Whatever God Chooses Should Be All the Same to Us

Whatever God Chooses Should Be All the Same to Us

I didn’t expect to feel sadness at a wedding.

Anything near tears, I assumed, would come from the overwhelming joy of seeing a good friend get married. And while I was definitely happy, I was startled by the profound loneliness that pervaded my heart, even as I sat in a pew with beloved friends and was surrounded by many people I knew. Grateful that my friend was receiving that for which she had long prayed, I discovered a sorrow that I didn’t want to find at that time or in that place. The human heart frequently seems inconvenient, but I’ve found that leaning into that is more helpful than ignoring it.

Near the beginning of the liturgy, I heard the priest proclaim a single word in the midst of a longer prayer. He said “home” and I was immediately asking the Lord where my home was. Looking over the priest’s head, I saw the crucifix, arms stretched wide and side pierced, and within myself I heard Him say that my home was there. In His side, opened so that mercy could pour out, was my home, my refuge, the only place I belonged on either side of Heaven.

As my blog slowly moves from being thoroughly unread to something that people I know and don’t know read, I find myself hesitant to ever speak of being single. Some of my former students occasionally look at my blog as do co-workers, and it feels odd to share this particularly deep desire, even if it seems obvious or assumed or commonplace. Yet it also feels odd to share so many other parts of my heart and then withhold speaking of the vocation I feel called to, simply because God hasn’t fully answered that prayer.

I’m a melancholic and as such I am accustomed to longing. One of the most enduring longings has been for marriage and a family. It isn’t my only desire, but it is the one that seems the most fervent. This newly married friend is one I often spoke of this longing with, as we questioned when it would be fulfilled and wondered how it would happen. So I understand to a degree why this wedding also filled my heart with a bit of sadness. It was because my compatriot had what she longed for and I was still waiting, still hoping, still wondering when and if it would happen.

Continue reading “Whatever God Chooses Should Be All the Same to Us”

Eyeliner and Reality

Eyeliner and Reality

I was expecting a lot of things for my retreat, but I wasn’t expecting that not wearing eyeliner would be one of them.

By most standards, I don’t wear much makeup. Despite the fact that my mother has sold it for my entire life, I don’t like even really talking about it or experimenting with it or purchasing it. I utilize it, but I don’t really care about it. On retreat, I eliminated it from my morning routine for a few practical reasons: I wasn’t going “out” anywhere and it seemed it would only look worse when I would inevitably cry as the Lord worked through different matters within me.

The second or third day of not wearing eyeliner, I found myself looking in the mirror, slightly bewildered. That is what my eyes actually look like? My fair complexion and light hair is exactly why someone created eyeliner and mascara. Without it, my eyes aren’t as emphasized and everything looks a little paler.

Since I was on a silent retreat, I leaned into the discomfort rather than away from it. It wasn’t about vanity so much. I would look in the mirror and I would remind myself: these are your eyes. This is what they actually look like. And as the days passed, they seemed more mine. It stopped seeming like I was missing something that ought to be there, but rather that I was seeing reality. When I left retreat, I found that I wanted to keep seeing those eyes that are really mine and in the way they actually are.

(Stick with me, guys, I promise this is not an entire post about makeup!)

I’m not swearing off eyeliner: it does what it is supposed to do–it makes my eyes stand out. But I realized on retreat that I never want to forget what my eyes actually look like. It was a perfect physical takeaway from the tremendous interior work that the Lord was doing during that time of silence. The entire retreat was one of re-crafting my eyes to see me how the Lord actually sees me.

Continue reading “Eyeliner and Reality”

“All collective reform must first be individual reform”

“All collective reform must first be individual reform”

In a month-by-month planner from over a year ago, I found the following quote scrawled in the open boxes at the bottom of a page.

The future will be what we make it; let us reflect on this thought so that it may motivate us to act.  Especially, let us realize that all collective reform must first be individual reform.  Let us work at transforming ourselves and our lives.  Let us influence those around us, not by useless preaching, but by the irresistible power of our spirituality and the example of our lives.

Elisabeth Leseur: Selected Writings, pg. 135

Re-finding this quote was a great gift in that moment. I was looking through stacks of papers, discarding what I didn’t need so that I wouldn’t move unnecessary papers to a new home. The old planner brought back some nostalgia as I saw different meetings I had, random notes I had made, and, most importantly, saint quotes I had added to the large monthly planner to motivate me onward.

Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur spoke of personal reform and how only by growing individually can we hope to influence the world. She knew what she was talking about. Through her gentle, persistent witness (and an inspiring journal), her husband was transformed from an atheist to being ordained a priest after her death. It wasn’t because of her intellectual arguments, but rather her living testimony that brought a change into her husband’s heart.

What I have been led to consider frequently is this question: how would it impact my students if I embraced my faith with the radical zeal of a saint? (Replace “students” with “children” or “husband/wife” or “friends” or “siblings” or “co-workers” or whatever makes sense in your life.) Too often I think I can fake it or that my lack of discipline or fervor will go unnoticed by others. Perhaps it sometimes does. Maybe I do fake it and others are unaware. But the most important changes and transformations might be untraceable to me yet rely on my own personal holiness. Continue reading ““All collective reform must first be individual reform””

Childlike Trust

Childlike Trust

Kids can get away with so much.

Whether it is because they are adorable or because we can chalk it up to their innocence, they are able to do things that are unthinkable to adults.  The small child that escapes the proper place in the church pew and scampers toward the front of the church is often met with smiles, even if the bishop is offering Mass.  A few weeks ago, a child at an audience with Pope Francis ran to the front and when the Swiss Guards tried to block him, the pope welcomed him forward.

They also seem to have the freedom to just ask for things.  My nephew once saw some money sitting on my parents’ counter and, after clarifying that it was indeed money, asked if he could have $40.  Children are quick to ask for food (even if it is the food you are eating), a drink from your water bottle, and anything else that might be slightly weird for an adult to request.

Yet there is such freedom in their general disposition.  A freedom that is nearly enviable when one considers how they present their needs and desires to those capable of actualizing them.  It made me consider how freeing it would be to approach God the Father in that way.  What would it be like to truly be His child, with all of the fidelity and trust found in the hearts of the little ones? Continue reading “Childlike Trust”

Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?

Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?

As much as our world changes and the values and morals alter concurrently, sometimes it is good to see that embedded deep within us is a natural understanding of how we should respond.  Many health situations that create controversy and endless disagreements often start from a good intention that is found within us as human beings.  The push for assisted suicide generally comes from seeing someone suffering and acknowledging that things shouldn’t be that way.  Our desire to eliminate suffering in others is good, but we don’t always pursue the correct course of action.

What this tends to create in society is the belief that each individual should be able to do what they think is best.  As an individualistic society, we are quick to argue that nobody can force their beliefs and opinions on me.  I am free to do whatever I want, whenever I want.  Sometimes we will add the caveat “as long as I am not hurting anyone,” but often, culturally, we see our freedom as the one objective truth.  

Do you remember hearing roughly a month ago about a MLB umpire who saved a woman from jumping off the Roberto Clemente bridge in Pittsburgh?  I found the story a beautiful testament of someone caring about a stranger and doing something when others just walked by.  What I find particularly interesting about the story is how it was reported.  People came together to help a woman who was trying to jump off the bridge and commit suicide.  John Tumpane, the man who first started helping the woman, is spoken of as a hero and as someone who saved another person’s life.  These weren’t Christian news agencies, but this event was reported very similarly in several mainstream secular articles.

I agree that he was able to help save someone’s life, but I find the cultural inconsistency obvious.

This woman didn’t want to live.  She made a plan, she started to carry out that plan, and then she was stopped by someone walking by.  Most people will look at this as a positive ending to a story that could have been tragic.  We see someone wanting to end it all and we rejoice that someone noticed and she was able to hopefully receive the help she needed.

In a purely individualistic sense, what I see is a woman who was not allowed to make a choice she wanted to make.  She wanted to end her life, but other people decided that her life was worth living, worth saving.  To us, it is easy to see this as heroism in action.

Why do we as a culture not view this as an infringement on her rights?   Continue reading “Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?”

Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small

Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small

Each Sister of Life wears a medal that has inscribed on it a fragment of poetry by Fr. John Duffy.  The line is from the poem “I Sing of a Maiden” and it speaks about the Annunciation.

“And nothing again would be casual and small.”

The author is speaking of the Blessed Mother conceiving Our Lord.  Yet the fact that the Sisters of Life carry this line near their hearts makes me think it must relate to their lives and my life, too.

Generally, though, my life feels casual and small.  Despite my desires for great and wonderful adventures and experiences, much of my life is composed of the ordinary and seemingly insignificant.  What does it mean that nothing is casual or small?

In a way, I think Jesus speaks to this when he remarks on the widow’s gift to the temple treasury.  Jesus and the apostles watch people come and give large gifts of money, but the poor widow puts only two small coins into the treasury.

Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.  

Mark 12:43-44

In a simple comparison of amounts, is the widow’s gift small?  Yes.  What makes it stand out to Our Lord?  The fact that despite her poverty, she still gives everything.  

Most of us are comfortable giving generously when we know we will still have ample for ourselves.  And I’m not going to lie and tell you that I live any differently.  While I donate money, I do not “give until it hurts.”  I give when it is comfortable or when I feel like it or when I remember.  Generosity is not a hallmark of mine.  When I was in elementary school, my dad would give my younger sister and I an allowance.  Conservative in nature, I always pocketed my money and saved it for a future purchase, probably a book or something.  My younger sister would spend her money nearly immediately, stocking up on some candy or treat at the gas station convenience store.  Yet while she was quick to spend, she was also quick to share.  I, on the other hand, would primarily buy things for myself and was slow to share them with others.

Jesus is commending the poor widow’s generosity with her finances, but I think there are deeper truths we can discover here.  Things that might point to how nothing is casual or small.  Several weeks ago, this was the Gospel at Mass and I left identifying myself largely with the widow.  Not because of her generosity, but because of her apparent littleness. Continue reading “Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small”

With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough

With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough

The Lord is the quintessential example of making do with what you have.  He is able to provide abundance from an experience of poverty.

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’  Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’  They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’  And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’  

Matthew 14:15-18

In a situation where the disciples were prepared to send the crowds away, Jesus challenged them to feed them with their meager rations.  To the disciples, it was an impossible feat.  There was not enough food to provide for them all.  How could they feed thousands with food meant to satisfy a few?

The answer is found in surrendering the little to Jesus.  For Him, it is manageable to multiply the fish and the bread to be superabundant.  The same is true with each one of us.  When we surrender ourselves to the Lord, little though we may be, He is able to do far more with it then we could imagine.

You give them something to eat.  In our littleness, Christ is asking us to be streams of living water and bountiful banquets for the weary wanderers we encounter.  Yes, we are to direct them to Jesus, but Jesus living in us.  When we present ourselves to the Lord, He provides.  It is never just enough, it always more than we could have hoped.   Continue reading “With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough”

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”

Surrendering

Surrendering

One of my friends and I were looking at a listing of the different “definitions of Hell” based on a person’s Myers-Briggs personality type.  There were a few that seemed to fit well with me, but the one that stood out was for the INTJ personality.  “Every time you open your mouth to say something intelligent, something entirely idiotic comes out instead.”

We agreed that the scenario would be pretty awful.  Then I remembered when I had my four wisdom teeth removed.  I was awake for the procedure, but my mouth was injected and numbed so that I couldn’t feel pain.  Afterwards, my mom came in to see me.  For some reason, it was incredibly important for me to convey to my mom that I was still perfectly logical, even with all of the pain meds. Continue reading “Surrendering”

Independence and Surrender

Our entire lives seem to be a battle between independence and surrender.  We seek independence at an early age and relish it for much of our lives.  My two year old niece enjoys the freedom of saying “no” and running where she wants, when she wants.  My nephews want to help with chores and frequently refuse help for themselves, instead wanting to demonstrate their ability to do it on their own.  As adults, we are quick to forget there is any uniqueness in driving where we want, buying what we want, and living how we want.

Age or misfortune catches up to us and we soon find ourselves losing our independence.  We can fight this inevitable fate, but it will only breed bitterness and malcontent.  Eventually, we must surrender.  In the spiritual life, we can learn this gift of surrender earlier.  Relinquishing control of our lives, realizing that we are not the ones in control or willing our own existence, can prepare us for the gradual physical surrender that must happen.

My grandparents are aging and I see the fighting that takes place within them.  I do not blame their desire to grasp their dwindling freedom or to express frustration at a body that is now turning against them.  The simple freedoms are gradually slipping away–no walking around the block, no trips to the grocery store, no single bed for them to share.  The task of getting ready for bed, something so mundane one often forgets it, is now one that requires help.  Waiting outside their bedroom as they were ushered to bed, I thought of how someday that will be me, helping my parents.  And perhaps someday it will be me, being helped to bed.  Inwardly, I rebel at the thought.  I think that I will break the mold, I will not need the help, I will do it on my own.

When visiting them, I can sense the mounting frustration.  There seems to be both a desire to return to health and a desire to die.  My grandparents have not aged prematurely.  In their late 80s-early 90s, they are as fit as one might expect them to be.  Thankfully, they are ill in body but, apart from a little confusion, sound in mind.  I wonder what to say—do I speak of suffering?  Do I remind them to be thankful of their blessings?  Do I try to lighten the mood?  Mostly, I just listen.  I listen to my grandpa tell me about the picture of grandma now on the piano.  He says he wanted it there because that is how she looked when they met.  Her beauty floored him.  I listen to my grandma talk about one of my many cousins.  Her life for so many years has been about others, even now she finds it difficult to draw conversation to herself.  I listen to my grandpa’s worries and fears.  I listen to my grandma attempt to follow my mom around the kitchen, asking what she needs help with and telling her what to do.

While age has forced my grandparents to lose independence, illness can do the same for others far younger.  I have a friend from college who has been battling a debilitating illness for the last three years.  It causes her intelligent brain to rebel against reading more than a few lines at a time and forces her marathon trained body to be weak and unpredictable.  I refuse to canonize her yet, but I have witnessed the beauty of her striving to surrender herself to God in His inscrutable plan.  Such a situation could easily lead to depression and bitterness, but she is fighting the good fight, ironically by striving to lay down her arms.

How do we surrender?  It is a choice.  We can see physically our limitations.  I can really want to do something yet find myself incapable.  The spiritual limitations are less clear.  With those, we can fool ourselves into thinking they aren’t there or that we have surrendered, simply by virtue of thinking the words once or twice.

In surrendering, we choose to not manipulate the situation, we choose to not be in control.  After years of being told that we can do it and that we are the ones running our lives, it is counter-cultural to step back and release control.  I can drive myself anywhere I want, I can eat whatever food I want, and I can spend my time as I choose.  But I do not will my heart to keep beating, I cannot control the replication of my cells, and I am powerless in making myself continue to exist.  For all the little things I doggedly control, I am incapable of controlling all the major aspects of my life.  Accepting God’s authority in my life is central to becoming the saint He desires me to be.

Lord, help us to surrender, to admit with our lives that we are not the ones in control.  In our inmost being we desire to belong to You and to give ourselves over to You.  Grant us the grace to do so.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  John 21: 18