I don’t usually watch the weather on TV. If I want to know what is headed my way, I check the weather app on my phone or I look up one of the local TV stations websites to see what is forecasted. But this past weekend, as I visited my parents at their house, we watched the beginning of the news to catch the weather report.
It is winter in South Dakota and so high temps and bright sunshine aren’t always in the forecast. Over Thanksgiving weekend, we had snow, rain, sleet, and the typical gusty wind on the prairie. Yet when the news announced the weather, they told us to brace for unpleasant weather. That ordinarily wouldn’t have seemed so striking, but for some reason, that word unpleasant struck a chord.
Already, before the weather has even hit, they are telling me how I ought to feel about it.
Anything near tears, I assumed, would come from the overwhelming joy of seeing a good friend get married. And while I was definitely happy, I was startled by the profound loneliness that pervaded my heart, even as I sat in a pew with beloved friends and was surrounded by many people I knew. Grateful that my friend was receiving that for which she had long prayed, I discovered a sorrow that I didn’t want to find at that time or in that place. The human heart frequently seems inconvenient, but I’ve found that leaning into that is more helpful than ignoring it.
Near the beginning of the liturgy, I heard the priest proclaim a single word in the midst of a longer prayer. He said “home” and I was immediately asking the Lord where my home was. Looking over the priest’s head, I saw the crucifix, arms stretched wide and side pierced, and within myself I heard Him say that my home was there. In His side, opened so that mercy could pour out, was my home, my refuge, the only place I belonged on either side of Heaven.
As my blog slowly moves from being thoroughly unread to something that people I know and don’t know read, I find myself hesitant to ever speak of being single. Some of my former students occasionally look at my blog as do co-workers, and it feels odd to share this particularly deep desire, even if it seems obvious or assumed or commonplace. Yet it also feels odd to share so many other parts of my heart and then withhold speaking of the vocation I feel called to, simply because God hasn’t fully answered that prayer.
I’m a melancholic and as such I am accustomed to longing. One of the most enduring longings has been for marriage and a family. It isn’t my only desire, but it is the one that seems the most fervent. This newly married friend is one I often spoke of this longing with, as we questioned when it would be fulfilled and wondered how it would happen. So I understand to a degree why this wedding also filled my heart with a bit of sadness. It was because my compatriot had what she longed for and I was still waiting, still hoping, still wondering when and if it would happen.
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?
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”→
One of the gifts of having a spiritual director is experiencing in a new way the love of the Father. My spiritual director hears about the good, the bad, and the ugly–and, believe me, there’s plenty of each in my life. Yet what amazes me is his gaze, how it never wavers, how it doesn’t narrow as I describe melt-downs or frustrations.
I’m a woman (obviously) and yet one of the things that has taken years for me to understand is that it’s alright to cry. The fairer sex is usually portrayed as emotional and weepy. Perhaps it is for that very reason that I never wanted to be that way. My innate desire to be other than what is expected caused me to desire toughness and logic. Despite being logical and (fairly) tough, I still have emotions to deal with and my spiritual director has told me over and over that tears are good.
Yet even after hearing tears are good dozens of times, it is hard to believe it in the moment that the tears want to come. I’ve had several difficult conversations in recent weeks and they have been truncated by my need to either cry or yell. Neither seemed appropriate at the time. Neither seemed to be things from which I could tactfully recover. So the conversations had to end because tears seemed to be the only thing that could accompany more words.
However, when I don’t cry and when I don’t say what needs to be said, I do not remain the same. I steel myself against the tears, which can be helpful at times (like in my “early years” of teaching and students’ comments made me want to cry), but sometimes it just makes my heart like steel.
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
This must be the struggle of the Christian life: to keep our hearts ones of flesh and not of stone. There is a false security in letting one’s heart become a piece of rock. It makes me imagine that hurt will not come and that hopes won’t be disappointed. If I have a heart of stone, then I will be steady and be secure.
Those assurances of security are all lies. A heart needs to be a real heart of flesh. Which means that it also must be capable of being wounded, bent, and broken. And that, I am nearly convinced, is worth the joy that comes with being real. Continue reading “Tears Are Good For The Heart”→
In fact, I have respect for people who have the gift of being able to chat about different things casually. Some of the students I know better are easier to talk to, but I have to force myself to generate conversation with others.
The other day, I asked a student how his snow day was the previous day. His lack of response prompted me to say semi-teasingly, “Come on!” To which he responded with an annoyed, “No.”
Suddenly, frustration and anger filled me. Here I was, making an effort and he couldn’t even give the common courtesy of responding to a non-invasive question. I wasn’t asking him to share the depths of his soul, just to have him share about something from the previous day.
While small talk doesn’t come easily, quick retorts generally do. So I struggled to keep back all of the sharp responses I wanted to give and I forced myself to continue to acknowledge him during the rest of class, even though I childishly wanted to ignore him. I had the desire to demonstrate to him just how rude he was being…by being equally rude myself. You have a question? Too bad, I don’t want to answer you, just like you didn’t want to answer me.
I didn’t do those things, yet I am continually surprised how deeply small-heartedness is ingrained in me. God is justice and mercy, but I naturally favor justice. Old Testament eye-for-an-eye justice. It isn’t what I want to receive, but it is definitely what I want to mete out. Continue reading “When Small-Hearted Meets Magnanimous”→
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”→
I’ve been mentoring a young friend for a few months and the last time we met our conversation turned to wounds. In many ways, I feel I have had a pretty easy life, one without too many struggles or problems. Yet I am amazed by how many wounds can be found in this tender, little heart of mine. As we spoke of how the Lord seeks to heal these areas, I couldn’t help but marvel at what the Lord has done in me over the years.
When Jesus heals, He brings freedom into a place I often didn’t even realize was enslaved. This heart is far from wholeness, but the work the Lord has done in it is impressive. My gifted spiritual director has spent hours listening to me sob and choke out stories of hurt and pain. Some are understandable in their immensity, while others seem nearly laughable in their smallness. Yet my spiritual director has treated each wound as important and in need of healing. Often it is he who insists on the importance of the incident while I want to be dismissive of the emotions attached to the memory.
As a person who wants to be seen as logical and rational, it has taken years for me to be convinced of the validity of my feelings. When I can accept that my feelings aren’t foolish, I am able to acknowledge that the hurt is real and needs to be addressed. In this, the Lord has rewarded me ten-thousand fold. Working through the intricacies of my heart has forced me to see that Christ wants to redeem and renew every part. Continue reading “Proclaim Liberty to the Captives”→