For this last stretch of Lent, I’ve been trying to grow in patience in a few small key ways.
I started to limit tracking things.
I noticed that I would unnecessarily follow things and that my time and mental energy could be better spent elsewhere. For example, when ordering packages online, I like to daily track their progress so I can see when they ship and when they should arrive at my house. That is entirely unwarranted–seeing where they are doesn’t make them arrive any faster and it isn’t crucial to see how long it took to transfer from one shipping carrier to another.
Or blog stats. When I post a blog, I like to monitor it to see how many views it gets and when they come in. Which countries are viewing my blog? What website leads them to my blog? All of which is unnecessary to follow so diligently. Occasionally looking at it is one thing, but semi-obsessively checking it in the first few hours or day after posting isn’t helpful.
I even noticed that I will habitually check my tire pressure, percentage of oil remaining, and battery life as I drive between work and home. Sometimes I do it so absentmindedly that I have to check it again because the numbers didn’t sink in as I reflexively scrolled through the stats. Over the past few days, I have found my left hand nearly twitching to see the various car facts appear on the display screen.
St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars. Not just one time, either, but multiple times. He wanted to leave Ars for the peace and solitude of a monastic life. And while I lack the great holiness and fervor found in the Cure d’Ars, I definitely identify with his desires to leave the world behind and live quietly removed from the chaos.
My spiritual director reminded me that St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars as we meandered down the sidewalk.
“So this high school is my Ars, huh?”
“Yes,” he replied, “there are a few similarities there it seems.”
“He died there, didn’t he?” I said, in an attempt at wry melodrama.
He paused for a moment as my imagination latched onto the idea of decades spent at this one high school, right up until the moment of my death. (I’m a melancholic–we consider death often.)
“You might not physically die at school, but, yes, I think you will die there.”
Last week, fifteen years ago, my sister entered a Carmelite cloister.
At the beginning of the school day, I sat for a couple minutes, looking at my calendar announcing March 19th and remembering what had transpired other years on the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Fifteen years ago, we embraced, believing it might be the final time here on earth. Five years ago, we embraced as she moved north to establish a new monastery. And every year in between, I have recalled with tenderly fond pain the life we have been called to enter into as the family of religious.
I spoke about my sister’s vocation with my sophomores at great length this year. While I didn’t intend to spend so much time on it, they asked question after question and I found myself desiring to share this story with them. They were particularly struck by the great physical sacrifice that is found in the life of a cloistered nun. While I have been able to embrace my sister since her entrance, each time is a gift and never expected or something I can claim as my due. I explained that it is because my sister loves us that it is a sacrifice for her to not embrace us or be present for some of the big moments of life.
“But you didn’t choose that life. Why do you have to make that sacrifice when God didn’t call you to be a cloistered sister?”
Perhaps without knowing it, they stumbled upon the question that must be answered for each family member of a religious brother or sister. Why must I make this sacrifice when I’m not the one with the call?
When I was little, I remember looking at the Minesweeper game on my family’s computer but having no idea how to play it. (Kind of similar to the Risk computer game…except I’ve never taken the time to figure Risk out.) I would click random boxes and then numbers would appear until, eventually, everything would explode. Not knowing the purpose or goal of the game meant success was unlikely to happen.
However, even now that I know the game, I still find it slightly frustrating that there is no perfect way to start it. Usually you don’t end up selecting a mine right away but sometimes you do. And there is no foolproof way to avoid it. You simply need to begin in a random place.
Sometimes I feel that way with life. Transformations that I desire to happen or significant projects I would like to complete often baffle me by providing no clear entry point. Where does one begin? What is the correct way to start?
For years, I’ve wanted to write a book. When I was younger, it was simply the broad idea of desiring to write a book. Now I know the topic, the title, and the general idea, but I still lack the plan I believe I need to be successful in the endeavor. I want some clear outline or step-by-step process that will enable me to have a fail proof starting point. However, the perfect beginning eludes me. Continue reading “To Begin”→
Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
A friend once told me that his dad gave him really good advice one time. His dad said, “The worst thing they can say is no.” For my friend, it made sense and it gave him the motivation to just ask for things, realizing that no was as bad as it would get.
You see, for me, hearing no seems pretty bad. I don’t want to hear that my request is denied. So I would prefer to not ask for things because I would rather not know than be turned away empty-handed. It means that the few days I did phone banking in college during election season were nearly torturous. I’ve hated any sales I had to do in elementary and high school because I didn’t want people to tell me they were uninterested in buying something from me. In most situations, I would rather not ask if I think the answer might be no.
Due to circumstances, in the past couple years I’ve been forced to ask for more things. With a slightly new position at work last year, I recognized that unless I asked for things, I wouldn’t get them. The few times I made big petitions for situations I already deemed highly unlikely or impossible were rewarded with a surprising affirmative. Fulfilled requests emboldened me to keep asking, but I still worry that my pleas will be dismissed.
Yet Jesus commands us to ask. He wants us to petition Him for the things we desire. Earlier this week in prayer, I received the passage above, slightly jumbled and incomplete in my brain. The part that stood out was where Jesus compares our heavenly Father to our earthly fathers. Good dads know not to give their children stones or serpents when they are desiring food. Our heavenly Father knows us best and desires the most to fulfill our longings. How much more will He desire to meet our needs when we ask Him, because He is perfect and good. Continue reading “Jesus Said Ask”→
Nearly every Tuesday, I have “contemplative time” for my classes. Do they actually reach contemplation? Probably not, but I like to provide intentional time for silence and prayer. It is ten minutes where the only thing that is required of them is to be still. In a world overflowing with noise, arguments, ideas, and busyness, I try to offer them a brief respite from the long list of things they must do.
To help direct their prayer, I display a Scripture passage, a quote from a saint, or an excerpt from a spiritual read for the students to use as a starting point. A few weeks ago, near All Saints’ Day, I had them focus on Hebrews 12:1-2 for their time of prayer.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I had fifty minutes that day to reflect on these verses. Different portions stood out to me at various points in the day. Yet by the afternoon, one phrase continued to stir my heart. So much so that I wrote it out on a note card and affixed it to my desk organizer so I could continue to ponder it in the days to come.
In the movie Sweet Home Alabama, there is one line that has always stood out to me. The main characters Jake and Melanie are talking about their past and present, the ways life has changed from when they were high school sweethearts to their current situation of estranged spouses. Melanie expresses her confusion about loving her life in New York and yet returning home to find that her hometown fits, too. Jake then says, “You can have roots and wings, Mel.”
So often my own heart is caught in that same clashing of different longings. I want to fly away and yet I want to be home, grounded and steady. One moment I’m desiring to be a missionary in a far-away land and the next I want to stay in my cozy bedroom, reading and considering life. One day, I’m wanting to buy a home and make it my own oasis. The next day, I am wanting to be detached of all earthly possessions, living simply and being prepared to fly off to wherever whenever.
Roots and wings–the desire to be secure and the desire to be free–mark the desires of the human heart. We want to be home, but not confined. We want to be free to wander and yet not be lost. All of it, flying or remaining, hinges on the longing we have for happiness and contentment.
Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.
I am not quite like St. Paul yet, able to find contentment in whatever situation I find myself in. Perhaps my students would even be surprised with the restlessness that is within my heart. I am slow to act, yes, making changes at a glacial speed. And yet…change is what I often long for and deeply desire. What is the solution? Continue reading “Roots and Wings”→
Recently, I came into possession of Alanna Boudreau’s “Champion” CD. And I’ve been listening to it on repeat pretty much since then. As with all CDs, there are some songs I like more than others and certain lines in songs that move me more than others.
Her song “Controlled Burn” is one of the songs on repeat a bit more than others and I want to highlight a couple of the lines that stand out to me.
“And I ache, I ache, I ache / When I see all the nothing / That could have been something / That should have been you”
This line is perhaps the most perfect summary of these months of summer and maybe even the past year. From the silent retreat near the beginning of summer to my sister’s home visit to being on the brink of school beginning, I have felt an ache for the nothingness that surrounds me. Sometimes I am a bit fearful about the judgment that will come at the end of my life and how I will need to answer for all of my time. The “nothing” that I did should have been replaced by the Lord, by perfectly following His will in all things. Someday I will regret that wasted time even more than I do now.
I’m not saying that every moment needs to be filled to the brim with productivity. Americans, however, aren’t particularly good at true leisure. We binge watch TV shows, waste time on our phones, and fastidiously document our lives on social media. Obviously, these are all generalizations, but our inability to truly embrace leisure is evident. So when I say I waste time, I don’t mean I neglected to work, work, work. Rather, I was isolated too much, preferring to spend time on my own rather than setting up numerous coffee dates or road trips or nights out with friends. As an introvert, it is an easy hole to fall into and an even easier one to justify. Continue reading “Controlled Burn: A Song of Longing”→
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.
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”→
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.