Friday, August 30, 2013

Graces. So many graces.

Okay, I don't normally blog about these kinds of things, but for those of you that know me (and perhaps even those of you that don't), when the Lord does something really neat in my life I have to tell as many people as possible. This has especially been the case since the 8-day Ignatian (silent) retreat I had the privilege of going on last summer. During the retreat's last nightly conference, one of the priests leading the retreat made very clear the necessity for us to share and unpack the graces that the Lord gave us with those around us. In the words of St. Ignatius, "that one grace may be shared by many," which essentially means that the Lord doesn't give graces so that just one personal can benefit, but rather so that others can grow, learn and also receive graces from whatever the Lord is doing one's life. And not only do others receive blessings from the graces in your life, but whenever you have the opportunity to retell the story of Christ's action in your life, pow, game-changer right there. It's amazing how telling the same story for the umpteenth time can bring so many different blessings to you. I think most often we like to be selfish with the gifts we get, thinking they were meant for us and us alone, when in fact the Lord gave us that to teach us vulnerability (ahhh!) and humility (eeek!).

So...why did I begin this post again? Oh yeah, to share a grace from this week with you, and maybe preach just a little; what are blogs for anyway? (Answer: standing on your own personal soapbox as often as you'd like, that's what.)

Lately I've begun reading, rather praying, through the Gospel of Matthew and chewing on each section very slowly, digesting each verse. On Tuesday, I read through Matthew 8:5-13, 'Jesus Heals a Centurion's Servant.' When I saw the title my reaction was, "Oh hey! That's where that one part in the Mass comes from since the new translation; Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." I said a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit and prayed on. When doing Lectio Divina (literally meaning, "divine reading," you can read about it by clicking on the link), I often read through the passage and simply ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate a word or phrase that the Lord desires to use to speak to me through. When I read through this passage the first thing that stuck out was, "he marveled," in regards to Jesus marveling after the centurion told him,
"Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."
Jesus has just entered Capernaum and this Roman officer comes forward begging Jesus to heal his servant. As soon as Jesus agrees to come and heal him, the centurion responds in that manner--with such great faith!

It's incredible that this is where the line comes from in the Mass that we recite right before we receive the Holy Eucharist, the precious Body and Blood of our Lord. And Jesus marveled at the centurion's response! Jesus not only marvels, but announces to his followers, to those who think they are doing the heroic thing by literally following Jesus, "Truly I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith"

Hold on! Now I can't say for sure, but if I were in that crowd I probably would've been pretty upset. "What do you mean, 'not even in Israel have you found such faith'? I left mother, father, brother and sister to follow you! I left my job, my house, my everything! I've done all that you said to do, and this centurion has greater faith than I?" Humbling, very humbling.

Jesus made a point to address the centurion personally after announcing his great faith to the peoples and told him to, "Go; let it be done for you as you have believed." ..."And the servant was healed at that very moment." Boom, just like that. In sum, a sinner begs Jesus to have pity on him and heal his servant, Jesus has a remarkable amount of mercy on him, and then heals his servant "at that very moment." Sounds like a trustworthy Savior to me. We cry out to him, trust that He will hear our prayer, He sheds grace and mercy, and answers as He will...solid. I had never realized the correlation in that simple story to the Gospel message itself until now, and that's not even the part that really hit me the other day. 

What particularly moves me is that we recite the same prayer that that centurion prayed 2000 years ago, to the same Jesus we are about to receive in the Eucharist during the Holy Mass. The new translation (which is actually just a more accurate translation into English of the Latin, but I don't need to get into that now. In Spanish they literally say, "Lord I am not worthy that you should enter into my house, but one word of yours will suffice to heal me.") is no coincidence. What's amazing to me is that when we pour everything out on the altar and then recite those same words with the faith of the centurion, Jesus will marvel

I don't know about you, but when the thought of Jesus marveling at me crosses my mind, the only thing I think he could possibly marvel at (def: be filled with wonder or astonishment) is my sin. What I've come to learn over the years is that Jesus doesn't marvel at our sins. Why glorify that which kills the soul? Jesus marvels when he sees his friends (ahem, all of us) more fully trust in Him. Perhaps you can understand when you are asked a question that you have no idea how to answer, or when you get asked to complete a task that seems way over your head. You literally marvel at the person that asked you that because you cannot believe someone could ask something like that of you. "Wow," you think to yourself, "I can't believe they would ask me this. Do they even know me and what I'm capable of?" I remember asking myself that same question a few times on, yeah you guessed it, the Camino. Simply because I could communicate in Spanish I suddenly became the expert on all things 'Camino'. People asked questions about topics to which I had absolutely no idea how to answer. For example, "Hey Kelsey, will there be bed bugs here tonight?" Or, "Hey Kelsey, how far away is the nearest bathroom?" Or, "Is it safe to drink the water?" (For the record, I never knew any of the answers to these questions. All I did was respond with my best educated guess and with confidence. Worked like a charm. Oh, sorry if any of you are reading this now thinking that I lied to you the entire trip. I assure you I did not.)

Jesus also marvels at us when we ask big things of him. Let's be real, it was pretty gutsy for said centurion to have the audacity to beg Jesus in front of all those people to heal his servant, and then not actually let him in his house! Imagine if we could do the same. One of the things our team at NDSU is doing this year is "praying big," as Bryan puts it. Why ask for things that seem probable. God becoming man so that He can die on a cross and then allow us to eat him weekly, or even daily, is not very probable. Christ being born of a virgin is not very probable. What I'm coming to learn is that these are not just nice stories of something that happened long, long ago. These make up the real story of our salvation. And they are not fiction, they're all true!

Today is the feast of the Passion or Beheading of John the Baptist. What a humble guy. For those of you who read one of my previous posts, John the Baptist heavily influenced my summer simply for his words, "He must increase, I must decrease." And John the Baptist was a real person. On the altar at Mass tonight I noticed a small reliquary and had a hunch it was one of his relics, seeing as FRC loves the guy and it's one of his feast days (yes he has more than one..this one is celebrating his martyrdom, there is also one celebrating his nativity...etc) and I knew I'd need to spend some time with him post-social time after Mass. It was no coincidence that today is also a Thursday and we are encouraged to pray the Luminous mysteries of the Rosary, the first being the Baptism in the Jordan. 

John the Baptist...why the name? Oh, because he actually baptized JESUS. As I read through this mystery's reflection in my prayer book I was completely struck at the fact that this is a first-class relic (i.e. an actual piece of the Saint) of the man who baptized my Lord and Savior and the King of the Universe. And I just received Jesus in the Eucharist. Talk about being filled to overflowing with the love of God, man what a grace.

That's it, I could go on for hours but I'll stop there. That alone is enough for me to chew on for days. Essentially, my takeaways (or rather, giveaways) from this post for you are this:
  1. Ask big things of Jesus at the Mass, He is honored when you ask.
  2. When you recite the same prayer as the centurion before receiving the Eucharist, ask for the grace to truly believe and have great faith that the Lord will answer your prayer.
  3. Jesus, Mary and all the Saints are not just a nice story that happened long ago, or never actually happened at all. Each is a real person and plays a large role in the history of each of our own salvation.
Now may God himself, our Father, and our Lord Jesus
direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase
and abound in love for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.
1 Thes 3:11-13 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Welcome back Retreat: Katelyn's Story

As some of you might know, we took our student missionaries on a little retreat to Hankinson, ND in lieu of our usual back-to-school "Evangelization Workshop" that we organize each year. I'll be honest, I was a bit leery at first simply because all the students that came were the guinea pigs and we just hoped they'd like it.
FRC preaching on the Queenship of Mary

The retreat was absolutely incredible. Unfortunately, less than 50 of the 82 student missionaries showed up, but I know the ones that did received exactly what they needed from the Lord. Coincidence? Or just a theme in my life lately? Hmmm.

The retreat was only 24 hours, but we packed quite a bit in and the retreat center we stayed at was just perfect. It was part of a convent but we hardly interacted with the sisters at all. There were towels and pillows coming out of our ears, along with anything else we might've needed. I literally had to pinch myself because there was religious art on the walls, crucifixes in each room and clean beds in rooms of 1, 2 and 4. Now that certainly was a change from the albergues of España! And a delightful one at that. I happily received the hospitality and ate whatever was set before me, mostly just because the food was delicious and apparently made by people who are professional pizza makers. That explains the crust on Thursday night's pizza..... mmmm.

On Friday as we were in line for lunch, one of the "front line" student missionaries turns to me and just starts telling me how much this retreat meant to her and how the Lord worked in her heart. I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting reactions like this to come from such a short retreat, but praise God that He uses anything! Here's a beautifully-written story from Katelyn:
Before I went on this retreat, I had never been to a convent before. Now I had read about Abbeys in fiction and loved every single bit of them, however, when it came to convents, I was terrified. My imagination led me to believe that a convent was a gauntlet of constantly judging eyes, a place of metaphorical chains, and a building where repression was the only teaching. My sister had told me that she loved her first visit, but I figured whatever, she’s my sister, the girl who had shown previous interest in the idea of nuns before. However, when I first stepped into the retreat center, instead of a cot to spend my night on, I found a carefully made bed, with a set of towels and some soap beside them. It sounds much less impressive to read, but the entire room of St. Catherine, the room in which I stayed, just oozed with love and excitement for the impending guests. And following a wonderful talk by TJ, I decided to spend some free time walking outside.
It is amazing how much peace can be found just by exiting those doors and walking amidst the most beautiful array of flowers. My little group was then greeted by a Sister we had all met before, and the contentment and joy that was so evident on her face just made me reconsider my little image I had conjured up in my head. Later that evening, we had the opportunity to go to confession during our hour of Adoration and, if we wanted, a pair of the FOCUS missionaries would pray over us. Now, I had some issues that were weighing quite heavily on my mind. I had a lot of questions, doubts, and nervousness where my personal relationships were concerned, and I figured, hey, why not get a chance to talk to a priest while I can and ask for help? Who better to ask?
I am currently dating someone and up until about a week or two before the retreat, I had had a few nagging thoughts that I had been choosing to overlook, until one day my sister, mother, father, and a friend I have come to think of as a brother, mentioned their worries to me. They were afraid I would fall head over heels, or thought that I may be meant for someone else. They warned me to just be cautious and enjoy the relationship, but since that day I had been feeling insanely uneasy and filled with the greatest sense of fear, indecision, doubt, and, being honest, a little unhappiness. I just wasn’t sure if this man was the one God had intended me to meet at this point in my life or whether I had strayed from my path with God onto one of my own designing.
I decided confession would be a good decision. Couldn’t hurt, right? I waited in line for what seemed like an eternity, this question in my mind. I didn’t know how to approach it. But it was eventually my turn. The priest finally gave me answers I had been looking for. He told me to evaluate my decisions, make sure I was motivated by God, that no matter what happens, I would always be a better person because of it, and that, ironically enough, worry is a healthy reminder that God is there. He told me that the constant questions in my head about this relationship were good, as it meant that I was always trying to make sure that my intentions were pure and God-serving, and that boundless affirmation was the Devil’s work. He also told me to talk with that Brother-figure about my young courtier, as I needed to hear more from him on his opinions, a job that I had been dreading. A few minutes before he wrapped up, I went on a complete roller-coaster, terror, tears, and then this laughter. I was just so relieved! I left that room feeling, honestly, about ten pounds lighter. I seriously felt like a great weight was lifted from me. Holy God!
I thought I might as well go see the spiritual director, so I went back into the church to put away my book and I started to approach TJ and Kelsey, who were praying by the bookshelf, but the next thing I know they both get up, smiling, and, maybe awkwardness compelled me, or maybe it was their excitement with my curiosity, but I said, “I was just coming to put my book back, but hey, why not.” I told them that I wanted prayers for clarity in personal relationships and asked for a little more assistance in discerning my vocation. This was my first time having people pray over me. At first, I have to say I was a bit freaked out, but, as the prayer went on I heard some things I apparently really needed to have said and there was just this feeling of rightness and surrender that entered me. Surrender and strength. It was odd. But, somehow, when it was all over, I just knew everything would work out. I then hugged TJ and Kelsey and went to the Spiritual director who didn’t do quite what I thought she would, but instead talked about relationships again. By this point, I was just like, “Okay Lord, I got it. Relationships are the theme tonight.” I left that room with a feeling of purpose. My night had me get emptied, then humbled, and then filled with both a joy and a purpose.
Earlier Kelsey had talked about the Devil of Silence, and how we must increase the Holy Spirit within us, while letting our own selves decrease. I felt it was time to give it a try, it was a delightful turn of events when that Brother figure was sitting nearby with no agenda, and, though utterly terrified, I finally had the talk that I had been dreading so much, I asked for his opinion on my boyfriend. That conversation made me so happy, it turns out there were a few things he didn’t know that changed his mind, and a few impressions that hit me, that deepened my appreciation for my brother-figure, and let me affirm that I truly do love the man that is my boyfriend, not only for his talents and personality, but for his flaws as well. It was actually kind of exciting.
Later that evening, after a couple games of Capture-the-Flag, I decided to text my boyfriend about the conversation I had had with the priest, after all, the decisions in the relationship shouldn’t just be left to me and the priest. My guy was baptized Catholic, confirmed protestant and grew to have an apathy and distrust, bordering on dislike for the Church after a favorite priest of his, got removed from his parish. But when I told him that I wanted us to make sure that both of our sides of the relationship were based on love, of God and each other, and not just a want for something else, he agreed. He told me that those were good words and that he honestly believed the same. I was so happy! I had told myself that this would lead to an argument but the conversation, and his stance on the news I had just asked him to digest, just made me love him more and praise God for the most rewarding and emotionally unloading day. This retreat scared me so much, but it ended up giving me all the answers to questions that had plagued me for the last couple weeks, this year is going to be my block of marble, (Thanks TJ) and, Kelsey’s talk gave me the resolve to try and listen to the Holy Spirit, and actually talk to people. I kind of went into this summer and retreat lukewarm, but now I want everyone to get the chance to have a couple of days like I was blessed to have and get to know the glory, mercy, and wisdom of God.
 Katelyn Grosz is a sophomore at NDSU studying English education and hospitality and tourism management. 

Girls in my downchain being silly.
The group! Get ready NDSU, here we come.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

You went to Canada, 'eh?

That's right, as FOCUS teams we like to take a little fun team retreat before the craziness of fall outreach ensues, so BLT planned a trip for our team to drive up nort' to Canada! 'Twas quite the trip, let me tell you and it's funny how much can be packed into a mere 24 hours.

First things first, the drive up. We got to the Canadian border patrol and figured they'd look at our passports, not stamp them, and then just send us on our merry little way, seeing as that's what happened two years ago when a few of us took a trip up. Apparently the way they do things has changed a little bit and they actually invite us to pull off to the side and bring ourselves inside. We walk up to the counter with the yellow slip given to us by the officer at the window and essentially have no idea what's going on. We're Catholic missionaries for cryin' out loud, what harm can we really do?

Officer Tait looks at us, then tells us he's going to run our names through governmental criminal background checks and "if there's any reason you think something might come up just stand right here. Otherwise you can have a seat." We all laugh, except TJ, and Bryan, Jane and I walk back to our seats while TJ stands there, looking nervous.


Ha! Just kidding, we all walk to the chairs in the back, including TJ. But I had you going there for a second, didn't I? About 15 minutes later officer Tait stamps our passports, hands them back to us and sends us on our way.

We arrive to Winnipeg about an hour and a half later, dine at the fine establishment of A&W after having a good laugh about a place nearby called Shila Buffet. I see the sign and start laughing so hard, thinking it sounds just like Shia Labeouf and apparently that's hilarious. Feeling silly, we continue driving towards our hotel, the Marlborough downtown. The hotel has seemingly sold Jane and I's room, so we get upgraded to a suite. Thinking it will be like an American hotel suite, we instantly get excited. That, however, is not the case and the "suite" is actually just your average two queen-size bed room. Let's be real, no complaints here, staying in hotels is always a fun treat and the beds are cloud-like and perfect for a nap.

Speaking of naps, soon after we arrive all four of us lay down and take a much-needed snooze, Jane and I sleeping for nearly an hour. We meet the guys and walk around the "French quarter," seeing a beautiful old church that burned down in 1969 along with the Forks marketplace, a Winnipeg classic. There's a coffee shop there that catches everyone's attention, Bryan, TJ and Jane all giggle and I look over and read, "Human Bean, Fuel for the Human Race" and think, "Hm, that's cute." After the team gets a good laugh it finally hits me that it's a pun...human bean...human being. I laugh about 30 seconds later. KMK, always a little slow on the uptake.

We proceed to walk outside and sit by the water because a 25-person canoe and "interpretive paddling adventure" is about to commence. As soon as I sit down I feel nauseous and can't think about anything except not wanting to toss my cookies. Luckily, that doesn't happen and we soon make our way back to the hotel to have a rest before dinner.

The rest coupled with a 7-up works it's wonders and we head out the door around 8 pm to a fine establishment called the Peasant Cookery. We eat some of the most delicious French food we've ever eaten, mostly because we haven't had too much experience in that area of cuisine. I order the french onion soup and let me tell you, definitely the best cup of french onion I've ever eaten. On top of great food, I'll be honest, the waitresses are hands down the most knowledgeable waitstaff I've ever dined with, so that's also a treat.We sit and enjoy our meals and make our way out the door about two hours later. What a dining experience!

After dinner we have a much-needed stroll back to the Marlborough where we proceed to laugh and laugh and laugh. Jane has a great idea for a fun conversation game, so we each end up having to tell a story, however long or short we want, using one noun chosen by a teammate. Let's just say the word Bryan chooses for me is "diamond" and I could use a little practice in tying up a nice story with a good conclusion.

The next morning is where the fun really begins. Our only plan is to go to the Divine Liturgy at a nearby Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, and TJ and Bryan have already looked it up and keep telling us how much we are going to absolutely love it. We arrive to the Cathedral an hour early to pray a holy hour and one of my biggest hesitations becomes a reality: it's locked. Every single door, locked. Luckily there's a groundskeeper outside working in his garage and Bryan asks him in plain English when the doors are opened and where Mass is. I say plain English because it doesn't take long to realize that this man does not speak the language very well at all; it's almost as if he's arrived straight from Ukraine. He confusedly tells us to go across the street, second floor. We come to find out that every morning the priest does the Divine Liturgy in the St. Josaphat Villa (a.k.a. retirement home) for the elderly men and women that have a difficulty crossing the street and walking up the steps every morning.

We have to wait outside for a while to get in, but luckily the morning is beautiful. As soon as we get in, and walk up to the second floor there is a tiny little room with a handful of Ukrainian 80-somethings praying, and clearly talking about us, although we do not understand a word. They smile nicely, wondering what the heck we're doing here and we sit there, taking in the beautiful icons and cross-stitched cloths hanging around.

About 15 minutes later a priest comes in, walks up to TJ and Bryan and scarily says something in Ukrainian. Within a minute he goes from being the world's scariest priest to the world's friendliest, and as soon as he finds out we're Catholic missionaries he's absolutely delighted. One of the ladies hands us each a book to follow along with the liturgy, in both Ukrainian and English. The entire Divine Liturgy is shorter than usual, kind of like a daily mass for us Roman Catholics, but I would really like to experience an entire liturgy with the incense and all someday in the future. Luckily I think TJ can help me with that, he is a Byzantine Catholic after all.
Tour guide, Margaret.
Ukrainian Cathedral and iconostasis. So beautiful.
After the Divine Liturgy the priest tells us that Margaret will take us over and show us the Cathedral, which she does with great delight. Not only does she give us an incredible tour with explanations, as we're about to leave and head to the next place (to which she will end up taking us) she says, "Oh, I almost forgot one more thing!" Thinking it's probably something to do with the Liturgy or some sort of artwork, she takes us back to the sacristy and shows us this old and kind of ugly fabric-covered kneeler. She points to it and says, "When Pope John Paul II, who is about to be canonized a Saint, you know, visited our Cathedral, he prayed on this kneeler for quite some time and now it's a second class relic. Would you like to pray on it?"

Are you SERIOUS?! Any Catholic's dream right here! Each of us get to spend some time praying on this kneeler, asking Bl. JPII's intercession for the year! What an incredible surprise!
Praying on JPII's kneeler!
After that she takes us to the tomb of a Bishop-Martyr, Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky, where we got a nice tour and prayed there, begging him for healing graces as well. Awesome! She then proceeds to treat us to lunch at the nicest Chinese buffet we've ever eaten at and then takes us to one more church, a Ukrainian Orthodox Church and then sends us on our way.
At the tomb of Blessed Vasyl
Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Ukrainian Orthodox Church facade
We went from having one plan, seeing the Cathedral and going to Divine Liturgy, to seeing some of the most beautiful churches and praying with the Saints! Such an awesome team offsite!

And now today we head out to Hankinson with all the student missionaries for a little back-to-school workshop/retreat. So pumped! Please pray for us, we can use all the prayers we can get these days. Only a few more days until freshman move-in!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I'm a godmother!

It's official, Charlotte Lucy is my goddaughter, and I couldn't be happier. She is the daughter of my lovely cousin and her husband, I'll call them D 'n E, for anonymity's sake. D, my cousin, asked me at Easter if I'd accept the role as godmother, and of course I happily accepted! I've been waiting for this opportunity, and I'm thrilled to have a spiritual connection and special bond with this little one, for it is quite the honor to be chosen as godparent.

After a series of events, I almost missed the baptism last Sunday, but God is good and provided me exactly what I needed to arrive juuust on time. As in, I walked into the church in pajamas at noon and was at the baptism less than five minutes later in a dress. A huge shout out to mom, dad and aunt LaVon for playing it cool and believing in me! For anyone wondering, let's just say that I overslept and was away from my parents' house. I woke up at 9:44 am in LaCrosse, WI and needed to be at the baptism in Madison, 2 1/2 hours away by noon, at the latest. In a dress, wearing my Sunday best, obviously.

The Blessed Mother along with Jesus himself steered my car and guided my foot, which seemed to be heavier than normal that day, and I got there! The stress from the drive didn't steal away from my joy one bit, as I still felt very honored to be standing there in that position. Sue, a friend of the family present that day, told me that "being a godmother gives you a very special connection with the child," and boy was she right. From the moment I met Charlotte (since I had not met her before that day), I already felt a special closeness between us. I know she will always be in my prayers and I am excited to see what the Lord has in store for her life.

I don't have much more to say on that, other than that it's always so good to be around family, and seeing D 'n E, and the rest of the Schutz clan reminded me of that. It made the departure bittersweet, knowing that it will be three months minimum until we are united, but that's the beauty of the Eucharist! We are all united in the precious body of Christ, and that simple fact brings me consolation.

Here are a few photos from the baptism:

Monday, August 19, 2013

Whose Camino is it anyway?

Levi and I with the cross/sword of St. James
I know it's late, but I just bathed and my hair is sopping wet so I can't quite go to sleep yet. I figured, what better way to spend a little time than writing one last blog update on the Camino? I've actually
been meaning to do this for a few days, and I thought it might help me put my thoughts in order as I prepare for another semester of missionary life. And yes, for all you holy rollers out there, praying or doing holy reading could probably be a better way to spend this time... please forgive me.

The title of this post perfectly sums up one of the biggest graces I received while hiking the Camino de Santiago. The grace came very gradually, our Lord is the perfect gentleman, you know, but it came exactly as He would so have it. So let me now tell you, and for those of you who have been in conversation with me, this might be a bit repetitive. However, I'm convinced that the Lord does not just give a person a singular grace so that that particular person might grow; I think He works in our lives so that we might share it and He might work through that to change other hearts. So if this is the second, third or fifth time you've heard this story, then sit back, be patient and maybe open your heart just a little bit more. I know that I learn something new, or at least am reminded in a very real way each time I tell it.

Enough already Kelsey, on with it...

One of the graces that I received was a pretty drastic emptying. "That's a grace?!" you might be wondering to yourself. Yes, I tell you, and soon you shall see why. There are a lot of small things in my life, let me call them vanities, which keep me obsessed with things in this life that don't really matter. A friend of mine once told me that "vanities are when we give eternal import to that which is passing" or something like that. That's what I heard anyway--essentially, far too often I place too much value on things that just don't matter, plain and simple. Spending too much time in front of the mirror, examining what I will wear, how I'll do my make-up, how I'll curl my hair just so. And not only with appearance do vanities sneak in, but also with items that I have, wanting everything to be just perfect, always wanting people to see me in a certain way...vanities I tell you, all is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 1:2 actually became a theme for our trip very early on, and it's no surprise why.)

I came to realize that going on the Camino became, in itself, a vanity for me. Early on in the trip I noticed a possessiveness to the whole trip. People constantly asking you, "How is your Camino? What do you hope to get from your Camino?" On top of that, I had spent so much time individually praying and preparing for this Camino that it definitely came to the point where I was ready to just get to Spain and walk my Camino exactly how I wanted it.

That, my friends, is where I went wrong.

Before going I know that being a missionary and a leader on the trip will be different, but I have no idea how difficult. When people ask me how the trip was, I first say, "It was the hardest thing I've ever done, and not necessarily physically." The hard part came in sharing and being always ready to share everything with the students, the other missionaries, and even random strangers that God put in our paths each day. Tangentially, I remember one specific moment when we were surrounded by fellow pilgrims in a random place that escapes my memory and I had the thought, "Wow, we were all meant to be here, in this place, for a specific reason, right now. Cool!!" Basically, nothing on this trip is my own, and I have to be fully prepared to give things up at a moment's notice.
Trying to be awake post-hike in Sarria, but giving up slowly...

The first night in the hostel in León we get there, put our backpacks down and the lady insists that we put our backpacks on these tables at the front of the room, even though there are other people in the room. I think, "yeah, okay, but I'm putting mine by my bed," because I'm so afraid of stuff getting stolen, not understanding full well how the albergues (hostels) worked. I make a little bit of a fuss and Anna turns to me and just says two words, "Kelsey, trust!!" Those words shoot me straight through the heart and I realize how attached I am to my things in that moment. My backpack with all the things that I brought with were all that I have, and I can't bring myself to being without. She says that and I immediately ask the Lord for forgiveness, hoping I haven't placed too much value on simple passing things...ahem...vanities. From that moment forward the rest of the graces begin to unfold on the trip, especially realizing that God gives us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. And he did. Every time. For every person...even me.

Back to the big part of the grace, I guess I didn't realize how many different pieces were in this puzzle. At that very first moment I start learning a little bit of detachment on the Camino, but that is only the beginning. Being one of the only missionaries fluent in Spanish, many students seek me out with questions about anything and everything (even things I had no idea about!) and I have to be prepared to give them some sort of answer, even if it is, "just hold on one second." Nothing on this Camino was even remotely mine, not even the time.

I begin to get frustrated because the graces I want are not flooding in and the spiritual consolations aren't exactly in high supply either. It's kind of ironic too, because each of the missionaries will give a talk at one point or another during the trip, and originally mine was supposed to be about the importance of sharing testimonies and a brief how-to, but when the day came to share I feel absolutely no call to talk on that topic whatsoever. I do some soul-searching and beg for the right words from the Holy Spirit, and end up giving a talk about entitlement, and how we are not entitled to anything, but that God gives us the graces that He desires to give. Little do I know that I probably should have listened to that talk because the Holy Spirit would use that later. So basically, my sentiments toward the Camino both pre- and during the trip, was a bit of entitlement--I wanted what I wanted, period. But God wanted something else. And He always wins, period.

Before leaving I asked family, friends, mission partners and anyone that wanted to send prayer intentions to the tomb of St. James, to send them my way. I wrote them all in the last few pages of my journal and then split up each day to pray for particular intentions. I'm not going to go out and personally say what they were, but from some people I received really heavy prayer requests. I'm talking, big things. Intentions that I'm still praying for very intently today, knowing that these people and situations need many prayers. Many of these came from people that I know very well but they have never told me these things. At first I wasn't sure if I was supposed to read them but just dutifully take them and dispose of them at Santiago's tomb...but I couldn't do that. I had to pray for them and I'm so glad I did.

Back to mid-trip entitlement. It starts to build and I'm not sure why. The Lord continues revealing slowly the ways in which He wants to remove vanities from my life and my heart continues opening wider and wider. We eventually get to Santiago and I already dream about entering this magnificent city and marvelous cathedral. And, well, that's not exactly how it happened for me. For one, I have no idea the city is so enormous and that it will take at least an hour or more to get from the outskirts of the city to where we need to be. Second, the only other example I have of getting to the Cathedral (which was what I most looked forward to) is the movie The Way. It's a pretty emotional and individually unique event for each of the characters, and let's just say it wasn't like that for me. I had
Look closely, you can see the handprint!
dreams of getting down on my knees to enter the cathedral, placing my hand in the statue that millions of pilgrims have touched before me and has since then worn down in the shape of five fingerprints, and simply being able to take in the entire Cathedral in silent awe and wonderment.

Sounds magical, doesn't it?

Well, that isn't what God had in store for me all along, and I'm starting to finally realize that now, after being back for three weeks. We arrive to the Cathedral just in time for a packed pilgrim's mass at noon, are ushered in through a side door and have to find room up next to some giant pillars because all the pews are full. Not only that, but we can't see a thing and Mass is in Spanish. Bonus. It isn't until the next day that I actually have a chance to really look at the Cathedral from the front doors and see the beautiful gold sanctuary--I was completely blown away. Also, one other thing that I really really want to see, is the botafumeiro, or rather, world's largest thurible (the incensor that the priest uses at Mass on special Holy Days) really get smoking and be swung back and forth by multiple men with ropes, flooding our senses with the sweet smell of incense (that's not sarcasm, I love the smell of church incense). Of all the Masses we attend (I even stick around for a few extra), the botafumeiro is never in action while I'm present, and that itself becomes a gift to me.

Sanctuary at Cathedral. Botafumeiro front and center.
Back to all these prayer requests I was telling you about. It really dawned on me when I actually got to visit St. James' tomb and pray for them just how big of a deal this Camino was. It was as if Jesus spoke directly to me and told me how important it was for me to walk this Camino, simply so that I could pray for these intentions in such a special way (remember, some of the requests were big!) and so powerfully. I actually needed to give by going so that they could go by giving. That's usually a tacky tagline we use for MPD and in raising our support, but it really led to a profound grace: I needed to walk this Camino because these people couldn't, and these intentions needed serious prayer! This Camino wasn't ever mine to begin with, it was theirs. This Camino was for all of those who wanted to go but were not able. Sure, it was also for me, but it was for me a complete emptying of me. It's no surprise that the Lord brought up the verse John 3:30 right the beginning of the trip, "He must increase, I must decrease." It's no wonder because what he wanted to give me on the trip was actually less of me. And not only less of me, but a desire to be less so that He can be more. So that He can be everything. Now that totally rocks my world, and answers the question posed in this post's title.

That's all I have on the Camino for now, folks. We have our first team offsite tomorrow and the team is headed up nort' to Canada! Please pray for us as we have our student missionary retreat this week as well, and freshman move-in on Saturday! A busy couple of weeks lined up, but so much fun.

Here are a few more pictures, in the meantime.
Cool bridge in Ospital de Orbigo.

Kelly, Anna, Kelsey. Three dear friends enjoying Sangria!

Typical morning walk.

Passing through and this priest offers us a Camino stamp and a prayer. Good man.
Levi, Kelsey, Anna, Joe. Missionaries represent!
Beautiful cloistered convent where we celebrated Mass.

Our view from the dinner table one night.
My favorite morning walk. A beautiful nature quilt.
20 mile hike, check.
Reppin' the homeland!
The whole group on St. James' feast day, at his Cathedral!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Camino yo' life one step at a time...

The group, packs on, pre-trip.
That's right, it might sound a little more "gangster" than I typically aim for, but that's a phrase our group developed early on in our pilgrimage and thought it might be worthwhile to share with y'all. Essentially, walking the Camino de Santiago is more than just simply getting from point A to point B each day (although that certainly does motivate one to continue putting one foot in front of the other), it also consists of the journey to get there, and the adventures along the way. We realized early on how important it is to enjoy the walk rather than spending the entire time wishing you have already arrived, which, believe me, is a huge temptation.

Reading from St. Josemaría along "The Way"
In case you're wondering, I was blessed to have very few blisters coupled with a fairly high pain tolerance. Needless to say, the pain I experienced from the blisters was mild in comparison to the interior battles I fought each day.
At one point one of the students made a side comment, "the mind quits before the body does," and she didn't realize this at the time, but those words spoke directly to my heart. While I was doing pretty well physically, on the inside I was struggling. I felt spiritually dry, far from the Lord, and as though I were doing this walk for the complete wrong reasons. I later on realized that although I felt that way, that was by no means the indicator of the actual truth of the matter. It wasn't until one of the final days that I finally named the spirit of entitlement I experienced. I felt entitled to "feel God" as though I deserved all sorts of good feelings for doing this walk "for him." But that sort of attitude doesn't really reflect one who is doing something entirely for the sounds to me a bit like I was actually doing this for myself and any side effects were just an added bonus.

And then it dawned on me, the mochilas, the backpacks on our backs. Those mochilas represented more than just a convenient arrangement of materials to lug our possessions from place to place. Rather, the backpacks we carried represented, in a much more tangible way for some than others, Jesus' cross, as well as our own personal crosses. I can't speak for the whole group, but after thinking of it in that light, I was reminded that I didn't come all the way here to hike nearly 200 miles for me. I came here to do this for Jesus, so if He allows me to experience no good feelings the entire time I really can't be too upset. The feelings and/or lack thereof do not validate nor negate an experience from happening and even radically transforming us. I would love to share with you all of the little stories and details... but I don't know how to do that. For now, please allow me share a few of the main takeaways from the trip for me:
  1. God provided exactly what each person needed, at every point throughout the trip. Levi and I were in charge of food, and let's be real, even when it looked like all places would be closed for dinner, or nobody would accept a group of 14 hungry Americans, someone would walk by and overhear us and magically make us a paella. It was delightful. And that really happened.
  2. Everything I needed for almost 3 weeks fit into a 45 L backpack. That's pretty neat, huh? I find myself weighed down by so much stuff all the time and it always drives me nuts. I seek ways to be less materialistic, but it is extremely difficult for me and this trip broke me of a lot of personal vanities. Something that I, Kelsey Marie, definitely needed. Again, God provides.
  3. Traveling from place to place is not simply about the destination, it's how you got there. That seems a little cliche and kind of corny, but it's true. As India Arie sings it so wonderfully, "Life is a journey, not a destination." We met another group of 17 from Michigan very early in the trip and one of the young men in the group, Marcus the seminarian, was known for being incredibly fast (as well as an impeccable blister doctor). Marcus, always in the front of the group, using his walking sticks like ski poles and cascading down the mountains like a waterfall, encountered Alli and Jenny one day, who were surprised to see him so far in the back of the group and asked what "he was doing way back here." At hearing the question he looked sad and relayed the fact that he realized he had been so worried about walking so quickly that he hadn't taken much time to actually meet people along the way and travel at a speed other than lightning fast. That was good to hear, and definitely helped us enjoy the walk a little bit more, thanking God for each step we were able to take along the way, knowing that we were here to grow closer to Him.
  4. Our first albergue in León! No, it wasn't a hospital.
  5. There is no reason not to trust God. It's really easy to convince ourselves why it's okay to just take control over certain aspects, like the basic needs of the body, when in reality, the Lord wants to provide for them all. He tells us that in sacred scripture, and it holds true: all the hairs on our heads are accounted for and the Lord looks after them all. There were a few nights when getting into the towns and finding 14 beds to sleep in seemed dismal and unlikely. Somehow, making use of our resources and gifts, the Lord would give to us exactly what we needed: 14 beds (even if it was in a town six miles up and down the road...).
  6. Fr Keith & I near Astorga-day 2
  7. He must increase, I must decrease. That might sound familiar, and that's because it is. John 3:30. John the Baptist's words in regards to Jesus of Nazareth. On this trip, for one of the first times in my life, I was stripped down to the bare bones of KMK (and no, nobody took my clothes when I had them hanging on the line to dry, praise God!). We were surrounded by the same group of 14 very unique individuals literally for 24 hours a day--most nights we all slept right in the same room, just couldn't get away from each other! But that certainly led to myself having a shorter fuse than I would have liked, and my patience was tried constantly. I found myself first failing in opportunities for charity followed by simply serving the other members of the group, student, missionary and priest alike. By the end of the trip, however, I could feel in a much more tangible way, the presence of the Holy Spirit and it was easier than ever before to not only hear what He was telling me, but also follow any promptings. It would certainly not have been the case if I wouldn't have first been broken and poured out for 200 miles. Sometimes that's exactly what God needs to move this heart of stone.
    The missionaries! (L-R) Joe, Anna, Levi, myself
I have more thoughts on the Camino, and stories as well. I'll post some shorter posts with pictures and stories so you can hear more as the summer draws on. Be ye prepared! And stay tuned (wink).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

You don't want to miss this.

Tarta de Santiago!
A title like that you'd think I was giving away a million dollars or something. No, this is actually just another random post about el Camino. A few people from the group have been posting pictures and as I look at them I can't help but think, "wow I can't believe we were there...and there...and did that... and walked up that..." Needless to say, I'm feeling quite nostalgic today, and well, pretty much every day since we've been back. The day I returned mom's boss came over and commented on how tan I was, which I obviously loved, and yesterday after giving my talk at church a nice woman I know commented on the fact that I should be more tan after getting back from Florida and Spain! Hmph. Vanity of vanities I suppose.... am I right?

The reason I told you that is because my Spanish-ness is already wearing off, and I'm not ready. To honor that, today I tried my hand at making a Tarta de Santiago, an almond cake typical to the region that we were hiking in Spain. It was a fun, and pretty easy baking adventure for me. The hardest part was actually cutting out the stencil of the St. James cross/sword. Let's be real, if I'm going to make a St. James cake, I'm doing the whole thing, no halfway powdered sugar, hence the design. The best part, as it usually is when I cook or bake in mom and dad's house, was using the KitchenAid mixer, the Ninja blender/chopper and having a fully-stocked kitchen with everything that I needed. I blanched almonds for the first time, and it turned out to be a piece of cake (literally....get it??)! Dad and I had some for dessert tonight with a cup of coffee and, as I guessed, I'm still unable to fall asleep from the caffeine I drank at 6 pm. Oh dear.

So the story I'd like to tell you in this post is about our hike this day, I believe day six in the walk, to O'Cebreiro. This just so happened to be one of our hardest and longest days, with a hike of 19+ miles, and after we broke silence with some cafe con leche, everybody split up, as usual, to hike at their own pace. Anna and I decided to walk together for a bit, and it wasn't long after that when we ran into Brother Marcielo (yellow) and Samuel (blue). Brother Marcielo is actually a Franciscan brother from Brazil and he was that guy that became friends with every person along the Camino. It was pretty incredible, actually, and I wonder what it's like for him now that he's back home. He certainly has no problems socializing, and is great at holding a Spanish at least. He doesn't speak much English, so I enjoyed being around him to get some valuable practice.

Anna and I ran into the two of them right before we took this picture, and we kind of naturally just split up two and two, Anna talking with Brother and I was talking, mostly listening, with/to Samuel from La Calabria in southern Italy, a beautiful part of Italy flowing with incredible cheese and beer (apparently...sounds like another magical land with which I am quite familiar). Without even knowing my name, Samuel just starts rattling off Italian words and phrases to me, speaking with me as any excited, extroverted, 19-year-old boy without mom and dad would do. Luckily for him I was able to understand and follow most of what he was saying, thanks to Matteo Gilebbi, my Italian 201 T.A. from sophomore year. We ended up walking and talking for over an hour and a half, sharing life, trying to translate what he was saying into both Spanish and English, and trying to help him understand my Spanish, because I speak that much better than I do Italian. We ended up actually having a pretty deep conversation and I even attempted sharing the Gospel with him in Italian/Spanish! That's a first for me, and although he wasn't really having it, it definitely pushed me outside my comfort zone. It was incredibly interesting hearing the common rebuttals we hear today in the U.S. of why we don't need the Church..but in Italian. It was hard for me to explain the importance, so I tried to get broader and move to the whole relationship with Jesus thing to see how that would work. Looking back, I'd say it was a good hike!

When we got to the top of a crazy steep hill that we dominated in very little time, not only was I out of breath, but I was also out of food, and needed some lunch. Samuel didn't seem to desire the same lunch as me (bocadillo with jamón and staple lunch every single day), so I walked into a bar and that was where 3 nice Spaniards put a handful of peanuts and a beer in my hand, striking up a conversation with me. I always enjoy seeing the look on native Spanish-speakers' faces when they see that not only do I understand what they are saying, but I respond with wit. If I had a euro for every time that happened on the trip... that would be worthless, because now I'm in the U.S. But at the time, I could've treated a lot of people to ice cream! I ended up remaining friends with those guys throughout the rest of the trip, and one of them even ended up being the chief of police in Valencia, kind of a big deal around there!

Saw this more than once..not in Kansas anymore.
They warned me not to go to O'Cebreiro, the town we were headed to for the night because it was already full, as in, we would be like Joseph and Mary and there would be no room in the inn. "Whatever," I thought to myself, "they haven't gone there, how do they know?" Well I came to find out that sometimes, it's real easy to just know what's going on, especially when you're trying to get room for 14 people in a town with one albergue during the busiest Camino season of the year. They were right, and by the time we all got there, we were 60th in line on the wait list and we had to figure out where to go to actually find beds. Joe pushed me to use any skills I had with the language and work my magic with a lady behind a bar to get some numbers for any hostels nearby. She, an angel of a woman, helped us much more than we deserved, and thanks to her she hooked us up with Albergue Santa Maria in Alto do Poio, a very small town six miles down the road.

Joe and I made the executive decision to book 14 beds there and then had to figure out how to get from point A (O'Cebreiro) to point B (shower, clean laundry, bed 6 miles away). Everything ended up working out great and once again, the Lord provided exactly what we needed! Above is a "video journal" of me, right after meeting those Spaniards at lunchtime. And in case you're wondering, the majority of us took a taxi to the hostel, and some walked the six miles, hiking a marathon in one day, through the mountains of Spain nonetheless. Now that is noteworthy.
Just an average a.m. walk. Not bad, I'd say.
More stories to come! There were a lot of moments of grace and clarity along the way, and I'm still trying to figure out the best way to share them with you. Until then, enjoy a few bearable jokes, dorky videos and Christine's pictures, because apparently I like all of hers better than my own. Hasta luego!
Christine, a New Jersey photographer extraordinaire.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Random Camino post

Well, after showing my parents most of my pictures tonight, I thought to myself, "Self, you kind of ripped off all your readers for not sharing more pictures/stories/etc from the Camino." And then an interior battle waged war as I heard this weekend's first reading at Mass over and over... "vanity of vanities...all things are vanity!" In hindsight I'm laughing, thinking about how much time I spent simply guessing and checking my motives for doing something as small as write a blog post, which really doesn't hold much eternal weight at all.

Moving along...

I thought I'd post a couple times this week (at least that's the plan! one never knows..) just a few pictures and a story or two in each post, so for especially those of you that have been praying for and supporting me, you can feel like you were actually there, walking the Camino right alongside me. I also have a few cheesy videos, so you can really get a feel for the walk. Or at least a view with sounds. The pictures below are courtesy of Christine.

First day walking, just outside León.
Someone left these here? Hopefully on purpose.
Cool mosaic coming into town.
One of my favorite albergues, or rather, hostels. 
Story from the first day of hiking: Levi and I, in charge of food, decided to go to the supermarket to get some fixings for lunch. It was our first experience doing so, and I'd chalk it up to be a success. At the first market we talked with the workers for quite a while before getting what we needed: fresh jamón (ham), cheese and bread for sandwiches for lunch, as well as a couple new friends who wanted to talk politics with us, but were really sweet. We also wanted to bring back some bakery cookies for our group, so as we decided which kind we'd want, the woman asked which ones we were thinking about, then broke one in half and gave it to us to try. She then pointed out another, broke it in half, and gave it to us to try. She was sweet as sugar, literally! Great spanish experience #1.

A typical time of fraternizing during "second breakfast." In Ospital de Órbigo..
There were two markets in town and I'll be honest, I felt bad not going to the other one, so we went there post-siesta to pick up the next morning's breakfast, since we'd be leaving before we could grab anything anywhere else. When we put our groceries on the counter the woman didn't even hesitate to give us each a chewy candy, just because. She told us that her 13-year-old daughter hiked from there to Santiago last year with her dad, and that her 7-year-old son will be hiking it next year with his dad. That's essentially the same hike we did, just a few miles less! Pretty crazy, but also pretty common I'm sure. She herself has never actually had the opportunity to hike, and mostly because she has to stay and work seven days a week at the supermarket. What a good woman. We left with smiles on our faces, despite the fact that we showed up to dinner late. Totally worth it. Great spanish experience #2.

Our best group photo of the trip, in my opinion. With the "pilgrim" (statue).
Mass here first night. We are spoiled.
The dueña at the albergue liked us so much she asked to take our picture! 
I don't have this much to say about every day, I swear, but I do want to say that this was the same day that we encountered Talitha, another Catholic missionary, believe it or not! She is a missionary with CCO--Catholic Christian Outreach, a Canadian-based organization that does essentially the exact same thing that FOCUS does, but in Canada. We actually use some of their materials, UR anyone? That's FOCUS lingo for "Ultimate Relationship," the booklets some missionaries use to present the Gospel.

Until my next post, here is a video of me keeping myself entertained to keep you entertained! 

And here is another... I just couldn't help myself.