I found this poem through a podcast that has a “poem of the day” that they read and analyze a bit. While I often forget, reading and learning more poetry follows a desire I have to immerse my life in more beauty.
My younger sister, parents, and I went and watched the movie Unplanned. It is the true story of Abby Johnson, who went from Planned Parenthood clinic director to pro-life advocate shortly after being called in to assist with an ultrasound guided abortion. I had heard many things about the movie, most of them about how sad it was or how it had the ability to change hearts and minds.
I thought it gave an accurate portrayal of the positives and negatives of both the pro-life and the pro-choice side. (Note: I use the terms pro-life and pro-choice because those are generally what each side wants to be called and if I want to engage in a genuine conversation, I don’t start off by alienating them over a title.) Not all pro-lifers are compassionate figures who reach out in love to assist women. Similarly, not all pro-choicers are concerned only about the money behind abortion. The situation is more complex than a simple good people vs. evil people.
During my time outside an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh, I saw some of each type of person depicted in the movie. I saw people who loved the men and women entering the clinic so much they endured hours of standing in the cold and being cruelly mocked by the pro-choice escorts. Yet I also saw pro-life people yelling at abortionists that they are baby killers who are going to burn in Hell or that the women will for having an abortion. While there, I encountered people who genuinely thought abortion was the best option for some women and thus volunteered their Saturday mornings to assist these women. I also met pro-choicers who were extremely hardened, who intentionally pushed into me when I tried to talk to the women, who stood in circles as they joked about physically harming those of us who were praying.
It is because of my time spent at the abortion clinic in Pittsburgh that I watched Unplanned and didn’t think it was as difficult to take in as some people had said it would be. No, I didn’t enjoy watching it, but I had already watched countless women, escorted by best friends, boyfriends, husbands, and parents, walk passed me and into an abortion clinic. I saw women slowly walk out of the clinic after they had their abortions. The reality is far harder to take in than watching a movie about it, as powerful as the movie may be.
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”→
The first blog I started was in the early 2000s. Way back then, I didn’t call it a blog and neither did anyone who read it. It was a very short list of distinguished people who read it, but it was there, a precursor to what I would do here and now.
I was imitating my older sister. She sent emails to her friends about life ponderings that she had during the day. There were religious reflections, philosophical musings, and simply ideas she had as she went about her ordinary high school life. Wanting to be like her, I started my own little email list.
While I don’t remember how many emails I sent out, I do recall one topic. Blue toilet paper. My mother purchased blue toilet paper and, for some reason, this was the thing I felt most compelled to write about. I know that I sent at least two emails about it. The first had an intriguing subject line of “Blue” and the second was titled “Still Blue.” And then, for one reason or another, I stopped sending the emails.
My next foray into the world of writing was in eighth grade. Apparently, my English teacher thought I had something to offer the world and contacted the local editor of the town newspaper. The editor agreed to let me write occasionally for the paper about virtually whatever I wished. I wrote about my sister entering the convent, the death of a classmate, summer church camps, dream jobs, my dad’s retirement, the holocaust of abortion, and my trip to Ireland and Scotland. The writing continued sporadically until my graduation.
In college, I wrote a couple of times for a few different campus publications. I was too busy writing papers to publish many articles just for the enjoyment of it. College also had the knack of tempering my perceived self-importance. I’d been told for years that I had a gift for writing, largely from family and friends who are supposed to say those kinds of things. In college, however, I received authentic criticism from my Honors and English professors.
It was a childish expression of frustration and the reprisal was one that kept that outburst of violence to a one-time event. In general, I am a fairly patient person, I believe, and while I might get annoyed or angry, I am often slow to act on those emotions.
Yet I’ve always wanted to be viewed as strong. I’m not tall and I probably don’t look very intimidating. Despite that, it is a desire of mine to be seen as fiery. The punch I threw in my youth didn’t end well, but I sought to prove my strength in other areas. In an elementary school gym class, we were challenged to do as many push-ups as possible. Due to my slight frame and sheer grit, I completed push-up after push-up until my arms quaked each time I neared the floor. When I finally stopped, only one other person was still going.
As kids, my dad would challenge us to completely unfair wrestling matches. Being six or seven and taking on a fully grown man did not present balanced odds. However, I clearly remember wrestling matches where my dad only needed to use one arm or a leg to pin me down as I relentlessly squirmed to get away. Finally, I would concede defeat, but only with flushed face and worn out limbs.
This desire to be strong was evident from my youth and yet it found expression in various ways as I got older. Physical prowess was never going to be my gift and so I exercised strength in witty replies and intellectual knowledge. But I still wanted to be viewed as strong and I had this indomitable longing to be a soldier. I have a fight in me that needs to be revealed in some way. It means that while I “hit like a girl,” I still punch my dad in the shoulder every time I see him. And while I’m not a fan of conflict, I enjoy a good argument or discussion when I’m in the mood.
At my nephews’ wrestling tournament the other day, I saw a woman in army fatigues. The strength that her outfit symbolized was something I desired for myself. Which, naturally, means I went home that night and casually perused the Army National Guard website. I imagined what it would be like to join the military and how that could impact my life. I don’t really want to fight someone, but I want to fight for something. Continue reading “There is a Strength in Faithfulness”→
In our culture’s mad rush to start the Christmas season, I am left feeling a bit Scrooge-like. I like Advent. The anticipation that gradually builds as candle after candle are lit on the Advent wreath adds to the beauty of Christmas when it finally arrives. If we jump headlong into Christmas right after Thanksgiving, I believe we miss part of the joy of the season. Waiting has a sweet longing to it and I want that sweetness for as long as I can have it.
As a child, I remember the eagerness as I would watch the presents beneath the tree grow as time passed. My younger sister and I would check to find the ones with our names and then try to analyze what was inside. It was tempting to tear the wrapping off, but we didn’t. The soft, foldable presents were obviously clothes. Yet the ones in boxes? Those were unidentifiable. We would give them a light shake and then simply wonder about what lay nestled inside for us to discover. The waiting was half the fun. Even if I wanted to figure out what the present was before Christmas (my competitive nature desired to win), I also wanted to be surprised.
I won’t argue that I’m extremely patient, however I appreciate waiting for something good. When I get my mail, I am excited if I find a letter from a friend or a package that I ordered. Yet I generally open the less fun things first, allowing the excitement and longing for the most desired thing to build. After trick-or-treating at Halloween when I was a kid, I tried to eat my least favorite candies first, saving the best for last. Even now, I often find myself saving a bite of the best part of the meal for the end, as if to end the meal on a good note. Waiting doesn’t change the contents of the letter or the taste of the food, but it seems to add a bit of sweetness as I anticipate what is to come. Continue reading “Advent: What Lies Ahead”→
Walking into my hometown parish church for Memorial Day Mass, my family settled into a pew and prayed for a few minutes before Mass started. It wasn’t particularly early, but the quiet and stillness made it feel earlier. The priest was praying from his breviary and other parishioners were in silent preparation for the greatest memorial feast.
I was a bit surprised to find a Camino memory surface after a few seconds in the church. The beauty of a still morning and entering a place I regard as a home, took me back to Rabanal del Camino, arguably my favorite spot along the Way. Enticed by a sign outside the church saying there was a Benedictine Pilgrim Guest House, we stayed in Rabanal for a couple of days. While brief, this was far longer than any other town we saw in Spain.
After our first night at the guest house, we walked the short distance to the church for morning prayer. The parish church was still and cool. Choir stalls occupied the front of the church and those of us who stayed at the guest house quietly settled into them for our community prayer. Simply having slept in the same town for two nights made me feel like a resident. I watched pilgrims continue their walk and was filled with a strange joy that I was able to leave my backpack next to my bed.
Early afternoon, we gathered for lunch in the monastery, prepared and served by the lovely Benedictine priest. Even with a meal shared in silence, it was a tangible sensation of the familial in a country where I often felt as though I simply passed through. In the evening, we gathered for Mass and then later for evening prayer. Mass wasn’t an unusual occurrence along the Camino, but participating in Mass in the same church with a priest who recognized me was a novelty.
It wasn’t until we stopped walking that I was able to notice how much my heart longed for the familiar. While I enjoy adventures, I also really love home. Being a wandering stranger for weeks at a time was difficult for my homely heart. When we spent a couple of days in one place, I was able to experience the joy of resting and the gift of the familiar.
One evening, after we had supper at the guest house, everyone staying there took a stroll through the streets of Rabanal. Though I knew those outside my party for only two days, it seemed we were a little family, following after the Benedictine priest who had an endearing sense of humor and depth. A French lady happened to see our group and simply joined us as we walked leisurely to the outskirts of town. I didn’t blame her; it is something I would have wanted to do had I not already been in the group. Continue reading “Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota”→
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.
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.
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”→
When Jesus appeared to His Apostles after the Resurrection, His hands, feet, and side still bore the marks of the crucifixion. His glorious, death-conquering body held the holes that won salvation. To be certain, His body was different than it was before. He was strangely appearing and disappearing, passing into locked rooms, and yet still able to eat and be touched. Dying and rising had changed His body. Gone was the appearance scarred beyond human recognition. However, His body still showed where nails and a spear had pierced Him through. Why was that?
There are several theological reasons, but I would like to focus on one minor, personal reason. I would argue that Christ kept His wounds to destroy our image of perfection. Here is the conquering King, the One who has fought death and won and yet–He still shows signs of this arduous battle. As the commander of this battalion, as the King who leads His people into battle, Christ is not unaware of the price of this fight. Our whole lives seem to be a battle towards Heaven. Christ doesn’t need perfect looking soldiers; He simply needs faithful ones.
The burden of perfection is one we place upon ourselves. We want lives that are neat and tidy, yet none of us have it. Sometimes we brand others as perfect, but that is only because we see portions of their lives and not the whole of it. And when we expect this perfection from them, we encourage them to fake it instead of living authentically.
Often, when I tell people that my two older sisters are religious sisters, I can see them mentally placing my family in a certain type of box. Years ago, I gave my witness in preparation for a summer of catechizing youth, and one of the critiques I received was that teens probably couldn’t relate to my story. While I understood what they meant, I couldn’t help but take it a bit personally. My story of an aching heart being separated from my sisters was not something they deemed relatable. Since then, I have discovered that it is something to which others can relate. Perhaps they don’t have siblings in religious life, but many have experienced anger and frustration with God and a plan you never wanted for your life. Continue reading “The Burden of Perfection”→