Thoughts and Prayers, Guns and School

These past few days our social media feeds have been filled with messages of thoughts and prayers for the victims of yet another school shooting. And there are just as many posts that reject what may seem like Pollyanna, feel-good greetings:

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I understand both perspectives. I want to “LIKE” the thoughts and prayers posts and the posts that say prayers are not enough.

I send my thoughts and prayers to all the families who have lost loved ones because I believe in prayer. My heart goes out to the parents who have lost their beloved children, bursting with potential; for the teachers, inspired to share a passion for life-long learning; for the students who survived, the students who saw their friends die, and the students who will have nightmares for weeks, months and years to come from this trauma.

I believe in the power of prayer to change the person praying and to affect the situation being prayed for. When I pray, I am sending my heartfelt condolences and positive energy to a specific person and/or for a situation. And I know it works—I’ve felt it myself when others have prayed for me. I can only hope it makes a difference when I pray for others.

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But I believe that giving only lip-service to prayer can be a cop-out, a way for some to avoid the responsibility of facing real issues. “Thoughts and prayers” can sound hollow without action, effort, or work towards change.

Prayer must be accompanied with authentic listening and selfless action. St. Benedict refers to this as “ora et labora” or prayer and work. This Benedictine motto has application beyond the monastery.

God empowers us and encourages us to put our prayers to work. Prayer alone is sentimental; work alone lacks heart and soul. It is not either prayer or work, but both prayer and work that can make an impact on those we love and for situations that need healing. We need both prayer and work.

This either/or thinking is what has brought our country to be divided on more issues than I can name here (besides, it just exhausts me.) There is not one single reason that America has found itself the leader in gun murders; there are many.

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A teacher colleague, Alan Holdorf, wrote, “We have a gun problem. Or we have a mental health problem. Or a discipline problem with our children. Can we have all of the problems? Then again, how silly would that be to have a multi-faceted problem that can’t be tackled by a single hot-button issue.”

Of course, America’s problems are multi-layered. There is something Americans are doing differently than other countries. There is something we are doing wrong. It is undeniable, but there isn’t one simple solution to our complex problems. The solution is not one thing or another, it is a both/and situation. There are layers of possibilities for addressing what ails our country, but for God’s sake let’s do something.

This crisis of gun violence in America is an opportunity to be open-minded listeners and to be leaders sans political agenda; to be compassionate and to detach from our own opinions long enough to realize that we all want the same thing—for our children to be safe in their learning environment.

It’s being humble enough as people, as a country, to say that we aren’t getting it right yet. We aren’t great and we never were. We have a long way to go to make all of America feel safe, let alone great.

But America and my classroom are two different things.

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My heart belongs to the classroom. I look out my window at the flag flying half-staff, and I am reminded how much I love my students and want them to succeed. I want them to become their best self, to reach their fullest potential. I grieve when I see that a student comes from an environment that doesn’t encourage or support that.

Students have so many more issues than they did when I started my career in education 21 years ago—there are m­ore broken homes, mental illness, learning disabilities, poverty, personal and family trauma. Teaching has become much more than delivering curriculum, it is about connecting to the heart, soul, and mind of my student.

But this does not require me to carry a gun—that’s too easy. An eye for an eye makes everyone blind. Instead, some policy decisions need to be made to prevent school violence. Some decisions need to be made to give teachers the tools they need to connect with and help our most vulnerable students. I will continue to PRAY and WORK towards this goal. 

“I’m a teacher and you want to arm me? Then arm me with a school psychologist who has time to do more than test and sit in meetings about testing. Arm me with enough counselors so we can build skills to prevent violence, and have meaningful discussions with students about their future. Arm me with social workers who can thoughtfully attend to students and their family’s needs. Arm me with enough school nurses so that they are accessible to every child. Arm me with more days on the calendar for teaching and learning and fewer days for standardized testing. Arm me with smaller class sizes that allow my colleagues and I to get to know our students and their families better. Arm me with community schools that are hubs of educational, cultural, health and civic partnerships, improving the entire community. Until you arm me to the hilt with what it takes to meet the needs of our school and students, I respectfully request you keep your guns out of my school.” Source: UTLA, video below.

Why I Teach

In honor of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday February 7,  1867, I share a previous post, “Why I Teach.

Childhood Dreams

As early as kindergarten, I identified teacher as a potential
occupation
in my “School Years” book, a collection of elementary school Kindergarten teachermemories. My kindergarten-self chose nurse, teacher, model and mother as possible career and life choices, although the options were limited to traditional girl-jobs only. (I’ve wondered why I didn’t dare to select baseball player or astronaut. Was it because those jobs did not interest me or did I not consider the boy-jobs? Or why were airline hostess and secretary NOT of interest to me?) Female stereotypes aside, by fourth grade, I had wisely eliminated model and nurse (yuk and yuk!!), leaving teacher and mother.fourth grade

I was interested in learning and teaching as soon as I was old enough to work my way through phonics, spelling and math workbooks, just for fun. And then creating worksheets and math problems, grading spelling quizzes and making lesson plans became my childhood joys. My brother was my first student and I worked him pretty hard. I remember taking the graded assignments I’d given him to my fourth-grade teacher, proudly showing her what I was helping him accomplish outside of school hours. Rather than receiving the anticipated (and sought-after) praise, she promptly told me I should back off and not force him to be my student anymore or he might hate school—my first humbling opportunity at professional self-reflection.

BooksLaura Ingalls Wilder was my childhood heroine. Pioneer girl turned teacher; wide-open prairie sky and her own classroom, from Little House on the Prairie to These Happy Golden Years —I wanted to BE Laura. I admired her sense of self-confidence and independence, how she encouraged students to overcome learning challenges, many not much younger than she. (I am such a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder that when my daughter could barely read I bought the entire book series,  picture books and television movies for her and also road-tripped to Mansfield, Missouri to see the house where Laura penned all of the Little House books. Quite a thrill!)

All the evidence indicates that, if I wasn’t born with the desire to teach, the passion was stirring when I was very young.  Continue reading “Why I Teach”

Rome: Confessions, Truths and Carpe Diem!

Confession: I feel a little guilty for taking nine days off during the school year.

Truth: But not enough that I wouldn’t seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Rome.

It’s unheard of for a teacher to take off two weeks during the school year. First, we only get eleven days off for sick or vacations days per school year. Second and more importantly, it’s a lot of work to be gone, planning what students will do, securing a trusted substitute teacher to deliver curriculum, and “letting go” of controlling my classroom. (Perhaps this has something to do with being a bit of a perfectionist, control-freak, as I’m learning about Enneagram, Type One.)  Usually, teachers take time off for a wedding or funeral, a child starting college, an important doctor’s appointment, but a two-week long trip? Nope.

After reviewing my teaching contract, I knew I didn’t need formal permission to take the nine days off in a row, but it was important to me that I have my principal’s blessing because it can be just as difficult for students when teachers are absent. But, Principal Brent Toalson was so gracious in understanding my unique request to take time off. He agreed with what I strongly believe: life is short and it’s important to seize the day when opportunities come.

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Confession: I’m a little nervous about leaving my classroom for two weeks.

Truth: I have no reason to feel nervous because I have an amazing substitute teacher, Karen Kay, a retired business teacher and my former department chair, who will step in and do everything perfectly (I think she’s probably an Enneagram One, too.)  When my mother-in-law passed away two years ago at the beginning of the school year, Karen taught the first week of classes for me. It was the best start of a school year my students ever had!

So CARPE DIEM!! I’m off to Rome to attend the Fourth International Congress for Benedictine Oblates. The conference is hosted every four years for Benedictine oblates, novices and oblate directors from around the world.

Oblates are ordinary people who want to live as a monk in the world. Affiliated with a specific monastery (for me, that is Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska), oblates strive to become holy in their everyday life, in their family and their workplace. Oblates promise to live a prayerful life according to the Rule of St. Benedict. I write about being an oblate at Being Benedictine.

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The Congress theme, A Way Forward – The Benedictine Community in Movement, will provide encouragement for oblates to be peacemakers in a broken world, sharing hospitality in the face of war, terrorism, refugee crises and religious fanaticism, and to be stewards of an abused planet as challenged and inspired by Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si”. Surrounded by chaos, idolized entertainment, digital noise, and consumerism, oblates desire a life of silence, contemplation, and simplicity.  We hope to answer the question: How can we as oblates create and contribute to communities around us – in our oblate groups and chapters, in our families and neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our own monasteries of oblation and in society as a whole?

Oblates desire to be change agents in their own communities – together finding a new way forward. It sounds like a daunting task, a tall order, and very serious business. But as an oblate, I have hope that each of us can do our part to encourage peace.

A few things I look forward to:

  • Meeting and hearing Keynote Speaker, Sister Joan Chittister, OSB aka my (s)hero! Joan is one of the best known international speakers on Benedictine spirituality and social justice in the world. Author of over 50 books, Sr. Joan has been a courageous and sometimes controversial advocate of social justice, especially for women, in both church and society. She founded Benetvision, a web-based movement sharing Benedictine spirituality and currently co-chairs the United Nations-sponsored Global Peace Initiative of Women. More info about Joan Chittister HERE.
  • Spending time with my spiritual director and friend, Father Mauritius Wilde, who moved to Rome a year ago to serve as Prior of Sant Anselmo Abbey. I’m excited to see where he lives and works, to walk the streets of Rome together, to sneak in a spiritual direction session and to just be in the presence of a special friend. Fr. Mauritius writes a blog and has over thirty podcasts on Benedictine spirituality.
  • Visiting historic and religious sites including the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica and the necropolis on a Scavi tour, St. Benedict’s cell at San Benedetto and the Abbey he founded at Montecassino and attending a General Audience with Pope Francis (I harbor a secret desire of a drop-in visit by him at the conference. I will secure selfie evidence if my dream comes true.)

Confession: I plan to post updates while in Rome, making a conscious effort to let go of some perfectionist tendencies I have of editing, re-editing, and rewriting. Another confession: I have a few dozen blog posts sitting in a folder waiting for the perfect touches. I take solace in the fact that there are few sleepless nights for those wondering when I will publish my next post.) I surrender the notion that any of my blogs are perfect anyway.

Truth: I plan to live in the present moment, seizing opportunities, meeting new friends and enjoying many new experiences. Carpe diem! 

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I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag…despite my disappointment

Each school day during my 3rd-period Marketing class, I stand with my students, hand over heart, pledging allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

This simple moment of national patriotism is a requirement in Nebraska, a rule passed by the Nebraska Board of Education in 2012  stating that all public schools must provide time every day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in order to receive accreditation or state funding. Already a common practice in elementary schools and many districts, it was a new practice for most high school students.702848[1]

After the rule passed, teachers took an inventory of classrooms that needed flags—many were old and torn, more had been discarded over the years and with tight budgets, new ones hadn’t been purchased. The first several weeks, hand over heart, we stood facing an 8 ½ x 11 colored photocopy of the flag until a generous alumni donated enough American flags for every classroom.

Reciting the pledge is voluntary for students and teachers. We can recite the pledge either standing or sitting or remain quiet showing respect for those who do participate. After five years, I am still surprised when there are a few students that don’t stand to say the pledge. I’ve wondered why. This semester every student stands. DSC_0874a.JPG

Regardless of our different political views or opinions, it feels like the one great gesture we can make together is agreeing to pledge allegiance to the flag. We have so many other opportunities, especially this past year, to take a stand (or sit), to disagree, to voice an opinion, to protest or resist. But I’ve also come to the conclusion, and I respect, that not everyone feels the same and that perhaps they have good reasons for not standing or reciting the pledge (besides it’s their constitutional right). In the words of Pope Francis, who am I to judge?

For a few years, I showed a short video clip with Red Skelton explaining what each line of the Pledge meant to him (if you are old enough to know who he is, likely you stand without question for the Pledge of Allegiance).  Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I will continue to stand in spite of my disappointment, even shame, at what has become of our United States. I have faith in the words of our Pledge and faith in the meaning behind the words.

 

As I say the Pledge, I take the time to breathe, slow down and really think about the words I’m saying. I hope and pray that my country will live up to the words that each day we profess. There are far too many days lately when I’m uncertain what America really stands for, but when I say the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, it is this in which I believe:

I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE, promising to speak my truth while remaining committed, TO THE FLAG  as a symbol OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.  I pray, even when we seem so divided, that we are united in, and take seriously, our responsibility to all people within and beyond our borders, especially those who flee their own country seeking a place of peace and promise.  I hope we are not so proud of our country that we forget about others, that our desire for unity does not become exclusion.

AND TO THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS, a country that is a worthy and wonderful place to live, grow and be, representing a land of opportunity and a chance to always begin again. 

ONE NATION that represents a diversity of opinions, beliefs, ethnicities, lifestyles, socioeconomic and educational groups, yet a nation that comes together and is unified in times of tragedy and trial;

UNDER GOD, through our faith, hope, and prayer, in the spirit of our founding fathers and mothers, guided by a morality that resides within;

INDIVISIBLE, without division, united with wholeheartedness of spirit;

WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE, in gratitude for our freedom, with a duty to be fair and honest, and respectful of all we encounter.

FOR ALL.  In God’s eyes, there are no borders—we breathe the same air as the refugee, immigrant, gay, straight or transgendered, Muslim, Hindu or Christian, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic. We breathe the same air as those we disagree with and those we live with. We are one world. Oceans cannot be divided, this part belonging to Europe and that part belonging to America. The air cannot be split—Mexico breathing this air and America breathing that. No, we breathe the same air. We are connected to all people, all countries. All means all.

This I pledge. This I stand up for. This I place hand over heart for and recite every day of the school year. This I pray.

Our words matter, so how can we live what we profess and believe, as individuals and as a country? Each of us must reflect on what it is that we place hand over heart and stand up for.

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“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

You are never too old to set another goal, or to dream a new dream.

never too old

My dad, Tom Blazek, had a dream to write a book about his hometown, Valparaiso, Nebraska—to create a timeline of its history and to share stories of growing up in a small town. Passionate about history, he would devour a book on a topic he loved—about World War II, the Civil War, the history of Lincoln or Nebraska. He could find bits and pieces about Valparaiso from different sources, but he had a dream of gathering it all into one book, from the birth of the small village up to the present. His love of reading about history turned into a passion for sharing with others.

For some, his ambition to write a book came as quite a surprise. My dad wasn’t a
particularly motivated student, he is the first to admit.  One classmate said he was the least likely of their class to ever write a book.  As a teenager, any reason was a legitimate one for skipping school. One afternoon, hanging out at the town gas station with his friends, my grandma (God-rest-her-soul-for-raising-five-boys) discovered his truancy, went to the gas station, and strongly encouraged him to get back to school. Mrs. Jean Ang, my dad’s 7th and 8th-grade teacher, commented, “the Blazek boys, they had a lot of life.” God love his teachers and parents for tolerating his alternative form of education. As a teacher, it’s important for me to remember that everyone learns differently. Regardless of what he did or didn’t learn in school, he always worked hard. 

grandma and pa blazek w boys
Grandma and Grandpa Blazek with the five boys that “had a lot of life”                 Jim, Tom, Don, Rick and Randy.

I’ve observed a work ethic in my dad that is unmatched. From delivering newspapers, farming and working at a gas station as a teenager; being a manager at Safeway grocery stores, working in dispatch, sales and management in the transportation industry; and, finally, in production and office management, my dad has ALWAYS worked hard, whether he liked his job or not.  And for many years he supplemented his full-time job with hauling jobs—cleaning out attics and basements, taking trash to the landfill, and helping people move their belongings.

He had a good example of work ethic in his own grandfather, Frank Blazek, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, who walked twenty-some miles to work on Sunday nights from Valparaiso to Gooch’s Mill in Lincoln, lived in a rented room all week, and, then walked home on Friday night to bring his paycheck home.  And his own dad, Lod, worked wherever, whenever, doing whatever he could to make some money, even if the job took him a distance from home. Work wasn’t a choice. Work wasn’t about self-fulfillment or purpose or happiness. Work was a means to an end—it was food on the table.

So when my dad finally retired, he wasted no time getting to work on his dream (and if you know my dad, you understand there is no such thing as procrastinating or wasting time—he gets things done and works fast! And if there is a free moment, he washes his car.)

Each morning, rain or shine, for three years, he drove to downtown Lincoln, found a cheap place to park for four hours and walked to the Nebraska History Museum. While reading through archives, he took copious notes by hand. He read through every edition of the town newspaper, The Valparaiso Avalanche (1878-1887), followed by every edition of The Valparaiso Visitor (1887-1945), before diving into the Wahoo newspaper, the county seat, for anything about Valparaiso from 1945 on. Over 600 hours he spent at the Nebraska History and Saunders County Museums.

After gathering a morning’s worth of information, he went home to type up his findings, adding old family and town photos and local advertisements throughout the text. And when he had questions about what he read, he tracked down people he could talk to. He interviewed dozens of people who grew up in Valparaiso, often accompanied by his brother, Don. People loved to share their stories and some even offered up old photos and newspapers that weren’t available in the archives. My Uncle Don said, “I was amazed to hear people tell their stories when asked a question about the past. One question could ignite a person’s memory, some that probably had trouble remembering what they did last week, but, man, how they enjoyed reminiscing about their youth!” 

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Tom Blazek with his first shipment of “My Valparaiso”.

Stories are as important for those who hear them as the one doing the telling. Being listened to validates our experiences; we matter when we are heard. When we were kids, my brother and I would beg for stories about our dad’s growing up shenanigans, a window into his life before we were in it. His stories helped us see what life was like for him and helped connect us to the generations before us. But these stories are lost if not written down. Writing this book was part fact-finding and part storytelling, both his own and others. 

My dad had a goal to have his book completed, printed and ready for distribution at the 2014 Valparaiso Heritage Days, an event that hundreds would attend. My dad was a town hero that day. Tom Blazek, the most unlikely person in town to write a book, had accomplished just that.

The skeptics who didn’t think he could do it or who didn’t think people would spend $25 on a book, were the same folks who couldn’t put the book down. (Pictured below on top-right is Mrs. Ang, his teacher—she still looks skeptical, doesn’t she?)

People, scattered throughout the American Legion Hall, were leafing through “My Valparaiso”, reading, laughing, reminiscing, and sharing their own stories.  It was a special day of recognition for my dad, a goal accomplished, and a dream come true. The response was overwhelming—people bought not just one copy, but two, three or more autographed copies for gifts.

Valparaiso Heritage Days
Top left: me and my dad. Top right: Mrs. Ang and my dad.

Over the next weeks and months, the reaction to the book was overwhelming. People loved it, ordering more copies, calling friends in distant states and telling them about it. From all over Nebraska and the country, people called and wrote to order a book or share their stories. My dad heard from people in every region of the United States, including Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Who knew that the small town of Valparaiso had scattered its townspeople so far? Who knew “My Valparaiso”, and my dad’s work, could have such a far-reaching impact?

The conversations that followed unearthed new stories and information; a second book was born. Some, like sweet old Edna Johnson, who enjoyed the first book so much, pre-ordered “My Valparaiso II” before it was even finished, but, sadly, didn’t live long enough to see it published. Another lady, in her eighties, said she read things about her family that she had never heard before.

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Published in the Wahoo Newspaper

“My Valparaiso” and “My Valparaiso II” are chock full of events and anecdotes that warm the heart and keep the history of the town alive—everything from tornados, fires and blizzards; to the first automobile, electric lights, and pool halls; to horse and buggy accidents, train wrecks, burglaries and even suspected murder; difficult times during the Great Depression, illnesses like hog cholera and scarlet fever; and festivities including Fourth of July celebrations, the traveling circus, auctions and church gatherings. You’ll also find a list of every person from Valparaiso who served in World War II, every graduate from Valparaiso High School and every business ever established, along with photos and advertisements that span the years.

A topic of great concern for many years was alcohol—would the town be dry or not? In 1908, apparently “German and Bohemian immigrants brought with them the thirst for beer.” But Valparaiso was a dry town, off and on, for several years. The town newspaper reported in 1909, “If Valparaiso goes dry again next spring, the Visitor will be for sale. We, the editor, must simply have an occasional nip in order to ward off despondency and keep up a business appearance.” In 1912, fifty drunks were caught celebrating the 4th of July, and concerned wife, Lillie McMaster, took out an ad in the paper saying, “I hereby forbid any person or persons to give or sell my husband any kind of liquor. This applies to the saloon keepers of Valparaiso and Touhy.”

One of my favorite stories that my dad told, included in the first book, is the time he blew up his dad’s car. Yup, he blew up his dad’s car. My dad and a few of his friends had a plan to drive into Lincoln and “cruise through Kings on O Street”, a popular past-time in 1962. The first attempt, after some likely reckless driving, resulted in the “knocked-out rear end of the car.” They needed different transportation and my dad had a bright idea: “My folks, along with another couple, were in Lincoln… my brothers and I were told not to touch the car. Knowing my Dad always checked the speedometer, I unhooked it.” But then they needed gas. (You can see where this is heading.) Siphoning gas from one vehicle to another was the second bright idea: “We had a pretty big stream of gas running between the two cars when Richard Draper lit his cigarette and accidently dropped it causing the gas to go up in flames…and burning the whole back end of the car. Needless to say, when my folks got home I was in big trouble.”

My dad is a lively storyteller (he has pretty good material) and is an attentive listener. What a gift Tom Blazek gave to those he listened to and to the folks who learned something new about their relatives because of his books. What a gift it was to tell the stories that otherwise would have been lost and for the childhood memories that were stirred. What a legacy that will live on because of my dad’s dream and hard work! 

And yes, there will be another book. My dad says, “I may not live long enough to do Book 3 but people keep sending me stuff.”  He’s also been asked to write a book about Touhy, the town a few miles north of Valparaiso. He thinks he’ll have that one published in about a year.

This, among many other things, is what I’ve learned from my dad: Where we come from is important, but even more so is what we leave behind. 
“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” -Martin Luther

For more information, see Valparaiso, Nebraska Memories on Facebook. 

 

 

Bridges Photo Exhibit: 150 years, 93 counties, and my favorite place!

It’s finally here…Nebraska’s 150th birthday! And I can finally share the photograph of Christ the King Priory that is in  The “Bridges” Sesquicentennial Traveling Photo Exhibit.

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I submitted five photos of Christ the King Priory to a photography contest called Bridges, sponsored by Hildegard Center for the Arts, to highlight historic treasures in all 93 counties to celebrate the Sesquicentennial, or 150th birthday of Nebraska. Photographs were to focus on how the subject serves as a bridge to connect Nebraskan’s with their culture and heritage—a bridge from the past to the present.

I entered the following photographs of Christ the King Priory, the Benedictine monastery where my favorite monks live, to represent Colfax County.

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If you know me, you’ve likely heard me mention my favorite monks and St. Benedict Center a few hundred times or two. Over the past 15 years, I have been to dozens of programs and retreats, attended Mass and Liturgy of the Hours (daily prayers said five times a day) whenever I could, received countless sessions of spiritual direction, led my own SoulFully You retreats and have become a Benedictine Oblate. St. Benedict Center has helped me make my way back to the Catholic faith after a 20-year hiatus and has become my spiritual home. The monks and Oblates are family to me.

DSC_0389Photo: Final Oblation Mass, St. Benedict Center Chapel

DSC_0168 - CopyPhoto: Jubilee Celebration, 50 years of Monastic Life for Fr. Volker Futter, pictured with oblates and monks of Christ the King Priory. 

So let me tell you the story of Christ the King Priory and how they are bridging the past with the present:

In the early 1930’s, two monks, Brothers Felix and Egbert, were sent to the United States from Münsterschwarzach Abbey in Germany. The Abbey, following the Rule of St. Benedict (dating back to the 6th century), felt threatened by the Nazi government. They were afraid their financial ability to support themselves and their missions around the world would be in jeopardy. They were, in fact, justified in their fear: the Abbey was seized during World War II and used as a hospital for German soldiers injured in the war.

Meanwhile, the two monks traveled throughout the United States, humbly accepting donations that allowed their mission work to continue. Their primary focus was on keeping their missions alive, particularly in Africa. If there was no income flow through donations, they could not continue their work, a vital component of the Benedictine motto, Ora et Labora (prayer and work).DSC_0589

By 1935, the monks found their permanent home in Schuyler, Nebraska. The Benedictine Mission House, as they were named, had its first location in the former Notre Dame Sisters Convent, an old house in town. By 1979, several more monks joined the monastic community and a new home was built into “Mission Hill”, just north of Schuyler, and named Christ the King Priory. Their new home was uniquely designed burrowed into a hill, symbolically representing their vow of stability. The building, visible only on one side with a chapel steeple rising out of the center of the hill, appears like an earth lodge or a teepee as if to say, “We are here to stay. You have supported us and we shall now support you. We honor your native past and we want to be part of your present and future.”DSC_0395a

The monks, while continuing to fundraise for missions around the world, became servants of Schuyler by building a retreat and conference center in 1997. St. Benedict Center, built on 160 acres of farmland across from Christ the King Priory, provides an oasis of peace for those who search for personal and spiritual growth. They welcome individuals and groups of all Christian denominations as they seek God in a peaceful and quiet setting for prayer, rest, and renewal; a special place to escape the noisy world and to be alone with God.

Another vow the Benedictine monks take is obedience, to listen carefully to what God is saying and to be present to community needs. As the population of Schuyler changed through the years with an increase in Hispanic immigration, this careful listening led the monks to provide legal immigration services and support through El Puente, in a joint partnership with Catholic Charities of Omaha.

From 1930 to 2016, from Germany to Schuyler, from a small house in town to a monastery on the hill, the monks of Christ the King Priory bridge the past to the present. The German monks who came only to secure financial help for their worldwide missions are now serving immigrants and visitors from all around the world in the community of Schuyler, Nebraska through their missions of St. Benedict Center and El Puente.

DSC_1067Photo: Münsterschwarzach Abbey, Germany

Münsterschwarzach Abbey, the mother house in Germany where Brother Felix and Egbert came from, eventually returned to its monastic roots after the war and celebrated 1200 years of prayer and work last summer.

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You can see all of the winners, a virtual photo exhibit, a digital catalog of all photos, lesson plans and more at the Hildegard Center for the Arts website. The traveling exhibit schedule is:

The Great Plains Art Museum in Lincoln: January 6 – March 25, 2017
The Seward Civic Center: June 1 – July 28, 2017
The North Platte Prairie Arts Center: August 1 – September 22, 2017
The Norfolk Art Center: September 7 – October 26, 2017
The Alliance Carnegie Arts Center: September 26 – November 10, 2017
The Durham Museum in Omaha: November 14, 2017 – January 7, 2018

For more information about St. Benedict Center and Christ the King Priory see their websites or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.  

For more information about Benedictine spirituality, a new blog/website, BeingBenedictine.com.

For more information about Benedictine spirituality Fr. Mauritius Wilde, former Prior of Christ the King Priory, addresses many topics on Discerning Hearts podcasts and Wilde Monk blog posts

For more information about SoulFully You retreats and other blog posts.

Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

Where were you when the world stopped turnin’
That September day?­
Teachin’ a class full of innocent children
Or drivin’ on some cold interstate?

We remember when the world stopped turning because, for most of us, it felt as if it did. Time stood still. We remember where we were, who we were with, and how we felt. And, since then, we feel compelled to share our experience with others. I don’t think it’s about reliving tragedy, working through stages of grief or some kind of talk therapy, I think it’s more about remembering the connectedness we felt with the people we were with. We felt something together, a soul experience that goes beyond words—perhaps fear faith hope and loveand despair, likely sadness and shock, but also a collective yearning for faith, hope, and love.

Teachin’ a class full of innocent children
As a high school teacher, I sometimes forget that my students are really children, but there was never a day when I felt that more than September 11, 2001. Together, we witnessed the second hijacked airplane fly into the World Trade Center, watching both buildings crumble to the ground. The day the world stopped turning, I was profoundly aware that I was the adult and responsible for the children in my classroom. I felt an obligation to hold it together, to remain calm, to comfort, to help them process difficult feelings and to find a reflective, intelligent way to answer their questions with as much of a knowing “I don’t know” that I could muster.

United Flight 175 Impacting Two World Trade Center
Image by © Sean Adair/Reuters/CORBIS

We know how the morning ended, but when my Business Management students asked to turn on the news, we had only heard that an airplane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. We had no idea that we weren’t just watching the news; we were watching a tragedy unfold, a real-life horror movie. When that 110-story building collapsed like a rambunctious toddler crashing into toy building blocks, time stood still. This split second, the most poignant moment of that September day, is also one of the most memorable of my twenty-year teaching career. It remains with me as a moment of Divine accompaniment and connectedness with my students.

Scanning the faces of my students, my eyes connected with Grant’s, a student sitting in the front row. I saw the disbelief in his eyes, the pain on his face, and watched him drop his head onto the desk. How long his head stayed cradled in his own hands, I don’t know, but it is a moment that has never left me. It was a moment of mutual grief for humanity, a oneness.


When we resumed classes as best we could, we went through the motions of school, adults trying to be adults—attempting to stay calm, our minds preoccupied with thoughts of our own children, our parents, our lives, our country, our future. As the details of the hijacking unfolded, I remember thinking that I could never take students on a trip again. As the sponsor of a student organization, travel with students was an important part of my duties, but it was heartbreaking to hear there had been a teacher with a class of young children on one of the planes. I felt the enormous responsibility of taking students outside the classroom.

But as the days, turned into weeks and months, the trauma of that day became more distant. We found ways to manage our fears and plan for potential tragedies that helped us all feel better. And despite my knee-jerk reaction resolving not to travel with students again, that following spring I took eight students to the DECA National Conference in Salt Lake City. Traveling was different from that point on, but I realized over the months that even if there were some fearful and challenging moments, I still wanted to have this special relationship with my students. Fear passes, faith, hope, and love win, and the world starts turning again. We heal. 

Serendipity, eight years later

It was an ordinary school morning. Students were researching how business and marketing plans are impacted by economic conditions and world events, such as the tragedy of 9/11. We reminisced about where we were that day, and I shared the powerful moment of making eye contact with Grant. We talked about the song, “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning” and how we will never forget the people we were with that day.

After class, I learned that I had a visitor–unusual for an ordinary day. When I arrived in our office, Grant, from the front row of my 2001 Business Management class, was standing there.

Stunned, I say, “You are not going to believe this, but I was just talking about you! I was telling the story of how our eyes met when the towers came down.”

His response: “You’re not going to believe this. I was on my way to see a client when the song, “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning” came on the radio. I knew I needed to see you, so I turned around and drove to school.”

 There really aren’t words to describe how touching that moment was. But this I know and deeply felt–that God works in beautiful ways through the events and people in our lives, a divine reminder that we are held by a hand that unites us all.

And more God-moments, eleven years later

In 2012, eight students and I had the opportunity to travel to New York City for a DECA conference. Visiting the 9/11 Memorial to honor Jennifer Dorsey-Howley, a graduate from our high school that died in the WTC, was a must-see on our itinerary. Jennifer was able to get all of her co-workers out of Tower One, but she and her unborn child perished.1

Our school’s Performing Arts Center bears her name and we honor her memory each September 11th. My students and I shared a time of silence when we found her name at the reflecting pools, located exactly where the Twin Towers once stood. As we shared our memories of that day, I told them about the special connection with Grant and his unexpected visit after hearing the song on the radio. Now, at the 9/11 Memorial, I was having another miraculous moment with students, yet another experience that reminds me how essential my students are to my life and my spirit.DSC_0245

The experiences I have shared with students are the golden thread woven into the tapestry of my life. The responsibilities of teaching and adulting are tremendous, but the gifts are priceless, my heart is full, and as the song says,

I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love.

DSC_0004

 

 

Just Listen: Advice for a Quarter-Life Crisis

A Quarter-Life Crisis

Last summer, my 21-year-old daughter, Jessica, was going through what some MillennialDSC_0169a research experts and demographers have dubbed a “quarter-life crisis”—the oh-my-gosh-where-did-the last three-years-of-college-go-?-I-still-don’t-know-what-I-want-to-be-when-I- grow-up-and-there’s-only-one-year-left-of-college-until-the-real-world-hits-me-upside-the- head and-my-parents-declare-my- financial-emancipation!

It isn’t easy living in the in-between. Jessica is not alone. There about 30 million young Millenials in the U.S looking for jobs, anticipating student loan payments, saving for their future, creating new relationships and worrying. They ask: Where will I live? Where will I work? Who and when will I marry?  Unfortunately, there are many young people who make hasty decisions to avoid the discomfort of uncertainty.

My high school students share their greatest fear is making a mistake in their career choice. They believe if they don’t pick the perfect career, they will be miserable for 30 or 40 years working a job they do not like.  They feel the weight of a lifetime decision rather than a decision that will lead to a fork in the road where, eventually, they will make their next decision. Life is full of forks in the road and sometimes a few detours.

There is a lot of pressure, real or perceived, from parents, teachers, colleges and friends for young people to make career decisions, perhaps earlier than some are able to. “What are you majoring in?” and “Where are you going to college?” are the most common questions asked of high school seniors. And college seniors get “So what are you doing after graduation? Do you have a job yet? And do you have a boyfriend?” They want to be able to answer those questions, and answer them quickly and perfectly. There is little patience for the unfolding of what is to come.

During this time of in-between, the summer of her quarter-life crisis, I created a SoulCollage® card for Jessica’s 21st birthday that represented my advice/prayer for her.

Listen for Jess1

Just Listen

 I remember the carefree little-girl-Jessica who ran and played and laughed and didn’t worry about a darn thing. Just a sketch of yourself then. Happy, yes, but not fully who you are to become. Within you is that little girl you have always been and always will be— the spirit of Jessica, Jessica Becoming Stay connected to those little voices and playful characters, the pondering and contemplating spirits, the fairy spirits within you.

 Listen carefully. Put your ear to the ground. Put your ear to the seashell. Do you hear the ocean?  Just listen. Listen to the sound of your environment, amplified. Listen to the ground of Being from which you come. Listen to the people and experiences that God places in your life. This is the Universe speaking to you. Listen and learn.

 Listen to that still, small voice inside. It is God speaking to you. You are a woman now, not just a little girl. As you strive for adult things—relationships, jobs, experiences— don’t forget who you are. You are that little girl with no worries.  Work hard, set goals, make plans, challenge yourself. Keep becoming more of you. Be enthusiastic, not hasty. Be active and receptive. Be silent, humble, meek and patient. You don’t need to be all-knowing…the road you take will always lead back to you. There is no hurry. Just be you.

 Pray, listen and surrender.  There is not just one right choice for you. Life is full of decisions and most of them are not mistakes; you are simply choosing a path at the fork in the road. One decision will lead to the next fork. You will have ample opportunity to readjust your direction.  Trust the journey. 

And even if you make a “mistake,” you will find your way back to the path. You will continue to learn, grow and self-correct when things aren’t feeling quite right. Remember nothing is set in stone. Just follow your path, trusting it will lead you right where you need to be. Cultivate your intuition; trust yourself; trust God. Surrender to Surprise. Just Listen.

problem free

Surrender to Uncertainty

 “To be uncomfortable with uncertainty requires courage…we must try and make space for ambiguity.” –Esther de Waal

It isn’t just high school and college students that are uncomfortable with uncertainty. It’s challenging at any age. It’s challenging for me, despite lots of practice. Embracing the unknown is a way to enter into trust. It is surrendering to surprise and standing witness to the unfolding of a Divine Plan.

God has many backup plans for us; we don’t need to have a perfect vision of what is to come. So much of our disappointment in ourselves is wrapped up in our own expectations. By surrendering to surprise, by surrendering an idealized version of our life, we create an opening for God to work in mysterious and more perfect ways than we could have envisioned. We all fall short of the glory of God; our pursuit of perfection is illusory and can never meet our expectations.

Adulting

Jess had a little dose of “adulting” when she worked a one-semester internship in
Washington DC. She cooked, cleaned, went grocery shopping, budgeted her money, traveled alone. Dipping her toe into the river of the working world has given her confidence that all will be well. She knows she is so fortunate to have a home, food, DSC_0283aclothes, a desire for meaningful work and a resume brimming with education, experience, skills and connections that will help her make the first steps to being a gainfully employed college graduate in….OMG…in 8 WEEKS!

There is so only so much a parent can do for their child, a teacher for her student. There comes a time of letting go, of trusting they have learned (some of) who they are and who they are becoming. For Jessica, and my students, I pray for their peace, not to be worried or fearful; to find a vocation they are passionate about that gives them purpose, meaning and contributes positively to the world. I want them to know “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” -Julian of NorwichJessica becoming

And for my child (as written in Jessica Becoming): “I journey with Jessica in her becoming. As she grows, I grow; I re-center, re-set and adjust to our new way of relating.  I am learning and re-creating the role of mother as Jessica is becoming. We are both becoming.”  This mothering, this adulting, these quarter-life and mid-life crises….they are part of the journey.

I have won and I have lost
I got it right sometimes
But sometimes I did not
Life’s been a journey
I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen regret
Oh and You have been my God
Through all of it

~Colton Dixon, Through All of It

 

For related posts:

Adulting: 10 Things My Daughter Has Learned in DC in 10 Days
Jessica Becoming
Surrender to Surprise

Always We Begin Again

st ben begin again

“Always we begin again.” –St. Benedict

I just started my 39th semester of teaching.  I love the “beginning again” that comes with the teaching profession.  Two of my favorite things about teaching are discovering new ways to share the love of learning with students and the chance to start the next semester with a clean slate. Fresh ideas, new teaching strategies, another opportunity to grow and learn and improve—and hoping a little of that rubs off on my students. I want to make a difference and help students learn.

I think I’m still learning that I will never get it just right. I will never be perfect. But I love that I can be creative each day, trying new things, forgiving myself for what doesn’t work and starting over again the next day, week or semester.

 It’s a good reminder for everyday life as well.  So often in our relationships we carry the mistakes, hurts, expectations and fears into our next day; never really giving others, or ourselves, a chance to begin again.

What if we could truly give ourselves and others a clean slate? A fresh start?

What if we really could be merciful…compassionate, gentle, loving, understanding, kind, accepting, giving, patient, forgiving INSTEAD OF cold-hearted, impatient, irritated, withholding, reluctant, hard, thoughtless, self-centered, judgmental?

Being merciful means allowing ourselves and others the chance to begin again. How do we get there…to being more merciful?

mercy1

This year, Pope Francis  has declared a Jubilee or Holy Year of Mercy. He believes we need a  “revolution of tenderness”—between nations and in our personal relationships.

revolution4“How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God,” he wrote. He believes it is time for the Church to show her motherly face to a humanity that is wounded.”

What powerful images Pope Francis brings to this word we all too often use, but do not understand or practice: MERCY. A chance to begin again.

For Christmas, I wanted to create a SoulCollage® card for my monk friends at Christ the King Priory that represented the season. I gathered images that seemed Christmas-y and tried to bring them into unity on a card.  But it just wasn’t working; images that called to me instead kept saying MERCY. So I went with it. I let the word and idea of mercy flow over me and into the creation. The process of creating was prayerful and inspired and joyful. The card and words that follow are the result:

mercy

A gesture, an embrace, a tender gaze
Lays bare every vein, wrinkle, pore and blade.
In the Light, transparent and humbled,
We are seen, truly seen.

Despite our failures and flights,
Doors of mercy open to
Eternal love made visible. 

Pope Francis believes, “The most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way, the important thing is always to get back up.”

May we take this word and image, MERCY, into our year and our lives. The doors are always open for us to begin again. We are received just as the Prodigal Son was received, with open and forgiving arms. The image of the Prodigal Son, created by Rembrandt, communicates both the motherly and fatherly qualities of a God who welcomes us all home. It conveys all of the qualities of mercy that we hope to receive and can strive to give: compassion, tenderness, love and acceptance.

In our thoughts, words and actions, towards ourselves and others, we have a new day to try again to give and receive the mercy that God has given us.

Each new day is a new day.  Always we begin again.

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