The student said “hi” at the end of class, as he looked over my podium to casually glance at my computer screen. Then, he went to a stack of books, picked them up and looked at them, despite the fact that it seemed like they were not in a place where students should peruse. It was either annoying because he clearly didn’t know boundaries, didn’t respect my space as a teacher, and appeared to not know what should be private.

Or it was endearing because his attitude indicated the great comfort he felt in my classroom. Something about the way he was performing these actions seemed innocent and naive. Like a child who glances at a parent’s phone with interest rather than intrigue. Or a teen who roots through the cupboard looking for food to consume.

“You seem at home,” I said after he placed the books back on the stack.

“Yeah, I feel pretty comfortable,” he replied, most likely oblivious to what his actions could have meant.

Continue reading “Trading Frustration for Affection”

A Life in Christ is a New Life

A Life in Christ is a New Life

A few years ago, I had a student who, while not Catholic, was taking a theology class. She expressed to the class a desire to become Catholic, once her parents permitted her to do so. Her peers, as a whole, were shocked.

“Why would you ever choose to become Catholic?!” they asked in disbelief.

These students were thinking of the rules of the Church, I am certain. They were mulling over how we need to make sacrifices (particularly at Lent), how we have to go to Mass on Sunday, how we have to confess our sins to a priest, and the list goes on.

They were thinking of rules; I think she was thinking of life.

If we haven’t encountered Christ or if we have forgotten the encounter(s), we are quick to view life as a series of following God’s commands. It is simply something we ought to do because it is asked of us. Yet the commands the Lord gives are meant to give life. They aren’t hoops to jump through but are instead a path to an abundant, rich life.

Just the other day, a man in prison was talking about how his perception of a family member has completely changed. Before, this man considered the relative a “Jesus freak” and found it hard to swallow when seeing the person post Scripture passages or encourage him to go to church. Now? I’m not quite certain what happened in between, but the man ended up in prison and that changed his perspective by giving him time to really see how his life was going. He said now this relative is the only one he wants to spend time with when he gets out of prison. Instead of annoying, he sees this person’s life as something he wants for himself. This person’s joy, relationships, and success–all of it showed him that life in the Lord can change you. What is more: he desired the change that he witnessed in another.

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Amazing Grace: A Weekend in Prison

Amazing Grace: A Weekend in Prison

Humans are surprising creatures.

They have the unique capacity for acts of tremendous, selfless good. Yet they also carry within themselves the capacity for unspeakable acts of horror. Perhaps even more significant, though, is the capacity humans have for change and transformation.

I spent this past weekend helping with a retreat at a men’s prison.

Several times, I was asked by the inmates and the volunteers if it was what I expected. The truth was I didn’t quite know what to expect from the weekend. I was a bit nervous to enter in. Not nervous for the gate to slam behind me or to be locked into the prison. Not nervous that a riot would start. Not nervous that I would be injured or harmed. Rather, I was uneasy about how I would be received. What would we talk about? What would the men be like? Would they make me uncomfortable or would they be kind?

In the reality, humanity inside the prison is very much like humanity outside the prison. Some of the men were very kind and genuine. Others seemed to want an unhealthy amount of attention. Some wanted to share their hearts. Others wanted to stay only on the surface. Some admitted they made mistakes. Others insisted everything was fine or that they weren’t treated fairly. Some respected authority. Others used each opportunity they had to poke at the officers responsible for them. They reminded me an awful lot of my students and the world around me. Which isn’t all that surprising, but it was different to experience it instead of just think about it.

There was a unique point in the retreat when the group reflected on how God uses all for His good. In our small group, my sister mentioned that God uses everything and that even though they were in prison for something wrong they had done, they were still encountering Him on a retreat. Maybe this time in prison was a good, because God can use all for good. And it was beautiful to see at least some of them agree. They talked about how it was likely that they could have been dead if they weren’t in prison. If they continued on their previous course, it was easy for them to see how it would have led to their demise.

Continue reading “Amazing Grace: A Weekend in Prison”

Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill and Back Again

Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill and Back Again

Sometimes, I do stupid things.  Sometimes, I make small, insignificant situations into large problems.  That seems foolish, but then sometimes I turn around and make a big deal of the little thing I made a big deal of.

Because: logic isn’t always my strong suit when it comes to feelings.

A situation at school that I could, and should, have handled better, snowballed into something more than it ever should have been.  Yet when it reached its conclusion, I found myself quickly sliding into annoyance with myself over the entire situation.

“Trish, really?  You let a little thing become so much bigger than it logically should have been.  This is your sixth year and you are in charge of the department.  Shouldn’t you know better?”

Maybe, I should have.  But that isn’t what happened.

Instead, I experienced a situation where I didn’t do the best.  It is even more self-defeating, though, to beat myself up over the situation.  I would thereby perpetuate the problem.  In the scheme of my day, this was a small matter and I shouldn’t give it more weight by focusing more time and energy on how I mismanaged the problem. Continue reading “Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill and Back Again”

Choice

Choice

The sighs and groans were heard throughout the room.  It was a Thursday and so, like most Thursdays, we had a journal entry.  It was clear to me that this was not their favorite thing to do.  Then again, they are high schoolers, and so finding activities that they actually, visibly enjoy is a difficult task.

“I hear you,” I say as they begrudgingly pull out their notebooks.
“Five to six sentences?!  Really?  That is like a whole paragraph.”
“And you are seniors in high school.  You should be able to write an entire paragraph.”
“I don’t want to do this.  What if I just write two sentences?” one student asks.
“OK.”  I decide not to fight them on this one.
“You mean, I can just write two?”
“You won’t receive full points.  You can write two sentences or even no sentences.  I’m not going to spend my time trying to get you do your work.  It is your choice.”

In my profession of teaching, I have come to realize that I am very pro-choice.

My life as a high school teacher often involves reminding my students how many choices they actually have.  They view their lives as having very few choices, always being told what to do and where to be.  But, really, they have many, many choices.  It is simply that some of them seem less open-ended.  Many of their choices involve consequences that they really don’t want to face and so they think that means they don’t have a choice.

But the reality is that I can’t make them do anything.  I can strongly persuade them or make consequences they don’t want to face, but I cannot force them to do anything.

When I talk to my students about free will, I will applaud them for using their free will in a positive way at different points.  I thank them for choosing to be in class and sit in their seats.  After I say this, they suddenly look like they never realized another option existed.  Of course another option exists, I tell them.

“If you all got up right now and tried to leave the classroom, I couldn’t physically stop you all.”  They shift in their seats as though preparing to launch from them.
“We won’t get in trouble if we leave?”
“Of course you will.  But you have a choice.  And I am thankful that you are choosing to stay in the classroom and be in your seats.”

They always look a bit deflated at that point.  As though I offered them freedom and then took it away.  Yet, in all reality, they are still just as free.  They are choosing to stay in their seats.  This is largely a result of the unhappy consequences that would face them should they choose otherwise, but that doesn’t make it not a decision anymore.

The same is true with me.  Too often I view the things I do as not in the realm of my choice.  I don’t often sit down with a stack of papers and think, “I choose to grade these papers.”  During school, I find myself wanting to take a nap, but I choose to not take one.  On one hand, that is because I need to be teaching and the consequences of not doing my job doesn’t seem worth the little snooze.  Nevertheless, it is still a choice.

A couple weeks ago, I was having a conversation with someone about the morality of a specific action.  Once again I was struck by the width and breadth of the Church’s teaching.  People often view the Church as overly strict and filled with unnecessary rules.  Yet I see a Church that is abundant in choices.  So much is left up to each person to discern, with God’s grace.  How many children should I have?  Where should I live?  What job should I have?  What type of prayers should I pray?  Where should I go on vacation?  Which charity should I donate to?  The Church provides guidance and structure (as Christ promised the Church would), but there are so many aspects that are left up to personal choice.

And God is a huge proponent of choice.  He dearly wants us to choose to be with Him.  But He does not force it.  In the end, our choice determines where we spend eternity.  Our choice is made up of the little details and decisions in our daily lives, not simply in our voicing that we would like to be with God forever.  At times, choosing God may seem inconvenient or not what we would want to do in that moment.  It may be particularly difficult to choose to follow Him.  Yet despite all of these difficulties, it is still our choice.

This freedom of choice is why I have a classroom rule that if I catch someone copying another person’s paper with that person’s knowledge, both people get zeros.  It isn’t a popular rule, but I want them to acknowledge that the choice to cheat happens on both ends.  When it happened for the first time this semester a couple days ago, I had to remain firm in my decision.  Yes, it is unfortunate for the person who did all of their own work, but they still made the decision to allow someone else to copy their work.

Life is filled with many choices.  Some are between two morally neutral things: decaf or regular?  fries or onion rings?  carpet or hardwood flooring?  Others are between a good and a bad action: punching or not punching the co-worker?  stealing that top from the store or not stealing it?  embezzling the money or not?  And some choices seem like we loose no matter what: lie about the situation or accept responsibility and get in trouble?  cheat on the homework assignment or get a late grade for not having it done?  The beauty, however, is that God gives us the freedom to make our own decision.  Naturally, they will have consequences, as all decisions do, but it is our choice to make them.

Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.  (St. John Paul II, Apostolic Journey to the USA Homily 10/08/1995)