Saturday, December 31, 2011

Is This Normal?! (Julia's Wedding Stats)

So, claiming that 2012 will be one of the biggest wedding years for me since 2005 seems like a rather big claim, knowing my history of weddings...

But how well do we really know my history of weddings, folks? And is it normal? I could have been bitching for years and perhaps my attendance at weddings over my 30 years of life is entirely normal.

Because I seem to always be going to or talking about weddings in my life, people have started to ask me: "Well, how many have you been to? Invited to?" I never had answers. Until now.

The following are my "wedding stats" to the best of my knowledge. If you don't care in any way about this random aspect of my life, feel free to stop reading.

If you care to find out if I am "normal" or "freakish" in any on!

I have divided most by year, the number of weddings I was invited to, the number I actually attended, and included my roles in any of those weddings in parenthesis. You're welcome.

Julia's Weddings Stats:

Weddings attended Prior to 2003 (before graduation of college): 7
(cousins, aunt, family friend, respectively)
RSVP "no" (that I'm aware of...parents took care of most of these things at this time of my life): 1

2003: 4 wedding invitations, 2 attended (1 as Maid of Honor)

2004: 1 invitation, 1 attended (as bridesmaid)

2005: 7 invitations, 4 attended, (1 as bridesmaid, 1 as Eucharistic Minister)

2006: 3 invitations, 3 attended (1 as Maid of Honor, 1 as musician, 1 I gave the "blessing" at the reception, and 1 as a "flower maiden"...yup. I had to wear a dress, so I count this as a "bridesmaid" duty)

2007: 3 invitations, 3 attended (2 as musician, 1 gave "blessing" at reception)

2008: 6 invitations, 3 attended (1 as "lector")

2009: 7 invitations, 4 attended (1 as Maid of Honor, another as a bridesmaid)

2010: 2 invitations, 2 attended

2011: 3 invitations, 2 attended (1 as musician)

So, if you are keeping track...that's at least 44 weddings in my 30 years of life that I have been invited to (that I remembered and was able to write down),  31 I've attended (1 for each year of my life so far, I suppose), and 13 I've said "no" to. Is that normal?? I really want to know!

Additional stats:
7 bridesmaid dresses
3 times as maid of honor
4 times as musician
2 times giving a blessing
1 as a lector
1 as a Eucharistic Minister

So that's about 14 out of 30 attended that I was actually involved with in some way ( I double-dutied at one)...again...normal?!

2012 brings about approximately 8 more potential weddings for me, bringing my tally of invitations up to 52 by age that normal?!?

I need to know people! Comments welcome...

I'm sorry if this post was entirely sad and pathetic. Happy New Year! Themes for the New Year coming next...

Comfort and Joy on the Feast of Stephen

**post written the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, 2011**


What are the songs that the title(s) of this post are from? Go ahead, I'll wait...

I  just want to start this post by saying I DOMINATED at the Christmas carol portion of “Holiday Trivia” which I played with the Strukely side of the family last night. (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Good King Wenceslaus, ftw, btw!)

We are HUGE nerds, I know. We also thoroughly enjoy our annual Christmas carol sing a long which usually lasts for- no joke- 2 hours.

My aunts also have founded a new key- the Key of M. M stands for Manhattans. Our drink of choice. It could also stand for "Merry", because it makes our Christmas much more that...

So Merry Christmas, y’all! Yes, I know that Christmas Day has past, but the Christmas SEASON has just begun, folks! Rumor has it that the Pope doesn’t take his Christmas d├ęcor down until the Presentation of Our Lord- February 2nd! Take that, Martha Stewart!

My pre-Christmas/Christmas celebrations were very Merry, though, there is always some element of stress from somewhere.- some kind of drama that the devil loves to throw in just because there’s all this love and joy floating around.

I had to remind myself a couple times these last days that Jesus has conquered that whole mess. That’s why we are celebrating!

Some of the other things that have been giving me comfort: this new book that I received from my Secret Santa at work (which I had really wanted since I saw this clip of Fr. James Martin on the Colbert Report) “Between Heaven and Mirth”: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter are a the Heart of the Spiritual Life”.

I’m only a couple chapters in, but Father makes such good points about how we don’t focus enough on joy in the spiritual life. But it is really what connects us most to God. Suffering can bring us closer to him, since in those moments we open ourselves up to God many times, but if our faith life is just about suffering- it won’t last. We hold onto our faith because of the JOY we experience at certain points of our life. And Christmas is one of the feasts, I think, which we most receive and remember that joy.

Today is also the Feast of St. Stephen Martyr, so I read some of Acts where Stephen is mentioned. The apostles in Acts amaze me. They are SO full of the Holy Spirit! So fearless! They are being terribly persecuted- I mean, Stephen is stoned to death- and yet, they are at peace and perseverant.

Before the break, I was teaching my students about these very things- suffering and virtue. We do so focus on the suffering- myself included- when really should be focused on achieving the virtue it can produce. Reading the Acts of the Apostles today motivated me in this. There is no doubt (since they had just witnessed the Pentecost!) that they were on fire with the gifts of the spirit: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Fortitude, Counsel, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. It is so evident in their preaching and actions.

We received these gifts at our Baptism and have them stirred up for us at Confirmation. I remind my students that we have these Gifts inside of us, we just need to use them! And JOY is one of the fruits of the Spirit- also given to us at Baptism.

2012 is fast becoming another year of the wedding for me. As we know, I already have quite a few weddings under my belt (and dresses in my closet). Weddings can and should bring much joy.  But for a single girl who has been on the non-stop train from Weddingville since 2003*, it can also bring a little suffering.  I am praying for an increase of the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit in a special way on this Feast of Stephen to carry me through whatever 2012 might bring!

 I’m holding onto Hope, people. Hope and Joy- a theological virtue and fruit of the Spirit- and what most unites us to Christ, especially at Christmas.

Each year, my previous roommates and I would come up with a "theme" for the new year. I haven't quite formulated it yet, but I think 2012's theme will have something to do with "Joy".**

I will leave you with another fun-filled moment from Christmas 2011 that I feel best reflects why I am the way I am.

In addition to Christmas trivia and Christmas carols, my family also got into a heated debate about mortal sin. Who does this? My family.

Luckily, I had 5 priests listed in my phone to settle the score. Who am I? Right. The religious girl who loves pop culture and karaoke. It was refreshing to remember where I get it from.

Merry Christmas!

* I intend to write a post in which I prove this claim...stay tuned!
** I also intend to write a post in which I document these themes and my proposed theme for 2012...I know you will look forward to that! Huzzah!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Birthday of a King

Before the craziness of Christmas really kicks in, I thought I'd write my little reflection on Christmas (does it make it less credible if Christmas hasn't happened yet? Maybe.)

We are finished with school for the next TWO WEEKS! Huzzah! I won't be going back to school until the NEW YEAR. Kind of hard to believe.

And today I had time to do all of the things! Gym, Prayer, and FINISH MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING! I WIN!!! (as if it were a competition. It kind of was. With myself. I didn't think I could do it, but I did! I got satisfactory gifts for everyone on my list! WIN!)

Of course, I want to share with you the prayer part of this day :)

I went into my prayer time because I felt a nudging to go and I fully intended to go in and complain to Jesus about all the things I WANT for Christmas/New Year.

Wouldn't you know it- in typical Jesus fashion- He had me change my way of thinking so I left there feeling grateful for everything I already have. How Christ-masy of Him! It seriously was like a Christmas special. (no it wasn't.)

Today is Tuesday, so I was praying the Sorrowful Mysteries even though it is Christmas time. It's not the Christmas season YET exactly, if you want to get technical (and I do because I am the liturgy police. Not really. Well, kind of...) Advent is a Penitential season, so I figured the Sorrowful Mysteries were still appropriate.  I was praying the third mystery (Crowing of Thorns) and thought about how Jesus was born to be a King.

THEN that made me think of THIS Song which was on our "Wee Sing Christmas Carols" tape that I made my parents play relentlessly each Christmas for probably every year until I was 18:
(the link is to the Judy Garland version. You're welcome):

In the little village of Bethlehem
There lay a child one day
And the sky was bright
With a holy light
O'er the place where Jesus lay.

O how the angels sang!
How it rang!
And the sky was bright
With a holy light
'Twas the birthday of a King.

Humble birthplace but oh how much God gave to us that day!
From the manger bed what a path has led
What a perfect holy way.

Looking at the Old Testament and Salvation History really does give a different perspective on Christmas. You hear about David and how he was not of "stately appearance" yet chosen to be King. Isaiah prophesies similar things about Jesus and you see how perfectly the Old and the New match up. It's kind of unbelievable...yet...what helps us believe. Both kings, both not what anyone expected. One, the youngest son (instead of the entitled oldest) and a shepherd/hippy musician/songwriter at that. The other, our SPIRITUAL shepherd, born of a carpenter in the city of David...not in some palace.

And what do kings have? Their heralds! In this case- angels. I also really love Luke's Gospel account of Christmas (not just because it's the one read in A Charlie Brown Christmas) but because Luke was writing for Gentiles and used the characters of shepherds to convey how the King is truly for everyone. The angels went to SHEPHERDS to represent the everyman...and also probably to show how this image of shepherd to king, king to shepherd has come full circle.

So even though my last post was about Treating YoSelf, the true Spirit of Christmas is about the sacrifice of God's only Son for us- who was a different kind of King. He would have to endure all kinds of trials, just to complete his mission- salvation for us all.
And that's what Christmas is all about...Charlie Brown.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Treat YoSelf 2011 or Advent 2.0

I'm feeling very much like I did when I wrote this post on fall a couple months ago.

I have done ALL of the Advent/Christmas things this week!

And true-to-form, this post will be updatey/reflection-y as such.

It all began with the Cookie Exchange of aught 11 that I already gave you a glimpse into last week. The Milky Way bars were a success- if not at the party, but definitely with my roommates this week (as they helped me eat ALL of the leftovers. So. Many. Cookies! This is a week where it is good to live with four other women ;)

We drank mulled wine, played the Pandora Christmas was Christmas-y.

But it's not Christmas yet! We know this! Gaudate Sunday came and I went to a parish where my friend who was ordained this summer is parochial vicor. He wasn't the priest saying Mass- and a good thing- 'cause I was appalled to see that the man WASN'T WEARING PINK! (or "rose" as they insist on calling it. It's pink. OWN IT.)

What do priests have against pink!? Humph.

Meanwhile, back at school- the students had exams for the latter half of the week. The first half I was finishing up chapters but felt the need to introduce Isaiah- since it IS Advent- in my Scripture class.

I love me some Isaiah. I mean...the dude (or whoever ended up writing his works for him) was so dead. on!

"Behold! A virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel; God with us"

This idea of "Emmanuel- God with Us" has been kind of a thing for me this Advent as I am reflect on the person of Jesus in the Sacred Heart. And I've also used the song by Sarah Hart- "God with Us"- twice at school litrugies :) I can't get enough! (scroll down on the link to find the mp3)

I also happened to go to Handel's "Messiah" with one of my roommates last night. I've gone a time or two before (my dad is a singer and often sings it. Not QUITE as often as my sister dances in the Nutcracker...omg I've seen that show so many times done every. way. imaginable....)

But I don't think I really appreciated Handel's piece as much as I did after having a) just taught Isaiah and 2.) my Paschal Mystery course

Dude (Handel) took the whole text straight from Scripture, yo! And in a world where we are soooo against talking about our faith and being "politically correct" it's just kind of cool to have everyone stand during the "Hallejuah" chorus- even if they don't know what they are doing- but really honoring the Resurrection and the sacred in that moment.

I told my roommate I'm totally going to make photocopies of the text from my program and make my students identify which book in the Bible which line came from! Yessssssssssss......

Fun Times!

So Isaiah has been my dude this week, as well as Handel. O Antiphons (which we know are my fav!) start today!

I know when the O Antiphons start 'cause it's also my sister's birthday- not just because I am a huge liturgy nerd. My sis is steadily catching up to me and the "dirty, flirty thirty!" One more year!

Happy 29th bday, J!

So let's see: Cookies, Gaudate Sunday, Isaiah, Messiah, O Antiphons...what else...

Oh, yeah. It's Treat YoSelf 2011!

I had a pedicure this week ("Treatyoself")
Happy Hour with a friend ("Treatyoself")
Went to the Kennedy Center ("Treatyoself")

And now imma bout to go OUTLET SHOPPING ("Treatyoself")

It's the best day of the year ("Best day of the year!")

Happy last week of Advent!

Friday, December 9, 2011

There is Hope.

I just returned from yet another retreat with senior students. God has been calling me to do all kinds of ministry this year it seems, and while it stresses me out at times, I honestly love it. It's what I DO.

This time, the retreat was with another local high school (a school where more than a few of my college friends have taught or teach at!) and our students were there to participate and observe so we can run a similar retreat at our school with our students in the Spring.

Because I have been out of my classroom more than I would have liked this semester, I didn't go for the entire retreat (which is 3-4 days!). I instead taught the first 3 days, then arrived afterschool that evening. The students were gathered to hear the quintessential "forgiveness talk" before Confessions in the chapel of the retreat house when I arrived. I found one of my teacher-friends from college and went and sat with him behind 3 of my students.

They turned around and told me they were having a wonderful time (but that I "had missed the BEST night"- apparently, the night before). I was happy that they were enjoying themselves but I was more just shocked at how everyone in the chapel was SO quiet and prayerful. I had just come from a classroom of lively kids (who i often want to show this video to...I'm the professor...) and these students here were "in the zone". I could tell the past 2 days- and God- had affected them.

The next 24 hours (or less) that I was there, I couldn't help but be positive. As I said, the kids were all so happy to be there, so peaceful, and it was kind of a relief to be with students that WANTED to take 4 days out of their lives, not knowing what they were getting themselves into, and risk. Risk the chance that they may not have a good time or miss out at things at school, and take the risk for God essentially. It gave me hope.

There have been MANY a day/night I am bitter with the road God is taking me on. I look at my classroom or a retreat on a bad day and go: "this is my LIFE. I spend it talking about GOD to TEENAGERS. Gah! WHAT AM I DOING?! AM I getting through?! This is hopeless".

But today, my thoughts at Mass went like this: "This is MY life. I GET to spend it talking about God WITH teenagers. God has blessed me."

Sense more peace in my er, "voice"?

I have been finally surrendering a little bit more to God, giving Him a little more control of my life. And my Advent rosary is certainly helping.

I found myself this week not too tired or angry to want to talk to others and hang out after school. Most days after work- after talking for six + hours straight- I often come home and don't want to look at or speak to ANYONE. I just want SILENCE. But this week, I didn't seem to need that extra introvert time. It certainly wasn't the weather- the weather earlier this week was terrible- I began to wonder, what was it?

Then I recalled I am teaching holiness and virtue, Ignatius and Therese in my classes right now. Kind of hard to be a jerk when you are explaining consolation and desolation four times a day. It definitely makes you think and want to pray.

This Sunday is the THIRD Sunday of Advent already- Gaudate Sunday! We think about the word "joy" this week. And I think I would like to reflect on that joy in light of the HOPE we all one other, in God.

Lastly, I have hope that...


I may become somewhat domestic yet!

"Milky Way Cookie Bars...they look somewhat edible, right?!

My friends host an annual "Holiday Dessert Exchange" and I usually go for the company and mulled wine. However, it is also the ONE TIME A YEAR I attempt to do something in the kitchen. In 2009, I documented it in this blog as well (apparently, our cookie exchange always happens around Gaudate Sunday)

I have definitely upgraded this year from '09's "reindeer poop" to this year's "Milky Way bars" (see above). I begged for easy recipes over Facebook and the Milky Way bars won because they were the easiest. There were a couple moments I found myself vigorously texting my friend who gave me the recipe (to make sure I got it right!) and moment I thought all hope was lost- my batter was really crumbly. I normally would just scream for a roommate to come to my aid and fix the mess I'd gotten myself into, but in this moment I recalled words my Babci (yes, the 89 year old immigrant Polish grandmother who insists I'm too religious and "would just like to see me get marry before she dies already") told me a few years ago when I found myself in the same predicament:

"Add some sour cream to it."

"Um, but Babci, I'm making COOKIES. Do you mean...cream? Whipped cream? Cream cheese?"

"Nope. The sour cream. Put a spoonful in."

I could hear those words echoing in my brain also mixed with the shame I feel each time she mocks me for not cooking enough and ran to the fridge to see if we had some sour cream.

We did. And it worked. Babci saves the day again.

There is hope for me- and for us- yet!

Peace be with you! (proper response? AND WITH YOUR SPIRIT! Just testing...)


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Happy New Year! Advent 2011

The new year is here! I was a little more prepared this year since I had just had spiritual direction last week and the 1st Sunday of Advent had really been hyped up this year due to the NEW TRANSLATION of the Roman Missal.

I have an awesome friend who gave me the strong advice to start singing the phrase "new translation" to the tune of INXS' "New Sensation" whenever someone started complaining about the changes in the Missal- ha! My friends are 80s/liturgical nerds as well.

You're welcome.

I was almost a little nervous to go to my parents' parish this morning for Mass because I wasn't sure how the parish would respond or how they had been prepared for the changes. I shouldn't have really been nervous. The priest and the parishoners did great. I think the hardest part was the "and with your spirit" response, but once we get it down, it's going to be beautiful.

And I absolutely love the new response post-Lamb of God where we articulate the words of the centurion: "Lord I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word and my SOUL shall be healed."

My SOUL shall be healed. LOVE THAT.

The priest gave a really lovely homily on the typical Advent speak: Waiting, Expecting, etc. But he called to our attention the distinction between waiting and expectation.

Waiting tends to be negative. He used the example if a flight gets delayed, we are stuck in traffic, etc. We hate waiting and lose focus of what is expected- namely, the destination, the hope, the joy that awaits us on the other end of what we are waiting for.

I thought this was a nice thought to begin Advent. I get so focused sometimes on celebrating Advent and doing it right, that I lose sight of the joy of Christmas. Or Christmas just creeps up on us, which is why we need the waiting of Advent. I think the priest today was saying to truly use this holding pattern of Advent to focus on the joy that awaits- at Christmas and in heaven.

I actually tend to give even "expectation" a negative connotation sometimes. Alot of us set our expectations in a way that they aren't realistic and then they set us up for disappointment. The beauty of Christmas is that it IS real- there is a real goal of Christ and of heaven. And I remember a sister telling me before I entered the convent to even "expect MORE" from Jesus.

So as I wait for Christmas this year, I want to continue to draw closer to His Sacred Heart and his person (as mentioned in a previous post)and to focus on the reality of that expectation of joy and hope.

I'm also bringing back my Advent resolution of last year to pray the rosary each day. I also bought an Advent wreath since I have a CLASSROOM to put it in and intend to pray each day with my students as we prepare for Christmas.

As we mediate on the waiting and expectation of Christ's birth of Christmas, I think of this song:

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

A little old school made "new" in honor of the new translation. Man, I'm a nerd!

You love it. Happy Advent!

The Year in Pics 2011

I did a post before Advent last year with pictures of highlights from that year as I reflected on beginning the new liturgical year. I'd like to do the same with 2011, even though I have NO IDEA where it went! Here are some highlights:

Well, first of all, I became a teacher:

And this led me to Camden, NJ this summer

We lost my Grandma Strukely, but have the hope and blessing of her prayers:

I said goodbye to my old "jinger" roommates and hello to a new, "divine" household:

And 2011 was the year of many significant birthdays...

My Mom's 60th

Many friends turning 30...

...including me!

And started off with the annual Winter retreat and my Spring Break trip to FL!

And no year in my life would be complete without music ministry and a wedding or two:

Stay tuned for my official "Advent"/New Year reflection, but all and all, 2011 was a great year! Bring on 2012!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Heaven Isn't Too Far Away

Yes, that's right. I just used a Warrant lyric as a title for this blog. You're welcome. Here's even a link to the video

Talk of heaven has been the theme for my past week as I taught the Ascension to my students. And now we have upon us the theme of Christ the King today which we celebrate Jesus as the King of Heaven and Earth.

And here's another 80s hit with a heavenly theme

For the record, as much as I LOVED this song growing up, Belinda Carlisle's concept of heaven being a place on earth is not liturgically correct. Heaven HELP US if Heaven is like a place here on a earth.

Also, I never understood the children in masks in that video. Makes heaven seem a little scary, huh? Though, if heaven is a place on earth, I think that would be scary.

That's why it's so great that it's not. We don't know exactly what heaven will be like, but we do know we will be in complete union with God. I know I've mentioned before how my students don't understand how this could be positive. They think it's going to be boring. I keep telling them that getting to just SIT and BE for all eternity sounds AWESOME. They also can't imagine a world without video games, so they worry me a little.

Though today is a great feast in its own right, I was struck yesterday at daily Mass by the Gospel reading:

Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection,
came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying,
"Teacher, Moses wrote for us,
If someone's brother dies leaving a wife but no child,
his brother must take the wife
and raise up descendants for his brother.
Now there were seven brothers;
the first married a woman but died childless.
Then the second and the third married her,
and likewise all the seven died childless.
Finally the woman also died.
Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?
For all seven had been married to her."

I was struck because these Sadducees sound like my students. They are posing some very specific questions to Jesus: "Well what if this dude marries this girl, but then HE dies, and then another dude marries her, and then He dies, and then..."

UGH. I HATE the "what if" scenarios my students create just to stump me in class.

The Sadducees are doing the same thing- trying to stump Jesus. Only here's the thing- I'M NOT JESUS. Wait. WHAT? Yeah. I'm not. Glad we cleared that up.

Though, I AM the students' teacher, which is why they pay me the big bucks. (yeah, right). And the people of Jesus' time called Him "Rabbi" and "Master". (Note: my students call me neither of these things).

So lately I have been kind of beating myself up when I DON'T have all the answers for the students. I want them to understand and answer their questions, but the reality is, again, NOT GOD here. Also, Heaven is a MYSTERY to us in a way. But it is a reality that we should want to work towards, so I want to make that message as clear as possible.

God has taken to humbling me this week. I mentioned last post how Mother Nature was perhaps making me a little vulnerable. Well, i don't know if that's still the case or the change in the weather, or the inquisition of students, or just the need for the upcoming Thanksgiving break, but God has been allowing me to be a little vulnerable and broken down this week. And humility is good, because it keeps us close to Him. I just wish it didn't feel so icky at times.

I finally got to have spiritual direction (Yay!) and it was so good. I have been struggling- as is often the case with ministers- to separate my prayer time that's just for ME vs turning it into lesson planning time for my classes. I will go to pray and immediately think of what I can use in a lesson plan or bring to my classes. Lately, I've just needed to be me in front of Jesus. Not Julia the teacher, Just Julia. (no jazz hands, please :).

Our bishop in the Arlington Diocese has been promoting a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus recently. My spiritual director and I both agreed that we didn't initially understand fully the beauty of this devotion. My roommates and I have been talking about having an image of the Sacred Heart blessed and dedicated in our house, and while I wasn't against it, I guess I didn't understand the need I had in my life for this devotion at this particular time.

At Spiritual Direction, Father shared with me how beautiful the devotion really is- How we can go to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and just allow ourselves to be loved by Him. It sounds so simple, but it is what I needed this week. These past couple of months have been so full of ministry opportunities and I'm so grateful for them, but I've found that I needed to be ministered TO of late. And to just allow the Sacred Heart of Jesus to love me, all going back to that whole concept of being the Beloved.

So Jesus, though breaking me down a little, is doing some good things in my life- drawing me close to Him again after a couple of months of giving a lot in ministry. I think this period of time will be a time of refreshment. We have Thanksgiving coming, up and...omg...ADVENT NEXT WEEK! Our liturgical new year! Time to make some resolutions!

Also, this is the LAST SUNDAY for the "old" Mass translations. Beginning on the 1st Sunday of Advent next week, we will have some NEW responses in the English Mass. I've blogged about this before. I'm a little nervous, little excited in such a ridiculously nerdy way. I'm ready to begin the changes and see what fruit they bring.

That seems to be a theme- a little stepping outside our comfort zone, a little change, to bring about great fruit if we let it.

Heaven isn't too far away, people :) We are working towards it little by little in each of these ways.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving! I know we all have much to be thankful for.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cursing and Crying

So I was supposed to have Spiritual Direction today for the first time in I don't know how long and had been somewhat looking forward to it. I had no idea what I was really going to say. I've still been focusing on detachment and spiritual poverty in my prayer, but I haven't really been DOING anything of those things.

My prayer has been there, but it's more like I'm just kind of punching my time card in with Jesus. I will swing by past Adoration before or after the gym and I know that's good and all, but I haven't been actually practicing the spiritual detachment or emptying out myself before God as one of the definitions of spiritual poverty.

(I know because I just gave a test to my students in which spiritual poverty was a vocab word. I also accepted other variations on the definition. I'm a NICE teacher. Sometimes :)

Something came up and Father had to cancel and it really was probably for the best. I took that time to go pray and actually set out to try and do the things I have been SAYING I've been praying about for the past month or so.

I should start by saying I have had a crazy couple of weeks. Nothing bad, just a lot going on at school with the end of the quarter and the non-stop ministry month that was October sneaking into the beginning of November.

I also should start by saying I have been in a somewhat vulnerable state of late. I'm assuming it just begins with a P, ends with an S and has an M in the middle. Sorry if that's TMI for my male readers. It happens.

I had just been having typical mini-moments of "humph" that is affliated with such a state, but today I had the tears. I'm not ashamed to say that because they were just mini-tears and somewhat laughable, but they felt good in a weird way at the same time.

I couldn't remember the last time I had a little emotional teary-eyed moment. It surprisingly did NOT occur when I was babysitting last Saturday and the beautiful child asked me TO PRAY PART OF THE ROSARY with him! This could have ended in ovary explosion (again, sorry for too much detail, boys. Please see this post from earlier this year for further explanation about the somewhat vulgar image).

Anyways, the tears came- as they often do with the P and the M and the S- in a stupid, laughable moment. I was crossing the street and actually playing the voicemail Father had left me saying he had to cancel our appointment. As I'm doing this- crossing IN the CROSSWALK, mind you, with seconds to spare- some jerk lays on his horn and calls me an idiot...FOR WALKING IN THE CROSSWALK.

Being the sass queen that I am and now the proud East Coaster, I let out a little NYC and told him what was what. Namely, that I was IN THE CROSSWALK.

I'm sure you've all had similar experiences in cars (or you know, in other modes of transportation like on foot...) where you just get so ANGRY! And you don't even KNOW the person but you DESPISE them!

This was the case and when I made it to my own vehicle, I sat in the car and I shed a tear. I did.

But the release felt good. And so I continued it before Jesus in the chapel.

It was then I realized I haven't been detaching or emptying or even really PRAYING the way I wanted to. I apologized to Jesus, and then I felt the nudge to look to Scripture. This is what I turned to:

"Jesus Curses a Fig Tree" and the "Cleansing of the Temple"

Cursing and Anger, for the win! :)

The story of Jesus cursing the fig tree seems funny without the bookend of that story. As is common technique for the Gospel writer, Mark, the story of the fig tree has the cleansing of the temple smashed into the middle of the beginning and the end of the fig tree story.

The story begins with Jesus cursing at a fig tree because it didn't have anything on it. Ha! I love Mark's picture of a Sassy Jesus.

After he throws everything around and tells people what's what in the temple, he returns to the fig tree and the fig tree He had cursed is now withered. BAM! Do not mess with the best!

But then Jesus uses the fig tree to teach THIS lesson to his apostles:

"Have faith in God. Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him. Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours."

And for some reason (we probably all know what reason by now) I cried some more.

Jesus was using his sass to tell us to TRUST Him. This is a language I SPEAK. Also, it spoke to my needing to empty everything out so that there is NO doubt in my heart. DETACHMENT. Detach from the doubt. Detach from going through the motions. Be a little spontaneous. Yell at some fig trees or whatever else might listen :) Be vulnerable.

I like it. Sassy Jesus never lets me down.

I also sang (in my head. I know that's WEIRD but that's what I DO sometimes in prayer. Secret's out) this song that I have always loved and kind of puts me in my place before God (and may or may not get me a little weepy from time to time):

Before You Now, in the beauty of Your Presence
And as I bow, you surround me with Your radiance
I worship, I worship You.
I worship, I worship You.

Before You Now, as your loving arms enfold me
I am in awe of your power and Your glory
I worship, I worship You
I worship, I worship you

I surrender to the call upon my heart
I surrender to Your Passion and desire....

It repeats and it is pretty :) And that is all you get from me today. Enough secrets for one post!

Please pray for another Senior Retreat we are going on tomorrow. I really do pray for these kids and I know your prayers work! Thanks!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

When I was thinking about what to title this post, I thought of this idiom, but then was confused as to which was the actual, appropriate idiom involving pachyderms because we have many:

pink elephants

white elephant/Yankee Swap/I'm sure I'm missing another name for it...

and the title of this post and the appropriate idiom-

elephant in the room.

(Also, for a good laugh on how ridiculous the English language and our idioms are, check out this. It still makes me giggle every. time.)

So what is the illustrious elephant in the proverbial room of which I speak? It's something I have avoided outright mentioning on this blog because I haven't found it necessary or important enough, but now folks- today is the day I come clean...

I'm single, y'all.

Alright, I may have mentioned it before ,and many of you know me, so it's no big secret. I do feel, though, that talking about singledom is something no one wants to really do. There's a stigma around it for the person and for people in general, I feel. People don't like to say they are single (for the most part) and others are constantly trying to find ways for their single friends not to be any longer.

But what's the big deal? I've had more than a couple newsblogs or mags come across my email with a "single girl" hypothesis attached lately. Articles from the Times, etc all trying to unpack this mysterious single girl enigma.

Shoot, I've even heard talks by priests and theologians say that in not so many words single Catholic women in this generation are kind of screwed (or not so much. poor choice of words on my part. heh).

And I have to admit, I've brought the quandary to God myself since it seems I know many awesomely exceptional single Catholic women, but not as much so in the dude department.

Now, God has ALWAYS sent me the right people at the right time in my life. This would be a SCIENCE FACT (if it had anything to do with science. It doesn't). But I have known it to be true.

Some people ask: how can a loving, awesome God exist or be so awesome if bad things happen? Now, I do not equate a dude shortage with the aformentioned "bad things", but can the same question be applied: How can there be a dude shortage if such an awesome God exists?

Well, we know the former question about bad things happening to be a fallacy and can often be explained to people: God is GOOD. But because of Original Sin, bad things happen. Also, sometimes God allows suffering to draw us closer to Him. Those are the truths.

So the same formula should be applied to dudes. If the first statement that God doesn't exist because bad things happen is FALSE, so then, ergo, hereto, therefore, hence, whathaveyou the latter question must also be FALSE.

To say that there are no good Catholic mens to be had is limiting our God's power and awesomeness. Am I right?! And while it can be true that the surplus of single Catholic gals could also be a result of Original Sin in society, it could also be God uniting us to Himself at this time.

So these articles that I mentioned that are trying to rationalize and justify and proove why so many single women are out there right now, they might have some truth, but I still hold to my truth. My God is great and has always provided.

Then why am I still single? Meh, honestly, I choose it to some extent. I like my SPACE. I like my freedom. And we all know how I feel about small children. I'm not in any rush. So apparently that puts me on the same page as God, and frankly, that's the only place I want to be.


Saturday, October 22, 2011


So last post I wrote about ALL of the things. This seems as the appropriate follow-up, then, to talk about having NONE of the things...right?

This past Wednesday I helped to lead a retreat for the seniors at school. I spoke to my sister on the phone later that night and pondered that I couldn't believe I've been attending high school retreats since I was 15- oh, 15 years ago. And the formats and themes of these retreats don't really change. But that's part of what makes them successful.

This past week was a successful senior retreat, I believe, and I pray that the students took their experience and messages to heart.

As I sat at the retreat, though, in small group with the kids or on my own as they got to have Confession and reflection time, I took the experience in- an experience and format I've witnessed SO. MANY. times before- and longed for a "first feeling" like (hopefully) some of the kids were having. You know, the kind of feeling of something NEW. The "Ah-ha!" moment where the light bulb goes off. I knew some of the students were having such an experience for the first time and I longed for one myself.

Even though the experience for me of retreat (particularly a high school one!) has become rote for me in many ways (I've given some of the same talks and testimonies for 8 years now...scary!) I KNOW that God still works through them and I am so grateful. The retreat this week- though pretty basic and familiar- was I know still blessed because we were prayerful and many kids were so open to the Spirit.

Enter the key: Openness.

I talked about this with many of the students in my small group, and this has also been a theme in some of my classes that I teach lately. Kids always want to know why they don't FEEL or SEE God. Many times the answer is: we aren't open to Him.

Some pics from the retreat:

Students in small groups presenting images of blessing (above) and my colleague giving a talk (below):

I my Paschal Mystery class, we've been focusing on the humanity of Christ and why he had to been born into poverty. This brings up the issue of money, the story of the Rich Man in the Gospel (Matt. 19:16-24), and spiritual poverty. We read a quote from Mother Teresa that says SOMETHING along the lines of (though I am paraphrasing): "I think it is more difficult for the wealthy to make room for God." And I asked the kids to agree or disagree with that statement. I got answers on both sides, of course.

But it brought up the issue of spiritual poverty and that no matter what- rich or poor- spiritual poverty asks us to make enough room in our hearts for God. If we are consuming our lives with ALL of the other things, that doesn't leave much room for Him. Spiritual poverty is emptying ourselves out for God and recognizing He IS God and we are not.

Hearing my students talk about emptying ourselves out to make room for God and being open to things God might be revealing to us convicted me this week. As I said at the beginning, I have been praying for one of those "Aha" moments, which I know will look different at 30 than it did at 16, 22, 26, etc...I have already experienced many of the things! But I can always approach these ideas in new OR familiar ways (the beauty of getting older- experience ;)

Am I even being open or empty enough for God to enter my life in new ways? Last week, I wrote about ALL of the things and they weren't bad things, but what are my priorities right now, even if they are good ones? And does it include making time for God and being open to His designs?

This leads, then, to detachment. For so long, I've longed for that feeling I felt when I was discerning religious life and much of that feeling came from the detachment and letting go of various parts of my life. I've even spoken more recently about feeling like I want to sacrifice something because of this.
But as my spiritual director pointed out then, we don't just go around making sacrifices for no reason. They are things we bring to prayer and are well thought out.

Detachment, however, is something we can practice more regularly, I think, and is similar to sacrifice. We just remove ourselves a little from some of the things we might love or desire in order to make more room for the Lord. We let go of ideas or thoughts that keep us from being open to Him.

St. Teresa of Avila- from whom I'm still reading pieces of "The Way of Perfection"- also convicted me on this idea of detachment this week.

She was talking about how in religious life, detachment is easy to an extent because many of the things are removed already for them. This is something, perhaps, that I miss ( at times. let's not get too crazy ;)

"With regard to small things, we must be very careful, as soon as we grow fond of them, to withdraw our thoughts from them and turn to God. His Majesty will help us do this. He has granted us that great favor of providing that, in this house, most of it is done already, but it remains for us to become detached from our own selves, and it is a hard thing to withdraw from ourselves and oppose ourselves because we are very close to ourselves and love ourselves very dearly. It is here that humility can enter, for this virtue and that of detachment from self, I think, always go together."

"For this body of ours has one fault: the more you indulge it, the more things it discovers to be essential to it. It is extraordinary how it likes being indulged; and, if there is any reasonable pretext for indulgence, however little necessity for it there may be, the poor soul is taken in and prevented from making progress..."

These truth-isms struck me this week and I've begun to think and pray about some thoughts and behaviors I can detach from- with the goal of making more room for an 'Aha' moment, or close moment with God.

Today is one of my dear friends from my women's group birthday today! She points out on her blog that this year she is sharing her day with the NEWLY "Blessed" John Paul II! It's his new feast day!

You may know him as the Pope we had from 1978-2005, I know him as the only Pope I ever had (until 6 years ago) and also as the guy my Babci has in a frame hanging in her kitchen (and in practically every corner of her house...only Polish pope! Holler!)

While I actually (surprisingly) enjoy reading Benedict's encyclicals more, John Paul II was very prolific and gave us many documents on ecumenism (traveling and other religions/cultures were so important to him- he was the most traveled pope!) as well as the Theology of the Body which we are starting to see the fruits of now.

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us! That we may be OPEN and empty ourselves out to receive all God has for you did.

Yeah, for Slavs! ha! ;)


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

(F)All of the Things

See what I did there?

Sometimes on this blog you get a rambling of my spiritual life or spiritual musings. Other times, you get life updates. Sometimes you get both.

Sometimes you get ALL OF THE THINGS.

This post will be the latter because it has only been a couple weeks into fall and I have already done ALL OF THE THINGS- ministerially and autumn-ly speaking.

Let's start with ministry, shall we? Last week was a big week. 1st) we had our annual all-school liturgy with the Bish. I have grown accustom to playing and accompanying Masses for His Excellency, so it was nbd (but really always kind of a big deal).

2.) I was invited to give a talk on MEDIA and using it in ministry to a group of youth ministers...fancy that! I think it went pretty well. I gave some quotes from Church documents that I've used in past papers to prove that the Church is all about the use of media for evangelization (Inter Mirifica, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Gaudium et Spes, etc) As well as some activities I've used in my classroom or at the parish. I also spoke about SEMIOTICS for all you Media Studies nerds out there. Holler!

Here's a pic a friend took on her cell from my talk- there was no place to put the mic pack, so they stuck it on my boot. Classic Julia:

3.) Later that week, I attended a liturgy workshop to learn about the new translation of the Mass that we are going to start using beginning the 1st Sunday of Advent. I had heard about the changes for a while and knew some of what was changing, but not all. And I- like many people- did not understand why. I wanted to make sure (especially as a religion teacher and music minister!) that I had some solid knowledge to share with the kids.

I could email you my outlines of notes that I took (LITURGY NERD!) but I will simply give you the highlights that I've already shared with my classes as well as these two helpful video links:

From Life Teen ( a popultar Youth Ministry resource and movement in the Church):

From Spirit and Song- our music publisher that we use at school and for youth events in the Diocese:

There is an obnoxious radio show here on my Top 40 station that gives "5 Things you Need to Know" in the morning. If I were to give "5 Things You Need to Know" about the New Mass Translation, it would be:

1.) just the English speaking countries are being affected. The Spanish, French, etc. translations are fine as is 'cause they did it right the first time. This new translation will actually bring us closer to the Spanish, etc translations. For example, We now say "And also with you" when the priest says, "The Lord be With you". The actual translation from Latin is (and will now be) "and with your Spirit." The Spanish already says "y con tu espiritu"

2.) the changes will bring back a sacredness or mystery to the Mass. I know that "and with your Spirit" is not how we TALK. And that's why they changed it to such in the 60s to be more colloquial, but some of the translation also lost of some its sacred, mysterious meaning. Yes, the 60s translation is more casual, but the new translation does put us in the mindset that we are in Church and there is something deeper going on.

3.) The new translation will also help catechize. For example, saying something as simple as "and with your Spirit" teaches a whole bunch of things! That the Holy Spirit is present and will descend upon the Eucharist through the priest, etc...

4.) The changes are more connected to Scripture. For example: "Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to people of good will" is what the angel ACTUALLY SAYS to the shepherds in Luke's Gospel. Though it definitely will be weird to sing after singing the other words for so long!

5.) The new language may seem more exclusive (ie- changing "We" to "I" in the creed and changing "all" to "many" in the Eucharistic prayer) but it again teaches us theologically that yes, we are all saved but we still have to be accountable for our actions and do what is right to help get us to heaven. The Scripture just last Sunday was about the heavenly banquet and how many were invited but few actually showed...

Anyways, if you have other questions, you can leave a comment or tweet me! :) @julz422 @MsStrukely

Speaking of Twitter, a dear friend of mine recently tweeted the following to me:

" @julz422 What in the world has gotten into you? Did someone shove a cornucopia into your heart or invade your soul with decorative gourds?"

This was after I had tweeted the following:

"Maybe I do just want to live on a farm in VA"

I JUST LOVE FALL THINGS! (And HATE winter things. Ugh...) And I got to do many of these favorite things this weekend.

So after a week full 'o' ministry I had a nice, long Columbus Day weekend. I started it off by hanging out in a field in VA celebrating 2 of my friends who got engaged (each to different dudes- that makes 4 engaged people at this party to celebrate!)

You're welcome for the math help.

It was super fun. Here is a pic of me and some of my friends celebrating:

So being out in the field was fall and festive. So was the yummy seasonal beer.

I got my lesson planning out of the way on Sunday so on Monday I could do more of the fall and festive. Apple picking and wine tasting!!

CHECK OUT THE GOURDS! (for those of you unfamiliar with my seeming obsession with decorative gourds, you should know that there is a HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE but kind of hilarious McSweeney's article on "decorative gourds" that my friends and I recite to one another annually...)

Also, we know that I am NOT the Martha Stewart that many of my roommates tend to be, so I often lovingly mock them for the decorative gourds they distribute throughout our house to announce the arrival of fall...


My friend picking apples...

Fall can now end because I have done all of these things. JUST KIDDING! I DON'T WANT IT TO! I LOVE FALL!!!

So that's what I've been up to!


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where You At?

It seems like forever since I've blogged, but yet it's only been a couple weeks. And at the same time, I feel like time has flown. Oh, the never ending quandary of time. Where has it been, yet where does it go? I found myself saying to God before I sat down to pray today: "I'm going to be real glad when it's eternity and we don't have to worry about TIME all the (er) time." For reals.

My students always think heaven sounds like it's going to be real boring, but that's because (well, it's because of a lot of things...) but I think it's just because they have yet to appreciate the beauty of NOT running around and just getting to BE.

We all know God can take us whenever He wants us, and for some it seems like they go too soon, but my guess is He in His infinite wisdom will take us when He knows we are ready to just sit and BE for all eternity...and that is looking better and better as we get older and more I right? :)

So amid the flurry of the lesson planning, weekend trips, and grad school research, I stopped to ask myself today: "Where am I at with God? What's He doing in my life right now?"

You would think I would be asking myself this everyday! I do take time everyday to at least give God a shout out, but last week I found myself just wanting to SIT with Him for a LONG time and I hadn't DONE that in a while.

So go ahead, I'll wait :) Ask yourself: "What is God doing in my life right now? How is He working?" and "Where am I at with my goals for our relationship, spiritual life, etc."

(Can you tell I am in need of my women's prayer group right about now?? ;) Ladies, where you at?! We would meet once a month and ask ourselves these questions, but it has been waayyyyyy too long! Hopefully, we will re-commence soon.

Well, I can, of course, speak for myself and say that I need to be spending more time with God's word to figure out what He is saying to me. A couple blog posts ago, it was clear He was speaking to me through the book "He and I" which was totally what I needed at that moment. Today, when reading Scripture, I was reading from my fav Gospel writer- Sassy Mark ;)- about the father who wanted demons cast out of his son. He says to Jesus, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).

And I think this perfectly sums up where I am with God right now. It seems like a contradiction of terms: how can the dude BELIEVE yet be asking Christ to help with His unbelief?

But that verse makes sense to me at this moment 'cause I think I'm there. I'm believing and things are GOOD, but if everything was smooth sailing I wouldn't be struggling to take time in prayer and all that jazz, right? So, I do believe, Lord. Help me in the areas where I am still struggling.

That's kind of all I got right now, but that's enough, I guess. I was reading Teresa of Avila's "Way of Perfection" and stopped last month because it didn't feel like the right time to read it. I picked it up again today and the chapters 6 & 7 on love seem to be what I need to hear right now, so praise God for that.

I'll share with you a little of her stuff from Chap 7 on true love in true friends: get to know God's friends is a very good way of 'having' Him...For, under the Lord, I owe it to such persons [friends]that I am not in hell; I was always very fond of asking them to commend me to God, and so I prevailed upon them to do so... - Way of Perfection, Teresa of Avila

With that, pray for me friends! Until next time...


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11 on the 10th Anniversary

I'm sure there is no coincidence that the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 fell on a Sunday. 9/11 is, of course, one of those dates that we will forever reflect upon and Sunday is a God-given day for reflection.

Today is a day when we ask one another: "Where were you when....?" Along with our parents' "I was doing ______ when I found out JFK had been shot" or perhaps even our grandparents' "I was _______ when Pearl Harbor was bombed." It's a day when everyone remembers exactly where they were when.

Prior to 9/11, the only thing my generation had as an approximate equivalent was perhaps the Oklahoma City Bombing. I remember being in 8th grade and being asked to stand next to my desk for a moment of silence as we watched the names of all those children who had died scroll across the TV.

As the anniversary approached, many people started to ask the question and reflect on: "where were you during 9/11?" I met a friend for coffee on Friday who happened to be my Campus Minister at CUA ten years ago and we discussed where we were that day. We were both on campus during 9/11. I was in my junior year Media seminar. She was working in Campus Ministry.

I remember my professor stopping class and pulling up the article on the internet that announced that one of the towers at the World Trade Center had been hit. I had just been to the World Trade Center for the first time almost exactly one year prior with some friends who showed me around NYC. There was an image along with the article up on screen that will always, of course, be etched in my mind. There it was: a plane dangling out of the middle of the World Trade Center building.

Classes were cancelled and I walked down towards the campus ministry office. As I walked, I was stopped by an acquaintance who asked me: "did you hear the Pentagon was hit too?" I shook my head. I hadn't heard, but it was also in disbelief.

Then I remember being afraid for the first time during this day. The Pentagon was far enough from Catholic U, but what if people were going to try and hit the Capitol building which was only 2-3 miles away? We would, of course, find out later that this was indeed part of the plan, had not some brave men and women crashed the plane in PA to save the nation's capitol.

I met the priest I was close with at Campus Ministry and he asked me if I would help spread the word about a Mass the university was going to put together with the President of the University and Cardinal McCarrick. I said I would. My parents tried to call me while I was running around distributing flyers. When I returned to my room in the middle of the day, I had voice messages on the answering machine (pre-cell phone!) from my parents, my sister, and one of my best friends who lived in KY wondering where I was and if I was alright.

I went to the Mass and then I went to a place on campus called "The House" where some of my friends lived. I remember sitting with one of my best friends, watching the news as the second tower just crumbled. I couldn't believe I was watching it happen live on TV. I tried to block out images of what I knew were people jumping from the building. I just held my breath and prayed.

It was a sunny, beautiful day weather wise. I remember wearing a T-shirt and jeans (a rarity for me, come to think of it! I'm not a T-Shirt and jeans kind of girl, as we know ;). The weather was similar to that of today as I now sit in my t-shirt and mesh shorts having just come from the gym, lesson planning in my own classroom ten years later.

This 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th comes literally after seven days and seven nights of rain here in the District. We have had recent hurricanes and earthquakes, and school was even cancelled on Friday because of flooding in the NoVa area. Looking at images and articles on Facebook made me paranoid that this could be the end of the world, especially with the anniversary of 9/11 coming. This is, of course, a paranoid point-of-view and not the way to live as Christians. We have Christ as our hope to trust in.

I expected there to be some kind of memoriam before, during, or after Mass today. I did not expect, however, for the Church to do a Requiem Mass. I had read the readings for today and they were all about forgiveness. Perfect messages for an anniversary such as this, I thought.

When I walked into my parish, I should have known something was up. The veil that usually is white which lays across the tabernacle was purple today- a penitential color. I knew it wasn't Advent or Lent, so there had to be some reason for it! (I love that our Church gives us cues- we can tell there's going to be something special going on from the vestments the priest wears, liturgical colors, etc. I also LOVE in a ridiculous liturgy-nerd way that our parish lays a veil over the tabernacle to begin with, but that's another blog for another time ;)

Father processed in wearing the black garments that I had taught my students about, but never actually seen for myself. There are very few occasions on which black vestments are worn. Even the funerals I've been to have been white, purple, or green vestments depending on the priest and parish.

The readings were from Lamentations, Psalm 23, Paul's Letter to the Romans, and John's Gospel of Jesus as "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." And while I was disappointed to not have the original readings for the day proclaimed on forgiveness, these certainly provided messages of comfort and hope.

The Mass ended in silence with no recessional hymn, but silence and four bell tolls which I thought was pretty powerful. I never ceased to be amazed at the power of silence.

As I drove to the gym and school this afternoon to complete my post-Mass Sunday routine of workout and lesson planning disciplines respectively, I forgot that I would be going past the Pentagon. Traffic was a little backed up because the Pentagon had provided additional police today. Security was heightened around the district this weekend, as you can imagine. Cars were no doubt stopping to see if anything was being done around the Pentagon today to commemorate the event. There wasn't anything that I could see, but I saw the large flag placed on the side of the building where the plane had crashed and I remembered.

Thank you for indulging me in this reflection. You all know I'm not a particularly patriotic person, but I am a reflective one :) And there is no doubt that this event affected us each deeply, regardless of faith or politics.

The hymn we sang at Mass today was the same one we sang at the Mass I helped to spread the word about 10 years ago:

"O God our Help in Ages Past, our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home."

We will never forget. And we should always remember our hope in Christ, especially on days like this.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Back to School, Back to the Beloved

And Back to the Blog!

So, I totally just wrote my spiritual director an email and used these words: "Is there a time we can meet? I'M SURPRISINGLY NOT BUSY THIS MONTH."

Can you believe those words were uttered by a TEACHER?! In SEPTEMEBER?!

Ah, but I'm a SECOND YEAR teacher now, folks! And it makes a WORLD of difference, let me tell you.

(I also cannot say enough about how much I love having my own classroom! Teaching six classes last year in five different classrooms suuuucked and I knew that. I guess I didnt' realize how much so until now when I GET TO TEACH IN THE SAME PLACE ALL DAY EVERYDAY. I AM VERY EXCITED. CAN YOU TELL?)

So since my return to the classroom has been less stressful this year I can turn my eyes to greater things, right? Sure! Like in the first reading today:

"Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above...
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth
- Col. 3:1-2

I have been trying to keep to my summer routine as much as I can: gym, prayer, research paper, rinse, repeat. So today I headed to Adoration after work to take me some prayer time.

I remembered that I had been all about focusing on "the Beloved" BACK IN JUNE. WHICH WAS NOW THREE MONTHS AGO. What the?!

How did I forget to delve into that concept? How did I fail to make that a part of my prayer for MONTHS!? Where did the summer gooooooo????

Whenever I get real angry A.) it's usually because I haven't had coffee yet. MANY people can attest to this and you can rectify the situation by GIVING ME SOME. or 2.) I use THIS as my go to book to calm me down and re-discover the "warm fuzzies":

Tonight I opened up to a passage I marked a little over three years ago. It was (not surprisingly) exactly what I need to hear today. I'm not going to include the exact passage 'cause it's gonna make me sound like I was all depressed or something when I went to the chapel but that's NOT the case. I'm not sitting at home crying playing R.E.M. all day...things are GOOD, remember? But I was having a MOMENT. Sometimes I do that. Anyways...

If you are unfamiliar with the book "He and I" 1.) it is AWESOME. B.) It is written by a lay woman but it's her journal with the words of Jesus. ("She writes what Jesus speaks to her" is a less awkward way of saying that ;).

So as not to seem like I'm one step away from ordering a bunch of cats to keep me company, I'm going to give you some OTHER examples OTHER than what I read tonight- (even if it was PERFECT and what I needed) from "He and I" that are very uplifting:

January 10- Holy Hour
"Don't you love this hour when we come close to one another in such intimacy that My thoughts seem to be yours? It's as though our souls were one inside the other. And how can My joy be described? The joy of your Christ who yearns so much for oneness with His children that He invented the Eucharist in order to merge with them..."

Awww, Jesus! I'm blushing!

"Wake up loving Me. Hunt for Me, and I'll let Myself be caught. You will win and we will begin the game will be another way for Me to keep you 'very close'..."

So sweet!


"April 23- Even though you don't always feel Me beside you, I never leave you. Sometimes I come nearer...I hide behind a veil so that you may learn to walk by faith..."

What a charmer! You can hopefully see why this book never ceases to make me leave the chapel feeling peaceful and loved. So I'm picking it up again as I RE-focus on "the Beloved" these days.

Speaking of going back to things...Back to School night is tomorrow. I pretty much remember it being the worst thing ever last year. Not because of parents or anything but who likes the idea of teaching all day, then going BACK to school from 7-10pm, only to teach AGAIN the next day ALL day. WHO likes this idea, I ask?

Ah, but I can't complain. I gots my own classroom this year and my warm & fuzzy "He and I" book and that makes everything kind of better right now.


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.