Healing, Truth, and This is Us

Healing, Truth, and This is Us

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”

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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”

Sorrow and Joy

Sorrow and Joy

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.

Everyone? Continue reading “Sorrow and Joy”

Farewell to a Pastor

Farewell to a Pastor

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 pastor literally 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”

Snow and Humanity

Snow and Humanity

I love what snow does to humanity.

Granted, I am not a fan of driving in snow, but I get a strange exhilaration from the experience.  In the midst of snow or after a heavy snowfall, I find myself willing humanity to work together.  Even though difficulties can sometimes bring out the worst in us, it can also bring out the best in us.  Last night, I encountered people driving cautiously and courteously.  People were more patient as their fellow drivers struggled to stop at lights or took a couple extra seconds to gain traction.

The snow forces me to be concerned about the other, even if for nothing other than my own self-preservation.  I am particularly aware of how far their vehicle is from mine or what I can do to make their commute home a little easier.  Instead of only being concerned if I get through the light, I am instead considering what will be best for those with whom I share the road.  It is good for humanity to experience the gift of working with each other for the good of all. Continue reading “Snow and Humanity”

In Defense of Travel

In Defense of Travel

My parents never placed great emphasis on having things.  We were far from impoverished, but I grew up knowing that we wouldn’t have the newest and latest gadget or toy.  The car I drove throughout high school was fondly nicknamed “The Beast,” largely because it was old, rusty, and muffler-less.  Our go-to cups for my niece and nephews are the cleaned out Kraft cheese spread glass containers from the many cheese balls my mom has made over the years.  Our compost buckets are emptied out ice cream pails and it is a struggle to remember a time when my parents let me throw away food from my supper plate.

Although these stories of my thrifty parents are nothing compared to my grandparents’ stories (the masters of frugal living, I believe), it was different from the way that many others in my generation grew up.  I am at the younger end in my family and so most of my high school friends had parents who were significantly younger.  Depending on how you break up generations, my older siblings could belong to a different generation than me.  Whatever the reason, I grew up knowing that things can provide only so much happiness. Continue reading “In Defense of Travel”

Today

Today

Today was a good day.

I slept in later than I should have and rushed to get ready in time.  Rushing around, I didn’t eat breakfast and threw a bagel in my lunch bag.  Preparing to submit my grades during my lunch time, I completely forgot to eat my lunch/bagel.  A student asked me why we don’t have a class that covers all of the bad things Catholics have done in the past.  And my supervisor mentioned (in a kind way) that I never date.  (I had noticed.)

But today was still a good day.

I met this morning with lovely young ladies and we talked about preparing ourselves for the relationships for which we all long.  I had multiple times today where I would realize, “Hey, I’m doing this teaching thing!”  A couple moments with my seniors resulted in laughter, partly because I am less defensive than I’ve been in previous years and I was able to take things in stride with a smile.  Today, I laughed: when a student flipped his pencil to the ceiling (and looked like he surprised himself), when a student asked if I would take them all to walk the Camino (my answer: I don’t think we would all make it to the end alive), and with various friends during conversations.  I had a cup of coffee in a mug decorated with pictures from a trip my sister and I took.  During school, I prayed the Holy Sacrificed of the Mass.  I made Thai food.  I read more in my current book.  I was able to talk about art and martyrdom today and feel passionate for the topics even if my students appeared less than excited to hear about them.  One of my housemates shared her leftover cheesecake.  And I can hear a couple of my housemates trying to figure out the suspenseful show they are watching.

Today was a good day.  The Lord used the nothing that I had and He brought about something.  It wasn’t perfect and it probably could have been better if I had given more of myself.  Thank You, Jesus, for this day.

The Love of a Father



“To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.  I have become all things to all, to save at least some.  All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.”  
1 Corinthians 9:22-23
 
Be all things to all people.  That is a tall order.  An impossible order, I suppose.  There will always be a way that you fall short or don’t live the way someone expects or wants you to live.  Yet I saw this “all things to all” being lived out in a beautiful way.
We celebrated a large Mass with all of the Catholic students of our diocese.  In the thirty minutes following Mass, I watched the eager crowds of children gradually disperse.  While they waited, I watched my parish priest as he made his rounds.  He stopped by the section where students from his previous parish were seated.  A large group of them began to wave excitedly.  To them, he was a star and they were excited to see him again after his absence.  After a few minutes of talking to students and teachers, he migrated to his current parish and greeted the children.  I kept waiting for him to walk away, but he didn’t.  One-by-one as the students left their rows to go to the bus, he greeted them.  Some wanted a high-five, others wanted a hug, and some simply waved.
It was beautiful to watch them each pass under his fatherly gaze, often accompanied by a pat on the head or shoulder and always a smile.  This is not the first time I have been amazed by his fatherly care.  During his homilies at Mass, it is easy to get that sense that he is our spiritual father.  Yet the way he lives it out does not remain simply spiritual.  It is not just in prayers and sacrifices that he seeks to be our father.  Rather, he greets the people of his parish and goes to their homes.  His heart is filled with a tender fatherly love for his children, some of them biologically older then him.
My experience with priests has led to me to harbor a deep love for them.  While I would not relate to all of them in a fatherly way, I have found many who are living out the call to encounter people where they are “for the sake of the gospel” in order to “have a share in it” also.  The priest who instructed my summers of Totus Tuus also lived out the role of a father.  We were primarily young college students and he laughed with us, taught us, and loved us.  At the end of the first summer, he thanked us for “calling out the fatherhood” in him.
For all of the things that the secular media says about the institution of the priesthood and all the ways it seeks to change it, I am inspired to continually meet young, holy priests (or not-young, holy priests) who have sacrificed having their own families so as to welcome an entire parish as a family.  Regardless of your upbringing and family background, in the beauty of the Catholic Church, everyone has a father who reveals to us, in part, the person of God the Father.