Sorrow and Joy

Sorrow and Joy

Yesterday, I stood on a busy street holding a sign.

It was Respect Life Sunday and my town has an annual Life Chain that stretches alongside the busiest road in the state.  While I don’t participate absolutely every year, I try to go when I am able.  Nothing about the situation was new.

Except my response.

In college, I spent many hours in front of an abortion clinic an hour from my school.  The experiences there shaped my heart and the way I approach being pro-life.  Some of the most difficult moments, the ones of heart-wrenching, soul-crushing sorrow, were on Highland Avenue.  An intersection in town where it always felt a bit chillier than anywhere else.  When I think about hardcore pro-life activism, I place myself back on the frontlines, where life and death literally hung in the balance.

On that busy street yesterday, it was not like my experiences in college.  The sun came out and warmed my face.  As a whole, the reactions from motorists were favorable.  Many people waved, honked their horns, gave us a thumbs up, or even yelled a kind greeting to us.  Children’s faces were pressed against windows as they watched the long line of people hold signs on the sidewalk.  Overall, the experience was pleasant.

Two things stand out in my mind.  Interestingly, the emotions are interwoven, although they seem to be contradictory.  One is the image of a couple of police cars driving past our lines.  An officer in one vehicle waved at us and the other gave us a thumbs up.  For some reason, this moved my heart.  Men in uniform, charged with protecting citizens and enforcing laws, were giving us a gesture of support.  My heart filled with gratitude.  In addition to the officers, the predominantly positive response from the passers-by was a cause for rejoicing.

Yet intermingled with this thankfulness was the realization that abortion still happens.  Lives are still taken, hearts are still wounded, and skills of healing are still misused for destruction.  Surrounded by young and old alike, I was grateful for the pro-life movement.  Years ago I would have mourned for the children only.  Yesterday, I was mourning for mothers and fathers, friends and family, doctors and nurses, everyone impacted by abortion in any way.

A woman drove by and yelled at us that everyone has the right to choose.

Everyone? Continue reading “Sorrow and Joy”

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“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”

When the Ordinary Prepares the Way for the Extraordinary

When the Ordinary Prepares the Way for the Extraordinary

Kids are really good at living in the moment.  It is what gives them the ability to swing from laughter to tears in a matter of seconds.  They can have great joy eating an ice cream cone and then become distraught with five minutes in time out.  Right now, right here is the most important thing for kids.

My niece is a prime example of both sides of this.  I gave her a mermaid tail blanket for a belated Christmas present.  She was enthused as she slipped it around her legs and then flopped along on the floor.  Coming to me, she grabbed my legs and exclaimed, “I look exactly like a mermaid, Trish!”  Contrast that scene with several weeks prior when she fought against the injustice of being forced to sit at the adult table while her two older brothers sat at a kid table.  “Not fair!” she sobbed, pointing at her brothers, “They get to sit at the little table!  No fair!”  A few minutes later, having switched places with one semi-willing brother, she was more than content.

Adults can be similar, but we also are more prone to live in the past or the future.  Sometimes we can forget that the present is all we really have.

Precious moments can slip away because they don’t come shrouded in the extraordinary.  Everyday moments, ones that are ordinary yet give life beauty, are some of the most treasured once they have passed.  I’ve heard it said that people often miss the ordinary moments when they lose people close to them.  I have found that to be true in my life.  My paternal grandfather died a few years ago and one of the things I miss most is giving him a hug before leaving his house and hearing him say, “Come again.”   Continue reading “When the Ordinary Prepares the Way for the Extraordinary”

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”

We Laugh

We Laugh

I have a deep fondness for my students.  They may not even realize the extent of it and, in a way, that is probably good for both parties.  While I get annoyed by some things they say or do on a semi-regular basis, I am rarely angry with them.  And I cannot help but consider how I have grown over the past four years of teaching.

This year, my fifth year, has become more of a reflective year.  I have considered multiple times how my responses have changed toward my students.  What might have caused me frustration or anger in the past, will often lead me to just shaking my head with a smile or laughing until I’m nearly crying.

For example, this week I had to instruct a student to not eat cereal in class.  It wasn’t a little zip-loc bag of cereal but the entire plastic bag simply removed from the box.  Or, when my students were ‘diligently’ working on their study guides, I came across one student drawing.  The drawing?  It was called “The Science of the Dab” and it outlined in written directions as well as sketches how to properly dab.  I nearly cried from laughing so hard.  Or being asked a million times my thoughts on the election leading up to it and then my thoughts post-election. Continue reading “We Laugh”

Beloved Fatima

Beloved Fatima

My sister said that the closer we got, the larger my smile became.  I couldn’t help it.  I was returning to a place that I had visited twice before and it had a certain feeling of coming home.  The bus pulled up and let us out, excitedly spilling onto the platform before setting out on our mission.

I had returned again to my beloved Fatima, Portugal.  This was the second “Marian bookend” of my Camino in the summer of 2014.  Prior to walking the Camino, we had visited Lourdes.  Now, we were on a celebratory trip to Fatima.

2d2d8-fatima Continue reading “Beloved Fatima”

Ever-New

Ever-New

Do you remember?  Do you remember?

The voices are hushed but brimming with excitement.  It is dark with only flickering candlelight illuminating joyous faces.  Of course they all remember.

By all rights, this should be a story that is told with sadness, one where sorrow should be the predominant feeling.  It should be tragic and riddled with painful memories.  That is not the case, however.

They can barely keep the laughter at bay.  Wide smiles show how their hearts desire to break out of their chests.  They are simultaneously on the brink of crying and shouting, so full are their hearts.

Do you remember?  Why is this night different from all other nights?

The second question is a carryover from their Jewish roots–but it is fitting here.  It is perfectly fulfilled here.

There are numerous possible narrators to the story, each holding a piece that contributes to the full picture.  John is there and he tells of His last moments on the cross and the ache in his heart as he watched Him die.  Mary Magdalene speaks of her sleepless night, the long Sabbath, and rushing with spices to the tomb early on the first day of the week.  Peter speaks of walking into the empty tomb, marveling at the clothes that remain where the body once was placed.  Each person adds another detail to a story they have told over and over again.  Yet it is one of which they can never tire.  It isn’t simply a story from the past but rather re-tells an encounter they had with the living God.

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Saturday evening as I stood in a dark church while the Easter candle was being lit, I considered something I never have before: what would it have been like to be at the second Easter?  The first Easter would have been incredible, but as I stood in the church, it was very clear that I wasn’t at the first Easter.  But the second Easter?  When they gather together to re-live what had happened a year ago?  I could imagine that.  If I closed my eyes and focused on the prayers, I could feel this uncontrollable joy welling up in my heart.  Before long, I was fighting back tears and grinning like a fool in the darkness.

I had encouraged my students to delve into Holy Week and to consider the well-known story in a new light.  Chances are really good that none of them remembered what I said, but I found myself taking my own advice.  What if I wasn’t at Easter Vigil (like I am every year) but rather was at the first anniversary of the first Easter?  They couldn’t even wait until Sunday to gather.  Instead, they gather together in the darkness to hold a vigil for the Resurrection.

A lot can change in a year.  One year earlier, they were wrapping their minds around the Passion, vacillating between numbness and crushing sorrow.  Even in the finding of the empty tomb and the first appearances of Jesus, there were still so many questions and much confusion.  A year later and they were witnesses of the Resurrection, filled with the Holy Spirit, and traveling to proclaim the Gospel.  They didn’t have all of their questions answered but their mission was certain.  Gathering together, their joy grew exponentially as they considered again those three sacred days.

Do you remember?  Do you remember?  The new followers, the ones who were not there one year earlier, listen eagerly to the story, caught up in the drama of human salvation.  Even as they re-tell the Passion and Death of Jesus there is an undercurrent of joy.  They enter into His death deeply, recalling where they had been during those moments of agony, but they know that He lives now.  With solemnity, they trace the providence of God from the beginning.  From creation to freedom from Egypt to the challenges of the prophets, they recall how God had prepared them for the fulfillment of all the old covenants.  Soon they are talking about Easter Sunday, with all the little details pouring in:
“I thought He was a gardener!”  Mary Magdalene recalls.
“I ran faster than Peter,” John says with a youthful wink at the Vicar of Christ.
“I didn’t go to the tomb, because I knew He had risen,” Mary, the mother of Jesus, says with a smile of remembrance.

The central point of Christianity is not about following rules or attending excessively long religious services.  Christianity is about encountering the person of Jesus Christ.  Everything else is aimed at fulfilling or bringing about that encounter.  As I sat in Easter Sunday Mass, listening to the priest’s homily, I couldn’t help but glance around a little and see some tired, bored faces.  And I wondered, “How many of these people here have never really encountered Jesus Christ?”  They attend Mass because their husband or wife or parents want them to or because they feel some guilt if they should stop attending.  How sad would it be if a relationship with God that is intended to be marked with joy is instead filled with simply surface level commitment.

The joy of Easter should not be mainly that we can now eat or do what we previously could not eat or do during Lent.  It should be because we once again remember that Jesus Christ is the Savior we need.  He died, He is risen, and that changes everything.  It is not old news or historical details but is something that is ever-ancient yet ever-new.  In that dark church on the eve of Easter, I thought of the joy and fulfillment that filled the hearts of the early Christians as they recalled the previous year.  And I longed for that joy only to realize that it could and should be mine.  We should be like the early Christians, gathering with hearts of praise to recall what the Lord has done for us.

Do you remember?  Do you remember?  He died, He rose, and He lives.  And it continues to change my entire life. 

One airport smile at a time

I love the sea of humanity that is found swimming in airports across the world.  People remain far more interesting than we give them credit for.  Most of the time I claim to be too busy to people-watch and oftentimes I don’t go to places swarming with people, so as to keep with my hermit-like tendencies.  But the airport is one of the very best places to watch people.

There is a strange joy that fills me when I am able to be smiley and joyful in a sea of people.  Some are walking by, oblivious to the world around them, others look harried and rushed, others couldn’t care less that you exist, and the categories stretch onward.  Yet I am struck by their humanity.  Perhaps that doesn’t explain anything at all.

Let me see.  There was the woman with the small child that sat next to me briefly at one of the gates.  She was beautiful, in a tired, motherly sort of way and looked a bit older than I would have expected.  Her daughter was gorgeous, smiling and capturing the attention of others around her.  Her mother was attentive to her, making certain that she didn’t wander into the dangerous traffic flowing past the different gates.  The girl was learning to walk and would run from her mother….fall on the floor…begin again with as quick of steps as she could muster…fall to the floor…start crawling away.

Then there was the man who took a seat in a corner on the ground.  He arranged his electronics in front of himself and seemed fairly absorbed in them.  The little girl saw him from a few feet away, looked at him with interest, and began the journey to him.  Stopping a little bit away from him, she looked at him until he noticed her.  The smile spread quickly across his face and she mirrored him.

A woman stops in the middle of the walkway, trying to figure out where she is going.  She is completely unaware that a little car that transports the elderly/disabled around the airport is right behind her.  And is laying on its horn.  For a couple seconds she is completely still, lost within herself, and the man is beeping the horn, mere inches behind her.  Finally she notices and steps out of the way.

The three men seated next to me at the gate in Chicago are discussing their line of work.  It revolves around computer or system programming for some company.  They travel often.  Most of the time is spent complaining about their bosses or comparing hotel rooms that they are set up in.  One man often stays at the Marriott and another gets the Country Inn and Suites.  Apparently the Holiday Inn is considered low class, too.

A young woman is bound for Tennessee to visit a college.  She briefly inquires if she is at the right gate to a middle-aged woman near her.  That was the entrance into a conversation that lead to the couple’s little girl chattering away to the young lady and talking until their seats in the airplane disrupted them.

Pilots walk by in uniform, pulling behind them expertly packed luggage.  A flock of flight attendants regroup before heading to their next destination.  A worker sweeps up some debris from the carpet and smiles at me when I catch her eye.  A couple walks by, each pushing a stroller, trying to get where they need to go on time.  A woman gazes critically at the ticket counter and remarks about the poor design to me…and to the lady at the desk when she finally gets there.  The lady says a man probably designed it.

Over the intercom a voice announces that first class passengers can now board.  Brian Regan quotes flood my mind as I watch people crushing each other to run out of the plane, as a fervor fills people to get to where they need to go with no mind for what others may be doing, as the desk asks for people to check their oversized luggage planeside.

A man behind me keeps cooing to something/someone and I narrow the options down to a dog or a child.  He has a dog.  I smile at the airport security and anticipate what they will ask of me.  Trying to catch her eye, I smile at the lady at the desk who seems to be a little frazzled yet kind.  I inquire about how his/her day is going when a security officer asks how my day is.

The days I spent in the airport I felt happy and kind.  With this joy, I felt a desire to spread it and be kind to others.  At different points I realized that while I wasn’t changing the world in some huge way, hopefully my mere smile was encouraging someone or speaking words I didn’t know or have.  I often wonder, “Do they know I follow Christ?  Can they tell?  Do they think something is different about me?  Do they notice?”  This should be me every day, not just when I feel like being happy or kind.  But it is a good reminder.  I need to look for the humanity dwelling within the crowd teeming with people.  And in seeing the person, to affirm their individuality and their personhood with the only thing I can in a one second encounter: a smile.

Sunflowers for the Teacher

Yesterday I probably should have been preparing or sleeping or doing something mildly helpful but instead I was watching the sequel to “Anne of Green Gables” and loving it.  She is a character that I like to think I am similar to.  While many mightn’t see the correlation, it is there–the competitive streak, the stubbornness, the ability to hold grudges forever, the teaching career, the desire to write, etc.  So after watching the movie, I went out and picked some sunflowers near the railroad tracks.  I felt a little like Anne as I did so.  As I meandered into the tall grass, I tried to keep my imagination from thinking of the snakes and various animals that could lie lurking amid the grass and stickers.  I cut some sunflowers, brushing off more than a few bugs, and thought of how Anne-like I would seem as I walked home with a bunch of sunflowers gathered in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other.  I was only missing a long skirt and a head of red hair.  [Not to mention a gorgeous man in love with me since meeting me.  Alas, no Gilbert Blythe for me.  Oh, well…that is of little importance.  🙂 ]

The little sunflowers, now smiling and nodding happily on my desk, have been a source of joy for me this entire day.  They are drinking up some cool, clear water and rest in a vase that I found at a thrift store with my sister.  Pale translucent green and delicate, the vase dazzles with the beauty of simple wild sunflowers in it and the sunlight streaming through the window.  I had prepared the perfect words for if my students asked about the flowers so that I wouldn’t have to lie and yet it wouldn’t be revealed that I live at home.  I’m not certain if they even noticed them.  Nevertheless, they brought joy to the teacher.

The Lord loves me through beauty.  The beautiful look of attention on a few students’ faces…the radiant sun sharing its warmth…the intimacy of Mass in a school chapel, surrounded by youth…the successful completion of my first full week of school…the satisfaction of a classroom of my own…the anticipation of family togetherness tonight…music that makes me dance or think…the knowledge that I have two blessed days that stretch out before me with no lessons to teach…time with my sister before she heads off to school…the enduring hope and eager anticipation of Heaven.  Thanks, Lord.