Category Archives: love

Uganda Part Two: Amani Baby Cottage

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

Lake Victoria / Nile River

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel and I stuck our feet into the water:

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Then we took a group photo there.

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

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

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

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

Amani Baby Cottage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The preschool children in their school uniforms

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Watching a movie

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

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

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Prayers before snack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yep, I’m holding a baby!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that was my experience in Uganda this summer.

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

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

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

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

Love,

Stephanie


Here is the video for part two of my trip:

Father Larry Richards – Adoration & Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Larry Richards – Confession

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

Wednesday, May 12 – Confession:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

-full knowledge

-full consent

-serious matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Confession lines on Wednesday night

The Most Romantic Love Song?

I was driving home from work the other day and the dj on the radio was introducing the next song by saying that it is the most romantic song.  It’s the song that people should play when spending time with their significant others on Valentine’s Day.
Which song is that, you may ask?  James Arthur’s song, “Say You Won’t Let Go.”
Now I’m not here to rant about the song itself.  I actually like the song.  However, I hope that anyone who listens closely to the lyrics can understand why I absolutely do not believe that it is the most romantic song.
Does it sound nice?  Yes.  If you don’t listen to the first verse, it sounds like a super emotional love song.  But let’s take a closer look.  Here is the video if you don’t know which song I’m referring to: James Arthurt – “Say You Won’t Let Go”
Here are the beginning lyrics:
I met you in the dark, you lit me up
You made me feel as though I was enough
We danced the night away, we drank too much
I held your hair back when
You were throwing up
Then you smiled over your shoulder
For a minute, I was stone-cold sober
I pulled you closer to my chest
And you asked me to stay over
I said, I already told ya
I think that you should get some rest
I knew I loved you then
But you’d never know
‘Cause I played it cool when I was scared of letting go
I know I needed you
But I never showed
But I wanna stay with you until we’re grey and old
Just say you won’t let go

This is the love song of 2017, according to that dj?  Gosh, I hope not.
We danced the night away, we drank too much
I held your hair back when
You were throwing up
They went out dancing, got wasted, and the girl was puking while he held back her hair.  Cute.  Not my idea of the start of any really romantic love song.  Let’s continue.
Then you smiled over your shoulder

For a minute, I was stone-cold sober
I pulled you closer to my chest
And you asked me to stay over
I said, I already told ya
I think that you should get some rest
I knew I loved you then
So he realized that he loved this girl in the middle of her puke fest?  Picture that for a moment.  Two people go out to the club, dance the night away, and drink too much.  They go back to the girl’s apartment.  The guy needs to hold her hair back while she vomits from her binge drinking.  In the middle of all of this, she turns around to look at him over her shoulder.  Her mouth probably still reeks of vomit residue, her eyes are probably red and glassy from alcohol and fatigue.  He’s drunk too, but he feels sober for a moment when he makes eye contact with her.
She wants him to spend the night with her (mind you, all of this is said while under the influence of alcohol).  He says she needs to sleep (clearly, since she’s drunk enough to puke).  But at that moment, he has the epiphany that he is in love.
Aww, the doves may now be released.  What could sound more romantic?  If only I had a similar story to tell.  If only a guy loved me that much.
Sorry for the sarcasm.  But seriously.  Can we put our standards for love a little bit higher than this?  I don’t want someone to fall in love with me while I’m puking due to my bad decisions in drinking too much.  I don’t want someone to realize their love for me only while they’re intoxicated.
Can we not expect more from our relationships?
Sure, the song gets better later on in talking about how the couple will spend their lives together and raise children together, so it’s not just a one night stand.  But still.  It should by no means be considered one of the most romantic love songs.
Let’s write a song about how much we love our significant other because they push us every single day to be the best version of ourselves.  Let’s discuss how we knew it was love when we realized that we wanted to be that person’s partner through not just the fun times and adventures, but the mundane tasks of daily life as well.  We look up to the person for their character and personality, and we feel utter awe and respect for them.  We love them so much that we desire the best for their future, even if that does not necessarily include us beside them.  We are willing to let them go if that is what would be the best for them, but we hope with all our might that that is not the case.
That is the love song that I want to hear.  That is much more romantic than a song about realizing we love someone while they are so drunk that they are getting sick.

Beauty of the Beatitudes

It’s so easy to become engrossed in the news right now, watching Trump’s every move as new president.  So I would rather take some time to reflect on this past Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12, the Beatitudes:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”


Blessed are the poor in spirit.  My 7th grade CCD students were confused about this one.  They thought that “poor in spirit” meant that God was speaking about people who lack faith.  I knew that wasn’t it, but I realized that I was also unsure about the actual meaning by the phrase “poor in spirit.”

I like the way that this verse was explained here:

Blessed are those who realize they are spiritually bankrupt, for this realization turns them to God, without whom they cannot fulfill what they are created to do and be. Much of the rest of the sermon rips away from us the self-delusion that we are capable of acquiring a state of blessedness on our own. It aims to produce in us a genuine poverty of spirit.

What is the practical result of this blessing? If we are poor in spirit, we are able to bring an honest appraisal of ourselves to our work. We don’t inflate our résumé or boast about our position.

Blessed are they who mourn.

He promises to comfort those who are experiencing sorrow.  I know that these words have been a source of encouragement to me in times of struggle and sadness.  I had faith that things would get better and that even if it took a while, God would remain by my side, comforting me through it all.

Blessed are the meek.

The word meek reminds me of someone like Mother Teresa / St. Teresa of Calcutta.  Our society does not view the meek person with high regard.  Our society favors the outgoing, energetic, charismatic personalities.

But with God, that is not the case. It is those who are humble and who do not boast who will inherit the land.

Those who work hard day in and day out without complaint.  Those who volunteer in order to promote good in the world rather than those who volunteer for the acknowledgment and accolades.  They are the ones who deserve to inherit God’s finest gifts.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

These are the people who, although sinners, thirst to lead a holy life.  They acknowledge their shortcomings and failings and try to improve in order to become even more worthy of God’s love.  It is they who will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful.

These are the people who forgive those who have wronged them.  This reminds me of the Dylan Roof case.  After he killed those people who were at the end of a church Bible study, many of the deceased victims’ family members offered kind words of peace and forgiveness.

I can’t imagine how it must feel to have my loved one murdered.  It would be difficult to forgive the assailant.  But that is what many of these people did.

It will be people like that to whom God will show his mercy.  Their kind actions will be remembered when it comes time for their ultimate judgement.

So many people today harbor anger and ill will toward their fellow brothers and sisters.  They hold grudges over inconsequential things that don’t even matter in the grand scheme of life.  They are being called to step back and show some mercy rather than anger and hatred.


Blessed are the clean of heart.

It is the pure who will see God in all of His glory.  When our souls are stained and blemished by sin, we cannot easily see God and His love for us.  We end up dying to our sins and falling away from Him even though he is always there for us.

It is those with pure hearts who have the advantage of seeing God and understanding Him more full than those who are damaged by sin.


Blessed are the peacemakers.

It is they who strive to unite people who will be called children of God rather than those who separate themselves from others.

We are called to live peacefully, being slow to anger, open to forgiveness, and not dwelling on past wrongs.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.

This last part is the section that stands out to me the most.  Blessed are we who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  Blessed are we who ridiculed, insulted, and hated because of our faith in God.  Jesus was persecuted in the worst possible way, ultimately leading to his crucifixion.

We will never experience the full pain that Jesus experienced in dying for our sins, but that is not to say that life will we easy.  If we are truly following God’s will for us and his teachings, we will not always have the popular opinion.  We may find ourself the minority in some situations.  We may find people who dislike us simply because we call ourselves Christians.  The path of following God isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

Rejoice.  That’s a pretty significant word to use there.  We must not just accept these insults, but rejoice in them.  We must take joy in this persecution.  That’s difficult advice to follow.  Sometimes our path in following Christ becomes difficult.  People think that we’re crazy.  People hate us.  People utter false lies against us and the Catholic Church in general.

It is during these times when we must rejoice, with confidence that we are following the truth and doing what is right in order to achieve eternal salvation one day.

 

So while I, too, am nervous to see what happens with our country over the next few years, the Beatitudes give me a feeling of comfort and hope in the future.

 

2016 Year in Review

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

January:

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

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-Annual trip to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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

February:

-The end of my last relationship

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

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

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March:

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

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

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

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

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-My mom’s 60th birthday

April:

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

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May:

-My cousin, Dan, graduated from UConn

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

June:

-I went to senior prom to see my students

-Finished my first year teaching in New Jersey

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

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

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

July:

-Went to Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday party

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-Ran the Belmar five miler

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

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

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

-Went to the sand castle competition in Belmar

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

-I turned 28 in Long Beach Island

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Birthday lunch

August:

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

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-I started riding my bike all around the shore

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Riding my bike through Avon by-the-sea

-Traveled to Nicaragua with Living Water International

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My amazing team

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

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

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The community with their finished well

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

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

September:

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

-Started my second year of teaching in New Jersey

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

-Went to the Philadelphia Zoo with my friend, Adam

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-Went kayaking with my friend, Adam

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October:

-Ran the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

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-Tenth Avenue North concert with my friend, Amanda

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

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-More kayaking with friends

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

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

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-I went swimming in the ocean the day before Halloween

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November:

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

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

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

-Kayaking Shark River with my friend, Kate

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-Home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving

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December:

-Went to see the ice sculptures in Tinton Falls

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Mimicking the ice sculptures

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

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

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-New relationship with AJ on December 11th

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Climbing a tree in the Poconos

-Graham cracker gingerbread house building with AJ

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-Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house

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-Christmas day at my aunt and uncle’s house

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

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

The Need to Humble Ourselves

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

I really like this video by Fr. Mike Schmitz:

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

The Litany of Humility:

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

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

Deliver me, Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Season of Gratitude

I try to always be aware of the importance of gratitude.  It is so easy to focus on the things that we with we could improve in our lives.  This is especially true in our prayer lives.  It’s easy to get caught up in constantly asking God for things.  There is always someone whose health could improve, someone who can use a new job, and many other requests that we have for God.

But we must remember to also thank God for all that He has given us and all of the prayers that He has answered.

With the approach of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season of Advent, it is now the perfect time to focus on gratitude.

So I want to reflect on my year and all that I am grateful for.

-My health – I’ve been doing well with my Lyme disease for a while, finally able to get back into running races again this year

-My family – Since I no longer live close to my family, it makes me even more grateful for the time I get to spend with them during the holidays.  I am thankful that they are only two hours away so that it’s not a difficult task to go home to Connecticut.

-My new friends – I have been so blessed with all of the new people I have met this past year, meeting people at work, at the beach, and in Bible study, and my young adult group.

-My Bible study – It is through this Bible study that I have been able to meet most of these new friends.  I am so grateful to have a group of people who are pushing me to grow in my faith.

-My apartment – I love living so close to the beach.

-The ocean – It keeps me sane on the days when I am stressed out.

-My job. I love teaching high school English so much.

-My students.  I have a really great group of kids this year.

Running

Racing

Biking

-My wet suit from my uncle that now allows me to go kayaking and stand up paddling even when the weather isn’t super warm

-The beach

-Having a roof over my head

-Living in a first world country so that I don’t have to struggle each day to survive

-My love for volunteering

-All of the people I have met through my volunteer opportunities both locally and abroad

-My priests

-My sponsored child, Patience, and his family

-That I have had the chance to meet the Brazilian side of my family, especially my now deceased grandma and grandpa

Desserts

Traveling

Waterfalls

Hiking

-My Catholic faith

Trump is President, For Better or for Worse

I don’t usually like to get too involved in politics, but our country is currently in the midst of a time that will probably go down in the history books.

Wrapping my thoughts around this particular election has been rough.  There were so many reasons I disagreed with Hillary Clinton, and so many others why I disagreed with Donald Trump.

As recently as the night before Election Day, I was still wavering on which way to cast my vote the next morning.

Am I pleased with the outcome?  No.  I’m definitely not dancing for joy, that is for sure. But I wouldn’t be cheering had Hillary won either.

The night of the election, I stayed up until around 10:30 watching the news coverage.  At that point, Trump was in the lead, but they didn’t really know what might happen with the swing states.  It was still anyone’s game.

Upon waking up, I said a prayer for our country.  And before opening my laptop to view the results, I stopped to think about which result I would prefer to see.  I really wasn’t sure.  Since I found so many subpar qualities regarding each candidate’s views, I really didn’t know what I hoped for.

I would describe my feeling upon seeing that Donald Trump had won as a reaction of surprise.  A few years ago, nobody would have thought that this was possible.  A few years ago, people would have laughed off any fortune teller who predicted this outcome.  But it did happen.  This isn’t a dream; this is our new reality.

I work in an urban school district and I could tell yesterday that some of my foreign students had very real concerns about some of their family members.  That was heartbreaking for me to witness.

I have no idea what is going to happen over the course of the next four years.  But I do know that we cannot live in fear.  Many people dislike Trump’s fear-mongering political tactic.  While I agree with them, those same people who condemned him are perpetuating that same fear right now, acting as though the end times have come.

No, I do not believe that Trump, or Hillary, for that matter, is the anti-Christ.

Donald Trump was elected by the American people, for better or for worse.  Half of our country supports him (or just really dislikes Hillary).  No votes need to be recounted.  He won.  I’m aware of the flaws with the popular vote versus the electoral college, but that is something that we know exists and until people fight more for a change with that system, that is the way we go about presidential elections in this country.

If you want to move to Canada, then go.  There are many reasons why I can name multiple countries where I think life could be much better than here in America, even before this election.  So stand by your word and move.

But if you plan to stay here, propagating hatred is NOT the answer.

Am I concerned about the future of our country?  Absolutely.  I’m nervous about the laws regarding the prison system, capital punishment, climate change, gun control, immigration, and national defense.  Had Hillary won, I would have been nervous about right to life issues, religious freedom, and deeply rooted corruption.

But what concerns me more right now is the actions of the American public.

I know you’re upset.  You have a right to feel anger or frustration, but Trump won fair and square, according to American laws.  We cannot become even more divided as a nation.  That is what will cause more problems than the election itself.

Social media is full of people spewing their hatred against each other right now.  Who is that helping?  Okay, you were able to vent, but what other positive end came out of your reactions of anger?

I am at peace with the thought of Donald Trump being the new president because of one thing: God.  I believe with every ounce of my being that God exists.  He is a good and loving God and I know that He is here to protect us.

That is not to say that He does not allow for evil in the world to exist, but living in fear goes against Christian teachings:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” -John 14:27

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make our requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:6-7

“Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you, and uphold you with my right hand of justice.” -Isaiah 41:10

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.” -Mark 6:36

And there are many more verses just like those.  If we live in fear, we are denying our faith in God to some extent.  Obviously, we’re human.  Fear still always exists.  I’ll be the first to admit that I definitely have my own fears, both with regards to the election as well as other fears that I encounter in my day to day life. But if we make ourselves aware of those fears, we can come to understand that they bear no fruit.

I cannot waste my time being afraid of the tomorrow that has not yet arrived.  I need to live for today.  I need to live in a way that shows that I am trying to follow Christ.  Wallowing in sorrow and fear about the election does not show anyone that I have full faith in God.

 

Remember, also, to be thankful that you live in a country in which the president is not a dictator and that he does not have absolute power.

Consider Obama’s presidency for a moment.  Do you remember all of the laws that he was unable to pass because of the party system?  Do you remember how the Republicans blocked so many bills?  Do you not think that the opposite will be true for Donald Trump?

I am aware that the president has a great deal of power, but we still have the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court.  That remains the same.

So today, I urge those of you who are afraid of tomorrow to turn to God rather than reading your friends’ Facebook posts and Tweets about how Trump is going to destroy our nation.  Sure, he may makes choices that you don’t agree with, but fearing that right now isn’t going to change anything.

Right now, this is what I urge you to do:

Love. Spread your love to everyone you encounter.  God calls us to love everyone, not just our friends, but those who persecute us, our enemies, even.  If you view Trump as your enemy, then pray for him.

Right now, that is what our country needs.  We need love and respect and we need to set aside the fear of tomorrow because our fears and worries do not change anything.

Love your neighbors.  Love Trump supporters.  Love Hillary supporters.  Love everyone you encounter and that is how we can find a better tomorrow.

 

God is so Good

I’ve been wanting to write a blog regarding my recent joy and gratitude for a while, but because I’ve been so busy (doing a bunch of awesome things), I just haven’t had the time.  So here are some of the things that have been taking up my time:

Bible Study

I am so incredibly thankful for the new amazing Catholics that I have met in my area, mainly as a result of attempting to start a Catholic young adult group here.  Through that, I met a great new friend and through her, I learned about a Bible study that meets each week.

Basically, we meet at a different person’s house most Thursdays for dinner and Bible study.  We share a meal and then study the Bible together.  The first time I was invited, it was a group of 6 or 7 of us.  This was some time in July.  I thought that these people had been close friends for years.  Only weeks later did I find out that their Bible study had started recently and some of them didn’t really know much about each other at all.

Since then, our numbers have continued growing.  Now we also have once a month Thursday holy hours, holding them at a different church each time.  I had been praying to find local Catholic friends basically from the moment I graduated from Franciscan University in December 2009.  It took a while, but I am currently so blessed in that I have met so many amazing passionately Catholic young adults.  And what is crazy to think about is that I didn’t know any of these people before June.  Most I’ve only known since July or August.  It’s interesting how quickly life can change in such dramatic ways.

This past Thursday, I hosted Bible study in my apartment.  We had 15 people there.  It was a little tight since I have a small apartment, but that was a great problem to have.  We just keep growing and meeting more amazing Catholics who desire to grow in their faith.

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Bible study

Kayaking

I lived here for almost a full year before getting to use my kayaks.  It was tricky getting my ocean kayak to the beach by myself.  There is also a river where I can kayak, but I can’t get either kayak on my car alone.

Toward the end of the summer, I used my kayak twice in the ocean.  Then I figured out how to get both of them to the river by putting one in my trunk and one on my roof rack.  I’ve gone kayaking there 4 or 5 times since September with two of my friends.

I love living in a place where I can walk a few feet and be at the ocean or drive a few blocks and be at the bay.  (They call it a river, but to me it seems to be a bay since it’s connected to the ocean.  I don’t know).  It’s pretty awesome.

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Kayaking Shark River

It’s also great that I have a job where I can finish a full day of work, be home by 3, and still get a few good hours of kayaking before it starts to get chilly.  It has been a nice autumn because the weather has been pretty warm even into November.

Here’s a quick video of getting to see the train while kayaking and also seeing the drawbridge:

Tenth Avenue North concert

I went to this concert back in October and it was just amazing.  They are my favorite Christian band and I had never seen them live before.  It was just what I needed at the end of a great, but long week.

This is my video of compiled video clips from the concert:

I am so happy that my friend Amanda invited me because I would have never known about the concert if it hadn’t been for her.  She is another friend who I met as a result of trying to start the area young adult group with my church.

At the concert, the lead singer for Tenth Avenue North talked about Compassion International, which is the organization I found in order to sign up to sponsor Patience, my sponsored child in Rwanda.

I know from my own experiences in meeting Patience back in August 2015 in Rwanda that Compassion International seems to be doing great things across the world, but hearing even more accounts about it solidified my view of the organization.

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With my sponsored child, Patience, in Rwanda

What is great about Compassion is that they don’t bring in Americans to do the work overseas.  Rather, they use local churches and hire people within each country to oversee the program.  In some places where other sponsorship organizations were denied the opportunity to work in some dangerous areas, Compassion is allowed since they are based out of churches  that already exist in the community.

Catholic Underground

For Catholic Underground, a group of us from our Bible study drove up to NYC.  The church we went to for adoration was completely packed.  They had confession and praise and worship music during adoration and then there was live music downstairs afterwards.  It was an awesome experience, and great to get to know some of the people from my Bible study a little bit better through the long car rides.  I am so thankful for all of these new friends, even though I have only known them since this past summer.

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Some of the people from our Bible study at Catholic underground

I’m also excited about Catholic Underground because I met a guy from Connecticut there who also has an interest in overseas volunteering.  Through him, I might be able to find a connection to Catholic volunteer organizations to potentially serve with in the future.

The beach

It’s so simple, but I just love the beach so much.  I never expected this fall to be so warm that I could continue swimming so late into the year, but I’ve been lucky.  Maybe it’s a sign of global climate change, but for now I’ll just be thankful for the many beach days I’ve had since the end of the summer.

I’ve gone out for many morning beach walks, looking for beach glass and seashells.

I was even able to go swimming the day before Halloween!

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And THEN there was a whale at the beach on a few separate occasions.  Most recently, though, the whale was really close to the shore and it was feeding, so it kept leaping out of the water.  It was so incredibly exciting.

There is a person who lives in a house that overlooks the ocean and early last Saturday, I saw that he posted a live video of a whale.  I could tell it was right by my house.  I was still wearing pajamas, so I pulled on some leggings, threw on a jacket, grabbed my camera, and ran outside.

It was incredible.  The whale stayed in the general area for over an hour.

The picture below is just amazing.  I didn’t take it, but I did see the whale doing that multiple times.  The picture was taken by the guy who lives in the house right by the beach.

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Who needs to pay for a whale watch when you live right by the ocean and can watch them swimming on a random Saturday at 9am?

Here is my video of the whale:

Atlantic City Marathon

Although I’m not completely satisfied with my result since I had an injured achilles tendon and subsequently didn’t beat my previous marathon time of 4:20 (I finished this one in 4:29), I’m happy that I have gotten my health back to a place where I’m even able to attempt (and finish) a marathon in the first place.

When I first moved to New Jersey, I was pretty healthy, but then I quickly started experiencing my Lyme symptoms again.

Last February I started going to hot yoga and that has helped a lot.  Last March I started running again for the first time after almost a year off.  In that  year I did go running, but never enough to actually train for any races.

I also found that I love yoga…something that I had never expected.  I always looked at yoga as glorified stretching, but it’s definitely more than that.

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Backyard yoga practice

I think that yoga helped me to get back into running.  It also seemed to make me faster.  I ran a 10k in May in Sandy Hook, a half marathon in June in Connecticut, a five mile race in July in Belmar, a relay race across the state of New Jersey in August, a half marathon in Sandy Hook in October, and a full marathon in Atlantic City in October.  I had a full year off from running, completing no races at all in 2015 and then I was able to compete in 6 races in 2016.

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Now that I finished the marathon, I have to take a few weeks off from running to rest and heal my achilles.  I know that I would have done better if it hadn’t been for the injury, so I need to make sure that I don’t get back into running too quickly only to re-injure it.


I’m so incredibly thankful for my faith.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes I wish I learned about my faith about an older age.  But right now, I’m so at peace with my life in general and I think that a huge part of that has to do with my faith.

I know that God has a plan for me.

It’s really interesting because it’s the first time I’ve been single in five years.  I’ve been single now since February.  Back when I was in my last two relationships, I really thought that I was happy…especially in my more recent relationship.

Was I happy?  Sure.  But now I feel so much more peace and joy.

I have never been the type of person who needed a relationship to give me confidence in myself, but at the same time,  I liked being in relationships.  They were comfortable.  As a person who likes routine, I liked knowing what to expect each weekend.

But I realize now that both of these relationships were holding me back.  Yes, I was Catholic, and my exes were Catholics as well, but I wasn’t being pushed to grow in my faith.  I was remaining static.

Upon finding myself single last February, I started focusing more on God.  When I prayed, I kept getting the same message.  “Wait.”  Through the entire spring, I just kept doing just that.  Summer arrived and I was still without local friends.  I was still just trying to follow His advice, but it was hard.

I turned to God and running to maintain some sanity.

And then, without even realizing it at the time, things started changing.  I started to meet new people who have turned into new friends.  I found out about Bible study, which has led to many other events.  I found out about the race across the state which led to other new friendships.

Here I am now in November.  I’ve been single for almost exactly 9 months.  And I feel so incredibly joyful.  I feel like my life is exactly where it needs to be right now.

I am healthy.  I am running and going to yoga.  I have awesome students this year at my job and I’m getting to teach the AP class that I love so much again.  I’m living by the beach going for walks, bike rides, and kayaking.  I just got a stand up paddle board this week.  I have amazing friends and Bible study.  God is a main focus in my life right now, and I just feel so blessed.

I didn’t know how to word this post because I know that other people are facing more struggles than I am right now, so I don’t want to sound like everything is sunshine and rainbows.  But at the same time, I can’t contain my gratitude.

I literally drove to work this week with a smile on my face, just thinking about the place I am right now in my life in general.

So if you’re a person who isn’t yet in a good place, you need to turn to God first.  None of my happiness found me until I left it in God’s hands, waiting for things to fall into place.  I was on my knees in tears at adoration.  I was at Stations of the Cross on Friday nights with no other plans for the upcoming weekends.  I was at Mass by myself each Sunday just praying and trying to be patient.

Things do get better.  It may not be according to our own timeline.  God’s timing may not be what we want.  But I don’t think that the joy I feel now would be the same if I hadn’t had the difficult times last winter and spring.  I needed that to now see the dramatic shift that my life has taken.

I don’t know where things will go from here.  But I am content in my belief that God has good plans for me.  He is in charge of my life and I am trying my best to make choices that reflect His will for me.

And right now, it all seems to be working out.  I am joyful, I am thankful, I am blessed.