Sunday, December 29, 2019

Merry Christmas 2019- Change and the Holy Family

Merry Christmas! I've just returned from a week long trip visiting family and so it is fitting that today's feast- the first Sunday after Christmas- we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.

I want to get into today's gospel in a bit, but first, I want to back up and focus a little on the feast of Christmas itself. This year's Christmas was a little different for myself and my family. Despite my best efforts to launch into Advent, I'm not sure that I did. I did, however, spend a lot more time discussing Christmas and Advent with my students this year than I have in the past. I chalk that up to Thanksgiving and Christmas break being a little later this year and therefore needing to add in a few extra lesson plans before the break. But I am glad that I spent some time discussing the readings and symbols of Advent and Christmas as usually we are all so rushed into these seasons.

This year, I was struck by the gift of the Baby Jesus more so than I have been in years past. I believe that is due to the fact that I had a powerful experience in Bethlehem this year. I had not expected to be so taken by the cave and the Church in the place of Jesus' birth- Bethlehem- but I did have a moment of experiencing God's presence while there and so I believe that is a little bit of what has changed in me this season.

We also had some changes in the family as we lost my Babci this year. Christmas already had to change last year since she couldn't leave the nursing home, so it wasn't too different this year, but of course, we all couldn't help but notice and feel her absence. It is obviously hard when we lose loved ones, but I also believe some of us have a hard time with change. We love our traditions of Christmas. They are developed over time with love and family, and so when we have deaths or births or marriages or moves of any kind in regards to the various life changes, change can make Christmas hard.

So we have to be careful not to put more trust in the traditions than we do in the gift of Christ. I think the reason everyone loves Christmas so much are the traditions and traditions are human and ritualistic and good. But we can't put our trust in the tradition or ritual itself. Rituals and traditions can change. The thing that makes them powerful or special is Christ's presence in them. And so we need to focus on His Presence no matter what the tradition or ritual.

That brings me to today's gospel and the feast of the Holy Family.

In today's Gospel, we get the story of the Flight into Egypt. Jesus has been born and Mary and Joseph are still in Bethlehem. Herod, however, is on the lookout  for this deliverer that has been prophesied about. Joseph has a dream to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod's killing of any newborn Hebrew male children. After Herod dies, Joseph receives another dream to go back to Israel with his family, but to go to Nazareth.

Having been to Israel this year, not only can I now picture some of these places and landscapes, I have a better sense of the distances. As you can see, Bethlehem and Nazareth aren't exactly next to each other. Nazareth is much further north. But as it says in the Gospel today and the prophet Isaiah, the "deliverer" or "savior" was to come from the region of Galilee. Nazareth is up by the Sea of Galilee- a place I was also blessed to have visited and where Jesus spent much of his childhood and ministry.

I am also struck by the parallels with the Old Testament. Old Testament Joseph ( of Technicolor Coat fame) also communicates with God in dreams. It's his dreams that send his brothers into jealousy and ultimately lands him in Egypt, interestingly enough, kind of similar to Jesus and Joseph of the New Testament. Moses is another "type" of Christ in the Old Testament. In his timeline, the pharaoh of Egypt is also killing newborn male Hebrew children because of a star and a prophecy of a deliverer. In Moses' case, however, his mother and the pharaoh's daughter save him from harm.

The thing in common with all that I am sharing today is trust in God's presence. The Holy Family ( as the priest at Mass today pointed out) suffered and struggled just like we do. Moving is not easy, nor is change, and I imagine having to move quickly as Joseph and his family did in the Gospel was additionally stressful. This story always makes me think of the refugees we have around the world- fleeing their homes in order to escape danger and protect their families. Many of us have not had to suffer like that, but The Holy Family did. Yet they trusted completely in God's Will and His Presence. So did Old Testament figures like Joseph and Moses and their families.

As I mentioned earlier, it's not the traditions that make Christmas, it is God's Presence. For without it, what would we have to celebrate? We celebrate this Christmas season God making His Presence known in human form. We have much to contemplate regarding that gift. So no matter your traditions or your struggles or the ups and downs of family, we have God's Presence to contemplate and give us peace.

I pray that we all experience that Joy and Peace of Christ's Presence among us this Christmas Season. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Voice Crying Out in the Desert- Advent Week 2

The first Sunday and week of Advent came and went. I had high hopes as I do every year that I will enter into Advent with great gusto and devotion, but this year, my excuse is that I was overcome by the post-Thanksgiving plague. I was out of commission and could do almost nothing else but move from my bed, to school, to couch, to bed again.

I did take one hour or so, however, to visit with a friend who was passing through town this week. I almost didn't because I was so congested that I didn't think I would be good company. I'm so glad that we did make the time, however. This is a friend that 10 years ago, we both had made major life changes and started teaching. We both were unsure of what our futures would bring. We found ourselves kind of in similar states again, but even amidst the suffering and uncertainty (my suffering was just physical as I couldn't breathe; theirs, a much deeper and holy suffering). However, both of us once again were discussing faith and how in the times of loneliness, it is the one thing that gets us through.

The homily I heard today for the 2nd Sunday of Advent echoed this point that my friend and I were discussing early this week. The Gospel for the 2nd Sunday features John the Baptist, wandering in the desert, preparing all who would listen, to receive the Messiah. John the Baptist is such a great character. He fits the bill of crazy prophet complete with his camel hair attire and diet plan of locusts. His love for Jesus is so strong, though. He obviously knows Him on a more intimate level since they are cousins, yet, John reveres Christ so deeply he announces that he is not even worthy to touch His sandals.

I loved the homily because the priest connected John the Baptist and his wandering with the Old Testament. And you know your girl is a Scripture nerd. Even though I teach and study Scripture, I didn't realize that from the prophet Malachi- the last prophet in the Old Testament- to John the Baptist that there hadn't been a recorded prophet for 400 years. I guess I consciously knew it, but certainly had never connected it to the fact that the Israelites were also in Egypt for the same amount of time. In both scenarios, the Israelites were left waiting for news of a Savior. They would eventually get their savior in Egypt with Moses and then again with John's foretelling, but both ultimately pointing towards Jesus.

When Joshua in the Old Testament brings the Israelites into the Promised Land after wandering for 40 years in the wilderness (the number 40 always represents a time of suffering in Scripture), he brings them to the Jordan and eventually into Jericho. When we meet John the Baptist in the New Testament, guess where he is preaching? At the Jordan, outside of Jericho. When Jesus starts his official ministry at age 30, guess where he does it? Yup. He is baptized in the Jordan and then goes up into a mountain outside of Jericho for 40 days and 40 nights.

You can think that these things are coincidences or that the authors of Scripture were just really, really good at analyzing all of this symbolic literature. I choose to look at it through the lens of faith. How beautiful to have these parallels line of so completely. How perfect to see how Christ completes the stories and promises made centuries before.

When Father was sharing about the Jordan and the desert outside of Jericho, I had the benefit of being able to picture it this year. One of the couples who went with my group on the trip were also at Mass and we immediately rejoiced in being able to recall images of these places as Father spoke today:

 The place of St. John the Baptist's birth (above) somewhere in Judah
 Jericho and the mountain Jesus went for 40 days and 40 nights (above) and the Jordan River (below)

What does John the Baptist and Joshua and Jericho all have to do with my friend and my conversation this week? And why are the Jordan and Jericho such special spots? Well, the wilderness was not a fun place for the Israelites, nor John the Baptist nor Jesus. The desert brought doubt, temptation, and isolation. However, it was in the wilderness and in the desert that these people heard God. They needed to be in isolation and in this period of waiting in order to speak and grow closer to God.And Jericho is recorded as one of the oldest cities in human history, period. It is not only a city of great religious significance, but anthropological and scientific significance as well. Coincidence?

This time of Advent is know as a period of waiting. We have the benefit of knowing that our Savior has already arrived and set us free. But there are still periods where we may not "feel" God's presence. Yet, it is in these desert moments in the wilderness that He is preparing us for something and we can grow closer to Him and hear His voice if we listen.

Happy Advent!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Feast of Christ the King 2019 Year in Review

You can tell that the year has slowed down for me because I have blogged a couple of times this month. Winter came too fast this year and it seems we have all gone into hibernation mode. As I've mentioned, though, November is a great time to reflect. With its feasts of All Saints and All Souls Day and now the end of the liturgical year- not to mention the end of a decade- it is time a great time to check in on ourselves, where we've been, and what we've done.

So here we go! The annual Feast of Christ the King Year in Review!

 I rang in 2019 with essentially my family here in Richmond
 My girls and I made a commitment to quarterly Girls' Weekends. It only happened twice for us, but we still had many adventures throughout the year. Above is Virginia Beach, below is a cabin/winery somewhere in NW VA!

 I spent a lot of time with family this year with a visit to Richmond from my cousins (above) and trip to Israel with my parents (below). The trip to Israel was definitely a highlight. I also made many trips to Ohio this year. Probably as many or more than I did 10 years ago in 2009!

 I spent my Spring Break this year in the Midwest with a trip home for Easter and my birthday (below) and time with CUA friends at a conference in Chicago (above). 

 I spent the summer of 2019 with a lot of domestic travel.  A trip to Asheville NC (above), Delaware and Philly (below), as well as another trip to Ohio and also a trip to Savannah, GA.

 Oh! And I went back to North Carolina in September to see Lizzo with some fabulous friends (above). It was also the summer of the Cocktail- A- Day challenge (which I achieved below). 

 We lost my Babci this year, but celebrated her 96 years of life with family (and vodka shots above). I also celebrated my 20th High School reunion (below)

 I rounded out the year with another girls' weekend (above) in VA with friends from CUA and celebrated Halloween with my favorites at our annual RVA gathering.

I normally would include pictures of Thanksgiving in this year round-up, but it's PAINFULLY late this year! I still have 2 more days of school as I write this before I finally get a break! It's been a long haul since Labor Day!

As I look back 2019 is similar to 2018 with lots of joy and time with the communities I am a part of. I also enjoyed lots of domestic travel and the trip of a lifetime with my parents to the Holy Land. Losing my Babci was also a big mark of this year, but I will remember 2019 with fondness as the blessings definitely outweighed any trials.

I already reflected a little on this last decade in my previous post, but I can't believe the 10 years has passed and I've spent almost 5 of them in RVA. These 10 years have certainly been blessed. I've had a lot of growth, a lot of successes and joys, and a lot of finally owning who I am after discerning it for so long in my 20s. I think it is interesting that both 2009 and 2019 brought a lot of trips to Ohio respectively with weddings and funerals and reunions. As I mentioned before, I have never had a long term plan for nearly anything for as much of a planner as I am. Sticking with my intuition, discernment and prayer has not led me astray so far. I think I will do it some more in the next 10 years and see where it leads.

I love the Feast of Christ the King not just because of the time for reflection on the past liturgical year, but because it reminds of us of where we are going. There are lots of readings about heaven and the Second Coming during this time of year. Today's Gospel also reminds us about what kind of King we have in Christ and it just blows me away each year the Gospel readings that are picked for this feast. They are not readings of a King taking His Throne, but of a poor Man taking His Cross. We have a king who humbled Himself and died for us.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Reflections on a Decade

A friend posted today (and yes, I recognize that my last 2 posts have been prompted by social media!) about the fact that a DECADE is ending this year. The post was a challenge to sum up the past decade in six words. I chose: "Found community and call to teaching."

I remember where I was at the end of 2009. I had left the convent a year prior, I was living with two awesome friends from college in a house outside DC, but I was still working a non-profit job that I hated and was looking for my "purpose" in life. (I actually started this year reflecting on the past 10 years in regards to yet another social media challenge. I might have a problem).

Here's a pic of NYE '09-10. Please note my CAMERA in one hand and my Motorola Razor phone in the other!

November is often the month that I pause to reflect. We start with All Saints and All Souls Day, we wind back our clocks and the nights get longer. The weather gets colder and we hunker down for a long winter's nap. Lots of time to sit and stir and reflect.

The liturgical year is coming to an end and I always take a look back on the year on the Feast of Christ the King that is coming up in a little over a week. But prompted by my friend's post today, I want to take a look back at the things that have taken place for me in the last 10 years that meant the most:

- my sister got married to my brother in law who is great
-  I went to so many weddings. So. Many.
- we lost my uncle, my Grandma Strukely, my friend Dan, and Babci
- My niece and nephew came into the world
- I very haphazardly took a job to start teaching at the end of 2010. My life has certainly not been the same.
- I met and maintained some of the best friendships of my life.
- I obtained a Masters Degree.
- I stopped living with roommates and moved out on my own.
- I left the DC area and moved to my "happy place" of Richmond
- I started to dabble in art!
- I learned about wine!
- I drank a lot of wine!
- I had many failed attempts at dating and online dating but many life lessons learned
- I learned you have to work two jobs to afford life as a teacher.
- I traveled to Greece, Turkey, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Israel and Palestine.
- I got my summers back and learned how to spend them in the best ways: doing whatever the heck I want!

I'm sure as I continue to reflect, this list will continue to grow. All I can say is, none of the above things were part of MY plan. None. I did not plan to be a teacher. I did not plan to move to Richmond. I did not plan to travel the world. I wasn't sure I would get my Masters or what in. I didn't plan to be living on my own. But all of these things have made me the best version of myself. I have been thriving.

 In 2009, we had my 10 year high school reunion (above) This year, we had our 20th! (below) I think my friends and I (granted, different friends pictured in both) are even happier and healthier at 38 than we were 28.

I am so, so grateful for the last 10 years. And just like I couldn't possibly plan all that happened in the last decade, I have no ideas for the next. But I am always hopeful.

I will be recapping 2019 and The Feast of Christ the King soon! Favorite time of year! I love an end of the year reflection!


Sunday, November 10, 2019

It's All About Balance

The year is 2005. The social media platform is MySpace. The profile bio asks you to feature a quote.

I come up with this: "It's All About Balance."

People other than my "top 5" probably wonder: "What? What does that mean?" And that would be fair. I was 24 and fancying myself introspective, but wanted to keep it light and fun? I guess?

I'm still not sure all that the MySpace bio quote meant to me then, but I did find myself for the rest of my 20s and 30s trying to seek a medium between extremes: wanting to be faithful to the Church, but also wanting to live "in the world." I think that over my past 15 years or so, I have achieved, for the most part, that balance. Though I have certainly lived that balance out more gracefully at times in my life than others.

I find myself thinking about this MySpace phrase due to another social media encounter that I had today with my cousin via Twitter. Being the good Polish-Catholics that we are, my cousin and I found ourselves after Mass tweeting about today's Gospel. Who does that? We do, apparently! I will admit, when I first read the Gospel for today, I wasn't thrilled. I was having to break this Gospel down at our RCIA meeting last week as well as for my students. What was I going to say about a woman being married 7 times (though 7 is a symbolic number in Scripture...) And the Sadducees? And Moses? And what, in fact, is Jesus trying to teach us??? Here is the passage:

"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."
Jesus said to them,
"The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise.
That the dead will rise
even Moses made known in the passage about the bush,
when he called out 'Lord, '
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;
and he is not God of the dead, but of the living,
for to him all are alive."- Luke 20: 27-38

My cousin, in her tweet, wanted to know why we had to focus on the next life while we are still living and breathing here in this one. My response to her was taken from that MySpace profile: "It's All About Balance."

We have to focus on heaven because it is our hope. It is our goal. I am an extremely goal oriented person and so to me, if there isn't a goal, what is the point? But I saw my cousin's point as well. We can't go around with our head in the clouds without living in the here and now. I used to think that saints were so detached from this earth that I couldn't possibly relate to them. I have come to (as you well know, dear reader) love the saints because they are living, earthly examples of how to live heaven on earth. 

Here's a picture of my cousin and I from when she came to visit me in RVA earlier this year. A lot of my friends down here said we look alike. I'm definitely 8-9 years her senior!

Even before my cousin had tweeted me, however, I was thinking about this idea of balance on my way to Mass. Mostly because I was thinking about work and how my students more so than ever before really are quite detached from the Church. It's not their fault- they are 11 and 12, after all. And it's not that they don't have a desire, they just haven't been exposed to the Bible as I had been growing up,  nor the traditions of the Church. Even going to Mass is not a priority in their world. 

I was thinking about how we address this separation from Scripture and Tradition and it has to be with kindness and with balance. To instill fear was a tactic from the past and fear is one way to hold power for sure, but it isn't the healthy way. Christ never went for fear tactics. Now His message was not always easy, but it was that balance of observing the law and revering God, but having compassion and meeting people where they were at. 

I am constantly challenged to meet people where they are at. I like to think I do a good job most of the time, but there are times in my classroom or in my relationships where I may try to instill fear instead. We are finishing up our unit on Moses and the 10 Commandments and it is really such an important story today. Moses was tasked with an incredible role- to free people from slavery and then lead them through the wilderness to a new life. He did not do it perfectly. At times he got angry. And when he disobeyed God, he was punished. My students always feel bad for Moses for not being able to enter the Promised Land, and perhaps it is harsh. But we can't know what goes on in the hearts of others. I think we try to, but it is only God who can see our hearts. And there is something to be said for discipline and consequences, but they are only effective if also met with care and love. 

I was thinking too, today, that God always reveals Himself with Light. As I've mentioned, winter is hard for me. The nights come quicker and the temperatures drop and though I am an introvert, I don't like to be relegated to the indoors for long. The sunlight is necessary. It gets me out of my funks. 

Similarly, God spoke to Moses through light in the Burning Bush. Moses had been exiled, and the Lord brought Him back through Light. We recognize God's presence with candles in the Church and in the Sacraments. Even non-believers have celebrated the presence of the sun, moon, and stars and their times of light. But even then, it is about balance, right? You can't have the star or moonlight without the darkness. 

I have been praying this week that I may harness Christ's light so that I do not delve to deep into winter's blues and that I might be able to share some light with others, especially in this time where the dark comes sooner.  Again there is that balance to be had: we need the dark to appreciate the light. 

The light of heaven and the light of God's presence can be experienced here on earth, but we also look forward to it in the next life. As the end of the liturgical year approaches, we look toward what is next in the here and now but also beyond. 



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Stopping to See (and Smell!) the Signs

I wish that I could say that it's officially fall, and I suppose it technically is, but it sure doesn't feel like it. The weather has still been in the upper 80s and today it was upper 90s here in VA, but regardless if it feels like fall or not, it is October and this month is full of some of my favorite feasts.

Oct. 1- St. Therese of Lisiuex
Oct. 2- Feast of the Guardian Angels
Oct. 3- Mean Girls Day (ok, not a feast, but if you know me, it's a THING ;)
Oct. 4- Francis of Assisi
Oct. 7- Our Lady of the Rosary
Oct. 15- St. Teresa of Avila
Oct. 22- St. Pope John Paul II

And these are just a few of my favorites!

So October is a good month for prayer and intercession. Which is appropriate because September was busy as expected and last month was particularly tough. I had a couple of out of town trips scheduled that were for fun things and they were indeed fun. But I also had to extend one of those trips because after a year of suffering from the results of a stroke, my 96 Polish grandmother-Babci-passed away.

Babci and I in 2013 for my MA graduation and Easter circa 1989? '90? 

I'm still processing the loss and her life, but it was actually a very blessed time with family celebrating and honoring her life. People from so many of her walks of her long life lined up for the visitation and wake where we said a rosary with the last decade being in Polish. While we were praying, I remembered the trip to Israel with my parents earlier this year during which we saw people from Poland everywhere! It was like my Babci was with us then and I know that she is still with us now.

As many of you know, each year around the end of September, I pray my novena to St. Therese of Lisieux and ask her to show that she has heard my intentions by sending me the sign of a rose or flowers. I have prayed this novena with varying success for the past 10 years or so, but in the last 3 years in particular, she has consistently made signs known to me, including this year.

I was certainly not expecting all of these in the alley behind my house this AM when I went to take out my trash! Maybe the unseasonably warm weather is a gift after all!

Signs have been on my mind for the last month or so now. My students and I are going through the book of Genesis which is always so hard to do at the beginning of the year. There is so much figurative language but so many important stories with religious truth and symbolism. The story of Noah is always the story that they are the most familiar with and so I always show a modern movie which twists the original story slightly- Evan Almighty. 

In the film, Evan receives a series of signs from God to indicate that he has been chosen to build this ark. He is super doubtful and resists God for the first half of the movie. I also always have the students complete a worksheet while we are watching the film and ask them if they have ever received "signs" from God. In the more recent years, the ones who answer that  "yes, they have" gets fewer and fewer. Often times, they think that I am asking if they receive ridiculous ones like in the film, but I think the real issue is that their lives are so jam packed full that they don't even have time to observe anything around them (this is evident in their not picking up on various cues in the classroom, but that's another post for another time...).

I am guilty of being less observant of these signs from God myself. In the age of social media and Netflix, any spare time that I have is often spent vegging out on the couch on my phone or binging the latest series. I am grateful that I grew up in a time when these things weren't available and we had to be truly bored so that I would read, or go outside, or take time to journal, play music and pray. Because even though I don't make as much time for these latter things as I should, I still find myself doing them on occasion out of habit. I pray that this generation will also make time for and find the importance of such things, particularly in prayer.

There are several things in the Church that I feel need updating or re-looking at right now, but the things that keep me or hold me are the stories, the rituals and I believe these things are still relevant to youth today. My students love the stories in Genesis. And any time I do give them moments of silence or opportunities to reflect, they find them beneficial. They seem to make the connections when given the opportunity. We just need to give ourselves more time to observe the signs.

My goal this month is to treat every day like I treat these days around the feast of St. Therese- to try and stay open for God's signs. And that means I have to get off of my couch, turn off my phone, and stop and smell the roses sometimes.


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Summer in Ordinary Time: Trust, Surrender, Believe, Receive

Summer started off with all of the celebrations (and novenas...see previous post) in June. I continued with travels and staying busy throughout July. I followed up my NC/GA/OH trips with a PA/DE trip at the end of the month. And now the busyness is over and reality is setting in. It will be back to routine very soon. Next week, in fact.

After the celebration of Pentecost which, this year, happened in early June, we go back to the Ordinary Time in the Church that also sneaks in between the Christmas Season and Lent. But we remain in Ordinary Time now until Advent. That can seem like a really long stretch. It is the time now to prepare for that long stretch.

However, I really enjoy this end of the summer in Ordinary Time. There are lots of favorite saints' feasts (Sts. Clare, Dominic, Lawrence, Maximilian Kolbe, just to name a few) and the readings right now with Moses in the Old Testament leading the Israelites to the Promised Land match up pretty perfectly with Christ trying to educate and lead his disciples.

Since things are starting to slow down for me, I have gotten to spend much of this week in prayer. It's a great way to truly rejuvenate before I go back into ministry. Each year, I try to renew that enthusiasm and look at my job as a teacher really as a ministry. It's easy to get caught up in the day to day and forget that my job is to hand on the faith to young people. I can get caught up in the rules and the policies and the assessments, when that is the opposite of what Christ focused on. It is the message. Everything I teach and do is about a message. I need to make sure that I am sending the right one.

The Old Testament readings, as I mentioned, have been about Moses struggling to lead the Israelites peacefully to the Promised Land. One minute they are complaining about having only manna to eat, forgetting the facts that God has performed many miracles for them, one of them being that manna itself. Then, they are taken to the "land of milk and honey", but they are afraid of the Canaanites who are already there. Moses is constantly battling with them and with God about how to lead. He complains and is flawed, but he ultimately still communicates with God and tries his best to follow God's instructions. I think many of us in leadership positions can relate to Moses and his struggles.

Christ, similarly, is trying to instruct his apostles who never seem to quite trust or get it either. This week Peter has been a major character- witnessing the Transfiguration (one of the many feasts during this Ordinary Time) and wanting to build altars which isn't what Christ wanted him to get from the experience, trying to walk on water, and also being given the title of  'the rock' on which Christ's Church will be built. Peter never seems to quite get it, but he keeps trying. He doesn't give up, similar to Moses.

I got to see for myself two of the locations mentioned in the readings this week when I was in the Holy Land earlier this year. Above: The Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Below: Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked the apostles "Who do you say that I am?". Peter answered correctly. 

My favorite reading from this week, however, happened yesterday. Jesus is with his disciples when a Canaanite woman approaches him. The very same Canaanites that centuries earlier, the Israelites with Moses were afraid of. The Israelites and Canaanites have a sordid history, namely because the Israelites began to believe in one God while Canaanites worshiped many and the Israelites tried to reclaim the land in their God's name.

The Canaanite Woman approaches Jesus in the Gospel because she wants Him to heal her daughter. Jesus says something very unusual to her about only being sent to "the lost sheep of Israel" and it not being "fit to take the food of children and throw it to the dogs." This doesn't sound like Jesus- being somewhat withholding and even discriminatory. She responds in a perfect and sassy way, though, saying that even "the dogs eat the scraps from their Master's table." It is a strange exchange, but somehow perfect. Here are some of my reasons why I like it:

1.) Jesus must've known that this woman would respond to such banter this way. I like to think that Christ meets us where each of us are at spiritually and emotionally. It reminds me of my friend Dan who would be so sweet and kind to all, but then knew that I appreciated sassy banter so he would do so with me. Perhaps this woman also needed such an encounter.

2.) Jesus is teaching the disciples around him a lesson. It is clear from the times of Abraham and Moses and everything in between that the Israelites are known as God's "chosen people" yet here Christ is saying that He has been sent for everyone. Not just the Jews.

3.) The reading of the Israelites being afraid to enter the Promised Land because of the Canaanites is kind of the opposite of what happens here in the New Testament with the Canaanite Woman. She is not afraid to approach Jesus and ask Him for what she wants. She has faith and believes and for that, she is rewarded. He says that her faith saves her.

Besides Moses and Peter's examples of perseverance in the readings this week, I am also reminded of a chant that we used to use in college at Adoration and times of prayer: "Trust. Surrender. Believe. Receive." The Canaanite Woman is able to do all of these things. I feel like at certain times in my life, I struggle with any one of these. Sometimes I am not trusting God, sometimes I am not surrendering or believing. The one that really gets me, though, is "receive." How is it that sometimes we won't even receive the free gifts that we are given? Perhaps we think we are unworthy. Perhaps we are afraid like the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. It may not be clear how or why were struggle with these things- trust, surrender, belief, and receiving- but it *is* clear to me that they are the path to our rewards with God and the answers to our prayers.

I am ending this summer grateful for the equal parts of being busy and relaxation. And I am certainly grateful for the time in prayer this week to rejuvenate me for the job ahead. I will be starting my 10th year of teaching! God has called me in many ways throughout my life, but this call to teach has certainly lasted the longest. I am grateful for the call. I just need to continue to: "trust, surrender, believe, and receive" in all that I do.

Pics from the past 9 years! I couldn't find 2014 so I subbed in one from a publication that I was in Fall of '14 and clearly 2016 they gave us some crazy backgrounds!!

Happy end of Summer!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Summer 2019 Take 2!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24-48 hours in Asheville:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is my 48 hour or so take on Savannah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Sheldon Church Ruins in South Carolina

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

A Pepsi float in the town where Pepsi was founded!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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