A Better Plan

On Sunday, I put my Jesse tree ornaments on my Christmas tree. My flatmate is Lutheran, and I didn’t want to put the ornaments on the tree until Advent had properly begun for all of us.

As I put the ornaments on the tree, I found myself thinking about the people depicted on the ornaments. They are the great heroes of the Old Testament-David, Abraham, Samuel, Miriam, Moses, Elijah etc. They are people who lived their lives with great faith in a God whom they could not see. They were given a promise, but the promise was not fulfilled in any of their lifetimes. But that did not keep them from faith.

As I put up the ornaments, I found myself thinking about Hebrews 12 saying “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us…run to Jesus.” Ordinarily, I think of this in terms of the Saints of the Church-St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. Barbara, St. Cecilia, etc. But as I looked at the ornaments, I realized that these Old Testament figures are just as much a part of that cloud of witnesses. Samuel is no less a member of that great cloud than St. Nicholas. They had a different vision of holiness, but they each lived a life of holiness and sanctity according to the knowledge that they had in their day and age.

And as I kept thinking about that, I found my mind traveling to the end of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (Hebrews 11:39-40) On this side of paradise, I have a limited understanding of the Divine Plan. I don’t know why exactly the Messiah had to come when and where he came. I only know that it happened because it was God’s plan.

While the timing or the place might not make sense to me, the reason is simple. God had a plan. It was a better plan than a plan to send the Messiah at the time of Samuel or Nehemiah or the Maccabees. It was a plan that somehow included us in a way that another plan would not.

And that’s a really beautiful thing. God sent the Messiah into the world at time that would benefit us. He thought of us. From all eternity, he chose to send the Messiah into the world at a time that would be the best time not only for the people of that time but for the all people in all times. The Incarnation was not for one time or one place. It was for all times and all places. It happened in one time and one place, but it happened in such a way as to impact all that had come before it and all that would come after it. The time was perfectly chosen from all eternity.

I find a great deal of hope and encouragement in this. Like any normal person, I struggle with understanding God’s plan at times. I don’t get why things do or don’t happen. I don’t always understand his timing. I know that his ways are perfect and his times are perfect. But that perfection does not automatically mean that I understand what is happening. A few years ago, I went through a very bitter and confusing season of life. In the moment, I could not understand it. Even now, I occasionally look back on it and wonder why that had to be a chapter of my life. I know that I’ve come out the other side, and I believe that both my life and myself as a person are better for that season. But I don’t fully understand why it happened. Regardless, I know that God had a plan for that season as for all of my seasons.

I don’t have to understand that plan today. I don’t have to understand it next week or next year. I may never know on this side of paradise. But I do know that I was guided through that season by a good and loving God. I know that I came out the other side because of God. I know that while I have plans for my life he has a better plan.

As I’ve been meditating on St. Joseph this Advent, I’ve been struck by that thought. Joseph, a humble carpenter from Nazareth, had some plans. He probably figured that he was going to marry a nice girl. They’d have a few children and grow old together. Instead, he married the Theotokos, the Mother of God. The only child he ever raised was not his biological child but rather the Son of the Living God.

God interrupted St. Joseph’s plans in order to bring about a more perfect plan. He spent much of the Old Testament interrupting Moses’s and David’s plans for a quiet life and elevating them to greatness. God interrupted the Israelites’ plans for a warlike king as Messiah with a humble servant crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. God will interrupt our plans whether or not we want him to. The great saints throughout history teach us that our only real option is to get out of the way and allow him to act.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:1-2

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The Quiet Beauty of Eliza Hamilton

Like many nerds out there, I’ve fallen in love with Hamilton over the past year or so. Generally speaking, I self-identify with Angelica Schuyler Church, and I love the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda allows this strong woman to be, well, strong. The play’s Angelica speaks her mind-as she did historically, and is not intimidated by much of anything. I find myself connecting to her wit, to her desire to the make the world a better place, and to her attraction to intelligent conversation and companionship.

But while Angelica is the most vocal strong woman in the musical, she is not by any stretch of the imagination the only strong woman. Her younger sister, Elizabeth “Eliza” Schuyler Hamilton, is equally strong, but she shows that in a different way than her sister does. Eliza shows her strength more through her actions than words. However, there is great beauty in Eliza both as a character in the play and as a historical figure.

I’ve been struck recently by the way in which Miranda has Angelica describe her sister. “You will never find anyone as trusting or as kind.” That’s a pretty impressive description. She is a remarkably kind person, and that’s undoubtedly something that both Angelica and Alexander see in her. Eliza’s kindness is one of her strengths-as a wife, a sister, and a mother. Her kindness motivates her behavior during the action of the play and the way in which she perpetuates her husband’s legacy in the fifty years between his passing and hers.

Angelica is an immensely passionate woman, and her passion motivates her to action. She is interested in the Revolution. She reads things that were not acceptable for women to read at the time. She wants to include women in the liberty that the Revolution will procure. She speaks her mind freely. She is a unique and wonderful woman.

But her sister is equally wonderful. Eliza and Alexander move to marriage quickly, and she works to be a good wife to the man with whom she has fallen hopelessly in love. It is clearly not easy to be a newlywed in the midst of a war, but Eliza tries. She continually reminds her husband that she (and later their children) exists, and his family needs him. In many ways, Eliza’s quiet persistence is what Alexander needs. He is a strong willed man who can have tunnel vision, but his wife doesn’t just let him go off and forget about his family when the Afterbirth of a Nation consumes him.

That quiet persistence remains one of Eliza’s leading features throughout her marriage. She doesn’t have down and out fights with Alexander; she knows that she’d have no success there. Instead, she keeps her counsel and waits patiently for her husband to remember his duties. This isn’t to say that she never gets mad at him. She is furious with him when he cheats on her, and he deserves the wrath she issues. They may not have terminated their marriage, but at least from what we see in the play, it is no longer a real marriage but rather just a social facade to appease society.

Some might say that it is their shared grief after the death of their first born child, Philip Schuyler Hamilton, that saved their marriage. It decidedly contributed. But another contributing factor is Eliza’s patience with Alexander’s attempts to win her heart back.  She lets him woo her. She allows him to come back into her heart and her bed. Eliza is almost perpetually with her husband.

Eliza did have to take action ultimately. After her husband’s death, she had to be the head of their household. She had to make active choices rather than reacting to her husband and only making decisions that internally impact the household. She acts well when she has to, but this is not what she would have chosen as a  younger woman.

Eliza Hamilton serves as a reminder that while there is a need for strong, outspoken women like her sister, there is also a need for women who take action in quieter, less obvious ways. Our world desperately needs the outspoken (I hate that word; it’s so negative.) activists like Angelica, but we also need the women who work quietly behind the scenes like Eliza. Quiet action has its value and place, and it should not be mistaken for subservience. Some women are meant to be activists in public or obvious ways while others are not. For example, I do not like being the public face of anything, but that does not mean that I’m sitting back and letting the world pass me by. I prefer to act behind the scenes, in less obvious ways. Eliza reminds me that this is okay.

I think that we need both Angelicas and Elizas in our world. We also need to make sure that both of these kinds of women are supported and encouraged. We cannot tear one group of women down in order to build up the other. To me, one of the greatest strengths of Hamilton is that it puts these two types of women front and center in such a way as to allow us to see the complementary nature of their strengths rather than seeing them as opponents. We need to see this more often; we need to encourage women to work together in such a way as to support their strengths. If it worked for Angelica and Eliza, it can work for us.

FO: What the Fade

Over the summer, I came to realize that I really loved Andrea Mowry’s designs. She was starting a mystery knit-along at the end of August, and I’m all for trying new things at least once, so I joined in. I chose six skeins from the numerous skeins of Plucky feet in my stash, used YouTube to teach myself brioche, and waited for the first clue to fall. She was calling the pattern WTF or What the Fade, which appealed to my fondness for cursing.

The first clue fell at the end of August. The final clue of the shawl fell in early October. I finished my shawl in late November because I’m not a monogamous knitter. That said, I’m completely in love with the finished product.The first clue fell at the end of August. The final clue of the shawl fell in early October. I finished my shawl in late November because I’m not a monogamous knitter. That said, I’m completely in love with the finished product. This knit was a challenge for me. I’d never knit brioche before. The pattern called for two color brioche. I learned on my feet. I’m not sure that was the best method, but I’m glad that I can knit brioche now. It’s a unique skill and a gorgeous fabric. I’ll definitely revisit it.

Pattern here.

Raveled here.

An Inconvenient Blessing

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

-G.K. Chesterton

On Saturday, I had the great blessing of attending the Beatification Mass for Blessed Solanus Casey. The Mass was celebrated at Ford Field in Detroit. Because of the stadium’s security guidelines, I didn’t take my purse in with me, but I just stuck my cell phone and drivers license in my coat pocket. (In retrospect, I should have put my drivers license in my pants pocket. Oh well!) When I got back to the car, I discovered that I’d lost my drivers license at some point during the day.

My natural high maintenance inclination is to panic, but for some reason (probably because I’d just left Mass) I found myself with an overwhelming sense of peace. I tried to call Ford Field, but I quickly learned that path would be useless until 10am on Monday. So I said a quick prayer asking St. Anthony, the finder of lost things, to help me. And then I asked Blessed Solanus to pray for me.

Thank God ahead of time.

-Blessed Solanus Casey

And then I did something that was decidedly of divine inspiration. I took a piece of advice from Blessed Solanus. I took a minute to thank God for however he was going to work through this situation. I then took advantage of a few methods of social media to contact Ford Field since I couldn’t leave a message via phone. (They responded this morning; they don’t have it but they’ll let me know if they find it.) And I prayed a bit more.

The weekend continued on, and no one seemed to have any idea where my license was. But I just found myself feeling calm and entirely unlike my usual self. To be fair, every time I found myself thinking about the missing drivers license I asked the intercession of Blessed Solanus and then thanked God for however he was going to use this inconvenience in my life.

This afternoon, I left work a little early and went to the Secretary of State (or as I told a kid, the worst place in the world) to get a new drivers license. Again, it’s a place and situation that should have stressed me out, and I found myself feeling remarkably calm about the whole thing. It wasn’t a pleasant situation, but I found myself feeling really grateful for the peace I was experiencing.

Ultimately, the situation was easily resolved. I filled out a form, sat quietly in a waiting room for an hour, dealt with some paperwork, paid $9, allowed someone to take a bad picture of me, and replaced my drivers license. But I’m also well aware that smoothness of the situation was largely due to my prayers. It was a good reminder of the importance of prayer and the importance of seeking the intercession of other members of the Communion of Saints.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:6-7

And let me tell you. I’m now convinced of the great value of thanking God ahead of time. I’ll be doing it much more often. Thanks, Blessed Solanus!

And Blessed Solanus, pray for us!

Looking to St. Joseph

Every year, I try to find a focus for my Advent. Because Eastern Advent (or the Fast of St. Philip) begins on November 15, I start looking for something at the beginning of November. This year, something fell into my lap.

When I lived in Spain, I developed an odd but strong connection to Joseph’s Song by Michael Card. The chorus particularly struck me. On a recent November day, I was driving home from work feeling frustrated with life and I found myself listening to that song again. And again, the chorus struck me.

Father, show me where I fit into this plan of Yours. How can a man be father to the Son of God? Lord, for all my life, I’ve been a simple carpenter. How can I raise a King?

Show me where I fit into this plan of Yours. I have not been called to raise a king, but I have been called to a life that I don’t always understand. As I thought about that line and prayed into a bit, I found myself thinking of a quote from St. Josemaria Escriva:

“It is not given to everyone to imitate Teresa of Avila or Vincent de Paul, but each of us can easily follow St. Joseph.”

St. Joseph’s life has lessons for each of us. Joseph was called to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. And as I drove, I felt called to spend the Fast leading up to the Nativity focusing on St. Joseph and his lessons. A dear friend wrote a book about St. Joseph that I plan to reread.

My hope is that by focusing on St. Joseph I can learn to better live out the call to holiness in daily life. I believe that the Good Saint will pray for me to grow in this area, and I hope that by focusing on him, the Lord will guide me to a better understanding of living out the call to holiness in the midst of the challenges of daily life in the world.

The Most Disagreeable Month of the Year

At the beginning of Chapter 15 of Little Women, Meg March declares November to be the most disagreeable month of the year. Jo returns some comment about that being why she was born in November.

But as I get older, I begin to think that Meg and Jo are wrong about November. November gets a bad rap-probably because of the weather. But if you try hard enough, November doesn’t have to suck. You might have to work on it a little, but you can totally find ways to alleviate the bleakness of November.

Personally, I try to make a concentrated effort to make February and November (my two least favorite months of the year) suck a little less. That means that I try to do things that make my life a little more exciting and distract me from the bleak state of the natural world. When the natural world has a tendency to make me sad or just feeling blech, I’m trying to actively seek out things that give me joy.

One small thing that I’m doing is knitting with brighter shades of yarn. It’s hard to feel gloomy when there are bright blues and greens in your hands. It might be dreary outside, but surrounding myself with bright colors inside helps me to feel more cheerful. I do have a piece of “obligation knitting” that’s in a less cheerful color, but I try to work on that while watching movies or reading things that make me happy.

I’m also seeking out activities that make me happy. Knowing that I have a concert and my cousin’s fall play this weekend and a beatification Mass for a local Saint the following weekend is helping me feel like November is flying by. Sure it’s only the eighth, but I’ve got plans! There are exciting doings ahead of me. I’m not going to let November get me down; I’m going to enjoy it.

Two important people in my life have November birthdays, and that’s another source of excitement. (It’s also a source of stress. What am I going to give these people for their birthdays?) I get to celebrate people that I love. That’s something that I enjoy.

And then there’s Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. It’s a great holiday. I love the food and the family time. I love the emphasis on gratitude. I enjoy getting to talk about gratitude with my students. I love getting to be with my family. It’s a good day.

In short, Meg March is wrong. November, when properly considered, is not the most disagreeable month of the year. It’s a great month; you just have to look at it through the right lenses.

Praying for Unfulfilled Desires

About a year or so ago, a friend of mine recommended that I begin praying once a week for women struggling with unfulfilled desires. I took the challenge thinking primarily about women who aren’t married but want to be and women who are struggling with infertility. This intention has challenged me and has shown me that struggling with unfulfilled desires is far more than just those two desires.

There are so many types of desires, and so many women struggle with unfulfilled desires. While one friend might struggle with unfulfilled desires for a child, another friend struggles with unfulfilled desires for a better job. To someone who is longing for a child, the desire for a job (especially coming from a woman who does have a job) might seem petty. But to the one seeking the job, the unfulfilled dream or hope causes an immense ache.

The reality is that each of these aches is real and intense to the one struggling with the longing. My longing to be married may seem selfish to someone seeking a job that better allows the woman to serve the Body of Christ. But that doesn’t mean either of our longings is any less real to us or any less present to the Father. We as women feel the pain of our unfulfilled longings, and the Father knows that pain intimately. He knows that we suffer, and he longs to use that suffering to act in our lives.

As I’ve prayed for this intention, I’ve found myself led to pray for comfort and peace for these women. I ask the Lord to fulfill these desires according to His Will. But primarily, I pray for the peace of the women struggling. If I’m to be a good wife to my maybe-possibly-someday husband or another woman is to be a good mother to a longed-for child, we need grace. We need peace abiding in our hearts. Before anything else, I need to surrender my dreams and desires and goals to the Lord and trust in His perfect plan. (Am I good at this? No. I pray “God, make me good and do it now” often. I pray for a husband to come “soon because I just can’t do this anymore” but who said that I was ever supposed to do this alone?) Unfulfilled desires are not easy to bear. They just aren’t.

We have only to look to the Bible for examples and role models. Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, and Elizabeth each longed for a child. Leah longed for the love of her husband. Ruth longed for stability. Esther wanted to save her nation. Deborah wanted to lead her people well. Abigail wanted to be loved. Did Leah ever really get what she wanted? Rachel died when Benjamin was young; she gave birth to two sons but didn’t live to see them grow to adulthood. God’s will doesn’t always line up with our plans. I may never get married. Or if I marry, I may never have children. Esther saved her nation, but that didn’t permanently eliminate suffering from the lives of her people.

Mary washes the feet of Jesus

Ultimately, the biggest thing that I’ve learn is that when I’m praying for women struggling with unfulfilled desires, I’m really praying for all women. We all have unfulfilled desires. We all feel empty or abandoned at times. But we have a God who sees and knows our desires. He loves us, and he longs to give us good things. Sometimes the things we desire are not right for us. (I’d like to thank the Lord for saying no to some prayers that my younger self prayed.) Sometimes the season isn’t right even if we don’t know why it isn’t. (Some questions will never be answered on this side of Paradise.) But at no time will we be unloved or unwanted by the Lord.

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD your God, he it is that does go with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you.

-Deuteronomy 31:6