Category Archives: Catholic

Father Larry Richards – Prayer

Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend the second two days out of Father Larry Richards’ four-day mission at St. Gregory the Great parish in Hamilton Square, NJ.

This year, he returned to New Jersey for the mission at the Co-Cathedral of St. Robert Bellarmine in Freehold, NJ.  I was still unable to attend Tuesday’s talk since I teach CCD, but this time I was able to go on Monday.

Here are the blogs that I wrote last year based on the last two days of the mission: Day 3: Confession and Day 4: Adoration and Healing.

These are the things that resonated with me from Monday’s talk:

“Be a saint.  Or go to hell.”

Those words sound really tough, but those are really the only two options that we have.  I remember how I never used to want to be a saint.  I had heard stories of many of the saints of the Church; I knew how much they suffered.  It isn’t until more recently that I realized that anyone who has made it to heaven is considered a saint.

I guess I had thought that a saint was a special person in Heaven since the canonized saints have to go through the very specific canonization process and need to have verified miracles.  I thought that I would be happy just getting to heaven, but without being a saint.  If our deceased loved ones are in heaven, they are saints just as much as St. Therese or St. Teresa of Calcutta; they are simply not recognized specifically as a saint by the church.

Anyway, I now realize that I obviously want to be a saint because it is that or hell.  Plain and simple.  Do we love God above all else and want to be with Him forever?  Or do we want to deny Him and be separated from Him for all of eternity?

Father Larry had us do an activity during which we wrote down 5 things on 5 pieces of paper that were stapled together.  He told us to write down what we love the most.

Then, we had to rip off one of the pieces of paper.  The first paper I removed was running.  I love running, but I could give it up if I had to.

Time to rip off another.  The beach.  I love it, but sure, I could live without it.

And he continued until we were down to two pieces of paper.  I’m assuming that most people had their spouses, children, and maybe God on those 2 pieces.  What a difficult task.

Once we made our decision, he explained that if the last paper in our hand said anything other than God, we had just chosen hell.  My friend and I looked down at our papers and they both said God.  We smiled and felt proud of ourselves for choosing God.

Not so fast, said Father Larry.  He knew that some of us would be sitting there feeling smug, maybe even judging those around us who hadn’t chosen God as their last piece of paper.  He asked us if our choice was really true.

Do we always put God first?  Do we give our time to Him?  If not, then although we may acknowledge that God should be first, He isn’t actually first in our lives.  Ouch.  Quick jab to my ego right there.


24,000 children will die today from hunger.  Father Larry said that if we are unable to preach the Gospel to the mother who is holding her dying child in her arms, then we don’t truly know the gospel.  After all, the death of a child should be a moment for rejoicing since that child will likely join God in heaven.  Of course, it’s a sad moment for the family members, but if we really have faith, then we should be overjoyed that that little one is already experiencing the fullness of God’s love.


There is a heresy called pelagianism which asserts that we can earn our way to heaven, but that is simply not the case.  We are save by grace.  If we reject God and go to hell, it’s not because we didn’t earn heaven; rather, it’s because we refused to accept God’s grace and mercy.


We’re offended by everything, thinking that makes us holy.  I can definitely relate to that.  I hate being around people who curse, drink too much, do drugs, or act promiscuously.  Now, I don’t think Father Larry was saying that we should place us in those types of situations since some of them could lead to the near occasion for sin, but we also must not condemn those around us.

He said how Jesus was never shocked or offended.  He spoke to adulterers, tax collectors, you name it.  He didn’t judge them or condemn them.  Rather, he loved them.  He never said that any sin was acceptable and he told the adulteress to sin no more.  But he did not judge anyone.

Father Larry said how a man once told him that he thought it would be a good idea to refuse to attend the wedding for a couple who was living unchastely.  Father Larry asked what good that would do.

The better option, he said, would be to fast every Friday for their conversion rather than judging them.  Wow.  I usually fast during two days of the year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  I have been hearing a bit more about fasting recently, and how we are actually supposed to fast every Friday (except the Friday after Easter).  That doesn’t always need to be a fast from food, but we are supposed to give up something in order to remember that it is a penitential day.

I can’t imagine that man’s reaction.  Yes, you should attend the wedding.  And, by the way, you should fast once a week for the couple.

Imagine how significantly the world could change if we all fasted on Fridays for a particular cause (and if we had the true faith that it would work).  If you have someone who you know is living in sin, you should sacrifice yourself for their conversion rather than condemning them.

Father Larry said that he fasts 23 hours a day.  He only eats dinner.  I cannot even imagine doing that, though I have heard of saints who fasted in very extreme ways.

He said how Father John Vianney was very harsh and how he would give people very challenging penances.  However, we would them make sure that he would do the penance himself for them, offering himself as a sacrifice for their holiness.


He said that our prayer should always focus more on listening than talking.  This is definitely a struggle for me.  Even at Eucharistic Adoration, it’s tough to just listen.  When I was younger, I would struggle to get through an hour of adoration.  I find it much easier now that I go every Monday night.  It’s easy to pray with rote prayers, the Rosary, and petitions/intercessions.  I also usually have the Bible to read, or a book based on something faith-related.  But sitting there and doing nothing but listening is incredibly difficult.  I find that my mind wanders almost immediately, and I eventually notice that I’m daydreaming and try to get back on the listening train.  I guess I’ll have to continue practicing.


Father Larry also spoke about how our love for God should be what leads us to stop sinning, not our fear of hell.  It’s a selfish act if the only reason we stop sinning is to avoid hell.  Rather, we should choose to give up our sinful ways because of our complete love for God and our desire to strengthen our relationship with Him.

He said how he is a virgin because he chose to give that to God.  He’s not a virgin because of his fears of eternal damnation.

If we consider a married couple, we could ask the husband why he chooses not to commit adultery (aside from his love for God).  Hopefully the man’s response is that he makes that choice out of love for his wife.  He’s not living that way to avoid punishment.  If asked, “Why haven’t you cheated on your wife?”  “Because I don’t want her to be angry with me” isn’t the most romantic response.  Similarly, we choose to avoid sin out of our love for God and to avoid hurting Him through our selfish acts.

Good parents don’t want kids who fear them and only behave to avoid being beaten.  That’s not love, but fear.  Perfect love casts out fear; it doesn’t exacerbate it.


Anyway, I could go on for quite a while, as he spoke about many more topics than just these, but these were the ones that stuck out to me the most.

I’m thankful that I had another opportunity to hear Father Larry speak and I hope that if he is in the area again in the future, I will get to see him on day 2 since that is the one that I’ve missed.

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Wedding Blues

I feel like such a complainer, but I can’t even describe the hatred I feel towards wedding planning.  I know, I sound like a stupid, stuck up, spoiled girl.  Oh, life sucks, my boyfriend proposed and I’m getting married.  Life is so hard.  But it does suck.  I hate it.

I have seven weddings to attend in 2018 including my own.  Yes, SEVEN.  I’m a teacher and my fiance has tons of student loans.  It’s not like we can easily afford all of this.  Not to mention, I’m a bridesmaid in two of the weddings and he is the best man in one and a groomsman in another.  So we’re involved in a significant way in 5 out of 7 of the weddings.  Oh, and one will require a flight to Michigan (plus hotel), one will require a flight to Texas (plus hotel), and one will require a six-hour drive to Pittsburgh (plus hotel).

Right now we’re expecting to pay over $5,000 just on the other weddings between the flights, hotels, dresses, tuxedos, presents, showers, and bachelor/bachelorette parties.  For ours, we’re trying to keep a tight budget, but getting married in New Jersey by the shore is not cheap.

I’m not having an engagement party or bachelorette party.  We’re having brunch instead of dinner, we removed the cake to save some money, I’m probably going to use old shoes and do my own makeup, possibly even my own hair.  We’re hoping to rent SUVs instead of hiring drivers or limos or fancy cars.  We got free engagement photos and super cheap save the dates.  We’re using a videographer who is a friend and a DJ we know through family.  I’m looking for cheap invitations that still look nice.  My mom is hemming the dresses I need for the other weddings we’re attending.  I feel like we’re trying to cut prices wherever possible.

I am also doing everything I can to save money in my day to day life.

Ibotta app?  Got it.  I’m sending in every receipt when I go grocery shopping or to the drugstore because every 50 cent reward adds up.  So far I’ve earned $22.  Dosh app? Got it, but since we’re not going out to dinner since it’s cheaper to eat at home, I haven’t really made money there.  QuickThoughts survey app?  Yep, that too.  I’ve made $30 since January.

IPSOS I-Say surveys?  Yep, I do those.  I’ve made $25 since January.  Not bad.  MyPoints website?  Yep, I do that also.  $10 made since January.  Ebates installed to my computer?  Yes, but I don’t really buy much online, so it’s taking time to earn much.

But all of that work still only comes to a grand total of $87.  That’s enough for my left shoe.  (Okay, that might be a bit hyperbolic, but that’s how it feels.  I’m actually most likely re-using shoes I already own because who the heck is going to see them anyway?)

I’m thankful that I can grade AP exams in June and teach summer school this summer to earn extra money, but still, it’s all overwhelming.

And then there’s everything I’ve given up.  My sessions hot yoga ran out, so I’m not buying any new ones.  I’m not signing up for any Spartan races or half marathons this year.  My fiance and I aren’t going out to dinner, out to aquariums or museums, or really doing anything that costs money.  I bought a Groupon the other day so that we could at least get a cheap dinner at a pizza place because there is nothing to do anymore on the weekend aside from reading and building puzzles and discussing more wedding plans.

I used to only buy organic foods, but now I’m buying regular eggs, some regular produce, and even some regular meat.  I hate that because I know how unhealthy that is, with all of the antibiotics present, but I can get 3 pounds of turkey for $7.  Wild salmon for $17.99/lb is a thing of the past.

I even have frickin frozen pizza in my freezer.  I cannot even remember a time when I bought non-organic frozen pizza.  I honestly don’t think I ever have before.  But guess what?  Freschetta frozen pizza was not only on sale at the supermarket — it also came with a $1 rebate on Ibotta.  So one pizza cost me $3.  That is 2 to 2 1/2 meals for me.  I just can’t beat the price.

Yet at the same time, I’d like to be in my best shape for the wedding, so I’ve been working out any time I have a free moment.  Unfortunately, that time is limited since I’m staying late at work any time I can to help students with assignments so that I can earn a few more dollars.  So my workouts are inconsistent, and I’m occasionally eating garbage like frozen pizza, yet working toward abs.  Yes, I know, it doesn’t really work like that.

I don’t want to go to any doctors.  I should go to the eye doctor because my contacts have been bothering me, but instead, I’m just using eye drops to remove my red eyes.  My students probably think I’m high or something.

I am looking into a naturopath to go to for my Lyme, but again, it’s unlikely to happen unless my insurance covers it because I know how expensive that will be if I’m paying out of pocket.  I should find an OB-GYN since I haven’t gone to one of those since living in CT, but that’s another expense.  I’m praying for no cavities because my dental insurance sucks, so if I get a cavity, that’s a chunk of our wedding budget immediately gone.

And I’m not even going to get started on the whole living situation.  I’d like to buy a house in the near future, but every $1000 spent on the wedding is $1000 less in our savings to purchases a house one day.

I just feel like there is nothing to look forward to other than my honeymoon.  I have no spring break plans, obviously.  I can’t afford to plan a fun weekend for my fiance’s birthday like I did last year.  On my 30th birthday, we’ll be driving 6 hours to a wedding.  I’m not excited for anyone else’s birthday because again, that’s just more money being spent.

I should be excited for our wedding, but all I can think about is how excited I am for the wedding to be over.  I don’t really enjoy weddings anyway, so I have a lot of weekends of wedding showers and weddings coming up in 2018, which isn’t my favorite thing in the world.

And I usually go on a mission trip every summer, but I’ve cut that from my expenses as well.  So now I feel even worse because here I am spending all of this money on one day of my life when that same amount of money could have saved so many children from poverty across the world.  I could travel on at least five overseas mission trips for the amount we’re spending on our wedding and others.  That just hurts my heart.

Is this all really worth it?  I wish I could go back, un-invite everyone, and have a small Catholic ceremony with my closest family members and call it a day.

I’m obviously just in a terrible mood today, but I feel like this is where wedding planning has brought me.  The usual happy, optimistic, joyful Stephanie has turned into this negative Nancy.  I don’t like it, but that’s where I am right now.

I don’t even look forward to weekends anymore because weekends are just extra time to grade papers, begrudgingly work on wedding plans, and take as many surveys as I can to save up a few more bucks.

Welcome to the engaged life.

 

 

 

Wedding Planning Woes

I hate wedding planning and I hate the whole wedding industry in this country.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely ecstatic about being engaged and planning a future together with my fiance.  But the wedding planning?  Ugh.  Gag me.  I cannot stand it.

Both AJ and I are deeply invested in our Catholic faith.  We’re excited to celebrate the sacrament of matrimony.  But because we live in the year 2018, it is impossible to avoid the secular world of weddings, along with all of its astronomical costs and extravagance.

First stop: engagement ring

I knew that I didn’t want a blood diamond (if you don’t know what that is, read this: “Blood Diamonds”). Finding out about the company, Do Amore was an incredible blessing.

I love my sapphire, ethical engagement ring that is made out of recycled white gold helped to pay for the drilling of a well in Bihar, India.  I am also excited that we ordered our wedding bands on Do Amore as well, so that we are contributing even further to the drilling of a well in India.

I don’t understand why more people won’t stand up against blood diamonds and support companies like Do Amore.  But don’t get me started, I could go on forever.

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Next stop: proposal

Everything in our society seems to be a competition of who can top everyone else.  There are now ridiculous proposals involving flash mobs, helicopter rides, and camera crews.  These poor men are spending thousands of dollars (the average cost of an engagement ring in 2017 was $7,000!!!…don’t worry, mine was not nearly that pricey) on engagement rings, and then thousands more on the proposal.

I guess now that promposals have become so ridiculous, the adult men feel the need to top the seventeen-year-old boys gifting Michael Kors watches to their girlfriends when doing their promposals.

Thankfully, my fiance knew that I wouldn’t have wanted a big to-do for my proposal.  He proposed with printed pictures of us that were all over the floor of my apartment, each with a note on the back.  It was simple and sweet and not at all flashy.

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Engagement party?

We skipped that part, but today it is typical to have someone throw the newly engaged couple an engagement party.  I know the upcoming marriage is exciting, but we already have showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, rehearsal dinners, the wedding, and the honeymoon.  An extra party to celebrate the engagement seems to be a bit much.

Maybe a nice dinner out with parents or with the couple’s closest friends?  Fine.  But extravagant engagement parties?  Come on, there’s more about the marriage than a gazillion parties.

For us, it went something like this: get engaged, call parents, walk on the beach, call more people, get sandwiches for dinner, go to adoration, call more people, the end.

I love the fact that we got engaged on a night when my church has Eucharistic adoration because we were able to start out engagement in prayer, thanking God for His blessings while praying for our future.

Choosing a venue.

We picked the venue based mainly on the cost.  Gosh, is the pricing insane.  I know that it doesn’t help that we live by the beach in New Jersey, but still.

Fortunately, we’re having a brunch wedding.  I’ve always wanted a brunch wedding because A) people don’t usually get as drunk at noon as they would at night and B) breakfast is my favorite.  Option A was the main factor for me since I despise drunkenness so much.  I love a good steak or seafood dinner like anyone else, but I’d rather have a nice little brunch, have my wedding over by 5pm, and hopefully not have to witness the sloppy drunkenness that will probably take place once people go to after parties that evening.

But back to the venue choices…

I thought that brunch wedding options would be cheaper.  Relative to the dinner options, they were, but gosh, I cannot believe how much people are spending on their weddings.  All of the venues I researched, with the exception of three, offered brunch prices between $97 and $150 per head.  At $97, I could invite just 150 people and already spend almost $15,000.  That is insane.

I guess that’s why the average cost of a wedding in New Jersey is $47,000.  That is more than I spent on two years of tuition at the college I attended.  My wedding day is important, but how can I justify spending that kind of money on ONE day?

In the end, I spent hours of research on venues before finally making appointments with three locations.  I went to the first one on my own.  It was lovely, but I just felt blah about it.  The next I went to with AJ and both of us loved it.  The last was the most beautiful location since it was right on the water.  If I was choosing based on aesthetics alone, that would have won hands down, but their brunch options were limited.

We went with the place we both loved.  The location isn’t phenomenal, but that doesn’t really matter since a wedding reception is mainly indoors.  There is an outdoor area if the weather is nice, so that can be used for the cocktail half hour.  And the biggest benefit is that it’s a hotel, so many of our guests can stay right there, which makes everything easier, especially since we have lots of out-of-state guests.

Photographers/videographers

The photographer is one of the most important parts of the wedding to me because I love looking back at old photographs.  I still print photos and I have a whole bunch of photo albums in my home.  I love looking through them when I have some spare time.

I understand that photography is an art, but the prices are simply unreal.  A friend who was engaged before me warned me that if I wanted photography and videography, that it was going to cost about $6,000.

I initially hoped to find a photographer for $1000 to $1500, before realizing that was completely impossible.  Fortunately, I found one who offered a discount if we didn’t get engagement photos, so that helped with the cost a bit.  I just had no idea how expensive everything is.

Engagement photos? Save the dates?

AJ and I went back and forth on this one.  Eventually, we decided to skip the engagement photos and I figured that I would just make a save the date with pictures we already had.  In the end, AJ’s cousin offered to take engagement photos for us at no charge, so we were really blessed and thankful for that opportunity.

Now, some girls go buy new outfits and get their hair and makeup done before the engagement photos.  I just got dressed in clothes that I’ve had forever.  Actually, the sweater that I wore has a hole in it (but it’s behind my neck, so you can’t see it).  None of my clothes had been purchased within even the last two years.  I wore slightly more than what I use for my typical makeup routine (no foundation, contouring, highlighter, [insert other makeup guru term here]). Yet the pictures came out beautifully.  Go figure.

Along those same lines, we also went back and forth between whether or not to send save the dates.  I would have preferred to have just sent invitations out super early, but everything online suggested against doing that.  We mainly chose to make save the dates so that people traveling long distances would have advance warning for the dates.

Black Friday had some amazing prices for Save the Dates, so it didn’t really end up being a significant amount of money.  If they had been expensive, I think we would have just skipped save the sates and verbally told our closest friends and family members about the date.

Wedding dress squad?

I’m an introvert, so I know this is different for extroverts, but I did not care to have a big group of people providing me with their input on my wedding dress.  I felt like that would make everything more stressful and that it possibly even cause me to choose something different from my own preferences if I let the opinions of others begin to dictate my own thoughts.

My mom came down from Connecticut for the weekend and I made appointments at David’s Bridal as well as a local bridal shop.

The first store, I liked nothing.  The second store, I had two favorites that I couldn’t decide between.  We were able to squeeze in an appointment at the third store, where I liked nothing, and then we went back to store #2 (just in a different location).

By that point, I wanted to go home to decide between my 2 favorite dresses.

I went back to store #2 on a random Tuesday afternoon after work.  I tried on the two dresses that I loved and decided that I wanted to go with the one that just seemed more “Stephanie.”  Both dresses had their positive qualities, but I felt much more like myself in the dress I chose.

I am happy that I made my decision by myself because although I did have some input from others (I texted the pictures to a few of my friends), it was ultimately my own choice and I didn’t pick my dress because of what anyone else preferred.

I still have to find a veil.  Did you know they can cost $400!?!?  I found that out last week.  So I will definitely be shopping around trying to find one under $100…preferably under $50 if that’s possible.

Bridesmaid dresses

My sister in Brazil is my matron of honor and my bridesmaids are from Texas, Virginia, and New Jersey.  I wanted something that would not be too much of a hassle for them.

I figured that David’s Bridal would be the easiest choice since they’re located all over the country.  I picked the color that was closest to what I wanted.  Is it the exact shade I would have preferred?  No.  But it’s pretty close and that was good enough for me.

I decided the color and length of the dress and let the girls all choose the style they prefer.  I think it often looks better when brides do this because everyone has a different body shape.  I love how V-necks and halter tops look on me, while other girls hate those styles and prefer other shapes.  I have a square-shaped body with virtually no waist or hips, so I prefer styles that give me the allusion of a waist.  Other girls have to try their hardest to hide their wide hips.

I know that most girls hate their bridesmaid dresses, so hopefully since the girls at least got to pick the style of the dress, it will be flattering to each of their body types.

Tuxedos

AJ went to the mall with his dad.  They went to two stores and picked out the tuxes for AJ and his groomsmen.  I met up with them since I happened to be in the mall that day because a friend of mine was visiting.  AJ initially picked a gray tux and I just mentioned how I thought grooms usually wore black.

He switched to black and used gray for the groomsmen and just picked colors that would match my bridesmaid dresses.  I actually don’t really know exactly how the tuxes look, but I just don’t care. That’s AJ’s job.  He chose what would go well with the help of the person working at the bridal store and I’m sure it will all look great.

I’m not the type of bride who wants to control every tiny little detail of my wedding.

Transportation

This part has not yet been figured out yet.  I don’t want anything fancy.  I’d prefer no limos, sports cars, trolleys, or party buses.  But we do need to have transportation for our wedding party, so I’m hoping to maybe use a car rental place and order two or three SUVs.

That’s the plan right now.  It seems way more affordable than other options, but we’re still figuring it all out.

Glam squad?

This has not yet been finalized.  I plan to wear makeup, but I’m not sure how much.  I’ve never worn foundation, contouring powder, false eyelashes, etc, and I think I plan to keep it that way.  I like the way I look more naturally.

People keep warning me that my pictures may look bad without full face makeup and that since it’s August, I may look shiny, but I have recently realized that if that were true, I would hate how I look in other pictures I have.

I like the way I do my makeup.  Will I do a little bit extra for my wedding?  Yes, but  I don’t want to look different from me.  I picked my dress because it felt more “Stephanie” and I think that has to be my ultimate goal with my hair and makeup as well.  I want to look like myself.  I’ll try to find something to remove the shine since it might be a hot day, but I don’t want my face to look fake.

I also have no idea how to do my hair because I have curly hair and sometimes it air dries perfectly while other times it gets frizzy.  I don’t want ti to look really fake, though, so I’m still figuring out what to do there.

Flowers

I’m not a flower person.  I told AJ right from the start that he shouldn’t ever buy me flowers.  I just don’t really appreciate them very much.  They look pretty for a few days and then they die.  I like potted plants or flowers growing outside, but bouquets aren’t my thing.

I looked into alternatives to flowers.  They make bouquets out of lollipops now.  Others are made out of feathers.  But I felt like they were just a little too silly.  I need the bouquet when I’m walking down the aisle, and it’s the Mass that is my main priority, so I feel that having a candy bouquet would just be silly and kind of make a mockery out of something that is so important.

So I do plan to have a bouquet, but hopefully just a small, simple one.  I love bright colors, so I’d love either a bright blue/pink, or hot pink bouquet for me and a tiny bouquet or single flower for my bridesmaids.  I’m leaning toward fake flowers since they cost a bit less.

Honeymoon

This was very high on my list of important wedding plans.  I could not wait to plan my honeymoon.  I could write an entire post on this, but here’s the short version.  We’re going to Bali!

Extravagant?  People would assume so, but it’s actually surprisingly affordable.  I was able to purchase flights that were cheaper than any international flight I’ve taken to Brazil, despite the fact that it’s significantly farther away.

The travel time will be long (11-hour flight followed by a short layover and another 11-hour flight), but I know that it will be worth it.  AJ and I love mission trips, so I don’t think we will take fancy vacations once we’re married.  We would probably prefer to volunteer.  I know that this trip is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

In Bali, AJ and I can afford what in most other countries would be luxury accommodations.  We will visit Ubud and Sanur.  In Ubud, we can afford a private villa with a private swimming pool and in Sanur, we can afford a private bungalow that is pretty close to the beach!  Yet it’s significantly cheaper than one night in a regular hotel in New Jersey on the same date.

Once there, we can have a nice meal for two people for under $10!  So yes, Bali is very far away and traveling there will cut some time off of our trip (it’s technically a 10-day honeymoon, but only 8 days in Bali), and we may experience jet lag, but we will bet to experience all of the beauty of Bali without spending a huge amount of money.  I can’t wait!

Wedding gifts

Apparently it’s now a thing for the bride and groom to give each other gifts.  I didn’t know this, but have stumbled across the topic during my wedding planning.

I love gifts, but if we truly understand the purpose of a wedding, there should be no need for extra, tangible gifts.  AJ is giving me the gift of himself and I am doing the same to him.  We are becoming one union under God.  What greater gift can there be than that?

I feel like giving him a tangible gift would almost undermine the beauty and significance of matrimony.  Here is a nice watch/thermos/[insert man gift here] for you because giving myself to you isn’t enough.  Spending thousands of dollars on this wedding isn’t enough.  Traveling to Bali for our honeymoon isn’t enough.  I think this watch will be what really proves my love.

I would like to write a letter to AJ for him to read on the morning of our wedding, but that’s it.

Maybe if couples would stop co-habitating and sleeping together before marriage, they wouldn’t feel the need for a separate wedding gift.  For those couples, the wedding changes very little.   I guess they need the diamond necklace to make their day complete.  I’m truly sorry for those couples because they have no idea how life-changing marriage could be if they had put things in the proper order.


I know that there are many other aspects of wedding planning that I didn’t mention.  DJs, favors, cake, room blocks, invitations, and on and on.

Honestly?  Just writing about all of this is beginning to get to me.  Maybe cathartic at the start, but now it’s getting old.  You get the idea.  I want the wedding because of the actual marriage.  I don’t care about the extra extravagances.  I don’t want to feel like a queen.  I want to feel like myself.

I want to give myself to AJ fully through the sacrament of marriage, during which time we will become one flesh.  I want God’s blessing for our marriage and I want to enjoy spending time with my closest family members and friends.

I am excited to leave for our honeymoon the following day and after the honeymoon, move in together as a couple for the first time.  All of that is what is important; not the hair extensions, fake tans, and false eyelashes.

 

 

2017: My Year in Review

As I’ve done for the past three years (201420152016), here is my 2017 year in review.  Last year, I was incredibly thankful for having met my new friends from Bible study and starting a new relationship.  Now, I have even more to be grateful for this year.  So here is what happened since last year:

January:

-AJ and I rang in the new year at Devin and Elise’s wedding in Connecticut

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-Then we went hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT and Kent Falls in Kent, CT the next day

-Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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-I met up with Lizzy in Philadelphia since she was there for clinicals for vet school (before graduating in May!!!)

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-Camden Aquarium with AJ

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-Hiking with AJ and Bolt in Freehold

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February:

-Hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT again with AJ

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-Grandma’s birthday party

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-Valentine’s Day dinner at Rooney’s in Long Branch

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-Going to Absecon Lighthouse, the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and Lucy the Elephant in Margate with AJ, Sway, and Denielle

March:

-My mom’s birthday

April:

-Escape room in Freehold with AJ, Daniel, and Brady

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-AJ’s 25th birthday party

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-United States Marine Corps Educator Workshop in Parris Island, South Carolina

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-Sway’s Confirmation at the Easter Vigil

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-Easter in Connecticut

-Hiking at Bushkill Falls for AJ’s birthday

-Finishing the Spartan Beast with AJ in Vernon, NJ

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May:

-Bible study at the Freehold Mall

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-Battleship USS New Jersey in Camden

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-Father Larry’s talk with Bible study

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-Abby & Lauren’s Irish step dancing recital

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-My cousin Lauren’s first communion

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June:

-Scoring AP exams in Tampa, Florida

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July:

-Acro yoga in my back yard

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-4th of July in Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday

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-Vacation in LBI with my mom

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Barnegat Lighthouse

-Churrascaria for my early 29th birthday dinner

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-Acro yoga attempt #2 in my back yard

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-Volunteering in Uganda with Go Be Love International.  Sole Hope in Jinja

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-Free day at the Nile River

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August:

-Volunteering with Go Be Love International at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja

September:

-Phil and Marissa’s wedding in Pennsylvania

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-Chris and Grace’s wedding in Pennsylvania

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-Visiting Franciscan University for the first time since I graduated 7 years ago

October:

-Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

-Getting engaged on October 9th

-Connecticut for a family party

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-Pro-Life dinner at Doolan’s in Spring Lake

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-Lizzy visited & we went Halloween bowling

November:

-AJ’s cousin, Jared, took engagement photos for us

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-Celebrated Thanksgiving with AJ’s family in Somerset, NJ

-Hiking at Hartshorne Park

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December:

-Christmas Eve in Connecticut at Grandma & Grandpa’s house

-Christmas Day in Connecticut: morning at Grandma & Grandpa’s house, shoveling snow, and then Christmas Day at Aunt Suzi & Uncle Bob’s house

-Young Adults in Faith Christmas celebration at St. Robert’s in Freehold

2017 was a great year.  Looking back at January, when AJ and I had only been together for a month, I never expected that by New Year’s Eve, we would be planning a wedding, figuring out where we want to live, and having intense conversations about the future.  So much can change in one year and I am thrilled to see what 2018 entails.

I thank God for all of His abundant blessings and pray for an amazing 2018.

 

 

Female Chauvinist Pigs

I recently finished reading a book written by Ariel Levy, called Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.  Although I don’t agree with some of her assertions in the book, I was nodding my head while reading along with others.

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The book centers around women, feminism, and how we have been fighting for equality for years, only to behave in ways that are only pushing us back in terms of progress.

What is crazy to me is that this book was written in 2005 and to me, it seems that things have become even worse than when Levy wrote the book.  There was no Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, or Bumble back in 2005.  If anything, things have only gotten worse since her book was published.  Without ruining the book for you, here are some of my key takeaways:

Females going to strip clubs

I have never understood why some heterosexual females go to female strip clubs with friends or even boyfriends.  I would rather not go to a male strip club either, but I really don’t understand why women are going to watch other women strip.  According to the women she spoke to, it was “liberating.”

Liberating to watch women remove their close while men are ogling them?  Gaining the right to vote is liberating.  Earning equal pay for equal work is liberating.  Watching women take their clothes off while strange men stare at them is not my definition of liberating.

Playboy

Years ago, women were picketing against Playboy because they found it exploitive and mysogynistic, but now women themselves purchase the magazine and get tattoos of the bunny logo.  Many women view Hugh Hefner as a chauvinistic pig himself, but now many others are Playboy enthusiasts themselves, wishing that they could be playmate.

Girls Gone Wild

These women are basically fighting for a chance to show their naked breasts (or more) to the world.  They not even getting paid because they are not actual porn stars, but they all want a chance to be in front of the cameras.

Hey Mom, guess what I got to do on spring break?  Show off my breasts for free to a sleazy cameraman!  Isn’t that great!?

How is is possible that women do not understand that this is degrading to women.  It focuses all of our worth on our bodies.  It does not matter how intelligent we are or what our personality is like; what matters is only that we have a nice rack.

Yet women are upset if they are on a legitimate date with a guy and he stares at her breasts the entire time.  We cannot act as though we are wild, free, and slutty and then expect guys to treat us as though we are ladies.

Ladies do not bare their chests for a Girls Gone Wild cameraman.

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition

Many female Olympic athletes pose nude (or almost nude) in the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated magazine.  Levy writes about how some of them seem to feel the need to show off their bodies as feminine since they sometimes appear masculine while participating in their sport.

These women are in their prime in terms of their bodies and fitness, yet they are still seeking approval for their beauty and femininity?

There are not too many male Olympians who feel the need to pose naked in order to prove their masculinity.

I live by the beach and I have seen so many girls this summer taking photos that look like they belong in that magazine.  They lay in the sand, arching their backs to get the best shot.  Girls who would never want to be covered in sand are laying in it to get the perfect Instagram pic.

Others are kneeling in the water, even on days when it is freezing.  They spread their legs wide, flip their hair, and make pouty faces.  It looks absolutely absurd.

Here are some of the words I heard from two girls on the beach one day:

“Use the up angle so we look skinnier.  Up angle is the bomb. Is my hair okay?  Do I look fat?  Should I put my hair half up?  I’ll edit them and then send them to you.  Don’t worry, I won’t post anything yet until I edit them.  Take some candids so it looks like we’re laughing at each other.  Should we lay on our backs or our stomachs?  Let’s put our legs up.  Put your arm on your hip.”

I cannot even count the number of girls who talk about how much skinnier they will look once they edit their photos.  So now we are not only photoshopping celebrities in magazines, but we are photoshopping ourselves so that EVERY photo is a lie.

Guess what, ladies?  You might look beautiful on Instagram thanks to the filters and edits, but do you not realize that it is all a facade?

If you are overweight and wish you looked skinner, photoshopping is not the answer.  It will take healthy meals and exercise to fix the problem.  But we live in a fast-paced society that seeks fast-paced solutions, so more girls turn to their photo edits rather than an actual healthy lifestyle.

Plastic Surgery

According to Levy, “between 1992 and 2004, breast augmentation procedures in this country went from 32,607 a year to 264,041 a year–that’s an increase of more than 700 percent.”  700 percent increase?!?  Those numbers are outrageous.

I have never previously heard of this, but there is even something called “vaginoplasty” that makes the vagina more attractive.  It can lead to painful nerve damage, but hey, we want vaginas that look like those of porn stars.

Sure, sex may not be fulfilling ever again, but it’s worth it in the name of beauty.  This sounds terrifyingly similar to those tribes that partake in female genital mutilation so that women are unable to enjoy sex.  Yet we’re doing it intentionally in the hopes of a hotter vagina?  Insane.

Pornography

Years ago, being a porn star ruined a person’s credibility.  It was something that could easily destroy a woman’s image.  Yet today, there are celebrities like Paris Hilton who are not actresses or musicians; instead, they are famous because of a sex tape.

Levy talks about the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder that is prevalent among sex workers.  Many of them face long-term emotional problems as a result of their work.

The majority of them experienced some form of sexual trauma before entering the porn industry.  They are sexually traumatized, which is only increased after spending time as a porn star.

I have not researched porn very much since it isn’t something that I have struggled with, but there are many secular articles that have been written about the way that pornography ruins marriages and relationships.  A simple Google search of “how porn ruins marriages” yields thousands of results, both religious and secular.

Casual sex

In my own experiences, I have found it amazing how sex has become so casual.  People act as though it is normal to have sex on the third date.  As a Catholic who does not believe in sex before marriage, I find this appalling, but I understand that many people are not as strict as my beliefs.  However, sex on the third date absolutely blows my mind.  But this is completely common in today’s colleges — even sex on the first date, or a one night stand without the prospect of ever meeting up again in the future.

This summer I overheard some conversations by females at the beach that simply broke my heart.  Here is one that I overheard recently:

Girl 1: I need to raise the body count.

Girl 2: Like people you’ve had sex with?  You want to be a slut?

Girl 1: No, I just feel like I need to sleep with more people.  I’ve only been with 3 guys.

In case you were wondering, girl 1 was only 22 years old.  Why did she feel the need to increase her “body count”?  And why did she refer to it in that manner anyway?

I’m not even going to get into the spread of STDs here.  We all know that they exist, yet nobody seems to care or be worried about that.

Girls acting like guys

Levy said that because of the way male chauvinists have acted, girls feel as though they can empower themselves by treating sex as casually as some men do.  They want sex without the emotions, just notches on their bed posts.

And I guess that it what is happening, but this should not be viewed in a positive light.

More women are promiscuous, are flaunting their bodies, and are talking about how many men they have slept with.  Does this lewdness make us feel equal?

Rather than seeking out gentlemen in the sea of chauvinists, we are becoming chauvinists ourselves.  Are we taking the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach?

Some of us are using our looks to get men, power, and career advancements.  Why not use our brains and our charisma?    I will not feel accomplished if I use my body to advance in the world.  I want to be taken seriously as a strong female because of my hard work in my job, and not my hard work in bed.

Women – those of you who are acting in this way are ruining progress for all of us.

Clothing

I did not know this before, but thongs were created in 1939 in order to cover the genitals of exotic dancers in New York City for the World’s Fair.  “The thong was born to placate [mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s] decree while exposing the maximum amount of skin.”

Now they are being sold to children in stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, which market clothing to 7-14 year olds.

Girls are wearing shorter shorts, so short that the underside of their butt cheeks are visible, with crop tops that expose their entire stomach and back, and often quite a bit of cleavage as well.

I wrote a previous blog entitled How Did Modesty Get Such a Negative Connotation?   Do we no longer want to maintain any degree of mystery about our bodies?

There are tons of students and parents fighting back now against school dress codes. (I also wrote a blog entitled School Dress Codes are Not Sexist.)  The dress codes simply want boobs, butts, back, and stomachs covered.  That isn’t sexist, but today’s females think it is appropriate to come to school looking like a stripper or a prostitute.  And unfortunately, some of their parents agree that that should be allowed and accepted.

Have you seen girls on Halloween lately?  That’s another separate blog, What Has Halloween Become?

Adolescents

One of the most upsetting parts of Levy’s book was the section in which she talks to adolescent girls about their sexual experiences or those of the females in their schools.  Sex in 7th grade is not uncommon.  The verdict among most of the girls she spoke to was that the sluttier a girl appeared, the more popular she probably was.

Many of the girls are giving oral sex to the boys to increase their popularity.  One girl called oral sex “super casual.”

These girls aren’t doing it because they enjoy it or because they love these boys so much; they want popularity.  Instead of gaining popularity by being a star athlete, or having a great personality, girls in the 21st century are becoming more popular based on the number of blow jobs they have given.  Progress right there.

“About a quarter of girls between ages 15 and 19 describe their first time as ‘voluntary, but unwanted,’ according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.”  Girls are losing their virginity intentionally, yet it is something that they do not want.  They want the attention and notoriety that comes with sex.

Girls on girls

Many females are also making out with other females, not because they are lesbian or bisexual, but because they know that guys like it.

How many guys would start making out with other guys (all heterosexual) just to appear sexy to women?  Very few, I would imagine.

Yet we are acting as though we love kissing girls so that guys will view us as sexy and wild.

It seems to me that there are a lot of broken girls who crave attention; they want to feel desired.  What they fail to realize is that the guys who do desire them only do so for their sexual promiscuity.  Hooking up with a guy at the bar who was only attracted to you because you were drunk and making out with girls is unlikely to help you to find a meaningful relationship.

It’s unlikely that you will even find a guy who respects you for more than your appearance.  Yet we still get angry when guys fail to take us seriously.  News flash, ladies: you’re making the problem worse.  It’s hypocritical to act like a stripper at a club and then expect a man to take you out to a nice dinner.  You can’t show off your boobs and expect a quality man to want to pursue a relationship with you.  You’re not wife material; you’re one night stand material.  Is that really what you want?

 

In the conclusion of her book, Levy writes, “When you think about it, it’s kind of pathetic. ..We are selling ourselves unbelievably short.”

And that’s exactly what it comes down to.  In our disrespect for our own bodies and minds, we are selling ourselves short.  There are amazing guys out there who will treat you like the princess you deserve to be treated like; however, you will never find them while wearing those bright red stripper heels and twerking in the tight bodycon dress while making out with a girl who looks as slutty as you.  If all you want in life is one night stands and hookups, then proceed, but I have a feeling that most of you don’t truly seek that in your deepest desires.

You want attention and you want to feel desired.  You don’t realize that you really want to feel loved.  But because love is a scary thing, and because it makes you vulnerable to heartache, you settle for sexual desire.  If a guy ogles you, or even sexually harasses you, you feel beautiful.  That is the problem.

You must not accept anything less than the respect you deserve, but it starts with you.  Will you act in a way that shows that you don’t just want respect, but that you are demanding respect?   Or will you continue being a female chauvinist pig?

Uganda Part Two: Amani Baby Cottage

If you missed the first blog, you can find part one of my trip to Uganda here.

Lake Victoria / Nile River

On our free day (Saturday), we went shopping for souvenirs in downtown Jinja.  Then we went out to an Indian restaurant for lunch, followed by a boat ride.

The boat ride started out on Lake Victoria.  We saw some prisons that have land that leads right into the water, but there were no fences.  Our guide told us that 96% of Ugandans are unable to swim, so they know that the prisoners will not escape.

We also saw fish farms in the middle of the lake where tilapia are harvested.

We stopped at a fishing village where we walked around and saw all of these little silver fish that they were drying out in the sun.

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All of the children in the village were excited to see us, and they cried out, “mzungu!” (“white person!”)  They all wanted to hold our hands, but what was interesting is that many of them were also smelling our hands.  I have no idea why they did that.  I’m not sure if previous white people maybe had a lot of perfume or scented lotion on.  Or maybe our skin just smells different than theirs.  I’m not too sure.

After leaving the fishing village, we headed to the source of the Nile.  The Nile River is the world’s longest river and it flows north, from Uganda to Egypt.  The water started moving more quickly once we got closer to the area where the lake and the river meet.  The guide told us that it was because of the huge difference between the depth of the lake and the depth of the river.

Rachel and I stuck our feet into the water:

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Then we took a group photo there.

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After volunteering with Sixty Feet and Sole Hope, we spent our last three days at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja.

Initially, when reading about the trip to Uganda back in December when I registered, we were going to split all of our time between Sixty Feet and Sole Hope.  It was only more recently that the three days at Amani were added.

To be completely honest, I was disappointed at the addition of Amani to our itinerary.  I’m not a huge baby person.  I teach high school students because I prefer the older kids.  I was excited for the other two volunteer opportunities because I knew that there would be children of many ages.  Hearing the words “baby cottage” did not excite me at all.

Fortunately, I found out that Amani housed children from ages 0 to 5, so I was hoping to get to spend most of my time with the older kids.  Five year olds I could deal with (or at least I thought so); it was the babies I was not ready for.

Amani Baby Cottage

According to its website, Amani Baby Cottage (ABC), “was established in 2003 to provide care for orphaned and abandoned children…Many are orphaned when their parents die due to AIDS, birth complications or other factors. Some are abandoned in the hospital after birth. Others are found abandoned at taxi stops, in latrines, or on the street…To date, a total of 328 children have been cared for in our home. 107 of these have been reunited with their parents or extended family members, 135 have been fostered into new families, and 26 have been transferred to other ministry placements. We do not refuse children in fragile health, thus 23 children have died while in our care.”

Everyone on my team had different tasks during our time at Amani.  There were 43 children there, ages 0 to 5.  Different team members helped with the infants, the toddlers, the preschool, cleaning, changing diapers, rocking babies, you name it.

There are Ugandan women working there who are referred to as “Mamas.”  It’s really cute hearing the children call the women “Mama.”  Any time the mamas hand out a snack or help a child with something, the kids say, “thank you, Mama.”

When volunteers come, they calls us “aunties” and “uncles.”  It was nice having that routine set before we arrived because even if they didn’t know our first name, they could still address us.

The first day at Amani, Rachel, Cortnie, and I were helping out with the preschool.  The students met as a group at first to do their morning routine, learning about the weather and the calendar.  Then they separated into three groups for different activities.  There were the zebras, giraffes, and lions, according to their ages.  They would rotate through different activities so that the groupings would be smaller.

It was amazing to see how well organized everything was.  The mamas had the schedule down to the minute and the kids were very well-behaved and polite.

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The preschool children in their school uniforms

I was with the zebras and our first activity was to go outside to play.  They ran around, played on the swings and monkey bars, and the mamas led them in some fun exercises like frog jumps and songs that had body movements incorporated.

After that, all of the kids regrouped, said a prayer, had porridge and a snack, before separating into their animal groups again. Each of the kids in my group were given a card with a letter on it.  They had to replicate that letter by building it with blocks.  I was really impressed by their language skills.  The other children we met in Uganda knew some English, but here their English sounded perfect and they were completely fluent.

Their schedule shifted a bit after that because the Auntie Rebecca, who had been their preschool teacher for the past month as a volunteer, was flying back home, so she gave out lollipops and they spent some time taking goodbye pictures.

Then we watched some Australian learning videos that were absolutely hilarious to Rachel and me.  They were super corny and the main actor was really strange, but the kids loved them, marching and dancing along to the songs.  There were songs like “The Wheels on the Bus” and then others that I hadn’t heard of.

We helped get the kids ready for lunch and then their nap, and then we left for lunch.

After lunch, we came back to play outside with the kids.  I mainly pushed kids on the swings.  Other people on our team were running around, playing with balls, or doing face paint.

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The next day, we expected to return to Amani to similar tasks.  However, upon arriving, we learned that the Mamas had professional development scheduled that day.  They had tried to reschedule it, but there were people who traveled from Kampala to go there.

Due to the change in schedule, preschool was cancelled.  Mission trips always require flexibility and this is the best example of that.  There was no time to complain or ask questions; we just needed to get to work.

Kimi, Joe and I went to the one of the male cottages, which housed ten boys: Edmond, Solomon, Jimmy, Silas, Babu, Michael, Dominic, David, Jonah, and Jonathan.  Jonathan was the only baby and Jonah was around two years old.  The rest were toddlers.

I cannot even begin to describe the chaos that ensued.  There were a few times when I looked over at Kimi and asked, “Am I being pranked right now?  Is this Candid Camera?”  During those moments, all we could do was shoot terrified glances over at one another and then simply laugh at the ridiculousness that we were experiencing.

The boys had acted like little angels when their mamas were around, sitting in a perfect formation, saying thank you, and using good manners, but it was like a switch flipped the moment the mamas walked out the door.

They were stealing toys from each other, running around, and trying to climb the shelves.  We put on a movie, but they wouldn’t stop talking so they couldn’t hear the movie.  I found two books, so I tried reading to them.  They listened to the first book, but by the second, their attention span was gone.

Every now and then, though, one of the mamas would come in to check on something or to make sure that things were going alright.  The minute they entered the room, the boys returned to their perfect angel state.  All a mama had to say was, “boys, stop talking,” and there was silence.  Kimi and I just looked at each other in amazement any time this happened.

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Watching a movie

Then it was time for their snack (porridge and a banana).  Mama Georgina told us to stir the porridge with a cup before serving them because it was too hot.  The boys were watching something on the TV while we stirred.  Then, one of the boys started the prayer before meals: “Hand together,” he said.  And they all repeated, “hands together” while putting their hands into prayer position.  “Eyes closed,” he continued, and they all shut their eyes.  They went through all of the prayer.  I couldn’t understand all of the words but it was something like: “Hands together, eyes closed.  Bless our porridge, bless our mamas, bless our aunties, bless our uncles, in Jesus’ name, amen.”  They would all clap while they said “Amen.”

Kimi and I thought that it was really cute that they just said their prayers on their own while watching the movie.  Then, a few minutes later, another boy started the prayer.  When he finished he said, “auntie, we would like our porridge.”  The problem was that it was still extremely hot.

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Prayers before snack

The same thing happened a few minutes later, with another boy starting the prayer.  This time we decide to give them the porridge because we knew they wouldn’t stop praying and asking.  I have no idea how they drank it since it seemed to be burning hot, but they loved it.  One boy in the room has special needs and he doesn’t have full control of his arms or legs.  He spilled the porridge all over himself, so we had to find him a new change of clothes.  I hope that he didn’t burn his chest.

After snack, we were excited that we could bring the boys outside.  We expected it to be less crazy than being cooped up in the cottage all day.  Boy were we wrong!

There were people working on the grounds of Amani, doing various tasks like gardening.  The boys ran out of the cottage and made a beeline for the yard tools.  The workers weren’t there at the moment, but their shovels, hoes, and rakes were.

I found myself running toward the edge of the property, wrestling these garden tools out of the hands of the toddlers.  Initially, I told the kids not to touch them and to put them down and they listened, but the moment I walked away, I saw kids chasing each other with the tools.

So back I went, running around in an attempt to avoid witnessing a child being impaled by a gardening tool.  Rachel came outside of her cottage with the girls and she was somehow able to grab a rake out of one of the children’s hands, despite holding two babies on either hip.

Katie told us later that the whole scene was hilarious.  Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at the chaos, but in the moment, I was feeling completely overwhelmed.

At different points during the day, I paused to say a prayer asking God for help.  It sounds so funny now, but gosh, we were all feeling completely overwhelmed and unprepared.  I couldn’t have gotten through that whole day if I wasn’t confident that God had placed me there for a reason and that He was going to help me to continue.

After the garden tool fiasco, we just played outside and then we left for lunch.

We usually went over our highs and lows each day at dinner.  Every team member would discuss their day and it was a nice way to debrief.  This day, we decided to do highs and lows at lunch since we were all exhausted and less than enthused about the thought of returning to Amani.  Many of our teammates were peed on, pooped on, or spit up on.

Kimi and I had been thinking that we had it the worst with ten boys between us, but we came to find out during lunch that Cortnie and Rachel had it even worse in the girls’ cottage.  There were 13 girls and it sounded like they were behaved even more badly than the boys.

Serving at Amani that day definitely gave us a quick dose of humility.  It also increased our respect and appreciation of the mamas exponentially.  The mamas do such an amazing job caring for and loving those children and I’m sure that they have their fair share of difficulties.

The children at Amani come from a variety of backgrounds so although everything looked like it was down to a science on our first day there, I know that doesn’t just happen out of nowhere.  Establishing the routines, rules, and procedures takes a lot of work and those mamas are simply amazing.  It is also clear how much they truly love those children.  If I ever considered adopting, I would have no hesitation to adopt a child from a place like Amani because it is obvious that they are extremely well cared for.

After lunch, we were all hesitant about returning, but it was much calmer.  We played with the kids outside.  We played on the swing set and we also brought bubbles.

Something that was really interesting to me was that the swing set was dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.  It had a plaque on it that included the names and ages of everyone who had died in Connecticut that day, along with the names of companies and churches that had either donated the supplied for the swing set, donated money, or helped to build it.

There were stores from Bethel and Danbury, Connecticut listed on the plaque, which is where I used to live before moving to New Jersey.  What a small world that I was playing with kids in Uganda on a playground that was made with supplies from my former town!

Sarah and Mary brought their Polaroid camera, so the kids LOVED having their pictures taken.

We found out that afternoon that the professional development was a two-day course. Upon leaving, we knew that we would probably have another chaotic day in store for us the following day.  I was thankful for a calmer afternoon, but nervous what the next day would entail.

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Yep, I’m holding a baby!

Some of us switched roles the next day.  I stayed in the same room as the previous day because I figured that it would be helpful that I knew all of the names of the boys in that cottage.  Rachel, Cortnie, and Joe were in that cottage with me.

This was our last day volunteering in Uganda, so I think that most of us hoped that it would be a better experience than the prior day.  Fortunately, it was definitely better.  There were definitely still crazy, chaotic moments, but not nearly as many.

The woman who is the current director of Amani bought new movies, hoping that the kids would behave better if they were interested in a new movie that they hadn’t seen before.  That worked really well; the boys were engrossed in The Lion King.

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The only slight problem was that every kid wanted to sit in our laps, but there were only three of us.

They watched all of The Lion King, so we followed that with The Good Dinosaur.  They were less excited about that movie, so they got a little antsy.

We had snack time with more prayers, porridge, and bananas, and this time it was much better because the porridge wasn’t too hot when I got it from the kitchen.

We turned on Cars instead of The Good Dinosaur since they really didn’t like that one.  We could hear noises coming from the girls’ cottage and some of the girls ran into our cottage to show the boys some crafts they were making.  Cortnie, Rachel, and I were nervous that would cause the boys to become rambunctious as well.  We shut both of the doors so that the girls couldn’t distract them and then we brought out the crayons and coloring books.

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It went well, other than one kid who was eating his crayon:

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We left for lunch and when we returned, the mamas had a variety of hand-made items out on display.  It was great to be able to support the mamas by purchasing some souvenirs from them.

Then the kids had pineapple for a snack before going outside.  They wanted us to play “Let it Go” from Frozen on our phones.  Katie had that song on her phone, so she had played it for them before, but she wasn’t with us.  They didn’t understand how it was possible that we didn’t have the song.  We had a phone just like her, after all.  I tried to play them other songs on my phone, but they were unimpressed.

Then it was time to go outside for the rest of the afternoon.  Mama Georgina handed me a pair of nail clippers and said to trim the boys’ nails.  I wasn’t too sure how that was going to play out, but the boys were actually really good at staying still while I clipped their nails.  I’m not sure if I have ever clipped anyone’s nails before that.

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We had nail polish, so we painted their nails.  That was a bit of a mess since they kept moving too soon after and smudging the nail polish, but they liked it anyway.  We also had more bubbles.

It seemed like there were fewer kids that afternoon, so it was much calmer.  I was told that some of them were going to therapists or other appointments.

After playing for a while, it was getting close to our time to leave.  The mamas had the kids form a circle so that they could sing farewell songs to us.  That moment was really touching.

They sang some songs in English and some in Luganda; there were some that we were familiar with, such as “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” and others that we had never heard.

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One girl started singing a Christian song and it was just precious.  Both her and her twin sister had one hand on their heart and one hand raised to the sky, praising God.

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The songs were really cute, but then it was time to leave.  One boy, Silas, had been sitting on my lap during all of the songs and he had been following me around a little bit that afternoon (he’s the one who ate the blue crayon).  He was holding onto my skirt as I got up to walk away.

I had to physically remove his arms from around my waist and then he started crying.  As we walked out of the compound, some of the kids (like Silas) were crying.  One boy, Edmond, ran up to the fence and waved goodbye.

I couldn’t stop a few tears from rolling down my cheeks.  I couldn’t help but consider how many people the children must say goodbye to.

It’s awesome that so many people go to Amani to volunteer, but there’s always a goodbye.  Some of these boys were abandoned by their parents, and I just felt like I was continuing the cycle of loss.

It was bittersweet, though, because at the same time, we were really needed there.  Although we did a lot of work with Sole Hope, I’m sure that they could have found anyone to help wash feet or pass out lollipops or stickers.

But when the mamas needed their professional development, I’m not sure what they would have done had we not been there.  Us being there helped take a lot off of their plate and I’m thankful that I was able to show my gratitude to them by removing some of their daily duties for a few days.

I know that God placed me and my team exactly where He needed us, so I know that I shouldn’t feel sad, but walking down the road and away from those children was really hard.


After leaving Amani, we went back to our guest house to pack our bags since we would be leaving early the following morning to take the long drive back to Entebbe for our flights home.

We left around 6:30 to drive about three hours to Entebbe.  We had our last lunch at a restaurant overlooking Lake Victoria.  It was nice to have one last team activity before heading out.

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We had a five and a half hour flight to Dubai, followed by a four hour layover.  When we landed in Dubai, we had to get off the plane and board a bus to take us to the airport, but Rachel was flying to Germany and Cortnie was flying to Dallas, so they had to get onto a different bus than the rest of us.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t expected that, so we didn’t really get to say goodbye.

The temperature was around 95 degrees even though it was 10pm in Dubai.  It was so hot and humid that my camera lens fogged up when I tried to take a picture.

Now this is completely random, but something weird about Dubai International Airport is that the toilets seemed to have hot water in them.  I’m not sure if it was hot simply because it was so hot outside.  (It was around 107 degrees on our trip in the opposite direction since it was day time in Dubai at that point.)  Or maybe they heat their toilet water, though I can’t imagine that.  It felt like sitting on a steamer or something when I sat on the toilet.  TMI?  Probably, but it was interesting to me.

After our layover, we flew about 14 hours to JFK and luckily, that was my last stop.  We went through immigration/customs, got our luggage, and I said goodbye to my team, most of whom had to wait for another flight later in the day.

So that was my experience in Uganda this summer.

To everyone who donated money to help me to go on this trip: thank you so much.  I would have been unable to do this work if it hadn’t been for your great generosity.  Although you were not able to be on the trip in the flesh, I brought you with me in my prayers.

To everyone who donated jeans or helped me to cut the jean patterns: thank you.  I was able to witness the entire shoemaking process, from jeans, to jean patterns, to sewing and creating shoes.  And then I was able to help out at the actual clinic and see the shoes on the feet of people who were now jigger-free.  Although you may have simply given me a pair of old jeans, they are now helping someone to avoid a jigger re-infestation.

To those of you who prayed for me and my team: I appreciate it so much.  There were a few teammates who experienced minor illnesses, but we were healthy for the most part.  We were safe, and we had an excellent, rewarding experience.

To my teammates, Kimi, Bart, Jacob, Katie, Cortnie, Rachel, Sara, Haley, Mary, Mia, and Joe: I am grateful for meeting you.  I know that God formed our team with each of you in mind.  We each brought along our own strengths and weaknesses and together, we were able to help spread love throughout Kampala and Jinja.  I will continue to pray for each of you and I expect to hear more amazing things that each of you are doing in your lives.  You are all inspiring.

Love,

Stephanie


Here is the video for part two of my trip:

Uganda Part One: Sole Hope

I traveled to Uganda to volunteer with Go Be Love International from July 22nd to August 5th this year.  It was an amazing trip and I am so grateful for all of the experiences that I had and all of the stories that I am now able to bring back to my friends and family in the United States.  We volunteered with three organizations: Sixty Feet, Sole Hope, and Amani Baby Cottage.

We flew from New York City to Dubai, where we had a short layover.  That flight was about 12 hours.  Then we flew from Dubai to Entebbe, Uganda, which took about 5 and a half hours.

We flew on an Airbus A380, which has two floors (first class and business upstairs and economy downstairs).  I had never been on an airplane that big before.

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I was really thankful that I live on the east coast because most of my teammates had to start traveling on July 21st to JFK or LaGuardia and then stay the night in the hotel before continuing on with their flights.  Instead of that, I was able to simply arrive at JFK on Saturday morning and head out from there.

Emirates Airlines was awesome.  Just walking onto the airplane, I could tell that it was really nice.  There was a flight of stairs heading up that was lit along each step.  I wish I could have just seen what first class looked like, but economy passengers couldn’t go up there.  I’ve heard that there was a bar and showers upstairs.

There were tons of options of movies, music, games, and TV shows.  I watched some good movies heading to Africa, like Lion and Gifted.

I know I’m unusual with this, but I really love airplane food.  I think all of the tiny packages are really cool.  On Emirates, they actually give you a menu when you get on the plane that tells you about each of the meals that will be served and what your options are.

We had dinner, then pizza as a snack in the middle of the night, and then breakfast in the morning.

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Once we finally landed in Entebbe, we had to stand in the immigration line for what felt like forever.  Once we finally got up to the counter, we had our pictures taken, we were fingerprinted, and a visa was printed for each of us and stuck inside of our passport.  Once we grabbed our bags, we met Patrick, who would be driving our bus, along with another man who would be driving the truck that held our luggage.  Patrick is an artist who makes amazing metal sculptures that are really unique (you can view his website here).

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Our team at Entebbe Airport

When we left the airport, we drove to a market to pick up bottled water and bread that we needed because we would be making our own lunches while staying in Kampala.  We brought our own peanut butter since it’s expensive in Uganda, so each day we made sandwiches with bread and peanut butter and then we would have tiny bananas to go with it.

Then we checked into Apricot Guesthouse.  We were pretty tired, but we needed dinner, so we went to an Italian restaurant that was in walking distance.  I had pizza with beef, calamari, and shrimp on top.

Apricot Guesthouse:

It was a nice place to stay.  I shared the room with a girl named Mia.  There were between one and two people in each room.  There was a nice patio with comfy chairs and the grounds were pretty.

I did a random workout in the parking lot and Joe joined me for part of it.  I did a little running, push ups, burpees, jumping jacks, dips, squats, and some yoga poses.

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I loved the food at the Apricot Guesthouse.  It was typical African food and I loved everything I had.  On the first night they had a delicious pumpkin soup, along with rice, beef stew, chicken, potatoes (which they called “Irish”), vegetables, and rolls that tasted like soft pretzels.  The next night we had spinach soup, chapati (a bread similar to the Indian bread, naan), fish nuggets, lasagna, and vegetables.

 

For breakfast there were eggs, fruit, cereal, and juice both days.  One day there were pancakes and meatballs and the other day there were green beans.

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Sixty Feet:

Sixty Feet is an organization that, according to its mission on the website, “targets a specific category of children… the least of the least – those imprisoned in Africa and more specifically Uganda. Some of these children have committed serious offenses. Some are as young as 2 years of age and have committed no offense at all. Working alongside Ugandan government officials we work in the detention facilities, and in the villages where the children come from, to bring hope and help – immediate relief and long-term restoration.”

We volunteered with them for the first few days of our trip while staying at the Apricot Guesthouse in Kampala.  We also got to see the spot where the equator runs through Uganda after lunch one day.

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The next day we drove about three hours from Kampala to Jinja to work with Sole Hope.

Sole Hope:

Sole Hope focuses on “offering HOPE, healthier lives, and freedom from foot-related diseases through education, jobs, and medical relief.”

I was particularly excited to volunteer with Sole Hope because I had been working on collecting jeans since last December.  Sole Hope used to have what they called “jean cutting parties.”  They mailed you a pattern to use to cut the jeans into specific shapes. Then you get a group of people together and cut old jeans according to those patterns, safety pin them together, and then they are turned into shoes once they get to the Sole Hope grounds in Uganda.

My high school students were very excited about the opportunity to take part in my trip by helping with the jean cutting process, so they donated a TON of jeans.  I was overwhelmed by their excitement and support.  I also had friends and family members who donated a bunch of jeans as well.

I was able to have my students help me with the jean cutting the day before winter break, which was a HUGE help.  I had not originally realized how difficult and time consuming it would be to so cut so many jeans.  I also had help from some other friends and family members, but a good portion of the jeans were simply cut on random days after work while I turned on a movie to distract myself from the monotony.

I was thrilled to have 100 pairs of jean shoes to bring with me to Sole Hope and they were excited to hear about how I had gotten my students involved in the process.  Right now, Sole Hope paused with the jean cutting parties in order to have Care Kit parties instead in order to acquire more medical supplies.

We took a tour of the Sole Hope property, so we could see the process of sewing the shoes and adding the soles, which are made of a few layers of old car tires.

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The shoes are provided to people once jiggers (small bugs that burrow into feet) are removed.  They help to prevent the person wearing them from getting more jiggers in the future.

Thursday is Sole Hope’s clinic day, so we got to go with them to help out at a school.  There were about 150 children (and a few adults) who needed to have their jiggers removed.  We started by gathering all of the children in a big circle and playing some games with them.  We sang songs that had corresponding hand motions.  One of them was a song about jiggers that would teach them good hygiene to avoid jiggers in the future.

After the song, we separated into stations:

Station 1: paperwork.  A Sole Hope worker would fill out a foot note paper with the person’s information such as name, age, grade, and information about their home address and their parents.

This is what the foot note paper would look like once it was filled out at the end of station 3.

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Foot note

Station 2: foot washing.  This was my station.  We each had a bucket with a scrub brush and a bar of soap.  We would scrub one of the patient’s feet and then let them practice scrubbing their second foot.  While we were doing this, someone else from our team would come around and pass out stickers to everyone.

I tried to speak to the children as much as possible.  They learn English in school, but some of them were too young to understand and others were too shy.  Some of them told me their names, ages, and favorite sports.

At one point, I washed the feet of an old man and it really hit me emotionally.  While I love volunteering, I don’t like feeling as though I’m the white savior coming to save the day by handing things out to people.  Those types of situations are times when helping hurts, which is common to some short term missions.

So I was just sitting on the ground, unable to communicate with this old man who could not speak English.  He was probably around 80 years old.  All I could do was scrub his feet and smile.

I considered how embarrassed he must have felt.  The clinic was set up at a school, so its primary patients were children, but he, too, had a jigger infestation.  Beside him sat children who were mostly under age 12.  It could have been humiliating, and it was undoubtedly painful.

Yet at the same time, he needed help, and I could tell from his smile how grateful he was that we were there offering him a future that would entail less pain.  I also considered how my simple action of scrubbing his feet was really not that significant; anyone could have done it.  But at the same time, I was able to show him love through that act.

Despite the language barrier.  I could get across the message that he is loved, has worth, and is deserving of love.  There I was, someone who had flown across the ocean to get to Uganda just to scrub his feet and offer him hope.

St. Therese of Lisieux was known for her small, humble acts that she always did with great love.  I am by no means trying to compare myself to her, but I felt similarly in that situation.  I wasn’t in Africa building a church or drilling a well, but I was spreading my love in simple, small ways in my scrubbing of feet.

And it was definitely a humbling act.  Many of the patients had feet that had wounds in addition to the jiggers.  You can tell it’s a jigger because it looks like a white circle and then there is a small black dot in the middle of it.  When you see that, you know a jigger has burrowed under the skin.

But most of them had other contusions on their feet, broken or missing toenails, and some deformities.  We were told to alert someone any time a person had an open wound so that they could change out our water in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

I wasn’t afraid to wash the feet, but I did know that it was possible for me to acquire a jigger in the process.  We were sure to wear closed shoes on the clinic day, which would help prevent jiggers in the feet, but jiggers can also burrow into other parts of your body, mainly your hands.  Fortunately, none of my teammates got any jiggers.  We were sure to scrub our hands and feet in the shower each night since it takes a while for a jigger to actually burrow itself into your skin.

Station 3: Jigger removal.  At this station, Sole Hope workers would use a razor blade and a safety pin to dig out the jiggers.  While they were doing this, people from my team would be filling out the foot notes.  Every time a jigger was removed, they had to put a dot on the foot drawing to show its placement while also counting up the number of jiggers per foot as well as the total number of jiggers on that person.  Some people also had jiggers on their hands.  If anyone had over 20, they would receive a follow-up, or they would go to the Outreach House (more about that in a bit).

While the jigger removal was happening, Joe, the youngest member of our team, went around passing out lollipops.  Jigger infestations are painful, just like their removal.  The lollipops helped the kids to concentrate less on the pain.  There were some tears, but most of those kids sat so quietly while the Sole Hope workers removed the jiggers.  I was extremely impressed.  I don’t know if I would have been able to sit so still in that situation, no anesthetic helping to remove or even ease the pain.

After the jiggers are removed, their feet are bandaged.

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Station 4: shoe fitting.  Each patient received a pair of the jean shoes in order to hopefully prevent a future jigger infestation.  They also have to be taught to wear those shoes every day.  Sole Hope has found that some patients avoid wearing the shoes because they don’t want to get them dirty.  They save them for church or for the holidays.  They have to be taught that the shoes are there to prevent jiggers, not just to be worn on special occasions.

After all of the 150 patients had finished having their jiggers removed, we were able to spend some time playing with the kids, both those who had had jiggers removed and the others who also attended that school.  It was fun getting to spend some time with them in addition to the actual clinic.

The next day, we went to volunteer at Sole Hope’s Outreach House.  This is where people go if they have an extreme case of jiggers.  They typically stay there for two weeks.  They are treated by nurses for both their jiggers as well as any other underlying issues.  They are tested for illnesses such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.  They are also educated about jiggers, jigger removal, good hygiene, ways to keep jiggers away from their homes, and Bible study.

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Inside the nurse’s station

Some of the people who need medical attention live far away.  Sole Hope has social workers in different areas of Uganda who scout out those cases.  Sometimes Sole Hope will take its clinic out to that village and other times, they will send a vehicle out to get certain people and then they bring them to the Outreach House for treatment, bringing them back to their villages once they are finished.

First, there was another jigger removal clinic.  Initially, I thought that I would try to take the foot notes since I had washed feet the previous day, but before holding the clinic, we had a tour of the facility and we were told how the average number of jiggers on a patient at the Outreach House is 150!  I didn’t know if I could handle that.

The previous day, many of the kids only had a couple of jiggers, and there weren’t too many really bad cases.  I knew that this next day would be different.

I’m usually okay at dealing with gross things, with the exception of vomit.  But I was not sure if I could handle watching and recording the jigger removal process in the likely event that I had a patient with a ton of them.

I opted to do arts and crafts while the clinic was taking place.  We colored in coloring books and I painted their nails. Everyone was  excited about the nail polish, even the adults and the males.

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Part of me was disappointed in myself that I didn’t try to do the foot notes, but I knew that I needed to admit my weakness.  At times I can be too prideful, excited to be able to do any required task on a mission trip to my best ability.  But during that jigger removal, I knew that I might not be able to do an effective job.  Other people had queasy stomachs watching the process, so I shouldn’t let myself feel like I failed just because I didn’t watch the removal.

After the removal we had lunch and then we came back and they were doing Bible study.  In Uganda, there are many different dialects and languages, depending on which village a person is from.  For the Bible study, they were translating from English to Luganda to another separate language from that particular village.

Then we made bracelets and necklaces and played outside with everyone.

On Sunday, we spent more time with the people at the Outreach House in the afternoon after church, just doing some crafts and playing games outside.  I was helping out with one of the crafts.  We were gluing popsicle sticks together and gluing sequins, pom poms, and googly eyes on them to make crosses.

I played a silly version of hide ‘n’ seek with this one little girl.  I would bend down under the desk and she would pop up, and then she would bend down under the desk and hide while I popped up to look for her.  She was entertained for a long time just going up and down.

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On our last day with Sole Hope, we spent more time with everyone, making crafts and playing games.  We told a Bible story that went along with a craft where they decorated construction paper people cutouts with stickers and sequins.

We played a bunch of different games with jump ropes, balls, and a parachute.  We taught them how to play freeze tag and duck, duck, goose.

After lunch, we listened to the hygiene lesson about jiggers and then we played some more.  I did more nail polish while other teammates painted faces, colored, or played games outside.

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The lesson took a pretty long time since, just like the Bible story, it had to be spoken in English, translated into Luganda, and then into the other village language.

The little girl who was sitting on my lap fell asleep on me.

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When we finished up that day, we had to say goodbye because we would be going to a different organization in Jinja, Amani Baby Cottage, for our final days in Uganda.

Sole Hope Guest House:

For most of our trip to Uganda, we stayed at the Sole Hope Guest House, which was really nice.  It felt very welcoming and homey, with a large living room where our group could gather.

It had really pretty African paintings all over the house.  There were these really cool chairs made out of wheelbarrows.  There was also a large outdoor sitting area.  We made our own breakfasts and lunches and then the cook would make us a delicious dinner each night.

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The kitchen

It was such a treat to have hot showers because we had cold ones when we were staying in Kampala.

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Because the guest house is geared toward volunteers coming from other countries, the food was not typical African.  It was delicious, but I wish we had gotten to try more traditional African cuisine.  We had minestrone soup, vegetable lasagna, pot roast, enchiladas, etc.  One really delicious side dish, though, was pineapple mixed with cucumber and cilantro.

The yard was really big, so I worked outside there a few times like I had in Kampala, running around and doing burpees and things like that.

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There were two dogs, Bear and Boomer, who always wanted attention.  Here is Boomer on my lap one day after a Sole Hope clinic.

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Here is a video from the first part of my trip to Uganda, mainly featuring Sole Hope:

 

Father Larry Richards – Adoration & Healing

Day three of  Father Larry Richards’ mission centered around adoration, healing, and thanksgiving (You can look up older versions of this talk on YouTube.)  Our opening prayer centered on thanking Jesus for all that He has done in our lives.

We started by reading Revelation chapter 4, which was written by John.  It’s all about the Mass, which cannot be understood without understanding Revelation.  When we attend Mass, we are experiencing Heaven.  He read through John’s description of Heaven in chapter 4 and how everyone there is constantly singing praises to God.

Most of us Catholics always want something from God.  We want forgiveness, happiness, you name it.  We’re constantly saying, “gimmee, gimmee.”  But our main focus should be thanksgiving to God for His incredible mercy.  Jesus gave His life for us and that should be our focus.  We go to Mass to worship Him, glorify Him, praise Him, and thank Him, not to get something from Him.  After all, He gave us the most precious gift we can ever receive in His death on the cross.

Father Larry then spoke about Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament after exposing the Eucharist.  The bishop of his diocese was not keen on adoration, but Father Larry wanted an adoration chapel in his church.  Despite the bishop’s refusal, he was able to eventually start holding perpetual adoration.

There were many naysayers, but he didn’t care.  He had faith that the adoration chapel would come to fruition and after that, he had faith that through the prayers of his parish in that chapel, the local abortion clinic would close.  After only a few months of perpetual adoration, the abortion clinic closed.  Then, when it opened again two years later, it was only open for two weeks before closing again.  There is now no abortion clinic in the entire diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania.  

It’s so easy to lose hope in evils like abortion as a Catholic living in the year 2017.  It seems to be so common today that some people give up in their fight to end abortion.  But part of the problem is that we lack the faith to truly believe that abortion can be ended as a result of our prayer.  God can do anything and we need to start believing that.  We don’t see miracles because we don’t believe in His power.

As a pastor, Father Larry challenges his parishioners.  He makes the men of his church attend the nightly hours of perpetual adoration since it is located in an urban area.  Anyone who is an extraordinary minister of the holy Eucharist must have a holy hour.  He says that if they do not have an extraordinary devotion to Jesus Christ, then they should not be distributing His flesh at Mass.  

His job is to get every parishioner to be a saint.  So is he demanding? Absolutely.  But when someone dies, will they really be upset that they had to spend on extra hour per week with Jesus?  A good pastor gets you to Heaven; he doesn’t just take your money and build things.

My mom’s parish in Connecticut has had a perpetual adoration chapel since Ash Wednesday of 2003 and she goes to her holy hour from 2 to 3 am on Tuesday mornings.  Through her witness, I have seen the tremendous blessings that have occurred as a result of her weekly holy hour.  It is not easy for her to wake up in the middle of the night to pray, but it has changed her life.  

Father Larry said the same thing, adding that churches with perpetual adoration have many more people who have discovered their vocation to the religious life.  He prays for an hour in adoration every day and he encouraged us to pray in adoration once a week.  He also says that he can tell a priest with a good pastor when he sees that pastor sitting in adoration.  Priests must pray for their parishes and if that is not the case, they are not doing their job.

When on the road, he likes to stop into churches that he passes to say a prayer.  Sometimes he finds locked churches.  This happened once in Illinois and six months later, the pastor contacted him to ask if Father Larry would hold his mission at their church.  He refused since they do not keep their church open to the public.  He explained that although his church is in an inner city, he still keeps the door open. Sure, he has security cameras, but it is important to have an open church so that people can go there to pray any time of the day.

He also told us how he was kicked out of seminary.  His preaching was “overly optimistic” and the Franciscans did not believe that he had a good grip on reality.  His first talk in the seminary was about how everyone was called to be a saint, but they wanted him to instead tell messages of God’s love for us.  His second talk was about our need for a daily prayer life and again, they asked him if that was actually realistic.  How would a person with a high-paying job have time for that?  He couldn’t believe that they were upset with him for that message.  How can we not have a daily prayer life and call ourselves Catholics?

So he was thrown out due to “an apparent lack of self knowledge” and a “Pollyanna attitude toward life.”  He didn’t like that term, Polyanna, so he had them change it.  The newer version said “excessively optimistic” attitude.

During seminary, he had a daily holy hour, and people thought that was too extreme.  They looked at him like he was crazy, but he knew how crucial daily prayer life was.  

On another occasion, a parishioner told him that he should leave the priesthood because of his personality.  He was living in Pittsburgh, so he drove 45 minutes to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, to pray at the Portiuncula Chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  He was in tears praying to Jesus, telling Him that he would leave the priesthood if that was what God wanted.  He then felt hands on his shoulders and a student said, “Father, thank you for being a priest.  We need you.”  God clearly met his needs, which happens for each of us when we pray to Him and share our needs with Him.

He then spoke to us about healing and healing services.  There have been people who were physically healed of their illnesses, but that is not God’s will for everyone.

Father Larry himself even had a mass on his lungs that doubled in size over the course of a month.  The day he had an MRI, he spent some time on his knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament, prayed 10 Memorares (a mini-novena) and then soon received a phone call that the mass was completely gone.

Too many of us believe that sometimes healing works and other times it doesn’t.  But that is not the case.  Healing ALWAYS takes place, but it isn’t always in the way that we expect or desire.  We need to believe that and then we will more easily see God’s miracles in our lives.  

We also have to realize that the greatest healing is death.  Our end goal in life is to end up in Heaven.  This world isn’t our home; we’re just passing through on our journey to Heaven.  We become satisfied by worldly goods.  If we live in a nice home, we feel content, not realizing that the fleeting joys of this life are nothing compared to the ecstasy that is Heaven.

People sometimes say that they don’t understand how God can allow children to die, but an innocent child or baby who dies at only one year old is more blessed than the person who dies at 100 years old because they can skip most of life’s suffering and have a quicker path to Heaven.  That teaching is difficult to accept since we cannot fathom the joys of Heaven, but that is what Jesus has promised.  

Father Larry proposed an interesting analogy.  For nine months, we lived in our mother’s womb.  Everything came from her even though we couldn’t see her until we were born.  We’re in God’s womb, with everything coming from Him, but we can’t see Him until we are born into eternal life.  That is why the saints’ feast days are the days on which they died because that is the day that they entered Heaven.

Life doesn’t truly begin until Heaven and once we accept that teaching, we will stop being afraid of death.  It is what we do now that will determine where we will spend eternal life.  When we die, God will give us whatever it is we loved the most, but if that isn’t Jesus, then Heaven may not be our end.  If we hold onto too many worldly objects, people, and desires, we show God that He isn’t what we love the most.  That is why we need to show our commitment to Him every single day.  We must prove that He is the one we want and love the most.

That is a quite challenging concept.  We want success, love, acceptance, and other worldly pleasures, but none of that will gain us eternal life.  

After discussing adoration and healing, he took Jesus around the church in the Blessed Sacrament.  Having attended Franciscan University, this is something that I was familiar with, but some people may have never understood the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament until that evening.  

He told us that while he was going around with Jesus, he wanted us to make an act of faith.  He wanted us to cry out, “My Lord and my God” in our hearts.  To receive healing, faith is necessary, so of course we cannot be healed if we don’t believe it.  For any sacrament to work, we need faith.  We can go to Mass every Sunday and receive communion, but if we don’t believe in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, nothing will ever change in our lives.  The same is true during adoration.  Do we really believe that Jesus is there with us?

He told us not to consider the healing that we wanted for ourselves, but to say, “God, whatever You want, I want” in order to let Him give us the healing that we need.

I saw many people wiping the tears off of their cheeks as Jesus passed them by.  Although I try to attend a weekly holy hour, and I have been to adoration many times, I, too, was moved with awe for Jesus’ love and mercy and I had tears falling down my own cheeks.  

After that, we blessed ourselves with the oil from St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada.  After blessing ourselves, we said, “Saint Joseph, heal me.” And in the event that we receive a physical healing, we need to remember that we were not healed in order to enjoy the rest of our lives; we are healed in order to give greater glory to God.  We are healed so that we may serve others.

One of his last promises for us was that we would die.  We will all become dust, and we can be in that form forever, or we can live forever; it’s our own choice.  We can live our lives for Jesus Christ and spend eternity with Him, or we can avoid Jesus.

He then invited those of us who wanted to surrender our lives to Jesus to kneel down and repeat this prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, I acknowledge that I am a sinner and I am sorry for my sins.  Please forgive me.  Come into my heart, take control of my life, be my Lord and God and Savior. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and make me Your disciple.  I love You, Lord Jesus Christ, and I give You my life forever.  Amen.”

Again, he reminded us about the two promises that he made to us at the beginning of the mission.  First, we would not be bored and second, our lives would be changed forever.  Upon surrendering or re-surrendering our lives to Christ, our lives were changed forever.

Father Larry says that he is set on fire by the same Holy Spirit that wants to set us on fire.  God wants us to end our mediocre lives and begin to change the world.  We can do it if we surrender to Him, maintain faith in Him, and heed His will for us.  God wants to use us in mighty ways, but we have to let Him.

In order to allow God to transform us into His disciples, we must do three things:

  1. Sit at the feet of the Master (daily prayer)
  2. Develop the attitude of the Master (be a servant)
  3. Be transformed into the Master (be another Christ…we are called to show the world Jesus)

And he told one last story about an American who was captured in a prisoner of war camp.  He was near a Japanese man who was being tortured for being a traitor.  The American man was a Christian who eventually knew that the Japanese man would die after a day of brutal torture.  He tried telling the Japanese man about Jesus and the Japanese man said that if Jesus was anything like the American man, he couldn’t wait to meet Him.

That’s what it means to be another Christ.  Can the people we encounter say that same thing?  Our husbands, wives, friends, parents, children, employers, employees, neighbors, strangers?  “If Jesus is anything like you, I can’t wait to meet Him.”

We must show Jesus to the world so that they can feel that desire to meet Him.

And ultimately, we must always remember to pray and to love.  That is the best summary of his mission.  Pray and love.  If we do that for the rest of our lives, we will be saints.  We are all called to be saints, which will happen as a result of prayer and love.
Father Larry also asked us to pray for him.  Since he goes around preaching God’s word, the devil goes after him.  He needs our prayers to help him to continue preaching the Truth, staying faithful, not doing anything contrary to the teachings of Christ, and not ever doing anything that brings scandal to the Church.

I wish I had been able to attend the first two days because Wednesday and Thursday were both amazing talks.  I highly suggest looking up some of Father Larry’s videos on YouTube, or his homilies on iTunes.

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My Bible study group (Young Adults in Faith) with Father Larry Richards

Father Larry Richards – Confession

This past week, St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, in Hamilton Square, New Jersey, hosted a four-day parish mission led by  Father Larry Richards.  I was unable to attend the event on Monday and Tuesday due to prior obligations, but I made it to Wednesday and Thursday.  Wednesday focused on confession and Thursday focused on adoration and healing.

Wednesday, May 12 – Confession:

This is one of Father Larry’s most famous topics of discussion, so if you were unable to attend the event, you can see him speaking about confession at one of his other parish missions with a quick YouTube search. (Here is Part One on  YouTube.  It has four total parts). [see also: Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four]

Father Larry’s confession talk is extremely powerful in that he is able to make his audience examine their consciences in a way that probably goes deeper than ever before, but he is also able to cause them to feel absolute awe and wonder at God’s mercy.

At different times during the talk, I felt a combination of guilt, shame, gratitude, and overwhelming love.

He explained that mercy is when someone gives something good to someone who doesn’t deserve it.  That’s exactly what Jesus did for each of us in dying on the cross.  Jesus never sinned, yet He experienced excruciating pain in order to enable us to be forgiven for our sins and to one day reach the kingdom of Heaven.  As Catholics, we know this to be true, but often we take it for granted.

Father Larry holds many conferences for men, so he initially spoke to the men and husbands in the audience.  All of us, both men and women, should be praying daily, but it is the husband who is responsible for protecting and praying for his family.  If that is not the case, he is not doing his manly duty and it is problems like this, sins of omission, that are often the most grave sins.

He spoke about the many scrupulous Catholics who are constantly going to confession over every little mistake, but they fail to realize that venial sins are forgiven during Mass.  He says that Catholics should go to confession once a month, unless they have a mortal sin, in which case they must confess that as soon as possible.

He has a very blunt attitude about him, which is refreshing because he speaks the truth, not sugarcoating anything or trying to be politically correct.  There are probably a lot of people who were offended by his words not because they were wrong, but because they were challenging.  Any lukewarm Catholic was probably a bit frightened to understand that simply attending Mass on Sundays is not enough to inherit the kingdom of God.  Even those of us who consider ourselves to be passionately Catholic were pushed in our faith, feeling humbled at the inadequacies he exposed in each of us.  Priests were not exempt either, as he was very clear about the responsibility of priests to pray for their parishes.

He gave us a really good analogy of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  He once was working on a farm and had to carry a cow to a different area.  While he was walking with the calf on his shoulders, it started to urinate, getting all over him and even into his mouth.  This is the way that we treat Jesus.  All He wants to do is bring us home to Heaven, yet we urinate all over Him through our sins while he is simply carrying us on His shoulders.

I have heard priests discuss the Passion and I watch the film, The Passion of the Christ, every year during Lent to remember Jesus’ suffering, but never have I heard it described the way it was on Wednesday night.

People sometimes wonder whether Jesus can understand their pain when dealing with the loss of loved ones, heartbreak, or even physical pain.  Asking that sort of question is the equivalent of slapping Jesus Christ in the face.  Of course He can understand our pain.  The question is, can we understand His pain?

While Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was sweating blood.  Father Larry told us how our capillaries can burst when we are enduring significant stress and fear.  This is what was happening to Jesus because although He accepted His death for us, that did not mean that he was immune to fear.  He was terrified about the pain that he would soon experience.  

Then, Judas betrayed Him with a kiss on the cheek.  When we are experiencing heartbreak, we sometimes wonder if he can understand.  Jesus didn’t date or marry, so how could He understand the pain of a breakup or divorce?  But those questions show our lack of full understanding.

Jesus IS love.  He loves everyone with a deeper love than we can ever imagine.  He loved Judas, the man who betrayed Him with a kiss.  Did He experience heartbreak in that moment?  Absolutely.  We cannot fully grasp the extent of God’s love while we live in these earthly bodies, so it is we who cannot understand this heartbreak, not Jesus.

Father Larry continued to describe the pain of His Passion in a more detailed way than I have ever heard before.  He described the way Jesus was scourged and how the pieces of metal and sheep bone that were attached to the leather straps on the rod would not just slap Jesus’ skin, but tear it away.  This reminds me of the scourging scene in The Passion of the Christ when the metal on the strap gets stuck in Jesus’ side and is then ripped away with an extra tug.  I am unable to watch that moment in the film, yet this was the way the entire scourging process unfolded.

Father Larry described the crown of thorns as more of a cap of thorns.  The thorns were not like those on your average rose bush; they were one to three inches long and he said that they would have pierced his eyebrows, ears, and even his skull.  

All of this pain, and yet the actual crucifixion had not even begun.  It was then that Jesus had to carry the wooden crossbeam.  It was tied to his arms, but he was so exhausted from the scourging that Jesus could barely walk.  If I was to fall down, I would catch myself with my hands, but every time Jesus fell, He landed flat on his face, with the wood of the cross smashing into the back of His head.  

On most crucifixes, Jesus looks to be in pretty good shape.  We don’t want to terrify the people who enter our churches by portraying Him in a more realistic way, with chunks of flesh removed from his body and other strips of flesh torn and hanging, but that was the reality of the crucifixion.

I have heard so many people who refuse to watch movies about the Passion because it’s too much for them to handle.  I, too, prefer movies that lack that type of gore, but it is necessary to understand.  Father Larry did not mince his words in talking about the crucifixion.  It was absolutely gruesome, but we must realize that in order to be truly aware of the awesome gift Jesus gave to us in His death.

Once He was nailed to the cross, His body would sag down and forward.  He would be gasping for breath, only able to breathe once he pulled himself up by the nails in his wrists.  He only spoke seven times while on the cross, probably because every word was a struggle.

He was hanging there, experiencing more pain than we can ever imagine, yet He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  He was forgiving the people who were killing Him at the very moment of His crucifixion.  Yet we sometimes find ourselves unable to forgive those who hurt us years ago.
During the crucifixion, Jesus also established His mother, Mary, as our mother, when he said to John, “Behold your mother.”  He gave us the gift of Mary, yet some Catholics refuse to honor her as they should because they want to focus on Jesus.  We take Jesus’ gift of Mary and say, “No thanks, I’m good.”  She is a gift from God and we must give her the love and gratitude that she deserves as mother of our Savior.  Father Larry told us how he completed St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Mary and now wears a chain on his wrist to represent how he is a slave to Jesus through Mary.

Because God cannot be near sin, Father Larry explained that Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” when He had accepted all of our sins.  God could not be with Jesus in that moment because Jesus was sin, which could only be overcome through His death.

With that, many of us were already feeling quite guilty, knowing that we had a hand in Jesus’ death.  I’ve met people who don’t like to say “crucify him” aloud when we read the Passion during Lent.  But although we didn’t say that word for word, we say it every time we sin.  We are the ones hammering those nails into Jesus’ hands and shoving the crown of thorns into His head with every sin we commit.


At that point, Father Larry started to review the examination of conscience with us.  

When people hear the term mortal sin, they often think about murder, adultery, and devil worship.  But mortal sin has three facets:

-full knowledge

-full consent

-serious matter

As a practicing Catholic who understands the Church’s teachings, that means that any time I commit a serious sin, it is probably a mortal sin since I know the teachings and I have chosen to commit that sin.  That is absolutely terrifying since it only takes one mortal sin to end up in hell.

Missing Sunday Mass or a holy day of obligation is a mortal sin unless we were really sick or otherwise unable to attend, yet there are tons of Catholics all over the world who are not at Mass each week.  Sure, some of them fail to realize that is sinful, but many of them do and are therefore culpable.  

When Father Larry spoke about the first commandment about not having false gods, he explained that most people never confess that sin, but all of us are guilty of it.  Unless God is always first in our lives, then we are culpable of that sin.  We often value money, success, and relationships more than God, which is shown in our priorities.  If we don’t pray daily, we definitely are guilty of this sin.

Father Larry did not shy away from sins of a sexual nature.  This can be an awkward subject for many, so some Catholics shy away from this topic, but it is a sin that so many people struggle with.  He admitted to dealing with his own lustful temptations on a daily basis.  I think it’s extremely honorable for a priest to stand up in front of over a thousand people and admit to that.  It also helps us to realize that we are not alone, that we all face temptation, but that we also all have the strength to avoid that temptation.

He also said how too many people focus too much on feeling bad about their sins of lust while forgetting about the sins of omission, arguably the worst sins.

He said how he often asks people in confession what they have done to help the poor and whether or not they pray every day.  Failing to do either of those things is much worse than many of the sexual sins that we focus on.  We should all be helping those in need as much as we can, giving 10% of our income away.

We must confess the sin if we ever had an abortion or helped anyone to get an abortion.  He suggests making a good confession and then asking God to reveal the child’s gender.  Then they would name the child, pray to him or her in Heaven, and ask that child for forgiveness.  They will then be united one day in Heaven.

It’s also a sin if we use artificial contraception.  This is a topic that many priests avoid.  Many people don’t want to make too many waves, but we must not forget about pivotal Catholic teachings as a result.  They want to pick and choose which teachings they believe in, but that is not how it works.  When we think back to Jesus’ suffering and death, we know that it was a result of each of our sins.  It is not up to us to decide.

Many frequently people say “oh my God!”  That is a sin that used to be punishable by death.  Just because we hear other Catholics and sometimes even priests or nuns say it does not mean that it is not a sin.  We have no right to take the Lord’s name in vain.

People often think they’re safe in terms of the fifth commandment since they haven’t killed, but we commit that sin every time we feel anger.  Anger is not of God.  Father Larry admitted to struggling with this on a daily basis.  Again, it was refreshing to understand that we are not alone in our struggles.  Priests aren’t immune from temptation and sin either.

After he reviewed the examination of conscience, we said the Act of Contrition aloud.  There were eleven priests who would be hearing confessions and he told us to be quick, not using it as a time for counseling since there were so many people there.  He also said that if we were one of those scrupulous people who had just been to confession three days ago, we needed to go to the back of the line to allow other people to confess their sins.  

The next night, he said how he ended up hearing confessions until 12:10 am and how there were some people there who had not been to confession in over fifty years.  He wanted to make sure that people in situations like that would not have to stand in the back of a line, possibly changing their mind and leaving with all of that sin hanging onto them.

Although I go to confession regularly, I felt even more renewed after confession on Wednesday.  I had never delved that deeply into an examination of conscience.   I had never felt so guilty about the sins that I have committed but simultaneously, I had never felt so loved and grateful for God’s mercy.

When my CCD students went to confession this year, I explained how fortunate they would be if they ever died on a day they went to confession.  They were obviously taken aback, but Father Larry explained the same thing, how if we died following a good confession, we would go straight to Heaven.  He even mentioned his movie idea of a priest who performs confessions and then slits the throats of the person who just confessed his or her sins since that would get them straight into Heaven.

Father Larry promised that during this mission, nobody would ever be bored and that their lives would be changed forever.  Through his animated, enthusiastic speech, jokes, and storytelling, we were definitely never bored.  And our lives were definitely changed forever.  I will never consider my examination of conscience the same way I had before hearing this talk.
I am so grateful that I was able to attend Wednesday night’s talk and I hope to be able to share Father Larry’s messages with the people who were not able to attend the mission.

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Confession lines on Wednesday night

Yoga vs. Catholicism

A little over a year ago, I started attending hot yoga classes.  I have Lyme disease and I find that sweating helps to decrease my symptoms.  In Connecticut, I belonged to a gym that had a sauna, but here in New Jersey, I was unable to find an affordable gym that had one.

Instead, I decided to try hot yoga and I have had very positive results.

However, I remember hearing a Catholic priest warn us against yoga back when I was in high school.  I hadn’t ever practiced yoga at that point, so I didn’t look into his reasoning.  More recently, I decided to look into the stance of the Catholic Church on yoga.

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Yoga practice in my backyard

This article talks about this topic:

“Catholics should not participate in any of the “spiritual” aspects associated with yoga, but technically can do the actual physical exercises. However, many people who practice yoga caution that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to separate the exercises from the meditations.

For example, a common mantra repeated in yoga is ‘So’ham’ that roughly translates to ‘I am the universal self’. This focus on the self is contrary to the focus on God to which we are called. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: ‘Christian prayer… flees from impersonal techniques or from concentrating on oneself, which can create a kind of rut, imprisoning the person praying in a spiritual privatism which is incapable of a free openness to the transcendental God.'”

Another article also discusses the possible problems with yoga:

“Should you take up yoga? As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality. But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health. If you’re at all unsure of your ability to do so, you may well be advised to find another form of exercise.

It is important for Catholics to know that yoga should neither be hallowed nor damned. As a spiritual path for Eastern peoples unfamiliar with Christianity, it may serve to assist them as ‘they seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust’

On the other hand, Christians seek as the goal of their prayer to ‘flow into the way to the Father, which is how Jesus Christ has described himself. In the search for his own way, each person will, therefore, let himself be led not so much by his personal tastes as by the Holy Spirit, who guides him, through Christ, to the Father’.”


 

So to me, it seems that the practice of yoga could be acceptable if a person practices for the exercise and breathing techniques without the spiritual aspect.  That is what I do in my yoga class.  I like to work on my strength and stretching but I do not consider it to be a spiritual activity.  I also prefer certain instructors over others.

One of the instructors always reads from a yoga book that has lots of spiritual passages.  Every time I hear them, I think about how everything that she is saying is good, but it should be centered around Jesus rather than “the universe.”  “The universe” is meaningless.  It is God who reigns supreme; the universe is simply His creation.

So when she reads these passages, I either ignore them, or I think about the way they relate to God.

I do the same thing when it comes time to set an intention.  The instructors tell us to set an intention for our practice, a place to send our energy.  I don’t believe in that part of the practice.  I don’t think that by exercising, my “energy” is going to go heal my sick loved one.  If it did, I would go work out for hours a day to cure the ailing people across the world.  That’s just not reality.

So when it comes time to set an intention, I either just wait for us to move on, or I say a prayer in my mind since I believe that saying a prayer to God is more significant than choosing some place to send my energy.

At times, yoga also seems too selfish to me.  The instructors tell us to pat ourselves on the back for giving up 75 minutes to ourselves each time.  Yes, we must take care of ourselves, but some of the instructors seem too interested in this, which is opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church.  They act as though we are the center of the universe, which I do not believe to be true.

So I will continue to attend my yoga classes, but I will substitute a prayer for an intention and I will focus on my practice as a physical exercise rather than a spiritual exercise.

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Tripods on my kayak in the ocean