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.
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.
I don’t think you understand the problem that our country is facing. We are in the midst of a school shooting and mass shooting epidemic. There is something that is intensely wrong in our country at the moment.
Students from Florida are protesting gun laws. Most of them want the laws to be made more strict so that students can not so easily obtain guns.
I absolutely understand that guns are not the only problem. I’m a teacher and I deal with high school students on a daily basis. There are problems with bullying, mental health, narcissism, you name it.
But it’s also true that in most of these mass shootings, the perpetrators are not killing with a simple handgun that is purchased for protection. They’re also not using guns that are typically used to hunt deer.
These are assault weapons that are being used: AK-47s, AR-15s. For what purpose should any American be purchasing that sort of gun? To hang on their wall? To go target shooting? Just look at the name. Assault weapon. They were created for the purpose of eliminating human life on a grand scale.
Should that be a part of our right to bear arms? I would say no.
Yet you, Mr. Trump, are taking the opposite stance. You see the shootings. You try (in an embarrassingly awkward manner) to comfort the families before going to relax at Mar-a-Lago. You decide that arming teachers is the best solution.
Bringing more guns into schools is no sort of solution. I am a teacher and I feel safe in my school despite…no, not despite…as a result of the lack of guns. I would feel much less safe knowing that there are guns all over my school.
The more guns we have, the greater a chance we have of having a gun accidentally getting into the wrong hands.
Arming teachers doesn’t hit the root of the problem. Arming teachers says, “well, since we can’t stop the students shooting up the schools, we’ll at least train teachers to kill them so that fewer students will end up dead.”
Arming teachers? Is that a solution? Absolutely not. That’s a band-aid. That lets the criminals win. That tells them that we’re afraid, that we don’t know how to fix the problem, so instead, we’ll add more guns and more violence.
Let’s look into mental health problems. Let’s address cyberbullying. Let’s change our gun laws. Let’s be more strict about the violent video games that our children begin playing at a young age and the gory films they are watching despite the R rating. Let’s make sure that our school systems and FBI actually look into potential threats. Let’s pray and remember that God is still very present in this country, waiting for us to turn to Him.
You’re supposedly a man of faith. I hope that’s true and that you pray to God. I really hope you can find Him. Because right now, you’re giving all of Christianity a bad name. You mention your faith in God, but then you berate poverty-stricken nations, calling them sh**-holes. Is that what Jesus would do?
You’re the first president to attend the March for Life to end abortion, saying that you respect life in all forms, but then you act as though immigrants are a lesser sort of human being. Is that what Jesus would do?
You’re a hypocrite in every sense of the word.
Please, don’t bring our nation into further ruin by trying to push for teachers to be armed with guns. That is not what we want. That is not what the students want. Denounce your NRA affiliations and stop the madness that you’re spewing every time I turn on the news.
In the meantime, I will continue to pray for this country, especially for all of the victims of the shooting in Florida, their family and friends, the rest of the student body, the teachers and staff, and anyone else affected by the tragedy. You are all loved. God is still here, ready to pick you up out of the darkness if you let Him.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
As I’ve done for the past three years (2014, 2015, 2016), 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:
-AJ and I rang in the new year at Devin and Elise’s wedding in Connecticut
-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
-I met up with Lizzy in Philadelphia since she was there for clinicals for vet school (before graduating in May!!!)
-Camden Aquarium with AJ
-Hiking with AJ and Bolt in Freehold
-Hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT again with AJ
-Grandma’s birthday party
-Valentine’s Day dinner at Rooney’s in Long Branch
-Going to Absecon Lighthouse, the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and Lucy the Elephant in Margate with AJ, Sway, and Denielle
-My mom’s birthday
-Escape room in Freehold with AJ, Daniel, and Brady
-AJ’s 25th birthday party
-United States Marine Corps Educator Workshop in Parris Island, South Carolina
-Sway’s Confirmation at the Easter Vigil
-Easter in Connecticut
-Hiking at Bushkill Falls for AJ’s birthday
-Finishing the Spartan Beast with AJ in Vernon, NJ
-Bible study at the Freehold Mall
-Battleship USS New Jersey in Camden
-Father Larry’s talk with Bible study
-Abby & Lauren’s Irish step dancing recital
-My cousin Lauren’s first communion
-Scoring AP exams in Tampa, Florida
-Acro yoga in my back yard
-4th of July in Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday
-Vacation in LBI with my mom
-Churrascaria for my early 29th birthday dinner
-Acro yoga attempt #2 in my back yard
-Volunteering in Uganda with Go Be Love International. Sole Hope in Jinja
-Free day at the Nile River
-Volunteering with Go Be Love International at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja
-Phil and Marissa’s wedding in Pennsylvania
-Chris and Grace’s wedding in Pennsylvania
-Visiting Franciscan University for the first time since I graduated 7 years ago
-Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook
-Getting engaged on October 9th
-Connecticut for a family party
-Pro-Life dinner at Doolan’s in Spring Lake
-Lizzy visited & we went Halloween bowling
-AJ’s cousin, Jared, took engagement photos for us
-Celebrated Thanksgiving with AJ’s family in Somerset, NJ
-Hiking at Hartshorne Park
-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.
It’s amazing how much life can change over the course of one year and how God’s plans are far superior to our own plans.
Back in October of 2016, I was finally feeling joy again after a rough start to that year. I was thankful for my apartment right by the beach, for my career as a high school English teacher, and for my Bible study, which I had found just a few months back.
Everything was going well. While out for a run with my friend, Gabriella, I had commented to her about how I was really content with my life. She immediately replied, “You know what that means, don’t you?” She explained how I would probably find a new relationship since I wasn’t actively seeking one. I laughed and shrugged it off.
But as the weeks passed, I found myself drawn to AJ every time we would meet at our weekly Thursday night Bible study.
The first time I met AJ at Bible study, I actually had him pegged as a dumb jock. He speaks somewhat slowly, so I just pictured the stereotypical attractive football player who has little intelligence. I didn’t even know his name. His friend, Sway, introduced him as “Gaines,” so it actually took me a few weeks of Bible study before I learned that his name was AJ…and months before I knew that his actual name was Alan.
How wrong I turned out to be with my dumb jock assumptions. Once he opened his mouth about the Scriptures, I knew that he had a phenomenal knowledge of the Bible.
As weeks passed, I noticed how similar we were, primarily how we both had to work at finding a balance between our careers, our workouts, and our faith journeys. I was impressed when AJ told me about the commitment that he made to God, promising that he would not work out for more time in any given day than he had spent in prayer. That blew me away.
After previous failed relationships, I had started to doubt that I would ever find a guy who was quite as interested in his faith as I was. And yet here I was, feeling completely humbled by AJ. I knew that in all of my marathon training, there were many days when I had run for two or three hours, but I definitely had not also spent two or three hours in prayer with God. I actually felt intimidated by AJ and his faith, even unworthy at times, not thinking that I was holy enough to push him further in his faith journey.
I started looking forward to Bible study even more than I previously had, always hoping to be in AJ’s group when we would split up, or trying to sit near him during dinner. However, AJ seemed to be a lot younger than me. I didn’t really know his background, but I knew that he was studying for his physical therapy boards after having recently graduated from college. I assumed that he was around 22 years old. I was 28 at the time, so I viewed him as the cute guy at Bible study who I had a bit of a crush on, knowing that nothing would ever come of it.
Wrong, once again.
Yes, he had only recently graduated from college, but that’s because he was earning his doctorate for physical therapy. Once I learned that and knew that he was only four years younger than me, I was even more interested in him.
On October 8th, I went to Catholic Underground in New York City with some of my friends from Bible study. AJ was just a few weeks away from his boards for physical therapy, so he was studying during the drive up to NYC. I was sitting next to him in the back seat, quizzing him on his notes and also chatting about life to him and the rest of our group.
During adoration, I noticed that he took out his phone. Initially, I totally judged him, wondering what could be so important that he would look at his phone during adoration. Then I realized that he was actually looking up the words to the Hillsong United song, “Touch the Sky,” which was being played. And then I I noticed how he was singing aloud — something that isn’t that common among the Catholic men I see at any given Sunday Mass.
At the end of the night, I told AI that I would pray for his boards and he told me that he would pray for my upcoming marathon. It turned out that these significant events were both happening during the same week: my marathon on October 23rd and his exam on October 27th.
We didn’t talk much outside of Bible study at that point because we didn’t even have each other’s numbers. He sent me a private message on Slack, the app our Bible study uses to inform everyone about our events. He said that he hoped that my race went well (but he was a little early, so I thanked him and explained the actual date of my race), and I promised him that I would pray for his exam.
I always try to pray for people when they need me to, but often I forget to pray at the exact right moment when their test or other significant event is happening. Not this time. I couldn’t believe how many times I thought of AJ and his exam on October 27th. Even while I was at work, I kept thinking about the test and how he was doing, saying a little prayer every time I remembered.
October 27th was a Thursday, so we had Bible study that night. He came late since he was busy that day, but I remember feeling so excited to see him since I had prayed for his test so much that day. We didn’t really get to talk, but I was so hopeful that he would pass.
The following Thursday, November 3rd, I hosted Bible study at my apartment. It turned out that a larger group than normal was available that night, so we faced a good problem: too many people here for Bible study. I made penne a la vodka with chicken and squished 15 of us into my living room.
It was a very warm fall last year, so I was always looking for people to come kayaking with me. I posted an open invitation on Slack, but I did secretly hope that AJ might take me up on my offer for anyone to join me for kayaking. He responded that he was interested, so we exchanged numbers, waiting for a nice day to kayak. Before we actually had time to go kayaking, my friend, Kate, invited a bunch of us to go to a bar crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for the Covenant House on November 5th. I don’t drink at all, so a bar crawl was not very high on my list of desired things to do, but I was excited that I would get to spend time with Kate and Gabriella, and I was hoping that AJ might come as well. Gabriella and I planned to bike to Asbury, so I was excited to at least have fun with her and Kate.
In the end, the bar crawl was great. AJ and I talked here and there throughout the day, but we also spent time talking to other friends. I was able to catch up with some of my teammates from a relay race that we had completed in August.
Then we got to the last bar, Johnny Mac’s, and some of the bar crawl crew had gone home for the night. There was an outdoor bar that had these huge heaters blasting (it was November in New Jersey, after all), but nobody wanted to sit directly under the heaters because it was so hot. Well, I quickly learned that both AJ and I love being hot. We sat at the bar under those heaters for a long time, just chatting and getting to know each other. I knew for sure at that point that I was interested in him, and I was hoping that the feelings were mutual, but I really wasn’t sure. I’ve always been pretty terrible at knowing when guys are interested in me.
Soon after that night, we were started hanging out together pretty often, since I was free every afternoon after work and AJ hadn’t yet gotten hired as a physical therapist since he was waiting on his license to come in the mail. It also helped that I had extra days off from work for teacher convention.
I’m so thankful for this time that we had because if he had already had a job when we first met, we never would have been able to hang out. God’s perfect timing was definitely at work.
On Tuesday, November 8th, AJ and I got to go kayaking on Shark River when I got out of work. We kayaked and talked and had a really good time. The following day, Wednesday, we went to see the movie Hacksaw Ridge. I remember texting Gabriella about it, unsure whether or not it was a date, not knowing whether I should pay for my own ticket or not. In the end, he planned to get to the theater before me to get the tickets, so I just figured he would get the tickets. But then we both showed up at exactly the same time, so when the cashier called him up, I just let him purchase both of our tickets. He told me later on that he did not intend the movies to be a date, but he realized that I may have thought that when I let him pay. Regardless, it was a great movie.
On Thursday, we had a young adult Mass at my church, followed by fellowship at a local bar, Anchor Tavern.
Because I was one of the people organizing the event, I didn’t have time to talk to AJ because I had to walk over to Anchor Tavern first to make sure that the reserved tables had been set up for us.
I sat at a table, just hoping that AJ would end up near me. That event had a great turnout, with over 20 of us at the bar and many more who attended the Mass. AJ did, in fact, sit near me. This time, I really felt like he was interested in me, even though I was still a bit unclear on the whole situation.
The next day, Friday, we went hiking at Hartshorne Park in Atlantic Highlands. Unfortunately, AJ didn’t have his own car at this point. He had to borrow his brother’s car, so we were only able to hike for a short time before he needed to return the car.
Then on Saturday, a group of us from Bible study were driving to the campus ministry house at Rider University to film this video. That was the fifth consecutive day that AJ and I had been together.
Some time during that week I had talked to Gabriella, completely unsure whether or not he was interested in me. I felt like he had to be since we were spending so much time together, but at the same time, he would always just say goodbye when he left, not really hugging me goodbye or anything.
The following week, we went kayaking again on Wednesday, November 16th. At one point, though, he mentioned a friend who may have been interested in someone else at Bible study and he said how he didn’t want Bible study to become a singles group. When he said that, I was really confused. Did he direct that towards me, trying to show me that we were just buddies and that no relationship would come out of all of our hang-outs? Or did he just mean that he didn’t want his friend to come to Bible study with the sole purpose of finding at mate? I was extremely confused.
On Thursday, we had Bible study Friendsgiving. I had to arrive late since it was the same night as parent-teacher conferences, but I was glad that I got to at least come to part of it.
Then on Friday, we had a holy half hour in Freehold, followed by fellowship at Moore’s Tavern. It was pretty loud in the bar that night, so it was difficult to talk to people. Every time AJ tried to talk to me, he put his hand on my back to pull me closer to him so that we could hear each other. I remember how tingly his touch felt every time he put his hand on the small of my back.
We talked about Spartan races and I told him about one that I was planning to sign up for. He was interested and said that he was going to look into signing up for the same race. He said that he could help me to increase my strength and I could help him to get back into a running routine. He reminded me that Spartan training came with one stipulation — that he would not work out for more hours a day than he spent in prayer or at church. I thought that was incredible.
He also invited me to go to a party that his parents were throwing for him the following weekend to celebrate his graduation and passing the boards. Later on, I asked Gabriella if she had been invited. When she said no, I was pretty confident that he had invited me because he was interested in me.
The following weekend, on Saturday, November 20th, we helped Kate deliver Thanksgiving baskets to families in need. Then AJ and I went to Twin Lights in Highlands, before hiking for a really long time again at Hartshorne. It was absolutely one of the most fun days that I had ever had. We had so much fun doing such ridiculous things and making up silly games. We ran through the reeds, played hide and seek, climbed fallen trees, played balancing games, Simon Says, you name it.
Then we created a game where one of us would close our eyes and the other person would try to lead us through the woods. We were in a really thick part of the woods, so it was relatively difficult to navigate alone, let alone helping another person. It was hilarious and we had a great time.
We were there for hours, ultimately hiking five and a half miles (partially because we thought we were going in a loop, but when we got to a dead end, we had to go back the entire way).
Afterward, we were starving for dinner, but we were both filthy from hours of hiking. It was Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, so we ended up going to Mr. Shrimp for dinner, despite our filth. Dinner was also hilarious because we kept finding random leaves and branches stuck to our clothing or in our hair. My diary entry on that day says, “It was such a blast, I have a feeling he’s going to end up being my next boyfriend but I still want to wait for him to take the lead. I guess we shall see what happens.”
The following Saturday, November 27th, was his graduation party at his house. I was a little bit nervous since I had never met his family or friends, and I only knew three people who were going to be there. It was really fun though.
During the bonfire, somehow the topic of blood diamonds came up and AJ said how he never wanted to buy a diamond. I was absolutely blown away. He was the first person I had ever met who even knew about blood diamonds. I had been saying for years that I never wanted to own a diamond. There were just so many things that AJ and I had in common — even our distaste for diamonds.
Later, people started leaving, but he asked if our friends, Sway and Denielle, wanted to stay so that the four of us could play some games, so we played Blokus and Scattergories. Eventually, Sway and Denielle were also leaving and I really wanted to stay to talk to AJ for a bit since we hadn’t been able to talk much during his party, but it was already getting late. Fortunately, AJ felt the same exact way. He has a dog named Bolt who is very mean to most people other than his immediate family. Knowing my love for dogs, though, he asked if I wanted him to introduce me to his dog. Of course I excitedly agreed.
I guess I’m a pet whisperer or something, because Bolt was initially scared, but let me pet him. Eventually, he came right up to me, licking my hand and everything. AJ couldn’t believe it because Bolt is usually so mean to everyone he encounters.
AJ and I ended up talking on his couch for hours, before he finally kissed me for the first time. It’s funny looking back, because I felt like we had been hanging out for such a long time before he kissed me, but really the first time we had hung out together without other friends from Bible study was November 8th, so it was only about three weeks later. I think it felt like more time than that since there were many times when we hung out for four or five days in a row.
I don’t usually kiss guys who I’m not in a relationship with, but I remember being happy that he kissed me. He made it clear that we were dating and not seeing other people. But he wasn’t officially my boyfriend just yet.
We signed up for the Spartan Beast in April. Looking back, I’m really surprised that I did that because we could have realized that we weren’t right for each other between November and April. It could have made the race really awkward, but everything worked out just fine.
I can’t remember exactly how long we ended up hanging out and talking that night, but it was really late. I think I only left his house around 5am, which is a big deal for me since I am not typically a night person.
After that night, we continued hanging out, volunteering, running, working out, and playing games together.
One night we went to look at the ice sculptures in Neptune before walking around Belmar to look at all of the Christmas lights. We decided to take silly pictures imitating the sculptures.
Everything we did together was an absolute blast. At this point, I started telling one of my coworkers about him and she said she’d wager that we would be engaged in 6 to 9 months. I disagreed since we weren’t yet an official couple, but she just told me to wait and see. It’s funny now, looking back on that conversation, because she had us pegged from the start.
In early December, AJ was hired as a physical therapist, so his life started to get really busy. I am so thankful for all of the time that we had during the month of November because I didn’t realize how much that was about to change.
On the weekend of December 10th, one of our friends was having a birthday weekend celebration in the Poconos. I only knew Sway from Bible study, but he had been AJ’s friend for years. AJ invited me to come with a group of their friends to the Poconos. I was initially really nervous about going since I didn’t really know their group of friends yet and I wasn’t sure about the sleeping situation. I didn’t want to have to share a bed with AJ, but I wasn’t sure how much space there would be for everyone. I also didn’t know how much drinking would be involved, since I am not interested in alcohol at all and I really hate being around drunk people.
In the end, the weekend was a ton of fun and I’m really glad that I went. I got to know AJ’s friends better, go hiking in the Poconos, go swimming in the pool, and enjoy time with AJ before his life got super busy with work.
The first night, we slept on the kitchen floor in sleeping bags, but we were talking for such a long time that we looked at the clock at one point and realized that it was 6am. Oops! That day we went hiking for hours and I can’t believe that we even had the energy, considering our lack of sleep.
The second night, on December 11th, AJ made it official that I was his girlfriend. I’m really happy how everything turned out. I like the fact that we we met in Bible study and got to know each other through our discussions of the Scriptures, rather than on awkward first dates. There was never a time that I was trying to act a certain way to impress him. He even heard me talk about things I would rather have him not know about, like some conversations I had about previous relationships. Initially, I didn’t expect to end up with AJ at all, so I didn’t really care what I talked about when I was at Bible study or with that group of friends, and I think the same was true for him. We got to know the other person in an open, prayerful environment, which ended up being perfect.
We never really had a first date because initially we were hanging out kayaking and hiking, but it never really felt like a date. We were just friends. Then everything just developed into a relationship with the passing of time.
Fast forward a bit and now we are engaged, set to get married in August 2018. It’s amazing all that has happened in the past year and I am so thankful that God allowed my path to cross AJ’s path. We only had a short window of time to find each other between the start of Bible study and the start of AJ’s physical therapy job.
As I had become older and experienced more failed experiences, I think I had grown a bit cynical about relationships. I expected to have to settle a bit, never expecting to find someone who was quite as faithful or adventurous as me. I didn’t think I would find someone who has a passion for mission trips and volunteering. I didn’t really believe that God had that perfect love story in my cards. Boy, was I wrong.
Right now next year, I will be married to the most amazing man I know. I am excited that I will get to call him my husband and that he will call me his wife. Our short life on earth should be lived with one goal in mind: heaven. There is nobody I would rather have beside me during that journey, pushing me to grow in holiness each and every day.
A few months ago, I received a juror summons in the mail, asking me to appear at the superior court this past Monday for jury duty.
Initially, I was somewhat disappointed about the timing since I had the entire summer off because I’m a teacher, so I didn’t really want to miss a day so early on in the school year. But once the date approached, I became excited because I was interested in learning more about the whole process.
People had warned me to bring a book because jury duty is usually a long day of waiting. I read the FAQs online so I would know what to bring and what to wear, and then I waited to check the website the Friday night before my Monday appearance.
I was on call for Monday, which meant that I could go to work on Monday, but I would need to check the website again that evening to see about Tuesday. I was definitely disappointed that I didn’t get to go on Monday, so when I checked the website that evening and saw my number, I was excited.
I changed my mind about my outfit so many times. I wanted to look appropriate while also being comfortable. I didn’t want to wear anything that might cause lawyers to excuse me from a jury if I got that far. I chose blue dress pants, a white and blue striped shirt, a salmon cardigan, and Sketchers brown simple shoes. I had my hair in a low ponytail. I debated not wearing my crucifix necklace because I didn’t know if they would want to avoid a religious person, but then I decided against it. If they didn’t want me because of my faith, then their loss.
The morning of jury duty was extremely boring. We reported at 8:30am to sit in a huge room full of people who looked bored and annoyed. We had the rules explained to us before checking in.
We were told that we would receive a $5 stipend for the day. I can’t believe it’s only $5. This is 2017. You can’t even go buy lunch for $5. As a teacher, my pay isn’t docked for jury duty, but I can’t imagine being someone who lives paycheck to paycheck. If they are selected for a 3-day trial, they will receive a measly $15. That seems absurd. I know that they say that a person is excused if they can prove financial hardship as a result of being on a jury, but I don’t know how lenient they are with that.
Then, we were told that if we are public school employees, we needed to tell them when checking in because we were not allowed the $5. He said that we couldn’t “be greedy.” I was not upset about the lack of $5, but found it funny that he could even say with a straight face that we would be “greedy” if we took the $5.
While in line to check in, they played a video about the importance of jury duty and our rights as citizens of the US.
By 10am, nothing had happened. Thankfully, there was wi-fi, so I actually got quite a bit of work done on my laptop. They announced a bunch of names and everyone called got to go up to a court room. I was hoping to hear my name, but I didn’t.
Around 11:40, a man told us that there were three cases and that the only one that still needed jurors would not be ready to call them up until after lunch. So while we were supposed to leave for lunch at 12:30, we got almost an entire extra hour!
I had packed lunch, planning to eat outside or in my car, but I have a friend who lives close to the courthouse, so I went to her house since she works from home. It was really nice to get to have a random Tuesday afternoon lunch with a friend since I’m usually working at that time.
After lunch, we went back to waiting. Then they started calling off more names. The line of people was getting really long, so I was not expecting to hear my name. Then I realized that they were reading the names alphabetically, so I waited in anticipation as they got closer to my name.
Sure enough, I heard, “Stephanie….” and a long pause before the woman butchered my name (typical, since I have a foreign last name). While other people were visibly upset when their names were called, I had the opposite reaction. I was absolutely ecstatic to get to go up to the court room and see the whole process. But because the group of us was so large, I knew that my chance of actually being chosen for the jury was quite small.
We entered the courtroom and each of us had to grab a pad of paper and a pencil. The judge introduced the lawyers, the plaintiff, and her family to us and then explained a brief overview of the case. It was a civil case. The defendant had hit the plaintiff’s car, which had already been admitted, but the plaintiff was suing due to health problems that she has been having in the three years since the accident.
He told us that he would be asking us 22 questions as a group and we were instructed to write down “Yes” or “No” on our notepad. Once it came time to call jurors into the jury box, anyone who responded “No” to every question could take a seat to be questioned further. Anyone who responded “Yes” had to go to speak to the judge and the lawyers to see if they could be excused from the case.
The initial 22 questions asked us things like this:
-Did we recognize the plaintiff/lawyers?
-Did we recognize the names of any of the witnesses / medical providers?
-Had we ever been involved in a lawsuit?
I was really excited when we got to question #22 and I had answered “No” to each of the questions. I was wishing that instead of randomly calling jurors, they could have just asked who answered “No” to everything and even who might volunteer to serve on the jury. I definitely would have raised my hand.
I snuck a peek at the papers that the people on either side of me had. Both of them had a few questions marked “Yes.” The man to my left was clearly aggravated with jury duty and just kept sighing through everything. And then there I was, hoping and even praying (I know, I’m ridiculous, but I really wanted to experience court) that I would get called.
Most people had answered “Yes” to at least one of the questions, so it took forever to get seven people into the jury box. Once they got to the seventh person, I was feeling disappointed.
Then the judge told them that he would ask them more questions so that the lawyers could get to know them. He explained that the lawyers had a certain number of jurors that they could excuse for any reason, which is called a peremptory challenge.
These questions went as follows:
-Occupation / former occupations if you were in other fields
-Household – spouse? his/her occupation / children? their occupations
-Favorite TV shows and new sources
-If you could speak to anyone, dead or alive, for 15 minutes, who would it be and why? (excluding anything religious and family)
-Is our country too litigious or is it too strict in its regulations that prevent people from suing others?
-Would you make a good juror and why?
Since I had all the time in the world while sitting there, I wrote down my answers to each of the questions. I was struggling with the one about which person I’d like to speak to. I’m glad that I wasn’t juror #1 because she didn’t have any extra time to think about her responses and she was visibly nervous.
I first thought of Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi, but they’re all religious. Then I thought of the machine gun preacher. Nope, still religious. I have always loved Eminem, so I wrote his name down first, but even though I love his music, I think it would actually be terrifying to speak to him in person, and I would probably have nothing to say. I settled on Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone. I thought that might be a risky answer since it’s very different from everyone else’s answer, but it was the best option I could come up with.
Jurors kept getting eliminated left and right and I found the whole process fascinating. I loved hearing all of their answers. More people watch the Food Network than I had realized. Nobody has any opinion about whether or not people sue too much. That baffled me since I feel like I have an opinion on everything. Most people also didn’t really have hobbies. Their hobbies were just playing with their kids and grandkids. I thought that was a little sad. I know I’m younger than everyone else who was questioned, but I’d like to think that I will have something else that I enjoy doing in my life other than playing with grandkids. Some people mentioned different types of sewing or painting. One lady was a drummer. But most of the responses were dull.
I’m really interested in racial equality in our country and I’m currently reading a book called The New Jim Crow about mass incarceration in the United States today and how much racial discrimination exists within the justice system.
In this case, everything the book said was absolutely true. Now, this was not a criminal case, so it’s a bit different than the cases against drug dealers, or people caught with drugs or weapons, but I was still observing everything.
The plaintiff was an African American woman. The judge and all three lawyers were white. The first seven jurors were all white. I started looking around the courtroom at the other potential jurors. There had to be over 60 people in that room and there was not one African American. There was one Hispanic woman and one Indian woman. Everyone else appeared to be Caucasian.
I know that alone does not mean that the case would involve any racial discrimination, but it sure does make it more likely. From this experience, I would argue that a jury is definitely not a random sampling of people in a particular county. Anyway, I could get carried away with all of this, but back to my actual experience yesterday…
While listening to each of the potential jurors, I was trying to guess which ones would be excused. I was correct about many of them.
-That lady has a husband who is a physician and her children are also physicians, so they’ll eliminate her since it’s a carse involving bodily injury. “Juror #2, thank you, but you are excused.”
–He said he would meet his great-grandfather. They clearly said not to choose a family member. I would eliminate him for being a bad listener. Yep, juror #4 was excused as well.
–Her boyfriend is a state trooper and she hesitated for way too long when they asked her if she would be able to be impartial. Juror #5, gone.
-She just keeps saying how nervous she is. I don’t think they’ll like that she’s terrified this entire time. How will she make a good decision if she can’t calm down? Juror #1, dismissed.
–I know that this is not nice, but she has lots of visible tattoos and seems kind of trashy. I doubt they’ll take her.
–Why does everyone keep saying they would be a good juror because they’re honest? It’s driving me crazy. You’re in the jury – your honesty doesn’t really matter. More significant qualities include: ability to remain impartial, decision-making skills, focus, good listener, etc. All of these women just keep telling us they’re honest. Congratulations, but you’re not the one on trial!
Okay, you get the point. Next thing I knew, they were dismissing the woman I had judged for her visible tattoos and my name was being called.
“Stephanie _____?” said the clerk.
“Did you respond “Yes” to any of my 22 questions?” asked the judge.
“No,” I said, trying to stop myself from grinning. I grabbed my bag, and walked into the jury box and into the sixth seat. I had to try really hard to avoid smiling too much. I didn’t want them to think I was the ditzy blonde who was overly excited about this experience.
I had to answer each of the questions and because I had written them down, I was ready to go, unlike many of the other people who had been in the jury box. I was getting so tired of hearing the judge repeat the questions over and over again.
I talked about my job as a teacher and my college job as a sports medicine assistant. I mentioned how I enjoy working out, running, and volunteering. I said that I get my news from Yahoo, BBC, and Al Jazeera and that I don’t watch any TV, but that Prison Break was the last show I had watched. I explained why Ishmael Beah was the person I would choose to speak with, mainly because I love volunteering in Africa. And I told them that I do believe our society is too litigious. I gave them the example of people suing for their hot McDonald’s coffee and how that type of lawsuit just causes more restrictions on the rest of us. I said that I did believe that I would be a good juror because I could be fair and impartial.
When I finished, I was nervous that they wouldn’t like my answer about the 15 minute conversation. The other jurors either couldn’t pick anyone or they picked famous musicians. Then came little miss Stephanie, explaining why she wanted to talk to a former child soldier. I though it seemed a little too extreme. Every time a lawyer would pick another juror to dismiss, I would hold my breath, hoping that my name would not be called.
Then, the defendant’s lawyer said something in lawyer-speak that I understood to mean that he was happy with the seven of us. My eyes widened. The judge turned to the plaintiff’s two lawyers. They went to speak to the plaintiff. I heard her say “Yes,” and tried to calm myself. These lawyers also said that they were satisfied. YESSSS!
While some of the people around me were visibly disappointed, I was so excited that I would get to go to an actual trial.
The judge told us that we should feel proud of ourselves since they had gone through 38 people before selecting the 7 of us.
The judge explained all of the rules. We were not allowed to speak to anyone about the case until its completion. We could not research anything regarding the case online, including looking up the names of the judge, lawyers, witnesses, plaintiff, or defendant.
After he explained everything, we were sent home and told to report back at 9am today.
I called my mom, so excited to tell her the news since she had always wanted to serve on a jury and has never been selected. I couldn’t tell her any details about the case, but I was so excited to see the trial.
Today the seven of us jurors sat in the waiting area. Some of them seemed content with being selected. One woman said she had served on a criminal case previously and that she was happy because this was supposed to be a two-day trial, whereas her last one lasted longer than a week. One man was pretty disgruntled, saying how he must have selected the short straw.
The clerk met us and escorted us into the court room. After sitting down into the same seats in the juror box as yesterday, he judge said that he had good news for us: the case had settled, so jurors were no longer needed.
What? My hopes were crushed. I was so excited to experience the trial.
He explained that situations like this happen sometimes because the parties involved realize that they really have no idea what the jurors will conclude about their case, so it might be more prudent to just settle.
I did not expect that, especially since we had been told that this case had taken three years to get to court. Oh well.
Despite my disappointment, I was able to get home much earlier than I had planned and the weather was beautiful today, so I even had time to go to the beach, which I couldn’t have done if I had been at work all day. It’s also good that I’ll get to go back to work tomorrow so that my students don’t need another substitute.
I’m still excited that I was picked. It was a fun experience. Maybe one day I’ll actually serve as a juror for a trial. Or maybe not. But that was my experience and I really enjoyed it. Now I won’t be summoned again for at least three years, so I guess we shall see what happens next time.
I know that this blog makes me sound ridiculous, but these past two days were really exciting for me. It’s kind of a weird topic to be so excited about, but you know, it’s the simple things in life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
Then we took a group photo there.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It went well, other than one kid who was eating his crayon:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
The next day we drove about three hours from Kampala to Jinja to work with 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.
Sole Hope jean shoes
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was such a treat to have hot showers because we had cold ones when we were staying in Kampala.
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.
There were two dogs, Bear and Boomer, who always wanted attention. Here is Boomer on my lap one day after a Sole Hope clinic.
Here is a video from the first part of my trip to Uganda, mainly featuring Sole Hope: