Small talk isn’t really my thing.
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”
Only once have I really punched someone in anger.
It was a childish expression of frustration and the reprisal was one that kept that outburst of violence to a one-time event. In general, I am a fairly patient person, I believe, and while I might get annoyed or angry, I am often slow to act on those emotions.
Yet I’ve always wanted to be viewed as strong. I’m not tall and I probably don’t look very intimidating. Despite that, it is a desire of mine to be seen as fiery. The punch I threw in my youth didn’t end well, but I sought to prove my strength in other areas. In an elementary school gym class, we were challenged to do as many push-ups as possible. Due to my slight frame and sheer grit, I completed push-up after push-up until my arms quaked each time I neared the floor. When I finally stopped, only one other person was still going.
As kids, my dad would challenge us to completely unfair wrestling matches. Being six or seven and taking on a fully grown man did not present balanced odds. However, I clearly remember wrestling matches where my dad only needed to use one arm or a leg to pin me down as I relentlessly squirmed to get away. Finally, I would concede defeat, but only with flushed face and worn out limbs.
This desire to be strong was evident from my youth and yet it found expression in various ways as I got older. Physical prowess was never going to be my gift and so I exercised strength in witty replies and intellectual knowledge. But I still wanted to be viewed as strong and I had this indomitable longing to be a soldier. I have a fight in me that needs to be revealed in some way. It means that while I “hit like a girl,” I still punch my dad in the shoulder every time I see him. And while I’m not a fan of conflict, I enjoy a good argument or discussion when I’m in the mood.
At my nephews’ wrestling tournament the other day, I saw a woman in army fatigues. The strength that her outfit symbolized was something I desired for myself. Which, naturally, means I went home that night and casually perused the Army National Guard website. I imagined what it would be like to join the military and how that could impact my life. I don’t really want to fight someone, but I want to fight for something. Continue reading “There is a Strength in Faithfulness”
Something I gave up for Lent this year is online shopping. Yet I’ve come to realize in the past week that buying too much stuff isn’t the most prevalent problem. Yes, I could probably fill a six-foot bookshelf with the stacks of books piled around my room. The thing that is harder than not buying things is not even looking for them.
My younger sister jokes that for fairly large purchases (like a food processor or an iPhone) I start talking about them six months before I get around to buying them. I’ve never been much of an impulse buyer. But this Lent I’m giving up browsing, shopping, and slowly placing items in random online shopping carts. I have had to catch myself at least two or three times already from following links to Amazon or sites with random household products.
Why am I doing this? There are two primary reasons: I spend unnecessary time scrolling through websites and I don’t like what looking at so many material things does to my heart.
The first is the lesser of the two. It is important, though. Time is a treasure for which it is difficult to account. The minutes can slip away quickly as I look at what other books will fit nicely into my library. Or as I scout out birthday presents for family members in advance. If I am continually feeling like I don’t have enough time, then perhaps I need to evaluate how I invest my time.
But that second reason, that is probably what caused me to stop with the shopping and browsing. We live in a very materialistic world, but I’ve always felt fairly simple. That simplicity, though, seems to be more an idea than a practice. And I don’t like that it seems to be a quality I think I have but actually do not. Gazing at all of the things I don’t have yet might like to, makes me feel unsatisfied with what I currently have. Continue reading “Lent: When You’re Little Enough that No Virtual Window Shopping is a Sacrifice”
My bedroom is in a similar state as my soul. Messy, cluttered, and kind of driving me insane. The thing is both situations are entirely my fault.
Instead of hanging up my clothes, they have become a mountain covering my ottoman. Generally, I forget I even have an ottoman and I’ve become increasingly convinced that most of the things in there mustn’t be very important if I never need to access them. Stacks of unopened letters and papers I should file away add a bit of an overwhelming sense to a place I often use for refuge. Boxes that need to be broken down for recycling, laundry that ought to be done, and stacks upon stacks of books make my bedroom chaotic.
My soul? Pretty much the same situation.
There is a great deal of clearing out that needs to happen. Scripture says to make a highway for Our Lord. But first, I think I need a plow to come through. So it is with a heart that loves simplicity yet finds itself attached to abundance that I eagerly head into Lent.
I need Lent. Continue reading “I Need You, Lent”
“If I could do the last thirty years over again, I would do it differently. I would try to make people fall in love with Jesus.”
A story was being told about a conversation with an elderly priest nearing death, but it pierced my heart and filled me with a great desire to do the same thing. In teaching Theology, I feel these seemingly conflicting pulls on my heart. I desire to teach them concrete information yet I want to show them how to fall in love with the Lord. These two desires aren’t mutually exclusive, but the balance is a difficult thing to ascertain.
While I wish we could have daily conversations about the matters closest to their hearts or the questions they really want answered, I also have a curriculum to follow. We need to take quizzes and tests. I am required to give them assignments and to grade their work. Yet, somehow, in the midst of the formal education, I am also supposed to provide an education of the heart.
How? I’m uncertain. I know it sometimes happens when their sincere questions spring from the topics at hand. Or during unplanned times of heart sharing and depth. The Holy Spirit will surprisingly show up and elevate my lesson to something far beyond what I could do on my own.
I want to answer all of their questions about the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ. Sometimes they don’t know how to phrase the questions or are uninterested in engaging in a conversation that may challenge their status quo. Despite my desires to help them encounter the Lord, I cannot manufacture an encounter in a 50-minute class period. I attempt to provide opportunities and share experiences I have had, yet with 25-30 students in a class, I am unable to personally reach each person as they need to be reached. Continue reading “To Make People Fall in Love with Jesus”
It is human nature to have favorites. As a teacher, the same holds true. I often tell my students I’m not supposed to have favorite classes or students. Several classes will guess that they are my favorite, but I can never tell them if they are correct or not. Usually, there are multiple things I appreciate about each class as well as aspects I wish they would change. Yet, as a human, I look forward to some classes more than others. Gone are my first year teacher days of feeling ill at the thought of a particular class. For a variety of reasons, some classes make me a little less excited to teach them.
A couple of weeks ago, I was facing this feeling of not looking forward to a particular class. It wasn’t dread, but I was definitely not excited for them to fill my classroom with their boisterous selves. On Tuesdays, I have “contemplative time” with my classes, ten minutes of silent prayer with a reflection or Scripture passage given as the means to enter into prayer. I’m a little dense, so it took a while, but after a few classes, I recognized that this meditation was speaking to me about that less-than-ideal class.
My dear friend, I am overjoyed to see you. I am with you speaking to you and listening to you. Realize that I am truly present. I am within your soul. Close your ears and eyes to all distractions. Retire within yourself, think my thoughts, and be with me alone.
My Other Self: Conversations with Christ on Living Your Faith*, Clarence Enzler
The word overjoyed stood out to me after several readings. Clarence Enzler wrote this book as though it is Jesus speaking directly to us, that we are Christ’s other self. After considering the beauty of Jesus being overjoyed to see me, I began to desire that this was my response for that particular class. When I come to the Lord with all my worries and failings, He is always pleased that I have entered into His presence. I want this to be my attitude toward this class. Each day, I want to be overjoyed that these particular students are coming into my classroom and sitting in my presence. Recognizing Christ dwelling within them, I want to respond to them as Christ responds to me, even with my less-than-ideal heart. Continue reading “Overjoyed”
The other night, I gathered with a group of people to enter into praise and worship. As we praised, I was forced to acknowledge that I so often forget to praise God in my daily life. I am thankful for many things, but too infrequently do I stop and simply praise God for who He is, independent of anything He has done for me.
As I sang, I couldn’t help but consider how it pleased God to hear hymns rising amidst the violence that surrounds our world. To the unbeliever, the songs of praise would seem ridiculous. How could we praise a being we claim is all-powerful while conflict seems to send ripples of tension across the surface of the earth? Even as I praised God, I could imagine a person gesturing to point after point of contention. How is God good here? How is God loving here?
I don’t always know the solution or have the knack of finding God perfectly in all things. Yet I know that in a world of aching longing, He is found in the small and large moments. In those moments I spent in the church with others, praising God, I felt His presence, but primarily I felt a desire to respond to God as we ought. Too often caught up in asking for things or pouring out my feelings, I wanted time to just adore the God who Is. Continue reading “Praising at the Potter’s Hands”
I spent thirteen hours in an airport a little over one week ago on an unfulfilled quest to conquer “Winter Storm Grayson” for the sake of a friend. During my hours of meandering around the airport and having my flights rescheduled time after time, I saw one person who seemed to be on a different schedule from the rest of the masses. Although I only saw him for a minute, I couldn’t help but notice he was passing his time in a slower, more intentional way than others.
Generally, I’m not that person who is clandestinely taking pictures of other people. But something about him captured my attention very quickly. He slowly walked the long corridor and stopped briefly in front of each picture, taking it in and considering it. I understand the rush between flights and short layovers that prevent others from taking in their surroundings. Yet it wasn’t as though it took him twenty minutes to look at the pictures. He was in my line of sight for only a couple of minutes. Continue reading “Airport Intentionality”
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”
Like a mother who gushes with affection over a sleeping child, I often feel particularly fond for my students when they are taking tests. They seem so quiet, so studious, and so devoted to the task at hand that I find myself gazing at their little, intent faces and being so thankful to be a teacher.
In all honesty, that isn’t the only moment I am thankful to teach, but it is one continually recurring theme. Moments of quiet, moments of humor, and moments of profound learning make me grateful to teach. The inside jokes we share and the relationships that are built over time make me thankful to interact with so many high school students. When I am able to step back from the late papers, endless questions, and constant repetition of directions, I see young people seeking. Seeking just like I am–for happiness, for joy, for love, for peace, for life. When I see that perspective, I am grateful for the time to be with them, accompanying them for a short while on their journey to eternity.
It makes me wonder if I have any type of impact. This little heart inside of me longs so much for a great mission. And then I remember that I teach. I interact with young people daily and if that isn’t the rich soil for a great mission, I don’t know what is. Grades, dress codes, and attitudes can make me forget the mission that is in front of me every day. Yet every now and then, I will get a glimpse of what God might be doing in souls. I see that perhaps my littleness might be in the midst of something great right now and completely unaware of it all.
Still, the heart longs to know a difference is being made. Thankfully, God gives me reminders in little moments. There is enough to assure me that it isn’t for nothing and yet little enough so that it doesn’t all go to my head. It is found in class camaraderie when one class writes me up for a detention when I return a little late for class. I see it in a small group of women who enter into conversation about pursuing true beauty. It is experienced in random after school conversations and hearing that my class is teaching something. The look on some students faces as we tackle the problem of evil and honestly question how a good God could allow awful things to happen. Brief moments, easy to pass by, but ones that remind me that something is happening here and now.
It isn’t because of me. It is because of God’s grace. Continue reading “A Grateful Mission”