While personal difficulties can be genuine, regardless of their large-scale importance, sometimes it is helpful to put them in perspective. The Lord cares about what I care about and so I try to be careful to not dismiss hurt feelings, stress, or joy simply because it isn’t life altering. Yet when I do feel overwhelmed or a bit shaken, it can help to focus on the aspects for which I can be grateful.
There are two recent examples that come to mind. The first is my living situation. Currently, I am in the process of moving into a new house, but I am not quite moved in yet. Over the past couple weeks, I have stayed mostly at my parents’ house in the country and sometimes with friends who live in town. It isn’t that difficult of a life, but the slight upheaval of transitional homes adds a bit of extra stress to the day-to-day life.
Yet when I was sharing this stress with a few different people over the last couple of days, I was struck by the fact that I am not homeless. In fact, it is the opposite. I have an abundance of homes–there is the home I am working to move into, my parents’ home where I have my own bedroom when I stay there, and friends who generously offer a room to me when needed. The added stress I feel is real, but the things I can be grateful for far surpass the inconvenience.
Three things I’m thankful for today:
-The song “Kings and Queens” by Mat Kearney–especially the line “Richer than Solomon with you by my side” as he expertly blends Scripture into his songs
-Weekend food leftovers to power me through the start of another week
-Books: owning them, reading them, and anticipating their arrival
There is something about gratitude that shifts the perspective. A few years ago, I was in the practice of writing down things for which I was thankful. They were often small, inconsequential things. Yet, even now, when I look back at those pages in my notebook, I smile at the glimpse into my heart and life during that time.
A random sampling from my gratitude journal: 3. Principal observation on a movie day
5. Peace after expressing frustration
29. Gusts of wind that make crunchy leaves trip down the road
37. The post-run feeling of health (following the post-run feeling of death)
59. Stretching out in bed at night
69. Eyes crinkled in laughter
80. Heavy hearts sharing the burden through conversation
133. Answered novenas in unhoped for ways
172. Solo supper with Grandma
176. My students telling me which gifts of the Holy Spirit they think I live out
241. Laughter with students instead of going insane
Some of the events I remember. For others, I’m not quite certain to what I was referring, but there is a beauty in seeing what moved my heart to express gratitude. Thankfulness is one of those things that doesn’t quite make sense if there is no God. Who else can I thank for the peace I feel after settling an argument? Or for the wind that causes leaves to swirl around on the ground? These would be mere observations or fleeting thoughts unless they could be expressed to someone responsible for them.Continue reading “Gratitude on a January Day”→
Ben Rector came out with a song called “Old Friends” and it became a brief topic of conversation with a friend this summer. The song is catchy and provokes an immediate nostalgia within me. However, as I spoke with this friend, we talked about how we don’t have “old friends” and, as Ben Rector spends over four minutes articulating, you can’t make them now.
Granted, I have friends that I went to elementary, middle, and high school with, spending about twelve years in the same classrooms in my small rural public school in South Dakota. A few of them I even catch up with on occasion, but none of them know me through and through. I grew up out of town and my parents were careful not to play the chauffeur for my siblings and me. So I would see them at school, after school activities, and church if they were Catholic.
But we weren’t riding our bikes around town together in the summer or spending every waking minute swimming at the pool. For me, summers were spent at my parents’ farm, isolated from the rest of the town about five miles away. After school, I rode the bus home, preventing me from meeting someone up town at the popular hangout that served fried appetizers. Even when I did drive, I had a younger sister to provide transportation for and it was also generally assumed that I would head directly home after my extracurricular events concluded.
These aren’t bad things, per se, I just offer them to point to the fact that much of what Ben Rector sings about felt impossible for me to have experienced based on my situation. Most of my youthful memories are filled with my siblings. The past couple weeks were filled with pretty intense and intentional family togetherness time and when it ended, it caused me to feel that wave of nostalgia that reminded me of “Old Friends.”
My two older sisters are in religious life and the older one has an annual home visit for two weeks. As far as religious communities go, that is a generous amount of time yet it also constitutes the bulk of what our relationship looks like for the year. Short occasional phone calls and letters (which were non-existent on my part this year) aren’t the best ways to sustain a vibrant relationship. My other sister is a cloistered nun, meaning that she has answered God’s call to live as a hermit within community, essentially. My family visits her annually on a weekend when my other sister returns from the convent. While it varies year-to-year, this year I was able to have two hours alone with her to visit. As with the other sister, the bulk of my relationship is found in those brief moments.
After we had left the cloistered monastery and my other sister was dropped off at the airport, I felt a nostalgia for the past closeness of my youth. Naturally, as time passes, the family changes through new additions, losses, moves, and the like. When my brother married, his wife became an integral part of the family and my nephews and niece also changed the family dynamic. The vocation my older sisters have to religious life likewise shifts the family dynamic. While I am thankful for their vocations and the joy accompanying them, I still miss what could have been. Continue reading “Nostalgia”→
Tastes and preferences change over time, for which I am grateful. When I was younger, I didn’t like spicy food like hot sauce or horseradish sauce. Over the past couple years, I’ve started to enjoy sprinkling (sparingly) some fiery sauce over my eggs or potatoes or whatever might seem good. The surprising craving for horseradish came as a result of an encounter with a Blue Apron recipe I tried. After roasting broccoli and potatoes, the recipe called for a creamy horseradish sauce to coat the vegetables. Since then, I’ve been randomly working the interesting flavor into different meals.
As taste buds change, so also personal preferences change. What used to be unattractive, has changed over time into something which draws my heart. St. Mary Magdalene is one person who fits into this category. I’ve met several people over the years who have loved her and for many of those years, I was a bit confused. The people seemed to have nothing in common with this well-known sinner-saint, yet they were attracted to her life and witness. I can now number myself among those who love St. Mary Magdalene. While I don’t identify very closely with the particulars of her life, I identify very much with her heart.
She was a woman who was forgiven much and loved much. In an act of total self-surrender, she broke her jar of precious ointment and poured it on the feet of Jesus. Wiping His feet with her hair, she laid her entire life before Our Lord. In exchange, she was one of His closest followers, one who sat at His feet to listen to His stories and who was driven by grief to weep at His tomb after the crucifixion. In her need to be close to Him, she was sent as “the apostle to the Apostles” and was the first to witness the resurrected Christ.
St. Mary Magdalene loved with a love that was all-encompassing. That need, that desire to be a total gift for the Lord is something that resonates within my own heart. Earlier this summer while on retreat, I prayed with that passage of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus. In a way that it hadn’t before, the words of the Gospel moved my heart and invited me to share more deeply in the relationship Mary had with Our Lord. Continue reading “A Heart Like St. Mary Magdalene”→
A lovely perk of teaching is that most of my work stops in mid to late-May and resumes in early to mid-August. It is a schedule I have held since I was about seven years old when I started school. Since I have never known anything else, I sometimes have to remind myself that this is not the norm.
People frequently ask me what my plans are for the summer. Sometimes they are curious about where I am traveling or what extra activities I will be involved in. Other times, however, I think they are questioning why I am not getting a job for the summer. Isn’t that what adults do? This lingering question is also mixed with the slight jealousy that I have a few months to not work a 9 to 5 job. I wish I had a job like that, I can almost hear them say.
Well, I’ve decided on a newer tactic this year. If people comment on wishing they had the luxurious schedule that I have, I will tell them a little secret: this dream can be yours, too! All you need to do is go to school, get the appropriate degree, and get a job teaching. Last I heard, there wasn’t a surplus of teachers in our state and teaching here doesn’t require advanced degrees.
But, you see, that is the thing–there just might be a reason schools aren’t overflowing with insane numbers of candidates, at least not where I live. I do get a summer to step away from it all, but that is a perk that must be taken with the less preferable parts of the job. I never argue that I have the most difficult or demanding job in the world. I don’t believe that I do. Yet I hear over and over again from various intelligent people, “I could never do your job.” Which I think is slightly exaggerated, but also quite telling. I think many people could do the job I do, it is simply that many don’t want to. Continue reading “In Defense of Summers”→
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”→
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.
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.
Jesus and the prophets spoke to the people of their times in ways that enabled the listeners to understand. They used examples and situations that were relevant. Growing up on a sheep farm, the numerous references to sheep struck me as particularly insightful. Many of my classes have heard stories of how sheep aren’t the brightest and how fitting I think that is in relation to humans. Yet for all the ways that sheep seem dim-witted, they have some great qualities that make them endearing.
Sheep are communal beings and generally move as an entire flock. It was rare that simply one sheep would slip through a defect in the fence. If one had escaped, it was likely that multiple had. I have several memories of trying to separate a couple of specific sheep out of the flock and their attempts to remain with the larger group. Yet their desire to be in communion with others, in their simple animal way, is something that is roughly mirrored in humans. Even as an introvert, I know I need to be in communion with others. I want to be alone at times and yet I find an intense joy in sharing life with others, too.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5)
When the sheep would wander far out into the pasture, my dad would go to the gate with a couple of pails of corn, cup his hands to his mouth, and bellow, “Sheep!” It wasn’t really a unique call in terms of words used, but his voice was unique to the sheep. My brother could try to imitate it, but I remember going to the pasture on days I was responsible for chores and trying to yell in the deep pitch of my father. Generally, they were unconcerned. After calling and several enticing shakes of corn kernels in a bucket, they would lift their heads and begin to head in my direction. As soon as my dad calls, they start running in his direction, at near full speed. They know the shepherd’s voice.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15)
The word pastorliterally means a helper or feeder of sheep. For years, I only referred to my priests as “Father.” And there is admittedly a beauty in that. I love the filial sense of love and respect that is found in the relationship between a priest and his people, a father and his children. Yet over the past couple years, I have found the term pastor increasingly meaningful. I used to equate it only with Protestant churches and their ministers. However, pastor means shepherd and I know the importance of the role of the shepherd.
In a world that is chaotic, the sheep need a shepherd to speak through the noise. For the past three years, I have had the great gift to be led by my parish priest, my pastor, Fr. John. He is a priest of my diocese, but I found myself quick to claim a closer association with him if possible. Not simply a fellow member of the diocese, he was my particular shepherd, the one leading my parish community. Continue reading “Farewell to a Pastor”→