Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

For anyone who has worked with toddlers before, they will know how exciting and exhausting it can be. I am currently working in a daycare room that can hold up to 15 toddlers at a time! Thats 15 little boys and girls who need diaper changes, lots of love, nap times, noses wiped, cuddles, and a whole lot more! 

The other day was very stressful due to the fact that almost all of the kiddos and the teachers were sick. It was finally nap time and the first peaceful moment of the day had  arrived. While I sat in the room, I decided that I would try and pray. I had been feeling completely run down by the demands of my work; being a “mother”, nurse, playmate, disciplinarian, chef. I needed to reconnect with Jesus. But in that moment, I couldn’t get my mind to calm down. My mind was racing, my thoughts were soaring. My spirit was agitated. It seemed that I couldn’t formulate any prayer.

grayscale photo of baby feet with father and mother hands in heart signs

Photo by Andreas Wohlfahrt on Pexels.com

Then it happened. I noticed the sound of their breathing.  All 11 tiny, sweet humans, softly breathing in and out. In and out. Some breathing through a stuffed nose, some baby-snoring, others so soft you could hardly hear a thing. Instantly, I felt the Lord saying, “ It is I who breathed life into these children”. Immediately, I knew that my prayer was one of thanksgiving! To give thanks to the God of the universe, for breathing life into his children gathered before me in the nap room. To thank him for my own life, and the life of my loved ones. I was reminded of how very special each and every breath is. God is the giver of life. He has crafted these toddlers so perfectly. They are his beloved children, and so are we.

I felt a profound peace in that moment. It was the most simple prayer, but one that was real. I was reminded of how much God wants to speak to us in our day to day life. It doesn’t always have to be a whole rosary, lectio divina, or a bible study to converse with Him. Sometimes it’s just stopping to listen to our breathing. Taking the time to give thanks for what we have been given through our very existence.

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Lessons on Love from Grade 8’s

 When working with students, one has the opportunity to hear a variety of wonderful, hilarious, insightful, ridiculous and memorable comments. At any given moment, you may find yourself listening to profound sentiments, deep existential questions, impossible scenarios, or unrelated off topic stories… there is never a dull moment. To burst out laughing in the middle of class, to stand dumbfounded by a comment, to be impressed by a thoughtful question, to be challenged, to be amazed. This is what students can do! What a gift it is to spend time with these hopeful, determined, bright and beautiful young people.

As part of my job, I give presentations to a variety of students from grade 6-8 on chastity education ( see previous blog post for more information). In the grade 8 presentation, we speak about dating. It is the goal to have students thinking about dating; it’s purpose, negative/positive motivation for dating, setting boundaries, qualities of a dating partner etc. At one point we ask the students make up a dating list. They must brainstorm the top 10 qualities of a dating partner. Now, some of the lists state that: he/she “must cook well” or ” has to have good hair” or “find my jokes funny” or ” like cats”. So, after getting a few of those down, I try to encourage some deeper reflection! Those authentic, genuine qualities that they desire in their boyfriend/girlfriend. I would definitely say the top qualities are the following:

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  1. Honest
  2. Respectful
  3. Faithful
  4. Loving/Caring
  5. Fun to be around

Each time I do this activity with students, I’m so impressed by their maturity and ability to consider imperative qualities/behaviours of a dating partner. After some thoughtful consideration, most young guys and girls are able to list off 7-10 solid qualities they desire. They know how they want to be treated, because deep down they all yearn for this kind of attention, behavior and respect. Ultimately, these qualities are rooted in  love. When a person loves another, they are going to do their best to remain honest, respectful, faithful, loving/caring and fun to be around.

As humans, we desire to be loved. We want to love and receive love. It’s simple. We might deny this, avoid this, embrace this, or exaggerate this, but it is true. Now, this desire for love manifests itself in the 5 qualities I’ve already outlined. Within each of these qualities we find an ultimate good. You would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks this list is bogus. These are good things. These are loving behaviors.

When we speak of goodness and love, we can look to the source of these things: God. In 1 John 4:16 we read, “… So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him”. Therefore, all ways of giving and receiving, understanding and contemplating love should ultimately lead us to God.

If God is love, and we desire to love (as we’ve seen in our qualities), then we really are abiding in God. As a result, God comes to abide and dwell within us. So, when listing their qualities of a dating partner, these students are actually identifying the ultimate good and loving qualities of a God who is love.For God is honest. God is respectful. God is faithful. God is caring. God is fun to be around. These students have a desire for a girlfriend/boyfriend who is honest, respectful, faithful, caring and fun to be around, because these qualities are who GOD IS. Their hearts are naturally directed to qualities of love: God. It’s incredible!

Now, this is not just the grade 8 students who do this. Each one of us, when we desire these qualities in another person, are ultimately seeking God’s love. We want these things because they are good and they are what God wants to give to us. Naturally, our hearts are oriented to God, and we realize who God is through the good qualities of one another. If we look to scriptures and become saturated in the Tradition of the Church, we will see that God is truly love. Through creation, speaking to the prophets, revealing himself to mankind, sending his Son to redeem the world, giving us his Holy Spirit, pouring out his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, building up the Church… the list goes on and on!

Here is a beautiful excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to eloquently summarize the power and magnitude of this God, who is love.

“But St John goes even further when he affirms that ‘ God is love’. God’s very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (#221).

I’m thankful to those grade 8 students, who in completing this activity, have helped me to contemplate the deeper motives of our hearts.  The desire to love another, is ultimately rooted in the desire for God’s love. To be loved by God, and to love him in return.

Even If Just For One

It’s been a long day at the office…well, actually I don’t have an office because I travel for work. In fact, my trusty Toyota Yaris is pretty much the closest thing I have to an office right now. I spend a significant amount of time in there, driving to different communities and schools. It also serves as a closet and sometimes a fridge…in fact, I have three pairs of shoes in there at the moment. This, I blame on the winter because I’m forced to have comfy driving boots, dressy boots for teaching and then a couple other pairs for good measure… however,  for the empty coffee cup and granola bar wrapper: no excuses can be made there.

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                      The Road Ahead

This year I took a position with a local organization that presents on chastity education for students in grade 6-12. I travel all over the province giving presentations on how to respect and honour our bodies, how to have healthy and positive relationships, understanding who we are and the purpose of sex and marriage. The list could go on and on. I am so blessed to have this opportunity to speak with hundreds of young students and open the doors for this conversation.

There are many responses to this kind of job:

  1. ” Do they actually buy into that stuff?” (which is a comment I received this afternoon in the staff room.. so when I said it was a tough day in the office, I wasn’t totally kidding!)
  2. ” Is this sex-ed?” (often what students ask me when I enter in the classroom. I explain that our presentation has a different perspective. So kind of yes, but kind of no)
  3. ” That’s wonderful, it’s a message that kids need to hear” (a really refreshing and positive approach)

To the lady in the staffroom this afternoon, I explained to her that:

  • The program is well received by most students!
  • I don’t pretend that chastity is easy, or even the popular message BUT I definitely tell them that I wouldn’t be talking about it, if I didn’t believe in it
  • Students deserve to hear this! Often times, they only hear the “safe-sex” approach, when they are free to choose another lifestyle such as chastity. High school students are not destined to be sexually active. It’s possible that no one told them about this before

Now, I was inspired to write this post, because as I said it was a difficult day in “the office”. I had a lot of students skip the class when they heard what it was about. In the end, I had 7 students remaining. I won’t deny that I felt an surge of disappointment as I saw the empty seats in the room. However, I continued to speak with the students who were present. After the presentation was done, while they were filling out their evaluation forms, I remembered I had some starbursts (candies) in my bag. I knew there were a few left, but checked to see how many. As they wrote, I went around the room and passed out a candy to each student. Turns out, I had exactly enough for each student. No less. No more. I even had one for myself.

On the drive home, I found myself asking ” What am I doing wrong? Why are the students not attending? Are we missing something here? I was getting close to despairing, when I realized something. Even if I drove out all this way, through the snow and the fog (literally)  to reach one student, it would be worth it. I was so struck by this thought. Take for instance the candies. It’s not just luck that I had the exact number of candies, it was providence. The seven students attending today, were supposed to be there. It didn’t matter that 3/4 of the class bailed!  It was still a huge success that I had 7 students in the room. Seven more hearts who could hear this message and hopefully be touched by it. Honestly, even if I had one kid stay for the presentation, it’s worth sharing.

Turns out after reading those student evaluations, a few of the responses were incredibly positive and touching. There was an openness to this message of chastity and renewed chastity. I think today was so beautiful, for it helped me re-evaluate my criteria for “success”. Of course, I want the students to stay, hear and participate in the presentations. However, if I speak to 1, 7 or 700 students, I will give the presentations with hope. Hope that this message may speak to them. Hope that they grow in respect and love for who they are.