Strangers in the Struggle

The stained-glass window at my home parish of St. Rose of Lima in Northborough

It’s not every day that a stranger comes up to you and tells you that she loves you.

I’ve been struggling. I’ve reverted to the quiet and reserved little thing that hasn’t really shown her face for a few years. Loneliness seeps in between the phone calls and Facebook messages that dull in comparison to what it was to be in close contact to those who are so dear in my heart. And faith? That’s been weakening, too, peaking in small moments but then receding as if some kind of drought has struck it.

Last Sunday, my parish priest appealed to the congregation to take part in the four-night Lenten parish mission that was to start that same day. I had every intention of attending on Sunday but the day got away from me and I wasn’t able to make it. Monday and Tuesday brought other conflicts, but Wednesday I was finally able to make it for the closing Mass. I slid into one of the back pews and took note of all the familiar and mostly older faces that surrounded me. There is something that I really like about going to Mass on my own, especially at home – it allows me to reflect more and take in the words of the Gospel and of the priest. I should have known it would be an interesting Mass when it opened with “Here I am, Lord,” the perfect service song that always reminds me of my days at Assumption. I closed my eyes and sang the words, loud and clear, trying to recall what discipleship now means to me in this post-grad life.

The presiding priest, a visitor from a parish in Uxbridge, MA, gave a stirring homily about always seeking God and letting Him be there to hold us and take care of us. My eyes welled with tears at several moments, as so much of what he preached was exactly what I had needed to be reminded of.

But the real God moment came at the end of Mass. As the majority of people filed out of the church, I knelt back down and prayed for much of what I have recently neglected to. I could feel tears well in my eyes as I reflected on the themes of the homily and the desire to be more present in my faith.  As I absentmindedly gazed at a spot in front of me and mulled over all my feelings in a jumbled prayer to God, I felt a hand on my shoulder and a sweet voice say with so much sincerity, “We love you, Dear.”

I turned to see a very elderly woman and her husband, both fixtures of the parish who I have probably interacted with only a few times despite having spent my entire life as a member of St. Rose. I just felt a sense of shock. I smiled and chuckled a bit and thanked her, and she grabbed my hand and gave it a little squeeze and hobbled away with the support of her husband. The two had sat behind me for Mass and in the recent months, I have witnessed this towering man patiently help her in and out of the church as well as to the front of the church to receive the Eucharist as it has very clearly become increasingly different for her to move around on her own.  It’s really a touching yet sad sight to watch, and made it all the more meaningful that she turned her attention from herself, presumably away from the pain, and reached out to me, who evidently looked like I needed a reminder of love.

As her and her husband progressed past me, I turned back and finished my prayer, despite the renewed sense of tears in my eyes. It had to be a moment from God, a way for Him to remind me that no matter how discouraged and frustrated and hard I have been on myself lately, there is so much love around me, even from strangers.

Conversations with You

I wish You were closer. I wish that we talked more.  I wish that this life didn’t strain our relationship. I wish that I trusted Your plan more.  I have so many questions for You, most of which I suppose You will never be able to answer the way I want You to.  Telling others I’ll talk to You for them feels like such an empty phrase lately. And You being you, You know that’s true.

But then You pull through. Just last week I asked for Your help and You granted it.  It may have taken 9 weeks, but You seemed to listen to me about that young women who is so dear to me, too. And the other dear one with the recent broken heart. Yes, yes, maybe You did bring them the peace I asked for, the love I requested.  That had to have been You, right?

Though no matter how much I talk to You, You don’t seem to listen to me when it comes to him.  Maybe I don’t talk to You about him all that much though.  You know how I’ve always avoided it – the pain is too much but it sits on my shoulder, causing my shoulders to hunch over and the corners of my mouth to turn down.  Tears form at childhood scenes and one word floods my mind: “Why?” One question, pestering and festering like an illness without a cure. I hear it from her, too. He caused her pain, too, after all, and that question fills her mind with a never-lifting fog. I guess I’m not the only one who is sitting here with scars, however much they may have healed yet ache when the memories flood.

Can I come talk to You?  Will You listen?  Maybe it’s up for me to listen, to open my ears and accept Your Word and Your love.  Will You bring me the comfort I need, the peace that I seek for concerns for the future? Will You protect my heart? That’s what I need most – for You to protect my heart. It’s at such a risk for breaking and shattering and coming undone. From splitting open and never being mended.

So, will You.

Protect.

My. Heart?

Please.

Friends, Faith, and Fortune

I survived Term 1 of my first year of teaching. 1 down, 3 to go – it’s the little things, you know?

And it’s been a tough one.  Overall, it is fabulous, but everything they say about the first year being super difficult and filled with self-doubt and feeling like you’re barely keeping your head above water is 100 percent true.   At one meeting for the first-year teachers at my school, we got a handout entitled “Phases of First-Year Teaching” and it basically went through the roller-coaster of emotion first year teachers tend to experience.  Well let me tell you, I skipped pretty quickly to “disillusionment” – a few weeks ahead of the curve (but maybe that’s typical of my overachiever style…).

Naturally, through the craziness of it all, I’ve been forced to reflect on friendship.  After making the switch from living in the same building or apartment as many of my best friends to moving back home and spending lots of time on my own, it’s been a very, very lonely time, which seems like a ridiculous statement when you take into consideration that I am in the presence of a room full of people all day, every day.  But I miss being with those who really know me.  Know when I’m not really ok even when I say I am, and who can give me the best hug in the world when all I want to do is cry.  Know me enough to celebrate with me over each little success and improvement.  I feel like I’m wandering around and still trying to feel like I fit into this place just a bit more snugly.  Adjustment takes time, I know, but sometimes I just want to fast-forward through this year and just have more experience under my belt and stop feeling like the needy and unknowledgeable first-year teacher.  And so I long so much more for my friends.  Some of the people who had consistently been there for other times of struggle in my life were not – one seems to have chosen not to be there, and another had her own big burdens to carry.  Life gets in the way and makes regular check-ins sometimes close to impossible.  But others have been there and listened and reassured and guided and prayed.

Yes, faith, too, has been my friend during these times.  I pray for peace and reassurance.  I’m in the process of saying a 9-week novena for one friend, and I consistently pray for others.  I stop by one of the campus chapels after my grad class and sit and reflect in one of the rare instances of peace and quiet I can seem to find these days.  No matter how lonely it may feel, I have my faith to bring me light.

But when people ask how faith is possible even when there is suffering, I find it hard to give an articulate answer.  “Why do some people experience no pain, while others do?” and “How can you justify tragedy?” one asked.  Somehow, my mantra of “Everything Happens for a Reason” seems insensitive in cases like these.  But then I remember that everything does happen for a reason.  Pain makes you who you are, tragedy prepares you for the future, challenges make the next round easy.  Love and friendship and happy memories are the rewards.

This year is hard for a reason – to make the next one easier.  I miss my friends for a reason – to realize who is really there and who I may need to reevaluate.  I’m lonely for a reason – to enjoy and cherish the time I do spend with my loves so much more.  And it will get easier, but it will take time.  So I’ll just have to be patient.