Thursday, August 18, 2011

Things Could Be Worse! Take it from an Old Testament Girl...

Did anybody else read today's readings and react something along the lines of:
"WHAAAA?!! the WHAT?!"

'Cause I did. And apparently I'm not the only one who thought they were blogworthy either.

Didn't read the readings for today? Don't worry, I won't judge. I'll just wait while you go ahead and read the links I posted above.

Go ahead. I'll wait :)



Not gonna read 'em? Eh, it's okay. I'll sum 'em up for ya. Just a *disclaimer* though, that my interpretation may not be entirely scripturally accurate.

SO there's this Judge Jephthah (yeah, I know. How many H's can be in one name, right?) and he apparently is trying to make a deal with God. This is probably his first mistake. Didn't he learn from Moses and Abraham that bartering with God is probably not a good idea? Remember Abraham's nephew Lot? Abraham tried to bargain for him too. His wife still turned to salt.

This is apparently Lot's Wife according to Google Image...

So Jephthah's all: "if you let me beat the Ammonites I will offer a human sacrifice to you. Whoever comes through the door next, that sucker's YOURS."

Okay, we'll see King Saul also ready to make crazy deals for these Ammonite people, so I get that they are a real hassle for the Israelites at this point in time. However, HUMAN SACRIFICE?! And God is gonna GO for it?

Not only does God go for it, friends, but he pulls a Job and the next person who walks through the door after Jephthah makes his little prayer is, of course, HIS ONE AND ONLY DAUGHTER. Cue the soap opera music!

(ps- speaking of Soap Operas, I was watching 90210 the other day on Soap Net BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT I DO WHEN I HAVE ONE WEEK OF SUMMER LEFT and Sophie B. Hawkins "Damn, I Wish I was Your Lover" was the jam looped over Dylan and Kelly's summer shennanigans. You know, the time Brenda was in Paris and they cheated? Oh. So. Good.)

ANYWAYS so, Jephthah sacrifices his only daughter! His only child! But not before she "mourns her virginity". Oh, sister. Only adding insult to injury there. Her daddy's gonna kill her and she KNOWS and then she's also gotta go sulk about how she's gonna die before ever having sex. Truly depressing. For reals.

So, I'm sitting in this chapel, looking for my daily inspiration and this is what I'm getting. I try to look on the bright side: Is Jephthah's daughter kind of like Isaac in some way? Isaac was a prefigurement of God offering His Only Son for us later in the New Testament. A "type of Christ". But if I know how the Old Testament is written- and I'm slowly learning- I'm guessing a woman wouldn't be given such weight. And anyway, Abraham doesn't end up actually killing his one and only son. We are told Jephthah's daughter: "...returned to her father,
who did to her as he had vowed.
" Judges 11: 39a Yikes!!

Thankfully, the Church in her infinite wisdom pairs this reading with Psalm 40 which says: "Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Burnt offerings or sin-offerings you sought not
then said I, "Behold I come."

Phew! Okay, so God doesn't just want us to offer our firstborns because I was beginning to detect a trend....

You know that I have been wondering what kind of things God is asking me to sacrifice right now in my life, so this reading threw me off a little today. But the Psalm does reaffirm that the CORRECT thing to do is just to be open and say: "Here I Am, Lord" and trust that THAT is what He wants from us.

PS- every image I googled of Jephtah's Daughter showed a really beautiful image of a young girl. Sucks...


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Summer of Service

Okay, I've decided: I officially love summer.

People asked me at the beginning of this summer: "what are you going to do with your time off this summer? Are you going to take classes? Travel?" I had plans to do neither and I felt almost like I wasn't doing summer right or something by not planning a big vacation to an exotic place or taking a summer course. I would respond: "I'm just going to experience my first summer off as a teacher in a normal way. Doing normal stuff."

And here I am- my last week before having to return to school as a second year teacher. Did I use my summer well?? Let's see:

- trip home to see family was on my list, so check and check.
- help with Diocesan Workcamps: check and check.
- work a little on my research project for fall: (um, VERY little...) but check.

What was left on the list was to spend a little time actually doing "summer stuff" like swimming/outdoorsy things and going on the weeklong service trip with high school students that I had signed up for back when school was in session and I somehow didn't realize I was already helping with TWO major youth ministry/service things this summer. Hmmmmm.

Needless to say, I wasn't super stoked to go on this service trip to Camden after I had already spent 20 days of summer doing youth ministry/service-ish stuff. But more about my trip to Camden in a bit.

After the second week of camp I did get some time off (which I blogged about) and the weekend before I left for youth ministry/service trip #3, I spent some time with- wouldn't you know it- more ministry folk. This time in the form of teens who are no longer really teens but now YOUNG ADULTS that used to be in the youth group I ministered to years ago (did that make sense? Basically, I hung out with some kids who I used to minister to and they are now adults)

It was another great example of how this summer turned into being the summer of ministry/episode of "this is your life" that I didn't intend for it to be, but was so grateful for. It was fun to just hang out with these young people kind of as their peer and no longer have to be their authority-type figure. It was also cool to see the awesome young people they have turned out to be! I was humbled by the experience.

Almost as humbled as I would be about Service Trip #3. But first, I also finally got a chance to do some summery things before that fateful trip...kayaking on the Potomac!:

Some friends and I took a morning before I left for Camden to take kayaks from Georgetown to Roosevelt Island. It was a quick trip, but enough to check off my "do something outdoorsy" box on my summer checklist.

Now, for the check I totally didn't expect to have this summer: reality check.

As you clearly have learned from this and other posts: I've done service ministry trips before. I've been on them myself in college and I've led them for teens. I didn't think much for signing up to lead another one- this time, with students who are from the school where I teach.

I knew a couple of the students who were going, but not many. It ended up being 15 teens, two other adults and myself heading up to Camden, NJ for the week.

I've been to parts of Philly and NJ plenty of times since I've been on the East Coast. I have many friends from the area. And most of those friends gave me a warning about Camden when I told them I was going there for a week. So I knew the situation in Camden was going to be bad, but I still didn't really know what I was in for.

I've witnessed poverty and homelessness much in my life. I've been to third world countries, I've lived in an urban area, and the place where my family calls home and where I was basically raised IS an industrial area that is slowly turning demographically. So I thought I knew what I was going to see in Camden and I didn't expect to be changed too much by it.

I still don't know if I am "changed", but it definitely inspired me to be the girl I was moreso in college- constantly serving and mindful of those physically and monetarily poor.

As I've become more involved in youth ministry, there is no doubt I feel called to work with the spiritually poor. But in that, I've allowed myself to become comfortable in this area in which I serve- aka Northern VA. Taking a bunch of Northern VA kids to Camden, NJ was a really eye opening experience in that it once again made me realize how entitled we really do feel, how convenient our lives are, and that we take SO much for granted.

I know this all sounds so trite. I wish I could take you through the streets of Camden that really are like being in a third world, when one of the richest towns in the U.S. is 10 minutes away. But I can't, so here are some pictures:

I was reminded much of my time in Guatemala when I was there, in both good and bad ways. "Good" in that the people (though many addicted to drugs, therefore keeping them in poverty) were friendly and grateful for our help. Like the poor I met in Guatemala, their poverty allows them to reach outside of themselves and make connections with people much more easily than those of us who surround ourselves with material things.

"Bad" in that, well, Guatemala is third world and still battling recent civil unrest and war. Camden is in one of the richest states in one of the richest countries in the world. The fact that Camden had that third world feel is what probably rocked my world the most.

Since I can't possibly describe my week in one blog post, I will just give you some snapshots:

- filling bags of food on the first day there to distribute to the homeless and hungry made me think about how we take food and meals for granted. We can have as much as we want, whenever we want. Here, I was filling a very limited bag with limited canned goods that was to last a family for a week.

(picture of us unloading some food donations alongside the homeless who will receive it)

- the reality of drug addiction was in our faces- from the syringes we came across in our clean-up work to the people we met. One morning, some of us went to a shelter hoping to talk to some of the homeless and hear their stories. The reality of what we encountered was people falling asleep at their places during breakfast or babbling incoherently. This was tough for some of the kids who just wanted to share a cheery conversation, but is the reality of drugs for many.

- spending time in community as a group. We had to make meals for ourselves and it was good for the kids to have to be resourceful and build community with meals. We did not have the luxury of just stopping by Starbucks or McDonalds when they wanted a snack, and for many of them, this was difficult. It was good for me to remember that we shouldn't take our resources for granted.

- the typical teenager "clique-merging" that you pray for to happen and eventually does if you work for it. We had many a nights spent laughing playing cards or catch phrase together as a community.

(some pics of the kids hanging out to celebrate a birthday and do goofy things as a community while we were there)

- prayer together. We got to reflect each night together on our experiences, and I always looked forward to hearing what the kids took away from the work that we did.
One of the most powerful nights of prayer that we had- for me- was a night that Father said Mass in the Cathedral (Camden is actually its own Diocese) and it was just our group by candlelight.

( our reflection during Mass at the Cathedral)

Perhaps the most moving moment for me, though, was on our last Workday. After three days of working hard at homeless shelters, food pantries, and cleaning up the streets of Camden, we took a break from our routine and was given a guided tour of "Tent City".

(pictures of us speaking with residents of Tent City)

First of all, the guide for our tour was Kenny. Kenny has been homeless himself. He just recently obtained his own housing and is working for the service group- De Sales Service Works- which we were volunteering with. The priest in charge of the program employs him now to work with volunteers. I was blessed to have a couple one on one conversations with Kenny and I found him to be an amazingly devoted and concerned man. He was so concerned about taking care of our group and making sure our students were not led astray in any way while we were in Camden.

So Kenny leads us into Tent City- a little community of homeless living in tents. I thought I had experienced the homeless before. But as soon as those who greeted us (so warmmly, I may add) started speaking, I started to tear up.

This woman- Gina- began speaking passionately to us about the dangers and realities of drugs. Though our students have heard over and over again "Don't do drugs. Stay in school" I was moved- almost FOR them- at the reality of her message. She meant it. She was living proof, sadly, of the pain of addiction.

My eyes started tearing as she spoke, and then one of my most beautiful memories of the trip occurred. Kenny, from across the circle, caught my eye and saw me tearing. He immediately started moving over to me, reaching in his pockets for a tissue. Meanwhile, one of my students who I am actually an advisor to, reached to give ME a hug. By the time Kenny got over to me, I was truly in need of a tissue and he took out a folded up paper towel with his own medication in it, removed the pill, and handed me the piece of towel. It was quite a moment. Here I was- the one who has been doing all this "ministering" being ministered TO by the very people I was supposed to be serving!

I thought that moment would be the peak, and it was, but we continued to talk to the residents of Tent City- one whom we had met at the shelter I mentioned. He was one we actually DID speak with, and I remember being struck by how sharp and intelligent he seemed. I didnt' quite understand why a man seemingly so smart would reside in a place like Tent City. I know that sounds bad. But he had spoken of children who are in college and I thought, "if you're children can get out of poverty, why can't you?" I'm assuming he is addicted to drugs, which is the sad reality our other friendly resident of Tent City- Gina- was speaking so passionately about.

(picture of me speaking with David earlier in the week at the Cathedral)

Anyways, David is the man's name who we encountered both at the shelter and Tent City and HE remembered ME from the shelter earlier in the week. He pulled over his girlfriend who is living with him and said, "this is 'Teacher'". He didn't remember my name, but remembered me as the teacher. It was kind of moving to me since i have been trying to grapple with that new role in my life. His girlfriend asked me what I taught and when I said "religion" she immediately claimed Jesus as her Lord and Savior. She kept telling me, "I know He will provide" which is the same prayer I have been telling myself all these years. I left crying a little bit more when I realized she and I were not only praying to the same God, but the same prayer though, of course, for different reasons. She left giving ME a hug and I promised her and Gina that we are united in prayer- which we truly are. So amazing.

Sigh. So thank you for your prayers for the Camden trip. It truly was one of the unexpected highlights of my summer. It enouraged me as I prepare to go back to teach this fall and also helped me continue to ponder the "sacrifices" I wish to make (as I mentioned last week)in my for Christ as His Beloved.

I'm looking forward to one last awesome week of summer!

Oh! To learn a little more about the situation in Camden, you can watch this special which we watched while we were there.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Giving From Our Surplus?!

Oooo...y'all are getting a two-fer this week! Somebody must be reaaalll relaxed ('s me! ;)

I've had all of the time to just DO stuff this week (though still haven't really gotten to that grad research- DON'T TELL!) and when I saw my friends out last weekend after a week + of Workcamp Part 2, and they were all like, "Julia! You look great!" I haven't been doing much of anything, as we all know, so it must be just the fact that I'm RELAXED that I'm looking/feeling good!

And with all of that time comes time for prayer! Which also helps.

I had me some spiritual direction yesterday which was so good and helpful. I've been praying about how to be Christ's Beloved in a different way since moving out of the convent and into the next phase of my life (30s!).

Father made some good points to me yesterday about how being the Beloved is not just about receiving love, but also giving it as well. Making some kind of sacrifice to show our love to our Beloved.

Again, with religious life, the sacrifice one is asked to make is clear. Even the past two years where I struggled to find a job in ministry was a sacrifice I was able to offer up and unite with Christ.

But in this time of surplus, of consolation- what can I offer and give to the Beloved?

It's SUMMER. Things are GOOD. I'm relaxed. I gots a new house, rocking community, job that I love, directed research with a prof...I've always heard that we should "give from our need" but is it okay to give from the surplus??? I feel like I have an abundance right now!

I think- regardless of where we are spiritually, physically, emotionally- God just wants 2 things: 1.) That we are using our gifts for Him in some way 2.) allowing Him permission to do whatever He wants with where we are at.

So, for example, discerning religious life, I was like: "Here. It's all yours. Take my job that I like, my cool outfits, my future, my talents- do with it whatever you would like."

I just kind of figured out today that I can say that now too! Though it seems kind of an unfair advantage since I AM giving from a surplus, instead of a need. But I can still say: "It's all yours. The job I like, my cool outfits, my future, my talents- do whatever you would like."

So while I am praying about what kind of sacrifice God might be asking me to make at this point in my life, Father emphasized that God will make it clear. So not to worry. I think what God does want right now is that permission to do whatever He wants with all that He's given me and my trust that He does all things well.

St. Ignatius has also been a help to me as I am in this time of consolation (Discernment of Spirits! Get it!) because the devil wants to be all up in the mix. I'm not sure which rule # it is, but one of the rules of consolation/desolation: "Don't stray from your plan." If you have a plan to go and take an hour in prayer, using xyz to pray- don't let no one talk you out of it! Devil's gonna wanna jump all over it! That's definitely been a temptation for me of late since things ARE so good it's like, 'oh, I don't gots to pray...things are Good!' WRONG. Don't listen! Stick to the plan!

Also, in times of consolation we are to kind of have a plan for when we are back in times of desolation. So, for example, I know my summer days are numbered (sniff!) So how am I going to plan on praying when my time is shorter and I'm more stressed? I gots to plan ahead!

Anyways, these were some of the thoughts I thought to share after my prayer today. Please pray for my upcoming trip to Camden as it will be a step outside my comfort zone- not knowing what to expect from the experience. And pray for the students who may be changed. And lastly, pray for all my friends going to World Youth Day!

I've never been to WYD, because showering with thousands of people in streets doesn't really appeal to me...wait. WHAT?! You heard me. Traveling with large groups of people ain't pretty. Though I do get the beauty of seeing the universal Church and I definitely want to make a pilgrimage one day. Just on my own time. With perhaps a smaller group of people and guaranteed hygiene.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Saying Yes to Summer Part 2

You would think that since I have had a month and some change to be loungy that I would be doing so, but it's ME and when I GET to be lazy, I don't WANT to be. And when I should be doing stuff, I get LAZY. That's how I roll. I don't like to be told what to do and that includes seasonal expectations. Humph.

After TWO trips to Ohio- one in June, one in July and TWO Workcamps- again, one in June on in July- I'm finally choosing to be a little loungy. Don't get me wrong, I've had times in between trips to lounge by the pool, ride my bike, go to the some things for me. But I'm taking this week off to catch up on some research for grad school (I'm pretty sure I told my prof I'd submit my original outline a month ago- eeps!) and apparently DOG SIT. (I have a colleague who is my new neighbor and I agreed to watch their dog while he and his family went out of town, forcing me to have to be a little loungy this week. I know. WHO AM I?!)

Next week, however, I'm going on ANOTHER trip- this time to Camden, NJ with some students from school as another immersion/youth ministry type trip.

So this summer as turned into the summer of ministry, even though I didn't intend for it to be. I've been seeing some of the chillins' I teach this summer even though I wasn't expecting to hear "Miss Strukely" 'til August. AND OMG AUGUST IS HERE!?! Whaaaa?? Sssshhhhh....let's not talk about it just yet.

In the weeks between ministry trips, I have been trying to be in a routine of prayer- starting my days with Mass and some time in front of the Eucharist, going to Confession regularly. But as many youth ministers know, some of our prayer time turns into thoughts on talks and topics we could be preparing for the teens and that has been a difficulty with me of late, too.

So I was pleasantly challenged (if that's a thing...) when a friend who I always have very good, honest conversations with asked me: "So what brings you joy, Julia?" OOOooo...good question! Being asked to articulate something like that isn't as easy as we think! My friend who was asking me is a family man, so I assumed that he would have an "easy" answer: his children, his wife, done. When I was discerning religious life, I had to ask myself that question often. And I really don't think the answer has changed, though the direction of my vocation has. So I answered:

"My work. My studies. My friendships. My relationship with God. The New Evangelization. Music. Art." You know, the usge ( I still struggle with the proper spelling of "usge", btw...suggestions??)

I have been really excited and always motivated by my work in ministry and everytime I have a meeting with a professor at school I want to run to the library and start on the very next section of that paper (if only that feeling last longer than a few mere hours ;) but what about these things brings me joy? I told him something like:

"I get joy by giving other people tools that will benefit their spiritual lives in some way." And that is what the goal of the New Evangelization is, I believe. Re-educating those of us who grew up in the faith, but gaining new tools and new information to help us learn more about God.

Then he asked about my prayer life and what God has been saying to me lately in prayer. I mentioned that I was struggling with letting my work get in the way of my prayer, but that when I do sit down to listen to Jesus, I am trying to get back to being his "beloved". It was so easy, again, when I was discerning religious life. I'm trying to listen now to how I can be his beloved as a single woman, discerning marriage, working hard as a minister in His Church.

It was so nice to be asked by my friend these challenging questions I am not always asked and like I said, I really treasure that I can have open, honest conversations with him.

So what brings you joy? Is it an easy thing for you to answer? And what is God saying to you in your prayer time (if you are taking prayer time...not judging ;)

Even though I want to say NO to school coming back in a couple of weeks and I often find myself saying NO to just going to prayer and listening, I need to continue to say YES to my personal time with the Lord and searching for what brings me joy. For these questions, I believe, do aide us in our discernment, and help us find that many answers are already right in front of us.

Also, another cool story from the last Workcamp (there are many. I need to get better at articulating the good moments. When people ask me how Workcamp goes, I often just find myself saying "good". Next time, ask me how I got to be Deputy Fire Marshall or how I discovered a new love for Wegmans- maybe I'll be more specific :)

The parish youth group of which I was youth minister for for three years came to the diocesan camp this July. When I was youth minister at the parish, I tried to (though very poorly) run a junior high ministry. Some of the kids I knew through that ministry are now GRADUATING HIGH SCHOOL and were at the camp. They seemed to remember me and it was really cool to share the week with them. Meanwhile, one of the teens who was in my senior high group back in the day is now a YOUTH MINISTER in her own right and brought some of MY current students with her to the camp! IT was a crazy, weird circle of my life, but it was a pretty cool God moment to witness.

Above are some pics from the past couple weeks. The next time I write I will be days away from SCHOOL STARTING again, I'm sure. AHHH! I want to say hell-to-the-no! But I will say yes.

(pictures: two of my students working side by side at Workcamp, some CUA friends at a surprise birthday party, my former roommates and I reunited, and my sister, cousins, and I home in Ohio for my mom's bday)