In Defense of Summers

In Defense of Summers

A lovely perk of teaching is that most of my work stops in mid to late-May and resumes in early to mid-August.  It is a schedule I have held since I was about seven years old when I started school.  Since I have never known anything else, I sometimes have to remind myself that this is not the norm.

People frequently ask me what my plans are for the summer.  Sometimes they are curious about where I am traveling or what extra activities I will be involved in.  Other times, however, I think they are questioning why I am not getting a job for the summer.  Isn’t that what adults do?  This lingering question is also mixed with the slight jealousy that I have a few months to not work a 9 to 5 job.  I wish I had a job like that, I can almost hear them say.

Well, I’ve decided on a newer tactic this year.  If people comment on wishing they had the luxurious schedule that I have, I will tell them a little secret: this dream can be yours, too!  All you need to do is go to school, get the appropriate degree, and get a job teaching.  Last I heard, there wasn’t a surplus of teachers in our state and teaching here doesn’t require advanced degrees.

But, you see, that is the thing–there just might be a reason schools aren’t overflowing with insane numbers of candidates, at least not where I live.  I do get a summer to step away from it all, but that is a perk that must be taken with the less preferable parts of the job.  I never argue that I have the most difficult or demanding job in the world.  I don’t believe that I do.  Yet I hear over and over again from various intelligent people, “I could never do your job.”  Which I think is slightly exaggerated, but also quite telling.  I think many people could do the job I do, it is simply that many don’t want to. Continue reading “In Defense of Summers”

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Writing: The Success is in the Offering

Writing: The Success is in the Offering

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.

Admittedly, it took me by surprise. Continue reading “Writing: The Success is in the Offering”

The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The lesson plan for the day was to discuss the argument from efficient causality.  Yet they managed to completely derail that plan.  When students ask questions that are about the faith and yet truly interest them, it is nearly impossible for me to continue with class as planned.  Interiorly, I am torn between following a schedule or curriculum and the desire to answer questions that organically spring up in their hearts.

Nine times out of ten I go with the questions they present to me.  I don’t believe I’ve ever regretted it, I only wish that each class would then magically divert itself in the same way.  Genuine curiosity and ponderings aren’t things you can manufacture in other classes.

“So is this argument saying that all things are caused to be by other things?  Or it is saying not all things are caused to be by other things?” I asked.
“I have a question that kind of relates but is off topic.  If God is caused or even if He isn’t caused, what is the point of life?  Like why did God make us?  What is our purpose?”

Those questions, dear readers, will definitely sidetrack me.  When senior boys are curious about why they were created and the meaning of life, I will dropkick lesson plans to spend time answering some of the biggest questions of life.

This is the class that argued with me about gravity objectively existing.  The day before this class, instead of working on an assignment they chose to ask me a thousand inane questions about my car, my hometown, and where my parents live.  So hearing one student start a conversation about the purpose of their lives and why God made them, and then hearing several other students jump in with follow-up questions, was a pure delight.  The only problem was the lack of time before the bell would ring.

To begin to answer their questions, I went back to the beginning.  The Trinity.  I spoke of how the Father and Son pour out a love that is so strong that it is another person, the Holy Spirit.  Within this communion of love, there is nothing that is lacking.  God was perfectly satisfied within this exchange of love.  Therefore, we are not needed.  God didn’t need us. Continue reading “The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions”

The Gift of Good Men

The Gift of Good Men

Good men, the ones who know what it is like to fight the battle for virtue, are deeply hurt when other men don’t see the dignity in women.  I have found this to be true in personal experience and the glimpses of truth that entertainment sources can provide.  Real men value the unique role women have and they do not respect men who fail to protect women.

I was watching a TV show the other day and the plot centered on a woman who was found in a forest, badly beaten.  Uncertain of the ones who committed the crime, the people aiding her were able to find her husband and sent word to him of her location.  The woman revealed, however, that her husband was the one who had beaten her.  The central male character in the show was profoundly disturbed by this reality.  When given the chance to protect the recovering wife, the main character did so.  He was overly vehement in his defense, the protection spiralling into beating the man himself, but that beating I could understand, even if not condone.  Real men want to defend women, not manipulate or abuse them.

The numerous accounts of sexual harassment that have made the news over the past several weeks has been a bit disheartening.  Last week, my class was reviewing an informational quiz they had taken about tech safety.  One of the questions asked them to define objectification.  Many did so accurately, speaking about how it means you treat a person as though they are an object.  Then I asked a simple question, “Do you think men objectify women more or women objectify men more?”  There was no statistic I had in mind; I simply wanted to see what they thought.  Most people said men objectify women more, but some students argued it was equal.

In one class, however, the conversation continued and they began sharing how men objectify women in different ways than women do.  They spoke of unwanted physical contact, vile words in catcalls, and other scenarios.  Several of the young women in my class had situations or opinions they wanted to share.  After a few shared, I began noticing the faces of the young men in my classroom.  They seemed a bit defeated.  I asked the women to pause their sharing for a moment so that some of the men could chime in.  I didn’t want it to be a man-bashing session because good, virtuous men are as appalled by this behavior as women.

More than the words were the young men’s faces that produced an ache in my heart.  There seemed a vulnerability in their faces.  They couldn’t argue for what the men did because they knew it was wrong.  But hearing about man after man hurting women dampened the natural exuberance they exhibited in my classroom.  I was fine with the gravity of the situation, yet I didn’t want them to feel to blame simply because they are men.  Feminism often takes the unnecessary step from desiring to be seen as equal to bashing men.

In social media and in the world at large, young men are seeing many examples of what not to do.  I told them that men aren’t looking very good in the media right now and that it hurts because we know there are many, many good men.  I challenged them to be the virtuous young men that our culture needs.  A world that continues to tell us to “do what we feel” is now experiencing the results of doing what we feel.  Unsurprisingly, most don’t like the results.  I want my students to be the ones who change the cultural perception of what it means to be a man. Continue reading “The Gift of Good Men”

Healing, Truth, and This is Us

Healing, Truth, and This is Us

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”

When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality

When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality

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”

Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small

Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small

Each Sister of Life wears a medal that has inscribed on it a fragment of poetry by Fr. John Duffy.  The line is from the poem “I Sing of a Maiden” and it speaks about the Annunciation.

“And nothing again would be casual and small.”

The author is speaking of the Blessed Mother conceiving Our Lord.  Yet the fact that the Sisters of Life carry this line near their hearts makes me think it must relate to their lives and my life, too.

Generally, though, my life feels casual and small.  Despite my desires for great and wonderful adventures and experiences, much of my life is composed of the ordinary and seemingly insignificant.  What does it mean that nothing is casual or small?

In a way, I think Jesus speaks to this when he remarks on the widow’s gift to the temple treasury.  Jesus and the apostles watch people come and give large gifts of money, but the poor widow puts only two small coins into the treasury.

Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.  

Mark 12:43-44

In a simple comparison of amounts, is the widow’s gift small?  Yes.  What makes it stand out to Our Lord?  The fact that despite her poverty, she still gives everything.  

Most of us are comfortable giving generously when we know we will still have ample for ourselves.  And I’m not going to lie and tell you that I live any differently.  While I donate money, I do not “give until it hurts.”  I give when it is comfortable or when I feel like it or when I remember.  Generosity is not a hallmark of mine.  When I was in elementary school, my dad would give my younger sister and I an allowance.  Conservative in nature, I always pocketed my money and saved it for a future purchase, probably a book or something.  My younger sister would spend her money nearly immediately, stocking up on some candy or treat at the gas station convenience store.  Yet while she was quick to spend, she was also quick to share.  I, on the other hand, would primarily buy things for myself and was slow to share them with others.

Jesus is commending the poor widow’s generosity with her finances, but I think there are deeper truths we can discover here.  Things that might point to how nothing is casual or small.  Several weeks ago, this was the Gospel at Mass and I left identifying myself largely with the widow.  Not because of her generosity, but because of her apparent littleness. Continue reading “Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small”

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

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.

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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.

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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”

A Sunset’s Two-fold Gift

A Sunset’s Two-fold Gift

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.

With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough

With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough

The Lord is the quintessential example of making do with what you have.  He is able to provide abundance from an experience of poverty.

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’  Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’  They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’  And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’  

Matthew 14:15-18

In a situation where the disciples were prepared to send the crowds away, Jesus challenged them to feed them with their meager rations.  To the disciples, it was an impossible feat.  There was not enough food to provide for them all.  How could they feed thousands with food meant to satisfy a few?

The answer is found in surrendering the little to Jesus.  For Him, it is manageable to multiply the fish and the bread to be superabundant.  The same is true with each one of us.  When we surrender ourselves to the Lord, little though we may be, He is able to do far more with it then we could imagine.

You give them something to eat.  In our littleness, Christ is asking us to be streams of living water and bountiful banquets for the weary wanderers we encounter.  Yes, we are to direct them to Jesus, but Jesus living in us.  When we present ourselves to the Lord, He provides.  It is never just enough, it always more than we could have hoped.   Continue reading “With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough”