Tag Archives: family

When Joy Runs Dry

Nathan Miller, Senior Anchor Intern

“All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries.”  Psalm 47:2

In my blog last semester, I reflected on the Litany of Humility prayer. In my blog this semester, God has given me a whole new life experience to understand humility…and right now, I can’t say I’m all too thrilled about it.

Just a few days before Christmas, I had surgery to repair my torn ACL (and meniscus, as I found out afterward). But this wasn’t a recent injury. I had torn it in the first couple weeks of fall semester playing football with my friends. If anyone asks though, just tell them I was wrestling a bloodthirsty bear while protecting a small child lost in the woods.

Successful surgery!

I celebrated the Christmas season with a big brace on my leg, using crutches to get everywhere. I needed help with simple things like getting dressed, showering, making food, and pretty much everything else that would normally require you to balance on both legs. Every task was a “big production” as I came to say, and my limited mobility kept me from getting out of the house very much. As someone who is used to providing for himself, I quickly grew frustrated with my temporary disability.

It is remarkable how quickly frustration can erode joy. On one hand, I had so many reasons to be thankful – the surgery was successful, I had adequate insurance, and my family and girlfriend went to great lengths to care for me and make me comfortable. Even more, I was still able to attend Christmas Mass and see my extended family as we celebrated the coming of Emmanuel. But yet, my frustrations mounted. Getting up at night to use the bathroom was a hobbling mess. Mom always offering 5 different ways to help when all I wanted was to rest. And probably above all, I felt incredibly lethargic and cooped up. My motivation to do things like reading books or study for my upcoming CPA exams was low, and even lower was my motivation to pray. You would think that having so much free time, especially over Christmas season, would have inspired me to pray. But I found many excuses: “I have to do my rehab exercises first” or “I need to take a nap first” or “now my family is home I should play a game with them.”

Unable to move normally. Frustrated with being taken care of all the time. Not taking time for prayer. I realized about one week after surgery that my supply of joy was running on fumes. How did I deteriorate so quickly? Of course, there is something to be said for coming off of major surgery and still being on strong pain meds, but I also had to find the wellspring of hope to replenish my joy.

Two things in particular helped me reclaim a spirit of joy amidst my temporary disability.

First, I needed to express gratitude, internally and externally, for the gracious help of my family, but in particular my mom. As we were driving back from visiting one of my relatives, she sat in the second row of the van with me and let me rest my leg on her lap (since I needed to keep it straight and that’s a difficult task in a vehicle). As my leg rested there, she silently started massaging my foot. In a few moments, I was unexpectedly overcome with a sincere feeling of gratefulness and humility. In that small moment, I saw how deeply she cared about me. For this time in my life, I once again needed to unabashedly rely on my mother’s love. Recognizing this brought me one step closer to joy. I allowed all the kindness of my loved ones to soak in as I embraced my limited capabilities. Gratitude is a wonderful medicine for grumpiness.

Second, I brought myself back to a routine of prayer. As I sipped my morning coffee, I sat by the window and started with Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. It has long been one of my favorite ways to pray because it makes me feel a deep connection with the universal church and puts words into prayer for a whole spectrum of human emotions. Even though it’s my favorite prayer, it was still difficult most mornings to start it. After about five minutes of praying, however, I felt my resistance soften and my mind open for God to enter. From there, I was able to use my own words to talk with God about how I was feeling – my frustrations and my desire for joy. He in turn comforted me with His steady peace and directed me to embrace gratitude. This conversational prayer helped me see God amidst my little suffering, but was only possible because I first entered into formal prayer. It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit works through our prayer, even when we feel we are at our weakest.

Joy is decidedly different from happiness. Happiness is fleeting, yet joy is sustaining. Even still, I found that joy can run dry, and it is in these times that we need to draw on the wellspring of love shown to us by our family, our friends, and above all, our Heavenly Father. Joy, invigorated by gratitude, is one of the marks of a Christian life. It is a mark I hope you will join me in striving for each day, on Our Lady’s campus and beyond.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”   Romans 15:13

Family Christmas 2017

Understanding Love Through Divorce

Emily Greentree, Senior Anchor Intern

One Sunday morning after church when I was 8 years old, my mom took my sister and me to the park and sat us down on a bench. She calmly told us, like it was any other day, that she and my father decided that they no longer wanted to live together, that they still loved us very much but decided that they were better as friends than as a couple. She then pointed to an apartment complex across the street and explained that’s where my dad would be moving. We would see him, of course, but he would no longer live with us. My parents were getting a divorce. I don’t remember being very sad when my mom first told me the news. I could not comprehend in that moment the way my parents’ divorce would affect my life or my understanding of God’s love. Now, 14 years later, I can see how this event was a turning point in both my life and my faith.

After the divorce, the biggest change in my life was the newfound balance of time split between my parents. I lived full-time with my mom, and she became my superhero. I watched her work a full time job, take my sister and myself to and from school, make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and plan every birthday party and holiday celebration. With her superpowers of multi-tasking, I knew I could depend on my mom for anything and she would be there. She took on the role of both parents alone, and I never felt like I missed out on anything.

Emily and her mom

When my dad moved out of the house, he went from being my parent to my biggest cheerleader. During an average week, I might see him once and talk to him maybe twice, but he did his best to never miss a soccer game or art show and even drove me to my prom. We would spend afternoons at the movies and listening to music. I knew he always supported me in my actions, but he was no longer a constant presence in my life. Between working long hours and consistently moving around South Florida, I would go many days without talking to him. This is when I started paying more attention in church and being intrigued by the idea that God was always present.

When my parents divorced, I struggled to maintain my previous understanding of love. Until then, I had understood that my mom and dad loved each other and from that love, they had my sister and me. I didn’t understand then that a love between two people could crumble and disappear. Watching my parents go from lovers to friends who could drive each other crazy made me wonder if all other love could fade as well. It was with that fragile understanding of love that I questioned how God’s love could always be present. But through both God and my parent’s modeling of God’s love, I learned what unconditional love really meant.

Emily and her dad

1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” God’s love for us is often compared to a parental love, so unconditional that no matter the circumstances, we can always return to Him. Growing up, it was hard to comprehend a love so vast and unconditional that it would always be present in my life. But that was God’s love that my parents modeled for me, even in their separation. During and after the divorce, I always felt my parents’ love, even when they would fight or on the days my dad was not there. They continually showed their love for me and my sister even during times of struggle. It was clear to see in the way my parents put my sister and I first in everything. I saw it in the way my mom kept my life stable through the change. I was it in the way my dad carved out time individual time for both my sister and I, so that neither of us felt abandoned. I was privileged to see in action the ways that parental love can withstand trials and flourish, even when the givers of that love had suffered their own losses. So when I sat in the pews at church and learned that God loved me like a father, unconditionally and always, I could feel the presence of his love in my life in the same way I felt my parents’ love for me. I understood that God would always be there for me, always willing and ready to work through life with me. I learned to talk to God as a father, asking for advice and guidance in the same ways I asked my parents, trusting in his love for me above all else. I understood God’s love for me in a real and deep sense.

My parents modeled unconditional love that could not be affected or diminished by any earthly issue, showing me how to understand and connect to God’s unconditional love for me.

 

Communion of the Heart

Elizabeth Hascher, Senior Anchor Intern

Just as quickly as my summer began, it was over. Even though I hadn’t been on campus for eight months, it felt like it was just last week that I was loading up my car with storage tubs and driving away, golden dome in my rearview mirror. At first, the thought of coming back was terrifying. I left campus last fall feeling very much ready to leave. It was a semester with a lot of difficult moments, and it left me questioning if Notre Dame was the place for me.

That trying semester did come with some unexpected blessings, however. One thing led to another during the fall, and I was presented with the opportunity to spend my summer participating in an SSLP with the L’Arche community in Spokane, Washington. There are 137 L’Arche communities throughout the world, and each of them provides a home and community where people with and without intellectual disabilities share their lives with one another. They live and work together, form friendships and relationships of faith, and seek to strengthen and provide growth opportunities for their communities.

That all sounds great, but what L’Arche really looks like is living in a house with ten other people and just embracing life with one another. L’Arche is about drinking coffee with your friends in the morning and sitting on the porch for hours. It’s about dancing in the kitchen and praying together after dinner. It’s also about talking with one another and sharing feelings of sadness or frustration, or giving someone a hug after a difficult day. Sometimes it’s even about laughing really hard when someone farts unexpectedly during breakfast.

L’Arche celebrates the Fourth of July together with a picnic.

As I left my L’Arche family and came back to school, I carried this experience with me. Knowing that a lot had changed during my time away from campus, I thought about my time in Spokane and wondered how I would be able to take what I learned and share it with others. How would I be able to explain to people at Notre Dame what a radically different lifestyle L’Arche was, and how it taught me more than perhaps any class? Well, here it is.

Living with people with intellectual disabilities showed me that the way we spend our time says volumes about the values we hold. If we truly let our lives speak, we can learn a lot about ourselves. We may be surprised to find that we may not be honoring our values and beliefs quite the way we perceive ourselves to be. It should give each of us pause to think about times when we have valued worldly things, validation from others, and power over vulnerability, humility, and sharing our lives with each other. My time at L’Arche showed me that if I truly desire to let God work in my life, I must intentionally create spaces in which He can dwell.

Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, writes in his book Becoming Human, “Weakness, recognized, accepted, and offered, is at the heart of belonging, so it is at the heart of communion with another.” If we are to invite God in, we must choose to make time for the moments of joy in our lives, but also for those times of pain and sorrow. We must be more open about offering this up with the people around us. It is in such moments, when we give each other even the tiniest of glimpses into what is on our hearts, that we come into communion with one another.

Through this communion of the heart, God enters our lives. God dwells in the spaces of brokenness and weakness, and he is present in times of joy and celebration as well. He is there when we share snacks and tell jokes with our friends, and when we tell someone how tough our day really was. He’s there when we dance in the car and when we need someone to help us get out of bed in the morning. When we share life with one another and become vulnerable in this way, we make room for God.

Elizabeth and Tina go out for community night at a minor league baseball game

God seeks a personal relationship with each of us, and it is up to us to invite Him in through encounters of the heart. This means different things for everyone. Perhaps it is as simple as putting down your to-do list and taking a walk with a friend. Maybe it means sitting at dinner to talk for half an hour longer instead of catching up on your favorite TV show. It could even be simply being physically present to the person next to you. We can’t pretend to know everything that is on another person’s heart, but we can certainly make more of an effort to share what is on ours and be open to receiving that from others.

As tempting as it may be to say that everything is fine or pretend that life under the dome is all sunshine and tailgates, we are closing off our hearts to communion with each other and God when we do so. Jean Vanier also writes, “To speak of the heart is not to speak of vaguely defined emotions but to speak of the very core of our being.” If we are to cultivate our minds and our hearts here at Notre Dame, we need to be more intentional about opening our hearts to one another. It is then that we will begin to recognize God’s kingdom on Earth.