Roots and Wings

Roots and Wings

In the movie Sweet Home Alabama, there is one line that has always stood out to me.  The main characters Jake and Melanie are talking about their past and present, the ways life has changed from when they were high school sweethearts to their current situation of estranged spouses.  Melanie expresses her confusion about loving her life in New York and yet returning home to find that her hometown fits, too.  Jake then says, “You can have roots and wings, Mel.”

So often my own heart is caught in that same clashing of different longings.  I want to fly away and yet I want to be home, grounded and steady.  One moment I’m desiring to be a missionary in a far-away land and the next I want to stay in my cozy bedroom, reading and considering life.  One day, I’m wanting to buy a home and make it my own oasis.  The next day, I am wanting to be detached of all earthly possessions, living simply and being prepared to fly off to wherever whenever.

Roots and wings–the desire to be secure and the desire to be free–mark the desires of the human heart.  We want to be home, but not confined.  We want to be free to wander and yet not be lost.  All of it, flying or remaining, hinges on the longing we have for happiness and contentment.

Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.

Philippians 4:11-12

I am not quite like St. Paul yet, able to find contentment in whatever situation I find myself in.  Perhaps my students would even be surprised with the restlessness that is within my heart.  I am slow to act, yes, making changes at a glacial speed.  And yet…change is what I often long for and deeply desire.  What is the solution? Continue reading “Roots and Wings”

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The Anticipation of New Beginnings

The Anticipation of New Beginnings

“Are you ready for school to start again?”

The short answer is no….but it will happen anyway.  And, although it will be crazy, busy, and a bit stressful, I will be glad when I am back into the “routine” of school.

I am not, however, one of those people for whom breaks are too long and is itching to be back in school.  At my young age, I’m quite certain I would make an excellent retired person…right now.  I enjoy traveling, being at home, reading, sitting in the sun, attending Mass when the rest of the working world works, and whatever else it is that retired people do.  I get a taste of it every summer and I believe I would do quite well with it as a full-time profession.

Yet there is a certain goodness about a new school year.  As a teacher, I have the luck of starting over each year.  There are new students (mostly), new energy (hopefully), and new faculty (always).  Even as I dread a bit of the crazy that comes with a new year, I cannot entirely squelch the excitement of beginning again.

Each beginning offers a new chance to do better than I did before.  And if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that with me, there is always, always plenty of room for improvement.  I plan for new ways to interest the students, new methods to interact with my staff, and new hope that this year I will be the missionary of the classroom that I deeply desire to be.  The new school year is home to my litany of new year’s resolutions for my teaching life. Continue reading “The Anticipation of New Beginnings”

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”

Build Up the Ancient Ruins

Build Up the Ancient Ruins

After finishing a silent retreat, I opened my Bible to where I had some papers sticking out.  I had marked this section because of the first three verses of Isaiah 61.  They were the Scripture verses my college women’s group considered “our” passage.  While they speak beautifully about the Spirit of the Lord and how it works in us, my attention was attracted to the following verse.

“They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.”
(Isaiah 61:4)

For the first time, I read this verse and realized the great hope attached to it.  I look at the world around me and I see a lot of things falling into ruin.  This isn’t the result of one generation but of many generations over the years, the buildup of human sin over the course of human history.  Yet here in Isaiah, the Lord is promising to re-build that which is ruined.  And Isaiah isn’t saying the Lord is going to do this all apart from us, but rather that He will use us to re-build and raise up new things.

I cannot help but think that this new life will come from the way the Spirit of the Lord will move.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…

(Isaiah 61:1-2)

When we allow the Spirit of the Lord to work in and through us, He will re-build the broken world in which we live.  I see it already happening in small ways.  On the silent retreat, I was primarily surrounded by moms, several of them visibly pregnant with another child.  It is beautiful to think of how families will be strengthened and renewed simply by their mother’s dedication to her faith.   Continue reading “Build Up the Ancient Ruins”

“Beauty and the Beast” Gave Me the Perfect Phrase for Holy Week

“Beauty and the Beast” Gave Me the Perfect Phrase for Holy Week

I watched Beauty and the Beast this weekend and I’ve been turning one lyric over and over in my mind ever since.  “How in the midst of all this sorrow can so much hope and love endure?” (from ‘Days in the Sun’)  For several reasons, it seemed to be the perfect phrase to carry into this Holy Week.

In the midst of experiencing again the Passion of Jesus Christ, how can we still find hope and love?  When I read the news, how can I find hope and love in the events of strife and discord?  In tragedy on a personal or community level, how can I wade through the hurt and find hope?

The short answer is that it is difficult to do, but it must be possible.  It isn’t a matter of denying the pain or sorrow.  The Lord knew we would experience pain.  He understands the depths of feeling forsaken and abandoned.  His closest friends fell asleep during His moments of great agony.  When soldiers came to arrest Him, the apostles all fled.  Jesus isn’t asking us to deny pain or to act like it doesn’t impact us.  Rather, He is asking us to choose to find the Resurrection in the midst of every crucifixion.  Or, at the very least, to acknowledge that there will be a Resurrection, even if death seems to be victorious right now. Continue reading ““Beauty and the Beast” Gave Me the Perfect Phrase for Holy Week”

Pausing for Perspective

Pausing for Perspective

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.

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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”

As Promised, He Remains

As Promised, He Remains

Several months ago, I was making a mild attempt to listen to the overpowering political discourse, if it can be called that.  As I heard one awful thing after another, I found myself seeking for something to hold onto, some hope or reassurance that things wouldn’t get as bad as some thought.  That is when I remembered–Christ said that He would never allow anything to overcome….Oh.  Yeah.  

Christ promised that nothing would overcome the Church.  Of the United States of America, Christ made no comment.  He didn’t prophesy that this nation would come in several centuries and would be indomitable.  Throughout Scripture, we hear about how the Lord will remain and endure.  Throughout history, we see nation after nation fall.  There are uprisings and reformations, divisions and unifications.  All is changing and all is temporal.

Except the Lord.

He remains.  He endures.  He is steadfast.  He is “I AM WHO AM.”  He is existence itself.  And He promised that His Church would remain until the end of time.  He promised persecution, the cross, and many difficulties, too.  But, He would always remain.

I don’t happen to think our nation is on the verge of dissolving.  However, I do think it is clear that we need prayer and that we need the Lord.  While I am fully aware of the separation of Church and state, I am also aware that one of the longest running institutions is the Catholic Church.  It isn’t such because the leaders have been flawless; on the contrary, they were deeply flawed from the very beginning.  The Gospels are replete with accounts of the fumbles and foibles of the Apostles.  If the Church has not endured because of the perfection of Her members, it must endure because of the perfection of the Lord.   Continue reading “As Promised, He Remains”

When will I feel like I’ve arrived?

When will I feel like I’ve arrived?

The other day, I was filling my glass with water and perusing the pictures and cards decorating the refrigerator.  A picture of a young couple with a smiling baby captured my attention.  I found myself wanting to be them and thinking how lucky they were.  They were married, had a baby, and lived in a warm climate.

“When will I feel like I’ve arrived?”  I found myself wondering.  And that question struck me.  Most of us spend much of our lives waiting for the next phase, one that we idealize as better than our current state.  Perhaps this couple is hardly sleeping and they are looking forward to the days when they can.  Or maybe they are longing for another child.  So I asked myself, “At what point will I have all I want?”

Will it be when I am married?  Or when I have my first child?  Or when I have a big family?  Or when they start to grow up and we can go do things together?  Or when they are all moved out and have families of their own?  When will I be in the place that I want to be?  What do I consider the end goal? Continue reading “When will I feel like I’ve arrived?”

Hope’s New Life

Hope’s New Life

There is that lovely feeling rising up in my heart.  It is refreshing and enlivening.

What is it?

Hope.

The promise of something new.  The promise of change.  The desire for tomorrow to surpass what was done today.

Yet how quick I am to fade from hope back to disillusionment or despair.  The feelings I have that encourage change and a new direction are simply feelings: temporal, passing, ephemeral.  I made a list of dreams I want to have fulfilled in 2016 and get excited, yet within a couple days I’m ready to settle.

What I need instead is the virtue of hope, something that actually lasts.

“The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to the happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspires men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude.  Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.”    –Catechism of the Catholic Church 1818

A few months ago, I had this intense feeling of hope.  It didn’t make sense logically because what I hoped for was nowhere in sight, nor did it seem to be soon in coming.  The feeling was so strong, though, that I knew it was from the Lord.  Yet I also knew, from past experiences, that sometimes the Lord will provide an abundance of something for me because in the near future, there will be a seeming lack of that very thing.

When I started sidewalk counseling outside an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh, I was filled with overwhelming joy and peace after the first three times.  It was strange because I had prayed there for a couple years and never felt those emotions so intensely while there.  The Lord was giving me the reassurance I would need when those feelings subsided.  And they did: when the joy and peace were absent, I felt the closest I’ve ever been to depression.  I ached and felt hollow within.  If it wasn’t for those weeks of intense joy when logically I should have felt sorrow, I might have quit sidewalk counseling.  I didn’t because I knew the Lord had convinced me of my course of action through consolation.

So a few months ago, when I felt this overwhelming sense of hope (or, as I called it at the time, “joyful anticipation”), I was thankful for that gift from the Lord, yet also a little concerned for what might be ahead.  “Thanks, Jesus, for this wonderful joyful anticipation.  I love this feeling.  But…what is going to happen later?”  The hope lingered and I basked in it.  I told myself to remember this intensity of hope because it would pass, as all feelings do.

And they passed.

I found myself wishing I could quit life for a while and simply step out of the day-to-day grind.  I wanted the Lord to deliver His promise now, because I wanted it now, not later.  With the feeling of hope absent, the future no longer seemed quite as bright and cheery.  I was left wondering if I hadn’t made it all up.  Yet when I thought about what I had felt, I could still feel this deep certainty that it was true.  The thing hoped for is not yet a reality, but I know the Lord will remain true to His promises, even if I must wait.

True hope is not a feeling that comes and goes, depending on the day.  It is steadfast and enduring.  Hope persists when logic and appearances suggest that it is fruitless.  It is what the Israelites depended on as they waited for their long-desired Messiah.  It is hope that led the three wise men to journey miles in anticipation of a king preceded by a star.  As the early Christian martyrs were led to their deaths, it was hope that enabled them to look with love at the very ones who wielded the sword or the stone or the nail.

Hope isn’t a different perspective to have on life: hope is to have a new life.

“The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”   —Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI

2016 will not be the year that my life becomes perfect or where I will magically change into the person I always wanted to be.  But I do want this year to be one where I am honestly pursuing the best for myself and where the Lord’s will for my life is done more completely than ever before.  I want to read twenty-five books, learn about the constellations, travel to two new states, and many more things.

Primarily, though, my hopes rest in the Lord.  I want to venture into 2017 knowing the Lord in a far deeper way than I do right now.  I want to enter tomorrow with a deeper knowledge and love for Jesus.  I am not promised tomorrow.  All the things I long for and hope for in the future, may never be mine because I may not live to see that day.  But I am here now, and that is where the Lord desires to meet me.

“Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young.  You are our hope, the young are our hope.  Do not let that hope die!  Stake your lives on it!”   –St. John Paul the Great, WYD Toronto 2002

This year I am embracing this hope that springs eternal in my young heart.  I am taking this hope and letting it lead me into change (though it be difficult) and into newness of life.  Hope, for the Christian, isn’t optional, it is operative.

I need hope.  Not passing feelings, but real, life-sustaining, time-enduring, source from which my actions flow hope.  Anything less is insufficient.

“My soul is waiting for the Lord, I count on his word.  My soul is longing for the Lord more than watchmen for daybreak.  Let the watchmen count on daybreak and Israel on the Lord.”  (Psalm 130)