Saturday, January 28, 2017

I Am So Much More

"We invoke Christian unity because we we invoke Christ. 
We want to live unity: we want to follow Christ and live in His love."
- Pope Francis via @pontifex

     I am 24 years old. By stereotype, I should have a big ego, be concerned about all the right things, and be a protester in my spare time. At least, this is what the media shows me. But instead I am a Pro-Life, Catholic, feminist woman. To so many, this is an oxymoron, because how can I simply be all four of those things? They do not seem to go together. In fact, it seems impossible that it could be so. But I write this blog post after two weeks of personal reflection and lots of prayer. I feel I need to do this. 

    Yesterday, I traveled down to Washington, D.C. and participated in the Annual March for Life. I was there with a colleague and four students. I was there with my extended family members and my immediate family members. I was there with religious brothers and sisters. I was there with Catholics, Christians and non-Christians. I was there with men, women, and children. And I was there with people who do not share my perspective. There was no violence, there was no harm, there was no hatred. I was surrounded by peace and prayer. And yet, I know that it is so hard for many to support me in what I did yesterday.
     Catholics and Christians who consider themselves Pro-Life have been under fire. I have felt the heat of this fire so directly but not in a harsh way. I see it on the internet, on Facebook and Twitter. Things being shared that say, "Dear 15 year old me, I'm sorry you marched for life," "Pro-Life is only Pro-baby," and my favorite, "Don't call yourself a Christian if you are Pro-Life but not Pro-child" (because I'm not really sure what that means!). I read these, I listen to the perspectives of the authors, and I scroll past. I wonder what happened to these people that gave them such a negative perspective of someone like me. I sometimes think, they can't be talking about me. BUT they are. Even those who once considered themselves Catholic post these things and I wonder, how it got this way. Perhaps it's not direct, but I feel the heat of these misconceptions. 
    Let's go back in my personal history for a second; let me tell you who I was and who I've become. I marched for life as a high school student and as a college student. Each time I only went with a few of my friends, because most of my friends didn't share the same perspective. I was never heckled for this and we never engaged in arguments. I have friends now who may not agree with my perspective and yet, I can respect them and they respect me. I also teach high school Theology, specifically Human Sexuality and Social Justice. Because of my experiences, I would say that this is the perfect position for me. Yet I do so with the understanding that the students who sit before may have warped perspectives of Catholicism, may not be Catholic or may have been in situations that seemingly the church may be against. I teach the doctrine of the Catholic Church with gentleness and compassion. It is not treading lightly, but rather doing all this with Love. 
     Now let's talk Jesus. He's my main dude. My students fondly refer to Him as a hipster because He broke stereotypes left, right and sideways. Yet, He did so with Love. That is my call, our call as Catholics. To preach the Gospel with Love, gentleness and compassion. This is something I remind my students daily, especially as we talk about the tough topics. It seems these days, there are more and more tough topics. 
    Catholics have a core belief called, "Catholic Social Teaching." There are seven pillars of CST and all of the social justice topics that have been mentioned these past few weeks in the news are in there. Being Pro-Life is the basis of this core belief and I'm going to briefly explain what that means in the next few paragraphs. Because truthfully, it hurts my heart to hear and see such a bad reputation given to Pro-Lifers. And since I was part of the age group that was the greatest represented yesterday at the March for Life, I need to. 
    Pro-Life is, by definition, "respect for life from conception to natural death." Now, I could give you the scientific reasoning behind why life begins at conception but I'll refrain; there's enough of that out there. But let's start at the basis of the belief. Historically speaking, Pro-Life is most often paralleled with the Supreme Court Ruling of Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion in the United States. Yes, the March for Life is the annual march against this ruling. Yes, it began as a movement to protect the unborn. But no, it is not just the abortion issue. Roe v. Wade took place in 1973. Catholic Social Teaching started forming as a core belief with "The Just War Theory" during the Medieval Ages with St. Joan of Arc and continued with documents like Rerum Novarum in 1891 and so on. CST has been around much longer. Being Pro-life has been a Catholic concept for much longer than 44 years. 
    The Just War Theory is just one of many concepts within Catholic Social Teaching that exhibits the Pro-Life atmosphere of the Catholic Church. The Just War Theory states that unless absolutely necessary, after every peaceful approach has been considered and failed, and if a country or community is in extreme danger should war be declared. Thank you, Joan of Arc, for giving us guidelines for war which basically state that at all costs war should be avoided unless deemed absolutely necessary for protection of human beings. 
     In addition to the Just War Theory there are many other beliefs in CST that state concepts like, "welcoming the stranger and the refugee." If countries in power have the means, the space and the power, countries are obligated by moral reasoning to welcome the refugee with open arms and to protect them from the oppressor. We should also be providing a proper wage for all people to live with all their necessities; there should be no struggle because of low wages. There should be proper healthcare available for all people. There should be no segregation. There should be no racism, sexism, ageism. We should protect the environment and by doing so, protect those who rely on the environment (hey, that's us and all humans because we need oxygen). AND. SO. MUCH. MORE. 
     Yet, I fall into the category, because I proclaim myself Pro-Life, that is none of the above. But, I, in fact, very much am Pro-Life in all of these ways and more. I believe that all human beings, regardless of their distinctions, deserve fair treatment, fair wages, fair opportunities, and fair access to life's necessities. I believe this because I AM A PRO-LIFE, CATHOLIC WOMAN! Yes, this is why. Because my faith is my firm foundation and it is a core belief of my faith to live socially just. 
      Now, of course, I know that so many, perhaps, would still argue that I cannot possibly still be a feminist if I am pro-life and Catholic, especially because stereotypically speaking, the Catholic Church appears to be repressive of women. I beg to differ. I have been elevated to such high esteem by my Church for so many reasons. In fact, I would venture to say that I feel liberated by my Catholic faith as a woman, which is not the common perspective. But here is why being Pro-Life, Catholic and Feminist has led me to feel this way. 
     Now I do not have the time or your attention span long enough to put two courses of material summed up in one blog post. But I can say this. My Catholic faith has led me to believe that I deserve better in terms of my sexuality. I deserve better than to be given birth control as my only options for many health problems (especially because it can lead a woman into even more health problems when she and her spouse attempt to conceive a child). It has taught me that I deserve better than the health care provided at Planned Parenthood (so many of my friends have given me first hand accounts of the lack of health care provided but also the unfair treatment and down right cruelty experienced there). It has taught me that I deserve better than to have my self-worth lie solely in my sexual liberation. Finally, it has taught me that I deserve much better and my future daughters (and sons) deserve much better than to be considered choices. Women deserve better, on this I agree. But we must look for what the better actually is. 
    These past two weeks have been so politically charged and I don't think there will be a calm anytime soon. It has been one thing after the next. But I can promise to my God that I will continue to do what I can to further the Pro-Life message. Every life deserves rights but the greatest right is to live a life to it's fullness. This means, the unborn being born, the refugee and the immigrant being welcome, the homeless being housed, the women being given proper healthcare, the environment being protected and so much more. So please, know that I, as a Pro-Life, Catholic, Feminist Woman stand for the betterment of life for all. Please do not put me in a box created by the media. I am not just pro-baby. I am so much more. I am a sanctuary, a living tabernacle of life.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Year Without a Mommom

"If you are not living, if you have died, 
all the leaves will fall, 
if will rain upon my soul night and day, 
the snow will burn my heart, 
I shall walk with cold and fire and death and snow, 
my feet will want to march toward where you sleep, 
but I shall go on living, 
because you wanted me to..."
- Pablo Neruda, "La Muerta"

     Perhaps you've seen the very popular Christmas show from the 70s, "The Year Without A Santa Claus." Maybe you remember that Santa Claus decides to take a vacation during Christmas because he doesn't feel that people actually believe in him anymore. Or maybe you remember the argument the Heat Miser has with the Snow Miser in their popular duet. Or maybe you remember that Mrs. Claus attempts to make things right again. Or maybe you remember Jingle and Jangle, the reindeer, Vixen and their friend Iggy who are trying to make people believe again in Southtown. But for me, what I remember the most, is all the chaos when Santa Claus takes a vacation and how nothing seems right at all when this staple character just calls it quits suddenly. 

     Today, January 10th, 2017, marks the one year anniversary of my Mommom's sudden passing. It's been "The Year Without a Mommom." It's been a year of chaos since and there's been many Heat and Snow Misers, Jingles, Jangles, Vixens, Iggys and even multiple Mrs. Clauses. Over all this past year has been filled with people trying to make it right again. But the truth is, when the main character in your life takes a vacation, no one can actually it right again except the person themselves. 
     So many people have openly said that 2016 was the worst year of their lives. As I drove to our New Year's Eve gathering, Joe said something along the lines of, "A lot of people hated this year, but I didn't think it was that bad." To which I responded, more harshly than I ever would intend, "Yeah, but can you understand that for someone like, it was the worst. Ten days into 2016, I lost my best friend." There was silence after that as he put his hand on my shoulder and let tears drip down my face as we continued the drive. 
      Sunday, at Mass, I was overcome with sadness. I couldn't sing. I couldn't speak. I couldn't even go through the motions. I just silently sat at the end of the pew letting tears flow down my face and into one of the many giant, fluffy scarves I own. I was sad and I didn't want to be there. Not because I was mad at God - no, that was never the case. But rather because, last year on a Sunday, I was sitting in Mass, just a few hours before I would get the call that my Mommom was no longer with us. I kept thinking during Mass, what would I have done differently if I had known that in a few hours my Mommom would no longer be alive? Would I still go to the gym? Would I still waste hours driving down the highway to a friend's house? No, probably not. I know where I'd be - her house, with her, holding her hand for what might be the last time. 
       People say death changes you...the experience of death, that is. I've experienced death before and for the longest time, I felt that it helped me feel more. I would say that all the death I've experienced broke my heart open more and more. But nothing broke me more than the death of my Mommom. And to be honest, it changed me in a different way.
      She's in everything I do. She's the echo in the halls when I'm walking around school. She's in every quiet second I have. She's in every song on the radio. She's on every road I drive, every corner I turn, every bottle of wine in the wine store. She's in every corner of every room, every line of poetry, every drop of ink I write on every piece of paper. She is in every cup of coffee, every teaspoon of sugar, every ounce of flavor. She is in every tear and every smile. She's in every picture I take, every song I belt out pathetically in the car. She's on every mountain I climb, every waterfall I dance in, every single second of every day. By which I mean, I feel the emptiness of her presence in all this. 

      I haven't spent every moment of the past year in sadness, she wouldn't want that. I just can't help but feel the lack of her presence in every thing I do. I can't help but think that I would have laughed a little more on Thanksgiving, and snuggled a little more at Christmas. I would have made more desserts and more dinners for her. I would have dyed more eggs at Easter time, I would have sang more songs at the family reunion. I would have danced a little harder at every gathering I had with my friends. But something was missing.

     Now I know that many would agree, "Mommom is always with me." But she's not in the sense that I had been so used to for 23 years. I miss her hugs. I miss her smothering me with kisses. I miss her directing the show in the kitchen on the holidays. I miss the sound of her voice. I know she's here. I know I can always talk to her. But it's just not the same. Mommom's death changed me. It made me more conscious of who I am in relation to her - in so many senses, I am my grandmother's granddaughter. It made me okay with letting myself feel whenever I need to feel - when something reminds me of her and I feel sad, I don't hold back tears. It made me tougher - I'm not sure if I like it, but it made me tougher. It made me even more of a family girl - when I hang out with people, I want to hang out with their families, and as much as my family drives me crazy, I actually like when we sit around the table and roast the nearest human being. It made me more conscious of a lot of things, more than I can even mention here. Some people say that when you lose someone close like that you stop feeling. But for me, I think I started. 

     The year without a Mommom has been anything but easy. I've had so many happy moments, joyous ones, ones filled with laughter. Yet, her void has been felt in every second, of every minute, of every day. I miss everything about her from her shaking her head at me in complete misunderstanding, to her boisterous hugs and kisses, to her random Facebook comments. Mommom had the ability to always make me feel like I was important, that I had a fan club (a fan club of one, but still). She always knew what I was up to, always asked questions about my adventures or my latest interest, and supported me in everything I did. She would have known what I did on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and every weekend. She wouldn't ask what I was doing, but rather, she would ask about how it went. She'd ask, "how was class/soup kitchen/tutoring/school/Joe's?" She just knew what I was up to and made sure I knew she cared. 
      I miss that. I miss it because without her I've felt lonely. I've felt lonelier than ever, despite being almost always surrounded by people.  The felt of being lonely in a crowded room - a daily occurrence. And yet, here I am, sitting at my desk, with the sun shining directly on me. It's almost too bright for me to see the computer screen. Her love was like that - so bright, so obnoxious, so big, and so warm. I know it's her. I know she's with me always, of this I am sure. But that doesn't mean some days are harder than others and some days I just want to cry because I miss her. She was a beautiful woman who loved so much and I hope, if there's one thing I do with my life, it's love as greatly as she did. How rare and beautiful it is, truly to exist! 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Year, New Perspective

"Dare to be the best you can -
at all times, dare to be."
- Steve Maraboli

    The memes have come and gone, much like the year 2016 itself, about how terrible a year it was. Generally one with a sunny disposition and positive outlook on life, I couldn't help but agree. The amount of loss I suffered, starting only ten days into the new year, was astronomical in my perspective. From my best friend, my mommom, to many other family members, friends and classmates, the deaths were too many, too quickly. It was a rocky year for other reasons, too, and overall I felt like I fell into the practice of finding the negative more than finding the positive. I was down on my self, I wasn't very happy most of time and I probably brought others down by being tired, exhausted and downright miserable at times. For a girl who tends to like even years better than odd years, I definitely was not a fan of 2016.
    So at midnight on December 31, I rang in the new year with some friends and a dog. It was quieter than usual, but still a good ringing in none the less. New Year's Eve is one of my favorite nights of the year. There's magic or wonder and awe present. I never spent NYE in a bustling, loud place. Usually it was with close friends or even alone in my room. Since I almost never let my eyes see the other side of the night, staying up til midnight was always a big deal, too. It's the latest I ever stay up and there's something so amazing about watching time change - one year to the next. Now some may say that the minute, seconds even in which the new year comes, is nothing more than that - a minute, a few seconds. But for me it is quiet, silence and suddenly the loud, fruitful, celebration in which a new year is born. The gentle reminder that with each death comes brand new life. There's fireworks and noise makers and pots and pans and NYE kisses and hugs and well wishes. How can you not love a celebration like that? All the noise for just another minute.
     We spent our New Year's Day sleeping in, eating donuts and drinking coffee (which led me to my first resolution: eat more consciously), and finally deciding to take a hike. Four friends and a dog hiking. Sounds like the title of my next big seller by which I mean, the next very boring story I tell in the faculty lunch room for the next week. But hey, a girl can dream. It was warmer than usual in January, temps flirting with 50. We were ready for a great few hours in the woods. We started in Valley Forge, hiking up Mt. Misery, realizing slowly but surely and quite stubbornly, that we were all out of shape. Which led me to my next resolution: hike more mileage, gain more muscle strength! We hiked to the end of the park and decided to keep going on a trail called Horse Shoe Trail. About 2.5 miles out of the park, we realized the true length of this trail: 140 miles to Harrisburg. Needless to say, we turned around, taking the low trail (once back in the park) back to the parking lot. For a brief 45 minutes, girls separated from boys, taking what we each thought was the best way back to car. A little friendly competition, which ended in the girls successfully making it back and the boys needing to be picked up by car since they got lost. But, we won't hold it over their heads for much longer. We ended our day with dinner...again, please see resolution number one.
     We laughed, we talked, we spent the day without worrying (resolution #5 - stress less, be blessed), we spent some time in silence, in wonder and awe, and listening, perhaps, only the heart beat of each other, found in the sound of our footsteps. It was a beautiful day and I wouldn't have wanted to spend it any other day. Nature is my favorite place to be. I spent the day in a beautiful place, with beautiful people, in a beautiful way. What more could I ask for? We documented some of the 24 hours together in joyous videos and pictures, but only because one of my goals was to make more home videos. You know, so my future family members can enjoy all the stories I have after I've forgotten them (please note: not a resolution, but more so, #lifegoal). I felt incredibly blessed and even though I was beginning to feel a cold coming on, I was happy. Stuffy and happy.
     The beginning of a cold became a full cold by Monday morning, and I was grateful for an additional day off to recoup as much as possible. I went to Mass and spent some time with the Sisters at St. Katherine's since I hadn't seen them all break (not the norm for me!). I had to bail out on the rest of the day, though, since the cold really was bogging me down minute by minute. A day spent snuggled in bed with my dog was what the rainy day called for. When I woke up, I decided it was time to get cracking on some resolutions, some goals and some writing. I opened a fresh journal and from the comfort of my own bed, re-visited the warmer, sunny weather, the mountains and foothills of Valley Forge, and of course, the laughter and stories from yesterday. Now we all know that writing down goals makes them more tangible and so, I did it. I wrote them down. In addition to the three I've already mentioned, I also have #3 write more often, #4 deepen my prayer life and #6 do something (anything) big and life-changing. It's day three of the new year and I can say that I'm well on my way with #1, 2, 3, and 5. As for 4 and 6, well maybe it's because I'm not the only one involved that I'm off to a slow start of accomplishment. But hey, 4 out of 6 ain't bad.
     I never was one for resolutions but as I get older, I find, there's always a reason to do better, to do more. And I found that if I make one big resolution, I can find little ways to make it happen. So my umbrella resolution, whether or not I maintain 1-6, is to be more mindful of the beauty around me - the beauty of God, of others and of self. Beauty is my word of reflection this year and I pray that I'll be able to be more open to finding beauty, even in the debbie downer moments. I hope and pray and that I'll be able to look at the new life after death and not focus on the death. And I pray that 2017 really becomes the beautiful year I am expecting of it.
     People often say, "New Year, New Me." But I've learned in recent years to be true to the authentic me. Of course, in order to be authentically true to myself, I need to find out who I am. And I've accomplished that - I am so self-aware these days. And besides, I like who that person is when she is authentic (note: not when I'm grumpy or not being truly me). So why, new year, new me? Instead, I'm choosing to say, "New Year, New Perspective." And that perspective will be putting on glasses that show all things as beautiful. Call them rose-colored, if you must. But for me and my year, they will show beauty. Please know of my prayers for you as you start out your new year. May you, too, find reason to see beauty instead of darkness. Peace.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Important to Satan

"When you is precious to God, you become very important to Satan."
- Ron Hall, "Same Kind of Different as Me"

      I haven't written in a while. Today, I am writing to begin my rebellion. It's not going to be easy, clean or fun. But I am rebelling. I'm rebelling against society, negativity and self-doubt. I am putting on armor and volunteering as tribute. I am rebelling against Satan himself - because you know what? He's getting on my nerves. 

      I tell my students often: "Be the woman, to whom, when she wakes up, Satan says, 'o crap, she's up.'" In the past few weeks and maybe even the past few months, I haven't been listening to my own advice. Instead of placing my feet on the ground in the morning and challenging Satan to battle each day, I've let him win too many times. In fact, I haven't even put up a fight some days. And as a result, I've become my own worst enemy. So yesterday, I decided I'm putting an end to Satan's winning streak. Like I say to my students, "Bro has GOT TO GO." 
      If you follow me on Facebook, you may have read my most recent Facebook status. Or you may have received a text from me or a phone call. I simply asked for your prayers. I asked for a few seconds of your day and a prayer in my intention. This came as a result of me realizing that I couldn't do it on my own anymore. I couldn't keep fighting Satan without back-up. If I continued, I would have lost miserably. But I asked for you to follow me into battle. I asked for you to prayer. And if Satan thought for a second he could win after that, then he was poorly mistaken. Yesterday, because of all my prayer warriors, Satan lost. And today - he lost again. 

       Many young people do not believe in Satan anymore. Or if they do believe in Satan, they do not accredit him with the "bad things." I know this because I teach a lot of young people. But I can also tell you that a lot of older people do not believe in Satan. I have heard many people accredit God with the bad things in life. How many people ask the question: "why does God let bad things happen?" Well the truth is, it's a two fold answer. God doesn't let bad things happen - rather he allows people to utilize/abuse the gift of free will. And if we let Him, God can make right with the wrongs. This is an uncommon belief, but I believe it. 
       And I believe that those who are most precious to God, the ones who speak to God the most, the ones who trust Him greatly, are the ones Satan puts at the top of his list. Because honestly - who is the biggest threat to Satan? Those who have completely entrusted their lives to God, those who live out His will, serve others in His name, and those who are not afraid to show their faith. It's those who go to Mass on Sunday and serve Him all week long in between Sundays. It's those who put on the armor of Christ and battle the war on Satan with their weapons of prayer. 
       I am a young person. I am a young person who vibrantly lives out her Catholic faith by being a Catechist, participating in the Mass as an Eucharistic Minister or Lector, running youth group, bible studies and praying like my life depends on it - because my young life does depend on it. So it's no wonder I'm top on Satan's list. If he destroys me, he gets to a lot of others. And you know what - it's flattering really. I know that God chooses the strong ones to put at the front of the battle line. And I know that's where I was this week. 

       So what does an attack by Satan look or feel like. Well, let me just give you a small view. It looks like the pictures of all my friends who go to the gym. Of course I'm happy for them. But it's the follow-up thought: you're fat. Thanks, Satan. I appreciate that. Or it looks like the green monster of jealousy when I see young people my age seemingly figuring out their lives - whether it's going to grad school, getting engaged or raising a family. It's the follow-up thought: what will you ever amount to? If you're the same age and you haven't accomplished any of what they have. It's the fears of feeling inadequate. It's the tears that follow each lie I'm given by Satan and I start believing him. 

      And maybe many won't agree with me. But I know that I've been victimized by Satan recently. I am sure of it. Because if I start praying for strength - Satan tells me God won't listen. But I know that it is the oldest lie in the book. My God DOES listen to me. And I know He listens to my friends and family members. I know God listens. I know He does because I received unexpected hugs today from colleagues, I received texts of support from those I haven't heard from, and I received promises of prayer. I received an army of angels surrounding me with armor. I know I'm not in this battle alone. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Delicate Beauty

"There is nothing more beautiful
than a person who goes out of her way
to make another life beautiful."
- Mandy Hale


      Look at this woman. She is beautiful. She has salt and pepper hair, a bright smile, and warm arms to hug you. She has laughter lines galore. But best of all, she has gentle eyes. Her gentle eyes look right into your soul and know, instantly, that which you are thinking. Her hands are soft and always willing to hold mine. Her arm is always ready to be linked with mine. Her soul is innocent and shines bright through her. She speaks only kind words. And she loves without judgement. Look at this woman. She is beautiful.

      I was blessed beyond compare to visit with my dear sister the other night. I hadn't seen her in a year, although it feels like it wasn't too long ago. She texts, calls and writes often making sure that I always know she is thinking of me. And as often as possible, I do the same. She had been visiting with her family but made sure to free a few hours for me, too. I picked her up, we stopped for some ice cream, sat for a while and then went for a walk in one of the places we used to frequent often when I was in high school. It was great simply being in her presence spending one on one time with her.
      When it was time to leave, she made sure to take my picture while I was sitting on the couch in the parlor of the convent. And after she took my picture, I took a selfie with her. She made me promise to send her a copy and soon it will be on its way in the mail. I couldn't help but pray, dear God, let this not be the last time I see her. I always pray that now. With so many people I love. I've learned to take each moment as if it might be the last. She hugged me tightly at the door, apologizing for forgetting her key which didn't allow her to walk me to the car. I told her to be safe on her flight home the next day, squeezed her tight and told her I loved her. She let go a bit of our embrace, looked me in the eye with her gentle ones, and said, "I love you very very much, you know that." Before I could cry, I turned for the door, got in my car and checked the rear-view mirror to see her waiting for me to drive away. I smiled. She was always watching out for me.
     When I got home, I wanted to find the right words to post with our picture. It really was a great picture - one I will cherish forever. I found the above quotation and thought that nothing described her more perfectly. I've always thought that she was one of the most beautiful people I know. I remember being in high school, accidentally finding her senior picture in the yearbook, giggling a little because I now was privy to her baptismal name, and realizing that she was one of the most beautiful girls in her class. I told her that a day or two after I found her picture and she just smiled.
     In high school, she was a mystery to me. I had known religious sisters before, but she was different. Maybe it was the fact that she was the first sister I had as a teacher. Maybe it was her gentleness. Maybe it was the fact that she sang to us in class all the time (Lord, you are more precious than silver, more precious than gold). Or maybe it was because she opened my heart and soul to a whole new religious community. Whatever it was, she was a mystery to me.
      She was the first sister I ever told about thinking about religious life. I told her in a letter and that has become something near and dear to us - letter writing. From then on, she took me under her wing. Sometimes, quite literally. I'm sure in the ten years that I have known her, things about me have changed. But she always tells me I've always been special to her. I'm glad that hasn't changed.
      I remember visiting Chapel after school as often as I could. Back when I went to Naz, the sisters still lived in the convent so they used the big Chapel for their own prayer. I had this thing where I would take my shoes off at the doors of chapel and walk in my socks to my pew. She knew where I kept my shoes and would always know if I was in Chapel simply by checking for my shoes. On Fridays, sometimes we cleaned Chapel together or watered the plants or prayed together. We would sometimes go for walks around the high school campus to pray the Rosary or faith share. In my high school eyes, she was amazing.
       Now, six years after I had graduated high school, I was looking at this picture of us, wondering want to say. In my young adult eyes, she is still amazing. But it's an amazingness that I can't quite define. All I know is that while she may be physically beautiful, she is even more beautiful in heart and soul. She makes my life beautiful by her presence. She makes my life beautiful by her ability to make me feel like the only person in the world that matters when we're sharing stories together. She makes my life beautiful when she holds my hand or wraps her arm around me in Chapel and we pray together. She makes my life beautiful with every card, note or text. And the best part is that she does it for so many people, not just me. I hope that I can make at least one person feel as special as she makes me feel.

      Look at this woman. She is beautiful. She lights up the room with her gentle compassion. She speaks only kind words of others. She loves with judgement. She holds so many dear to her heart. She prays so deeply and fervently. She believes the best in others. She makes each person she's with feel like the moon and all the stars. She holds on tightly when you hug her. She carries you in prayer. She listens to your heart. She wipes away your tears. She holds your heart in her gentle hands and protects it with all she can. Look at this woman. She is beautiful and I just want her to know that I think so. And I am so blessed to know her. Thank you, God.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Old Like You

"The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes."
- Frank Lloyd Wright

      Two weekends at church, a dear older friend of my family say behind us with her two grandsons. Right before Mass, she asked my sister what the numbers were for the songs. She mentioned she didn't have her glasses. Before my sister answered her, she said, "Gee, I hope I don't get old like you." She laughed and gently smacked her shoulder. 
      Later that week I was at my Poppop's when my Mommom's sister called. My Poppop was trying to tell her that I was over for dinner but she couldn't hear him. I yelled into the phone to say hi from across the kitchen and I was met with her yelling back, "Whattttt?" I laughed a little and said, "Gee, I hope I don't get old like you." 
      Over the course of the last few weeks, I am more than sure I have said that saying more than a few times in playful jest. I'm not sure how common it is for other people to say or hear, but my dad says it all the time. He especially says it to people who are younger than him. We always laugh. We always joke. We always think it's funny. Because, well, it is. 
      In the past two weeks, however, I've been thinking about the amount of older people I am friends with. I started this deep reflection about 9 months ago. I remember hugging Sister Cathy goodbye after she dropped my sister and I off. I hugged her awkwardly through the car window and started to cry. She was shocked and looked concerned when I pulled back. I just looked at her and said, "I've lost too many people in my life. I don't want to lose you, too. So, just, don't leave me, okay?" She squeezed my hand and told me she never would. This happened a few months after my dear friend Sister Sandi passed away and a few months before I lost my Mommom and great-uncle Richard and great-Uncle Gene and a number of sisters, leading us up to the most recent death in my life, Sister Trin. I didn't know then, how hard the next few months would be, each one holding the death of someone near or dear to me. 
     Today, as I walked into the familiar Camilla, I was greeted by some of the Sisters from school. They were talking about how this was the third funeral this week. I added that I have been to a funeral or viewing once a month since January. That's when Sister responded, "You're too young for that." I said, "I guess that's what happens when you have old friends." She smiled gently and quietly acknowledged the truth behind my words. 
       I have always had older friends. I got along better with adults growing up than I did my peers. I was a mini-adult. And as much death as I've experienced in my short 24 years, I didn't really have the first realization that I would lose most of my friends while I was still young until high school. In fact, Sister David was the first one I told about this realization. She had asked me if I was afraid of death and I said no. She was surprised at my confidence, especially because she couldn't match it. She was actually afraid of dying. But it was then that I told her how I was afraid of losing my friends and those I love so much, especially the sisters. That was my Junior year. Since then, I've lost a number of people in my life. Too many to count actually. 
      That being said, I've noticed that sometimes I do things that might mimic the mannerisms of my older friends, sisters or family members. I just laugh at myself when I realize I'm doing it, too. The truth is, the phrase, "gee, I hope I don't get old like you," is really, "I already am old like you." I've been focusing on spending time with the older people in my life, quietly and gently. I make more time to stop and give a hug and a kiss. I make more time to say I love you. I'm not afraid of it anymore. It doesn't matter if it isn't reciprocated. I say it anyway. And more than anything, I take more note of things my older friends, sisters and family members do. So that I can honestly say, "Gee, I hope I DO get old like you."
       When I was sitting with my Poppop eating dinner, he mentioned that my Mommom never liked to eat the carrots in the frozen mixed veggie bag. I laughed. I never knew that. He followed by saying, "I always had to eat them because she wouldn't." I thought, yeah, I want to be old like that. Where I notice the stupid little things about my spouse or community members. Where I notice them so that when they are gone, I can tell everyone that Sister so and so didn't like carrots and I always ate her carrots, or how my husband didn't like blueberries so I would eat his out of the fruit salad at family picnics. 
       I hope I get old like my aunt who calls my Poppop every night because she can't remember if she called yesterday. At least I get to hear his voice every night, even if I can't remember the night before. I hope I get old like Sister Trin who lost count of the sculptures and paintings she made for people. I hope I get old like Sister Thomasita who lived so simply that she collected smiles from those who walked the halls in the infirmary. I hope I get old like my great aunts who are bat crazy and dance like each day is the last day at every family reunion. I hope I get old like Sister Caritas who needs a helping hand to walk places - it would give me a new chance every day to meet someone new or take a walk with an old friend. I hope I get old like Sister Sandi and Sister Lucille who never forget a birthday, anniversary or holiday. I hope I get old like the old couple I saw at Graduation this weekend who walked side by side up the aisle to Communion just so they could hold hands the whole way. I hope I get old like the couple at Mass this morning - a woman who knew every person in the room and the husband who watched happily as the love of his life once again greeted all her friends. I hope I get old like them. And I hope that when I'm old, someone writes a litany of all the things I do that they want in her life. 
       When I'm old, I'll have curly gray hair. I'll probably braid it or wear it in a bun every day. I'll probably have poor short term memory but I could spend hours telling the kids stories - whether they are my own or my numerous nieces and nephews. I'll probably have time for a daily nap, daily Mass and a daily walk. I'll probably take up knitting or something. I'll probably still cook as long as I can. I'll probably still be just as sassy. I'll probably still be cold in the middle of the summer. I'll probably still want to hike the Appalachian Trail one more time. And I'll probably be or do a lot of things. But I know for sure, I'll remember who likes carrots and who doesn't, who likes blueberries and who doesn't, and how sister so and so styles her hair because even though she took a vow of poverty, she still likes to get a perm once a month. Because I know that I want to be old like you - all my old friends. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

An Open Letter to the Class of 2016

“Before you can live a part of you has to die. You have to let go of what could have been, how you should have acted and what you wish you would have said differently. You have to accept that you can’t change the past experiences, opinions of others at that moment in time or outcomes from their choices or yours. When you finally recognize that truth then you will understand the true meaning of forgiveness of yourself and others. From this point you will finally be free.”  - Shannon Adler 

My students once asked if I ever blog about them. Little do they know that so many of my reflections are inspired by their awesomeness, their amazing desire to dive deeper into a relationship with Jesus and their overall wonderful, beautiful, and contagious personalities. Class of 2016, this one is specifically for you. 

To the Amazing, Beautiful, and Wonderful Class of 2016, 

First let me start by saying, I am astounded every day by your intelligence, your compassion, and your willingness to do that which is asked of you. You take each challenge and not only succeed but rather you go above and beyond. I asked for a mile, you gave me a road trip - a road trip I'll never forget! Sometimes I think - wow, these kids are so much more smarter than I will ever be. And you know what, that's okay. In fact, I'm so proud you're smarter than me. Because when you get out to the real world, you'll pick up where I left off. Thank for being not only smart but crazy about learning and discovering new things. 

You are some of the funniest people I know. I could be having the worst day - no coffee, traffic on the turnpike, everything going wrong - and then I walk into the classroom where 18, 10 or even 2 of you are looking back at me ready to take on the day. One of you starts, then the rest join in. Soon we are laughing much longer than the break allows and we've already lost ten minutes of class. Suddenly my day is turned upside down and I've found my reason for living again. You are always willing to share a smile with me in the hallway as you shout my name. You sometimes think it's funny to shout my name from undisclosed locations and then watch me try to figure out who was calling me. Then from amidst the crowds of students, your smiling face emerges with your cohort of laughing friends. 

You are also some of the most dedicated human beings on this planet. You have shown me that 3am has nothing on you because you're going to get a good grade, make the best retreat number or plan the greatest charity event. You have also told me that the wee hours of the morning when no one else is awake (aside from your 136 classmates) is when you do your best thinking. Maybe that's why you're all smarter than me. The wee hours of the mornings are when you make the best friendships whether it's on the weekend during a heart to heart at a sleepover or you're face-timing your project partner, hoping she's still awake because you just had an eureka moment. I love that about you - you're dedication to your school work but also to each other. 

And speaking of your dedication to each other - you've renewed my sense of self, too. Having gone to a school like yours, I remember making friendships like you have now. Everyday I see you laughing with your friends, I remember my friends. I remember to call them and tell them I love them even though we're half a world away sometimes. You're confidence in yourself and in others in the classroom, on the field or court or on the stage reminds me of the unquenchable desires I had in high school. Knowing you this year has made me remember to go back to chasing my dreams, too. Not that teaching you isn't living the dream, but the other dreams I made for myself. You remind me to do that. 

You are some of the most talented students I know - whether you're running homeruns, singing opera, dancing solo, making baskets, making robots, creating unique images of art, cruising down the river, running or jumping or throwing, writing poems or stories that rip my heart out, singing songs that satisfy the soul, or simply being true to who you are in every which way - you never cease to amaze me by your talent. Sometimes I think, if I ever have my own kids - I hope they are at least half the people you are. You shine brighter than the stars in the Chapel sky. Actually, there are no sun glasses that can protect against your shine it's so bright. I'm so blessed to have been able to bask in those rays. 

And finally, you are some of the most uniturnt people I know. Wow. I never thought Jesus could reach so many hearts. Thank you for sharing the states of your hearts with me on our retreats. Thank you for making retreat the most fulfilling part of my job. Thank you for the laughs and tears we all shared. Thank you for always bringing my favorite snacks, too! Thank you for letting me sleep and allowing me to be a happy princess. Thank you for sharing your truest selves with me - your best selves are your retreat selves. 

A letter to the graduates wouldn't be complete without some advice and so, while it's only been 6 years since I graduated high school, here's what I have for you: 

Branch out - meet people who are so different from you. Have at least one or two non-catholic friends who deeply practice their faith. Share your talents and use them to teach others. Don't stick with just your teammates. Have friends much different from your life experiences. Don't let yourself simply be comfortable. 

Of course, while you're branching out, make sure you call your friends every so often. Send a quick Bitmoji in the grext. Get together on holiday breaks, visit each other at college, and send snail mail. A quick little card to say hi can go a long way. The girls you are friends with now will be your friends forever, not matter how your circumstances change. I can promise you that. 

Let's talk school cafeteria/dining hall/dining hell. It can be the most intimidating place on the planet/college campus. Make sure you find a big table in the caf - a table that can seat all your new friends and then anyone who might look lost. If you find someone who looks a little intimidated by the caf or all alone, invite them to sit with you. If you are that person, don't be too scared to ask if a seat is taken. You might find some of your best friends this way. I did. Don't be afraid of the food choices - they make mom or dad's home-cooking even better. Cafeteria food keeps you humble and makes you grateful. It will probably be terrible but if you have good friends and an inclusive table set-up, it'll be worth it. You'll learn to use your creativity in a whole new way. 

And finally, academics. Chances are, you will be smarter or more able to adapt to the college setting than most of your peers. Don't let that be an excuse to slack off. Stay on top of things and stay sharp. Your teachers will be rather impressed with you. They might even ask you to teach a lesson or two. Don't be embarrassed. Just do it. And if any professor asks you to take any risks like touch a sheep's lung, diagram the Our Father, or perform a monologue, be the first to volunteer. You're professors will fall in love with you and those professors will be the ones who will write you the best recommendation letters for jobs, internships and grad school. So basically be yourself and keep doing what you've been doing for the past four years. And don't forget the tradition of thanking your professor. Once, that's all a professor wrote about in my rec letter - that I thanked him. 

I once heard a priest start a homily by saying - I remember the first time I fell in love. And so I start my last words to you the same way: I remember when I fell in love (not for the first time, but in a whole new way, whole new place). My first memories of the class of 2016 was at the Junior retreat when you all hated me for making you flip a tarp with just your feet. I received a number of half-hearted threats that day from perhaps some of the sassiest people I know. That's when I knew - I was really going to love these girls. And it's true. I fell in love that day. 

I never expected a group of students to change my life the way you did. You challenged me to be a better teacher, a better Campus Minister and a better person. You made me laugh harder than I've ever laughed in front of a group of people. You made me sing. You made me dance. You made me fall more in love with life. I know, for sure, that I will miss you each so much. And I will be praying for you every day of your college career as I watch you all make the world a better place. I'm not sure who will be my rays of sunshine, my smiles and my reason for waking up in the morning - but I know when you come back to visit, I'll be reminded of how much you truly changed my life. 

The truth is, because I knew you, I have been changed for good. Not for the good, but for good - you know, for eternity. 

I love you. BWYFA always <3