When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality

When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality

I missed a plane and then had an extended lay-over due to a late arriving aircraft.  I nervously tried to figure out how to turn the headlights on in a new car for which I had just refused all extra insurance.  In the dark, I navigated along the fast-paced 405 and I-5, following a GPS that was guiding me to a place I had never been.  I circled the hotel to find where I was supposed to park.  Stupidly, I had to ask the hotel clerk if he knew the make of a Sentra.  I later realized Nissan was clearly written on the key I had in hand.  The room wasn’t what I expected based on hotel pictures.  I couldn’t figure out how to make the old bathtub faucet produce the water I desired until the second day of my stay.  I missed the evening part the conference that I had flown half-way across the country to attend.

Perceptions and preconceived ideas greatly change how we experience situations.

In my mind, this conference would go perfectly.  I would fly to sunny southern California, learn mountains of information, meet great people, and then blissfully return home.  The hotel would be perfect.  The drives would be scenic and pleasant.  Everything would go according to plan.

The first evening, I laid on the bed in my less-than-expected hotel room and considered the stress I was experiencing.  While there were delays and inconveniences, nothing that terrible had happened.  No accidents, no major dilemmas, nothing that would ruin my time at the conference.  Yet I still felt disappointed and a bit let down.

My expectations were not met and I realized they had been ridiculously high.  When I thought back to how I expected the few days to go, I imagined sunny days, easy drives, and luxurious sleeping quarters.  I let the novelty of the situation turn the reality into something disheartening.  When I surveyed the past day with few expectations, it turned out that reality wasn’t quite so bad. Continue reading “When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality”

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When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

Over three years ago, I filled a hiking backpack, flew to Europe, and walked El Camino de Santiago.  The first day on the Camino, though difficult, was exhilarating.  We walked from the beautiful little town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, over the Pyrenees, and into Roncesvalles in Spain.  The newness of the adventure combined with spectacular views made me excited nearly every step of the way.

The next morning, we were tired and sore, but eager to continue this 500-mile trek.  So we set out again, walking for hours, taking in gorgeous scenery, and dining at little cafes or from our packed lunches.

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Then we did that again.  And again.

Sleep, rise, walk, eat, walk, Mass, eat, sleep.  Repeat.

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The tiredness soon was eclipsed by pain.  My feet ached in a way they never had before.  Blisters developed in tender places.  The beginning of the day meant pressing my feet into my shoes and then starting the delicate process of walking.  After a while, the pain dulled and seemed to fade into my subconscious.  However, if we ever paused, my feet gave a fiery reminder to sit down or keep walking.

Yet even these blisters didn’t completely dampen my spirits.  I knew they could happen and it was, in a way, part of the Camino adventure.  Each day, I offered up my pain for different intentions and this made the journey a pilgrimage instead of a hiking trip.

One day, I no longer wanted to walk.  

The intense desires to sleep in, be in the same place for more than 15 hours, or watch a movie were things I hadn’t anticipated when I started walking.  There was a definite shift from “This is fun!” to “This is a pilgrimage.”  Internally resistant to another day of plodding along, I realized that this adventure would require work and an embracing of the daily struggle.

And then I realized, this is a lot like life. Continue reading “When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On”

Wonderful Awe

Wonderful Awe

A couple of weeks ago, I sat at my dining room table with a couple of friends and discussed with awe the world around us.  In the midst of busy lives and increasing advancements, sometimes it is easy to take for granted things that should be amazing to us.  For a few hours, my friends and I moved from topic to topic, considering the world with great awe.

Wonder is the normal response to splendor.

Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty

This event struck me because of how easy it is to view the world in a tired, jaded way.  While I know a decent amount of theology, my knowledge in so many other areas is small and incomplete.  In day-to-day interactions, I take many things for granted.  Things that would astound me, if I paused for just a moment to acknowledge them.  So we conversed with wonder about the internet, smart phones, suspension bridges, wind turbines, time, and solar power.  It was a joy to consider what the human mind has conceived and how it is possible for us to create things.  A couple of months ago, I read a book about a watchmaker who would travel by train to another town simply to get the correct time from an astronomical clock for his town’s clock tower.  We were amazed that now we could just look at our watches or phones to know the time.

I have had multiple situations where I have discussed with others the beauty of things I do not fully understand.  The complexity of a single human cell, the vastness of the universe, and the splendor of mountains have all, at one time or another, been a topic of conversation and awe.  Yesterday, I flew across half the country in less than three hours.  The fact that flying is even possible helps bring wonder into a situation that can be consumed by impatience with security and airline rules.  I looked with curiosity at the mountain ranges that looked like large creases on a landscape far below me.  A patchwork quilt of farmland and mile after mile of straight country roads soon greeted me as I neared my destination.  I spent much of my flying time reading a book, but every now and then I would look and marvel at the world below and this plane far above.

It is troubling that in a universe replete with mind-boggling fascinations masses of people live dull and drab lives….Fully jaded men and women, old or young, marvel at nothing….To be listless, dull, bored, and lifeless is not only a miserable condition, it is an illness, a fact obvious to anyone who is intellectually alive.  To respond to reality and to appreciate it are normal; not to respond is abnormal.

Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty

This world that surrounds us is quite magnificent.  It is beautiful beyond understanding.  People laugh a bit at me when I profess the beauty of South Dakota.  And when I was in high school, I probably would have laughed at myself, too.  It was only after traveling around Europe during my semester abroad, that I began to see beauty in a multitude of places.  The scenery became glorious because everything was surrounded in a golden halo simply because it was European.

When I came home, I found myself wanting to pull over to the side of the road to take pictures of scenery.  I was surprised that a field of corn filled me with joy or that wide open prairies seemed as beautiful to me in South Dakota as they had in Austria.  My eyes were opened to see the beauty that can be found anywhere. Continue reading “Wonderful Awe”

Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries

Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries

May 13, 1917

Our Lady chooses to reveal herself to three children tending sheep in the Cova da Iria.  Tenderly, she tells them to not be afraid and yet she asks them to sacrifice for the conversion of the world.  They are mere children, the oldest one is ten years old, but they agree to offer up their sufferings and sacrifices for love of Jesus and for the conversion of others.

That may seem abstract to many of us.  However, they are quick to concretize this request.  Whenever poor children ask for food, the three children give them their lunch.  As they tend to the sheep, they see how long they can go without water and offer this thirst to Jesus.  Little Jacinta finds out that she will die alone in a hospital in Lisbon and, although she is scared, she chooses to offer this trial up to Our Lady for the sake of others.

We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him.  That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering.  God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle.

Canonization Mass Homily of Pope Francis, 5/13/2017

These sacrifices, though small in the course of human history, are monumental.  Children are shown to be capable of leading the way to holiness.  Their tangible witness is felt in particular in the place one would expect it: Fatima, Portugal.

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It has been a tremendous gift of mine that I have been to Fatima three times.  The picture above is from the most recent trip.  The man in the picture happens to be the nephew of St. Francisco and St. Jacinta Marto.  His father was their older brother, John.  Proud of his close relation, he showed us the page in Lucia’s book where she speaks about his father.

Each time I am in Fatima, I experience a great peace that comes from resting in a place that is so dear to my Heavenly Mother.  My birthday aligns with the anniversary of her first appearance in Fatima and so I have a filial devotion to this particular feast.  As I have read more about the children and how they fervently responded to her words, I have grown an even deeper love for Our Lady of Fatima and her little children.

May 13, 2017

In so many ways, their lives were insignificant.  Francisco and Jacinta were two children who fell victim to the influenza epidemic in 1919-1920.  Their lives were spent in poor circumstances in a town in Portugal for which few people cared.  While generally good children, they were not known to be perfect.  Yet on May 13, 2017, they were declared canonized saints in the Catholic Church.

Indeed, God created us to be a source of hope for others, a true and attainable hope, in accordance with each person’s state of life.

Pope Francis 5/13/2017

Continue reading “Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries”

When Simplicity Must Be Chosen

When Simplicity Must Be Chosen

Nearly three years ago, I strapped on a hiking backpack and walked five hundred miles.  As I walked El Camino de Santiago, people crossed my path who were completing the pilgrimage for the second or third time.  While beautiful, I wondered why people would complete this trek multiple times.  Once will be enough for me, I thought.

Yet now and again, I find myself longing to be on some dusty trail in the midst of the Spanish countryside.  It isn’t because of my love for travel, although I suppose that does play a role.  My desire to be on the Camino for a second time stems largely from my desire for simplicity.

On the Camino, it is easy to be simple.  In fact, it is almost a requirement that one be simple.  On your back, you carry all of your clothes, sleeping bag, toiletries, etc.  Everything you think you will need along the Way, you must plod every blessed mile with it fastened to your back.

Sometimes it annoyed me to live so simply.  I wanted a different outfit to wear.  I was surprised at how much I found myself longing for a real towel and not the travel towel I would use each day.  At times I wished to simply remain in the same place for more than an evening.  There were several things that made me not like living simply.

Yet, in a very authentic way, I realized my heart was made for simplicity.  When my closet of clothes overflows and the laundry basket is full, when my bookshelves no longer have room for the books I insist on buying, or when I find myself shopping online for things I realize I do not need, I remember that my heart is a simple heart.  Yet I wish simplicity was forced upon me instead of needing to be chosen.

My possessions have a weight and I want to be free.

Sitting in a cluttered room, I find myself slightly jealous of my older sisters and their vows of poverty.  To be free to be poor.  I know I romanticize poverty, but there is a longing in my heart for less.  And in that less, I know I will find more.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42

For over thirty days, I walked the Camino and if I did it again, I would pack less.  There is a simple beauty in choosing between two outfits.  There is a simplicity found in needing to walk a few miles each day.  I’ve never been so aware of my feet before.  And rarely have I felt like I’ve spent the entire day just being and walking in the Lord’s company.  Those lovely, simple things make the Camino something I wish I could be doing right now. Continue reading “When Simplicity Must Be Chosen”

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”

Where Jesus Most Wants To Be

Where Jesus Most Wants To Be

During the course of my time in Europe, I saw many churches. While in Rome I was able to enter into some of the most beautiful churches in the world. The basilicas are famous for their antiquity and artistic wonders. As I wandered through Assisi, I was able to pray in beautiful churches as well. At the hermitage of St. Francis, the areas of prayer seemed notable for their austerity and simplicity. One of the most beautiful chapels I have ever seen was my sister’s convent in Pennsylvania—the bare, wooden floors, the large, dark crucifix, and the altar made from a tree trunk made the simplicity obvious yet gorgeous. In a different way, St. Peter’s Basilica caused me to reflect on God as I gazed at the giant statues and ornamental features. When done correctly, both the simple and the ornate can cause the faithful to enter into prayer.

It is a natural thing, as a Catholic, to hone in on the beautiful places that house our King and go there to worship. In the midst of the gothic spires and baroque architecture, it is easy to forget that the person who lives within is the same person who lives in every Catholic Church around the world. He is no greater or lesser in the soaring cathedrals than in the simple country church. He isn’t more or less present if his tabernacle is made of wood or pure gold. Continue reading “Where Jesus Most Wants To Be”

Our Lady of Lourdes

Our Lady of Lourdes

“What color was the towel?”
“How big was the towel?”
“How was it wrapped around you?”
“What color were the walls?”
“Was the bath made of marble?”
“Were the walls taupe?”
“How large was the bath?”

I knew what they were doing.  

Sometimes students love to get their teachers off track and launch into tangents.  It works even better if the teacher enjoys talking about particular topics.  I recall a specific teacher in middle school who would tell the same stories over and over again.  And we loved to let him because it meant that we wouldn’t move on with other work.  As a teacher, I now understand a little more how one could repeat the same story to the same class and not remember.  If I, a “veteran” teacher of five years, struggle to remember if I told this story this year or to this class period, then a teacher of 30-40 years should definitely have a greater struggle.

We were talking about private revelation.  It is difficult for me to remember how much I knew at their age, but I was surprised at what they did not know.  I mentioned Lourdes, Fatima, scapulars, and Miraculous medals, receiving blank stares for many of them.  So I started to talk a bit more in-depth about Lourdes.  Once they found out that I had actually been there and been in the baths (“Can just anyone go?”), they had many questions.  Some were deeper (“Did you go to receive healing of body, mind, or spirit?”) and others were more surface level (“Do they reuse towels?”).  And when genuine interest (even if merely for the sake of not doing more classwork) is shown in the area of faith, I find it hard to not answer questions. Continue reading “Our Lady of Lourdes”

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”