Advent: What Lies Ahead

Advent: What Lies Ahead

In our culture’s mad rush to start the Christmas season, I am left feeling a bit Scrooge-like.  I like Advent.  The anticipation that gradually builds as candle after candle are lit on the Advent wreath adds to the beauty of Christmas when it finally arrives.  If we jump headlong into Christmas right after Thanksgiving, I believe we miss part of the joy of the season.  Waiting has a sweet longing to it and I want that sweetness for as long as I can have it.

As a child, I remember the eagerness as I would watch the presents beneath the tree grow as time passed.  My younger sister and I would check to find the ones with our names and then try to analyze what was inside.  It was tempting to tear the wrapping off, but we didn’t.  The soft, foldable presents were obviously clothes.  Yet the ones in boxes?  Those were unidentifiable.  We would give them a light shake and then simply wonder about what lay nestled inside for us to discover.  The waiting was half the fun.  Even if I wanted to figure out what the present was before Christmas (my competitive nature desired to win), I also wanted to be surprised.

I won’t argue that I’m extremely patient, however I appreciate waiting for something good.  When I get my mail, I am excited if I find a letter from a friend or a package that I ordered.  Yet I generally open the less fun things first, allowing the excitement and longing for the most desired thing to build.  After trick-or-treating at Halloween when I was a kid, I tried to eat my least favorite candies first, saving the best for last.  Even now, I often find myself saving a bite of the best part of the meal for the end, as if to end the meal on a good note.  Waiting doesn’t change the contents of the letter or the taste of the food, but it seems to add a bit of sweetness as I anticipate what is to come. Continue reading “Advent: What Lies Ahead”

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A Grateful Mission

A Grateful Mission

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”

A Random Mom: How God Showed Me He Cares for Me

A Random Mom: How God Showed Me He Cares for Me

It was in the middle of a meeting and she got a call.  Stepping outside the room, she spoke for a moment and then quickly came back to collect her things.

“One of my children is bleeding everywhere.  I’m sorry, I have to go.”  With a hasty flourish, she was out of the room and jogging towards her car.

My first thought?  Such is the life of a mother.  Simply, such is the life of a parent.  You put aside your own plans, needs, and desires because you immediately respond to those of your children.

My second thought?   Continue reading “A Random Mom: How God Showed Me He Cares for Me”

Cosmically Important

Cosmically Important

The other day, I was listening to a TED radio talk.  Their topic was endurance and one man spoke about the endurance of the human species.  He indicated that he would be surprised if there was no other intelligent life in the universe.  However, he left the possibility open and said we might be the only ones out there.  Then he, roughly, said the following, “If we are the only people to have ever existed, than what happens here is cosmically important.”

I don’t intend to dissect this from the context, but it means far more to me when I do.  He was referencing the survival of humanity and the hope that we won’t be the cause of our own destruction.

What grabbed my attention, however, was the phrase cosmically important.

If what is happening here on Earth has never happened anywhere else, than what we do and how we live is important for the entire cosmos.  I don’t think we should all freak out about every action, but it gives me a different perspective if I think about my actions impacting a cosmos.

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How would we live is we viewed our lives on a cosmic scale?  That doesn’t mean we become self-inflated or overly consumed with ourselves.  Instead of giving myself pass after pass for living lower than I ought, seeing my actions as cosmically important might force me to shape up and live well. Continue reading “Cosmically Important”

He Meets Me in My Poverty

He Meets Me in My Poverty

Mountain passes are closed.

I’m not from a mountainous region; rather, I live in the vast plains of the Midwest.  The prospect of driving nearly three hours through a mountain snowstorm seemed daunting.  Yet with the mountain passes all closed, it seemed impossible.

So I thought about it often, prayed for things to work out, and nearly obsessively checked the weather and mountain pass website.  The people I was traveling with didn’t seem particularly concerned, so I felt a need to worry for all of us.  Also, I had rented the vehicle and was to drive through these mountains.  I wanted to trust that the Lord would make all things work out, but I also wanted to not stupidly walk into a bad situation.

Generally, I like flying, but the flight from Denver to Seattle was riddled with turbulence.  The uneasiness about the drive was only exacerbated by the bumpy flight.  A headache developed, probably a combination of too much stress and a lack of sleep, coffee, and food.

Arriving in Seattle, my sister and I checked the mountain passes and, thankfully, one of them was completely open with no road restrictions.  I was grateful, but the tension of the past week could not be unraveled so quickly.

After picking up our third traveling companion, we started the trek through the mountains.  The roads were clear and open.  The scenery was beautiful.  Yet my stomach remained in knots and I felt sick.  A few days of worry was wrecking havoc on me physically.  We journeyed into the mountains and it started to snow a bit.  The snow piled on either side of the road reached higher than the semis that surrounded us.  Then we came to a complete standstill due to an accident.  Sitting there, with snow starting to fall and stressed despite the fact that everything had gone well so far, I had to admit defeat.

As we waited, I had been close on multiple occasions to stepping outside the car, confident that I would embarrassingly get sick on the side of the road.  “I think I’m going to be sick,” I told my sister.  I switched places with our third traveler and slid into the back seat.

For the next 1.5-2 hours I sat there with my eyes closed as we flew around curves and over mountains.  At first, I was angry with myself.  I don’t like to view myself as weak and I am generally a very stubborn person.  The driving wasn’t difficult and I knew I could do it.  Yet there I was, unable to continue driving because I had let my fears and worries take their toll on me physically.

Instead of being annoyed with myself, I tried to do something fairly new–I accepted my humanity.  I recently began reading The Way of the Disciple by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis.  The rest of the drive I reflected and prayed with one section of that book.

Our business, then, as Christians and as contemplatives-perhaps our only business-is to work tirelessly at becoming destitute and needy orphans and widows who rely only on the mercy, goodness, and power of God….The Cistercian John of Ford, for one, exclaimed that he desired nothing other than to rest with Jesus as the center of his own poverty, the special place where Jesus had chosen to meet him.

And so I rested in my poverty. Continue reading “He Meets Me in My Poverty”

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”

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?”

Maranatha!

Maranatha!

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  (The Summer Day, Mary Oliver)

We are on the brink of something new and something old.  Hundreds of years have passed since the birth of Christ and yet we have never before been in this place, at this time, with these graces being offered.  What will we do with it all?

Never again will I be right where I am right now.  And part of me rejoices that this will not always be my lot because I eagerly look forward to the future.  I want my life to change and be different than it is now.  Yet in some future day, I may look back at right now and realize only then all that was good about this time.  I do not want it be that way–I want to, right now, recognize the blessings of this moment, subtle though they may seem to my slow heart.

How is Christ being born into my life this day?  How is He striving to shake up the world I’ve known for twenty-six years and say, “Behold, I am doing something new”?  The graces He offers me today are not the same graces offered yesterday or the day before.  They are always new.  Jesus doesn’t offer left-overs, but rather He offers what is most fitting for the moment.  He only ever offers the best to us.

In a special way, Christ is offering the gift of His birth this weekend.  I cannot go to Bethlehem and see Him be born, but I can experience His birth in my life.  Scripture is living and effective.  It is not a nice story from hundreds of years ago, but rather it is a living reality now.  How am I the innkeeper, refusing room to Jesus?  How am I a shepherd, kneeling before a king yet uncertain of what He is asking of me?  How am I St. Joseph, following the promptings of the Lord when He speaks to me?  How am I the wise man, leaving home in search of a king for my life?   Continue reading “Maranatha!”