Category Archives: God

Uganda Part Two: Amani Baby Cottage

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

Lake Victoria / Nile River

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel and I stuck our feet into the water:

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Then we took a group photo there.

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

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

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

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

Amani Baby Cottage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The preschool children in their school uniforms

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Watching a movie

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

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

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Prayers before snack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yep, I’m holding a baby!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that was my experience in Uganda this summer.

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

To everyone who donated jeans or helped me to cut the jean patterns: thank you.  I was able to witness the entire shoemaking process, from jeans, to jean patterns, to sewing and creating shoes.  And then I was able to help out at the actual clinic and see the shoes on the feet of people who were not jigger-free.  Although you may have simply given me a pair of old jeans, they are now helping someone to avoid a jigger re-infestation.

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

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

Love,

Stephanie


Here is the video for part two of my trip:

Uganda Part One: Sole Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our team at Entebbe Airport

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

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

Apricot Guesthouse:

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

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

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

 

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

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Sixty Feet:

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

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

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

Sole Hope:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the song, we separated into stations:

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

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

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Foot note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the jiggers are removed, their feet are bandaged.

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

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

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

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Inside the nurse’s station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sole Hope Guest House:

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

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

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The kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

 

Father Larry Richards – Adoration & Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Larry Richards – Confession

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

Wednesday, May 12 – Confession:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

-full knowledge

-full consent

-serious matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Confession lines on Wednesday night

Yoga vs. Catholicism

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

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

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

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Yoga practice in my backyard

This article talks about this topic:

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

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

Another article also discusses the possible problems with yoga:

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tripods on my kayak in the ocean

 

 

 

God’s Abundant Blessings

I am currently still in a state of shock.  I cannot believe the ways that God has blessed me as of late.

I had recently been feeling very stressed financially.  For the first time, I owed money back when I completed my taxes.  So instead of receiving at least $800 as I had expected, I actually owed $1200.

I was also overwhelmed because I have to decide whether to fix some things on my car or to purchase another used car.  Plus, Friday night was one of my payment deadlines for my mission trip to Africa.  All of these numbers and bills were piling up and I wasn’t sure if I would have to drain my savings to get by.  I felt like maybe instead of volunteering, it would be more prudent to have a summer job, since I technically could work full time in the summer (since I’m a teacher), though I would prefer not to.

I knew somewhere deep in my heart that God would provide, but at the same time, I saw dollar signs looming on the horizon and I couldn’t help feeling worried about it.

Had I made a bad decision in my choice to volunteer in Africa this summer?  Maybe I was taking on more than I could handle financially.  Should I have opted for a cheaper, week-long mission trip somewhere in South America, which would have been more affordable?

Had I been too lavish in buying mainly organic produce, and meat?  Maybe I should risk the health concerns and go back to the antibiotic-infested meat and fish and pesticide-rich fruits and vegetables.  I really didn’t want to, but somehow, my finances had become a burden.

A few weeks ago, I was receiving phone calls from Franciscan University, my alma mater.  I knew they were calling for donations, as they typically do once a year.  I love that school so much, so I donate every year, but this year the timing was less than ideal.

After a week or so of intentionally not answering the phone, I finally picked it up one night, deciding that I needed to show God that I did, in fact, have faith in Him.  I couldn’t hoard my income and expect any fruit to come from that.  So despite my anxiousness about my finances, I made a donation to Franciscan University.

On a separate occasion, I was listening to my friend on the Catholic radio station.  It was their fundraising drive and initially, I planned not to donate because I knew that I already had too much to take care of financially in my own life.

But eventually, something made me realize that I couldn’t have that attitude.  I had to give with the faith that things would work out for me in the end if I could be generous to those who needed it.

And sure enough, that is exactly what happened.

By Friday evening (April 22nd), I needed a certain amount of money in my account for my mission trip to Uganda, followed by the final payment that was due by May 22nd.

All day, I left the donation page open on my computer, knowing that I would have to just put the amount (over $1500) on my credit card and hope that I would be able to raise some more money in the future.

That evening, almost immediately before I was about to put it on my credit card, I received a phone call from my mom that a family member of mine was interested in helping to make a substantial donation to my trip.

I almost burst out crying.  I am beyond humbled right now and incredibly gracious.

I feel so guilty for the amount of stress I have been experiencing lately with regard to my financial situation.  I should have maintained my faith in God, but I just kept doubting myself and my choices.

Yesterday during Mass, I couldn’t stop smiling and thanking God for His abundant blessings.

I am so glad that I made those donations to Franciscan and the Catholic radio station (in addition to my regularly scheduled donations, like the monthly $38 that goes to my sponsored child in Rwanda through Compassion International.)

When we give, we also receive.  That is so true in this very moment.

At the time that I signed up for the mission trip to Uganda, I truly felt that was my calling.  I absolutely love having a teacher’s schedule so that I can travel to volunteer each summer.  I have been blessed to experience a variety of mission trips serving in Ecuador, Haiti, Rwanda, and Nicaragua.  When deciding where to go this summer, the description of the Uganda trip immediately stood out to me.

We will be working in a children’s detention facility through Sixty Feet (prisons, the justice system, and justice reform is something that I care about quite a bit).  Then we will be working with Sole Hope, which holds medical clinics to remove jiggers from the feet of children (and adults) who have been infested.  It then provides them with shoes.

Everyone is on this earth with a certain calling.  One of my callings is to teach.  Another is to volunteer, specifically overseas, which is something that many people are afraid of, or simply uninterested in.

I regret how I had been second guessing my decision to join this mission trip because of finances and I am now more confident than ever that God has had a hand in forming this team and that there is a specific reason why that trip is the one that stood out to me.

I am absolutely astounded by the way everything happened this weekend.  I am beyond grateful to everyone who made a contribution to this trip.  I have received donations from close loved ones, to anonymous donors, to people who I have never met, but they know one of my friends of family members.  I am completely humbled by all of the support and I will continue to keep all of my donors in my prayers as I prepare for this mission trip.

In the end, God has our backs in every situation.  He is there for us and if we are able to accept that help and turn to Him when we are in need, we will reap great blessings.

We must give without knowing whether it’s a prudent financial decision because He will pay us back in ways we cannot even imagine.  We must maintain our generosity even when it seems most difficult to do so.

“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” – Deuteronomy 15:10

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” – Proverbs 3:27

Uneasy Feelings about President Trump

I previously posted a blog about a few positive changes that have happened thus far as a result of Trump being elected.

The US will no longer fund abortions for overseas NGOs.  I’m happy about that.

But there are some other steps that he is taking that are pretty scary.

I’m not a fan of Trump, but I also don’t think he is the devil.  I do not like the idea of either him or Clinton being in office, but here we are, with America’s decision made.  I am definitely uneasy about our future.

First off, I know that I have a lot to learn about politics.  But I really felt that even if Trump was elected, he would need the approval from Congress to enact major changes. Apparently, I was wrong.  He just keeps signing executive actions.  He is eliciting a great deal of fear in a huge portion of the American population.

The Mexican Border Wall

He continues to speak about his his plan to build the wall on the border of the U.S. and Mexico.  One way he plans to do this is either taxing Mexico on its exports or taxing the U.S. on the imports.  Basically, that leaves us with two scenarios.

  1. Higher taxes on Mexico – a country that already has a great deal of poverty
  2. Higher taxes on American consumers on products that they purchase from Mexico

One of my friends from high school is a zookeeper and she posted this article about how Trump’s wall threatens 111 endangered species.  His tax hike will already pose problems, but depending on his plan for the actual wall itself, he could potentially wreak havoc on many species of animals that are already endangered.

Fighting ISIS

He wants a plan for fighting ISIS ready by the military in 30 days.  He wants a “comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS” with no option for “accommodation or negotiation.”

I am not involved in the military, but it seems to me that 30 days might not be an adequate amount of time to plan a way to defeat a group that has been causing such chaos across so many different locations.

Refugee Ban

He has decided to ban refugees from certain countries from entering our country.  Refugees from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia,Yemen, Sudan, and Libya are blocked for 120 days.  Syrians are blocked indefinitely.  These are all countries that are predominantly Muslim.

He denies that this ban is anti-Muslim, but that is precisely what it seems to be.

Pope Francis recently said, “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help.”

Refugees are not the problem in our country.  Most refugees are people who are fleeing dangerous situations.  They are trying to save their lives and the lives of their families.

Fortunately, a judge filed a lawsuit to block part of this plan.  According to an article on Yahoo, “It argued that the order violates a 1965 law that banned discrimination in immigration based on national origin.”

The lawsuit “will stop officials  from removing individuals with approved refugee applications, holders of valid visas and people from the affected countries who have been authorized to enter — pending completion of a hearing on the matter in court.”

Dakota Pipeline

He plans to authorize work to finish the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe relies on the area in which the pipeline needs to be finished for their water.  The tribe is concerned that the pipeline is a  “high risk that culturally and historically significant sites will be damaged or destroyed” and its fear for the safety of its drinking water supply, according to this article.

Torture

Trump has made it clear that he is not against the use of torture in certain circumstances.  Thankfully, he said that he will let the Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, “override” him. Mattis opposes the reinstatement of torture because experts have found that it is not an effective way to get information out of our enemies.

Trump disagrees with the studies that had been performed, and finds that “it does work.” During his campaign, Trump mentioned reinstating waterboarding, among other, even worse forms of torture.


This is the exact reason why I felt so conflicted about the election in the first place.  I could not vote for Clinton because of her drastic views that would perpetuate a culture of death.  But I also could not vote for Trump with his crass, derogatory comments, and plans that in my mind do not honor the dignity of the human person.

I have confidence in the American people and hope that if enough people stand up against Trump for certain things like the pipeline or the refugee situation, maybe something will change.

Despite my faith in God, I feel hesitant about the future of our country.  I pray that He will guide Trump to make decisions that will benefit the good of not only Americans, but those in other countries as well.  I know and trust that He can do all things.  I have faith that He is with us.

Are the Side Effects of Birth Control Really Worth It?

Yesterday, I was reading a CNN article entitled “Women Rush to Get IUDs Because of Trump.”  Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act guarantees free contraceptives to most women.  Trump wants to change that, so women are rushing to determine their birth control plans.

Many are choosing to have IUDs implanted.  According to CNN, an IUD costs around $1,000 to insert and it can last for up to ten years.

So before I get into the problems surrounding The Pill, let’s get into IUDs.

IUDs

They can perforate the uterus upon insertion, or if they accidentally move around inside of the woman.  Although non-cancerous, they have been proven to cause ovarian cysts.  They can cause problems with a woman’s menstrual cycle, in addition to headaches, mood swings, nausea, and acne.  Although the IUD doesn’t create infections on its own, if a woman gets a genital infection and she has an IUD, the infection can much more easily be spread into the uterus and fallopian tubes.

Now, I would rather not experience any of those side effects, but what amazes me is that multiple websites readily admit that the Mirena IUD causes ovarian cysts.  They list it as one of the “common” side effects.  It isn’t even like it’s something that is hidden from the general public.

In addition, lawsuits have been filed against Mirena for not being more forthcoming in the past about the uterus performation that can occur if the IUD moves.  There have been over 500 lawsuits against Mirena for this reason.

I’m sure that many of the women flocking to have the IUD inserted are well aware, and that’s what astounds me — that women readily accept potentially life-threatening side effects so that they can have sex without risking pregnancy.

Pregnancy is so terrible that women would rather face cysts and perforations of the uterus.  Really?    You know, condoms have pretty high rates of pregnancy prevention as well.  And as far as I know, they won’t rupture your uterus.  And there’s something even better – Natural Family Planning (NFP) that is completely free.

And then there’s the Pill.

The Pill

I was having a conversation last night with a friend who had stopped taking the pill due to some side effects that she was experiencing.  She mentioned how it made her feel extreme levels of anxiety as well as depression.

I am a high school English teacher.  Without considering this potential correlation, I had noticed over the past few years of teaching that I have many females with anxiety issues.  I know that the stereotype is that females are more emotional, but I have seen girls who have abnormal levels of stress and anxiety.  I have also seen many girls writing in their journals and other assignments about their experiences with depression.

I know that depression can exist on its own, but my conversation with my friend made me wonder if there could be any link between this increase that I’ve noticed in anxious females and birth control use.  After all, many girls start taking birth control as soon as they get their period.  Some of them take it for pregnancy prevention, while others are prescribed it because of acne or menstrual irregularities.

Upon doing a little research, I stumbled across this CNN article, “Birth Control Linked to Depression, New Study Says.”

According to the article, 30% of women eventually stop using the pill because of side effects.

“We have known for decades that women’s sex hormones estrogen and progesterone have an influence on many women’s mood. Therefore, it is not very surprising that also external artificial hormones acting in the same way and on the same centers as the natural hormones might also influence women’s mood or even be responsible for depression development,” said Dr. Øjvind Lidegaard, a professor at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and lead supervisor of the study.

Lidegaard performed a study that involved one million Danish women ages 15-34 over the course of 14 years and he did not include any women who had been previously diagnosed with depression.

Here are some of his findings:

Among all hormonal birth control users in the study, there was a 40% increased risk of depression after six months, compared to women who did not use hormonal birth control, the researchers found.

Adolescents seemed more vulnerable to this risk than women 20 to 34 years old. Further studies are warranted to examine depression as a potential adverse effect of hormonal contraceptive use,” the researchers wrote in their study.

According to the article, 62% of women between ages 15 and 44 use some form of birth control.  16% of them use the pill, 16% use female sterilization, and 7% use IUDs or implants (National Center for Health Statistics.)  Other studies have shown 4 out of every 5 American women use birth control.

Now I don’t know about you, but a 40% increased risk of depression is absolutely cause for concern.  40%?!? Those are pretty good odds.

Of course some OBGYNs were quoted in the article about the fact that more needs to be studied since “causation is hard to prove.”  One doctor said that “Although this study suggests an increased risk of depression with combined hormonal contraception, the increase does not seem so great as to significantly change how I counsel patients.”

Really?  You don’t plan to counsel patients any differently?  You know that there is a pretty good chance that they could become anxious or depressed as a result of the pill and that isn’t going to change that much for you?

The CNN article continues to say that although some side effects of birth control include things like strokes, there are also health benefits like pregnancy prevention (well…isn’t that the point?), menstrual cycle regulation, and acne.

Think about the 13 year old girls who are prescribed this pill only because of acne.  Depression is a better alternative to skin that isn’t clear?  Okay, your face is flawless, but I’m sorry to tell you that you might have a stroke.

So you won’t get knocked up, your cycle will be normal, and your skin will be clear.  You might just have to deal with a stroke here or there.  No big deal.


Now I’m one of those people who does not believe in contraception at all.   My opinion stems from my religious beliefs, but I also try my best to live an all-around healthy lifestyle.

There was another CNN article published about the fact that some women are opting to ditch birth control because they have realized that it isn’t healthy to mess with your hormones and reproductive organs the way that birth control does.

Natural Family Planning

This article talks about women switching over to Natural Family Planning (NFP).

I was shocked to even see an article about this on CNN’s website.  NFP was something that I had only heard about through my Catholic college or Catholic friends.  CNN even admits that it was started within the Catholic Church, but it is apparently becoming more secular.

The way that NFP works is that the woman monitors her cycle, bodily changes, and temperature to determine when ovulation occurs and then she chooses not to have sex on the days when she is fertile.

The woman interviewed in the article explained that she switched to NFP once her doctor told her that she was at a high risk for strokes as a result of her birth control.  She was 29 years old, yet at risk for strokes.  Kudos to her for taking action and ending her birth control.  Many other females accept the horrifying risks so that they can have sex as they please.

In the article, an OBGYN said that 1 in 4 women using NFP will get pregnant.  However, it also says that if it is used correctly, it has a 99.6-99.4% rate of success in avoiding pregnancy.  That does require women to take their temperature daily and monitor their bodies, but isn’t that a much better alternative to depression, strokes, weight gain, acne, etc?  It’s effective as long as it’s used properly.


So I know that plenty of women will disagree with me, but I’m absolutely supportive of Trump wanting to change Obamacare’s free contraception.

I mean, almost nothing in life is free anyway.  For what reason should contraception be free?  A woman will not die without her birth control.  There are sick people all across the country who cannot afford the medications they need in order to survive, yet our taxpayer dollars are helping people to have sex without worries.


And if you’re interested, here’s a previous post about the dangers surrounding NuvaRing:

Risking Death to Prevent Pregnancy?

2016 Year in Review

As I’ve done for the past two years (2014: My Year in Review, 2015: My Year in Review), here is my 2016 year in review.  Everyone seemed so eager to see the passing of 2016, but I don’t feel that way at all.  While I am excited to see what this next year of life brings me, I am content looking back at all that happened in 2016.  I feel beyond blessed at how different my life is today, January 2nd, than January 2nd last year.  There are so many people I didn’t even know last year today who I am now happy to call my friends.  I had a great year and I look forward to an even better 2017.

January:

-I started off the new year in San Antonio, Texas, watching fireworks exploding all over the place at the passing of midnight and playing lots of games like jumbo Jenga before flying back to Jersey

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-Annual trip to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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Posing with the snowman and my cousin
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Hiking to High Falls with painted faces
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The crew

February:

-The end of my last relationship

-Caidin came to visit and we went to Twin Lights in Highlands

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-My mom traveled to Israel / Tel Aviv / Jerusalem / Bethlehem / Rome for her birthday pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  She got to renew her baptismal vows in the Jordan River.

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March:

-I traveled to Brazil for Spring Break.  First, I was with my sister, Vanessa, and my brother-in-law, Carlos, for Easter.  We went to see an amazing waterfall.

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Swimming by the waterfall with my brother-in-law, Carlos

-Then I went to Manaus for my grandma’s 99th birthday.  I am so thankful that I got to go and spend some time with her because that was the second and last time I would ever see her.

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I also got to see lots of other family members while there and I went swimming with river dolphins with two of my uncles.

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-My mom’s 60th birthday

April:

-Although my mom’s birthday was in March, we had a family party for her in April

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May:

-My cousin, Dan, graduated from UConn

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-I ran the Run the Hook 10k in Sandy Hook, NJ

June:

-I went to senior prom to see my students

-Finished my first year teaching in New Jersey

-Traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to grade AP English Language & Composition exams with my friend from DHS, Elise

-While in Kansas City, I also got to see my friend, Kristin, from high school, who is now a zookeeper at the Kansas City Zoo

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-Ran the Fairfield Half Marathon and set a personal record of 1:55

July:

-Went to Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday party

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-Ran the Belmar five miler

-My friend, Juan, came to visit me in Jersey

-Met on Monday nights with the Belmar Area Catholic Young Adult group that I helped run

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-Through the Belmar young adult group, I met my friend Gabriella, and through her, my Bible study, which has been such an amazing blessing and has brought me so many new friends

-Went to the sand castle competition in Belmar

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-Went to Long Beach Island for a week with my mom

-I turned 28 in Long Beach Island

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Birthday lunch

August:

-Ran the River to Sea Relay race with an awesome group of people to raise money for Covenant House

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-I started riding my bike all around the shore

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Riding my bike through Avon by-the-sea

-Traveled to Nicaragua with Living Water International

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My amazing team

-We helped to drill a well to bring clean water to a rural village

-We also taught hygiene lessons and Bible stories to the women and children.  I helped to translate.

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The community with their finished well

-My friend, Lizzy, visited since she was in Philadelphia for vet clinicals, so we had a beach day

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-Worked on improving my yoga and handstands
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-Hung out with new friends from Bible study14212800_931558857870_9142389201927948083_n

September:

-As of the 1st, I have officially lived in New Jersey for one year

-Started my second year of teaching in New Jersey

-My Brazilian grandmother passed away right before her 99 1/2 birthday

-Went to the Philadelphia Zoo with my friend, Adam

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-Went kayaking with my friend, Adam

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October:

-Ran the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

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-Tenth Avenue North concert with my friend, Amanda

-Went to Catholic Underground in NYC with friends from Bible study

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-More kayaking with friends

-Ran the Atlantic City Marathon.  My mom and my friend, Adam, came to cheer me on

-I saw whales a few times from the beach in the fall

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-I went swimming in the ocean the day before Halloween

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November:

-I hosted our weekly Bible study once at my house in November.  It was tight to squish in 15 people, but we managed.

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-Bar Crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for Covenant House

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-Did some November stand up paddling and kayaking in the ocean in my wetsuit from my uncle

-Kayaking Shark River with my friend, Kate

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-Home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving

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December:

-Went to see the ice sculptures in Tinton Falls

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Mimicking the ice sculptures

-Out in Asbury for my friend, Stacy’s, birthday

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-Weekend in the Poconos for Sway’s 25th birthday

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-New relationship with AJ on December 11th

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Climbing a tree in the Poconos

-Graham cracker gingerbread house building with AJ

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-Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house

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-Christmas day at my aunt and uncle’s house

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-Devin & Elise’s New Year’s Eve wedding with AJ

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So here is goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017.  This year should be another great one, filled with more adventures!

The Need to Humble Ourselves

My 7th grade CCD students went to confession last week, so I was looking for good YouTube videos to use with them in preparation.  What’s funny, though, is how I often find so much for myself and my own spiritual growth when I go in search of materials and videos to use with them.

I really like this video by Fr. Mike Schmitz:

I was simply looking for a video about confession, but then he mentioned the Litany of Humility and got me thinking about many other items in addition to confession.  Here it is:

The Litany of Humility:

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),
Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should…

That is a really powerful, challenging litany.   “Deliver me from the desire of being praised and approved.”  That’s tough.

I love my job as a teacher and I want to feel validated through praise and approval.  I don’t think that’s always a bad thing, but it can increase one’s ego if he is constantly praised.

I like to know that I am doing my work well.  I want that praise.  Yet I also have to be able to remain content without it.  And I don’t want to start feeling as though I am better than anyone else and judging them.

And what about our desire to be loved?  We all seek that.  However, no human being can ever show us the perfect love that God has for us, loving us without limits, even in our weakest states.  I don’t think this is saying that it is bad to want to feel love from another human being, but we must realize that we already have been shown a perfect love in that Jesus Christ died for us.  What more perfect love is there than that, that He would lay down his life for his friends? (John 15:13)

The litany continues, asking God to deliver us from the fear of being despised.  I’ll be the first to admit that I like being liked.  I don’t need to be best friends with everyone, but it makes me sad when I know that someone really doesn’t like me.  But the Bible tells us that if we follow Jesus, we will be persecuted.  “In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

We will not be liked by all.  Jesus calls us to live a radical life, and that is something that others will turn their noses against.  People will view us as crazy “Jesus freaks.”  We have to understand that that is okay.  We, as humans, like to be accepted, but if we live in the way that Christ really wants us to, we will stand out.

I have had this happen in many instances when I was not comfortable in certain situations because of my faith.  People have thought that I was crazy.  But that’s okay.

I won’t live with a boyfriend until marriage.  “But that is irresponsible since you don’t get to “test out” a boyfriend first to make sure you will be compatible.”

I don’t want to have sex until marriage.  “Wait, what?”  People look at me like I have two heads.

I need to find a Catholic church even when on vacation.  “But you’re on vacation.  You’re still going to church?  Why?”

I spend more money on mission trips than I do on my own vacations. “But how do you afford that on a teacher’s salary?  Don’t you just need time to relax?”

I’m beginning to understand that it’s okay to be despised by the world.  After all, Jesus was.  He reminds us, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

It’s never a great feeling, though, to be hated, which is part of what makes that litany of humility so powerful to me.  I must pray to accept the fact that the world may hate me.  And if it does, I should revel in that fact because it probably means that I am living in a way that is glorifying Christ rather than glorifying the world and worldly desires.  If everyone in the world does like me, then I must be doing something wrong; I must not be witnessing to Christ quite enough.  I must be keeping my faith hidden.

The litany continues with another challenging request, that God deliver me from the fears of being wronged / ridiculed / forgotten.  I don’t think most people would say that they want to be ridiculed.  But here we are, asking God to remove the fear of those things.  Sure, we’re human, it hurts to be wronged.  It’s not fun.  But we must not live in fear of those things.  We must live according to Christ’s teachings, without being afraid of being hated, or mocked, or forgotten.

I think the last part of the litany is even more challenging because it asks the Lord to help us to desire some things that are not necessarily ideal.  We need to desire that other people are esteemed before us, that others are praised and chosen while we are not, that others are preferred.

It is only through prayer that this could ever be possible because that’s the exact opposite of worldly teachings.  This world is so focused on the attainment of success and power and accolades.  It’s difficult to get away from that.

As a teacher, I want to have the best evaluations.  I want my administrators to praise my successes.  In our school, we have the monthly “fab five” faculty members.  I would be thrilled to hear my name on that list because it would give me confidence that I am doing my job well and that I am being recognized for all of my hard work.

But shouldn’t God’s opinion of me be more important?  Why should I desire another human being to provide me with praise?  My ultimate goal in life is not to be the best teacher, but to be the best follower of Christ.

That is not to say that I should blow off my job because it doesn’t matter.  I love my job.  I love having a part in forming the minds of the next generation and (hopefully) teaching them to be better people.

But in terms of accolades, I could receive honors and rewards here on earth that mean nothing in light of eternity.

In the Bible, it talks about how the rich have a more difficult path to Heaven than those who are poor, but the same is true of those who find glory while on earth. Luke 6:25 reads “Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.  Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets this way.” And Matthew 19:30 says  that the first will be last and the last will be first.

If we are first here on earth, our path to Heaven is going to be a difficult one.  We must remain humble rather than boastful.

This is tough for me since I so badly desire to be the best teacher.  But I need to be content with the fact that I can teach to my own best ability without ever being noticed.  I still must work my hardest, seeking only what is in the best interests of my students rather than my own honors and achievements.

In today’s society, everything is geared around working one’s way up the ladder.  I’ve always felt that I did not have a desire to become a principal because my desire is to teach, whereas principals deal with more discipline issues.  But I have considered obtaining my administrative degree to move up from a teacher to potentially an English department head.

Maybe I could do that with pure intentions of simply helping more students by helping teachers.  But did I only consider that career move because I felt the push to move up on the ladder?  I’m not really sure.

The part in the litany about desiring to go unnoticed reminds me of the part in the Bible about praying in the quiet of one’s own room, so that nobody knows that I am praying except for God.  “When you pray, go to you inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6).  I don’t need to stand out to the world.

I also like the verse that is read during Lent that calls us not to act as though we are suffering when we make sacrifices.  We must not look “gloomy like the hypocrites“when fasting; instead, “When you fast, anoint you head and wash your face, so that you many not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.  And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” (Matthew 6:16-18).

This relates not only to sacrifices made during Lent, but also to work in general.  In my job, I get four observations during which my evaluators come into my classroom and watch my lessons, looking for my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher.  If I know that they are coming, I can try to plan a killer lesson to impress them.  But what is more important is what I do on the days when nobody is looking.

Will I let my students goof off because it doesn’t matter since I’m not being evaluated?  Or will I still try to teach killer lessons every single day because I want the best for my students?

We must seek to do what is good and what is right at all times, regardless of which people have noticed.  It’s easy to feel disappointed when those around us don’t notice great acts of service that we have done, or when someone does not show us the gratitude we believe that we deserve.

But we must remember that God is always there watching us, and He knows what we are doing in order to receive an accolade as well as the things that we are doing simply because we seek to do good and to spread the light of Christ to all we encounter.