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