Category Archives: health

30 Years of Memories

I turned 30 on Friday.  I don’t know if it’s really hit me yet.  30.  Like 3-0.  Like I am no longer in my twenties.  I’m an actual adult, and although this has been the case for over ten years, it still doesn’t feel as though that is the case.

When I turned 28, I wrote a blog called “28 Things I’ve Learned in 28 Years” and they are still true today, so rather than writing about my 30 years of wisdom, I wanted to write out 30 years of memories.  Now, I don’t have memories from when I was a baby or toddler, so rather than writing something for each year, I am going to write about 30 memories that stand out in my mind.

1. Long Beach Island vacations with my mom

7856_699041469580_1359668740_nEvery year since I can remember, we spent time in LBI.  After she was divorced, we spent time at LBI at the house my grandparents rented, but as soon as she was able to, we started going to LBI for yearly vacations, usually around my birthday.

2. Growing up in Candlewood Shores

I loved growing up so close to the lake.  I spent tons of time at the beach, swimming in the lake, kayaking, and walking my dog around the neighborhood.  During the winter, I would go sledding in my yard or on the hill at the end of my dead-end road.

3. Frost Valley adventures with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins

1928832_505726713900_6999_nAlso every year since I remember, I have been going to Frost Valley with some of my family members for a long weekend in January.  I have so many memories of the great times I’ve had at Frost Valley.  Tubing, cross country skiing, hiking, using the low ropes course, the cable bridges, exploring, building snowmen, hiking to the observatory.

4. Myrtle Beach vacations

I went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina three times with my aunt, uncle, and two cousins.  Going to the beach, boogie boarding, swimming in the pool, hunting for hermit crabs in the gullies at night, getting ice cream, playing mini-golf.

5. Family parties

I was always excited to attend frequent family parties.  My favorite were those that took place in the summer at the marina where my grandparents kept their boat.  We would swim, barbecue, and go out for boat rides.  I am grateful that my family has always been so close, getting together for birthdays, Christmas Eve and Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, you name it.

6. Birthdays

Having a summer birthday, I always felt like my birthday lasted forever.  I would have a birthday party with my friends, and then I would also have other birthday celebrations with my family and at Long Beach Island with my mom.

7. Getting Adam Sandler’s autograph

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Adam Sandler came to Connecticut to shoot part of the film, Mr. Deeds.  Fun fact of the day: Winchestertonfieldville, Iowa is actually a town called New Milford.  And the film was set in the winter, but it was shot in June, so the film crew had to make fake snow each day.

My mom and I went to see part of the filming and we stood in line for hours waiting for Adam Sandler’s autograph.  My mom also got to meet Peter Gallagher and she saw Winona Ryder.

8. Butterscotch

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I remember begging my mom for years to get a dog.  Finally, on my sixteenth birthday at Long Beach Island, my mom surprised me by telling me that her gift to me was going to be a dog.  It took a little while to find the right one, but when we entered that shelter in Monroe, I fell in love with Butterscotch immediately.  My mom was a bit unsure since he really wasn’t excited to see us or play with us.  I think that he was just too hot since it was August.  But he ended up becoming a significant member of our family.  We had ten awesome years with Butterscotch.  I wish I could have had a few more, but I will always remember the memories of that cute little guy, and all of the places we went like Kent Falls and Tarrywile.

9. Anti-Prom Party

I know that my mom still regrets my decision to skip my senior prom (or any other high school dance, for that matter), but I do not.  My friends and I had an anti-prom party, which consisted of going to the playground, going out to dinner for pizza, going to Il Bacio’s for ice cream, and then watching movies and having a sleepover.

10. Steubenville East retreat with my youth group

Although I hated my mom for forcing me to go, Steubenville East was the pivotal turning point in my faith journey.  It was there that I decided to devote my life to Christ, and also the time during which I realized that I had an interest in Franciscan University, even though the distance terrified me.

11. My first flight to the Dominican Republic with my mom

1928832_505725611110_8849_n (1)Once I knew that I would be attending Franciscan, my mom wanted me to get on an airplane in case I ever had to fly home from college.  As it turns out, I did fly home twice from college (once to attend my goddaughter’s baptism and once to go to a Lyme disease specialist).  So my mom planned a trip to DR to celebrate her 50th birthday and to get me on an airplane.  I was extremely scared on the flight, and I still don’t exactly enjoy flying, but I’m happy to have conquered my fear since I now travel quite a bit.

12. Franciscan University of Steubenville

I’m so grateful for the education that I received from Franciscan – not just in terms of the teaching pedagogy but also my faith formation.  I was fully prepared to enter the classroom after graduating thanks to the fabulous faculty members at Franciscan and their strong education program. And in terms of Franciscan’s passionate Catholicism, I don’t know where I would be today in my faith journey if it were not for Franciscan.

13. Becoming a Godmother

18700536_10100108079416230_3671843442035731509_oMy goddaughter, Abby, was born during my freshman year of college, so I flew home to go to her baptism.  I can’t believe how old she has gotten and how quickly time is passing.

14. Getting Lyme Disease

I was on a walking pilgrimage in New Jersey and Pennsylvania with my youth group.  I loved the experience, but a week later, I was as sick as a dog, unsure what was wrong with me.  Once starting my sophomore year at Franciscan, I learned that I had Lyme, which is relatively treatable in most people.  Little did I know how much it would change my life, turning into chronic Lyme.  But I have grown in many ways as a result of the Lyme, so although I don’t necessarily embrace it, I see how God has used it to form and strengthen me.

15. ResQ

1929958_509778648790_8041_n 2I can’t really remember how I wrote my first rap, but I just randomly found a beat, wrote a rap, and eventually met Oscar (aka II X).  We recorded six songs together during my years at Franciscan and we performed at three coffeehouses.

16. First mission trip in Ecuador

I had been scheduled to study abroad in Austria, but had to cancel as a result of the Lyme disease since I would not be able to bring enough antibiotics into Europe to last me for an entire semester.  Looking back, I am so happy that I never made it to Austria because if I had, I would have never been able to sign up for a spring break mission trip.  Ecuador was a tough trip — definitely the most grueling mission trip I have yet to experience, but I also found my love for the missions field while there.  We hiked for hours through the mud, carrying heavy backpacks, guitars, and bags full of medical supplies.  We brought doctors, nurses, and priests into remote, jungle areas outside of Misahualli to serve the people.  We set up medical clinics, played with the children, prayed with the communities, had Masses and baptisms, and spent time with the people.

17. First Year of Teaching in Bridgeport, CT

It was a crazy year: starting at Paul Laurence Dunbar School, teaching 7th and 8th grade reading and language arts only to be transferred in October to Central High School to teach 9th and 10th grade due to overcrowded classes.

18. Traveling to San Diego, California

184596_550658969300_3900568_nAfter graduating from Franciscan, I missed my two closest friends, Lizzy and Amy.  Lizzy lived in Virginia and Amy lived in California.  For spring break, I flew out to San Diego to visit Amy and her housemates and fellow Franciscan alumni, Kara and Lea.  Lizzy also flew out and it was so nice getting to see everyone again while exploring beautiful San Diego.

19. Four Years of Teaching in Danbury, CT

I loved working in Bridgeport, but had to switch jobs due to a budget crisis that took place the year that I was hired.  Little did I know that Danbury High School had group of staff members that were incredibly welcoming.  I absolutely loved my four years in Danbury and it was extremely difficult when I decided to leave that job to move to New Jersey.  I remember the tears I shed walking out the doors for the last time and I still miss my fellow colleagues there, but I am very happy teaching in Long Branch now.

20. Traveling to Brazil to meet my sister and Brazilian family

252120_661138756920_781866846_nAfter my sister messaged me on Facebook back in 2012, I was excited to plan a trip to Brazil to finally meet my family.  I went there during Christmas break and it was a whirlwind of a trip.  We had 11 flights in 10 days, traveling to Manaus, Cruzeiro do Sul, and Rio de Janeiro.  I met my sister and her fiance at the time, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.  My grandpa died not too long after my trip to Brazil, so I am thankful that I was able to meet him before his passing.  Since then I have traveled to Brazil twice: once for my sister’s wedding and once for my grandmother’s 99th birthday.

21. Teaching Trip in Haiti

22008_693890252660_823665868_nA fellow teacher at DHS informed me about a trip for teachers to Port-au-Prince where they needed teachers to provide professional development to teachers in Haiti through Project Teach.  Many teachers in Haiti only have a high school education, so we taught them how to utilize more engaging strategies.  Since I had only been teaching for three years at the time, it was incredibly humbling to be providing professional development to the class of teachers in front of me.  One of the men had been teaching for 35 years and yet he was eager to hear every strategy I had to share.

22. Running a marathon

1378251_710296374660_118341198_nAfter getting Lyme, I was determined that I would start running once my health improved.  I first signed up for a half marathon and then my first full marathon.  Since then, I have completed 5 half marathons, two full marathons, two Spartan Beasts, one super Spartan, three Spartan sprints,  one Tough Mudder, two Belmar Five Milers, and one 10-K.

23. Seeing Eminem in concert

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Eminem has been my favorite musician since some time around eighth grade when I was finally allowed to buy his CDs once we found the edited versions at FYE. When I heard that he was coming to perform with Rihanna at MetLife Stadium for their Monster Tour, I knew that I had to go.  I spent more than I would ever spend again on a concert to go and then arrived super early on the day of the concert to ensure that I would be in the front row since my section was standing room only.

24. Moving to New Jersey

The timeline was crazy.  Go to the last interview for Long Branch and accept the job offer.  Find an apartment in under a week.  Go on a mission trip to Rwanda.  Pack up my apartment in Danbury and fill a U-Haul.  Drive to Jersey to begin my new teacher professional development day at Long Branch while living out of a spare bedroom at my ex-boyfriend’s parents’ house while I wait for my apartment to be ready.  Leave work to meet my mom and uncle at my house with the U-Haul to begin unloading.  Go to my first day of work while my house is a mess of boxes.

25. Scoring AP exams

13450962_910561681380_7318586538020961940_nI traveled to Kansas City, Missouri for my first year scoring AP exams and I was really excited to get to room with my friend from DHS and to see my friend, Kristin, who was a zookeeper at the Kansas City Zoo.  I’ve also had the opportunity to travel to Tampa, Florida, twice for AP scoring.  I have learned so much through my years of scoring and it always helps me to improve my teaching practice.

26. Mission trip to Nicaragua with Living Water International

14138684_930197101840_4572372580567899979_oI went to Nicaragua for a week to help drill a well for a community that lacked access to clean water.  We also provided hygiene lessons, played with the kids, and did arts and crafts with the women and children while the men were working on drilling the well.  Our translator was sick, so I also helped to translate Bible stories into Spanish, despite the fact that I hadn’t really been practicing my Spanish much.

27. Becoming a part of Young Adults in Faith

14890390_947361404440_2687692922311237888_o 2I had been wanting to start a Catholic young adult group at my church in Belmar, but our parish doesn’t have that many young adults.  I met Gabriella, a Catholic DJ who soon became a close friend.  She invited me to Bible study and holy hour and I became a member of Young Adults in faith, which has been such a blessing.  Through the group, I have formed great friendships and that is also where I met AJ.

28.  Mission trip to Rwanda with Go Be Love International

I had always wanted to travel to Africa, so I was extremely excited about having the opportunity to volunteer there.  We traveled to Gisenyi, which borders Lake Kivu, Bugesera, where some of the most poor Rwandans live and Kigali, the capital of the country.  We volunteered our time, shared our love, and we visited the Genocide Memorial Museum to keep everything in perspective.  And then I stayed two extra days to meet Patience, my sponsored child, and to go gorilla trekking.

29.Mission trip to Uganda with Go Be Love International

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Last summer I traveled again with Go Be Love, but this time to Uganda, where we visited a children’s prison, volunteered with Sole Hope to remove jiggers and provide people with a pair of shoes that had been made from jeans that were donated and cut by myself and my students at Long Branch, and we volunteered at Amani Baby Cottage.

30. My relationship with AJ

When was your first date?  People sometimes ask that, but we never really had one.  We met at Bible study, initially not considering a relationship at all.  I thought AJ was a lot younger than me.  He thought that I was into the dating scene and interested in older guys.  But during Bible study, we noticed some similarities, especially regarding working out and our love for spending time outside.  The first time we hung out together was to go kayaking.  Then we went hiking at Hartshorne Park (one of the most fun days ever) and out to dinner at Mr. Shrimp for Restaurant Week.  Then we went to the movies to see Hacksaw Ridge.  Soon we were hanging out all of the time.  Eventually, I went to the Poconos with him for his friend, Sway’s birthday, and I guess the rest is history.

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I have so many other memories, but these are the ones that came to mind the most quickly.  30 years of adventures, and so many more still in store.

 

 

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The Almighty Dollar

In America, the almighty dollar is our God.  Attaining wealth seems to be everyone’s goal.  Although I’m aware of this, I still find myself getting caught up in that idea from time to time.

I’m an English teacher – not a job that will ever cause me to be rich, but I love it.  My job fulfills me and for that I am grateful.  I get to work with around 100 students every year, helping to prepare them not only for college and careers, but also guiding them through life.  Some of them come talk to me about their struggles.  Others cry in my room about failed relationships.  I try to do my best to be strong role model for them and teach them that being an ethical, kind human being ultimately matters more than a hefty paycheck.

I understand that money is necessary; I’m not saying that money is evil.  However, as a teacher, I am earning enough to pay for life’s necessities, and I still save to go on vacations, mission trips, and out to dinner.

Yet people in America think that we all need to be climbing a ladder to our fortune.  I got my master’s degree because in the state of Connecticut, it was required to get it before one’s fifth year of teaching.  And yes, of course it was nice to get the increase in pay as a result.

Now, people suggest that I get my administrative degree.  That’s the next step, after all, isn’t it?

I don’t think it is.  These people started to get into my head, especially after I moved to New Jersey and started working at a job that pays for some tuition reimbursement.  I would be foolish not to take that opportunity, right?  I could become a principal and earn six figures.

Don’t get me wrong; becoming a principal isn’t a bad thing.  I know people who have done just that and are very happy in their new positions, but I don’t believe that it is for me.  If I worked to become a principal, the only reason I would be doing it would be for wealth and maybe those worldly feelings of “success.”

I say worldly because I believe that I have already attained success.  To me, success has more to do with happiness than wealth.  I love my job as a teacher.  I don’t want to become a principal because I would be removed from the classroom.  I wouldn’t get to form hundreds of relationships with students each year.  Sure, I would know some of them, but it would be much different.  I wouldn’t be teaching the English content that I love.

Teaching should not be viewed as the bottom rung on any ladder to success.  To me, it is the top.  That doesn’t mean that I am complacent.  Rather, I want to continue improving in my practice and finding more ways to help my students to achieve.  I don’t think that I have to become a principal in order to do that.  Who knows, maybe after 15 years of teaching, my opinion will change.  If it does, then I may consider the administrative track, but right now, I am happy and that is enough.

I consider myself, like most Americans, to be goal-oriented.  I have finished my eighth year of teaching and I am proud of the progress that I have made since my first year.  I can continue to make goals for myself, despite my desire to remain a teacher.  I have goals that relate specifically to teaching, but I have other goals aside from my career.  I would like to buy a house after I get married.  There are certain places that I want to travel to.  If I become a mother,  I hope to raise children who will be faithful Catholics.  And my ultimate goal is for my fiance and myself to make it to Heaven.

I think that Americans believe that their goals must correlate to their careers, but there are so many other things to shoot for.  How about we all strive to help the poor, the homeless, the victims of violence?  How about we strive to make a positive impact on the world? How about we strive to be the best versions of ourself – the most generous and kind? How about we strive to spend quality time with our loved ones rather than remaining in the office, only concerned about dollar signs?

Studies have found, when researching the lives of people who have won the lottery, that they end up no happier than the average American after seven years have passed.  We all think that million dollar fortune is what we need, but maybe we just need a day at the beach with our best friend.  Maybe we just need time to play with our kids.  Maybe we just need time to pray and maintain our relationship with God.

One aspect of my job that I love is that I have summers off.  I don’t work much in the summer, other than some part-time summer school.  I know that people look down on me for that, thinking that I’m being lazy.  Excuse me, but as a teacher, I spend hours of unpaid time during the school year planning lessons, calling parents, sending emails, and grading papers.  I get to work by 6:30am and usually leave around 2:40pm, but work is by no means over at 2:40.  I usually work out and then continue my hours of grading or planning.  I work for every penny I earn; the difference is that I do it over the course of 10 months rather than 12.  If I have the ability to take the summer off, I would rather not be judged for doing so.

If I am in a situation in the future where I need to work in the summer to provide for my family, then sure, I’ll find a job.  But Americans forget about our need to relaxation.  I LOVE my summer break.  I get to revive my faith life, since I can finally attend some daily Masses.  I restore my health, working out sometimes twice a day since I have the time to do so.  I read for pleasure.  During the school year, I rarely find the time to read books aside from the ones I’m using for my lesson plans.

Some teachers have to work in the summer and I understand that, but I don’t.  I am careful with my spending.  I have the same, old car, that I bought used 7 years ago, full of dents and scrapes.  My clothing was mostly bought at Kohl’s on the clearance rack on a day when I had a 30% off coupon.  I am frugal with my money so that I can enjoy my life and not work during every free minute.

I wish that more people could act like this rather than literally working themselves to death.  They always say how nobody ends up on their death bed wishing they had spent more time at work.  They instead wish that they had more time with their families, traveling, simply enjoying life.

Unfortunately for some families, there is no other option.  Life can be difficult and I know that some people do need to work as much as possible simply to get food on the table.  But for many people, that is not the case.  For many of them, it is their greed that has turned them into workaholics.

My fiance is more new to his career than I am and I can see how the world gets to him at times.  He loves helping people through his job as a physical therapist, yet he sometimes talks about different positions he could one day attain, which would come along with a higher salary.  He seems surprised when I don’t care at all.  I tell him how I would prefer him to earn a lower salary than his current one if it meant more time together.  I don’t need wealth; I need a fulfilled life.  I don’t care if he accrues so much in his retirement fund that we can retire to a beautiful, beach-front location; I would rather be happy now, when I am young enough to take advantage of life’s adventures.  Sure, he could maybe become a director of his own practice one day, but at what cost to our lives and our relationship?

We can make good decisions and maintain our savings and retirement funds while also enjoying life now.  After all, only God knows how long our lives will be; retirement money will do us no good if we don’t take care of our health.

This probably sounds a bit hypocritical to anyone who has been talking to me lately since money has gotten a strong hold of my mind since I have to spend so much on wedding planning.  But I’m definitely not proud of that.  I know the financial aspects of the wedding stress me out, but I have to remember to regroup and realize what matters.  I don’t care if my friend has a more beautiful flower bouquet than mine at her wedding.  I don’t care if my wedding doesn’t impress people as much as others.  I just want to have a beautiful sacramental marriage to the man I love, and who pushes me to grow in my holiness every single day, surrounded by our family and friends.  And then I want to enjoy every second of our honeymoon, since AJ and I have never had an entire 10 days (or even two) to ourselves ever before.

So don’t try to impress me with your fancy car, your designer clothes, or your six-figure paycheck.  I don’t care.  Are you happy?  Does your job or vocation fulfill you?  Do you spend time with your loved ones?  Do you have the time to take care of yourself and exercise?  Do you take time to relax and unwind? Do you give back and help the less fortunate? Or has the almighty dollar become your God?

Faith & Exercise = Essential, Not Optional

My faith is the number one most important aspect of my life.  My loved ones would come second, but right after that is exercise.  My fiance would likely say the same thing regarding his own life.

Many people I encounter cannot understand that about us.  When I complain about my busy week, they don’t understand why I still make time for holy hour on Monday night, FCA on Wednesday morning at work, Bible study on Thursday night, Mass on Sunday, and additional time spent in prayer.  I mean, that’s over four hours of my week, after all.

Others who do understand my faith cannot understand my workout regimen.  If I’m having a busy week, I should just skip the gym, shouldn’t I?  I don’t need to bother with that run.  I look like I’m in decent shape.  What’s one missed day?

Although it’s true that one missed day at the gym won’t kill me, I believe it’s that exact mindset that has led to the obesity epidemic.

We’re all busy.  We have jobs, families, and unexpected emergencies.  We must go grocery shopping, cook meals, eat, work, clean, and sleep.  If I let my workout be an optional activity that only occurred when I had extra time, it would NEVER happen.

I always have more items on my to-do list.  There is always something more that can be done.  That is why my workout, just like my faith life, is not optional.  Rather, they are both entirely necessary.

So I’ll start with faith since that’s number one.

#1: Faith

My goal is simple: get to Heaven.  That’s it.  That’s why I’m on this earth.  I want to live the best possible life that I can while I am here, and yes, I want the joys that life entails, but ultimately, everything is meaningless if I do not get to spend eternity with Jesus Christ in Heaven.

Do I always act like that is my top goal?  No.  Just like anyone else, I sin, I fall, I get overwhelmed by this life. There are many times when I focus my eyes on happiness, success, my career, and other false idols, but I get back up and try my best to refocus my eyes on the true prize: eternity.

If I place anything on a pedestal ahead of God, then I am telling Him that I want that item/person/feeling/accolade/job more than I want Him.  If I fight for a promotion with every minute of my time, then I am telling the Lord that the job is more significant than Him.  If I love my fiance more than I love God, then I am worshipping him rather than God.  God has to remain first.

And if I really think about the amount of hours I spend in prayer, it isn’t nearly enough.  To the world, it looks like a lot.  A whole hour at Mass on Sunday? And then another hour at adoration on Monday? Bible study every week?  How do I do it?

Let’s be clear here: I’m no saint.  Compared to the world, yes, maybe that’s more than the average person.  But if God is number one, then does one hour a few times a week really suffice?  Absolutely not.

I don’t always follow these ideals.  Sometimes my hectic life gets the best of me.  Planning my wedding this year has been a trying task.  When I went to confession a few months back, though, the priest gave me great advice: make each of my tasks into a prayer.  I can’t stop planning my wedding.  Sure, there are certain items that must be crossed of the list; however, I can take my frustration and offer it as a prayer instead of a complaint.

We should strive to live a life in which every mundane task becomes a prayer.  Stuck in traffic?  Pray.  Offer it up.  Getting out of bed in the morning?  Thank God for a new day.  Annoyed by someone at work? Pray for that person. Going to bed?  Thank Him for the day, even if it was a difficult one.  Now, I haven’t perfected this myself, but I’m working on it.

Too many Catholics squeeze in Mass only when it fits.  Sports and football have become their gods.  Football game?  Sorry, gotta skip church.  Son has baseball practice?  Oh well, no time for church.  Went to a wedding Saturday night and slept in on Sunday?  Oops, too bad, need my sleep.

Maybe you didn’t realize, but there are so many Catholic masses that there isn’t an excuse to miss it.  I can go to Mass on Saturday night, Sunday morning, Sunday midday, or Sunday evening.  There is even a church in my area that offers Mass at 7:30pm on Saturday and Sunday.  Others have Mass at 6:45am on Sunday.  So no, that football game isn’t an excuse.  You’re just being too lazy to get to the Mass that takes place first thing in the morning.

If Heaven is my goal, then God must be first, not an afterthought.

Which brings me to my next priority: exercise.

#2: Exercise

My mom’s side of the family is not too keen on exercise.  Luckily, I think I inherited some of the genes from my dad’s side of the family.  Exercise is a huge part of my life.

Now, this wasn’t always the case.  I never played a team sport.  I wasn’t ever overweight, probably because I don’t have the biggest appetite in the world, but I definitely wasn’t very athletic.  I was active, but I never had much of a routine other than following along to some pilates videos after school.  I mainly just wanted to grow (I heard that pilates can help to lengthen your spine, and I was 5’1.5″ at the time) and I wanted abs.  When I was younger and visited my dad on the weekends, we would bike and rollerblade, so I wasn’t that kid who was always in front of the television, but I wasn’t as active as all of the kids on sports teams.

Then everything changed after I got Lyme disease.  Suddenly, I had a hard time just walking across campus during my sophomore year of college.  All I wanted to do was run, so I decided that if I ever got better, I would start running.

That’s what I did; I started running, little by little.

And then I relapsed.  But once I started regaining my health, I began running again.

Initially, I’ll admit, the running was for aesthetic reasons.  I did not like what the Lyme medicine had done to my body.  I had never worried about my weight, but Mepron, the last antibiotic I took, was not water soluble; it only dissolved in fat.  I had to take it twice a day, both times with about 20 grams of fat.

Not only was I sick and unable to work out, but I had to take my medicine with fat.  I didn’t gain more than about 10-12 pounds, but on a 5’2″ frame (I guess the pilates worked for that last half inch), that is quite a lot.  Just looking at my face, the difference was apparent.

Here is the progression of my face:

Fall 2007 (pre-Lyme), freshman year of college:

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Summer 2010, after college; had been battling Lyme for about 3 years:

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Summer 2013, after I had been running regularly:

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Did I start exercising for the health benefits?  No.  I just wanted my smaller body back.  But the more I ran, the better I felt.  It seemed ironic because when I was sick with Lyme, my back and knees would ache like crazy.  Running didn’t seem like it would be the best exercise for me, but the more I ran, the less my knees hurt.

I signed up for my first ever race: a half marathon.  Then a full marathon.  Then I just kept running and racing in either running races or Spartan obstacle races and a Tough Mudder.

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Hartford Marathon – 2013
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Atlantic City Marathon – 2016

Now, it hasn’t been easy.  I’ve relapsed since then.  I didn’t get to run any races at all during 2015, but I’ve found a direct correlation between eating healthy, exercising, and the disappearance of my Lyme symptoms.

If I get too busy to work out, I start to notice back pain.  My workout is therefore not an extra part of my life; rather, it is essential to maintain healthy functioning and keep the Lyme at bay.

Sometimes the people around my fiance and I cannot understand why we are so regimented with our workouts (him even more than me).  Although he doesn’t have a chronic disease, he values his workouts just as much as I do, if not more.

I just wish that more people could understand that our bodies weren’t meant to sit on the couch for hours on end, watching Netflix.  My students cannot fathom this.  How can I not have a television?  Or a Netflix subscription?  Or a video game console?What do I do in my free time?  Well, I don’t have that much free time because of my devotion to God and my ability to prioritize my exercise.

My fiance works insane hours, yet he still wakes up every day to do two things: go to Mass and go to the gym.  These are not options for him, but requirements to a fulfilled life.

So many people say they cannot find the time for exercise.  I understand that.  The problem is that you will never find the time.  Rather, you must make the time.

I work a full time job.  I have an apartment.  I cook my meals, clean, do my laundry.  I spend lots of time grading papers since I’m a high school English teacher.  I know that I have fewer tasks than others since I’m not yet married and I don’t have children, but it’s not like I have tons of free time.  I have to keep my workouts as part of my schedule.

When I’m training for a marathon, the schedule is easy.  I need to get that weekend long run in no matter what.  Whether that is 8 miles, 13 miles, or 20 miles, I have to find the time.  I plan around it since those long runs are crucial to success on race day.  I do speed work on Wednesdays.  Again, a crucial step if I want to beat my previous times.  I have other runs built around those two days, plus cross training, strength training, stretching, and yoga because I want to be my best.

The same is true with my faith life.  My Sundays are planned around the Mass I will be attending.  Thursdays are planned around Bible study.  These are not added bonuses that only occur if I find the time.

Right now I’m not training for anything, so it’s easier to skip workouts on busy days.  Does that happen occasionally?  Sure.  Life happens.  But most weekdays, you will find me at the gym after work.  Or, if the weather is nice, I can be found running on the boardwalk, at the reservoir, or working out outside.  That’s my schedule.  That’s what I do to keep myself sane, happy, healthy, and Lyme-free.

Watching the video below is actually what prompted me to write this blog.  It’s about the benefits of exercise on our brain.  So if you have no other reason to make exercise a part of your routine, do it for your brain and to prevent or delay dementia and Alzheimer’s.

 

Now I know that people will probably continue be baffled by me for keeping my faith as my exercise priorities, but I just don’t care.  They can view me as insane.  That’s fine.

All I know is that at the end of the day, my faith and my exercise are what I need for a fulfilled, healthy life.

Wedding Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the engaged life.

 

 

 

2017: My Year in Review

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

January:

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

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

-Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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

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-Camden Aquarium with AJ

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-Hiking with AJ and Bolt in Freehold

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February:

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

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-Grandma’s birthday party

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

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

March:

-My mom’s birthday

April:

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

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-AJ’s 25th birthday party

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

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-Sway’s Confirmation at the Easter Vigil

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-Easter in Connecticut

-Hiking at Bushkill Falls for AJ’s birthday

-Finishing the Spartan Beast with AJ in Vernon, NJ

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May:

-Bible study at the Freehold Mall

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-Battleship USS New Jersey in Camden

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-Father Larry’s talk with Bible study

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-Abby & Lauren’s Irish step dancing recital

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-My cousin Lauren’s first communion

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June:

-Scoring AP exams in Tampa, Florida

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July:

-Acro yoga in my back yard

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

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-Vacation in LBI with my mom

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Barnegat Lighthouse

-Churrascaria for my early 29th birthday dinner

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-Acro yoga attempt #2 in my back yard

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

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-Free day at the Nile River

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August:

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

September:

-Phil and Marissa’s wedding in Pennsylvania

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-Chris and Grace’s wedding in Pennsylvania

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

October:

-Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

-Getting engaged on October 9th

-Connecticut for a family party

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

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-Lizzy visited & we went Halloween bowling

November:

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

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

-Hiking at Hartshorne Park

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December:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Female Chauvinist Pigs

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

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

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

Females going to strip clubs

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

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

Playboy

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

Girls Gone Wild

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

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

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

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

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

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plastic Surgery

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

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

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

Pornography

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

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

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

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

Casual sex

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

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

Girl 1: I need to raise the body count.

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

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

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

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

Girls acting like guys

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adolescents

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

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

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

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

Girls on girls

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Uganda Part Two: Amani Baby Cottage

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

Lake Victoria / Nile River

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel and I stuck our feet into the water:

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Then we took a group photo there.

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

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

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

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

Amani Baby Cottage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The preschool children in their school uniforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Watching a movie

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

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

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Prayers before snack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yep, I’m holding a baby!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that was my experience in Uganda this summer.

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

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

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

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

Love,

Stephanie


Here is the video for part two of my trip:

Uganda Part One: Sole Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our team at Entebbe Airport

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

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

Apricot Guesthouse:

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

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

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

 

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

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Sixty Feet:

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

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

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

Sole Hope:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the song, we separated into stations:

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

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

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Foot note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the jiggers are removed, their feet are bandaged.

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

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

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

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Inside the nurse’s station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sole Hope Guest House:

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

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

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The kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

 

Food Fads Going Overboard?

I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of exactly what I am about to complain about.  But that’s just because I didn’t realize the problem until recently.

Anyone with an Instagram account knows that there is a myriad of photos of crazy food items.  They are incredibly aesthetically appealing.  But they also promote narcissism, gluttony, and waste.

I first heard about Black Tap Craft Burgers’ milkshakes from a YouTube video by Casey Neistat (see below if you’re interested):

When I saw the milkshake with the cotton candy on top, I knew that I just had to have one.  However, I wasn’t too keen on the obscene wait time, or the drive to NYC just for a milkshake.  I figured that if I ever happened to be in the area, I would get one; otherwise, I would probably forget about it.

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Soon after seeing that video, I passed by Coney Waffle ice cream shop in Belmar, New Jersey.  They are famous for their Freak Shake, now renamed the Sideshow Shake.  I love milkshakes and candy, so when I heard about the Freak Shake, I was intrigued.  Could it be anything like the one in Casey Neistat’s vlog?

For $18, this is what my Freak Shake looked like:

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It was a mint chocolate chip milkshake with all of the following (and probably more that I have since forgotton) on top: cotton candy, chocolate waffle, ice cream cone with an extra scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate covered Oreo, chocolate covered pretzel with Reese’s pieces, ring pop, and gummy candies.

Does it look amazing?  Absolutely.  Is it possible to eat that entire thing? Gosh, I hope not.

Upon serving me, they handed me a plate and a ton of napkins, explaining that I could put all of the candy onto the plate so that I could actually attempt to drink the milkshake.  They knew that there was no way that one could possibly try to eat that milkshake the way it was assembled.

So the whole purpose of this shake is the photo-op.  I’ll be honest, I was excited about that myself.  I absolutely took a picture before I proceeded to take it apart.  I ate some of the candy, but most I kept for later.  I drank some of the milkshake, but it took me three days to finish the whole thing since I couldn’t even begin to fathom how many calories that would be if it was consumed in one sitting.

And you know what? It wasn’t anything that special.  The milkshake tasted like a mint chocolate chip milkshake.  Nothing more, nothing less.  You might as well go buy a vanilla milkshake from McDonald’s, add in some peppermint flavor, and then purchase a whole bunch of candy to put on a plate next to you while you drink that milkshake.  It would be MUCH more cost effective.

The craziest part of all of this is that the Freak Shake is actually small in comparison to the newer Sideshow Shake:

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And this brings me to my point.  I have realized that the main purpose of a person purchasing a Freak Shake or Sideshow Shake is the photo-op.  In our Instagram/Snapchat-obsessed culture, we care more about the picture than the experience.

We want everyone to see our picture and envy us for getting to go to such a unique place. Yes, I did go to Coney Waffle and yes I can afford an $18 milkshake. (Note: I did not purchase the milkshake for myself, nor would I ever even consider it because I have much better ways to spend my $18.  Someone else bought it for me.)

These items also lead to gluttony and waste.  Although most people couldn’t consume and entire Sideshow Shake, I’m sure that some of them will try.  Don’t even get me started on all of the restaurants offering free shirts if you eat some insane amount of a particular food.  We have a problem with obesity in America, yet you can have that 1-pound burger absolutely free if you can consume it in its entirety in 20 minutes without vomiting.  And we’ll throw in a free t-shirt so that everyone will know about your feat.  Hooray!

Many people who want the Instagram pic without the weight gain end up discarding most of the shake.  They just want the picture.  We are blessed to live in a country where most people are not facing hunger.  And this is what we do with our privilege.  Starving kids in Africa?  Ehh…someone else can help them…I’ll continue to find the best angle for my Sideshow Shake and post it with the best hashtags so I can get a ton of Instagram followers!

Not convinced yet?  Let’s go through a few more examples.

– Playa Bowls.  I love acai bowls;  I buy them because they taste amazing.  But I also notice how a TON of people order them and seem to care more about the picture than the actual taste.  People will walk from the Playa Bowl shop down to the beach before taking a bite because they need the perfect playa-bowl-in-front-of-the-ocean photo.

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And yes, I’m also guilty of taking pictures of my acai bowls.  They are really pretty, after all:

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Brother Bruno’s Pizza.  I loved dessert pizza when I had it in Brazil for the first time in 2012.  However, we American’s can’t keep anything simple.  Bruno’s took the dessert pizza and put it on steroids.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to try it.  But at the same time, they’re just getting out of hand.  I would love to try a pizza with some chocolate and bananas.  Or the one that has apples and caramel.  But here’s a more recent photo:

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That’s their raspberry/cannoli/nutella/brownie pizza, as if the other dessert pizzas weren’t unhealthy enough.  They had to take it up a notch.  Diabetes on a plate, anyone?

-The Unbaked Bar / Cookie DO NYC.  I love the taste of raw cookie dough, as do many people, despite the dangers of salmonella due to the raw egg.  A few companies realized that if they just made cookie dough without the egg, it could be consumed raw.  Enter the unbaked bar and other similar shops.

Yes, those images may appear to be ice cream, but they’re actually cookie dough.  And no, that cookie dough cone on the right wasn’t quite cutting it…they really needed the cookie dough-filled cookies on top.

The Bagel Nook.  I don’t feel very strongly about bagels.  They’re fine.  I rarely eat them. But Bagel Nook got me hooked with their Instagram pictures like the ones below:

I finally went there with my boyfriend, excited to order a tie dye bagel with cotton candy cream cheese.  Yes, I did take a picture:

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It looks nice, but gosh was it disappointing.  It just tasted like a plain bagel with funky cream cheese.  Nothing too special.  I don’t plan to ever go there again.  But the taste doesn’t even matter since Bagel Nook will probably always have great business since it makes such a great photo-op.

Back to the problem here.  We’re purchasing these food items not because of their exquisite flavor, but because of the image that goes along with it.  We can show all of our friends “hey, look, I went to this trendy place and here’s the photo to prove it!”  It ties in nicely with our narcissistic culture (something that’s on my mind lately, since I’m currently reading The Narcissism Epidemic…great book, I recommend it).  It doesn’t really matter if we enjoy the food item; we just want our followers to see it and in return, envy us and our lifestyle.

But that isn’t the only problem.  These food items also promote gluttony.  Some of these food items probably contain a week’s worth of calories.

Anyone surprised about the American obesity epidemic?  Not I.

On the one hand, we have a constant barrage of beautiful men and women in the media and advertising.  We have advertisements about the Brazilian butt lift, age-defying cream, weight loss surgery, plastic surgery, you name it.  We all want to be beautiful.  Most of us want to be beautiful without the hard work that coincides with working out and eating healthy.

“I want the six-pack abs, but I also want a cookie dough sundae.  Actually, I don’t just want that sundae…I deserve the sundae since I did such a nice job at the gym today!”

I keep hearing a radio ad for a bariatric surgeon who promises that his patients can lose 30 or more pounds without even working out.  Let’s not even try to get Americans to improve their lifestyle — that’s unreasonable.  Let’s give them the quick fix surgery that they want, which will eventually fail when they continue drinking their two-liter of Pepsi while eating that Big Mac followed by a dessert pizza.

So as I said from the start, I am absolutely guilty of trying some of these food items myself, and documenting them through my own photos.  Am I proud of that? No.  But I didn’t realize quite how crazy it was until my Instagram feed began to be filled with more of these obscene food items.

In a world in which so many people are starving and suffering, we Americans must become aware of our overconsumption, overindulgences, narcissism, and wastefulness.

This issue extend far beyond a silly cookie dough cone or an overfilled bagel.  But none of it can ever be confronted if we do not recognize some of the lunacies that are present in our society.

 

 

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