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.
Continue reading “Healing, Truth, and This is Us”
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”
“I guess I don’t like the argument from desire because I’ve never felt a desire for something that can’t be satisfied on earth.”
As a melancholic who has nearly always longed for something beyond this world, I was a bit surprised by this admission. My class was reviewing arguments for God’s existence and as we went over each one, I would ask a few students to share if they liked or disliked the argument. Then they needed to voice why, perhaps the most difficult part of it all for them.
I wanted them to reflect on the arguments and see which ones they found personally compelling. Each person is different and so I wasn’t too concerned if they liked all of the arguments or not. Yet it is always interesting to me which ones they dislike and why. Some other students voiced a dislike for the desire argument, but the declaration that they had never desired something beyond this world seemed foreign to me.
Melancholic that I am, I have always longed for perfection. Ever since high school and college, that has translated into a longing for Heaven. So as my students were voicing that they have never experienced this unfulfilled desire for something beyond this world, I was left wondering why they don’t have a longing that I never remember being without.
In my first year of teaching, I prayed frequently for death. Not in a morbid way, but in a longing-for-home-and-yet-knowing-everything-around-me-is-temporary way. The more I battled with my students over Church teaching, the more I wanted to be in a place of eternal Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Yet that was far from the first time that I had felt an unfulfilled desire. Why are my students not experiencing this also? Continue reading “The Deepest Longing of Our Hearts”
Kids are really good at living in the moment. It is what gives them the ability to swing from laughter to tears in a matter of seconds. They can have great joy eating an ice cream cone and then become distraught with five minutes in time out. Right now, right here is the most important thing for kids.
My niece is a prime example of both sides of this. I gave her a mermaid tail blanket for a belated Christmas present. She was enthused as she slipped it around her legs and then flopped along on the floor. Coming to me, she grabbed my legs and exclaimed, “I look exactly like a mermaid, Trish!” Contrast that scene with several weeks prior when she fought against the injustice of being forced to sit at the adult table while her two older brothers sat at a kid table. “Not fair!” she sobbed, pointing at her brothers, “They get to sit at the little table! No fair!” A few minutes later, having switched places with one semi-willing brother, she was more than content.
Adults can be similar, but we also are more prone to live in the past or the future. Sometimes we can forget that the present is all we really have.
Precious moments can slip away because they don’t come shrouded in the extraordinary. Everyday moments, ones that are ordinary yet give life beauty, are some of the most treasured once they have passed. I’ve heard it said that people often miss the ordinary moments when they lose people close to them. I have found that to be true in my life. My paternal grandfather died a few years ago and one of the things I miss most is giving him a hug before leaving his house and hearing him say, “Come again.” Continue reading “When the Ordinary Prepares the Way for the Extraordinary”
Walking out of the school building last week, I took in the afternoon weather. It was overcast and wanted to rain. Part of me was a little annoyed that it wasn’t a sunny winter afternoon. Although it was warmer than a typical January day, it was a bit bleak. Yet before I could be too down about it, I unexpectedly thought, “If I were in England, this would feel like a wonderful day.”
For a moment, I took in the cool air and imagined traipsing around London. The cloudy sky seemed to fit perfectly for a stroll down the streets of London and seeing the sites. If I were in London, I wouldn’t sit in a hotel room and be annoyed that it wasn’t sunny. I would step out with an umbrella and soak in the delight of being able to explore a new town. In fact, the cool air and the cloudy sky might even seem to add to the romance of the excursion.
It is incredible what a change in perspective can do. On an afternoon in South Dakota, the weather seemed to be rather unremarkable, bothersome even. Yet if I pictured myself somewhere else, be it the English countryside or a pub in Dublin, it suddenly seemed to add to the beauty of the situation. I think there is something about the unfamiliar and the novel that makes us more prone to find it enjoyable. The same thing in an everyday setting is easily overlooked or forgotten.
I’ve experienced this stark difference several times in my life. The easiest examples are from when I’ve been traveling. When I studied abroad in Austria, I had to walk a couple miles to the train station every time I wanted to explore Europe. It is amazing how invigorating it felt to strap on a backpack and trudge through the snow, headed to someplace completely unexplored. I’ve spent my whole life living in a state that experiences cold winters and sufficient snowfall, but there was something about an Austrian winter that was exhilarating.
Or there was the time that I went to Honduras for a mission trip. There was something soul-satisfying about waking up in the early morning and stepping outside to hear the birds chirping. In those moments, there was some indefinable joy and sensation. To this day, on specific spring or summer mornings, I can go outside and there is something “Honduran” about the atmosphere.
These moments of travel and exploration are times where I have experienced what it means to be fully in the present. It happens in ordinary life, too, though not nearly as often. Continue reading “Pausing for Perspective”
I entered the evening with no expectations. Sometimes that is the best place to be with the Lord.
My sister had an extra ticket and so I figured I could go to the event. There would be adoration and so it couldn’t be a waste of time. The Lord, in His mercy, blew me away.
The talk was good, but it wasn’t that. The music was nice, but it wasn’t that. In all simplicity, it was the Lord. He knocked, I opened, and He came in. There were no specific words that He spoke to me, but He filled my heart with a burning desire to be wholly His.
Over the last few years, I have grown more and more comfortable with my role as a teacher. This year, I have found comfort in reflecting on how my responses have changed since my first year of teaching. While grateful for the experience I now have, I realized that I was becoming more of a teacher but less of a missionary. It is good and necessary to think of new projects or ways to present ideas to the students. Yet I was feeling less and less of this desire to present the glorious truths to them. Convicted of my mediocrity, I asked the Lord for renewed zeal.
At the beginning of this year, I wrote that I wanted to enter into spiritual battle for my students. In that, I have failed miserably. During adoration, as Jesus was processed around the auditorium, I was convicted of that failure and filled with a desire to go to war for them. I don’t want to just teach them; I want them to encounter the living reality of Christ. Continue reading “The Mission of the Classroom: A Desire Renewed”
I love what snow does to humanity.
Granted, I am not a fan of driving in snow, but I get a strange exhilaration from the experience. In the midst of snow or after a heavy snowfall, I find myself willing humanity to work together. Even though difficulties can sometimes bring out the worst in us, it can also bring out the best in us. Last night, I encountered people driving cautiously and courteously. People were more patient as their fellow drivers struggled to stop at lights or took a couple extra seconds to gain traction.
The snow forces me to be concerned about the other, even if for nothing other than my own self-preservation. I am particularly aware of how far their vehicle is from mine or what I can do to make their commute home a little easier. Instead of only being concerned if I get through the light, I am instead considering what will be best for those with whom I share the road. It is good for humanity to experience the gift of working with each other for the good of all. Continue reading “Snow and Humanity”