School was called off for today before I even went to bed last night. It meant that my sister and I leisurely watched a movie and then talked for a while before curling up to fall asleep. This morning, the snow hadn’t started yet so I went out of the house for a couple of hours, returning as the snow began to lie thick on the roads. Ideally, though, I would have been still tucked away in my bed or perhaps snuggled on the couch with a cup of coffee as I turned through my latest book.
In high school, I was surprised when I heard that on snow days kids went to go hang out at the mall. For me, it was an unthinkable action. Why would I go out into the blustery weather when that was the exact reason I wasn’t at school? I also was gifted with a father who would have unquestionably smacked me with a hearty dose of common sense if I would have even asked to drive to town despite the weather. Being at home was actually what I wanted to do anyway. While I liked school, I didn’t mind a day of sleeping in and being home. The same still holds true as an adult.
I grew up slow.
By that, I mean, as I grew up, we moved slowly.
I look at the schedules my students have or the schedules of kids and it looks so different from my youth. In elementary school, I usually rode the bus home and I was there until the next day when I left for school. My mom made supper and we all ate together. Sometimes the older siblings were running off to practice or games, but we almost always ate supper around our dining room table.
My summers were quiet, too. Sometimes we explored the farm or watched too much TV or read book after book. But it was slow, with plenty of time and space for us to play in the hay loft or read through book lists with forty to fifty titles. It wasn’t perfection, although my memory tends to cast an overly rosy hue on the days of my childhood. However, it had the great beauty of not being rushed.
Seeing a list of my strengths is a vastly different experience than seeing a list of my weaknesses. That being said, I am incredibly aware that I have a great many flaws. There are probably areas I overlook, but as a melancholic, I am pretty introspective alongside possessing a generally critical nature.
I had my seniors take a temperament quiz at the beginning of the semester, partly for fun and partly so I can get to know them better. As they read through the descriptions they gave for their temperament, I was surprised to hear many of the lamenting the list of weaknesses for their particular temperament. Some commented that they were pretty harsh in the assessment of weaknesses and others were a bit more defensive as they said they didn’t have a bad temperament or were a bad person. Nobody, however, complained that they had an excessive list of strengths.
It made me wonder why they were so bothered by an impersonal test telling them which weaknesses they might possess. I wasn’t bothered by it. It was easy enough to read through the list and admit that I lacked in that area or recognize that I didn’t struggle with that particular flaw. Had they never considered what weaknesses they had? Were they bothered even considering that they might have weaknesses? What moved them to pull back as though someone had specifically told them where they fell short?
I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. I’m not sure if the weaknesses rang a little too true or if they all felt wrong based on the person they knew. It seemed, however, that they needed to be reminded that we all have areas to work on, things that are just a little more difficult for us based on our personality. And so, having never made this connection before, I connected their temperament to the faculties of the human soul, to our intellect and our will.
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.
The first day or two that we were on pilgrimage in Rome, the students were entering church after church with necks that craned heavenward. It was the natural response to the beautiful architecture that we were encountering. They took pictures galore, marveling over magnificent domes and intricate mosaics that adorned the walls. Our hearts were overflowing with beauty. My students from South Dakota were encountering some of the greatest artists the world has ever had to offer.
By day three, however, they were growing bored with the church after church schedule, regardless how beautiful they were. One of the girls that seemed quite invested in photography went from executing creative basilica photo shoots to nonchalantly sitting in a pew during a stop in another church.
“Isn’t it funny how quickly we get bored of all this beauty?” I asked her as I watched other students mill around aimlessly. “Yes!” she replied, perhaps noticing for the first time how much her response had changed to the loveliness around her.
And we spoke for a few minutes about how amazed we all were the first day and how quickly we were tired of what had been novel only a couple days before. My tiredness didn’t match the students’ expressions, but I did have to remind myself to keep looking at the churches with wonder and not simply let my eyes glaze over.
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.
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?
Recently, I came into possession of Alanna Boudreau’s “Champion” CD. And I’ve been listening to it on repeat pretty much since then. As with all CDs, there are some songs I like more than others and certain lines in songs that move me more than others.
Her song “Controlled Burn” is one of the songs on repeat a bit more than others and I want to highlight a couple of the lines that stand out to me.
“And I ache, I ache, I ache / When I see all the nothing / That could have been something / That should have been you”
This line is perhaps the most perfect summary of these months of summer and maybe even the past year. From the silent retreat near the beginning of summer to my sister’s home visit to being on the brink of school beginning, I have felt an ache for the nothingness that surrounds me. Sometimes I am a bit fearful about the judgment that will come at the end of my life and how I will need to answer for all of my time. The “nothing” that I did should have been replaced by the Lord, by perfectly following His will in all things. Someday I will regret that wasted time even more than I do now.
I’m not saying that every moment needs to be filled to the brim with productivity. Americans, however, aren’t particularly good at true leisure. We binge watch TV shows, waste time on our phones, and fastidiously document our lives on social media. Obviously, these are all generalizations, but our inability to truly embrace leisure is evident. So when I say I waste time, I don’t mean I neglected to work, work, work. Rather, I was isolated too much, preferring to spend time on my own rather than setting up numerous coffee dates or road trips or nights out with friends. As an introvert, it is an easy hole to fall into and an even easier one to justify. Continue reading “Controlled Burn: A Song of Longing”→
Something I gave up for Lent this year is online shopping. Yet I’ve come to realize in the past week that buying too much stuff isn’t the most prevalent problem. Yes, I could probably fill a six-foot bookshelf with the stacks of books piled around my room. The thing that is harder than not buying things is not even looking for them.
My younger sister jokes that for fairly large purchases (like a food processor or an iPhone) I start talking about them six months before I get around to buying them. I’ve never been much of an impulse buyer. But this Lent I’m giving up browsing, shopping, and slowly placing items in random online shopping carts. I have had to catch myself at least two or three times already from following links to Amazon or sites with random household products.
Why am I doing this? There are two primary reasons: I spend unnecessary time scrolling through websites and I don’t like what looking at so many material things does to my heart.
The first is the lesser of the two. It is important, though. Time is a treasure for which it is difficult to account. The minutes can slip away quickly as I look at what other books will fit nicely into my library. Or as I scout out birthday presents for family members in advance. If I am continually feeling like I don’t have enough time, then perhaps I need to evaluate how I invest my time.
But that second reason, that is probably what caused me to stop with the shopping and browsing. We live in a very materialistic world, but I’ve always felt fairly simple. That simplicity, though, seems to be more an idea than a practice. And I don’t like that it seems to be a quality I think I have but actually do not. Gazing at all of the things I don’t have yet might like to, makes me feel unsatisfied with what I currently have. Continue reading “Lent: When You’re Little Enough that No Virtual Window Shopping is a Sacrifice”→
As I walked the Camino, I found within myself a longing for beauty. Mile after mile passed beneath my feet and I made commitments to myself about how I would like to live my post-Camino life.
Read poetry every day.
Look at new artwork.
Listen to classical music.
All of those commitments and ideas didn’t translate as neatly into my reality as I had hoped. In the rush of the daily grind, it is difficult to intentionally set aside time to experience beauty. Most days, my taste of beauty happens when I remind myself to take in the fall foliage before winter sets in. But an intentional pursuit of beauty? Generally, that is non-existent.
Last night, I flipped through a book of poems entitled Poems You Ought to Know. My English degree (with a concentration in British and American Literature) meant that I recognized most of the names in the table of contents. Some of the poem names even sounded familiar, but few were ones I could stop and say, “Oh, I love this one!”
Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” was there and I recalled that in college I taught a lesson on this to a classroom of high schoolers during an education class. It is a beautiful poem, I think, even with the natural morbidity found in Poe’s works. The poetic devices that I had reviewed with the class came to mind dimly.
It makes me wonder why I don’t read poetry like my heart desires. Why do I not sit down and read a Shakespearean sonnet in the evening? Why don’t I learn about the famous classical composers? Why don’t I use the gift of the internet to virtually explore art museums and learn about the different periods in art history? I desire it. Why don’t I do it?
A phrase I have found myself repeating over the last few months is, “A lot can happen in a year.” It has come up when reflecting on different friends and how their lives have changed. Sometimes it relates to jobs or relationships or babies. And, sometimes, when I’m being a bit more pessimistic and thinking about my own life, I’ll add to the end of that phrase, “…or not change.”
Yet, mostly, I utter this phrase in hope. Whatever state my life is in now, in a year, it could be very different. Who knows what the Lord has planned for tomorrow? or next week? or next month? His promises and blessings for this next year will definitely be different from what I imagine, but they will continue to change and transform me.
Sometimes change can be a bit scary. And at other times, change can be prayed for and longed for. I have numerous desires in my heart that I long for the Lord to fulfill. But I also can be led to worry about how He will fulfill them and if I am actually ready for Him to fulfill them. Whatever my current feelings may be, a lot can and will happen in the next year.
This week we are wrapping up one liturgical year and preparing for the advent of another. Now is a good time to consider how the Lord has poured out His blessings upon our lives. The past year of grace has changed and transformed us. What are specific ways the Lord has caused us to grow? What encounters have we had with the Lord and how have they changed us? How have they not changed us as much as they ought? The next year will continue to do the same in new and unexpected ways. As we sit on the cusp of a new year, let us pray to be filled with a deeper desire to enter into salvation history in a new way. May this next year not leave us unchanged. Come, Lord Jesus, reign in my life. Let a lot happen in this next year.
In one moment, I can give you more than you are able to desire.
(Jesus to St. Faustina, Diary 1169)