Friday, July 19, 2019

Summer 2019 Take 2!

Halfway through the summer! As I mentioned in my previous post, my typical summer gallivanting is confined to Stateside this year, much like last year. After the amazing trip to the Holy Land earlier this year (which I am still receiving the fruits of), I have kind of limited myself to be an East Coast tourist this summer (aka- limited budget!)

Because of all of my travels, people often ask me for my itineraries and examples of things to do in places that I have gone. I honestly get a lot of my ideas from Pinterest and other people's blogs, so why not do a little travel post of my own?

Today's post isn't going to be spiritual so much, but a little recap of some of my journeys so far this summer physically. So if you are interested in planning some trips to the Southeast sometime soon, read on!

The first week or so of summer, I usually just like to RELAX. So I typically just do a staycation. Throughout the summer, I try to find new local places to explore to keep me busy. Plus, I feel like there is just so much of our country, our state, to see!

A couple of my favorite places to go around town are the VMFA, the Arts District here in Richmond, Pocahontas State Park, and Pony Pasture ( a spot on the James River). I made visits to all of these places my first week or so of vacation.

There are also a lot of fun places to explore just an hour or so outside of the city. I typically make a visit to Charlottesville to visit a friend and hit up some wineries, Yorktown to get my dose of history and the beach, and Norfolk which also has beach and a cute downtown. I had never been to the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, however, and that was one of my favorite finds early on this summer. There are also lots of murals around that part of the city!

 pic from inside The Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, one of my new favorite spots!
 Only one of the many cool and unique murals around the arts district in Norfolk
Spotted the work of a Richmond artist friend/teacher in Norfolk!

After a couple of weeks just hanging out in VA, it was time for the annual travel trip! This year, I decided to explore 2 cities that many people have told me that I would love: Asheville, NC and Savannah, GA. I also found some other cool things along the way!

When planning our West Coast road trip last year, my friend introduced me to the website Atlas Obscura. You can search almost any place in the world and find weird, unique roadside attractions or museums near by. Mapping out my six hour drive to Asheville, my friend and I found lots of crazy things in the Greensboro, NC and also Winston Salem, NC area. Here are just a couple of the things I stopped and saw on my way to Asheville:

 This Woolworth store in Greensboro is now a Civil Rights Museum. It was the location of a sit in during the 1960s Civil Rights era. 
 This place was a definite cool find. Downtown Greensboro on the whole is pretty cute, but this place- Elsewhere Collective- reminded me a little of a "make your own" Meow Wolf (see last year's West Coast trip!). It is a place where artists create weird interactive pieces you can check out. 
 A little outside of Greensboro, Atlas Obscura told me about this gem. An oversized sock drawer in the middle of a small town in NC?! Why not!
Somewhere in Winston-Salem...one of the Original Shell Stations. 

Once I finally made it to Asheville, I was tired, but wanted to explore downtown a little. I had been to Asheville with my family about 20 years prior when my sister and I were in high school and looking at colleges. I don't remember exploring downtown, though, and I was so surprised to see that at like 8pm on a Sunday night, the town was bumpin'! There were people out and about everywhere- restaurants, bars, on the streets. I followed the live music I heard to a brewery (there are many in Asheville) and had a beer and a burger (with many other people acting like they didn't have to work the next day!) at Wicked Weed Brewery. I recommend their beers and the burger!

Rather than write paragraphs about each spot I checked out for the next 24 or so hours, I will just list my Asheville itinerary for those who may want to check it out yourself one day!

24-48 hours in Asheville:

- breakfast at Tupelo Honey (really any meal here. I was surprised it was open at 9am, so I did breakfast since it was rather empty and wasn't disappointed. The honey really is amazing)

- walk to St. Lawrence Basillica- one of the most oddly shaped churches I have seen! Also the architect is buried in the church!

- drive out to Grove Park Inn. It is an amazing old hotel where many presidents and artists/writers have stayed including F. Scott Fitzgerald. You could really make a whole day here. I was told after the fact that if you book a treatment like getting your nails done at the spa, you can spend the whole day in the spa there! The views are beautiful and I had a good time exploring the hotel and reading my book while taking in the view.

-Folk Art Center- this was on Atlas Obscura and a bunch of blogs as something to do, but it wasn't as impressive as I wanted it to be. It is more high-end arts and crafts on display rather than the weird, folky art I was hoping for.

-Asheville Pinball Museum- barcades are all the rage these days and when I go with my friends, I have a good time, but am never too into the games. This place had EVERYTHING, though, and I really could have spent hours here. For $15 you can play any of the machines that include old original pinball, 80s video arcade games, and classic Nintendo stuff. Recommend spending some time here!

- Chicken Alley downtown has a few cool murals including this one of, well, a chicken. It has some interesting history, too (but you will have to find out for yourself!).

- River Arts District- there are some local artist shops and galleries on the other side of town that were more my vibe. Unfortunately, a lot of the stores closed around 5 or 6 (I had spent more time than anticipated in the Pinball Museum!) so I didn't get to check out many.

- Grey Eagle Taqueria and Music Hall- this located in the River Arts District. It was time for me to refuel, and once again, I followed the live music. The tacos were great and I got to watch a wonderfully weird open mic night with locals.

Phew! That was all just in Asheville! And there is even more that I missed, I'm sure!

From there, I made my way to Savannah. On my way, I stopped for a hot minute in Columbia, SC because Atlas Obscura said there were some weird things there, but I really just wanted to get to Savannah. I did see a random recreated Egyptian Obelisk in Columbia, SC and whatever this is:
A giant bolt/fire hydrant coming out of the ground? Okay, Columbia, SC!

I checked into my Air B n B in Savannah which was in an up and coming part of town (38th and Bull Street), but perfect to walk to downtown. I explored so much on my first day.

Here is my 48 hour or so take on Savannah!

Forsyth Park- this park really is picturesque! Lots of artists had easels set up to paint the sights

St. John the Baptist Cathedral- the mural paintings on the walls were amazing!

Exploring the Squares- so many squares/parks! Each has its own history, too. I saw one that was dedicated to Pulaski, a Pole from the Revolutionary War era, one dedicated to the man who wrote Jingle Bells, and the one where Forest Gump was supposedly filmed!

Jones Street- said to be one of the prettiest streets in America. It was nice, but I also think it looked similar to some of the colonial or more antiquated streets I've seen in VA

Sentient Bean- a cute, hipster coffee shop where I took refuge and got a coffee and a sandwich :) Close to Forsyth Park

Foxy Loxy- another really cute coffee shop type place that also sells beer. I sat out back and listened to more live music.

Savannah Bee Company- I did honey and mead tastings here! It was a fun thing to do and I recommend it. Honey was amazing!

Prohibition Museum- I hate statues and wax figures and this museum has a lot of them!!! But it was cool to learn about this era in time and the museum is interactive and laid out well. If you spend an extra $5, you get a drink in the speakeasy at the end. The cocktails were great!

River Street- lots of cool bars, restaurants and shops. I had lunch at the Bohemian Hotel which has a cool rooftop bar on the Savannah river.

Planet Fun- a cute retro shop for those who like 80s/90s toy and video game nostalgia. Located on Broughton Street which also had lots of cute shops and restaurants including the Savannah Bee Company.

Wormsloe Plantation- it's $10-$11 to get in, but has beautiful grounds perfect for Instagramming :) There also is a Visitor's Center with a video that tells you more about the family that lived there. It has more Revolutionary War history than Civil War history which is what one typically thinks about with plantations.

Skidaway Island- just a short drive from Wormsloe. Another $5 or so to get in. It's really for people who are camping or want to walk/bike long trails. I had already done so much walking and it was so hot out, but I still enjoyed partially walking one of the trails and taking in the unique vegetation/wetlands there.

Bonaventure Cemetery- there are some notable graves here and the oak trees with their weeping branches is aesthetically pleasing. I think I am spoiled now living in Richmond because our Hollywood Cemetery is also really impressive!

Tybee Island- my last day of the 2-3 day trip, I need to just relax. Tybee is about 20 minutes away and worth the drive. It's got really nice beaches and a cute beach town with unique shops. It was a perfect little getaway.

Green Truck Pub- this place is so unique. It was within walking distance from my Air B n B and came highly recommended. The building clearly used to be a Wendy's or some type of fast food joint, but there is a cute little bar inside now and seriously the best burger I have had maybe ever.

Maple Street Biscuit Company- I believe this is a regional chain, but the options for breakfast were great and they had me give the name of my favorite band to call out my order instead of my name! So I was secretly judging everyone when they went to claim their order based on their music tastes.

Wormhole Pub- if this place were in Richmond, I think my friends and I would be here every day. It's  a total dive but has a few pinball machines and a stage for bands to play. It had a nice little outdoor seating area, too, and cheap drinks! Also within walking distance of my Air B n B!


I really loved both Asheville and Savannah and would love to go back and visit either place! I do a lot of things on my own being single, but I was grateful to have a friend say that she wanted to join me on the latter part of my trip. So when I was cutting back up from GA back to VA, we decided to meet around the Raleigh area. But first, we went out to visit her grandparents who live in the New Bern area. On my way, I stopped to see these ruins outside of Savannah as I crossed into South Carolina- the Old Sheldon Church. I really haven't seen anything like it here in the States!

Old Sheldon Church Ruins in South Carolina

The town where my friend's grandparents live was all the way on the coast of North Carolina. I really drove all across that state this summer! But it is really cute and is apparently the original hometown of Pepsi:

A Pepsi float in the town where Pepsi was founded!

My friend and I were here when the town and others nearby were celebrating the 4th. So we got to see a small town parade and some fireworks. It completely felt like small town America, but I was here for it.

Hadn't witnessed a small town 4th celebration in a long time! But got to do it this year in Oriental, NC!


Okay. To round out the NC/SC/GA road trip, we ended the tour in Raleigh. On our way, we stopped in Wilson, NC, home of the Whirligig Park! Another weird roadside attraction that my friend found. It was worth it.

They all move in the wind! If you are the only one around, I'm sure it is really creepy! Ha ha. 



We went to the North Carolina Museum of Art to check out the Sculpture Park. Weird, interactive art has been my happy place for the past decade or so now. I was stoked to see the above Kusama piece which was a reminder of last year's Kusama show that I saw in Cleveland.


I just returned this week from Cleveland, actually. My family and I went to Cedar Point for the first time since I was in my twenties and I can confirm that in my late thirties all of the roller coasters (and waiting in line for them) are way less appealing. Also, my tolerance for spinning rides is 0 now. I'm officially old!
                                                Carousel with my niece is still safe so far...

I like to stay busy and active in the summer and so far this summer has been just that! Looking forward to relaxing a little bit more as we wind down. A month from today, I will be welcoming the new crop of Middle Schoolers back to my clasroom. Gah! Have to enjoy every bit of these last 3-4 weeks!

Peace,
Julia


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Novena Season- Summer 2019

It's novena season! Pentecost came late this year since Easter was so late, so I just recently finished the novena to the Holy Spirit (the original novena) right as my school year ended. The weekend of Pentecost and the first weekend of my summer I spent in DC, an old and special stomping ground for me. As Pentecost is a celebration of the birthday of the early Church, I was in DC to celebrate. I had a friend who after many years of study, finally received his doctorate from Yale, and another friend who was celebrating her 40th birthday.

 God brought this lovely lady into my life after I had left the convent and she had just broken off an engagement of her own. We worked together for about 2 years before I started teaching and even though we don't see each other often, those roots from that time in our lives run deep!
These folks became ride or dies after my time in the convent as well. All of us are teachers, CUA grads, and perhaps the sassiest people you will ever meet. 

My love for Pentecost is documented on this blog almost every year because there have been times in my life when I felt extreme moves of the Spirit. This year, I also felt the movement of the Spirit, but in much smaller, but no less important ways. Being with these folks above (and also staying with and spending time with two other friends equally important to me but not pictured) reminded me of the good work that God has done and is still doing in my life. He has called me to work for the Church in so many different capacities and many of the folks I reunited with over this celebratory weekend have been a part of that and called to serve God and His Church in their own ways. Some of the ways have been big- I recently reunited with a friend who has opened her own art collective. One of the fellows pictured above graduated with a doctorate from Yale! Another wrote a book! God hasn't been calling me in big ways like that right now, but I know that I am happy and content because I am not envious of my friends who are doing big things. I am genuinely happy and proud of them. And I am certainly glad and grateful to call these fabulous people friends!

My summer this year doesn't include much gallivanting which is usually my claim to fame as well. Since I made the trip to the Holy Land earlier this year, that kind of covered my big, glamorous international travel for the year. I will be making a little retreat to Asheville, NC and then Savannah, GA next week- two places I have been told that I will love- so I look forward to exploring my own corner of the world a little bit.

In addition to travel, this is the time of year when I prepare for another important feast in my life: the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. My annual novena to St. Paul starts today! Typically, I am in some exotic place when the novena to St. Paul ends: Prague, Lisbon, and Salvation Mountain, CA (can't make this stuff up!) have been locations in the recent past. I will be in NC at this time next week and I have no idea what St. Paul will have in store.

 Today's first reading was from 2nd Corinthians where Paul is basically begging them to get themselves together and get on the right track in terms of their faith in the Lord. I love Paul for many reasons, but his passion to educate and evangelize about Christ is certainly tops. 
Before the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on the 29th, however, is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 28th. It might be weird that I am praying two novenas at one time, especially since all of my prayers are entrusted to Jesus anyways, but I also have started the novena to the Sacred Heart. The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began in France when Christ appeared to St. Margaret Mary and told her to tell others to devote themselves to His Heart. When I was in the Arlington Diocese, the bishop at that time started a movement to increase our devotion to the Sacred Heart. We were given images to have blessed and put in our homes. He wrote a document about the devotion and gave it to people in the diocese as well. I currently am a parishioner at a parish named for the Sacred Heart. Even though I am entrusting Paul to bring my prayers to Jesus, why not also consult the Man Himself, right? I am reminded that Christ is always knocking on the doors of our hearts. There is that saying and image that we used often in our retreats during my time with NET Ministries:
We literally had a talk we would use called: Open Wide the Doors to Christ. It is an image that I haven't thought a lot about in a while, but I am reminded of it as I meditate on Christ's Sacred Heart this month. 

The door image and the "knocking on our hearts" can go two ways. This image shows Christ wanting us to let Him into our "homes" and our lives. I can certainly use this image to help me this summer. Even though I have been called to open my heart to Christ in many ways in my life, there are still times where it shuts a little. And I believe by praying these novenas this month, I am knocking on Christ's door as well (aka "listen to me! Please!" :). It is a mutual desire to visit and listen to one another, which is a pretty beautiful image to think and meditate on.

I pray that everyone has a blessed summer, no matter what big or little things are going on in our lives. And if anyone would like to join me in this Novena to the Sacred Heart or Novena to St. Paul, you should find them in those links.

Happy Summer and Blessed "Novena Season" :)

Peace,
Julia


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Bread of Life

In addition to feeling the bittersweet joy of the Easter season, this year's season is extra special because my nephew and godson made his first Holy Communion!

Even though I witness many first communions through RCIA and distribute communion to 2nd graders at school, it is another thing to go through the whole experience with a child, especially one who are especially close to.

It's hard for me to believe that it's been 8 years since his baptism!

As I was sitting there in Mass for his first communion, I couldn't help but think of my own. The night before, a childhood classmate and I were actually reminiscing a little bit about when we had made first communion together. The Church was in a different building than it is now at the parish and the Mass was of course somewhat different (I remember doing the first reading at my First Communion Mass. It also happened to be my 8th birthday!). But a lot of the routine is also the same: the dresses, the excitement, the preparation. Which is really one of the beautiful things about our faith: throughout the centuries, around the world, the Eucharist is and always has been the same.

Just had to give a little shout out to this special moment that marked the Easter season for me this year! I hope and pray that we all hold onto the excitement and awe that we have at our first communions. 

The Easter Alleluia 2019

For the past 10+ years that I have been keeping this blog, writing during the Easter season has always been a mainstay. The Easter season is so bittersweet. We certainly have the joy of Easter. That which we thought was gone and dead has been brought back to life. The weather is warmer. The clouds and cold have gone away and make room for the new life of Spring.

But as we hear in the readings of Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John during the Easter Season, we also remember Jesus preparing to leave the apostles to their own devices. We hear from the passages of the Last Supper discourse where Jesus prepares them for his death but reminds them that he will not leave them alone. An advocate- the Holy Spirit- is coming. I recall these readings time and again in this blog because they seem to always emulate exactly what I am feeling at this time of year.

May is a time of endings and beginnings much like the early Church. Not just in the seasonal ways I have already mentioned, but as a teacher, I have witnessed years of graduations and the anticipations of new beginnings at new high schools and colleges for those graduating students. There is also the ending of the school year and the anticipation of summer.

Five years ago during this time in the Easter season, my college friend Dan lost his battle with leukemia. And each year it seems unbelievable that he is gone, but yet also very long since the last time we were all physically together.

 How I choose to remember Dan- senior year of college. 

Usually by this time of year in May, I have my summer all planned out. This is not the case this year. Since I took my big international trip this year in February to the Holy Land, I'm not sure what this summer will bring. I will have to leave it to the winds of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost in June to direct me.

By this time, too, I have typically already blogged about my Easter Alleluia- my experience during the Easter Octave. This year, my Easter was BUSY. As I have for the past 4 years, I helped to welcome new Catholics into the Church through the RCIA process, culminating at the Easter Vigil. This year, I was once again also called to be a sponsor. This year, God united me with a like-minded, fun spirited, sassy teacher :)

                                     Welcome to the Church! Easter Vigil 2019

Much like my summers, I typically like my Spring Breaks to be restful. But last year, I was selected to serve on an Advisory Council for a national organization of Catholic teachers. I had to attend meetings at their annual conference that falls during my Spring Break.

The conference was in Chicago this year, so I tried to make the most of it and bookended the trip but stopping in Ohio on the way out to the conference and on the way back to see family. My 38th birthday also happened to fall during this time as well.

         As if I hadn't brought the sass for the past 37 years, there is certainly no question about it now...

I was originally a little bummed to be spending my break on work related things instead of spending it on a beach, but I had gotten my trip of a life time earlier in February so I couldn't complain. And as most things do, the conference and break ended up being full of unexpected blessings.

I had known that a couple of my friends from college would be attending the conference, but we ended up reuniting with quite of few folks that I haven't seen in almost a decade. It was such a blessing to see people I had prayed with (and partied with) in college continuing to serve the Church in our respective ways. Pictured above are two Catholic school principals, two Catholic school teachers, a non-profit advocate for Catholic Schools and a priest!

The Easter Alleluia was different this year, but was still a renewal. I received the inspiration and drive I needed to go back and finish this year out strong.

In closing out the curriculum with my students this year, we have been talking about achieving holiness and discerning our vocations; very familiar subject matter for me. In talking to the students, I had the peace of sharing that I am exactly where I know God wants me to be. It took a lot of twists and turns and ups and downs and questioning along the way, but I now have the confidence in knowing that I have built the life with God that I want and believe that He wants for me. Alleluia!
But I am also awaiting that breath of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to see what He may want for me next.

Happy Easter, everyone! Even if it is the 5th week!
Peace,
Julia


Monday, March 25, 2019

Lenten Check-In 2019

Typically, Lent creeps up on me. We will have just finished the Christmas season with a quick couple of introductory weeks in Ordinary Time and then, BAM! It's Lent. But not this year. This year, Easter is LATE. Every once in a while, my birthday (which is on April 22) falls around the Triduum. For example, my 30th birthday was famously on Good Friday in 2011. You may remember my post on my "last supper" in my 20s ;)

This year, Easter is the day before my birthday and for me as a teacher at a Catholic School, that means our Spring Break is oh-so late this year. However, that also means that Ash Wednesday wasn't until early March which gave me sometime to really think about Lent and enter into it more officially.

I feel like I have actually been able to enter into and take advantage of Lent this year. It could also have something to do with the fact that I went to the Holy Land in February. I can't even imagine what the Triduum is going to be like for me this year since I have all these images now of what the places like the Upper Room and Gethsemane and Jerusalem actually look like. In fact, hearing the Gospel each week now is different because I can place on a map where these places mentioned in Scripture actually are and what they look like. If you get a chance or have the means to be able to go to Israel, I highly, highly recommend it.

Today is the feast of the Annunciation. And, yes, we got to go to the place in Nazareth where it is said that this event may have took place. I wrote a little bit about it in my last post.
The Church is built over this 1st century building believed to be Mary's House. This Church is called the Church of the Annunciation. It was a place of great prayer and peace for me. 

The event of the Annunciation is a lot to wrap our heads around. Certainly, angels deliver lots of messages to various people about important children in Scripture (Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael, Samson's mother in Judges, Raphael to Tobit, and Zechariah and John the Baptist just to name a few!). What makes this encounter with Mary different? Well, a lot as we know. She was without Original Sin. Jesus is the Son of God. Gabriel patiently answers Mary's question (unlike Zechariah before her). Mary was a young girl (Many of the women who become surprisingly pregnant in the Bible are typically much older and thought barren). Mary was promised to Joseph, but unmarried. 

Something that I am doing for part of my prayer for Lent is taking a place that we visited in the Holy Land each day and meditating on it. I think about what the place looked like, think about my feelings from when I was there, and reflect on any Scripture passages associated with that place. Today I had randomly assigned for myself Bethsaida. Bethsaida seemingly doesn't have much to do with Nazareth or the place of the Annunciation. However, it was the home of another important person/people who said an important 'Yes'- Andrew and Peter. 

"Beth" in Hebrew means "house of". Bethlehem, for example, is "house of bread". Bethsaida is the house or home of the fishermen. Andrew and Peter were two fishermen who Jesus called to while they were fishing at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. It was actually Andrew whom Jesus called to first. He was the first apostle who said "yes" to following Jesus. Peter followed and as they say, the rest is history. 

As I have been reflecting on these places I encountered last month, I try to think about how long Jesus knew of these places and people. Nazareth where Jesus grew up is close to the Sea of Galilee, but not necessarily right next to it. It was a bit of a drive for us. Many of the places in which Jesus performed miracles and gathered his disciples were along the Sea. Bethsaida is one of these places. 

I wonder if Jesus was already friends with Andrew and Peter. I wonder if he had seen them fishing there many times before and finally asked them one day to answer the call of their lives. What the call to Andrew and the Annunciation both have in common are these invitations from God answered by individuals with absolute faith and trust. Both Mary and Andrew were put in a position to make decisions that would ultimately shape the course of history. And they both put their faith in God and said yes. They both had intimate relationships with the Son of God because of it. 

We don't hear too much of Andrew's relationship with Jesus. We hear much more of his brother Peter's complicated friendship with Christ. Was this Christ's intention? Even if Jesus hadn't known the brothers prior to that day on the Sea, He had to have known their hearts. Just as God carved out a place and a call for Mary in Salvation History, God had to have known Andrew and Peter's roles as well. 

This feast today of the Annunciation continues to be one that I am fascinated with and gives me a lot to meditate on. I love that it is paired today with my reflection on Bethsaida. These places and these stories will never be the same to me. But I really did learn while in the Holy Land that while it is a blessing to be there, we can feel God's presence and reflect on Him anywhere. 

May we think of the "yes"s that we have said that have changed our lives, especially in regards to our call(s) from Jesus. 

Peace,
Julia

Friday, February 22, 2019

Finding God in the Holy Land

Hello, friends! I have spoken quite often on this blog about how the events of 2016 sent me seeking out more Christian community in 2017. At the beginning of 2018, I became a part of a Christian, feminist blogging community. We produce a blog called "Grace and Feminism." I have written several pieces for that blog over the past year while also maintaining my own space here.

Today, we published a piece about my recent trip to the Holy Land which I just returned from last week. While I try to write separate things for this blog, this time I thought I would I share what I wrote for our collaborative blog since I would probably end up sharing my same reflections about the Holy Land here. It was an AMAZING trip that I know I will be reflecting on for years to come!

"Finding God in the Holy Land"

Hello, dear readers, from your recently returned pilgrim! That's right, your traveling teacher got to take another trip off of her bucket list. When I first starting teaching almost 10 years ago now, I never realized how the summers off would open up my world so literally. Each summer (since I learned how teachers should use their summers) has been spent at a new international location: Greece, Morocco, and Australia (just to name a few). 

But, you say, it isn't summer, and you'd be correct. When I saw a trip to the Holy Land advertised in my church bulletin last year, but saw that it was scheduled for February, I was determined to make it work no matter what. Because teachers get so many breaks and weeks off in the summer, we don't get vacation. We get three personal days and that is it for the year other than sick time. I tried to pitch to my principal that since I am a Scripture teacher and I work at a Catholic School, this should be professional development time, but it didn't quite work out that way. Regardless, I did get the time off to go (even though it was unpaid leave) and I did get to book my trip of a lifetime. 

A trip to the Holy Land bears so much weight for so many reasons. Everyone says "it's the trip of a lifetime." Add onto that that you are a Scripture teacher. That you used to live in a convent. And that you told your parents about it and they want to go with you. This, my dear readers, only adds to the pressure of this trip really needing to meet that expectation of "trip of a lifetime." 

I really tried not to put any expectations on the trip since there was so much weight to this trip already. Regardless of how things went with our group or our flights, I was going to see the places that I teach my students about. I was going to walk close to places that Jesus at one time walked.

Now, I am not disillusioned that these places are ACTUALLY the places where tradition asserts that these moments in Christ's life happen. I know that a lot of these Churches were built on guesstimates. But it was still going to be good enough for me to go to the places that for 1700 years- since the 4th century when Constantine and Helena made Christianity a world wide thing- people have come to worship and honor and remember Jesus. 

Our trip was a 10 day tour and about 3 of those days were spent with travel. We flew to Frankfurt (7 hour flight) and then to Tel Aviv (4 hour flight). Israel is 7 hours ahead, so by the time we got to Tel Aviv, it was just time to go to bed. We got to see the coastal city a little before bed and before we boarded our bus for our true adventure: the cities in Northern Israel around the Sea of Galilee and then making our way down to Jerusalem. 

I will spare you the play by play of each day, but rather, this post is going to be about where I "felt" God during this trip. I feel like one does a pilgrimage like this for the main reason of "feeling" God's presence in these places. And, again, that is a lot of pressure to put on a trip. There are so many factors that come into play. For example:

a.the people you are traveling with. For us, that was a doozey. Lots of old, American travelers who I wasn't quite sure had ever left the country before. That was a lot to take in and of itself. Oof. 

b. timing. Turns out February is a great time to travel to Israel. It is like their Springtime. A little bit of rain, 50 and 60 degree weather, lots of vegetation in bloom. Our tour guide made sure to get us to as many places as possible each day (despite the aforementioned American travelers who are used to being on their own time schedules that I can only assume means moving at the slowest pace possible with no regard for anyone else) but moving at such a pace meant not getting to spend as much time as I would've liked taking in all of these seriously momentous locations. 

c. the political backdrop. We all know that the Middle East has been in conflict since biblical times and it definitely played a role while we were there. I felt safe always while in Israel, but crossing the Palestinian border meant having us switch guides to have someone from the State of Palestine show us around Bethlehem and seeing big signs and barbed wire around borders warning Israeli citizens about their entrance into Palestine. On my free day, I really wanted to return to the border to see some street art by the artist Banksy that is there, but my guide warned against it. He said no cab driver would take me there for less than $150 and even then it was a toss up as to what the climate would be like. 

All these factors I tried to not let taint my bucket list experience of seeing and experiencing the places that we have read about in Scripture for centuries. But we are human. 

I said I wasn't going to give you all a play by play of each day, but rather, perhaps describe some of my "God moments" while on the trip. On our first day, I believe we were all looking for that "God moment" right away. Some of us did get it when we arrived in Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. This is apparently a newly excavated city. It was "discovered" I think as recently as 2011. The skeptic in me had lots of questions. I couldn't believe that for centuries people had walked this land around the Sea of Galilee and built churches on so many sites where Jesus was said to have walked, but we are just now discovering this land we have heard of in Scripture? I tried to put the questions out of my mind and just take in that FINALLY after 2000 years, a Church was going to be dedicated to the women in Scripture. 

I will say, the priest that we heard describing this new Church that is built for "the dignity of women" was still condescending. I wish I could say that was a surprise, but we know better, don't we ladies? The Church they have built in Magdala is very modern and has a room where there are pillars for each of the women mentioned in the Resurrection narratives which I thought was nice. There is an "empty" pillar with no name on it for the women who are pillars in our faith. Also a nice touch. It was still hard to listen, though, to a man speak about how this room and this Church was meant to "teach women about their dignity"...as if it was our fault that our dignity had been taken from us for centuries. 

I was clearly too much inside of my head this first day. I was questioning the legitimacy of this place, this excavation, the intent behind all of it, judging those in my group...and then...

Bam! I fall to my knees on the 1st century rocks beneath my feet. 

Our guides had been telling our 60+ aged travelers for hours to be careful on the 1st century stones and who is the one who takes the dive? One of the youngest ones. 

I was humiliated, of course, to be in a group of 60 somethings and to be the one who took the dive that everyone saw and continued to ask me about for the rest of the week. I was also legitimately concerned about my ankle that immediately began to swell and hurt to put pressure on. But as I got onto my feet, we were taken into a chapel that is dedicated to the woman who touched Jesus' garment in Mark chapter 5. This has been one of my favorite Scripture passages since I learned about how Mark wrote his Gospel while studying in the convent. 

Image of chapel in Magdala with woman touching Jesus' garment. Note unstable 1st century floors...

After I had my fall and this humbling moment and the visiting of this chapel, I got my head into gear. I asked God to change my attitude, to make me physically and spiritually well, just like the woman in the story. 

We ended our first day with Mass in another chapel in this Church at Magdala with an altar shaped like a boat. There were windows behind it that overlooked the Sea of Galilee. The modern altar I thought was, of course, significant and really helped us get our minds around that we are here, in Galilee, where so many of these miracles happened. 

Another chapel at Magdala.

The readings for Mass that day were also part of my God moment on this first day. The first reading was Hebrews 12:1-3, a passage that my personal blog is literally named after (http://hebrews121-3.blogspot.com. No joke) and the Gospel reading for that day was the woman with the hemorrhage. Our priest assured us that those were the actual readings for the day, not chosen just because we had seen the chapel inspired by that reading. 

Later in our journeys, we would be having Mass and reading the passages from Scripture associated with those places we were in, but on this first day, I believe that my fall, those readings, were my first "God moments" of the trip. God was helping me to get my head in the right place and assure me that this trip would be anointed if I would get out of my own way. 

Other places where I unexpectedly felt God's presence:
- Mary's home in Nazareth. I have always struggled with my relationship with Mary and again, my skepticism tells me that the house dedicated as "her house" in Nazareth couldn't possibly be THE actual house, but for some reason, I felt very at peace there and didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay and pray and offer up all of my prayer intentions there. 

- Pater Noster in Jerusalem. This is a church built in dedication to where Jesus gave us the Our Father. The Scripture scholar in me once again was dubious because the Mount of the Beatitudes is dedicated up by the Sea of Galilee and in Matthew's Gospel, the Our Father is given in the same Sermon as the Beatitudes, yet here we were miles and miles away from that Mountain. But as our guide took us into a 1st century burial place on this mountain- the Mount of Olives where Jesus also Ascended from- and we said the Our Father together, I felt a connection to the place and to Our Father. 

- the Holy Sepulcher. No surprise that I felt the Lord's presence here as it is the Church where it is said the tomb of Christ and the rock of Calvary are located. I felt Christ's presence as we said Mass next to the place where people can touch the rock said to be where Jesus died. I felt His presence specifically when we said the Creed together during Mass. It reminded me of how Christians have said this Creed of faith for centuries and to be at the place where much of our Creed takes place-"suffered, died, and was buried"- was a moment. 

- Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It may not be surprising that I felt God's presence here, being it is the place where God gave to us a Savior, but I am much more of an adult Jesus kind of girl instead of a baby Jesus girl if that makes any sense. I was also having some very human moments as we waited for hours to see the place of the manger. I was frustrated with humanity as we waited and people around us pushed and I was also frustrated with a woman in our group, but once we finally got into the cave of the Nativity, I felt God's presence at the place of the manger. I don't even remember taking pictures there and was surprised later to find some on my phone because I think I had some kind of out of body experience while there. 

- Church of the Visitation. Surprisingly, another Mary place! Mary was really coming through on this trip for me. I felt her peace and presence at this place where it is said her cousin Elizabeth and husband Zechariah lived. It was also the birthplace of John the Baptist. We did this on the same day as Bethlehem and it was cool to have visited the birthplace of Jesus as well as the birthplace of his precursor, John, on the same day. 

There is so much more that I could say about my trip, but I am still processing much myself. One of the biggest takeaways that I will leave you with is this one: 

As we were in Nazareth in the home of the Holy Family where Jesus was supposedly raised, I was letting my humanness get the best of me again. People were pushing, there wasn't much space, people in our group were frustrating me and so then I was frustrated with myself that I wasn't "feeling" anything there. 
In that moment, I thought: "here I am in the Holy Land and I have had more intense 'God moments' back home." But maybe that's just it. And that is the beauty of our faith: you don't have to be in the Holy Land to "feel God." He truly is present everywhere. And for me as a Catholic, I believe He is present in the Eucharist which happens every time at Mass. That idea that God is truly present everywhere gives me much hope and I hope that it does for you, too, dear reader. 


I am grateful to have had the experience of a lifetime with this trip. I can now picture and imagine geographically where much of the New Testament and some of the Old Testament took place. But our God is not limited by time and space. He is everywhere. And apparently I had to go to the Holy Land to really learn to appreciate that. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Back to Ordinary (Time)

Well, the Advent and Christmas seasons came and went! I hope that you all had much grace and many blessings during both! Those seasons are so important but always go so quickly. I didn't necessarily stick to my Advent promises as I had wanted, but I believe I prepared for the season well and enjoyed celebrating the Christmas season with many friends and family these past couple of weeks.

So today we are back to the "ordinary" of Ordinary Time until we start Lent which is in March this year. I'm sure that I have said this on the blog before, but Ordinary Time doesn't mean that there isn't just a lot going on in the Church at this time. Our liturgical calendar is centered around Christmas and Easter. Advent and Lent prepare us for those seasons and then whatever time we aren't in any of those seasons, we are in Ordinary Time. Mostly just because the weeks during Ordinary Time are "ordered" or numbered. For example, Advent began our new year in the Church. It was followed by the Christmas season. Now we begin our "ordered time". This week is literally the 1st week in Ordinary Time.This Sunday is the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time and will begin (you guessed it) the 2nd week in Ordinary Time.

During Ordinary Time, the Church focuses on all of the miracles and the ministry of Jesus. The things that he did during the times that weren't the Incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas or the Death and Resurrection we celebrate at Easter. In Christ's "Ordinary Time" he healed the sick, preached, called his apostles, taught lessons, performed miracles. He made the most of His "Ordinary Time"!

We end the Christmas Season with the Baptism of Jesus. While it is kind of startling that we had just celebrated Epiphany the week before and Jesus was still a baby being brought gifts by the magi, now He is suddenly 30 years old and being baptized by John in the Jordan. As the Church does all things, there is a reason. First of all, we don't get many infancy narratives in any of the Gospels. That is to say, we don't really know much about Jesus' childhood other than a few stories in Matthew and Luke. Both Mark and John start with Jesus as an adult, being baptized by John in the Jordan because this was the start of his ministry. So too, then, our Christian ministry begins with our baptisms. The rest of our lives are to be spent trying to serve as Christ served as best as we can.

I typically try and make some new year's resolutions that I think are realistic, but they inevitably fall by the wayside (I don't think that I am alone in this). In the past, I've tried to have years of more positive thinking or eating more green things. Last year, I actually followed through with my goal of cooking more. This year, I want to read more and use less social media and tv. I've started by getting rid of cable and my phone told me that my screen time was down so far this week!

That being said...slowing down on social media is going to be difficult. This post today was actually inspired by a "challenge" that was floating around on Facebook and Instagram. People have been posting pics from 2009 and 2019 side by side to show how they've changed or grown.

Here are mine:

Left: New Year's Eve in Atlantic City 2008-2009, Right: most recent New Year's Eve in Richmond, 2018-2019

Top: Myself with my roommates in Silver Spring, MD 2009, Bottom: Myself with my "might as well be roommates" Richmond, 2019

Posting pictures like this of course leads to some reflection. The darker haired, younger looking 28 year old had just left the convent the year before. She was starting over but lucky to be surrounded by familiar faces and the community of college friends. She had given up her job, car, and many of her possessions before entering the convent. Acquiring those things in 2009 was relatively easy, but the job she picked up was a learning experience. She hadn't yet found her calling of being a teacher. She did, however, recognize her desire to continue her education and started grad school for Theology in 2009. She started exploring the world of dating again and would have many bad first dates and failed "relationships" in the next 10 years, but always persevering and trying to better herself.

The woman in 2019 has embraced the "edge" that has always been there. She used to try and fight and condemn that edge, but now she accepts it. She continues to battle the negativity that comes to taunt her, but has become much calmer in many ways, less uptight. She has established a career that she didn't realize ten years prior would very much define her and utilize her strengths and natural gifts. In 2019, she no longer lives with roommates, but still surrounds herself with strong community that build her up.

To switch back to first person here, in 2009 I was just trying to figure things out again. I thought my life was going to be one thing, but it actually has turned out to be something much greater for me. I have a few clear things that I've achieved: a Masters degree, a career as a teacher, I've traveled around the world, developed skills, and discovered art. But much of my life continues to be in flux, which I don't thing 2009 Julia knew was going to still be the case and that it would be okay. In our 20s, so many of us want a clear path or to be defined by achievements and relationships...I have that in my 30s, but maybe not quite in the way that I thought back then.

The main thing that I have learned in these 10 years is that God truly is in the "ordinary" and life doesn't have to be defined by revolutionary, life-changing moments. Here's to embracing more of the fantastic ordinary and welcoming any extra-ordinary in 2019.

Peace,
Julia