A Strength To Find Rest In

A Strength To Find Rest In

It was a late meal and before too long, my niece was soon battling sleep. Eventually, it overtook her and she laid with her head on the restaurant table while everyone else chatted and finished their meal. Then, my brother picked her up and carried her to the vehicle to go home. I don’t know if she slept through the entire trip home or if she simply acted like it, exhaustion keeping her calm and still.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until the next day that I found myself pondering that scene. The similarities made me think of how my parents would often carry me from the car into the house after a drive home from somewhere. At times, I was really in a deep sleep and other times I just wanted to act like it. I would be partially awake as I heard the vehicle turn off, but I wanted to be effortlessly transported into the house. Once I reached a certain age, my parents would wake me up and I would need to enter the house on my own two feet.

What was so nice about being carried? Perhaps it was the sense of being cradled tenderly or the chance to be lovingly provided for even as reaching ages of independence. I’m sure sometimes it was just laziness, but it was probably most often the joy of resting in the strength of another. At six or seven, I wouldn’t have phrased it that way, of course. Yet if I look at the desires of the human heart, I am certain that was a central focus.

As an adult, we have to re-learn the art of resting in the strength of another. We often don’t want to be carried, physically or emotionally. The ease that comes with being carried in childhood often vanishes as we become adults. The sense of being carried starts to feel awkward and uncomfortable, like how it would feel if someone picked us up and carried us over their shoulder like happened when we were kids. We need to find anew the gift of resting in the Lord’s strength.

Continue reading “A Strength To Find Rest In”

The Fire of Drift-wood

The Fire of Drift-wood

As my sister can attest, I have been on a poetry purchasing kick. There is something so lovely about flipping through books of poems and entering into the world of another–or seeing how easily they enter into mine.

“The Daily Poem” podcast has born another poem into my life; this one by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. As said before, I’m a melancholic, and the theme of the poem fits that mood as it presents a tale of sitting and talking about times that have passed and things that have been altered by time. I present to you: The Fire of Drift-wood.

We sat within the farm-house old,
      Whose windows, looking o’er the bay,
Gave to the sea-breeze damp and cold,
      An easy entrance, night and day.

Not far away we saw the port,
      The strange, old-fashioned, silent town,
The lighthouse, the dismantled fort,
      The wooden houses, quaint and brown.

We sat and talked until the night,
      Descending, filled the little room;
Our faces faded from the sight,
      Our voices only broke the gloom.

We spake of many a vanished scene,
      Of what we once had thought and said,
Of what had been, and might have been,
      And who was changed, and who was dead;

And all that fills the hearts of friends,
      When first they feel, with secret pain,
Their lives thenceforth have separate ends,
      And never can be one again;

The first slight swerving of the heart,
      That words are powerless to express,
And leave it still unsaid in part,
      Or say it in too great excess.

Continue reading “The Fire of Drift-wood”

Fifteen Years of Learning to Let Go

Fifteen Years of Learning to Let Go

Last week, fifteen years ago, my sister entered a Carmelite cloister.

At the beginning of the school day, I sat for a couple minutes, looking at my calendar announcing March 19th and remembering what had transpired other years on the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Fifteen years ago, we embraced, believing it might be the final time here on earth. Five years ago, we embraced as she moved north to establish a new monastery. And every year in between, I have recalled with tenderly fond pain the life we have been called to enter into as the family of religious.

I spoke about my sister’s vocation with my sophomores at great length this year. While I didn’t intend to spend so much time on it, they asked question after question and I found myself desiring to share this story with them. They were particularly struck by the great physical sacrifice that is found in the life of a cloistered nun. While I have been able to embrace my sister since her entrance, each time is a gift and never expected or something I can claim as my due. I explained that it is because my sister loves us that it is a sacrifice for her to not embrace us or be present for some of the big moments of life.

“But you didn’t choose that life. Why do you have to make that sacrifice when God didn’t call you to be a cloistered sister?”

Perhaps without knowing it, they stumbled upon the question that must be answered for each family member of a religious brother or sister. Why must I make this sacrifice when I’m not the one with the call?

Continue reading “Fifteen Years of Learning to Let Go”

The Parking Spot God Gave Me

The Parking Spot God Gave Me

About five years ago, I prayed that the Lord would help me finding a parking spot.  And He did.

It was at a bar for a Theology on Tap event and tired, introverted me was trying to muster up the energy to attend a talk when I really wanted to fall into bed for nine hours of sleep.  As I circled the parking lot, I told the Lord that if He wanted me to go to the event, then I needed to find a parking spot.

Weaving my way through the full lot, I saw a man talking on his phone at the apartment building in front of me.  He waved and pointed to a spot nearby.  I hadn’t parked there because it was for a business, but upon closer inspection, I realized the business was closed and the spot was fair game.  I laughed, pulled into the spot, and got out of my car.  The man waved and smiled at me.  Wondering if he was someone I knew or was perhaps at the same event, I slowly turned and saw that the apartment building was completely separated from the bar I was going to enter.

A random guy pointing out a parking spot at a bar was a concrete example of God’s love for me.  Walking into the bar, I was convinced the Lord loved me and cared for me.  It was humorous, but it was an encounter with God’s providence of something unnecessary yet greatly desired.  The Lord provided for such a small need so promptly.  An occasion that wasn’t really that spectacular–looking for a spot in a crowded parking lot–remains embedded in my memory because of how God moved in my heart.

In actuality, the Lord was fulfilling my deeper desire for good community by providing a spot that allowed me to go into the bar so I could listen to a talk and meet up with friends and acquaintances.  That evening, I ended up chatting for quite some time with someone who would become one of my dearest friends.  Yet in order for this deeper desire to be fulfilled, the Lord had to satisfy the initial desire of finding a parking spot.  Continue reading “The Parking Spot God Gave Me”

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives

The Lord is a wound healer.  

I’ve been mentoring a young friend for a few months and the last time we met our conversation turned to wounds.  In many ways, I feel I have had a pretty easy life, one without too many struggles or problems.  Yet I am amazed by how many wounds can be found in this tender, little heart of mine.  As we spoke of how the Lord seeks to heal these areas, I couldn’t help but marvel at what the Lord has done in me over the years.

When Jesus heals, He brings freedom into a place I often didn’t even realize was enslaved.  This heart is far from wholeness, but the work the Lord has done in it is impressive.  My gifted spiritual director has spent hours listening to me sob and choke out stories of hurt and pain.  Some are understandable in their immensity, while others seem nearly laughable in their smallness.  Yet my spiritual director has treated each wound as important and in need of healing.  Often it is he who insists on the importance of the incident while I want to be dismissive of the emotions attached to the memory.

As a person who wants to be seen as logical and rational, it has taken years for me to be convinced of the validity of my feelings.  When I can accept that my feelings aren’t foolish, I am able to acknowledge that the hurt is real and needs to be addressed.  In this, the Lord has rewarded me ten-thousand fold.  Working through the intricacies of my heart has forced me to see that Christ wants to redeem and renew every part. Continue reading “Proclaim Liberty to the Captives”

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”

The Grace of the Present

I’m not opposed to making memories.  As an introvert, I spend a decent amount of time inside my own head, thinking over what has or will transpire.  However, the other day I was scrolling through Facebook and I was seeing pictures and albums that were presented as “making memories.”  Do we prefer to make memories rather than live in the present moment?

Is something off if we spend a large amount of our time documenting for the future moments of the past?  Could it be that the present is not actually as great as we will remember it to be once it is firmly grounded in the past?

I’m sporadically reading One Thousand Gifts and the other day I read about how Ann Voskamp, the author, was struggling to encounter God’s face in the moments where she is stressed and angry.  Seeing God’s face in the brilliance of the morning sunrise or the contented cooing of a newborn is easy.  Yet it stretches us to see God’s face in a belligerent student or a quarrel with a friend.  As I read, I thought of how just that day I had been annoyed with my students not listening to my directions.  It never even crossed my mind to stop and consider, “How are they revealing God’s face to me right now?”

The present moment is the place where we encounter God.

We are making strides when we are able to go back to a difficult situation and see how God was present in that moment.  Yet it is supremely better to be able to, in that very moment, see the face of God present.  If only I could look at my students, complaining and upset about their work, and see Christ in them.  It would take re-training my mind and my heart.

In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp reveals an experience she had with her son that changed them both.  At one point in the conversation, she tells her son that the only way to combat feelings is to have other feelings.  The central feeling we can use to combat unwelcome feelings, she presents, is gratitude.  In the midst of frustration, fatigue, anger, sadness, or annoyance, what a difference it would make if we would begin to be thankful.  Not gratitude for something of the past or the future, but gratitude for that present moment.  What would it be like if in our most trying moments we saw the face of God in His perennial presence?  Surely it would change things.

If we spend our lives trying to simply “make memories,” I fear that the best moments of life will not be what we actually experience, but always events of the past.  I run the risk of sabotaging my present for the glorification of a past that never really existed.

When I look at my semester that I spent studying abroad, I don’t initially recall the tiredness, the inevitable frustrations of group planning, or the desire for American comforts.  Yet those were very real aspects of my semester.  I cannot expect my present moment to measure up to my idealized past experiences.

God is present in the here and now.  In this moment, despite the commonness.  In my quiet study hall on a random Wednesday.  In the lukewarm coffee I’m still enjoying from this morning.  In the satisfaction of checking another item off my to-do list.

This present moment is a moment of grace.  Because grace is only offered in the present.

I desire to teach myself to accept each moment as the grace-filled, soul-transforming, heart-deepening, wound-healing, saint-making, God-given moment that it is.  This present moment is where we encounter God.  Let us not overlook His presence in the now in an effort to live in the past.

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A New Reference Point

College seems to be my constant reference point for things.  At times I have to remind myself that I am not going back to my undergraduate years, that this isn’t an extremely long vacation, that this life that I am living right now is, in fact, reality.  My memories of college are so vivid and life seemed to be filled with so much learning, wonder, and beauty.  These days are filled with those things, too, they just happen to filled with a lot more day-in-day-out routine.  Some of the best stories that I tell for classes are ones where I was gallavanting around Europe for a semester or feeling hard-core praying outside an abortion clinic in downtown Pittsburgh.  Now I look up and realize I have been teaching high school for nearly two years.  In some ways, it feels like forever.  Yet it also feels like it has happened so fast.  Was it really two years ago that I was preparing to graduate?  That I was living on a campus teeming with young Catholics?  These days I am invigorated to spot another person below 40 at daily Mass.

This Palm Sunday four years ago, I was soaking up the sun from the steps of the basilica in Fatima.  It was the start of a ten-day break and I would then travel to Madrid to work with the Missionaries of Charity during Holy Week.  I experienced vividly the providence of the Lord on that trip.  While the Lord provides for me everyday, I recognized it and relished it more at that time.  It seemed to be in such magnificent ways.  The Lord provided a train at the appropriate time.  He provided a kind Portuguese family that drove us from the train stop to the town of Fatima.  He was constantly looking out for us and giving us glimpses of beauty along the way.

The same is true for my life today but it seems to be less spectacular.  My students participated in a discussion I tried to lead.  My meeting with my principal went better than expected.  I didn’t feel like dropping into my bed at 3:30.  I managed to stay awake for a whole holy hour.  Little things.  Things that don’t feel extraordinary or all that spectacular.  That is my life.

It is easy to feel a little trapped.  I teach high school students in a not-too-small town but one that seems a bit stifling anyway.  My heart doesn’t long for a metropolis or an accolade laden teaching career.  I simply desire to be fulfilled.  In many ways I feel fulfilled but in many ways I feel a lack. I cannot help but at times looking around me and wondering when it will be my turn…for so many things.  I’m young but I feel so old sometimes.

I need a new reference point.  College continues to fall further into the past with each passing day.  I cannot go back there, as much as I may wish to some days.  The future I imagine may not be at all as I expect when it finally comes around.  All I truly have is the present and even that I do not really possess.  Christ needs to be my new reference point.  Friends will come and go, family members will pass away, gifts will fade, and abilities will be lost.  But Christ is ever-new.