Thursday, December 11, 2014

I may not be smarter than a fifth grader.

I've been asking myself that question a lot lately as I've been growing into my role as a catechist, handing on our precious Faith to young and impressionable fifth grade minds. For those of you who don't know, one of the ways I decided to get involved with my community upon the move to Cedar Falls is to teach religious education (referred to as RE from here on out) and the class that the Holy Spirit chose is a lively and usually disinterested fifth grade class. I mean it when I say, truly blessed am I!

Believe it or not, this 12-person class has stretched and challenged me in ways that I had never experienced after 3 years as a missionary with college students. In fact, at first I absolutely detested this role. Every week I dreaded coming to class, not knowing what to expect or even if any of the students cared. And then class would happen. And it would completely tank. And I would leave. And never. want. to. come. back. This happened for a solid month or more until I finally (yes finally!) realized that in no way is it appropriate to quit just because it's tough. Looking back I laugh at myself because these are often lessons children learn. Yet here I am... But shoot, if I become a mother someday, I can't just give my children back and say, "I'm not ready yet!" Which, ultimately, was my biggest challenge in regards to teaching this class.

Not including a short stint of teaching RE while in high school, I really have little to no experience teaching, let alone trying to teach and relate to such young students. Shoot, I've been blessed to work and go spiritually deep with 20-something college students who desire a challenge, and desire to have God in their lives. The transition to 10- and 11-year-olds who are in my class only because their parents tell them to go has been, let's just say, a challenge.

It's funny how things change over time, and also how some things stay the same. For example, I no longer want to quit teaching RE (praise God), but I still get pretty stressed trying to put together a lesson plan/activity for the hour I have to spend with them on Wednesday nights. I realized a couple reasons why I get stressed out about this:

  1. I love the Catholic Faith. So much so that I want everyone to know it (hence, missionary).
  2. I am a recovering perfectionist (i.e. I loathe making mistakes.)
  3. I have no formal teaching as to being a teacher whatsoever.
  4. I only have one hour with these students each week.
When I get anxious trying to plan for these munchkins I do 3 things: 
  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Ask for the Holy Spirit's help.
  3. Remember that I have no idea what I'm doing. And that's okay.
It makes so much sense when I sit back and think about it--which, admittedly, I've been doing a lot of! No wonder I get stressed out about teaching RE. It comes down to the basic fact that I really want the students to learn the Faith but have not a clue how to teach. Such an interesting dichotomy if you ask me (which you didn't). 

I wish I could use this post and tell you story after story from the year thus far, but there are far too many good ones. An overarching theme is this: Kelsey has great (or what she thinks is great) idea, activity, or craft. Kids take it to a whole different level or get bored, and end up making Kelsey laugh, unintentionally. Every. single. time. I'm laughing just thinking about some of them.

One example is class from a few weeks ago. I thought it would be great to give the kids a tour of the chapel and explain a few important things to them. Some of these include: why we genuflect, what the tabernacle is, and most importantly that Jesus is always present in the Eucharist. We end up having a little discussion near the end about the Eucharist and confession (presuming that fifth graders have already received these two sacraments, which in this diocese, they have). At the very end of the class one of the Hispanic boys raises his hand and tells me that he hasn't received his first reconciliation, and then the other six Hispanic children raise their hands and say they haven't either. Or their First Holy Communion. I laugh out loud this time, because I have been teaching the class this entire year with the presumption that they definitely know what the Eucharist is and I'm just helping drive the point home. It all makes sense that in our class on the Eucharist over half the class had no idea what I was talking about.

I respond, "Well you know what, Christopher? You guys are going to be extra prepared when you do!" I receive blank, disinterested stares in return, and dismiss the class a few minutes early. That is just one example.

Well last night ended up being the best class yet, and that's the real reason for this post in the first place.

I love Advent, and of course Christmas. But of liturgical seasons, Advent steals my heart every year. There is just something about the quiet stillness and anticipation that get me. I also have a fondness of Christmas lights and the way they light up the night, which by this time of year always begins much sooner than I'd like. I mean seriously, sunset at 4:36 pm tonight? I digress.

So when it comes to teaching RE during Advent, it just doesn't feel right not to talk about this wonderful season. There are just so many things to tell and show and do to prepare our hearts for Jesus, that of course I am going to keep my three classes during the season Advent-related.

So after an imprudence in not preparing well ahead of time for class this week, it came down to my short amount of time after work to try to throw something together and hopefully the Holy Spirit would show up and do the rest.

I am excited to report that that is exactly what happened! As under-prepared as I was for this class, the Holy Spirit took care of everything. It was amazing, and reminded me that He is still with me and working through me, even if the audience is comprised of 10- and 11-year-olds who have no choice but to come to class (versus a bible study of college students who don't have anybody forcing them to do anything. It's amazing the difference!). Truly, I have not felt more "myself" than I did last night with these kiddos.

Right before class (and I really mean 6:13 when class starts at 6:15) the Holy Spirit led me to Isaiah chapter 9, verses 1-7. We ended up reading through it, I talked a little, told them about the passage, and a few students even asked questions. Any teachers will relate when I say that it's the best feeling when a young student asks a clarifying question. It tells me that not only are they trying to follow along, but that they actually care to know more information! Gosh it just affirms me so much.

I had scrambled and bought a copy of O Come O Come Emmanuel (my favorite Advent song) by Matt Maher right before class and put it on my iPod so we could listen to it together, and talk about the song. I, however, made a bit of a mistake and didn't actually preview the entire song before choosing it. I just figured, "Hey, standard version of classic song. Great." So I had printed out lyrics to the classic song of O Come O Come Emmanuel, and when we started listening to it and got halfway through I realized that this actually might be a more "modern" version of the song...and the lyrics might be different.

And I was right. God bless Matt for his rendition, however. After listening to it a few times I am a big fan. But the class was looking around like, "hey, where are these words?" And since it was my first time listening to the whole thing (big oops right here), we were able to talk about how the different lyrics are still just as important as the originals, and how they fit perfectly with what we had read in Isaiah 9! Unintentional and AWESOME. And then we talked about how Jesus helps us when we are in trouble, and how He is the light of the world. Truly, it was a divinely inspired class and even though they may likely forget everything, they learned the word Emmanuel and who Emmanuel is! What a blessing to help shape little minds. A challenge, but also rewarding.

Afterwards the kids all left in a jolly mood and I am looking forward to our little Christmas party next week! If you have any fun ideas, activities or snacks please share them with me! I want this to be fun for all!

May you have a blessed Advent!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Prayers answered...from Craigslist?

The other night I was having a conversation with a dear friend and we both kind of realized, "wow, God always takes really good care of me." Like, really. I began to think back on instances when I have really felt God's presence, and even times that I haven't, and I can tell that he's been there, providing everything that I need. Or sometimes, and this is my favorite, He will lavish me with choice gifts I never even asked for. Let me explain...

Ever since moving to Iowa my heart has yearned for peace, and seemed to have found none. I specifically included it in my prayer intentions--that I might experience God's peace in my decision to move here, with my job, with my vocation, etc. I'll be honest: at first, it was a rocky start. Moving to a new town where all the people you know can be counted on one hand (and conveniently it's because it's your boyfriend and a few of his friends), was not easy for the sanguine in me. I'd see cute coffee shops, restaurants, and boutiques and my initial thought was, "Oh, this would be a great place to take one of my girlfriends....wait. Or, Lee?" Of course it's not that I don't want to do all of these things with the man that I love, but there are just some things that girls get more excited about: namely, colorful and cute coffee shops downtown with organic coffee and homemade pastries. (If you're a girl and you live in Fargo I am willing to wager that if you've been to Nichole's just once, you love it.)

I had some time in town before leaving for a mission trip in July, so I used that time mainly to get settled, finish preparing for Mexico City, and of course look for jobs. I applied for many and was contacted by few. Even after doctoring up the ol' résumé with everything that I learned from my experience with FOCUS and beyond, apparently it's a little more difficult than I thought to find a job with the following titles to my name: "Catholic missionary and B.A. in International Studies." If I would've known that back in my days at the UW, I definitely would have studied a little more and gotten more specific with a degree path. Regardless, I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and in all reality I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was 20 years old... and 5 years later I still don't! Life decisions are tough, especially when your main goal is heaven, you'll do whatever it takes to get there (or at least I'd like to think so most days).

Our Mexico City mission trip group. I love them!
To fit with the theme of this post, God provided and the day I left town to go to WI before my mission trip, I was offered a position at a recently-opened Culver's restaurant nearby. For those of you who don't know me, I love Culver's and am extremely loyal to it, particularly the franchise in Sauk City, WI (the one that started it all for those of you unawares). In fact, I like Culver's so much that a friend of mine planned a surprise birthday party for me last year and wanted to take a group of us to yes you guessed it: Culver's (unfortunately my birthday is in January and there was a blizzard so our plans changed. Who knew, a blizzard in Fargo in January...).

You can probably imagine my excitement at being issued the "True Blue" hat, manager's tie, shirt and name tag on my first day. I started working and it was fun to talk to people, learn a new job, and of course, eat at Culver's almost every day (especially when there was pulled pork or chicken salad sandwiches, yum!). It certainly zoomed me right back to my days in the grocery store, which I remember very fondly. 
My first time wearing the True Blue uniform.
Excitement waned within a week when my pride really started kicking in and I began to see status updates of many fellow UW-grads who are out doing "big and exciting things" with their lives: graduating from PA school, starting their 4th year as a med student, moving to new countries, teaching, getting married and the list goes on. In a moment of weakness, I began to feel sorry for myself, "Oh Kelsey, you don't even know what you want to do with your life. You didn't even need a college degree for what you're doing now (although after working as a manager, I can definitely see where it was helpful!). Look at your peers and all of the amazing things they're doing with their lives, and here you're working in fast food." That was when I stopped liking my job. (Note to self: don't compare your life to others' lives through the social media lens, or at all. You'll likely end up highly dissatisfied, regardless of what you do.)

I began working at Culver's under the pretense that, "I'll do this until something better comes along." And that was when I realized that I don't actually know what I would think is "better." More money? Regular hours? A different working environment? (Being a FOCUS missionary?) It wasn't long that I figured out that as far as a career goes, I just don't know what I want. After all, I didn't move to Iowa for a career, I moved here for a relationship.

So I stopped looking. I stopped reading the daily emails of "New jobs in the area" and decided that I was happy enough, and who needs a new job anyway? At least I'm starting to learn the ropes, gain confidence, and get to know customers to the point of seeing a ticket for an order in the drive-thru and knowing exactly who it's for (hoping she brought her bichon!) without even taking the order.

And then a miracle happened--I started liking working at Culver's. I formed relationships with the other employees (inside jokes and all), found moments of sanctification in my work  and I began to feel like maybe, just maybe, I am making a difference. The 3-11pm shifts stopped being such a burden and I accepted my fate of working there for the time being. I also decided that I would start advertising a little more heavily for a roommate (because I also accepted the fact that if I don't split the rent my resources will soon diminish).

Not long after that God really surprised me with how much He cares for me. Lee and I went for a run one night and decided to go a new route, opposite of the direction we normally go. On the way, we passed the wife of who we'll call "Steve," a friend of Lee's we haven't seen since I've been in town, and later that night her husband texted Lee inviting us to a bonfire at their place. We ended up going, did a little "shooting the breeze" and I described my job at Culver's to them. Two days later, Lee forwarded me an email from Steve letting him know about a friend of his who works at a small engineering company and recently lost his receptionist (not tragically, she just quit). He told Lee that I should give the guy a call if I'm interested, so that is exactly what I did. I went in for an interview a few days later and was offered the job on the spot, and get this: there are regular hours, better pay, and a different working environment. 

But now that things were going well at Culver's, I felt a twinge of obligation and even sadness (yes, sadness!) at the thought of leaving. In all honesty, I am loyal to a fault and my commitment to the Culver's Restaurant chain runs much deeper than the month and a half experience of working there. I thought about staying part time and picking up shifts every once in a while on the weekends, but when I told my manager he said I should take some time to get settled at my new job and email him in a couple of weeks. So that is exactly what I did. And his response blew me away. I want to share part of it with you:
The very reason you stated of commitment is what i was hoping you would figure out. I did not want you to feel obligated as i could sense. Commitment and obligation have two different meanings. With commitment you have choices and create your own path.  With obligation we allow others in a sense to create or control our path. You are a special person that will touch many lives on your journey of life.
It was such a relief to me to know that I truly made the best decision for myself, and in doing so, for the other people in my life (i.e. coworkers, Lee). It's amazing how much freedom one can experience by making a decision like this for yourself, and not to please someone else.

Of course my prayers for peace continued, as I am starting something new (again) and transition, well, sometimes I just plain don't get along with it. I was starting to get good at my job, earn my employees' trust, and now I'm starting a new job where I know literally zero things, and I'm the only female (at least none of my coworkers will be throwing off my cycle, am I right? #silverlining).

In the same week that I was contacted about the new job, I was also contacted by someone that saw an ad on Craigslist (which I put up weeks prior) and wanted to know if I was still looking for a roommate. Oddly enough, I had just made up a flyer and was about to print out a couple copies to hang around UNI and some churches around town, but I decided to hold off until meeting her and talking with her a bit.

She came over one night and saw the place, we chatted a little, and she struck me as a really normal person (although honestly, what is normal?). I thought only creepy guys used Craigslist! Except for me. We decided it would be a good fit and she went to sign the lease later that week. She just moved in on Tuesday night and so far it's working out great. Not to mention the whole, paying half my normal rent deal.

Oh, you might be curious about her name?


It's no coincidence that these events all happened when they did. You outdid yourself this time, Daddy. I think I'm starting to feel like the princess I am.

Friday, September 12, 2014

One nation...divided?

Last night I had some time to flip through channels and see if anything besides Chopped was on TV (I think it's my new favorite show...right after Treehouse Masters). I stumbled upon a special on the History Channel called, "102 Minutes that Changed America," and thought I'd muster up some courage and watch it, because really I owe it to America, or so I first thought.

This happened so long ago, what can I really do about it now? I thought to myself.

So I decided to watch. And continue to watch, despite the emotions that brewed inside. I was overcome by sadness. Sadness for the lives taken on this day. Sadness for the agonizing terror and loneliness that they must have been feeling while trapped on the 78th floor of the first tower. Or in the stairwell. Or under their desk.

But who is they? Each and every man and woman that makes up the they is a very real person.  A person as real as the person pounding away on the keys right now. As real as the one reading this screen, and the ones related to him or her. A human being with thoughts, emotions, desires and dreams. With a family, with people who care about his or her well-being.

It's amazing to sit down and really ponder the notion of they, especially with the events occurring all over our world today and the tragedies still taking place. Each member of the they has a family--whether living or deceased--nobody comes into this world alone. Whether it's mom and dad, brother and sister, grandpa and grandma, friend and neighbor. Each member of the they is has their own network of people who love and care for them. Who would be sad to no longer have that person in their life.

On the special last night there was very real footage of people, documenting the fears they felt, the emotions, the shock, the sadness. Then I remembered the confusion I first felt when I heard the principal over the loudspeaker in seventh grade science. I remember sitting on my window seat all night looking for scary planes in the sky, wondering if we were the next target. Looking back on it I find my fears silly and irrational. And I was in the middle of small town America. Can you imagine the other New Yorkers on that day? The men and women walking down the street, escaping the falling debris? Were they, too, fearing that this might really be the end?

As I continued watching I continued to see men and women, young and old, and hear their reactions to what was going on. "What are they doing now?" I wondered. "Do they look back and remember the fear that they are expressing right now?" It's honestly hard to imagine, but fear makes people do crazy things, and it's painful.

There were recordings of the 911 calls came in and while keeping the confidentiality of the person on the other end, we could hear the dispatcher and the ways that they were trying to keep the person on the other end safe, letting them know that help was on its way.

Commercial break.

Now I see political campaign ads, one person tearing down the opponent. Demonizing them and making them seem "less human" for what they are "really" going to do if elected. "Don't elect this person. He will make your life miserable, you will regret putting him in office. This person is not a good person."

This person. 

This person who also has a reputation, a family, desires and dreams. This person who truly wants to do what they think is best for this state, this country, this world. This person who has neighborhood barbecues, family gatherings and personal hobbies.

This person who lives in the same nation and experiences the same freedoms that we have today. This person who experienced the same fear, the same terror that we all experienced on that fateful day 13 years ago.

This American.

Were we concerned with the political parties and affiliations of each member of the they that comprised each person lost on 9/11? Were we worried about tearing down the other party, blaming them for the atrocity?

The contrast from watching a frightened America begin to bond together in the wake of such an event, every man and woman caring deeply about the lives affected. The firemen watching the flames on the towers, wondering if theirs was the next battalion to be sent in to rescue the men and women trapped inside.  The police officers and EMT personnel scrambling to make sure that each person was okay and accounted for. All rescue personnel doing what they could to ensure each person's safety.

And now we tear down the reputation of our brothers and sisters of our own nation for our own personal profit? I'm certainly not the political type, but I do believe that every individual has a right to his or her own reputation. To watch us tear one another down for personal gain is a sadness, and a tragedy in its own right. We are all grateful to be enjoying the liberties and freedoms that we enjoy today, and although I don't agree with some of the ways politicians do things, I also believe that each man and woman in public office truly does the best that they can, and desires to do good. Even if it's not what I would do.

It is important to remember the they. Each one of us has our own story, our own relationships, our own dreams. Yes it is sad, and it makes us cringe to think about the they that was lost on 9/11. Let us also examine the they we lose each day, each and every individual that is impacted by our words, our actions.

Are we truly, "One nation under God?" Or are we, "One nation, divided"?

Friday, June 13, 2014

First week: Am I answering any calls right now?

That's funny, because I am at the public library (where it is not kosher to answer your cell phone) and I just missed a call from someone (likely regarding a job). It's the fifth call I've missed since yesterday evening. Oops.

But the reason I write that title is because even though I am thoroughly enjoying having my days to myself (and many of my evenings as well), having no job, not many connections in the area and no schedule means I can virtually do what I want, when I want. The fact that I've missed those five phone calls is just quite hilarious because had they called almost at any other time I would literally be chomping at the bit to answer. However, all five people picked times when I've been busy (which is rare these days). Luckily I have plenty of time to call them all back. (Hint hint, if you've been wanting to get in touch with me this next month would be a really great time to do that!)

One goal I had: Get a haircut after newsletters
are done. Look what I've been up to! 
I figure since the reason I'm moving to Iowa is to continue discerning through this dating relationship, it's not a bad idea to start working on a schedule when Lee and I can spend time together, without seeing each other every waking moment that he's not at work. (We both know that wouldn't be good for either of us.) Therefore, I've started getting out of bed at what seems like the crack of dawn and going to Mass with Lee before he goes to work in the morning. At first when he told me he goes to 7:30 am Mass twice a week and 7 am the other days, I thought, "Oh, that's nice. Good thing there's a 12:05 Mass across town." However, I think it's beneficial to make that small sacrifice and go to Mass with him in the morning, especially since I don't have a schedule, I can get up and get my day started. Plus, my days have been so much more productive starting them with Jesus (and a cup of coffee). As Fulton Sheen once said, "Prayer + coffee = conscious conversations with your creator." 

It has especially been nice to simply enjoy so much of the mornings (and afternoons...and evenings). In fact, I don't think I've ever just "enjoyed the day" so much as I have in the past week. The freedom has left me with much time to simply think and ponder the comings and goings of my life in its current state. I've been thinking much about how I'm "answering the call" by being exactly where I am, doing exactly what God asks me to do.

This is how I see it:  I have complete peace that this is where I'm supposed to be right now. Although I don't have a post-FOCUS job yet (I still have until August 4th), I think it will be rare that I ever have the freedom to have holy leisure for almost a month straight...ever again. With that being said, I've been answering the call by trusting that I am exactly where God would have me, reading spiritual books I've wanted to read for some time, and basking in the silence that He is granting me right now. The fact that Lee and I are making sure that Mass, praying the Rosary together and praying a Holy Hour together two nights a week (outside of date night, an occasional bike ride and other fun activities) not only holds me accountable to prayer, but also affirms me so much that we are doing everything we can to keep Jesus at the center of our relationship, while not getting too caught up in being "overspiritualized (a common downfall of good Christian relationships...I have my own thoughts on this phenomenon)." We are getting to know one another on a natural human level, while also learning the inner workings of the other. I think this is a very good thing.

My first "home cooked" meal: Mac 'n Cheese.
I've also been enjoying more order in my life by going on bike rides, having three healthy meals a day and taking the evenings "off" by either spending them with Lee (Mondays I watch him play soccer and Tuesdays are date nights), watching a movie on TV (because I have cable!) or reading a good book while eating dinner. Taking the time to enjoy these things is helping me see what my life severely lacked as a missionary: order. I rarely took time (and felt okay about it) to do at least one of these things each day, and I suffered for it. Now that I'm learning what I like to do in my spare time, I don't want to make the same mistake in the future!

While at the Commissioning Weekend at Ave Maria a couple weeks ago, I was talking with one of the execs who mentioned that he once had a summer off and was so mad that he didn't have anything to do and was bored the whole time. Looking back, five children later, he's seeing how precious that summer was when he couldn't see it then. I have a feeling that this "season" of my life is a very special and unique one, and I hope to answer God's call by living each moment to the fullest, not waiting for life to happen to me, nor complaining of boredom. What a beautiful time of transition as I move to a new city and learn the ropes in a strange land! (I do hope to not get lost on too many more bike rides poor legs can't handle it!)

Monday, June 9, 2014

I can cross "Live in Iowa" off my bucket list.

That's right, friends and family. Although I have yet to get the Iowegian driver's license, I am all moved into my new apartment in this corn-fed midwestern land. As I have yet no job in town, you could say that being "strapped for time" is not how my life could be described right now. For example, I was able to go to Mass when and where I wanted on Sunday morning, come home, read a book and take a nap before spending the afternoon and evening with a wonderful young man who is the main motivator for me moving here in the first place.

The move went fairly simple. Mom, dad and brother came down on Saturday with all my belongings in a U-Haul trailer, we had it unloaded within the matter of an hour, spent some time unpacking boxes before going to lunch and they hit the road again before 2 pm. Now that's what I call efficient. I guess it's all that German heritage coursing through our veins that makes us such hard workers and heaven knows we don't like to waste time sitting on our behinds. By Saturday afternoon at 5 pm the entire place was already put together save a few minor details like pictures being hung up. The finishing touches were in place by Sunday morning so I guess everything is ready to go! I even had a small get together on Saturday night and one of Lee's friends who's lived in the area for a while came in and said, "Wow, this place is already more decorated than mine." Nice.

Here are some pictures:
Thanks for the love seat, Jama! It's perfect.
Kelsey's corner. Papasan covered in Alpaca blanket.
My very own balcony! And I already met a neighbor while using it.
This kitchen and fridge are enormous compared to the last ones!  
Scored this shower curtain at a garage sale. Nice.

To do: organize closet.
Spare bedroom = bookshelf (for now) and other random storage.
So that's what's new in the life of Kelsey. Due to the high price of internet I decided to forego that option for now, even though my apartment comes with cable. This will be the first time in seven years (minus a brief month with Jenne) that I've had cable. And there are a solid 73 channels! I already found EWTN and USA. I'll probably just wait to see when reruns of Psych are on and watch those, or maybe continue with Saved by the Bell as I did while eating breakfast this morning... not too shabby. But as for the internet, I'll be mooching from the public library, which has a spot with a great view of the parking lot so I can make sure nobody's messing with Lady.

That's all for now. I guess I'll go to the store and pick up a few essentials (milk and cheese...gosh I'm such a Sconnie).

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My life in boxes.

If there is one thing I've learned over the past three years it is exactly this:  saying goodbye really is a hard thing to do for many people, including this teary-eyed missionary. It seems to be especially difficult to say goodbye to the people I've met over the years because with many of them there is a deep spiritual and even in some cases an emotional bond. And in college ministry these goodbyes happen all. the. time! Semester breaks, mission trips, summer breaks, NST. Saying goodbye has become commonplace, so much so that you have no other choice if you want to be a FOCUS missionary.

Lee, the Master! (of Science)
Missionary. Recently, Lee and I cooked supper for the men at the Dorothy Day House in Moorhead, and Luke, the staff member there, asked me what I "do during the daytime hours." I honestly almost choked up because technically, my time on campus is over. Even though I'm still with FOCUS until the end of my mission trip in July, my "daytime job" is over, and the next thing hasn't quite stepped up to the plate yet (a.k.a. I'm still on the job hunt). This has happened each year for the past three years now--all of a sudden everyone just quietly disappears. Some stop by to say goodbye, some ask to get coffee or pray together one last time, but for the past two years there was a different element to all of this:  it wasn't permanent. Each time there was a degree of certainty that I would in fact be back again come August. This time the moving on is real, and the goodbyes have a different, more emotional, element to them.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending FOCUS' Commissioning Weekend for those who are moving on from FOCUS after this year. Sure, it was totally out of the way (in Ave Maria, FL) and a really inconvenient time of year for most of us, especially as we begin new jobs, move, get married, etc--but truthfully, I am so glad I went.

For a while now one of the reasons I have been so sad to leave FOCUS was because of the very intimate and familial aspect of it all. Even though we only spend five weeks each summer with the majority of these people, or maybe we go on a mission trip together--sometimes these weeks are the toughest and most emotionally pressing of our lives. We begin fundraising our salaries, following a very rigorous schedule, being constantly surrounded by people, being ripped from our comfort zones and forced to get outside of ourselves... the list goes on. Through these hardships are also the many joys--getting our first Mission Partner, hearing about a student you've invested in for months finally start to come around, winning the scavenger hunt at NST, making new friends, etc. It's amazing how you can walk up to any other missionary and get into a deep conversation within the matter of 30 seconds. Example:

Person 1: "Hey, so what'd you think of that class on prayer today?"
Person 2: "Wow, totally hit home for me. My prayer has been struggling lately and yadda yadda yadda.."


Person 1: "Where'd you go to school?"
Person 2: "Nebraska."
Person 1: "Oh, do you know so and so?"
Person 2: "Yeah, she helped me so much with X, Y and Z this year, I don't know where I'd be without her!"

BAM! Instantly great friends. I honestly can't count the number of times this happened over the course of the last three years, but I was reminded that it was many when I was at Ave Maria this weekend.

Another reason I'm glad that I went to the Commissioning Weekend because we heard real-life stories of evangelization and got tips for how to do it in our own parishes. In case you haven't yet picked up on this, FOCUS is about much more than helping "Catholic kids stay Catholic." FOCUS is in it for the long haul: lifelong Catholic mission, aka being an evangelistic disciple for the rest of our lives, not just in college. We heard encouraging talks over the course of the weekend, even from Curtis Martin himself, applauding us for our time spent in FOCUS and even more for going out into lifelong mission. How exciting!

I would love to write a sappy post about "the wonderful lessons I've learned in FOCUS," but honestly that would require a book. I will say that I am a drastically different woman than I was three years ago, and I'd wager for the better. I've learned the importance of self--saying no to others, taking time for myself, etc--and that I am a "self" worth taking care of. I've learned how to pray and have a personal relationship with Jesus. Those two things alone have been game changers. And that doesn't even include the fact that I learned practical things like how to shop around for car insurance, how to fundraise my salary, making sure different bills are paid on time, etc. In a nutshell, I've gained invaluable life experiences that have shaped me into the woman I am today. And I couldn't be more grateful.

I spent this week packing and repacking boxes and boxes and boxes and even a couple of dressers
My life in boxes.
with all of my belongings. My room at home is completely empty and Lady is all packed up and ready to hit the road with me tomorrow. I'll be honest, it was strange to clean out and throw away so many things I've held onto for many years--notes, pictures, gifts--all things that carried such special meaning to me at one point in my life. Now may they rest in peace...or at goodwill. (Disclaimer: If you've given me a gift or wrote me a special letter, don't worry I didn't throw yours away.)

I guess I'll need to start thinking of what to write about now that the on-campus mission has ended. Luckily for all of us the shenanigans and noteworthy moments never seem to come to a close and they tend to find me with frequency.

Please keep me in your prayers, and if you're still waiting for my final newsletter, don't worry, it's coming, and if you would like one shoot me an email at

"How can you know what you're capable of if you don't embrace the unknown?"
Esmeralda Santiago

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I didn't even get sunburned.

I'll be honest, I'm pretty proud of the fact I was able to travel to one of the countries on the planet that has not only received it's namesake from being directly on the Equator, but receives some of the sun's most direct rays. In the past I would have allowed myself to get sunburned just so I could come back with something to show, but in recent years I've realized that getting sunburned just isn't worth it for vanity's sake, if one can help it. I talked with someone yesterday who said, "Wait, you were in Ecuador? You don't even have a tan to show for it!" No ma'am, and I am A-OK with that.

Anyway, I want to tell you one of the stories that prove just how much the Holy Spirit took care of this trip from the very beginning. Now that I'm reflecting upon it, it's hard to believe that the trip only lasted one week and that it's already over, but that's just the way life is.

One of the things planned in our schedule/budget was a day-trip to Quito upon our arrival in Ecuador. A brief sketch of our arrival itinerary was this:

-Fly from JFK to Panama City (PTY) at 2:30 am on Sunday
-3 hour layover (a.k.a. naptime!) at PTY on Sunday morning
-Fly from PTY to Quito (2 1/2 hour flight)
-Spend Sunday in Quito, seeing a few sights which included some amazing churches
-Return to airport and fly from Quito -> Guayaquil on Sunday night (which meant we needed to get back to the same airport we flew into)*
-Spend the night at a Schönstatt retreat center in Guayaquil
-Leave for Daule on Monday morning (where we will be stationed all week)

*The pertinent part of that outline is that we flew into Quito on Sunday morning and then needed to fly out of Quito on Sunday night. Also, I failed to mention that the airport is new and now situated about an hour and a half outside the city. For those of you familiar with the topography of Ecuador, Quito is located in a nice big mountain valley, which means you need to make some serious strides up and down the mountains to get to and from the airport.

The 18 of us hop off the plane in Quito in the morning, excited to venture out and see the city. The bus that picks us up is hard to imagine but looks like it literally transported our parents to and from Woodstock in 1969. I didn't take any pictures, but let's just say that if this bus were in the United States it would probably no longer be able to legally transport people from point A to point B.

One of the two churches we visited in Quito.
We spend a nice day in Quito, seeing seriously some of the most amazing churches I've ever seen, laden with gold and incredible paintings. Dinner time rolls around, we enjoy a nice, fairly traditional Ecuadorian meal at a restaurant, and then start noticing that if we need to get to the airport an hour ahead of time we need to go. Ahorita. As in, 20 minutes ago.

So we pile back on the bus and start trucking to the airport. For whatever reason the roads are pretty bad in many places and every time we go over a pothole I'm pretty convinced we're either going to experience the entire frame of the bus falling apart, or get a flat tire.

I continuously check my watch, seeing the minutes tick by, noticing that we are drawing closer and closer to not only being an hour ahead of time, but simply being on time for our flight. For those of you who are familiar with flying you're probably like, "wait, what?? How were you not freaking out?!" Well, this is Latin America, and plus, FOCUS Missions trips tend to require not only extreme flexibility, but flexibility to the point of being liquid. Recognizing there is literally zero things I can do to speed up our trip to the airport, I accept it as it comes, trusting that everything will work out.

We continue our trek, bumping over potholes, barely making our way up the mountain and to be honest, I'm laughing by this point. Watching large semis and other vehicles zoom by this rickety little bus trying to make it's way up is truly a reason to chuckle.

At one point I hear Frank say something to the effect of, "Ok, we really need to get a move on if we want to make our flight." No sooner do those words escape his lips that--bump!--we go over what seems a pothole bigger than all the rest and then I can tell something is different about the way we land after this one.

We have a flat tire.

Recognizing that there's literally nothing I can do about it, and somehow still in good spirits trusting that the Lord has allowed everything to happen for a reason, I turn around and ask Frank, "How surprised are you that that just happened?" He responds with a smiling, "I am 110% not surprised!" And to be honest, neither am I. Of everything that could happen, this seems relatively minor. We are only about a 10 minute drive from the airport, and conveniently the Ecuadorian women that took us around the city are on the bus with us and their dad is in his own personal vehicle right in front of us. (I have a hunch that they knew all along this bus would be trouble and that's why he was there. But that's just my own theory. He was probably just in front of us to give them a ride home after the bus dropped us at the airport.) For those of you familiar with non-American cars, they tend to be much smaller, but the drivers tend to be much more generous, allowing far more than the capacity number of people to pile in at one time.
Waiting for taxis while watching our bus stay put.
The nice gentleman offers to take some people and their packs to the airport and then swing back to make another trip. Our flight leaves at 9 and it's already 8:25 by this point. Yikes. Are we really going to make it? We have no idea what security is like nor how long beforehand the cabin doors close, but we're certainly not giving up yet. There's at least 35 good minutes left!

A group of six pile in a surprisingly small space with their giant packs, make it to the airport, and one of the women notifies us that her dad got a couple taxis to come back around and pick us up so we could make it in one more trip rather than three. I don't know that I would have thought of that, but I was so glad he did!

The rest of our motley crew arrives at the airport, flustered and already de-jacketing, getting out liquids, etc so we can go right through security and onto the plane, which has already begun boarding.

All of us make it through security in record time except Frank, who makes an earnest attempt to check his bag due to all the liquids he has and his beloved pocket knife, knowing he certainly can't take that on the plane with him. Due to the tardiness of our arrival, the people at the check-in counter tell him in perfect, laid-back, Latin American fashion, "It's too late to check the bag now because it won't get to the plane in time. You'll be fine!"

Frank obliges and sends his suitcase--liquids, pocket knife and all--through the luggage scanner. Just his luck, they stop and send the bag back through, taking note of the potentially dangerous weapon tucked inside his backpack. He knows instantly what they are looking for, but they open up his luggage, begin tossing things out, digging for the pocket knife. After a few minutes of doing this, Frank reaches in, pulls out the pocket knife and asks if this is what they're looking for. They nod, he shoves everything back in the backpack and puts himself back together to run and meet up with the rest of the group, who at this point have already mostly boarded, except for myself and a couple other people.

We all get on the plane a little after 8:45 and the cabin doors close shortly after.

And that is one of the many stories showing how well the Holy Spirit took care of us while in Ecuador. That's not even mentioning how I managed to bring a group of us from the airport almost two hours late while in NYC, and it worked out out perfectly to the minute.

God is good, and I am so thankful for this trip. I am still processing much of what happened, and would greatly appreciate your prayers for myself and the other students and missionaries that came and had their worlds rocked. May God continue to shower us with graces of peace, clarity and an understanding of His will in our lives.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Break in Ecuador!

That's right. I returned to Fargo last night at 12:15 a.m., and I was fortunate enough to take most of the day to rest, recuperate and get ready to be back in action at NDSU.

While I won't tell you everything that happened in one post, I just want to give you a quick "get ready!" because the next few posts I write will be stories, graces and interesting happenings from our mission in Ecuador.

I want to begin by saying this trip was infinitely more incredible than I ever imagined. In all honesty, amidst the hectic life on campus, planning a Koinonia retreat, keeping up with my personal relationships and making an earnest effort to take better care of my health and well-being, I prepared in a pretty minimal way for this trip, and didn't even pack until the day I left. Luckily I had everything I needed (minus some non-scented soap, travel size toothpaste and bug repellent) so packing was a breeze. Also, I have a mindset when traveling that is pretty minimalistic, so I was never worried about packing to begin with.

Although the four of us missionaries had been hosting conference calls each Tuesday for the last couple of months, I really felt like I didn't do a lot to prepare myself mentally or spiritually for this trip. forward to last Saturday, March 15....

All of a sudden I find myself standing in LGA airport receiving text messages and phone calls from strange numbers, and they are all the students coming on our trip, wondering where the heck this missionary is hiding (I was the person they were told to contact when they flew in). That's when the trip gets real for me, and I quickly learn that I need to navigate a group of 10 people through NYC to get to Pat's place somewhere near NYU. And for those of you that don't know me, I'm a small town girl and Fargo has nothing on the Big Apple.

After a couple hours of wandering through the lovely public transit weighed down by backpacks and sleeping mats, we make it to Pat's house an hour later than we're supposed to and find out that it was literally perfect timing. That's when it's made pretty clear that the Holy Spirit has this trip "on lock" (as Frank said) and we are going to be just fine.

Without getting into too much detail, I want to say that I am extremely thankful for having had the opportunity to serve in one of the most dynamic ways yet, and my heart grew a few sizes over the past week. The "work" that we did while serving included this: helping build a chapel for a community that gets Mass only once a month; walking around and reaching out to the local community, catechizing and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them; doing a nightly catechesis for the niños (children); praying the Rosary (in español!) with the local community and simply bringing Christ with us wherever we went.
Our group in front of the chapel of St. Francis of Assisi, where we worked, on our last day.
Veronica, the other female missionary and a dear friend, challenged each of us to think of three main themes to take with us from the trip so that when we are telling people about it we can explain to them our three themes without simply saying, "The trip was awesome! I grew so much," or, "Yeah, it was just an incredible experience." Even though that's usually how these trips end up, it's nice to explain to people (especially those that supported you in going) what exactly made this trip so amazing and how it changed your life.

The retreat center we stayed at. The girls slept here.
Here are my three overarching themes:
  1. Joy in simplicity. Basically, exactly that. We had the opportunity to serve and work alongside Ecuadorians with far fewer material things than we had, yet there was a joy present that is hard to experience in our day-to-day lives with technology, material possessions and the like. I've been drawn to living more simply for a while now, and this was a reminder that it is not simply about living simply but finding joy in detachment and joy in the simplicity of life. This has left me with much to pray about.
  2. Heroic generosity. One of FOCUS' key values that we strive for, and something that many people need to grow in, including myself. On this trip each one of us had to learn how to be a little more selfless, regardless of what was at cost. Whether it was having to wait an hour to shower in our one shower, sharing your small mosquito net with three other people, or remaining positive amidst spiritual attack, we all learned this on the trip. Not only did we learn from our experiences, but we witnessed heroic generosity from the people that we served. Families that took us in and served us all soup, the women that lived near us always making sure the water tank was full so we could take showers and wash dishes, those that had little to nothing and yet sacrificed their valuable time to talk with us. I definitely witnessed people's generosity in a heroic sense this past week.
  3. Importance of family and community ties. In the area we stayed, this dynamic was one of the biggest factors in these peoples' lives. For them, family is everything. When they found out that I haven't seen my parents since Christmas and won't see them for another month, they were shocked. They didn't understand how or why I'm not living with them if I'm not married, and the idea seemed completely foreign to those I talked with. Also, many of the people that we visited had their children, grandchildren and other immediate family members living nearby if they hadn't moved to Guayaquil, the largest city nearby (about an hour and a half away). Even those who had the family members in Guayaquil said that they come visit them in their homes on a very regular basis, whether that's weekly, twice a month, or once a month. It inspired me and continued molding my desires for close family and community ties, and has me thinking on how I want to make changes in my own life.
This is all I have for my first Ecuadorian update--I can't wait to tell you more! The Lord is doing incredible things in all of our hearts, and I know we definitely left that trip different than when we came.

Monday, March 3, 2014

How our MPD skills won a TV.

That's right, MPD (Mission Partner Development, FOCUS' jargon for how we fundraise) has more benefits than just fundraising one's salary. Last night Jane and I used our training in that wonderful practice to win ourselves a brand new (well, actually used but refurbished) flat screen TV!

Hold your applause, please.

It's 6 pm on Sunday night and the St. Paul's Newman Center up here in Fargo is holding a Mardi Gras party for the weekly student dinner, ushering in Lent the Catholic way. The social hall is packed with people, games, opportunities for prizes, and even a cake walk (which Jane and I both lose at...thrice).

The advertisements show forth some pretty cool rewards for those who earn the most Monopoly money at all of the games. Yes, they actually do use Monopoly money, and each person may collect $300 upon entering.

At the end of the night there will be an auction where people can bid on all the prizes: including a flat screen TV, a Veggie Bus, some fleece blankets, nice rosaries, a JPII statue and other things. You can probably guess that we are set on the TV.

Not only would we benefit from the use of a nice TV in the apartment, but future missionaries to NDSU would as well, seeing as we keep the bigger things (beds, desks, dressers, bookshelves, TV) here year after year. This campaign to win the TV turns into more than just a couple of twenty-somethings hoping for a new flat screen. This becomes the evening's mission!

Early on, Jane suggests we pool our money together so we increase our chances of outbidding the highest bidder. Obviously I like the idea. A few charitable students overhear our plotting, err, discussing, and say they'd love to support our mission and give us all their money--on the spot--since they can't stay until the end anyway.

Hmmm, okay!

That's when the idea sprouts in each of our minds:  we just need to find charitable people looking to support a great cause and ask them to join our mission of getting this new TV.

We walk around, play some Catholic trivia, go fishing and even complete a ring toss in hopes of increasing our financial status on the evening. While these events help us earn small amounts of money, we really have the best luck finding those few individuals that want to "join the mission." (Yes you, Victoria!)

Eight o'clock rolls around and auction time arrives. Fr. Cheney is in fine form and begins shouting out numbers left and right, encouraging bidders to keep out-bidding the ones before them. I'm pleasantly surprised with the number of students that stick around, but have a feeling that at least a couple of them are hoping for the same thing I'm hoping for.

And I'm a competitive person.

So you know what that means. My palms get a little sweaty, Jane and I exchange nervous giggles awaiting the moment of truth when the TV goes up for auction. We count and recount our money, ending up with a total of $3010. We figure it will definitely be the last item, so we continue strategizing on how to find those who bid on things and don't get them, wondering what they'll end up doing with their money.

Okay, I'll admit it, maybe that's not thanks to our MPD skills, but rather just our cunning and craftiness. Either way, I think by this point both of us have determined that we are not leaving without that bad boy in tow.

A nice young gentleman sits down next to me with a couple hundred dollars, hoping to throw in a few bids for a new bisonCatholic hoodie, conveniently in his size. He quickly learns of our mission and tells us he'd happily give us his $370...after I tell him I'd definitely give him a new hoodie in exchange, at no cost to him (and probably very little to us).

"We really hope we don't need to use your money," I assure him. "But we'll just have to wait and see."

Before long the bidding begins for the TV. My heart races and I have a stack of over 3 G's in Monopoly Ca$h in my hand, knowing that there are other people rooting for us to win as well. The bidding quickly starts at $1000, then skyrockets to $1500. Padre is confused, trying to keep all these crazy bidders at bay. It reaches $2000, then $2300... and people are starting to drop off. Yes! I'm thinking, our odds are good.

It appears that one of the families have pooled their resources together and continue raising the bids, higher and higher. After $2700 another opponent drops off. It raises to $3000. I know it's getting close, there are technically only $10 more in my hand after that bid is thrown out. The bid raises to $3025, which is funny because there were only bills of $10, $20 and $50.

The nice young gentleman who shall remain nameless (you know who you are) continues throwing glances to and fro, wondering if he will need to share his treasure with us. In a last second ditch effort, and without giving him much choice, I look at him and ask, "Are you sure we can use your money?!" He really doesn't have much of a choice, but nods.

"$3300!" I shout. It continues to raise, dollar by dollar. Finally, with a bid of $3370, we are left unmatched and the bid stops.

"I can't believe we just won," I'm thinking to myself. "And we beat a family." Jane and I just stare at each other, high five and laugh pretty hard. All that adrenaline getting worked up really paid off. And I haven't had an outlet for my competitiveness in such a long time--that felt great!

Jane and I collect nameless gentleman's money, all but $10 of it. Unfortunately I don't think that's going to help get the sweatshirt. (Don't worry, we'll be true to our word and get him the sweatshirt tonight.)

We count it at least four times, getting a different number each time. Finally, on the fourth count we get the number we were going for: 3370.

Nobody ended up collecting our money, which I find hilarious. So Jane and I decided to "make it rain" as shown here:

Overall, it was a great night! And if it weren't for Jane and I's expertise in the art of fundraising our salary and truly believing in the mission, this never would've happened!

And it's all been possible thanks to our generous supporters! We couldn't have done it without you. Thank you to everyone who joined in our mission, the movie night will be happening for all those that supported us! And there will be popcorn!

p.s. I wrote this post and then went to Mass. I'm a little hesitant to post this after today's readings, particularly the gospel from Mark. (facepalm)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My Great Purse Dump

Thanks to the continued 7 posts in 7 days I've had the opportunity to check out some other bloggers, admittedly most being young Catholic moms or expectant mothers. It's fun to read the stories they post of their kids, their trials of pregnancy and how what's happening in the lives of these women I've never met is strangely similar to things in my own life (minus the pregnant and mother part). Gosh, that makes me feel like such a creep. But that's what blogging is all about, am I right?

Kendra over at Catholic All Year wrote a post titled, "The Big Purse Dump," and I've found myself stumbling upon a few of these, actually caring what people kept in their purses! The first time I saw one of these posts I hesitated and thought, "Wow, that seems narcissistic." But then I kept reading what these women stow in their purses and it's yet another way to creepily connect with people I've never met--but now I know the ins and outs of one of their most purse-onal possessions. (Pun clearly intended.)

So now, for those interested, I will show you what I keep in my very own purse. First, a picture of the emptied out, yet stylish leather tote that I love having handy:

And for it's contents... beware, it might get messy. As Jane said, "Wow, that's a lot of crap." But hey, it's a big purse!

Let me break it down for you, and you will learn just a few more unnecessary facts about yours truly and what I'm really toting from place to place throughout the day. You might be surprised at what you see!

1.) Coffee cup cozies. I have yet to meet another person that carries around as many of these as I do, but I guess some old habits die hard. This is a feeble attempt I make at saving small bits of cardboard wherever I can mixed with a slight hoarding tendency. I regret not making a tally somewhere of each time I use one of these and save a new one. For as much coffee as I drink these really add up! The fact that there's more than one shows that clearly, at times, I forget to bring one with me. However, now I keep one in my wallet, one in my coat pocket, and at least one in each purse I have. It might be a little overboard, but when I'm with friends and they get to use one of the decorative coffee cozies from Babb's, or a Chesterton-quoted cozy from Ave Maria's coffee shop, it adds a little spice to our coffee date.

2.) Bible and journal. Along with my current spiritual read, a small book by Fulton Sheen that I'm thoroughly enjoying. I highly recommend it to anyone struggling paying attention during the Mass and/or believing that God loves them. It's pretty spot-on. Also, I try to keep a pen in my journal at all times, which is why #5 might seem pretty surprising and unnecessary.

3.) Chapstick. These were found scattered in the many different pockets and compartments throughout. It appears that every time I think there's no chapstick in my purse, I grab another from my larger-than-I-thought-it-was collection. Oops, that's embarrassing. But hey, there's one for every occasion! And let's be real, NoDak winters are super dry.

4.) Holy Cards and Examination of Conscience. The St. Faustina one in the top left I got when I studied in Chile, and there's a prayer for sinners on the back in español. The icon is a prayer card from our pilgrimage to Rome two years ago, and the medallion in the middle I received from a dear friend after leading a retreat when Ephesians 6:11 was the theme of the weekend. Her mom is in the military and she gave it to me as a gift to take with me when I studied abroad. I have kept it very close ever since and am reminded of the graces I received from that retreat often. It's always found a place either in my car, purse or bedside table. Thanks, Betsy!

5.) Pens. Similar to the lip balm debacle, it appears that whenever I think I don't have a pen, I grab another. These, too, were found scattered in different pockets, and one I even had to reassemble because it's pieces had decided to disengage.

6.) Rosaries. A staple for any Catholic girl's purse, and one of the greatest spiritual weapons of our time. I designated a special rosary pocket in the back of the purse so I always know where to look first when I'm in need. I like having Mama Mary close, and really like what St. Josemaría reminds us of, especially since there are many days when I choose not to pray the Rosary, usually because I am ready for bed and want to sleep. The times I have persevered I have never regretted the extra 17 minutes!
"You always leave the Rosary for later, and you end up not saying it at all because you are sleepy. If there is no other time, say it in the street without letting anybody notice it. It will, moreover, help you to have presence of God." -St. Josemaria Escriva 

7.) Mail. I got a few things in the mail on Friday that I didn't take care of right away, so I put them in my front pocket, which is where things like this usually find a home. This is also where I keep recently-received notes of encouragement as a reminder that there are people that love and care for me! It's nice to run across them once in a while.

8.) Wallet, post-its and business cards. Pretty self-explanatory here, but I like to keep extra business cards on me just in case I'm on a plane and meet someone that might be interested in joining my support team. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way after a few too many flights earlier this year when I had nothing to leave with them except for a good impression. Also, the rubber-banded cards are all the different punch cards for Fargo businesses and restaurants. They are plentiful and having them in my wallet was a nuisance, so I cut that out and just slapped a rubber-band around them so I can just grab the stack when I go somewhere. When I leave Fargo these will need a home, and most of them are close to filled up! If you want dibs, holler at me. Cards include but are not limited to: Atomic Coffee, Teaberry, Cherry Berry, Gloria Jeans and Josie's Corner.

9.) Miscellaneous. Oh hey, there's that pair of earrings I've been looking for! That's convenient. Also, It's nice to be reminded that I do, in fact, have bobby pins, band-aids and a paperclip in my purse. There have been a few times recently when I needed one or more of these things and didn't think I had them! The more you know. 

So there it is, the great purse dump. It's a good feeling to have had a fun and creative opportunity to clean out my purse. Now if you're ever with me and ask for a pen, lip balm or bobby pins, if I say no you know I'm lying. By the way, now that I've used this opportunity to clean out my purse, there's a 99% chance that a lot of this stuff won't make it back in. So this is the real Kelsey, raw and unfiltered...almost. I did cut out a few feminine products. But I'm a woman, some things are just a given. And now you know.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Five things I'm thankful for today.

As a meager attempt to continue the 7 posts in 7 days, I decided to think of five things I'm thankful for today, because today is the fifth day in this seven day venture. It's funny because it's actually more difficult than you'd imagine to narrow down what you're thankful for into five things. That's why I added the extra word on the title of this post: today.

On a jewelry box given to me for my college graduation there is a picture that says, "Begin every day with a grateful heart." Each morning I read that and tell God what I am grateful for that morning. It not only takes the edge off of the mere fact of being the morning, but is a reminder of the blessings I've received to simply start the day. (And I'll be honest, almost always coffee, my comfy bed and my earring collection make the cut.)
  1. Family. We all know this: our families shape who we are and who we will become. If it weren't for my mom and dad battling all the struggles of being the parents of this hell-raiser, I would not be where I am today. I am thankful for their love and support, and for the maturing adult relationship growing between us. This was especially apparent to me over Christmas break when Lee and I were able to go out to dinner with mom and dad. I realized afterwards that it was different than mom and dad taking out daughter Kelsey and her friend. While it's hard to break through that mold entirely, we were able to raise our glasses (of a delicious wine that mom chose), enjoy the conversation, and spend time as adults in public, sharing life with one another. I'd be kidding if I didn't say that I love you too, Kevin. You're a great brother and I am thankful for our mutual love of Jim Gaffigan's bacon humor and our fights over who Rusty loves more (I still know it's me, by the way).
  2. Incredible friends. Yesterday a friend of mine wrote a great post about how special her college roommates were and still are in her life. While reading this I realized how blessed I am with amazing friends that continue to push me to be a better woman day after day. I wouldn't be half the woman I am today without the friends that have helped me get here, particularly those who have been there through thick and thin and listen to me blab on week after week (ahem, Molly) and continually encourage me, regardless of how trivial my "problems" are. To those dear friends in my life, who continue to stick it out day after day, week after week, month after month:  I love you. Thank you for being so patient with me.
  3. The life God gave me. Jane and I just finished watching the movie Argo and in my tendency to be over-empathetic (that's what I've termed my condition...although I think it just comes with the territory of womanhood), I could not help but imagine I was there, being held hostage, afraid that at any moment my life could be snatched away from me. And that got me wondering about a whole other slew of things (death, what would I do if I were captured, how much do I love my country, yadda yadda yadda). Also, I heard news this morning of three young men traveling to a tennis tournament in MN that were killed in a car accident on the way there. This is such a tragedy, and my prayers are with the families of these young men. Each of them were only 20 years old and I cannot imagine the pain their families, friends, teammates, classmates and coworkers are experiencing. Another reminder of how precious God's gift of life is.
  4. Beautiful music. Of course my idea of what makes music beautiful is subjective, but this is my blog after all. For those of you who know me, you know I'm always promoting bands with comments such as, "Check this band out!" or "Just listen to this song! You'll fall in love I swear." I think the reason for this is because there is an emotional element to music that, as a woman, I can relate with. There is deeper meaning to much of the music I listen to regularly (minus the occasional guilty pleasure reggaeton or hip-hop song), and the bands I particularly crave are: Mike Mangione and the Union, Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, L'Angelus, Needtobreathe, Phillip Phillips and Josh Groban, to name a few. There is something about a beautiful song or piece of art that can lift you out of your current emptiness and inspire you simply with it's beauty. I'll stop there, but I just think it's important to know how thankful I am for music.
  5. Psych. That's right, nothing more than an eight-season, USA TV series. As of late Jane and I have been bonding while watching and re-watching episodes, which she conveniently owns on DVD. I had never heard of this show until she introduced me and now I'm hooked. I must say: it's pretty stinkin' funny, plain and simple. I'm just a tad more jolly by the simple introduction of some regular humor into my weekly schedule and it's nice to be able to watch it on my time--rather than if it were on cable and I had to see it at 8 pm on Wednesday nights each week. Let's be honest, you know that won't be happening in this girls' schedule anytime soon. However, I'm thankful for the bonding time this gives to Jane and I; I'm thankful for the silly sense of humor between Shawn and Gus; and I'm especially thankful that I can share this joy with others. Laughter is the best medicine, right?
A dear friend once taught me about the "Rosary of Thankfulness." This is said using a regular rosary, and rather than praying the usual prayers and meditations of the rosary--while hopefully still saving those for a different time throughout the day--on each bead you list someone/thing you are thankful for. For the first two decades it can be a cinch. After that you need to start getting pretty creative, but it's incredible to see how many things there are in your life to be thankful for--including the air you breathe and the mailman who delivers your letters. 

In today's world where the tendency to complain is high and seems to be the only way we communicate with one another ("Wow this line is really long." "It's so cold!" "It's too hot." "What's taking them so long?" "Flights canceled again?"), I think it's important to center ourselves, be reminded of how lucky we really are and share that with our brothers and sisters who think their world is crashing down because the grocery store lines are all long. 
"Let your heart overflow in effusions of love and gratitude as you consider how the grace of God saves you each day from the snares the enemy sets in your path." 
- St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way, #434

Friday, February 28, 2014

I (still) love my job.

Being a FOCUS missionary is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Plain and simple. This past week marks the third anniversary of my accepting a call to be a missionary from Steve Pries. I remember exactly where I was when I listened to the voicemail he left me (crossing Regent Street on my way towards campus), and where I was when I called him back (at the bus stop in front of the Chazen Museum of Art). I remember him telling me they would like to "extend an offer for me to join FOCUS" and I said "Yes! Absolutely! I'm in." He asked if I had questions and I recall having none (except, probably, when will I be able to start breathing again??).

What a joy.

Last year I remember spending some time trying to think of how many people wouldn't be in my life had I turned that offer down. It's tough to think about! I've been blessed to meet countless incredible students at the Newman Center alone. Then there are the people that I've met through them (friends, roommates, girlfriends/boyfriends, etc). Then there are the friends I've been blessed with outside of NDSU. And their friends and families. Oh, and the families of the students that I've met (you Breens in particular). There are the Fargo Diocese priests we've been blessed to meet. Bishops, deacons, religious sisters, and other laypeople around Fargo. And that's just in Fargo alone! I didn't even start listing all of the amazing missionaries that have come in and out of my life! Wow, those are some holy men and women right there. Starting with the missionaries at the UW campus while I was in school, to the missionaries at my interview weekend in Indy (yes you, Jonathan), the women in my college my first summer at NST, as well as all the other "firsties" with me. Then there were the missionaries that I met the second year... and the third year... So. Many. Holy. People.

I am blessed.

When you hear people say that this is "the best job ever." We really aren't kidding. FOCUS Missionaries are some of the happiest people I've ever met and it will be a sad day when I have to say goodbye to so many of them.

That brings me to my next point:  I declare this semester, Spring 2014, to be my last semester as a FOCUS missionary (cue Kelsey's uncontrollable sobs). I have grown so much over these past three years that it's difficult to imagine leaving. Not to mention watching young lives transform right in front of you on a day-to-day basis is pretty darn rewarding. However, I'm excited to announce that I will be moving to a new place and semi-starting over--that's right, I'm moving to the great state of Iowa!

Yep, that's right. I'm going to become an Iowegian. (That one's for you, Jenne.) Those are words that any true Sconnie thinks he or she will never utter. Luckily, Iowa is still a largely midwestern state and the people there are delightful. I wouldn't believe it if I wouldn't have actually gone and visited. Most of my pre-conceived notions of Iowans were wrong--hard to believe, right? From what I've noticed John Deere, corn fields and young engineers make up a large part of the state, but I'm excited to see what else is in store.

A few things I am particularly excited about with this move:

1) I will be less than half the distance to my family that I am now. Hopefully that will mean more time to see mom, pops and Kevin, as well as my adorable goddaughter and her big sister. FaceTime certainly can be fun, but for a person who prefers quality time above all else, it loses its excitement when you haven't physically been near the person in months.

2) I will be living much closer to Lee, in fact, and God-willing, in the same city! I can't even imagine how nice that will be. The long-distance relationship can afford many opportunities for growth, but let's be real, you can't do that forever. Plus, I really miss him.

3) Everything will be new. A new apartment, a new job, a new city. New, new, new. I slightly remember what it was like when I moved to Fargo and experienced the same newness, and I have a feeling this will be pretty similar. Who doesn't love a good adventure?

There is much to be done, however, before any of this takes place. Please keep me in your prayers as I make these transitions--right now it seems all hunky-dory, but as soon as I need to seriously buckle down and figure out logistics, I might go a little nuts.

For now all I can see is what's right in front of me:  today. Our team has a glorious and much-needed day of recollection. That means we are taking the day to ourselves for prayer, spiritual direction, and anything that will fill us that we don't normally have time to do. If you call or email me and I don't answer today, I'll get back to you as soon as I can! Until then I'll be reading, praying, letter-writing and being spiritually directed.