Wednesday, December 21, 2016

I shouldn't be doing this right now.

It has been one month now since a vicious, relentless virus hit me, and I have not felt good since. Sinus pressure, choking on phlegm, hacking uncontrollably, headache, blah.

Christmas is four days away. I managed to get the Christmas tree up and listlessly threw a few ornaments its way. I put up the stockings. That may be it for decorating this year. I may only bake one kind of cookie. Being sick simplifies life.

My husband makes the best hot toddies in the world. His kindness this past month has kept me from becoming a puddle of weeping snot.

I should not be doing a blog post right now, but it takes little energy, and that's what I have. Only a little.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Life Is Good

I teach. Why do I do that? It is my passion. There is nothing more exhilarating to me than to see a face light up and get excited about my subject. When I teach, I am fully alive.

Some background. I went from kindergarten all the way through college without having a single teacher get me excited about their subject. I was convinced that teaching was the most boring, dead-end, passionless job one could choose. There were no role models for me.

Then I began teaching my own children. Here was a task with an incredible investment in it. To cover things that I couldn't do well myself, we joined a co-op where I had to teach others. The small experience I got there was like lighting a match in a room full of pure oxygen. A fire roared to life. I was hooked.

Find your passion. Your passion also just happens to be what you are good at! And then, if at all possible, find a way to make a living doing it. It is like putting the hot fudge sauce on the ice cream! It is slicing into a home-grown tomato from a plant you hovered over all summer. It is the killer serve you've perfected in your tennis game. What you have done has brought you joy. How good life is.

Monday, September 12, 2016

True Forgiveness

Suppose there are two people who we will call "A" and "B" for simplicity's sake. They live together with a brick wall around them for shelter and protection. One day they get into an argument that gets out of hand, and in the course of the dispute violence is done to the brick wall, and it falls down. They live for a while with the rubble around them, but then it becomes apparent that their hostile neighbors, cannibals, have discovered their vulnerability and are preparing to do something about it.

A approaches B and says that they should rebuild the wall together. B agrees but says that the broken wall was not his fault. A says that he is willing to repair his part of the wall, and B agrees to do his part. They both begin at the same spot to build a circular wall, the supposed plan being that they would meet again half way around the circle.

A begins to build. Ah, this feels good. He gets half way around the circle and looks up. B has assembled a few beginning blocks, but now considers his part finished. A has a problem. He could just say he did his part, but he can see the threat outside the wall growing. He could try and persuade B to do his part, but that might result in the half circle of wall getting broken down again. He decides to keep building.

A builds until he has come full circle. While he was building, B undid the little that he had done. Finally A puts the last brick in place. He approaches B and shakes his hand. B is satisfied because the wall is built again, and together they face the enemies with their wall of protection.

Sometimes life is like this. You meet people who are so willful and stubborn that they cannot give an inch. They will not admit wrongdoing. They are so blinded by your faults that they cannot see their own. These people don't compromise, and they don't become better people. If we can't escape them, we have to accept their brokenness. Sometimes this means we have to do more than our share. We have to repair not only what we have broken, but what they have broken too. It's not fair. But if we can do it and shake their hand without resentment, we have done all we can do. It is called forgiveness.

The best case scenario does not always happen. In fact, most of the time it doesn't. That's why walls get broken down in the first place. Someday B might just decide to build a roof over the wall to protect both of them against the elements and remind A every time it rains how much A owes him. And if A has truly forgiven B, he will simply say, "Thank  you."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Becoming God

There is a certain frustration we have all run into when arguing points with someone whose views are opposite to our own. Eventually the other party may come out with the line, "I don't trust your sources." There's not a lot you can say after that, since what they are really saying is, "What is true for you is not true for me." They have decided that your sources are unreliable, and so they are invalid. You may think the same about theirs.

It all boils down to trust. When we trust our sources, we are confident in what we believe. When valid doubt is cast upon their reliability, we find ourselves standing on sand. Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism and a respected intellectual of her time, recognized the truth when she read it. She was so convinced that she went on to be martyred in a concentration camp and became St. Theresa Benedicta.

Trust is a basic part of life. Anyone who says, "I don't trust anyone" is a liar, unless of course, they don't have a bank account where they trust their money is there, don't expect anyone to stop at stop signs because they can't trust anyone to obey the law, or don't own anything because everyone is a virtual thief anyway. You'd turn into a crazy, paranoid anarchist if you didn't trust even some basic law-abiding ideas.

Some people cast doubt on anything from ancient history. Why make a distinction between what happened millennia ago and what happened yesterday? If we don't trust basic scholarship that has stood the test of time, then all history, even the most recent, ceases to have any meaning.

If we are honestly seeking the truth, we will look it in the face even when it disagrees with our most cherished assumptions. If we don't sometimes react with, "Rats!" when we find ourselves in opposition to the truth, then we must be on the road to sainthood. When we make ourselves the highest authority, then we will never find the truth, but we will insist on going our own way, and that is tragic. And we will have repeated the original mistake by making ourselves god.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Greatest of These

My first thought upon waking this morning was a prayer: Lord, give me hope for today. Almost instantly I realized that my prayer was anticipated and already answered. I had been sleepless only a few hours earlier, and a memory from a couple of decades ago had come to mind. This memory constituted the hope that I had just asked for.

For the summer I had decided to teach my two oldest boys about butterflies. We made crude nets and started a contest. Every time one of the boys caught a butterfly that we hadn't caught before he would win a candy bar of his choice. We always admired the creatures in the net, identified them with our guidebook, and then released them. The easiest ones had already been caught, and the challenge was getting harder. On this particular morning both boys and I were out looking, and suddenly near Eric, the younger of the two, two tiger swallowtails flew within reach. I shouted to Eric to get them, but his older brother responded also, and in one great stroke swept both of them into his net. Eric was livid with outrage. Those were his butterflies. John had stolen them from him and gotten his prize. There was no consolation that appeased his anger.

Later the same day Eric and I were alone in the front yard. I encouraged him to keep trying to catch butterflies, but the resentment was still so strong. Eric was unwilling to make an effort at something about which he had become hopeless. At last a large butterfly came by. We both guessed it was a tiger swallowtail, and I encouraged him to try and catch it anyway just for the thrill of a closeup glimpse of it. He didn't want to do it because he wouldn't get the candy bar. At my insistence, he went ahead and tried. Swallowtails are large and fast and often fly too high to be caught, so I'm not exactly sure how Eric in high dudgeon managed to catch it, but he did. Imagine our astonishment when it opened its wings. It was not a tiger swallowtail, but a giant swallowtail--enormous and stunning. Eric's elation and my relief were complete.

It is a simple story of disappointment, perseverance, and joy, and one of my favorite memories. Sometimes we make our search for something too hard. It is right in front of us, and we just need to reach out to find it. Faith can be like that. God shows himself in simple ways, and we need the eyes of a child to see him. We also need to make an effort--to hope when despair is easier--and sometimes that effort is against our very will. We aren't always answered in the way we expect, but the key is recognizing that we did get an answer after all. God doesn't always say yes. Nor does he always answer why.

But this story is special on another level. When that butterfly opened its wings, we both gasped. The wingspan was beyond the width of my palm, the specimen was in pristine condition, and the dramatic black with spotted yellow lines was astonishing in its beauty. As I remembered that event this morning, I felt God bend down and kiss my boy on the forehead. Faith and hope--I witnessed for sure on this day--but greater than these is love.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Guy in Front

Today on the highway someone slowed down unexpectedly in front of me. I had to slam on the brakes, hurling all the stuff on the front seat to the floor. I managed to swerve to the shoulder and did not rear end the car in front of me. It brought to mind a similar highway incident over ten years ago.

I was on the highway with a semi in front of me and a semi approaching me from behind. The truck driver in front of me realized he missed his exit, came to a complete halt, and appeared to want to back up to get to the ramp! I could not go around him because the left lane was full of traffic, and in the rear-view mirror I saw the approaching truck getting more massive in the reflection by the split second. I thought, This is it. My three children in the back seat and I are going to be pancakes. I began to scream what I hoped was a prayer. The approaching truck was able to veer off onto the exit ramp that the idiot in front of me missed. He came to a stop next to my car. I looked over at him and then put my head down on the steering wheel. Death had been so close.

I think often of those two truck drivers--forgiving one and thanking the other. Sometimes our thoughtlessness causes pain for others. Sometimes our foresight rescues others. Sometimes we are just in the middle, helpless, and praying for release. It is hard being in the middle. We like to think of ourselves as ones with the presence of mind to avoid a tragedy. It is humbling to realize that sometimes we are only thinking of our own dilemma and not realizing how it is adversely affecting others. We might be like the guy in front.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Penny and a Smile

A businessman strode down the sidewalk full of thoughts about meetings and decisions for that day. His pace slackened, and he scowled when a beggar approached him. The ragged man held out his hand. In it was one shiny penny.

"Please, sir, take this penny from me." Then he smiled warmly. Taken aback that a beggar would be giving things away, the man took the penny automatically, too distracted by the oddness of the situation to hear him wished a good day by the homeless man. The businessman tossed it a few times as he continued down the sidewalk and put it in his pocket.

When he pulled his hand out of his pocket, the penny was still in it. He tried to drop it in again, but it stayed there. Thinking there was something sticky on it, he examined it. It was clean and slick. He decided to just throw it away. It would not leave his hand. He put his hand back in his pocket. He drew it out again. The penny was still there.

By now he had reached his regular coffee stop. Noticing the "Give a penny, take a penny" dish, he tossed the penny in the bowl. There it lay. But when he reached for his espresso, there was still a penny in his hand. Puzzled, he put his hand in his pocket and took the coffee with his left hand. He took the penny out again and put it in the dish. Now there were two pennies in the dish, and there was still a penny in his hand. He shrugged. "Lots of extra changed today," he said to the cashier.

At work the penny stayed in his pocket, but he could feel it there and found he was turning it over in his fingers during several boring meetings. Annoyed with himself for fiddling with it, he slyly walked up to a co-worker who was concentrating hard before his computer. "A penny for your thoughts," he said, and smiled coyly. The co-worker just rolled his eyes, but he took the penny. Sighing with relief the man moved on, putting his hands in his pockets as he slipped around the corner. There was a penny in the bottom of the pocket again. He peeked around the corner. His co-worker was back to work, apparently unhindered by sticky pennies.

All day long he tried to get rid of the penny. He included it with his tip at lunchtime. He gave it to a cute kid on the street. He washed his hands to see if there was residue on them. Nothing worked. There was always a penny still in his pocket.

On the way home he was still fingering the coin in his pocket when he saw the same homeless man that gave him the penny in the morning. The man was sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, his head bowed down. Perhaps he was asleep. Just as the businessman reached him, the beggar raised his head. The businessman reached down, smiled broadly, and put the penny in his hand. The beggar smiled back, a childish innocent smile. The businessman laughed.

Once the businessman was out of sight, the beggar put his hand in his pocket. He pulled out a whole handful of pennies and began to count. There was just enough for a pint or a hot meal. For the third day running, he chose the hot meal.