Tag Archives: God

Uganda Part One: Sole Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our team at Entebbe Airport

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

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

Apricot Guesthouse:

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

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

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

 

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

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Sixty Feet:

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

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

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

Sole Hope:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the song, we separated into stations:

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

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

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Foot note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the jiggers are removed, their feet are bandaged.

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

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

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

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Inside the nurse’s station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sole Hope Guest House:

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

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

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The kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Father Larry Richards – Adoration & Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Abundant Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And sure enough, that is exactly what happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent

I was watching an Ascension Presents video today from Father Mike Schmitz, entitled “Advent: More than a Chocolate Calendar.”  If you’re interested, you can view the video below:

 

Father Schmitz talks about how Advent is a time of joyful preparation for Christ’s coming.  Then he discusses the difference between joy and happiness:

“Joy is the abiding sense of well-being that comes from the fact that I know that God loves me.”

“Joy is not dependent on circumstances.”

“Joy is a choice.”

“I know the Father knows and loves me, despite my circumstances.”

These messages about joy really speak to me because I have felt this way quite a bit lately.  I feel truly joyful. But that doesn’t mean that life is perfect.

Life on earth can never be perfect because true perfection can only be found with God, which we will only encounter if and when we reach our ultimate goal of our union with Him in Heaven.

If joy depended upon our earthly circumstances, then nobody would be truly joyful.  There will always be suffering, whether it is our own suffering or seeing the pain of others, especially loved ones.

There will always be issues at work, within our families, in our relationships, with our friends, within our country, politics, and natural disasters.

If we wait for perfection in order to feel happy, then we will wait until death.

But joy is different.  I can say that I am joyful right now because I am so grateful for the ways that God has blessed me and the ways that my relationship with Him has grown.  Sure, there are still obstacles, but I know that He is with me, guiding me through life’s trials.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” -Psalm 23:4

Father Schmitz says that Advent has three main goals:

  1. To worship Jesus
  2. To celebrate His coming
  3. To prepare for His second coming

He then poses an interesting question: “If Jesus came today, would there be any time for him?”

Our world, especially the United States, is so busy.  This time of year is particularly stressful and overwhelming for many people.

Unfortunately, Christ often gets left out of Christmas.  People instead focus on buying presents, putting up Christmas trees/lights/decorations, baking Christmas cookies, attending ugly sweater parties, sending Christmas cards, making gingerbread houses, drinking egg nog, cooking, and traveling to be with family.

None of those things is bad to do.  But sometimes we get too wrapped up in the material aspects of Christmas instead of remembering the whole point — Jesus Christ.

Even traveling to visit family can sometimes hinder us.  Some people end up missing church services because they are driving to visit family.  But the holiday wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for Jesus.  He needs to remain the priority, or else what are we really celebrating?

If Jesus came to your house knocking on your door right now, would you have time for him?  Would you be able to fit him in somewhere in the middle of that to-do list and that schedule of events?  Or would you be so busy that you wouldn’t even notice the knock at the door?  Would you ignore Him and continue moving forward with the hustle and bustle of the holiday?

It’s great that people focus more on family during the Christmas season, but we must remember to also focus on Jesus.

He is, in fact, the reason for the season, after all.

 

Trump is President, For Better or for Worse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How Will You Leave Your Mark on the World?

For my AP classes, I’m about to start analyzing the arguments of music videos with them.

So I decided to make my own video with an argument about leaving your mark on the world.

For this video, I compiled clips and photographs from my volunteer experiences in Ecuador, Haiti, Rwanda, and Nicaragua, plus some stuff from Brazil.

Here is the video if you’re interested in checking it out:

God is so Good

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

Bible Study

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

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

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

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

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Bible study

Kayaking

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

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

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

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Kayaking Shark River

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

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

Tenth Avenue North concert

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

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

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

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

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

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With my sponsored child, Patience, in Rwanda

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

Catholic Underground

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

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Some of the people from our Bible study at Catholic underground

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

The beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is my video of the whale:

Atlantic City Marathon

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

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

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

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

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Backyard yoga practice

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

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


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

I know that God has a plan for me.

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

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

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

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

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

I turned to God and running to maintain some sanity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would I Give my Sickness to Someone Else?

One day this past summer, I was talking to a friend about Lyme disease.  I was complaining about the illness and how I never really know when my symptoms will suddenly return out of nowhere.

He posed an interesting question: “If you could give it up, but it had to go to someone else, would you still give it up?”

I didn’t even have to think before responding, “No. Absolutely not.”

It was interesting to consider.  Although I don’t enjoy having Lyme disease, I also wouldn’t be able to live with myself being healed of it if I knew that a different person would have to suffer instead of me.

Now that I’ve had it for the past nine years, I feel that I am able to cope with it relatively well.  I know what to expect (usually).  I can see the signs of a relapse.  I wouldn’t want to give it to someone new, someone who would have to experience the rollercoaster of emotions that happen in the weeks and months after the diagnosis, and then again with every relapse.

I would love to be healthy without Lyme, but not if it meant causing another person the same kind of suffering that I have experienced.

That’s an interesting way to view struggles in general, considering whether or not we would take the opportunity to rid ourselves of such struggles, on the condition that someone else would have to experience them instead.

I don’t view myself as an extraordinarily selfless person.  However, I could never live with myself knowing that I was the direct cause of Lyme or some other pain and suffering for another person.  I don’t think I would be able to live with the joy of my health, knowing that someone else was experiencing that pain that I gave up.

So maybe instead of being frustrated about Lyme when it does return, I should think to myself maybe I am the one experiencing this pain in this moment because I am well-equipped to handle it.  I can get through this while someone else, if given the same situation, may not be able to handle it as readily.

I don’t believe that God gives us more than we can handle.  We each have our cross to bear, and I’m certain that there is a reason behind each of them.  He knows exactly what we are capable of.

So yes, I’d love to be Lyme-free.  But for some reason, this is part of my cross.  It’s what I must handle, so maintaining that mindset that I am suffering so that someone else doesn’t have to can potentially help me when I’m feeling frustrated.  I must pick up my cross, not looking to pass it off onto someone else’s shoulders.

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.”