Hugging Lazarus

Hugging Lazarus

“Do you know how long it has been since I’ve been hugged by someone who cared about me?”

The words themselves were striking. And yet it was even more striking as they settled in us, bearing the weight they ought to have, as we simply looked upon the one who had asked the question.

Of course, how could we know the answer?

I think his words were revealing to himself. His eyes were rimmed in unshed tears, the ache visible and arresting. He was surprised by the sweep of emotion and we were likewise caught up into that surprise. The moment before had been ordinary and now we found ourselves in suddenly deep waters, like when you walk along a riverbed and shockingly find yourself underwater when you simply expected the next step to be like all of the others.

It was another evening in prison, practicing the music before Mass. I don’t remember what preceded this conversation, but I remember the moment when we plumbed the depths. One of the men was sharing about how it was against the rules to hug volunteers and then another mentioned how he had recently been hugged by a pastor when he was struggling with a situation. And, suddenly, there we were in the depths as the man recognized the importance of that human contact, the need he had to be embraced by someone who cared about him.

I wondered if he even cried in the moment of receiving the hug. After he asked that question, those of us nearby could only turn and look at him, reveling in the stillness and sincerity of the moment. It was a window into his soul. We didn’t know what he had been struggling with at the time, but we were certain that this simple action from a pastor was life-giving and humanizing.

Continue reading “Hugging Lazarus”

Punctured With Grace

Punctured With Grace

The other day, I was surprised when the thought ‘it is good that I am single’ came into my mind. Yet in sitting with these words, I recognized there was a truth found in them. It occurred to me while in the chapel and I found that the truth was seen primarily in how much I desire them not to be true.

Over the past few years, I’ve realized that something interesting happens when a group of people is asked to introduce themselves to the rest of the gathering. Understandably, many people introduce themselves by referring to their spouse or children or even the number or kind of pets they own. Right out of college, I could get away with listing off my siblings, but the more time passes, the more odd it seems to include them in my sixty second about me for a group.

However, what I deeply desire is to have an identity that is solidly rooted in being the wife of so-and-so or the mother of whomever. The idea of having a person I can always show up to things with or children who become the focus of the conversation rather than me sounds incredibly alluring. I’m not trying to downplay the difficulty in these ways of living, but many aspects of it fill me with great longing and deep desire. For all the hard found in that vocation, there is an abundance of beauty and grace found there, too.

It is in light of those particular desires that I was realizing my singleness is a gift from God. One I hope will not continue forever and yet is most assuredly a gift.

Why?

Because my very hope and desire to have an identity shaped by my relation to a spouse or children shows how desperately I still need to root myself in Christ. The goodness of the Lord is found here, in my current situation, and I am being given a privileged chance to become more assured of my identity in the Lord. I don’t get to hide behind attachments or people who I very much desire to be part of my life. And that ever-present ache can be a piercing reminder of my need for God, one which can’t be assuaged by cradling an infant or a date night with my husband.

It is incredibly, boldly present from the fact that my students address me as Miss (or Mrs. but I am reminded of their wrongness when they do it, even if I rarely correct them) to the fact that I’m not helping children through the serving line at family gatherings. The gaping ache can, if I permit it, become a place the Lord can fill, a place of pure desire surrendered to God, recognizing my own inability to fulfill myself. It can be become empty hands, waiting to be filled, trusting they will be filled, and yet acknowledging the goodness of still being empty.

Continue reading “Punctured With Grace”

Leaning into the Longing

Leaning into the Longing

“What could you possibly want?”

I had just given a talk in prison about how the Lord calls to us and yet how there are so many other voices calling to us as well. The goal, I said, was to listen through the cacophony and follow the still, sure voice of God. Afterwards, the small group I was leading commented on my talk, saying they didn’t know I could speak like that. Then we delved into the small group discussion questions. One question asked what other voices we listen to apart from God. I shared that sometimes I listen to the voice of comparison, which causes me to focus on what other people have that I wish I had or experiences they’ve had which I have not.

“What could you possibly want?” one of the guys in my small group asked, with the most sincere look of befuddlement on his face. “I heard you talk and you spoke like no other girl I’ve known. What could you want that you don’t already have?”

This sincere question struck me in two different directions. One aspect was that I should be grateful for the many gifts I’ve received and stifle more ardently that insidious voice of comparison. Having just given a talk about how we should listen to voice of God and not the other voices clamoring for our attention, I was forced to consider how often I do not do that very thing. Here was someone in prison asking what else I could possibly want when seeing a glimpse of my life. And I couldn’t argue that I lacked much considering my position in life.

Yet the other thought that came to mind was surprise that to someone I seemed to have everything. I wanted to pour out a lengthy list of all the things or experiences I long for yet do not have. Marriage, children, a job that completely satisfies me, a published book or two, the perfect work-life balance, the ability to run a marathon, a large built-in bookshelf with a ladder like in ‘Beauty and the Beast’, a perfectly planned upcoming vacation, no mortgage, and the list could go on and on. However, I wanted to tell him that even when one follows Jesus, there are still longings we have for other things, even if we strive to live an ordered life. The desires we experience should be responded to in such a way that we are led to reach for goodness, truth, and beauty instead of making us ungrateful for what we have by focusing on what we lack.

Continue reading “Leaning into the Longing”

Being Home

Being Home

I love home.

During the throes of the pandemic, I was unbothered by the experience of being home day after day. I always imagine Saturday mornings going to a coffee shop, but I would generally rather just be home after a long week. It isn’t luxurious or perennially tidy, but it is a place I love to be.

So it probably isn’t too surprising that it is natural for me to find that prayer brings me to a home. While not physically a replica of my home, it is nonetheless an image of home. Sometimes, it happens that surprising, amazing things transpire in prayer while I’m “home”–yet so often it is a source of the ordinary, the seemingly mundane and yet the achingly beautiful. Recently, prayer which includes Our Lady has found me at a large kitchen island, watching her fingers expertly knead the dough, crafting loaves of bread, reminding me that waiting for it to rise is important, and delightfully covered in a dusting of flour.

My mom didn’t make homemade bread all of the time, but it wasn’t an unusual occurrence. It didn’t take too much imagination to find myself watching my heavenly mother do the same thing. In fact, the first time it came up in prayer, it seemed almost too easy, too natural, and thus a little surprising. A simple task, completed numerous times, and yet a joy to watch unfold. Leaning on the counter or helping spread melted butter on a soon-to-be spiral of cinnamon rolls, my prayer was taking me to an encounter with Our Lady which was simple and ordinary. I found myself posing questions to her, pondering the significance of Our Lady creating bread while the Bread of Life had been nourished in her womb, and entering into the life of the Holy Family as St. Joseph and Jesus would casually stop by to speak with Our Lady.

Continue reading “Being Home”

Like A Lamb in the Midst of Wolves

Like A Lamb in the Midst of Wolves

In Luke 10, Jesus speaks of how He is sending His disciples, the few laborers for the abundant harvest, out like lambs in the midst of wolves. When I heard this at Mass several days ago, an image leapt into my mind which has been with me ever since. I imagined a little lamb, still with softly spun small coils of wool, walking down a path surrounded by wolves, growling menacingly at the tender lamb. Yet the lamb moved forward, head held high, and seemed unfazed by the danger that lurked around it.

I considered how vulnerable this lamb was, unable to defend itself from the predators and with little strength to offer on its own behalf. And I thought that perhaps that was exactly the point. Maybe this image of the lamb in the midst of wolves is exactly what Jesus desires for us. This little lamb is aware of its weakness and it is likely this knowledge of its weakness which is its greatest strength. If it fixated on the vicious wolves that surround it, the sheep could never move forward. It is rather gentle by nature, with no claws or sharp teeth to maim an attacker. The lamb surrounded by wolves finds its strength in knowing that the Shepherd will provide.

The moments or situations in life where I have known God placed me in a particular situation, and yet I felt wholly unqualified for the task at hand, are the situations where I have needed to rely entirely on the Lord. In this reliance, there is a strength that is given. I don’t know that I was a better teacher ten years ago, but I was far more likely to storm Heaven prior to a difficult class or to beg for guidance in the midst of students’ questions. It isn’t that I don’t ask for God to help me now, but I’m more confident in my own abilities than I used to be. Yet the littleness, the weakness I felt as a new teacher was also a source of strength. I’ve experienced the same in different ministries or experiences which forced me to offer the Lord unrestricted access, imploring Him to provide in the places where I saw an abundant lack.

Continue reading “Like A Lamb in the Midst of Wolves”

The Teacher’s Own Heart

The Teacher’s Own Heart

I read a few days ago that one of the most prominent failures of teachers is the failure to love and it was a quick jab to the stomach of my pride. Not to mention, it came from St. Augustine and isn’t so easy to dispel with excuses and circumstances.

But the psychological failures that Deogratias must most be on guard against is a failure in love. Deogratias must learn how to step outside of himself. He must learn to teach with joyful self-forgetfulness. The real difficulty lies not in questions of content, nor of technique, but in the teacher’s own heart. For when the teacher takes delight in what he says, that is, when he loves both his subject and his students, then students also will enjoy what he has to say.

St. Augustine” by Ryan Topping, p. 60

So…there’s that.

And I walked back into my classroom with a conscious realization that while I may do many things well, Augustine was right. I fail to love. I love some but not enough. I love in instances but not in entirety. And I couldn’t help but think that this teaching gig is a true preparation for Heaven (or parenthood…whichever comes first).

This teacher’s heart is the reason for this blog. It needed a space to search and question and ache over what happened in the classroom. And while many things in life have changed (and many things haven’t), I still find a need for this continued call for conversion. I need to be reminded that this heart is incredibly important and not just for myself, but for the young souls entrusted to my care.

Continue reading “The Teacher’s Own Heart”

The One Longed For And Yet Present

The One Longed For And Yet Present

The longing of God’s chosen people fills the Old Testament.

For generations they are waiting for God to redeem them, to restore their nation, and to enter into a new and lasting covenant with them. They tell their children and their children’s children about His mighty works and the promises God has made to them. While they don’t know how these promises will be fulfilled, they trust that they will be.

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work and muse on all your mighty deeds….You are the God who works wonders, who have manifested your might among the peoples. With your arm you redeemed your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.

Psalm 77:11-12, 14-15

For years I’ve viewed the birth of Christ as the end to their waiting and a fulfillment of their longing. All that they were waiting for was there, wrapped in flesh, lying in a manger. The King they were waiting for had come. We celebrate Christmas with that in mind: the Hope of the Nations is born and so we rejoice.

Yet this year I was filled with a recognition that one of the most important moments in human history happened and yet virtually nobody knew about it at the time. Similar to the quiet yet monumental yes at Mary’s Annunciation, the birth of Jesus took place in a relatively hidden way. Angels told some shepherds and wise men arrived from the east, yet as a whole, Israel was unaware of what was happening in their midst.

On the day after Christ’s nativity, they awoke….and didn’t know that anything was different than the week before. They still longed for a king and awaited the redemption of Israel. Yet He was there, the little King, already laboring to save them. When they gathered in the synagogue to pray, recalling the promises and the works of God, they did not know that the incarnate God was with them. As they provided work for St. Joseph, they did not know that it was the God-man who crafted and created alongside him.

Christ was living and working in the world and yet the world did not know it.

For thirty years, Christ was hidden. He lived the ordinary life of a son, a neighbor, a faithful Jew, and a carpenter. People laughed, worked, ate, prayed, talked, and experienced life with the God-man and did not know it. The One an entire nation longed for washed His feet to remove the dust, ate His mother’s food, and slept deeply after a day of laboring.

He was there, known and yet unknown.

Continue reading “The One Longed For And Yet Present”

A Wintry Grace

A Wintry Grace

Snow has a way of making people live out the Golden Rule a bit better.

Perhaps this doesn’t happen for all five months of winter, but the first few snowfalls find my vehicular encounters with people more pleasant as a whole. People are more inclined to give extra space, wait for someone to pull ahead of them, use blinkers, and not honk when a car is sliding through the intersection with a clearly red light.

In short, we seem to naturally offer more grace to one another.

As I navigated the snowy roads a few nights ago, I was wondering why we find it more natural to be gracious in such situations, when normal driving conditions often bring out the frustrated side of humanity. Maybe it is because it is in our best interest to be gracious. Although the light may be green, it is clearly better for us to wait until the skidding car careens out of the intersection, rather than race toward it because the light indicates we can. Or maybe we don’t desire an accident and the headache that insurance claims naturally bring about.

But maybe, just maybe, it is because we are able to recognize a connection that goes beyond our personal best interest and draws us together as humans. The journey home in inclement weather gives me this feeling of unity that is similar to what I feel when an ambulance or fire truck or funeral procession passes by. For a moment, we are united by something that surpasses our personal desires and we acknowledge that someone else takes precedence.

Grace is often spoken of in relation to God’s free and unmerited favor toward us. While that is true and necessary, grace is also something we offer one another. The unmerited part is particularly difficult for us, though. Oftentimes, there is a natural sense of justice we have about what another deserves, but grace is giving people what they don’t deserve. We acknowledge what could be a fair response toward them and then we choose to be more generous than needed. And because it is freely given, that means it is a gift. In a moment of difficulty, we choose to bestow upon the other a gift they don’t deserve, but one which might cause them to change in some way.

Continue reading “A Wintry Grace”

From My Heart to Yours: A Lenten Devotional

From My Heart to Yours: A Lenten Devotional

Lent is fast approaching.

Even though I’ve been consistently thinking about Lent over the past few weeks and prepping my students and small group for it, I still haven’t fully decided what I will be giving up/adding to my life for the next 40 days. Many ideas are swirling around, but I haven’t landed on specifics yet. This morning, I was talking with one of the prisoners and after I explained a little about Lent, he asked what I would be doing for it. Great question, friend, I thought, I’m not quite certain yet.

However, there is still time to decide. Time to prayerfully consider how we can draw nearer to the Lord’s heart as we wander into the desert so that He may speak to our hearts more intentionally.

To that end, I created a Lenten devotional for you (and me)! I’m excited about this little project and I hope that it will enable us to have a more fruitful Lent. (Click picture below for the pdf)

Continue reading “From My Heart to Yours: A Lenten Devotional”

The Beauty of a Child’s Prayer

The Beauty of a Child’s Prayer

“Do you mind if we stop at the church for a couple of minutes?” I asked my nephew.
“Why?”
“To say hi to Jesus.” He said nothing. “Do you?” I said as I turned on my blinker. I asked again as I pulled into the parking lot. He remained silent.

We walked into the sanctuary, the heavy fragrance of incense making me close my eyes and breath deeply. For a few minutes, we knelt and then sat back in the pew. It was completely quiet and empty. The stillness in striking contrast with the usual full bustle of a Sunday morning Mass.

I turned to say something to my nephew and saw that he sat there with eyes closed and hands folded. And so I waited in the weight of silence until he suddenly turned to me and asked if we could go.

We spoke for a little bit about the silence, spent some time reading about St. John the Beloved on his feast day, and then I asked if we could pray for a friend of mine who was suffering from an illness that was lasting years. It was her birthday and she was on my heart and mind throughout the day. So I offered a brief intention for her and my sister before asking if he had anything to add.

Continue reading “The Beauty of a Child’s Prayer”