Category Archives: health

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.

DSCN6059

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:

IMG_1188

Then we took a group photo there.

IMG_1206


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

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

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

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

Amani Baby Cottage

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSCN6121
The preschool children in their school uniforms

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_6614.JPG

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.

IMG_1250
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.

IMG_1279
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.

IMG_1262
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.

IMG_1272

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.

IMG_1276

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

IMG_1280

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.

IMG_2330

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.

IMG_6671.JPG

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.

IMG_2351

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

IMG_1297.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

So that was my experience in Uganda this summer.

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

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

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

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

Love,

Stephanie


Here is the video for part two of my trip:

Uganda Part One: Sole Hope

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

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

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

IMG_6370

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.

IMG_1068

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).

IMG_1107
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.

20798993_10102658721947141_9006298943835991087_n.jpg

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.

IMG_1089

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.

IMG_1105

 

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.

IMG_1098

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.

IMG_1209
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.

DSCN5994

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.

DSCN6022
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.

DSCN6023.jpg

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.

20728176_10100137705969380_7301298091582664578_n

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.

DSCN6019

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.

20770050_10102658704132841_8391965615886698462_n

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.

IMG_1112
The kitchen

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

DSCN5966

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.

DSCN6016

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

20800347_10102658752356201_6175770148616954699_n


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.

HT_milkshake1_cf_160119_v31x13_31x13_1600

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:

13325525_907504133730_3672572407703546669_n

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:

14350924_642620382564797_2335208997696569344_n

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.

6360358185887213781523524409_2016-07-08 (1)

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

17760088_993428765080_8626240839866109556_n

 

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:

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 9.10.23 PM.png

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:

18403075_10100104498402610_8242700125886885659_n

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.

18451604_421445574880423_7638330293262219811_o
My Bible study group (Young Adults in Faith) with Father Larry Richards

Father Larry Richards – Confession

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

Wednesday, May 12 – Confession:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

-full knowledge

-full consent

-serious matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0422.JPG
Confession lines on Wednesday night

Yoga vs. Catholicism

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

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

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

14184379_931559566450_2444349923712427135_n
Yoga practice in my backyard

This article talks about this topic:

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

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

Another article also discusses the possible problems with yoga:

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14991057_950299286900_3473610729000724932_o
Tripods on my kayak in the ocean

 

 

 

Spartan Beast – Vernon, NJ 2017

The Race:

I went to Vernon, New Jersey this past Saturday for the Spartan Beast.  My boyfriend, AJ, and I drove up to the race early Saturday morning and then we met up with my friend, Jayme, and two of her friends.  While registering, AJ met a guy he knew from high school who was also at the race.

18194935_10100100507769870_3898880809216318365_n
Me & Jayme

I had completed four previous Spartan races back in 2014, but this was going to be my first one since then, so I was feeling a little nervous. (Previous races: Sprint in Uncasville, CT; Super in Vernon, NJ; Beast in Killington, VT; Stadium Sprint at Fenway in Boston, MA)

I had injured my shoulder about two months ago, so although I had increased my strength training early on this year, I had to cut back tremendously in order to rehab my shoulder.

I knew that I was in good shape in terms of running, but I was curious how I would do with the obstacles.

Our start time was 9:45am, but the race was delayed since there had been thunderstorms that morning.

Once we started, the race went straight uphill.  I knew from previous races that hills are meant to be walked.  A Spartan beast is over 12 miles.  They told us that this one was mapped out to be 13.8 miles (though their mileage doesn’t account for obstacles, so it was probably actually between 14 and 15 miles total).  That’s more than a half marathon, plus crazy hills and obstacles.  If you try to run up the first hill, I can almost guarantee that you are going to use up too much energy.

The hills seem almost endless at times.  Before even getting to mile two, my quads were already burning (despite how often I had been running and climbing stairs before the day of the race).  I was actually feeling a little bit nervous at that point, knowing that I still had over 10 miles left, yet my legs were already feeling sore.

I tried to run or at least jog every time the race became flat or downhill.  I’m really good at running downhill.  Some people step very gingerly when going downhill, but I find that I do better letting my momentum take over.  There were many times when my legs felt tired to walk, but once I started running or jogging, they felt less fatigued.

Even going down rocky slopes, I still usually jogged, remaining confident with my footing so that I wouldn’t slip.

There were a total of 32 obstacles.  Here is a review of some of them (in no particular order):

Walls

In any Spartan race, there are a number of walls to get past.  Some are short and I can easily jump, push myself up on my arms, and climb over.  For the 10-foot walls, I definitely need someone to help give me a boost.  Racing with AJ made these walls a lot easier since he could give me a boost whenever needed.

There was also a wall in the water.  For this one, we had to swim under it.  I didn’t mind going under the wall, but the water is brown and muddy, so some people don’t prefer submerging themselves.  I just felt for the bottom of the wall at first, to make sure that I knew how deep I had to go underwater.

After coming out of the water, there was a slanted wall with ropes on it.  We had to hold the rope to pull ourselves up.

18274731_10100101378130660_4033899464392614853_n
AJ coming out from under the water at this wall

For obstacles like this, the type of sneaker you are wearing makes a HUGE difference.  Lots of people were slipping all over the place.  When I tried, I didn’t slip at all.  I just held onto that rope and pulled myself up, one step at a time.

I prefer racing in trail shoes since they have a strong grip on the bottom.  Lately there are a lot of running shoes, especially Nike ones, that are very flat on the bottom.  They have little grip and although their lightweight nature may be nice when running, they are not the best option when grip is needed.

I have Adidas trail shoes that I have used for the past three or four Spartan races and I swear by them, rarely failing at an obstacle only as a result of my shoes.

Water

There are a few times when you have to walk through water.  This time, there was no swimming obstacle, but for one part of the race, you had to walk through water.  I’m 5’2′ and eventually the water was up to my chest.

I expected the water to be really cold since it was only April, but surprisingly, it wasn’t bad.  It was actually pretty refreshing.

I really like the water, so I enjoy the water obstacles.  The hardest part is that you can’t see where you’re walking, so sometimes you trip on stones or branches.  In Vermont, I cut up my shin quite a bit because I kicked a rock that I didn’t see.

This time, there were some times when we had to cross a stream.  One time, I jumped into the water and tripped as I went to take a step.  I fell onto a rock and cut my knee.  I saw the blood coming down my sock and soon after, we were walking through deep mud.  It’s never ideal to get a bunch of mud into cuts, but that’s what happens during this race.

18278836_10100101378095730_8968140780571586298_o

Memory

I had forgotten about this, but there is a memory component to the race.  You get to a wall and have to memorize a certain word/number combination, based on whatever the last two digits of your bib number are.  My bib number was 12517, so I had to memorize “Romeo 213 1089.”

When looking at some YouTube videos, I can see that some racers did have to tell a Spartan volunteer their number at some point.  If they couldn’t remember, they would have to do burpees.  But somehow we never had to do that.  I don’t know if we somehow ran past the people asking, or if they stopped asking.  But after finishing the race, I was so frustrated that I had remembered my number for nothing.

Z-Wall

I love this obstacle.  It’s a wall with wooden rectangle hand and foot grips.  I’m usually pretty good at it; I think it helps that I’m small so I can more easily rest my feet on the rectangles and grab the hand pieces with my whole hand.

For this version, though, the wall isn’t just flat across.  It is in the shape of a Z.  I had made it 2/3 of the way across and AJ was standing behind me.  I told him to just spot me in case I needed help.  I got to one of the corners and I couldn’t see the other side of the wall. I tried to reach out my foot to feel for the next wooden rectangle, but I couldn’t reach it even with my leg fully extended.  The same was true with my arm.

So AJ put a hand out for me to step across since I couldn’t reach and I got my foot on the rectangle, but I still couldn’t reach with my hand, so I suddenly slipped and hit the ground.  I was so frustrated since I was so close to the bell.

I forgot that I could have tried again, but instead I went and did the 30 burpee penalty while AJ crossed the wall.

Log Carry

Men get a larger log and females get a smaller one.  You must carry it up and down a hill.  The logs are pretty heavy, so although they don’t feel too bad in the beginning, it gets tiring by the time you carry it up.

I like to carry the log on my head because I find that to be the easiest option while walking uphill.  Not too many people do it this way, but it works for me.  Most people carry it on one of their shoulders.

On the downhill, I carried it horizontally across my stomach and that wasn’t too bad.

18192755_10100101378395130_585212377299868903_o

Spear Throw

I hate this obstacle.  It’s so hard to get the spear to actually stick into the hay.  So many people have to do burpees at this obstacle.  AJ was able to complete every obstacle without assistance except for this one since he missed the hay.

Sandbag Carry

The females and males have different weights to carry.  Just like the log carry, you walk up and down hills, over some branches, and through a little bit of water.  Some people carry it on their shoulder or behind their heads.

I carried mine on my head and later kind of hugging it in front of me.

Monkey Bars

These are my major weakness.  I just can’t do the monkey bars.  But one day I will be able to.  They have normal monkey bars…well, as normal as the Spartan race will have it.  They’re still wider than normal monkey bars, so they’re really difficult to grip with my small hands.

They have monkey bars that have a long metal piece that you must get across, followed by different chains, baseballs on rope, and grips that you have to cross.

They also had ones that spin around while you’re trying to reach the next one.  AJ completed each of these obstacles with ease…me, not so much.

Atlas Carry

They have these big cement stones on the ground.  You must pick it up, walk a few yards, drop it, do 5 burpees, pick it up, walk back, and then drop it.

Picking it up is the hardest part.  Looking online, I can’t find a definite answer about the weight, but it seems that most people agree that it is somewhere between 40 and 60 lbs for women and 80 and 100 lbs for men.

40-60 lbs doesn’t sound terrible, but the size of the stone makes it difficult to get off of the ground.

I squat as low as I can to the ground and try to push it against my stomach to get it up.  Looking at tutorials online, some people roll the stone up one of their legs while the other leg is in the squatting position.  That way they can get it up against their stomach/chest more easily.

Once it’s up, it isn’t too difficult to walk with the stone, but picking it up is the tricky part.

Gravel Bucket Carry

This is an obstacle that most people hate.  It’s brutal.  It always comes towards the end of the race.  In the Spartan Beast in Vermont, this obstacle occurred twice.  You have to fill a bucket with gravel.  It has to be filled up to the line, which is a little bit lower for women than men.

Then, there is an extremely steep hill that you must climb while holding the bucket.  If you drop it, spilling gravel, you have to start all over again.  This is an obstacle that anyone can finish, but not quickly.

This was at the end of the race.  My legs were so tired from all of the previous running and obstacles.  Every step was difficult.  I hugged the bucket in front of me, slowly putting one foot in front of the other.

Going up the hill, every time I needed a break, I put my right leg in front of me, up the hill.  I would rest the bucket on my thigh.  That gave me the break that I needed so that I could catch my breath.  Many people rest by putting the gravel all the way back down on the ground, but that seems to waste a lot of unnecessary energy since you have to bend all the way over to drop the bucket and then lifting it off of the ground is much more difficult than lifting it off of your thigh.

At the top of the hill, it was flat, so I was sure to rest before the top and then after the flat part.  I knew that if I rested at the flat part, I wouldn’t have a hill to position my right leg on in order to rest the bucket on my thigh.

I expected the downhill to be more difficult, but that was not the case.  The downhill was definitely easier, but I was still very careful with my steps.  Parts of the hill were very steep and had quite a bit of spilled gravel.  I didn’t want to risk falling and dumping out my gravel since I would then have to start from the beginning.

Rope Climb

I’ve still never been able to climb the rope in the race.  Usually, the ropes are over water.  This time, the ropes were over foam mats.  And for the first time, I am able to climb a rope at the gym.  However, this obstacle was the last one in the entire race.  My body was entirely drained, especially from the gravel bucket carry which I had just completed.  I hopped onto the rope and although I thought that I might be able to get up partway, I could tell that my arms just didn’t have the strength to get me all the way up and back down without just falling.  I opted for the burpees.  Again.

Here’s a nice video that someone took of all of the obstacles:


Results

I finished in 5 hours and 3 minutes, which placed me 9th in my age group (out of 280 females ages 24-29).

I was 27th out of all 1374 females.

AJ and I both finished at the same time, so we were 299th out of 4,200 total competitors in the open division.  Not too bad!

18199565_10100100507814780_7179804860776221210_n


Women’s Clothing:

Tops: I like to wear a sports bra with an athletic tank top.  I avoid cotton, t-shirts, and loose-fitting tank tops since they become heavy when wet.  Some girls just wear a sports bra, but I don’t want my stomach and back to get cut while crawling over walls and under barbed wire.

Bottoms: I wear spandex shorts, or capris with long socks.  If it’s around 55 degrees or warmer, I’ll go for shorts because I don’t like to feel too hot while racing.  If it’s chillier, I’ll wear the capris.  I opt to just wear the spandex without underwear so that there are fewer layers of fabric, but that’s a personal preference.

I used to wear shorter socks for my first few races, but then at the Beast in Vermont, I cut up my heels pretty badly since my socks were too low.  That was pretty painful.  I was running at last 10/17 miles with bleeding ankles.  They especially hurt when I had to do the rope traverse obstacle, dragging my bleeding heels across the rope.

10710775_786801517740_3391339105368188830_n

Those were my bleeding ankles in Vermont.  Ever since then, I remember to wear tall socks to avoid that unnecessary pain.

I tend to get blisters on my toes when I run, especially if my feet are wet, so I wear Injinji toe socks:

849182

Shoes: I always use trail shoes because of the grip.  These are similar to the ones I have:

I noticed that there were a lot of people slipping on the wall that we had to climb holding onto a rope.  We went from water straight to this wall, so it was pretty wet.  Thanks to the grip on my sneakers, I didn’t slip at all.  Most of the people who slipped had sneakers with flat soles that might work for running, but not obstacle racing.

Hydration pack: I prefer to race without a hydration pack, but I learned that it is almost essential on the beast.  In Vermont, there were times when I was so thirsty that I considered asking a complete stranger for a sip of their straw.

I have a small Camelbak.  It’s called a mini-mule and it’s actually a child’s size, but I found that the adult ones were larger than I wanted when I went to buy one a few years ago.  This is mine:

Even better than the fact that it held water was the pockets in the Camelbak.  I brought 8 GU gels to the race: 4 for AJ and 4 for me.  We ended up having 3 each.  In the past, I have stored my GU gels in my sports bra, but sometimes I end up with cuts between my breasts as a result.  It was nice to just keep them in the pocket of the Camelbak.

I also kept our headlamps in another pocket.  We didn’t need the headlamps in the end, but we had them as a precaution because you get kicked off of the race if you don’t have a headlamp after the sun begins setting.


 

 

After the Race:

Upon finishing, they give you your medal, a banana, and a protein bar.  Then you can grab your T-shirt.  I was happy that the T-shirts were specifically for the Spartan Beast this year.  In 2014, all of the shirts were exactly the same, regardless of whether you ran the Sprint, Super, Beast, or Ultra.  I have 4 of the exact same T-shirt since I ran 4 races that year.

18157005_10100100508014380_1791599681376253255_n
T-shirt, headband, and finisher’s medal

 

I tried to walk around a little bit after the race because I knew that my legs would tighten up once I sat down.  I was pretty dirty, so I rinsed off some of the dirt before getting on the shuttle back to our parking lot.

18157955_10100100507879650_5066540600074565699_n
Dirty face after the race

After the two-hour car ride home, my legs were super stiff.  AJ and I were both super tired and sore, so we just went out to get dinner and then had a lazy evening.  Sunday was another lazy day.  They suggest running a slow, short jog the day after the race, but my legs were already so sore that I don’t think that I could have gone for a jog.

If I had, maybe that would have helped my sore legs.  I’m not really too sure.  I can’t even describe the pain I felt with each step.  It felt as though my quads and calves had been torn apart and were unable to support my legs.

Stairs were my absolute enemy.  I have had sore legs after running full marathons, but I think that I was more sore from this race than from the marathons.  My right knee was locking up every time I stepped because my muscles just weren’t firing accurately.

We were finished with the race around 3pm on Saturday.  Sunday and Monday were the most painful days in terms of my sore legs.  Tuesday was still pretty rough.  Wednesday I was almost walking normally.  Thursday was normal other than steps.  Finally on Friday I could walk up and down steps normally (though there was still some soreness).

After the race, I had rolled out AJ’s legs, but mine were already so sore that I told him that I didn’t want it.  Maybe it would have helped.

I was also really sore in my inner arm.  I had bruised it when getting up and over one of the 10-foot walls.  I had an immediate bruise during the race, which just kept getting darker after the race.

18199496_10100100736586320_5803325412599890363_n
Bruised arm

Anyway, I’m really happy about the race overall.  I wish I could have avoided my shoulder injury so that I could have performed better at some of the obstacles that require mainly upper body strength, but I guess that is what next year is for.

Here’s another medal to add to my race rack:

18157772_10100100508069270_1618383544097680753_n

Until next time, AROO!

18157567_10100100507949510_7054268024918287714_n

2017 USMC Educator Workshop

Tuesday:

On Tuesday, I was picked up at 4am (along with a coworker of mine) by a Marine recruiter and driven to Newark airport to hop on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia, and then another plane to Savannah, Georgia.  We then boarded a bus with other educators from the state of New Jersey and headed to our hotel in Beaufort, South Carolina.

This was the first leg of our journey to the United States Marine Corps 2017 Educator Workshop and we had no idea what to expect.

We were given no itinerary.  Our short packing list included just four items: sunscreen, bug spray, comfortable clothes, and a business casual outfit.

Some of us (like me) had watched a fewYouTube videos from previous educator workshops, so we had some vague expectations.  My roommate and I knew that we would be yelled at, but we didn’t know when that would happen.  As we rode the bus to the hotel, we just held our breath in anticipation of when the yelling would begin.

Upon arriving at the hotel, the Marines were all very kind to us.  We checked in and had free time until dinner, so I went for a run to see some of the area.

When we piled back onto the white buses to head to Parris Island for the first time for dinner, we were again nervous, waiting for the yelling to begin.  We eventually realized that none of that would happen until Wednesday morning.  So much worrying for no reason.

8
Entrance to Parris Island

One group of educators (28 of us) was from Recruiting Station (RS) New Jersey and the other group was from RS Pennsylvania (30 of them).  We had dinner together, along with some of the Marines.  We were able to ask any questions that we had while enjoying our meal together.

9
Dinner on Tuesday night

After dinner, they told us to expect Thursday to be the physically active day.  For Wednesday, they just made it clear that we would experience the wrath of the drill instructors.  Uh oh.

We rode the bus back to the hotel.  I went swimming in the hotel pool, and then hit the sack early since breakfast would be from 5-6am the next morning.

13
Pool time!

Wednesday:

After an early breakfast we loaded onto the buses toward Parris Island.  Immediately upon arriving, a female drill instructor boarded the bus and started screaming at us.

14
Ready to find out what day two holds for me

She ordered us to get off of the bus and run onto the yellow footprints, leaving no empty spaces between the members of our “platoon.”  Even though we knew that we were not actual Marine recruits, the drill instructors were still quite terrifying.  The yellow footprints are a significant tradition at Parris Island.  Every new recruit steps onto these footprints upon arriving, which means that every Marine who has ever lived has stood either on the footprints in Parris Island, South Carolina, or those in San Diego, California.  (Recruits from the east of the Mississippi River head to Parris Island while those west of the Mississippi head to San Diego.)

The first thing we did was head into the first building that the new recruits would enter.  We each sat in a small metal desk while we learned about the intake procedures.  Each recruit gets just one phone call home to let their families know that they have arrived safely.  They get three attempts and if they are unable to reach a loved one, they will try again each day until they are able to relay the message of their safety.  After that, there is no contact with anyone from home (other than letters) until the day before graduation (12 weeks later).

16

After learning about the intake, we asked some questions and were then released back into the hands of the drill instructors.  For RS New Jersey, we had Staff Sergeant King and boy, was she intimidating.

“Roust that march!”  “Ay, ma’am!”

“Sprint!”  “Sprint, ay, ma’am!”

“STOPPPP!”  “Stop, ay ma’am!”

She had us lining up in formation, sprinting forward, then turning around to run back to the footprints to line up again.  Every time she spoke, we had to scream a response.  If it took too long to get back into formation, we ran another sprint.  If someone didn’t scream the response loud enough, we would run another sprint.  If someone scratched their face, we would run again.  “Did I tell you to scratch your face?” “No, ma’am!”

IMG_5251

We also had to learn how to count off.  So after she yelled some commands, we would kneel down one at a time while calling out our number.  There were 28 of us, so whenever the last person said “28,” all of us would yell, “28, done ma’am!”  Unfortunately, people kept messing up with the counting and kneeling and yelling back commands, so we went up and down a ton of times.  All of us had sore legs and butts the next day.

23

Then she had us run into the pit.  It’s a box of dirty, sand flea-filled sand where the drill instructors command the recruits to go through a series of exercises: running in place, running in place with arms lifted and high knees, push-ups, crunches, mountain climbers, you name it.

18

We were probably only in the pit for 5-10 minutes, but we were exhausted.  People were dripping with sweat.  Thanks to the combination of sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray, the sand/dirt from the pit stuck to any exposed skin.

19
My dirty arm

“I need to text my wife and tell her how I don’t know what to expect for the physical day if this is the non-physical day,” said one of the teachers who was regretting his decision to wear jeans on Wednesday.

We then went into one of the barracks to hear from more drill instructors and to ask questions.  Most people were hesitant to ask questions around the drill instructors since they were so intimidating when they were yelling at us.

20

Later, we went into an auditorium, where we would be learning more about the Marines.  They explained that we had 5 minutes to “make a head call” if we “desperately” needed it.  They use the term “head” to refer to the bathrooms.

I opted not to go to the bathroom since I wasn’t desperate, but then I was soon nervous, wondering when they would offer another head call.  I quickly learned to try to go to the bathroom any time they offered it since we never really knew how many hours it would be until we had another chance.

During the presentation, I learned so much about the Marines that I previously had no knowledge of.  We heard about the qualifications and how 71% of current high school students are ineligible, for a variety of reasons which may include:

-drug history

-incidents with the police/law

-tattoo placement

-medications

-health issues

-low ASVAB scores

-lack of a high school diploma

I had no idea how tough it was to get into the Marines.

We also heard from a woman who explained the educational benefits of the Montgomery GI Bill and the 9/11 GI bill.  And we heard from a man who told us about the musicians who are in the Marines and the requirements to enter that program.  I had never considered mentioning that as an option to some of my students who are musically inclined, but there are some Marines who are responsible for playing in their bands at various celebrations, ceremonies, and other gatherings.

After that, we had lunch.  We got to eat with some of the Marine recruits.  It was really nice to be able to speak with them and to ask them questions about their experiences.  The Marine who was sitting across the table from me had finished his Crucible a few days prior.  He had received his ring and his new uniform and he was very excited to graduate on Friday.  His girlfriend’s graduation occurred three days after he started boot camp, so we hadn’t seen her in about six months.  He was clearly proud of their accomplishments, yet very humble at the same time.

33

After lunch we went to learn how to shoot the M16 rifles.  First, we tried it indoors on the virtual version.  The gun was much heavier than I expected.  The Marine who was helping me asked me if I was a lefty or righty.  I told him that I wasn’t sure since I do some things lefty, others righty, and I’ve never held a gun before.

He then asked me which eye is my dominant eye.”  “Um…I don’t know that either.”

So he told me to squint.  Because I immediately shut my right eye, he said that meant that my left eye was my dominant eye.  Learn something new every day.

Then it was time to practice shooting the target on the screen.  The gun was pretty heavy and my right shoulder is a little bit injured right now, so I took my 3 shots and then gladly put down the gun to pass it off to the next person.

After everyone practiced shooting, we went to the firing range.  We learned about safety and then each of us was able to take a turn shooting the real M16.  We had the option to shoot standing, kneeling, or prone (laying down).  I opted to shoot prone so that I didn’t have to worry about my shoulder and lifting the heavy gun.

We each got to fire 10 shots.  There were targets placed in the field anywhere from 100-500 meters away.  The first shot I took was a miss, but after that, I did really well, hitting the next shots on targets between 100 and 300 meters away.  Once I tried the 400 and 500 meter targets, I missed again.

28
Shooting the M16
29
Shooting the M16

Most people were really excited to fire the rifles.  I’m not really interested in guns, so although I was happy that I performed well, I don’t really feel the need to ever shoot a gun again.  We were in a competition between RS New Jersey and RS Pennsylvania to see who could get the most hits.  RS Pennsylvania won.

We left the firing range and then headed over to the pool to learn about the swim test.  We heard from the MCIWS (Marine Corps Instructors of Water Survival) team.  For many recruits, this is the scariest part of boot camp since they don’t know how to swim and may have never had the opportunity to try to swim before.

34

They said that if a recruit cannot swim physically, that is an easy fix since they just teach them flotation techniques.  What is more difficult to overcome is those who cannot swim psychologically because of their fear of the water.  If a recruit is unable to pass the test after multiple attempts, he or she will not be able to become a Marine.

The recruits don’t really need to know how to swim well.  It’s more about survival than actual swimming.  They have to be able to float for a certain amount of time while treading water.  They have to be able to remove their gear in the water.  They learn how to tie off their pant legs and inflate them with air as a makeshift life vest.  It’s not like they are training them to swim laps.

They told us the story of a Marine who fell off of a ship and nobody noticed when it happened.  He ended up floating in the middle of the ocean for over two days, surviving as a result of his Marine training and because he was able to inflate his pants to use for flotation.

Then they let us watch instructors go through the tests that the recruits experience.

39

They also showed us some extra games that the MCIWS instructors do together to try to push themselves and to have a little fun.  One guy took two 35-lb kettle bells, jumped into the water, walked all the way across the bottom of the pool and then back to the other side in just one breath.40

After that, we drove the buses over to the aviation part of Parris Island.  We heard from some Marines who work on the fighter jets (mainly the F18).  They also told us about the new F35.  Two of the pilots also spoke to us and then they brought us outside to look at the jets.

46.jpg
One of the pilots with an F18

They let us put on a helmet and climb the ladder to look into the F18, but we weren’t allowed to take any pictures up there.

47

After that, we went to have dinner.  It was a crazy long day, with every minute accounted for.  By dinner, I was pretty tired and REALLY hungry.  Luckily there was delicious eggplant lasagna as one of the buffet options for dinner.

Many of the teachers wanted a drink, so they were excited to learn that we could go to the officer’s club for drinks.  I was tired (and I don’t drink), so I was just ready to get back to the hotel and go to bed.

Thursday:

On Thursday morning, we again had breakfast from 5-6am and loaded up on the buses.  I was simultaneously excited and nervous for the day’s activities since I knew that it was our physical day.

First, we got to see the Marines who would be graduating the following morning as they took their motivation run.  This was their last workout before graduation and also the first time their families would see them.  Since there are so many Marines and they all look very similar, most families probably couldn’t pick out their son or daughter, but the energy was vibrant.

54
Motivation run

We took a group picture and then we went to the visitors center.  I had a chance to speak to the chaplain, which was interesting.  She said that they have quite a few conversions because some of the new recruits end up finding their faith as a result of trying to cope with the difficulties that accompany boot camp.  She said that she would be performing seven baptisms later that day.

IMG_5354

After that, we went to the Marine museum.  Then it was time to go to the obstacle course.  I was excited for the obstacles since I would be running the Spartan Beast soon after heading back to Jersey.

The first obstacle was a series of logs across other logs.  You had to jump on the first horizontal log, then up to the next, and finally up to the third, before bear hugging it, rolling over, and jumping down.  This is what it looked like:

17972362_1495846200467528_1181882220764941668_o

Then, we had to run and jump onto this rope and swing across the gravel area:

17879996_1495846500467498_7588320115294675831_o

Then there was an inverted wall.  Here, one of the Marines is helping me to get my leg over:

17917590_1495846217134193_6714107715754152961_o

There were also monkey bars and then this balancing log obstacle:

17973747_1495846657134149_5033161091520194030_o

After the obstacles, we had lunch with more Marine recruits.  Then it was time for the 50 foot rappel tower.  I’m not scared of heights, so I wasn’t as scared as many of the other people in our group, but the tower definitely looked pretty tall.

First, they taught us how to tie the knots for our harness.  The Marines checked to make sure that each of us had tied the harnesses properly and then we walked up the steps to the top of the tower.

I stayed close to the front of the line because I didn’t want to have to wait too long for my turn.  I knew that the longer I waited, the more nervous I would feel.  They ensured us that even if we slipped, we wouldn’t crash down to the ground.  Worst case scenario, we would flip upside down, still attached to the harness.

When it was my turn, I intentionally just stepped backward toward the edge of the ledge, not looking at the ground below me.  I knew that I would be more scared if I saw how far the ground looked.

When the Marine told me to, I slowly leaned back, still not looking down.

18341649_10100101725659210_352328707666382298_n

We were told to keep our legs straight.  If we bent them, we might end up flipping over.  Our left arm was supposed to hold the rope loosely while the right arm was supposed to hold the rope tightly since it was our break hand.  As we let go with the right hand, we would start rappelling down.  The Marines would rappel really quickly, almost running down the wall.  I didn’t want to go that fast, so I never loosened my right hand too much.

71

I slowly made my way down the wall and it was pretty fun.  I’m happy that I went early on because after me, there were a few people who slipped.  I saw at lease three or four people flip upside down.  I would have been absolutely terrified if that had happened to me and I was hanging upside down at the top of the tower.

73

After the tower, we went to the gas chambers.  First, they asked who wore contacts.  I raised my hand.  They said that any of us with contacts would have to close our eyes as we walked through the gas chamber.  Otherwise, we would get these crystals stuck under our contacts and they said it would hurt even worse when they did whatever was necessary to clean them out.

I had an immediate stomachache because I was so nervous about going into the gas chamber without my eyes open.  I had to hold onto the shoulders of the person in front of me.  I tried to hold my breath for as long as I could, but I eventually had to breathe.  I breathed in through my mouth and immediately felt a burning sensation in my throat and lungs.

We were probably only in the gas chamber for a matter of seconds and I probably only took 2-3 breaths while inside, yet all of us were immediately coughing the moment we exited.  People without contacts probably had it worse because their eyes had been open, so they were burning in addition to their noses, throats, and lungs.

77

They told us to walk around to get fresh air.  The gas chamber was pretty painful and the gas wasn’t even on.  They said that it was worse for us because it was such a hot day, so the brick building was hot.  The gas gets stirred up by people walking through it, so even though it wasn’t on full blast, it was still pretty strong.

The Marine recruits enter the gas chamber with gas masks on.  Then they eventually must break the seal, letting the air into their masks in order to get used to training in a chemical situation and not just freaking out.  I can’t imagine how strong the gas must feel when it’s on full blast.

After that, we went to see part of the Crucible, the last event that the recruits have to endure before becoming actual Marines.  It’s a 54-hour culminating event. We got to participate in more obstacles there.  These were team-building obstacles that required everyone to work together in order to accomplish the tasks.

17904453_999510846540_317794641169529218_n

We also got to see the recruits doing some sparring during the Crucible.

From there, we went to a dinner that they were having.  Some of the families of the Marines who would be graduating on Friday were there.  After dinner, we went to a shop that was on the island and then back to our hotel.

My roommate and I went on a 6 mile run with one of the Marines.  The rest of the group had a karaoke night at the hotel bar.

Friday:

Friday morning we had breakfast and then went to the ceremony where they raised the flag.  From there, we went to the graduation ceremony.

90
Graduation ceremony

It was amazing to realize that they have this same ceremony every Friday for a new group of Marines.

Then we went to the auditorium to talk to the General.  We then took pictures with the Marine dog, Legend, and with some of the Marines we had been working with during the workshop.

041717M-PU373193001

IMG_5381
Legend with two of the Marines we had been working with

This woman, staff sergeant King, was the drill instructor for RS New Jersey.  By Friday, she was nice to us and speaking normally, but on Wednesday morning, she was completely terrifying with all of the orders she was yelling at us.

93

We then got some boxed lunches and hopped on the bus for our flights home.  I flew from Savannah to North Carolina and then from North Carolina to New Jersey.  At Newark, I was picked up by my local Marine recruiter and then brought back home.

Overall, the experience was really awesome.  I learned so much about the Marines.  I definitely feel better prepared to give advice to some of my students who may be trying to decide whether the military is right for them.

I actually have a student who just told me this week that he signed up for the Marines and he was asking me questions about my experience at the workshop.  I like the fact that I can now better understand what he should expect in terms of enlisting and eventually heading off to Parris Island for boot camp.

I would definitely encourage any educator, principal, or guidance counselor to attend the Marine Educator Workshop if they have the opportunity.

Dear News Sources, Did You Know that People are Dying in Somalia?

I’ve already written posts previously about American egocentrism (see: American Egocentrism Strikes Again and American Egocentrism – Back at it Again), but it is a constant source of frustration for me.

I have been hearing lately about the desperate situations in which many people in eastern Africa are currently finding themselves due to famine as well as violence.  Most of this information I have come across because I follow the Machine Gun Preacher’s Facebook page after having found myself very interested in his organization, Angels of East Africa, which helps those suffering, after watching the film Machine Gun Preacher with Gerard Butler.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.  The Machine Gun Preacher, Sam Childers, started out by choosing to go to Sudan to rescue children from the LRA and Joseph Kony.  These children were taken from their families, often forced to kill their own parents, and then were trained to kill.

I could go on forever about Sam Childers, but that isn’t the point here.  If I had not been following him on social media, I would have been like one of many Americans who are completely unaware of the current devastation in Africa.

There are also major problems occurring in Syria due to their current civil war.  There are tons of Syrian refugees right now.

There was also a recent situation where 40 or more Somalian refugees headed for Yemen were killed by an air strike.

Many people here in the United States fail to pay attention to the news at all.  However, even those who try to maintain an awareness of the world around them may have missed what is happening in countries like Somalia right now.

Why? Because American news sources are doing a poor job reporting much about it.  Even the world news sources aren’t paying as much attention as they should be.  Here is a look at some recent headlines from the home pages of these news sources from Saturday, March 18th, 2017.

New York Times:

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 1.38.25 PM

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 1.38.36 PM

CNN News:

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 1.36.39 PM

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 1.36.52 PM

BBC News:

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 1.58.02 PM

Al Jazeera:

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 1.42.50 PM.png

Okay, you get the idea.

Out of all of those sources, Al Jazeera was the only one that mentioned the problems in Syria.  The crises in Somalia and Syria are devastating right now.  There are people dying every day.  Yet out of four major news sources, only one of them mentioned it on their home page.  I could have guessed that it wasn’t going to be the American news source.

Now, what would happen if I specifically looked for world news within these same sources? (I skipped Al Jazeera this time since all of their news is world news.)

NY Times world news:

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 1.57.09 PM

 

CNN News world news:

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 2.00.25 PM.png

 

BBC News:

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 1.41.17 PM

Yep, just what I suspected.  Even the world news sections fail to mention the travesties taking place right now in countries like Somalia and Syria.

Yesterday, I was watching Casey Neistat’s video and it gave me some hope that although our news sources do a pitiful job informing Americans about certain problems in the world, maybe other famous people can do the job.  Casey Neistat gained popularity for his YouTube vlogs.  In this video, he mentions a project that his friend, Jerome Jarre (famous on Vine and Snapchat) came up with, with the help of actor Ben Stiller.

Jerome decided to look into what it would take to get a Turkish Airlines flight to be loaded with food to bring  to Somalia to help the many who are starving right now as a result of their famine.  Fortunately, Turkish Airlines agreed to work with them.

Here is the video:

Casey Neistat posted his video yesterday, March 17th.  It is currently March 18th at 2pm and the $1 million goal was not only met, but exceeded:

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 2.11.18 PM.png

That is absolutely incredible.  They were able to raise over one million dollars to help those dying of starvation in less than 24 hours.  As of right now, there were 42,186 donations.  Many of the donations are small amounts.  $5 here, $8 there.  Obviously there were some larger donations as well, but this goes to show how far a small amount of money can go.  It also shows that people do care to aid those in need if they were just aware of the situation and given a way to help.

Why must it take people like a random Vine star to bring awareness to issues like this?  Shouldn’t we already know about these sorts of problems from our news sources?  From our president?

Despite my frustration regarding the media, stories like this give me hope. Maybe the news outlets will cover the story because Casey Niestat and Ben Stiller are involved, which will provide even more awareness about the issues.

I know that it is easy to get wrapped up in our own little circle of friends and family, to only pay attention to local news that affects us directly.  I am guilty of this myself at times.  But we have to remember that even when our problems seem like a major burden, we are blessed to be living in a country in which most of us do not find it difficult to meet our basic needs.

We are rarely, if ever, in a situation where life or death is dependent upon whether or not we are able to find a source of water.  We do not have to hide in the bush while the LRA soldiers come looking to kidnap our children, rape our women, and murder or mutilate the rest of us.  We do not have to fear that the next thunderstorm may decimate our home.  If we get diarrhea, it’s an inconvenience, but not a death sentence.

I am thankful to be an American, but America, I expect more of you.  I know that people are up in arms about some of the things that Donald Trump has been doing lately.  I can assure you that I am not his biggest fan.

But despite all of that, we must remember that at this moment, someone in Somalia is taking his or her last breath, simply because he or she has gone too many days without a bite to eat or a sip of water.

Are the Side Effects of Birth Control Really Worth It?

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

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

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

IUDs

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

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

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

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

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

And then there’s the Pill.

The Pill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of his findings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Natural Family Planning

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Risking Death to Prevent Pregnancy?