The Resonance of Teaching

Resonance - artist Kathy Tidman
I'm pretty sure all of us can name one teacher who changed our lives. Perhaps it was a Sunday School teacher, or your 10th grade science teacher or even your piano teacher. Whatever it was, they were the person in the right place at the right time with the right message for your life.

Unless you've been a teacher, you wouldn't know that the opposite is also true. One's students leave indelible marks on the soul of a teacher.  Perhaps this is more true of a religion teacher, as we deal with life and death issues. And while our 15 year old students often stare at us blankly when we mention Purgatory or frankly disbelieve us when we talk about mortal sin, they still listen and absorb and think and ruminate.

I haven't been in a classroom in a few years, but many of my students remain a part of my life, even in a small way. I'm sure they still roll their eyes when I tell them I pray for them, but I do. And I pray harder for some then others. I hope that whatever truths I taught them, however feeble my attempts, stay with them. I hope those truths resonate, pondered for many years to come.

I lost a student yesterday. She lost her battle with addiction. Addiction is such a huge monster, and she was such a small lady. She had the white-blond hair of a toddler and a slightly sideways smile. Like most addicts, she was a sensitive soul. While she certainly had a reputation for being "wild," I only ever saw her as tame. She mostly stayed in the back of my classroom, likely counting the minutes until class was done.

In the last few years, she'd been realizing dreams: a baby boy, a new job, a car. She seemed really happy, in a way she'd never been in her teen years. But the addiction that chased her, caught her.

While I pray that what I taught those young people in a drafty classroom stays with them, perhaps it is important that they know their lives resonate with me. They made me laugh, they reminded me of their hurts and sorrows, and that some areas of our faith were just too hard to understand. I marveled at their stupidity and their strength. I saw courage in their eyes. They taught me that sorrow and regret are not just for the old.

I pray that this sweet young woman who carried tremendous burdens on her thin shoulders is now at peace. Peace, dear girl. May it be yours unto eternity.

Where is my heart? It was just here

Artist Erika Kuhn
Almost 2 decades ago, a dear friend of mine had a baby girl. It had been a rough pregnancy and I tried to make her bedrest at least interesting, with frequent light-hearted mail.

And then: baby girl! That baby became my god-daughter. I wrote her mom a letter about motherhood that, said at one point, "now you'll know what it's like to have your heart walking around outside your body."

I've always thought that line was one of the best descriptions of motherhood (No, I didn't write it.) Your kids, even when they are all grown-up, will always always be at the core of your very being. Even now, as adults, your heart hurts when they do. You wish you could navigate young adulthood for them. You ache when you don't hear from them.

One of my babies, my oldest daughter, decided (with her hubby) to move 800 miles away. It's been so great for both of them, but especially for her: she's matured so much. They are exploring and having fun. I'm so happy for them and for their marriage.

I was leaving work one day a week or so ago. Sitting at a red light, I saw a tall, leggy brunette with her hair piled on top of her head. She strode across the street, messenger bag hanging off her shoulder. My heart skipped a beat: "My baby!" But it wasn't her. And my heart hurt a little.

She called me last night, on her long drive home from work. "I'm bored," she said. Her cell phone kept cutting out, so we had a weird conversation that was chopped into bits and pieces but we laughed and chatted anyway. And my heart was a bit happier.

Articles like this one have young adults finding flaws in their parents in order to make sense of their own lives. (Trust me, my kids don't have to look very far to find my flaws. I've always lived my life "out loud," no holds-barred, right or wrong.) My relationship with my daughter is like oil and vinegar: it can be tasty and fine, or bitter and flat. Because we're human.

I wonder if God looks at this way. We are so far from home, so far away from our Heavenly Parent - He must miss us. He must hurt when we do. He must desire so deeply to hug us and never let go. At least I hope it's that way.

But my heart still skips a beat when I see her. I'm thrilled when she laughs, and love her little social media messages. And I literally ache - I miss her so much. Mi cara, mon coeur ... my heart, 1000 miles away. That's motherhood.

I'll just be crying in the bathroom...

Most women will admit to having a crying jag in the ladies' room at work at some point or another. Yesterday was mine.

No, I didn't actually cry in the bathroom, but that is only because of an iron will. And I wasn't sure - for most of the afternoon - whether I wanted to cry or needed to throw up.

I'm on my second week of a new job. Yesterday was a calamity. I felt like I was doing everything wrong, creating more work for me and/or someone else, and doing most things 2 or 3 times. Objectively, I know that nearly everyone has a day like this at a new job. You not only have to do the work you've been assigned, but you have to remember the names of co-workers, who sits where, where the copier is and how to negotiate delicate office issues. (For instance, if the next department over has treats out, can you snag one?)

Objectively, I knew I wasn't in danger of losing my job. Objectively, I know that my co-workers are more than happy to answer questions and help out.

But we are not talking objectively. We are talking about that part of the brain that is planning a crying jag in the bathroom: Can I get there without breaking down? Should I use a bathroom on another floor to minimize exposure to my immediate co-workers? How long can I stay in there?

I muddled through.

Part of this was my own fault: I was treating everything on my desk as if it were an emergency. As I do not work in a field hospital or trauma center, this is clearly not true. So, I told myself this morning that I needed to slow down. "Right" is almost always better than "fast."

I also asked God to give me a bit of a break. And He answered: the program I need to use has been down most of the day. I took advantage by cleaning my desk, storing a bunch of stuff that the previous cubicle owner believed to be important but was rather meaningless to me, and am studying.

That God for answered prayers. I'll hold on to my allotted crying jag for another time.

Straggling Towards Sainthood

Path to Heaven - artist Susan Kayler
Jesus told us that the path to Heaven was narrow. I'm sure He meant to add that it's also rocky, dizzying, and disturbingly lonely at times. It reminds me of all my childhood vacations spent lost because Mom couldn't read maps and Dad couldn't follow directions.

Earlier this week, I was so sad. I was talking myself out of bed in the mornings. I couldn't come up with any good reasons to get going in the morning. No job, no money, nobody to care for: couldn't I just spend one day in bed? Deep down, I know that "just one day in bed" would become a habit, and not a good one.

We all get knocked off our feet by life. A spouse dies. A child moves away. We get sick. A friend has cancer.

"That's not fair! This is not what I bargained for!"

It's easy to look at the lives of others and imagine they "have it easy." Perhaps it's a friend or family member who has loads of money, and a life punctuated by fabulous travel and a gorgeous home. Maybe it's the marriage of a couple we know; they always seem to be in sync with one another. And it's all too easy to begin thinking that God is somehow making our life more difficult - on purpose. Like He's picking on us.

I admit, I began this week rather upset with God. My now 4-month long job search has sucked the life right out of me. I doubt myself. I keep thinking I don't deserve a good job. Why even bother?

I hurt all the time. Somewhere, on my body, there is always a point of pain. I still sleep on the floor sometimes, as it is the only way to relieve pain and find a comfortable manner in order to sleep.

Oh: and sleep! Yeah, I don't do much of that. 4 hours here, an hour or so there.

I just decided to blame God. It's much easier than examining my own conscience. It can't possibly be MY fault, right? And even when I know that no one person or thing is to blame, I want to have a reason for it. Why not God?

Then, things began to fall into place this week. A job offer. A "thanks be to God" conclusion to a long and drawn out battle in our lives. Comfort from friends. Little by little, light begins to seep through the cracks.

It seems hypocritical: hey, God is answering my prayers the way I want! Let's get all happy now! Thanks, God, for seeing things the way I want - you da man!!

When I received some news this week that a long-fought battle regarding one of my kids seemed to be close to a resolution, I drove to the nearest church and hit my knees in front of the tabernacle.

God is good, all the time. I am not. I am likely to crawl over to the side of the pathway to Heaven and complain about how hot it is, and how tired I am. I scrabble along, half the time clutching my rosary in prayer and  half the time clutching it in frustration as I shake my fist at God.

One of the things that we must learn on our journey to Heaven is that "fair" has nothing to do with anything. I'm not sure "fair" is even part of God's vocabulary. "Love" certainly is, and "hope" and "faith" but not "fair." Being thankful to God is not about giving thanks when things are going our way. God is not keeping some eternal scorecard that He can balance as it becomes necessary. Nope, that scorecard exists only in our heads, and it is always misleading.

Once again, I'm down on my knees. Once again, I'm dragging myself along the path to holiness. Once again, I'm begging for a mercy I do not deserve. Once again, God looks at me with love.

When I see despair, God shows me glory. When I seek ease, God keeps me off-kilter. As I feel pain, God binds up my wounds. I cry out in fear, and God covers me in peace.

As I straggle towards sainthood, God crawls beside me, in companionship and empathy and charity. His love never fails, even though I do.

Some Franciscan Thoughts on the Feast of St. Francis

St. Francis of Assisi - artist Alfredo Arreguin, quilter
St. Francis of Assisi has a lot going for him. He's hugely popular with kids, mainly because of his affinity for animals.

He certainly was a rebellious young man, which can appeal to teens. He also had big hopes and dreams for himself, something most young people can understand.

He was in great physical pain much of his adult life. Those of us in that stage of the game know what it's like to hurt so badly and ... still get out of bed and do what needs to be done.

First and foremost, Francis loved Jesus. Whether it was the simple love of an eccentric mystic or the grounded love from which grew a mighty order of men and women service God, there is Francis.

That love, Franciscan author Ilia Delio, is central to understanding Francis and ultimately Christ.

We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ; rather, it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. (Franciscan Prayer.)

Like any good relationship, our relationship with Christ must challenge us. It must goad us into stepping out of sin and selfishness, and into freedom and light. Christ only invites, however; he never demands.

But what does it really takes to become a friend of Christ? What must we do? We must humble ourselves, just as Christ did ('humbling himself to death, even death on a cross'). And what does this humility look like?

Humility looks like service. It looks like the Mom who hasn't had a hot meal in years because she is making sure everyone's food is cut, the baby is fed, leftovers packed away for lunch.

It looks like going to Mass on Sunday, not because you have to, but because you need to.

Humility is admitting you're wrong. Face-to-face with the person you wronged.

Humility is knowing that there is always room at the table for you, so you don't need to worry about where you'll sit.

Delio: Prayer, therefore, leads us to know ourselves in God and God in ourselves, and in this relationship we are led to true humility by which we see clearly the humble presence of God all around us.

Today, on this feast of Francis, let us ask ourselves, "Whom do I love? Or do I love a 'what'?" We might also ask, "Do I truly humble myself in prayer? Or am I just talking at God, with my laundry list of intentions?"

Francis is one of those rare souls who changed the world. What a shame if we missed our opportunity to do the same.

Always Faithful

We went to Mass last night, and had an older priest. In his homily, he exhorted us to "semper paratus:" Be prepared. The Gospel,...