Tag Archives: Bible

God’s Perfect Love Story

It’s amazing how much life can change over the course of one year and how God’s plans are far superior to our own plans.

Back in October of 2016, I was finally feeling joy again after a rough start to that year.  I was thankful for my apartment right by the beach, for my career as a high school English teacher, and for my Bible study, which I had found just a few months back.

Everything was going well.  While out for a run with my friend, Gabriella, I had commented to her about how I was really content with my life.  She immediately replied, “You know what that means, don’t you?”  She explained how I would probably find a new relationship since I wasn’t actively seeking one.  I laughed and shrugged it off.

But as the weeks passed, I found myself drawn to AJ every time we would meet at our weekly Thursday night Bible study.

The first time I met AJ at Bible study, I actually had him pegged as a dumb jock.  He speaks somewhat slowly, so I just pictured the stereotypical attractive football player who has little intelligence.  I didn’t even know his name.  His friend, Sway, introduced him as “Gaines,” so it actually took me a few weeks of Bible study before I learned that his name was AJ…and months before I knew that his actual name was Alan.  

How wrong I turned out to be with my dumb jock assumptions.  Once he opened his mouth about the Scriptures, I knew that he had a phenomenal knowledge of the Bible.

As weeks passed, I noticed how similar we were, primarily how we both had to work at finding a balance between our careers, our workouts, and our faith journeys.  I was impressed when AJ told me about the commitment that he made to God, promising that he would not work out for more time in any given day than he had spent in prayer.  That blew me away.  

After previous failed relationships, I had started to doubt that I would ever find a guy who was quite as interested in his faith as I was.  And yet here I was, feeling completely humbled by AJ.  I knew that in all of my marathon training, there were many days when I had run for two or three hours, but I definitely had not also spent two or three hours in prayer with God.  I actually felt intimidated by AJ and his faith, even unworthy at times, not thinking that I was holy enough to push him further in his faith journey.

I started looking forward to Bible study even more than I previously had, always hoping to be in AJ’s group when we would split up, or trying to sit near him during dinner.  However, AJ seemed to be a lot younger than me.  I didn’t really know his background, but I knew that he was studying for his physical therapy boards after having recently graduated from college.  I assumed that he was around 22 years old.  I was 28 at the time, so I viewed him as the cute guy at Bible study who I had a bit of a crush on, knowing that nothing would ever come of it.

Wrong, once again.

Yes, he had only recently graduated from college, but that’s because he was earning his doctorate for physical therapy.  Once I learned that and knew that he was only four years younger than me, I was even more interested in him.

On October 8th, I went to Catholic Underground in New York City with some of my friends from Bible study.  AJ was just a few weeks away from his boards for physical therapy, so he was studying during the drive up to NYC.  I was sitting next to him in the back seat, quizzing him on his notes and also chatting about life to him and the rest of our group.

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During adoration, I noticed that he took out his phone.  Initially, I totally judged him, wondering what could be so important that he would look at his phone during adoration.  Then I realized that he was actually looking up the words to the Hillsong United song, “Touch the Sky,” which was being played.  And then I I noticed how he was singing aloud — something that isn’t that common among the Catholic men I see at any given Sunday Mass.

At the end of the night, I told AI that I would pray for his boards and he told me that he would pray for my upcoming marathon.  It turned out that these significant events were both happening during the same week: my marathon on October 23rd and his exam on October 27th.

We didn’t talk much outside of Bible study at that point because we didn’t even have each other’s numbers.  He sent me a private message on Slack, the app our Bible study uses to inform everyone about our events.  He said that he hoped that my race went well (but he was a little early, so I thanked him and explained the actual date of my race), and I promised him that I would pray for his exam.

I always try to pray for people when they need me to, but often I forget to pray at the exact right moment when their test or other significant event is happening.  Not this time.  I couldn’t believe how many times I thought of AJ and his exam on October 27th.  Even while I was at work, I kept thinking about the test and how he was doing, saying a little prayer every time I remembered.

October 27th was a Thursday, so we had Bible study that night.  He came late since he was busy that day, but I remember feeling so excited to see him since I had prayed for his test so much that day.  We didn’t really get to talk, but I was so hopeful that he would pass.

The following Thursday, November 3rd, I hosted Bible study at my apartment.  It turned out that a larger group than normal was available that night, so we faced a good problem: too many people here for Bible study.  I made penne a la vodka with chicken and squished 15 of us into my living room.

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It was a very warm fall last year, so I was always looking for people to come kayaking with me.  I posted an open invitation on Slack, but I did secretly hope that AJ might take me up on my offer for anyone to join me for kayaking.  He responded that he was interested, so we exchanged numbers, waiting for a nice day to kayak.
Before we actually had time to go kayaking, my friend, Kate, invited a bunch of us to go to a bar crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for the Covenant House on November 5th.  I don’t drink at all, so a bar crawl was not very high on my list of desired things to do, but I was excited that I would get to spend time with Kate and Gabriella, and I was hoping that AJ might come as well.  Gabriella and I planned to bike to Asbury, so I was excited to at least have fun with her and Kate.

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In the end, the bar crawl was great.  AJ and I talked here and there throughout the day, but we also spent time talking to other friends.  I was able to catch up with some of my teammates from a relay race that we had completed in August.  

Then we got to the last bar, Johnny Mac’s, and some of the bar crawl crew had gone home for the night.  There was an outdoor bar that had these huge heaters blasting (it was November in New Jersey, after all), but nobody wanted to sit directly under the heaters because it was so hot.  Well, I quickly learned that both AJ and I love being hot.  We sat at the bar under those heaters for a long time, just chatting and getting to know each other.  I knew for sure at that point that I was interested in him, and I was hoping that the feelings were mutual, but I really wasn’t sure.  I’ve always been pretty terrible at knowing when guys are interested in me.

Soon after that night, we were started hanging out together pretty often, since I was free every afternoon after work and AJ hadn’t yet gotten hired as a physical therapist since he was waiting on his license to come in the mail.  It also helped that I had extra days off from work for teacher convention.

I’m so thankful for this time that we had because if he had already had a job when we first met, we never would have been able to hang out.  God’s perfect timing was definitely at work.

On Tuesday, November 8th, AJ and I got to go kayaking on Shark River when I got out of work.  We kayaked and talked and had a really good time.  The following day, Wednesday, we went to see the movie Hacksaw Ridge.  I remember texting Gabriella about it, unsure whether or not it was a date, not knowing whether I should pay for my own ticket or not.  In the end, he planned to get to the theater before me to get the tickets, so I just figured he would get the tickets.  But then we both showed up at exactly the same time, so when the cashier called him up, I just let him purchase both of our tickets.  He told me later on that he did not intend the movies to be a date, but he realized that I may have thought that when I let him pay.  Regardless, it was a great movie.  

On Thursday, we had a young adult Mass at my church, followed by fellowship at a local bar, Anchor Tavern.  

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Because I was one of the people organizing the event, I didn’t have time to talk to AJ because I had to walk over to Anchor Tavern first to make sure that the reserved tables had been set up for us.

I sat at a table, just hoping that AJ would end up near me.  That event had a great turnout, with over 20 of us at the bar and many more who attended the Mass.  AJ did, in fact, sit near me.  This time, I really felt like he was interested in me, even though I was still a bit unclear on the whole situation.  

The next day, Friday, we went hiking at Hartshorne Park in Atlantic Highlands.  Unfortunately, AJ didn’t have his own car at this point.  He had to borrow his brother’s car, so we were only able to hike for a short time before he needed to return the car.

Then on Saturday, a group of us from Bible study were driving to the campus ministry house at Rider University to film this video.  That was the fifth consecutive day that AJ and I had been together.

Some time during that week I had talked to Gabriella, completely unsure whether or not he was interested in me.  I felt like he had to be since we were spending so much time together, but at the same time, he would always just say goodbye when he left, not really hugging me goodbye or anything.

The following week, we went kayaking again on Wednesday, November 16th.  At one point, though, he mentioned a friend who may have been interested in someone else at Bible study and he said how he didn’t want Bible study to become a singles group.  When he said that, I was really confused.  Did he direct that towards me, trying to show me that we were just buddies and that no relationship would come out of all of our hang-outs?  Or did he just mean that he didn’t want his friend to come to Bible study with the sole purpose of finding at mate?  I was extremely confused.

On Thursday, we had Bible study Friendsgiving.  I had to arrive late since it was the same night as parent-teacher conferences, but I was glad that I got to at least come to part of it.

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Then on Friday, we had a holy half hour in Freehold, followed by fellowship at Moore’s Tavern.  It was pretty loud in the bar that night, so it was difficult to talk to people.  Every time AJ tried to talk to me, he put his hand on my back to pull me closer to him so that we could hear each other.  I remember how tingly his touch felt every time he put his hand on the small of my back.

We talked about Spartan races and I told him about one that I was planning to sign up for.  He was interested and said that he was going to look into signing up for the same race.  He said that he could help me to increase my strength and I could help him to get back into a running routine.  He reminded me that Spartan training came with one stipulation — that he would not work out for more hours a day than he spent in prayer or at church.  I thought that was incredible.

He also invited me to go to a party that his parents were throwing for him the following weekend to celebrate his graduation and passing the boards.  Later on, I asked Gabriella if she had been invited.  When she said no, I was pretty confident that he had invited me because he was interested in me.

The following weekend, on Saturday, November 20th, we helped Kate deliver Thanksgiving baskets to families in need.  Then AJ and I went to Twin Lights in Highlands, before hiking for a really long time again at Hartshorne.  It was absolutely one of the most fun days that I had ever had.  We had so much fun doing such ridiculous things and making up silly games.  We ran through the reeds, played hide and seek, climbed fallen trees, played balancing games, Simon Says, you name it.

Then we created a game where one of us would close our eyes and the other person would try to lead us through the woods.  We were in a really thick part of the woods, so it was relatively difficult to navigate alone, let alone helping another person.  It was hilarious and we had a great time.

We were there for hours, ultimately hiking five and a half miles (partially because we thought we were going in a loop, but when we got to a dead end, we had to go back the entire way).

Afterward, we were starving for dinner, but we were both filthy from hours of hiking.  It was Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, so we ended up going to Mr. Shrimp for dinner, despite our filth.  Dinner was also hilarious because we kept finding random leaves and branches stuck to our clothing or in our hair.  My diary entry on that day says, “It was such a blast,  I have a feeling he’s going to end up being my next boyfriend but I still want to wait for him to take the lead.  I guess we shall see what happens.”

The following Saturday, November 27th, was his graduation party at his house.  I was a little bit nervous since I had never met his family or friends, and I only knew three people who were going to be there.  It was really fun though.  

During the bonfire, somehow the topic of blood diamonds came up and AJ said how he never wanted to buy a diamond.  I was absolutely blown away.  He was the first person I had ever met who even knew about blood diamonds.  I had been saying for years that I never wanted to own a diamond.  There were just so many things that AJ and I had in common — even our distaste for diamonds.

Later, people started leaving, but he asked if our friends, Sway and Denielle, wanted to stay so that the four of us could play some games, so we played Blokus and Scattergories.  Eventually, Sway and Denielle were also leaving and I really wanted to stay to talk to AJ for a bit since we hadn’t been able to talk much during his party, but it was already getting late.  Fortunately, AJ felt the same exact way.  He has a dog named Bolt who is very mean to most people other than his immediate family.  Knowing my love for dogs, though, he asked if I wanted him to introduce me to his dog.  Of course I excitedly agreed.

I guess I’m a pet whisperer or something, because Bolt was initially scared, but let me pet him.  Eventually, he came right up to me, licking my hand and everything.  AJ couldn’t believe it because Bolt is usually so mean to everyone he encounters.  

AJ and I ended up talking on his couch for hours, before he finally kissed me for the first time.  It’s funny looking back, because I felt like we had been hanging out for such a long time before he kissed me, but really the first time we had hung out together without other friends from Bible study was November 8th, so it was only about three weeks later.  I think it felt like more time than that since there were many times when we hung out for four or five days in a row.

I don’t usually kiss guys who I’m not in a relationship with, but I remember being happy that he kissed me.  He made it clear that we were dating and not seeing other people.  But he wasn’t officially my boyfriend just yet.

We signed up for the Spartan Beast in April.  Looking back, I’m really surprised that I did that because we could have realized that we weren’t right for each other between November and April.  It could have made the race really awkward, but everything worked out just fine.

I can’t remember exactly how long we ended up hanging out and talking that night, but it was really late.  I think I only left his house around 5am, which is a big deal for me since I am not typically a night person.

After that night, we continued hanging out, volunteering, running, working out, and playing games together.

One night we went to look at the ice sculptures in Neptune before walking around Belmar to look at all of the Christmas lights.  We decided to take silly pictures imitating the sculptures.

Everything we did together was an absolute blast.  At this point, I started telling one of my coworkers about him and she said she’d wager that we would be engaged in 6 to 9 months.  I disagreed since we weren’t yet an official couple, but she just told me to wait and see.  It’s funny now, looking back on that conversation, because she had us pegged from the start.

In early December, AJ was hired as a physical therapist, so his life started to get really busy.  I am so thankful for all of the time that we had during the month of November because I didn’t realize how much that was about to change.

On the weekend of December 10th, one of our friends was having a birthday weekend celebration in the Poconos.  I only knew Sway from Bible study, but he had been AJ’s friend for years.  AJ invited me to come with a group of their friends to the Poconos.  I was initially really nervous about going since I didn’t really know their group of friends yet and I wasn’t sure about the sleeping situation.  I didn’t want to have to share a bed with AJ, but I wasn’t sure how much space there would be for everyone.  I also didn’t know how much drinking would be involved, since I am not interested in alcohol at all and I really hate being around drunk people.

In the end, the weekend was a ton of fun and I’m really glad that I went.  I got to know AJ’s friends better, go hiking in the Poconos, go swimming in the pool, and enjoy time with AJ before his life got super busy with work.

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The first night, we slept on the kitchen floor in sleeping bags, but we were talking for such a long time that we looked at the clock at one point and realized that it was 6am.  Oops!  That day we went hiking for hours and I can’t believe that we even had the energy, considering our lack of sleep.

The second night, on December 11th, AJ made it official that I was his girlfriend.  I’m really happy how everything turned out.  I like the fact that we we met in Bible study and got to know each other through our discussions of the Scriptures, rather than on awkward first dates.  There was never a time that I was trying to act a certain way to impress him.  He even heard me talk about things I would rather have him not know about, like some conversations I had about previous relationships.  Initially, I didn’t expect to end up with AJ at all, so I didn’t really care what I talked about when I was at Bible study or with that group of friends, and I think the same was true for him.  We got to know the other person in an open, prayerful environment, which ended up being perfect.

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We never really had a first date because initially we were hanging out kayaking and hiking, but it never really felt like a date.  We were just friends.  Then everything just developed into a relationship with the passing of time.

Fast forward a bit and now we are engaged, set to get married in August 2018.  It’s amazing all that has happened in the past year and I am so thankful that God allowed my path to cross AJ’s path.  We only had a short window of time to find each other between the start of Bible study and the start of AJ’s physical therapy job.

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As I had become older and experienced more failed experiences, I think I had grown a bit cynical about relationships.  I expected to have to settle a bit, never expecting to find someone who was quite as faithful or adventurous as me.  I didn’t think I would find someone who has a passion for mission trips and volunteering.  I didn’t really believe that God had that perfect love story in my cards.  Boy, was I wrong.

Right now next year, I will be married to the most amazing man I know.  I am excited that I will get to call him my husband and that he will call me his wife.  Our short life on earth should be lived with one goal in mind: heaven.  There is nobody I would rather have beside me during that journey, pushing me to grow in holiness each and every day.

 

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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.

 

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.

Catholics with Tattoos?

I am a practicing Roman Catholic.  I also happen to have two tattoos.

The first one, I got when I was 22 years old, after graduating from college.  I had wanted this particular tattoo since I was 16 years old.  I had sketched it when I was 16.  I made small changes after that, but the basic idea had lasted throughout all of college.

My mom was against the idea since she doesn’t like tattoos, but I never changed my mind.  She told me that she would no longer help to with my college tuition if I got a tattoo, so I waited.

After graduating, my uncle told me that his graduation gift to me would be a tattoo.  He also wanted one and his wife didn’t like the idea.  So I drove to their house in South Jersey and we both got our tattoos in 2010.

I was curious about the pain factor, but it really wasn’t that bad, considering the fact that the tattoo took over three hours to complete.  Here is the finished product:

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It’s a cross with a thorny vine around it, representing Jesus’ crown of thorns, and a rose in the center.  Around the cross, it reads “cruce, dum spiro, fido,” which is Latin and translates to “while I breathe, I trust the cross.”

I chose to get it on my side because I wanted a tattoo in a place where my students would never be able to see it, since I am a teacher.

I originally thought about getting it between my shoulder blades, but I also didn’t want a tattoo to ever be visible while in a wedding gown.  Also, if it was on my back, I would never be able to see it.

They say that tattoos are addictive.  I don’t know whether I fully agree with that, but two years later, I decided to get another, smaller tattoo.  This one I thought about for a considerably shorter amount of time, but I am really happy with it.

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This one is a heart with the Bible verse in the middle of it.  That verse reads:

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” -1 Corinthians 13:1-3

To me, this one is meaningful because it’s something that I want to always remember — that ultimately, everything comes down to love.  Sure, I can go volunteer any time, but if I don’t do it with love, it’s meaningless.  If I go to help someone only because of my own selfish desires and the things that I will gain from it, it’s useless.

The same is true of my faith.  I should be able to share my faith, with love, to anyone I encounter.  They should be able to see Christ through my actions.

For me, both of these tattoos have significant meaning.

But I am aware that there are people who believe that it is a sin to get tattoos.  They quote Leviticus, or the verse from Corinthians about our bodies being a temple of God.

I don’t believe that I will go to hell because of my tattoos.  Does God like that I have them?  I don’t know.  But I don’t find them sinful.

Sometimes people will ask me what they mean when they see me on the beach and I end up having interesting conversations with them, whether they believe in God or not.  Many people have asked me what the Latin means and what the Corinthians verse is about.

I didn’t get the tattoos for the purpose of evangelization, but they actually tend to work in that respect at times because of the conversations that they bring about.

This morning, I was watching a YouTube video from Father Mike Schmitz from Ascension Presents.  I really like his take on tattoos.

He, too, does not believe that they are necessarily sinful, though he says that the location and the tattoo itself could potentially change that (i.e. tattoos that are provocative, or show worship to things aside from God).

He also says that we should live our lives in a way that people can tell that we have faith in Jesus Christ without getting confirmation from our tattoos.  I agree with that also.  I have my tattoos because I like them, I wanted them, and they have a significant meaning for me.  However, I know that they are usually not visible to those around me.  And even if they are, I want my actions and my words to be what ultimately shows my faith in God.

If you’re interested, here is the video:

 

Laying Down My Life

Last night I went with four friends to Catholic Underground in New York City.  It was my first time at Catholic Underground.  There are hundreds of young adults (in addition to people of all ages who are there to worship Jesus.  It is simply amazing.

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Catholic Underground NYC

First is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  During adoration, there are a bunch of priests hearing confessions.  They sing the night prayer and then they turn down the lights while singing some praise and worship music.  After adoration, they have music downstairs in the basement of the church, with different performers each month.  While the music is playing, people share in fellowship, meeting new people, and finding old friends.  I was excited to run into a friend from college who is now a sister, which I hadn’t even realized.  It was so nice to see her again after so many years.

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My friend from college

So the main song they sang last night was Hillsong United’s “Touch the Sky.”  I had not heard this song until last night, but the lyrics really struck me.  Today when I woke up, I had the song stuck in my head, so I looked up the video on YouTube and I watched it on repeat a few times, tears streaming down my cheeks.  These weren’t tears of sadness but rather tears of awe in realizing all of the blessings I have received from God in the past few months.

Here is the video if you aren’t familiar with the song:

Last night, this part of the lyrics kept being repeated while we prayed at adoration:

My heart, beating

My soul, breathing

I found my life, when I laid it down

Upward, falling

Spirit, soaring

I touch the sky, when my knees hit the ground

The line in particular that resonates with me is this: “I found my life, when I laid it down.”  I always try to remember to ask for God’s will when I pray for the desires of my heart.  Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether I am following my own path or the path that God wants me to follow.  But I also believe that the things that I want the most, in the depths of my heart, must be things that God also wants for me.  Not passing wants like material items, but the things that I yearn for in the depths of my soul…I believe that God placed those yearnings there because He wants them for me as well.

It had been my desire to move to New Jersey for years, since high school or possibly even middle school.  I was so excited to finally move here last September.  I had wanted to live here for so long, and it was great in the beginning, but then when my boyfriend broke up with me in February, I was a mess.  My Lyme was acting up.  My job was stressful.  Things seemed to be falling apart.  I started wondering if my move was a big mistake.

I began doubting myself and my trust in God, wondering if maybe things weren’t working out because it had been my desire to move here and not His.  But now that months have passed, I can see how His plan was unfolding all around me while I was completely oblivious.

I didn’t move here because of my boyfriend, but he definitely made the transition a lot less frightening.  I knew him, his family, and his friends.  I knew which towns I liked, which schools I might enjoy working in.  I was relatively familiar with the area.  We were both confident that our relationship was headed toward marriage.

So February tore me apart.  I had envisioned us together forever, without a doubt in my mind.  Suddenly all of my plans for the future were discarded.  I was left alone, without a single friend in the area.

I was lonely.  I didn’t understand what God wanted from me, but I focused on Him as much as I could.  I was on my knees in adoration, crying, not understanding His plan.  It was lent, so I was at Stations of the Cross every Friday.  I was reading the Bible and devotionals.  I was coming closer to Him than I had been in a while.

Eventually, through a small Catholic young adult group, I met someone who I now consider to be one of my closest friends.  During my loneliness, I really just longed for a friend.  I dated a little bit, but I didn’t really want to jump back into another relationship after having been in 2 long-term relationships back to back, which accounted for the past five years of my life.

It required me losing everyone around me to find this new friend, and I bet that if I had still been in a relationship with my ex-boyfriend, I may have never ventured out to the young adult group.  I may have never met her because I had been spending most of my free time with him.

So my friend (her name is Gabriella) invited me to her Bible study.  Through this Bible study, I have met even more Catholic friends in the area.  Some I am closer to than others, so I was excited when Gabriella invited me to Catholic Underground last night because we would be carpooling with three other members of the Bible study who I didn’t really know too well.

The five of us drove to NYC, talking, praying, and learning about each other on the way.

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The five of us from Bible study at Catholic Underground

During adoration, I thought about myself just a year ago.  At the time, I thought that I was happy.  I was with a guy I was positive I would marry.  But that relationship wasn’t truly fulfilling the desires of my heart when I really think about it.  We went to church together, but we never prayed together or went to Catholic events together.  We didn’t really talk about God all too often.

Then I thought about my sadness back in February, without any friends in the area.  I felt like life was just ruined.  I hated the weekends.  During the work week, I was busy, but weekends would come and I had exactly zero plans.

Now I consider this weekend.  On Friday night, I went to a Tenth Avenue North concert with one of my new friends from my young adult group.  Yesterday I went to Catholic Underground with four friends from Bible study.  Myself back in February would have never believed me if I had told her to just keep waiting and praying and that everything would get better.

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My friend and I at Friday night’s Tenth Avenue North Concert

Last night I realized that although I didn’t intentionally lay down my life for Christ, as the lyrics in that song mention, it is what happened unintentionally after my breakup.  I had nothing but my faith.  I was falling to my knees in adoration (“I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground.”) and slowly I started to meet people.  My breakup was in February and I don’t think I met Gabriella until around June, so it took a little while for things to start falling into place.  I needed that time to myself to focus all of my energy on the Lord.

Today I am so incredibly grateful of the way everything has happened.  I now can’t imagine life without these new friends.  We meet every week on Thursday evenings for Bible study.  We have a young adult holy hour once a month.  This past Thursday there were 12 of us at Bible study.  12 young adults eating dinner together, reading the Bible together, providing advice and a listening ear to each other, laughing together, and simply sharing time with one another.  I feel so incredibly blessed.

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This past Thursday’s Bible study group

Last night all of this really hit me because it’s so easy, like mentioned in today’s Gospel (Luke 17:11-19), to forget to thank God for all that He has given us.  It is easy for me to turn to Him when I am brokenhearted, sick, or dealing with the loss of loved ones.  He is my go-to when I am struggling.  But I sometimes forget to look back in thanksgiving to see everything that he has bestowed upon me.

I am now confident that my move to New Jersey was by no means a mistake.  Instead, it was a leap of faith that has now enabled me to grow so much in my friendships and in my faith.  I had to lay down my former life.  I had to move away from the people I knew in Connecticut.  I had to be left single and friendless.  I had to seek God with all of my heart, and slowly but surely, joy has reentered my life, and for that I am incredibly grateful.  God is so good and His plan for our lives, if we listen to Him and pray to follow His will, is more glorious than we could ever imagine.

“I found my life, when I laid it down.”

The Loneliness of Following the Lord

Jeremiah 15:10-21 reads as follows:

Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth! A man of strife and contention all the land!  I neither borrow now lend, yet all curse me.

Tell me, Lord, have I not served you for their good?  Have I not interceded with you in the time of misfortune and anguish?  You know I have.

Remember me, Lord, visit me, and avenge me on my persecutors.  Because of your long-suffering banish me not; know that for you I have borne insult. 

When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart, because I bore your name, O Lord, God of hosts.

I did not sit celebrating in the circle of merrymakers; under the weight of your hand I sat alone because you filled me with indignation.

Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?…

For I am with you to deliver and rescue you, says the Lord.  I will free you from the hand of the wicked and rescue you from the grasp of the violent.

This was today’s reading at morning Mass today.  I’m not sure if it gives me more comfort in knowing that I’m not alone, or frustration in realizing that this could be what I face throughout the entirety of my earthly life.

I love my faith, but gosh it’s hard at times.

Am I being too picky when it comes to friends?  I don’t think so, since I’d rather not be around the people my age whose main goal is to get wasted every weekend.  But then when I have weeks that lie ahead of me without any social plans at all, I second guess myself.

I know I made the choice to move away from my family.  I’m happy to be living by the ocean.  And it’s not like I have tons of friends in Connecticut anyway.  But the quiet eventually gets to me, despite my introverted personality.

I will go a full day without speaking and then when I finally do speak, like I did today when I called my mom, my voice sounds raspy, like I just woke up from a nap.  No, I’m not sick.  I just don’t use my voice since I spend my days at the beach and exercising, alone.

I can’t really complain.  I’m healthy.  I live by the beach.  I’m working out.  But at the end of the day, every single day, all I come home to is an empty apartment, without a friend to tell about my day’s adventures or misfortunes.

I know God is there.  I know that He has a plan for me that is better than the life I could dream up for myself.  But these times of solitude can take their toll.  I feel like Jeremiah right now, frustrated because I feel like I’m doing everything that I should be doing to focus on God, yet I’m still finding myself so alone.  I’m going to morning Mass, reading the Bible, praying a novena, reading the daily readings on my phone app, praying before bed, and I’m so happy about my spiritual growth this summer.

I know that Jesus suffered so much more than any of my current loneliness.  I feel ungrateful, but that still doesn’t change the loneliness.

Sorry for the depressing post.  Tomorrow will be a better day.

28 Things I’ve Learned in 28 Years

With my 28th birthday taking place tomorrow, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the things I have learned thus far in life.  So, in light of turning 28 years old, here goes…

1. It doesn’t matter what people think.

I don’t really care what people think about most of the choices that I make in my life, but that is something that hasn’t always been true.

My middle school and high school self definitely cared what people thought of me, but once you remove that weight off of your shoulders, it really sets you free to become who you want to become and to do what you love.

I will continue to be myself, whether or not people like it.

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2. God must always remain my top priority.

When I am feeling depressed, lonely, or in pain, it’s so easy to turn to God in prayer.  But it’s also easy to forget about Him when things are going well rather than praising Him in thanksgiving.

Just like friendships will fade, family is not perfect either.  But God is my perfect father who has been by my side through every obstacle.

He is my main focus, since Heaven is my goal.  He is the source of all joy.  He has to come before everything else in my life – money, friends, relationships, work…everything.

Without Him, I am nothing.

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Christ the Redeemer with my sister in Rio de Janeiro

3. Family will be there during the toughest times.

Friendships sometimes weaken, relationships end, and once that happens, it is family who will be there to support me no matter what, even if they don’t necessarily agree with my decisions.

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My mom’s side of the family

4. True friends are people who lift you up and who push you to become the best version of yourself.

I don’t need to have tons of acquaintances.  I would rather have a few solid friendships, and those true friends are people who will push me to become better and to make positive choices in my life.

A true friend will be honest with me and let me know when I may be making a bad decision.  She will let me know that the guy I’m interested in might not be the best choice for me.  She will support me during the tough times and she will be there to laugh with me through life’s adventures.

A friend is not someone who I need to prove myself to; rather, a true friend will love me for me.

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With Lizzy in NYC

5. Exercise should be a priority.

Now that I’ve endured a 9-year continuing battle with Lyme disease, I’ve tried many different treatment options.  But when it comes down to it, exercise seems to be the best remedy, at least for me.  I did the antibiotics (doxycycline, tetracycline, ceftin, biaxin, and mepron).  I cut nightshades from my diet (tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, eggplant).  I used herbal supplements (fish oil, resveratrol, andrographis, cat’s claw, astragalus, garlic, B-12).

And I absolutely believe that a combination approach will always work the best for Lyme.  However, exercise would have to be my top choice.  When I run, I feel free.  It removes any sadness or stress.  It strengthens my body.  In order to maintain my health as well as my sanity, I need to exercise on a regular basis.

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Running the Hartford Marathon

6. Yoga is much more than glorified stretching.

I don’t know why yoga always had such a negative connotation in my mind.  I thought it looked boring and easy.  But now that I’ve been going to hot yoga since February, I’ve come to love it.

It has strengthened my body, increased my flexibility, decreased my stress and tension, and made me a faster runner.  And it’s definitely not easy.

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7. Dessert is absolutely acceptable.

I eat healthy and I pay attention to the foods I put into my body.  I try to eat as much organic produce as I can, I opt for grass-fed beef, and I avoid farm-raised fish.  But I am against dieting and tight food restrictions since they usually don’t work anyway.

So while I eat healthy most of the time, I won’t give up desserts.  I have a sweet tooth and it’s not something that I’m trying to lose.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat massive, decadent desserts every day.  Sometimes my dessert consists of 6 Reese’s Pieces or two Starbursts.  But still, I love dessert and I don’t plan on changing that.

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Mint chocolate chip Freak Shake

8. Material objects do not provide lasting happiness.

I’m not a very materialistic person, so this is something that I’ve always known, but it amazes me how many people my age still seem to believe that new car or computer will cause them great happiness.

I don’t own designer clothes.  With the cost of one designer blouse, I can instead buy at least four shirts at cheaper stores.  I don’t think I’m any less happy because of it.

I’ve never had a new car.  I prefer used.  Then, if it gets some scratches, I don’t really care, since it already had some to start with.

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My first car (used Plymouth Grand Voyager from my grandpa) and my second and current car (used Honda Civic)

9. Financial stability is nice, but wealth is unnecessary.

Do I seek to be poor? Of course not.  I am happy that I am financially stable, but wealth is not my goal.

I want to be able to provide for myself in terms of the things that I need in life, but I don’t need to buy that beach house or that Maserati to consider myself successful.

If I one day have a family, I hope that my husband and I can provide a level of stability without spoiling our children.  I want to be able to do the things that I need to do, but I don’t want to be so wealthy that I forget what it is like to struggle.

10. A yearly vacation is necessary.

So many people never go on vacation.  Others go once every few years.  For me, yearly vacation (or vacations even more often than that) are an essential part of life.

That doesn’t mean I have to shell out thousands of dollars to fly to Hawaii, Fiji, or Cabo.  I’d be happy with a week down the shore, a weekend getaway, a trip to see Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon.

Growing up, my mom never had much money, but vacation was always a priority.  She saved all  year so that we could go to Long Beach Island for one or two weeks and for that I am grateful.  Everyone needs time to hit reset, time to forget about work and problems at home and simply relax.

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Long Beach Island, New Jersey

11. Volunteering benefits the volunteer as much as the people being served.

I love traveling overseas on mission trips and serving the poor of the world.  But what is always amazing to me is how I end up being served, how I end up learning so much from the people I think I am going to help.

The Rwandans I met last summer were the happiest people, yet the poorest I’ve ever met.  They had nothing.  Some of them lived in one-room homes that were constructed from mud.  They had torn clothes.  One pot to cook with.  But their smiles could light up the room and their prayer was incredibly heartfelt. They worshipped God through their song and dance like nothing I’ve ever seen in America.  I was humbled to meet them.

Everyone should participate in some sort of community service.  It doesn’t need to be overseas; it can be down the road at the soup kitchen, or helping out with Habitat for Humanity.

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With my sponsored child, Patience, in Rwanda

12. A simple smile can brighten one’s day.

I try to be friendly and welcoming to everyone I come into contact with.  I say hello or wave to people I pass on my runs.  I care to hear the answer when I ask the supermarket cashier how her day is going.  I smile.  A lot.

Just like that famous quote about how we never know who may be falling in love with our smile, we also don’t know what obstacles the people we encounter on a day to day basis are facing.  Our smile might seem insignificant, but it could be what lifts a person’s spirits and makes them feel loved.

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13. Love is powerful.

I have a tattoo from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.  This verse reads: “If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophesy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have the faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Love is what it all comes down to.  If you volunteer only to convince people that you’re a good person, it’s meaningless.  If you help the poor while judging them and looking down upon them, you’re not really helping.  We must do everything with love.

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In La Jolla, California with Amy, Lizzy, and Kara

14. Struggles strengthen and shape us.

Nobody wants to face pain, but it is those moments when we come close to rock bottom that we learn from the most.  It is those times of weakness that build us up.

During the various obstacles that life brings, it’s often difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but looking back, it becomes more clear how each struggle helped us to grow.

15. We must take pride in our work.

I love my job as a teacher and I take a great deal of pride in that.  I wish more people felt the same way about their jobs.

But even if you don’t have your dream job, you should still take pride in it.  I didn’t always have the perfect job.  I was a custodian for two years during college, but I still put forth my full effort.  I vacuumed every little corner in the library and I washed every smudge off of the windows.  Was it my dream job? No, but I still did it to the best of my ability.

There are custodians in my school who are the most positive, energetic people.  Did they grow up hoping to clean schools for a living?  Probably not, but that’s where they are at the moment and they are carrying out their responsibilities without complaint and with their full effort.

My generation is full of entitled people who think that they deserve that position as CEO with very little work.  They don’t want to accept anything lower than their dream position, but for most people, that dream job won’t ever happen without the stepping stones that lead to it.

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With two of my former students

16. We need to stop judging others, comparing ourselves, and being so critical.

If I spend my time judging someone, I will have no time to love him.

There will always be someone with a better job, prettier face, more toned body.  We live in such a cutthroat world that leads us to compare ourselves to everyone.  I can’t say that I’ve never done this before; we all do.

But this judging just hurts us as well as the people we’re looking down upon.

We don’t know what someone has experienced in his life.  We don’t know why people make the decisions that they do.  We must spend our time loving them rather than critiquing them.

17. We must savor the moment.

We need to be present in the moment, rather than waiting for the future or living in the past.

So many people waste their life away hoping for the future.  The high school student thinks that life will begin after graduation.  The college student is waiting for the “real world” that will open up to him after earning his degree.  The girl who spends her days hoping for her future husband.  The married couple longing to have children.  The older couple waiting for retirement.

Every day is special and we must acknowledge that, rather than wasting our time waiting for what we want next.  Be happy with today.

18. We should strive to remain child-like.

As the Bible says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

As children, we long to become adults.  And sometimes as adults we take life too seriously.

It is not just good, but necessary, at times, to be like children and to have their childlike faith.  We need to step back from our hectic lives to embrace laughter and silliness once in a while.

Children can accept the idea of God and Heaven so much more easily than many adults.  They have that childlike faith that God really wants from each of us.

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19. We must be aware of current events.

I’m not always the best when it comes to this.  Since I don’t have cable, I never see the news, so I have to make a point to look at the news online.  Some days I’m better than others.

I know that the news can make us cynical or frustrated, but we have to make ourselves aware of the world.

And we can’t just focus on America.  We must pay attention to international news as well.

If you have never heard of the Rwandan genocide, you should go do a little research.  If you know nothing about the many recent terrorist attacks, you should spend a few minutes educating yourself.

We can’t give into the “stupid American” stereotype.

20. Experiences are more memorable than tangible objects.

When I think about my experiences in life thus far, these are some of my most memorable moments (and none of them has to do with a tangible object):

-Teaching a group of teachers while volunteering in Haiti

-Trekking with gorillas in Rwanda

-Blowing bubbles while running around with a group of young children in Ecuador

-Hiking up a waterfall with my now brother-in-law in Rio and swimming under one in Brasilia

-Sitting on the hang-gliding platform with my aunt and cousins, enjoying the view of Brazil

-Family trips to Long Beach Island and Myrtle Beach

-Standing in line to get to stand front row at the Eminem/Rihanna concert

-Standing in line to wait for Adam Sandler’s autograph

-Hiking with my dog, Butterscotch, at Tarrywile and Lover’s Leap

-Meeting my sister for the first time at the airport in Rio and meeting my Brazilian grandparents for the first time in Cruzeiro do Sul

I could go on an on, but none of those memories has to do with any tangible object.  They are all experiences that are memorable because of the activities I was taking part in and the people I was spending time with.

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Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

 

21. We can’t let fear stop us from living a fulfilling life.

I grew up terrified of airplanes.  I told my mom that I would honeymoon at the Jersey Shore because I had no need to travel if a flight was required.

But ever since my first flight during my trip to the Dominican Republic with my mom during my senior year of high school, I have learned how this silly fear of airplanes would have stopped me from experiencing so many places like Ecuador, San Diego, Brazil, Haiti, Rwanda, Texas, and Nicaragua (in a few weeks).

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

22. We ladies with curly hair need to embrace it.

I used to despise my curly hair.  Although it’s not as curly now as it was when I was young, it’s still quite curly.  Although I would still love to have naturally straight hair, I have learned how to maintain my curls and how to make them look better by using mousse.

So many girls with curly or wavy hair straighten it every single day, but that just ruins the health of their hair.  So will I still straighten it occasionally?  Sure.  But most of the time, I now embrace the curls that I was born with.

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23. We must never stop learning.

I might be going into my 7th year of teaching, but there is still so much for me to learn.  We must never become satisfied with our current level of knowledge, as there is so much to know in this world.

Not only do I want to learn more about the best teaching methods, but I also want to become fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, two languages that I can understand and speak (Spanish more than Portuguese), but not fluently.

My mom started college when I was in high school.  She graduated with her associate’s degree when I graduated with my bachelor’s.  She graduated with her bachelor’s when I earned my master’s degree.  There is no age that is too old to keep learning.

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Mom’s graduation from WCSU the day after mine for my M.S.

24. Jumping pictures never get old.

I love them.  I take them everywhere.  I may be 28 years old, but I have no shame.

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With Amy in Coronado, California

25. We shouldn’t always take ourselves too seriously.

Life is meant to be enjoyed.  Sometimes, we need to just let ourselves loose and be silly.  We can’t be so rigid that we forget to enjoy the simple moments.

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With my cousins in Frost Valley, NY

26. Cousins are the friends we get to keep for life.

I love my cousins so much and I have so much fun with all of them.  I started off just knowing my two cousins on my mom’s side, but then as aunts and uncles started to get married, I got so many more.  And then I met my family in Brazil, along with even more cousins.

I’ll probably always be closest to my two cousins, Doug and Dan, on my mom’s side, since we spent so much time together, especially when going on vacations while growing up.  They’re more like the brothers I never had than cousins and I’m blessed to have them in my life.

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With Doug and Dan on Christmas Eve

27. Dogs truly are man’s best friend.

I love dogs and I miss Butterscotch so much, even though he hasn’t been with my for two full years now.

And rescued dogs are the best, since you can save them from previously rough lives.

I had so much fun walking him, hiking with him, and just cuddling up next to him on the couch while watching a good movie.

He licked my tears off of my cheeks when I cried.  He could tell when I was not feeling well.  He was with me for ten years and he was such an important part of my life during that time.

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The day I adopted Butterscotch for my sweet sixteen

28. Laughter is the best medicine.

I love laughing.  I laugh all of the time.

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Words versus Pictures

I recently watched the film Words and Pictures. Basically, it’s a battle between a high school English teacher and a high school art teacher. The English teacher contends that words are more significant and effective than pictures. The art teacher stands by the cliche that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

As an English teacher myself, and having previously considered becoming an art teacher, I found the topic quite interesting. In my AP Language class, although we obviously focus on language, we also analyze the arguments of various visual texts (posters, advertisements, commercials, music videos, etc.).

Most people can agree that words and pictures are both significant, especially when paired together. But if you had to choose, which would it be? Words or pictures?

WORDS:

-“A picture can tell a thousand words, but a few words can change its story.” –Sebastyne Young

-“The book is a film that takes place in the mind of the reader. That’s why we go to the movies and say, Oh, the book is better.” – anonymous

-“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” –Rudyard Kipling

-“We live and breathe words.” –Cassandra Clare

-“Which one of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?” –Cornelia Funke

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PICTURES:

-“A picture is worth a thousand words.” – anonymous

-“Words can be twisted into any shape. Promises can be made to lull the heart and seduce the soul. In the final analysis, words mean nothing. They are labels we give things in an effort to wrap our puny little brains around their underlying natures, when ninety-nine percent of the time the totality of the reality is an entirely different beast. The wisest man is the silent one. Examine his actions. Judge him by them.” –Karen Marie Moning

-“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” –Marc Riboud

-“I never read. I just look at pictures.” –Andy Warhol

-“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” – Ansel Adams

-“Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” –Walt Disney

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I love writing. I am much more easily able to convey my feelings by writing them down rather than expressing them verbally, or through facial expressions and gestures. But sometimes there’s something that I feel or experience that is simply incapable of being expressed through this sort of description. Sometimes I can’t truly describe my deepest emotions. But could a picture? I guess that’s the whole question.

There are many paintings that can cause viewers to truly feel the emotions that the artist was experiencing. The same is true of many photographs. When viewing pictures of people who are living in third world countries, the image can be absolutely moving, more than if I attempted to simply describe what I was seeing in those pictures. The same is true regarding the ASPCA commercials. I have to turn the channel when those ads come across the screen because they quickly make me feel such sorrow for the abused, malnourished animals. But could a description do the same?

Sometimes, especially when looking at a beautiful landscape or sunset, many of us feel that the picture just doesn’t do it justice. What we can see with our eyes is magnificent compared to the washed out image that comes out in the actual photograph. In this case, I would prefer to hear someone’s description of such a sunset than see an image that is only mediocre.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Sunsets:

Sunset in Long Beach Island, New Jersey
Sunset in Long Beach Island, New Jersey
Another sunset at LBI
Another sunset at LBI

Both of these sunsets are vivid in my memory for the bright colors that were present in each of those moments. Although I like the pictures, they don’t move me. They just don’t do the sunset justice. If I described the sunset through writing, I believe that I would capture the essence more fully. Granted, with a professional camera, I may be able to capture more of the real image as my eye saw it, but sometimes it is only through filters that these professional pictures look so perfect. Sometimes what we are seeing never actually existed before the digital enhancements. So does that mean that we’re left with these 2 choices for photographs?:

A) An image that just doesn’t look as remarkable as the original

or B) An image that does look remarkable, thanks to filters and photoshopping

Children:

I don’t believe that I could describe any of these pictures well enough to do them justice. Yes, I could tell you the situations surrounding the pictures, and maybe that would make them more effective, but would they still be moving without the images? That’s for you to decide.

A boy in Ecuador
A boy in Ecuador

#1 – Ecuador – While visiting a very small village in the middle of the Ecuadorian jungle, we were sitting in the main room coloring with the children while the nurses and doctors worked in the clinic. There was a boy who did not speak much, but he was transfixed by my water bottle. We learned through the doctors that most of the Ecuadorians were dehydrated. They drank only three small glasses of water or tea each day, despite the humid, hot weather. This little boy was probably around four years old. His tanned skin glistened with sweat. His dark brown eyes stared up at me while his smile lit up his round face while he reached for my water bottle. Because many of the villagers had parasites, I could not allow him to take a sip from my bottle, but he just kept smiling at me and trying to take the bottle because he was so thirsty. His lips glistened with moisture, as if he was salivating just contemplating the water he was about to drink to quench his thirst.

Cruzeiro do Sul, Acre, Brasil
Cruzeiro do Sul, Acre, Brasil

#2 – Brazil – My Uncle Cezar took me out on the Rio Croa on Christmas Eve two years ago. We stopped at a few small villages set alongside the river. One of the villages had a few children who were intrigued by us ‘gringas’ who had suddenly appeared. One girl in particular was very inquisitive. She sat on the edge of the porch of her small wooden home, positioning herself behind a wooden pillar, almost as if to hide herself from us. Her small, dirty feet curled under her. I could tell when I took her picture that she wanted to smile, but she didn’t know if I could be trusted. She wanted to take some time to watch us and decide for herself whether or not she could relax around us.

Boys outside an orphanage in Haiti
Boys outside an orphanage in Haiti

#3 – Haiti – These boys were sitting outside of an orphanage I visited while in Haiti. This day was especially sunny and brutally hot, so they were not interested in playing in the field or on the basketball court any longer. Probably due to the extreme circumstances they had lived through, they had built up some walls around themselves, not wanting to let just anyone in. One of the boys, who had been a bit rowdy while playing basketball, stared at me with doubt in his eyes. I could tell he wanted to put on a tough facade despite his pink converse sneakers. These were probably the only shoes in his size when the orphanage went through the duffel bag full of shoe donations.

I’m sure some famous authors could have written much more detailed descriptions, but the question remains — if you could only choose one, would you want the picture without the background story/description, or would you choose the words without the picture? If I was an outside viewer, would I prefer to know more details, or would I be content to look at the images out of context?

Nature:

In terms of the following pictures, I don’t feel that any of them fully capture the beauty of the places presented.

Whale Watch - Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Whale Watch – Cape Cod, Massachusetts

During the whale watch, I didn’t want to waste too much time with my eye behind my camera, not actually witnessing the beauty that was right in front of me. The sheer size of the whales as they lifted their tails out of the water was astounding. But the picture just seems adequate, nothing that special compared to the actual experience. Maybe in this case neither words nor pictures could do justice to the situation; maybe it’s just a “you had to be there” kind of moment.

California
California

Because it was February, this beach was basically empty. It hadn’t been freshly raked that morning. But I found the palm trees lining the edge of the beach to be so beautiful, with the homes and apartments set behind them.

Manaus, Brazil
Manaus, Brazil

This was just around sunset on the edge of the Rio Negro in Manaus. I was standing on a big rock formation at the edge of the water. It was quiet and peaceful, as my mom and I were the only ones wandering around during that time of night.

Frost Valley - Claryville, NY
Frost Valley – Claryville, NY

Although we visit this waterfall every year, it’s always slightly different, and there’s always a variety of colors in the ice, from blues to browns, to yellow, to white and gray. You can see these colors in the picture, but the size is where this photo falls short. You can’t envision the height of the rock wall behind the ice.

Haiti
Haiti

This picture was taken from a row boat off the coast of Haiti on one of the days when we traveled to a resort. Although it captures the public beach and sailboat, it doesn’t do justice for the massive mountains that can be seen in the distance, past all of the palm trees.

Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

I’m not sure what color I would use to describe the blue of the ocean here in Copacabana. The color of the water seems to be the same as the way I remember it, but Sugarloaf Mountain on the right side just looks like any ordinary mountain. The patterned sidewalk doesn’t appear as obvious in the picture as it does to the eye when you’re actually there looking at the landscape.

Emotion:

In these pictures, I don’t really believe you need words to understand the emotions felt during each of these scenarios.

Joy/enthusiasm:

Super Spartan - New Jersey
Super Spartan – New Jersey

Despite the look on the girl next to me, I was so happy to be swimming along during the middle of the Super Spartan race. It was a cool, refreshing break for me, and I think my face shows just that.

Fear (although staged, I think I do a nice fear impression):
fear

The next 3 pictures, although during the exact same event, show a variety of emotions:

Calm/focus/contentment:

Hartford Marathon
Hartford Marathon

Intensity (on top of some excruciating pain) while nearing the finish line:
intensity

Feelings of accomplishment/pride/disbelief/elation:
accomplishment

But the most significant is this picture. It’s one of the only pictures I have of myself without a smile. It is a picture of pure sadness, grief, and anguish, when I was about to put my dog to sleep. And it really needs no words. I have not yet been able to view this image without crying:

RIP, Butterscotch
RIP, Butterscotch

But the questions remain – could these places have been described in a better way? I’m an avid reader and there’s many instances when the words strike me in such a powerful way that I don’t believe any picture could ever affect me quite so much. The same is also true with song lyrics.

Quotes:

My favorite book is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Here’s some of my favorite quotes/passages:

-“All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us–all who knew her–felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used–to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.
And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.”

-“You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question.”

Another favorite is A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah about his experiences as a child soldier in Sierra Leone.

-“We were still traumatized, and now that we had time to think, the fastened mantle of our war memories slowly began to open. Whenever I turned on the tap water, all I could see was blood gushing out. I would stare at it until it looked like water before drinking or taking a shower…Other times, the younger boys sat by rocks weeping and telling us that the rocks were their dead families.”

-“I would dream that a faceless gunman had tied me up and begun to slit my throat with the zigzag edge of his bayonet. I would feel the pain that the knife inflicted as the man sawed my neck. I’d wake up sweating and throwing punches in the air. I would run outside to the middle of the soccer field and rock back and forth, my arms wrapped around my legs. I would try desperately to think about my childhood, but I couldn’t. The war memories had formed a barrier that I had to break in order to think about any moment in my life before the war.”

And then there’s my favorite quotes:

-“I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” – Henry David Thoreau

-“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.

-“When good people in any country cease their struggle, then evil men prevail.” – Pearl S. Buck

-“Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Einstein

-“A coward dies a thousand times before his death; the valiant never taste of death but once.” –Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

-“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Ghandi

Songs:

And I also find so many song lyrics that speak to me so deeply:

-“You gotta find that inner strength…and get that motivation to not give up and not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse.” -Eminem “Till I Collapse”

-“You even had the same type of childhood I did, sometimes I just wanna know why is it that you succaim to yours; mine, I survived it.” – D12 “How Come”

-Some days wouldn’t be so special if it wasn’t for rain; joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain.” -50 Cent “Many Men”

-“I’m learning to breathe, I’m learning to crawl, I’m finding that You and You alone can break my fall. I’m living again, awake and alive, I’m dying to breathe in these abundant skies.” -Switchfoot “Learning to Breathe”

-“And you said I know that this will hurt. But if I don’t break your heart, then things will just get worse. If the burden seems too much to bear, remember, the end will justify the pain it took to get us there.” -Relient K “Let it all Out”

-“If you give the things you love for something greater, if you risk the things you have to live what you believe, if you look without your eyes to see something greater, if you love Me on your knees, you will find the greater things.” -Holyfire “The Greater Things”

-“Sometimes pain’s the only way we can learn. You can never fall too hard, so fast, so far that you can’t get back when you’re lost where you are. It’s never too late, so bad, so much that you can’t change. At the foot of the cross you can change who you are.” -Unspoken “Who You Are”

Bible:

-“If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have the faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” -1 Corinthians 13:1-3

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-“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean on Him not with your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” -Proverbs 3:5-6

So in the end, which is more meaningful? Words? Pictures? I don’t really have a definite answer. I find both images and words so captivating. I’ll have to take the easy answer by saying that it just depends on the situation. I think that pictures can be much more moving in certain situations, but words have the same effect in other situations. But it’s an interesting topic to consider.

Trusting in the Lord

The following is my all-time favorite Bible verse:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean on Him not with your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” ~Proverbs 3:5-6

It’s one of the quotes that I included in my yearbook when I graduated from high school, along with a quote from Napoleon Dynamite, and lyrics to an Eminem song. Interesting combination, I know, but also quite indicative of my unique personality and interests: God, random humor, and rap music.

But getting back to the Bible verse…

It’s my favorite verse, but that doesn’t mean that I always remember it or trust it.

I find that the 20s are a pretty interesting part of one’s life. I’m 26. Closer to 30 than 20. That’s kind of scary. All around me, I see friends and acquaintances from college and high school getting engaged, then married, then having children. I know some couples my age who already are up to their third child. Although I’m entirely content with my life right now, I also feel like I’m always trying to make plans. Despite being sure that I’m not yet ready to be married, I’m always wondering what’s next to come. I wish I could just relax more in the moment, knowing that things happen as they should.

It’s so hard to give up control. We are called to trust in the Lord and in His plans for us, but that doesn’t mean sitting at home waiting to find out what He wants. I haven’t heard His voice in my ear saying, “Stephanie, go apply for this job. This will be perfect for you.” I make choices according to my free will and then I hope and pray that I am still on His path. I pray that I will feel peace with the decisions I make because He is helping me to arrive at such decisions. But sometimes, there’s moments of doubt.

Looking back, I see His plan in the way my life has worked out thus far, even in seemingly bad moments. Lyme disease helped me to find more strength in myself than I ever imagined possible. It is also what prompted me to begin running, which is now such a passion of mine. It was only in being sick and unable to even walk around comfortably that I began to yearn to go for a run. In the moment, I didn’t understand God’s plan, but 8 years later, I can actually say I’m grateful for my illness. Granted, I would have loved to find inner strength and to begin running without having been sick, but beggars can’t be choosers. Nobody ever claimed that His plan for us would be the easy route.

Running my first marathon
Running my first marathon

Growing up, my mom struggled quite a bit to pay the bills. I didn’t always have the newest clothing items, and definitely very few name-brand items. In middle school, that was tough. I remember there was one year for Christmas when the only thing I wanted was a t-shirt with some brand name on it. I didn’t care which brand, I just wanted a label. My mom found an Adidas t-shirt for me at Costco that year. It’s sad to think I was that shallow, but with all of my peers in their Abercrombie and Aeropostale attire, I just wanted something other than another shirt from K-Mart. I remember when my grandma bought me my first pair of Nike sneakers. I was beyond thrilled to have a sneaker with a name attached to it.

2L3KEejM_400x400

Although I’m not proud of that middle school mindset, I’m now so grateful that I wasn’t handed everything. I’m so much more responsible with my money than many of my peers because I remember what it was like when I was growing up. God had a path for me and it was only through some degree of struggle that I was able to become the person I am today.

Although I buy brand-name athletic apparel at times, I own nothing from designer labels. I see no need for Coach, Michael Kors, Louboutin, or even Abercrombie or Hollister. I buy the vast majority of my clothing at Kohl’s when I have received the 30%-off coupons in the mail, and even those I only spend on items that have already been reduced in price. My winter coat is the same one I owned when I was in high school.

If you spoke to me in 7th grade, I would have probably been sad that I couldn’t afford Abercrombie. But growing up that way has helped me to establish my priorities. Yes, I will spend extra money on organic food items because my health is important to me and I am blessed to have the means to do so, but I don’t need to spend my money on various shopping sprees at designer outlets.

I still keep an ongoing wishlist on my computer. If there’s something I really want, I will buy it myself, but many things that I want are added to my “Wishlist” Word document that I then e-mail to my mom before my birthday and Christmas. I don’t always need that instant gratification that plagues today’s adolescents. I kept a broken iPhone for 1 1/2 years, waiting patiently for my 2-year upgrade so that I could get a new phone. Did I have the money to buy a new iPhone when I cracked my screen? Yes. But my phone still worked, so in my mind, I had no reason to pay $200+ for something that I didn’t really need. Would it have been nice to have a new phone? Of course. But not necessary. I’ve had 4 phones now. 3 of them were free and my most recent one was a $50 upgrade.

My mom never had a new car. She found used cars straight from the owners and that always worked out for her. In high school, many of my friends were handed car keys on their 16th birthdays. If I have children one day, I don’t care if I’m a millionaire, they will not be handed a free car. It doesn’t teach them anything about hard work.

I waited until I was 19 for my first car. During high school I didn’t have enough money to buy myself a car, nor did I really need one at that point. Even during college I didn’t need it until my junior year. It was a 1998 Plymouth Grand Voyager from my grandpa. Sky blue. One of those big boxy vans.

My first car and my current car
My first car and my current car

I wasn’t ashamed of it; I was thrilled to have received a free car, especially one with so much room so I could easily pack everything I needed for the 8-hr drive out to college. I bought my first car in 2011. But it wasn’t new. It was a 2003 Honda Civic that I found online from an owner who had posted a classified ad. It was dented and scratched from the day I bought it. But it’s a great, reliable car that has served me well. I paid $4,700 cash for my current car. I’ve now had it for 3 1/2 years. I don’t think anyone with a new car can tell me that, even in the long run, they’re making out better than I am. In over 3 years, I have had zero major repairs, changing only things like oil, spark plugs, filters, tires, and windshield wipers. It’s great on gas. I would rather have my car any day than a shiny new car that comes with monthly payments.

It’s only thanks to the struggles and situations that didn’t seem ideal at the time that have helped me to become me. I am on this path because, although it was full of road blocks and obstacles, it has led me to the place where I am today. I’m blessed. I’m grateful for all of these struggles and I now understand the need for them. I understand that, had everything been easy, I would probably not have worked as hard as I have. I may not have my current dream job as a high school English teacher.

And my path isn’t over. I will continue to face even more obstacles. I can’t say that I will embrace them. I’m human. I feel pain. I don’t enjoy that pain, looking forward to the good that may come. But I feel calm in believing that everything has a reason. People will die. Will I be upset? Absolutely. But I can ease some of the pain knowing that it’s ultimately God’s will.

Was I upset with the death of my dog this past summer? Yes. The word upset doesn’t even begin to describe my grief. Did I smile and say that it was okay because it was God’s time? No. I was miserable. I’m still upset. I still wish things could change. But I’m also starting to see more of the blessings that were also taking place. Butterscotch didn’t suffer too long. He didn’t die when I was on vacation and couldn’t have said goodbye. He died peacefully. It’s still painful, yes, but I see that God was definitely there with me through it all. It could have been much worse.

When I’m stuck in traffic, I don’t always have a smile on my face. But sometimes I wonder if that traffic is what helped me to avoid a car accident that may have taken place had I been in a different place at a different time.

It’s easy to tell people to trust in God’s will. And it’s quite a challenge. But I know with great certainty that He has been with me through everything. I know that, even when I don’t understand why I must face certain struggles, He’s there behind me with a plan. So I’m eager to see what else he has in store for me.

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