Sunday, December 30, 2012

Waltzing into the New Year

I’m going back to college! I don’t recall ever starting out a new year in such a dramatic way as I am about to this January. Since my birthday falls the day after New Year’s Day, January 2nd, I have extra reason to contemplate how I want to waltz into the New Year.

“This is the first day of the rest of your life,” sings Matt Maher in his hit song, “Hold Us Together.” I am taking that message to heart by doing something I’ve long considered would be fun to do: becoming a ballroom dance instructor. Yep, that’s right. I will be entering Dance Teacher’s College to become certified to teach the National Dance Teacher Association of America approved DVIDA syllabus of 12 American style ballroom dances. The first class, which is waltz, is on my birthday! I’ll be quite literally waltzing into the New Year.

Pursuing dreams usually requires a leap of faith in the form of time commitment or financially. It requires silencing all those annoying voices that say we can’t or shouldn’t do it. As one lady I interviewed for an article recently said, “We will never have all the time and money we think we need to do anything in life.” She was speaking in reference to her family’s leap of faith in adopting two girls from China, which led me to think, how many times do we stand at the brink of something wonderful, but tell ourselves we can’t do it for one reason or another, or are afraid to trust?

“It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance” (anonymous).
Richard Gere & Jennifer Lopez starring in Shall We Dance?
I’ve been ballroom dancing for 13 years. It is my hope to help others experience the power, beauty and magic of ballroom dance as I have and inspire people to put their best foot forward in faith. But if I hope to empower others, I must take the first step myself. 

If you could do anything to build the life you imagine, what would you do starting today? My best advice is to envision where you want to be and then start living that way. Or as Henry David Thoreau said, "Live the life you have imagined." When I first began writing and dared to say I was a freelance writer, the words coming out of my mouth always took me by surprise. But by telling myself that I was one, I gave myself permission to be one.

As I begin the journey in dance, stay with me. Keep me company. It will be an exciting year and fun to be back in the role of "student" again, acquiring new knowledge and gaining confidence in a higher learning setting. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Serving a Cousin, Celebrating a Baby

I began this Advent season by traveling to the hill country (literally, a place called Holy Hill) to help my cousin who had just had a baby boy.

Granted I didn't have to make the journey by foot or caravan, I enjoyed thinking of Mary, the Blessed Mother, who also hurried to the hills to be with her cousin Elizabeth just after the angel announced that she would conceive the Son of God. Why do you think Mary traveled "in haste"? These details in Scripture are often hints in unpacking the story. I always thought of her rushing forth with missionary zeal as a completely selfless act of service - until I watched The Nativity Story this month, which gave me a new perspective. The film showed the events in such a real, human way, and I realized that if I were a young girl who’d just heard such astonishing news as Mary and was faced with what was to happen next, I would likely respond as she does in the movie - plead my parents to let me take a short trip away so I could sort out these miraculous events.

Certainly, Mary did participate in hard work and help out while she was there, but a primary reason for her visit was likely to seek understanding and to “figure out” how in the world she was going to explain this pregnancy to Joseph, and her parents. Would Joseph divorce her? Stone her in the streets? What would her baby be like if he were the Son of God?

Doing laundry, changing diapers, cleaning house, cooking meals are all great ways to serve, but they aren't the reason we do it. When we serve, we are looking to give and receive human love.

So when Mary remembered the part of the angel's message that Elizabeth was also pregnant in a miraculous way, she goes and seeks answers there. I can relate with a young woman like this, seeking understanding from others and pondering the Lord’s will for her life with another woman of strong faith.

I love the scene in the movie when Elizabeth hears Mary coming, turns around, and bursts out in joy, "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken by the Lord would be fulfilled!" (Luke 1:45). And Mary responds, “How did you know?”

We all need people in our lives to be on the journey with us and give us some spiritual direction along the way. Sometimes we need others to point out the signs that God is at work in our lives. This must have been one of those “signs” to Mary that God was with her and that everything would somehow turn out alright. How often do we recognize that in each other and say, “Wow! God is at work in you! I can see your spiritual muscles being trained for something great He has in store for you!”

The five days I spent with my cousin, her husband, and child were so precious and reminded me of what Christmas is all about. It started with a newborn child and parents, poor shepherds and rich kings, all given the grace to accept the Gift, even when the Gift came unexpected and unplanned for. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's a Sign!

Do you read signs? A few years ago, I prayed a novena  to ask God to reveal to me, once and for all, what vocation He was calling me to prepare for, whether to marry or to enter religious life. On the final day of my request, my brother and his wife came over and asked me out of the blue if I would like to have their baby crib and changing table. I wasn't in any romantic relationship at the time, and there was no motherhood in near sight, but they offered to save the items until I needed them. It was Christmas Day. I thought of baby Jesus being born in a manger. I knew instantly it was a sign from God that he'd heard my prayer, and I trusted that my desires to be a wife and mother someday would be fulfilled. I thanked God from the bottom of my heart! Not always are we privileged to such obvious signs, but when they do come, they bring peace and relief.

After watching Sleepless in Seattle last week, I was reminded how signs can reassure us we’re doing the right thing or are in the right place at the right time. In the movie, it was as simple as Annie Reed peeling an apple in one long piece just like Jonah's mom could do – a sign she would fit right into his life like a missing puzzle piece. Another sign was Annie liking baseball just like Jonah's dad – a sign to him that they were right for each other. The sudden illumination of hundreds of lights in the Empire State Building in the shape of a big, red heart on Valentine’s Day was a sign to her that true love was waiting for her on top of the building. It was Hollywood romance all the way, but what touched me was her faith in every sign.

We can easily ignore the signs or explain them by mere coincidence, or we can ponder them in our hearts. I believe that’s what the Blessed Mother Mary did when signs of wonder and mystery were brought to her – shepherd boys kneeling at her son’s manger-scene birth, the surprise of the three magi with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the prophecy of Simeon in the temple, and the healing miracles wrought by her son’s hands. “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Accepting the sign is recognizing God’s handiwork around you. The sign may not explain an answer to your prayer, but it can be God’s way to communicate with us and reassure us “I know where you're at, My Child.” A spiritual director once described to me that being holy is less about “figuring out God’s Will” and more about just following where He leads.

So instead of walking with my face to the ground, here's to walking with my head held high and eyes wide open to the signs around me. God, please make me more aware of the signs, so with faith and hope I can confidently follow in the plans you have set before me.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Letter to An Aspiring Writer

Every writer takes his own course for getting where he is. Some have stumbled across a professional writing career in mid life, when their cumulative experiences catapulted into a book. Others of us have tried to define our whole lives by writing. This is my story:

I always knew I wanted to be a writer from early on, when I would write poetry, songs and short stories. My first books were made at about age 5 - the only time I could illustrate as well and my pictures be thought  of as "cute." My mom bought these blank white books that you could color in and compose stories. I loved it.

So when I graduated high school, deciding to major in English: Writing at a four-year college was as easy as tying my shoe laces. There wasn't a doubt this was the path I wanted to pursue. I just didn't know what kinds of fields you could work in as a writer.

For three years now, I've been a freelance writer for a company that publishes upscale neighborhood magazines across Milwaukee suburbs. Every month I am in charge of several magazines, writing feature articles on the local people, organizing community calendars and writing about community organizations, businesses or events. The fun part is getting to see one's work in print every month and getting responses from my readers. It's not always a writer/editor can correspond so closely with his readers.

In addition to my role for this company, I have also written feature articles for newspapers and national magazines - some religious, some secular - by initiating relationships with editors and then offering to write for them on an assignment basis. The principle usually is that once they see your quality work, they'll come back and ask for more. I have also been hired to do grant writing and fundraising direct mail letters for a nonprofit organization. As a freelance writer, I am constantly managing multiple projects for different clients and working on deadline.

I've done feature articles, website content, newsletters, editing and lots and lots and LOTS of interviews.

As a junior in college, I spent a summer as a public relations intern (an unpaid position) at a local nursing home, which led to a job senior year as a media writer for my university's public relations department. Both were vital experiences for me, giving me the hands-on skills I needed to learn how to write press releases and practice interviewing people for information (which none of my college classes had prepared me to do). In fact, I don't recall being told that good interviewing skills are essential for a professional writer. I guess if I had majored in communications or journalism, I would have heard this, but nonetheless, I do not regret majoring in the broader English and literature studies. They taught me how to probe human character for the motives behind people's actions. And after all, that's what interviewing is all about.

After I graduated, I volunteered to write my church's newsletter while I was job searching. I used the newsletter as a writing sample for getting my first job.

What I've learned is to follow my dreams. Being a freelancer has been tough but also very rewarding. The first step is getting published clips, so you have samples to show potential employers. If you have to write for free to get those clips, do so. If you can write a nonprofit organization's newsletter or help someone write a brochure or build a website, do that. I love this advice by Mark Twain, which is humorous but true:

"Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for."

Most of all, do what you love. "The important thing is this: to be able to at any moment sacrifice who we are for what we could become" (Charles DuBois). Don't be afraid to try something new. Never make excuses but give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them. Then you will have found the joy of being a writer.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Trestle Trail

My move to the Fox Cities has been complicated. Besides getting tangled up a few times in finding my way around and being blocked by road construction, I started out feeling stifled here in the city. This week I located a nature trail in the neighboring city and went to explore. I was desperate to break free from the confines of city streets and traffic, to get some exercise, and to walk among God's natural wonders.

The Trestle/Friendship State Trail along a 1,600-foot bridge was the healing answer. As soon as I drove out of the city, a smile crossed my face. But it was short-lived.

ROAD CONSTRUCTION! It felt like my every attempt to break free was blocked and I was going around in circles trying to find a new way out of the maze I was in. Following the detour, I eventually found my way to the park and the trail. Relief!

When I stepped into the lush, green park and saw the bridge over the vast expanse of water, my heart soared with freedom at last. 

Here on the bridge and in the park, I felt like humanity connected in a new way. There was a shared experience of nature, wind, water, oxygen, exercise, rejuvenation, and beauty. People smiled and said hi in passing, with trust in their eyes. Women chatted with their walking buddies. Guys cruised by on their bicycles. A little boy rode his tricycle. A middle-aged lady walked her elderly parents down the trail, with her mom going slowly behind a walker. 

I ran. I walked. I ran some more. The wind was all around, like the Holy Spirit, massaging me with the physical touch of God and holding me in the hug of the Mighty Comforter.

“Life is too beautiful and too short to hold onto pain,” said my friend over the phone. She was talking about herself and relating the words she felt God speak so keenly to her about letting go and moving on. Now she had become God’s voice speaking directly to me.

The realization came: “Is this pain to keep me from enjoying the beautiful life God has given me and the adventure of seeking and pursuing His will?” 

Sometimes pain can be like road construction. It impedes the way we want to go, while God is telling us to take another route, a new course that He will show us, if we just get past the stubbornness of our own will.

I have my friend Sara to thank for this thought: we need to grow in holiness on God’s terms, not ours. How often do I wrongly tell God how I want to grow in holiness – instead of building a bridge of faith with the wood and mortar He gives me?

"Lord, correct my missteps, and bring me back to You."

As I seek to live in the present, here are some of the joys I look forward to:
- the coolness of late summer and the change of seasons
- colored leaves and pumpkins
- being open to new opportunities and ways to serve, to connect, to love, to grow, and to give in this new place and community.
- standing up in my friend's upcoming wedding
- opening new doors through writing
- exploring more parks and trails

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Never Bee Without a Cucumber

Strolling through downtown Appleton’s Farmer’s Market on Saturday, my mother and I picked up an interesting piece of advice. It started when we were gazing at some beautiful flowers that were creatively arranged in pots with slices of cucumber in them. As we were mulling over whether they were real cucumbers (and real flowers!), the vendor caught the inquisitive look on my mother’s face. “Is that a real cucumber?” my mom asked. “Why do you have it in there?”

The lady said, “Oh, yes! That is real alright. It’s to keep the bees away. They don’t like the smell of the cucumber. Pickles work the same way.”

Then we watched as a bee came drifting through, lingering slightly by the plant as though sniffing it and then suddenly flying up and away without ever landing. It worked.

We learned from the vendor that the cucumber also works to cover up perfume. If you’re wearing perfume and seem bothered by bees, just rub a little raw cucumber on your wrists to cover the perfume scent and bees will stay away. For natural insect repellent and sunscreen, she said Shea Butter works great - and there are no nasty, cancer-causing side effects as there are from DEET and most commercial sunscreens.

Just as she finished up telling us this, a man walked by with his wife and said, “You were probably just explaining, but why is there a cucumber in your plants?” Haha.

This is what I love about walking…you never know what tips and discoveries you’ll make along the way if you are curious enough to ask "Why?"

Have you learned anything helpful recently?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Brushstroke of the Comforter

“Oh Comforter, To Thee We Cry…”

In the aftermath of recent heartache, loss and an impending move to a new city, this is a scary time of not knowing what lies before me. When hopes and expectations are suddenly dashed, when friends move away, when hard things happen to us, and we don’t have a clue where we’re going or why we’re going there…then every act of kindness received becomes a life raft.

Surely, you've been there before. We've all been. You’re choking for breath. You’re vision is blurry with tears. You can’t walk without feeling like a great burden is pinning your feet down to one place. And you're scared of being alone. It goes on like this until you feel you want to give up; you can’t handle this. You don’t know what to do, or where to go, and you don’t even want to. You want to curl up and sleep for an indefinite amount of time.

And then IT happens. 

You taste it as you bite into a slice of ripe, juicy golden muskmelon. You taste it in the fresh sweetness of a blueberry popping in your mouth.

You feel it in the wind blowing through your window and stirring your hair.

But you fight it, 'cause you don't wanna let go.

You encounter it again in the surprise reunion with an old friend who you haven't talked to in years.

You sense it in a friend's invitation to go out for lunch.

You find it in the form of a chocolate treat left purposefully for you by someone who cares.

You know it in the consoling conversation about how God is at work in your life.

It brushes you softly like a feather on your cheek. It whispers quietly to your soul. It penetrates to your bones.

Eventually, you give in. You give in entirely and embrace the hope of a future. You begin to feel the rush of life again. The mad colors on the canvas begin to take shape under a hand bigger than your own - that of the Mighty Comforter. 

"It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings."
~"The Real Work" by Wendell Berry

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Transforming Communities with Good Food

I sat down in the library with Will Allen’s book The Good Food Revolution and couldn't put it down. I can't decide which part inspires me most: Will Allen’s integrity, self-resiliency and passion; the incredible miracle of Growing Power transforming communities and providing access to healthy, whole foods in urban cities; the lives of inner-city youth changed in a positive way by Growing Power; or how people are getting their hands dirty in the soil again and learning that growing food is not slave labor but about learning how to live and survive.

In his inspirational memoir about becoming a leader in urban farming, released this spring, Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power, Inc., quotes Booker T. Washington, who says, “Agriculture is, or has been, the basic industry of nearly every race or nation that has succeeded. Dignify and glorify common labor. It is at the bottom that we must begin, not the top.”

Mr. Allen delves into his roots. He tells of his parents’ escape from southern sharecropping during The Great Migration of African Americans from the rural south to northern cities. In the same way, Allen thought he was escaping his agricultural background when he became a professional basketball player and sales executive for KFC and Procter & Gamble. But in a series of surprising events, Will finds himself returning to the land.

“Yet the desire to farm hid inside me,” writes Mr. Allen. “It hid in my feet. They wanted the moist earth beneath them. It hid in my hands. They wanted to be callused and rough and caked with soil. It hid in my heart. I missed the rhythms of agriculture. I felt a desire for the quiet of the predawn and the feeling of physical self-worth and productivity that I only felt after a day when I had harvested a field or had sown one” (The Good Food Revolution 8).

In 1993, he cashed in his retirement fund for a two-acre plot next to the largest housing project in downtown Milwaukee. The plot contained some rundown greenhouses and an old farm building - the last in the city of Milwaukee - where he envisioned a place to sell his farm produce. He describes the surrounding area as a "food desert" where the supermarkets and fresh food stands had long been replaced by fast food restaurants and convenient stores selling cheap, processed foods. By hiring and engaging local youth from low-income families in sustainable farming, Mr. Allen transformed these rundown greenhouses into the headquarters of an urban farming network which has become a model of sustainable urban farming across the country.
Mr. Allen says that the farmers of the next generation will not come from the countryside but from the city  (Featured Video: Agriculturalist Will Allen (2008), and so we must engage people in the community and teach them how to grow healthy food and make it accessible to all.

His hope-filled story shows the power of the urban agricultural movement to grow not only healthy food but healthy communities. Food is the most basic human need. Good food brings people together through the range of human experiences. Food can unite, nourish, sustain and heal. The current movement back toward organic agriculture and sustainable farming is a huge source of hope for a healthier future for our children and for the earth. Growing food is ultimately about  the cultivation of life and diversity, the practice of patience and generosity, and the continuation of the earth and our species.

After setting the book down, Mr. Allen’s words still echo in my heart: “A lot of times we have an idea of something we’d really like to do, but we wait for the perfect moment to begin. I’m here to tell you that there is no perfect moment” and “All big things are created by a slow and steady accumulation of small, stumbling steps. Idealism can sometimes lead to inaction. We’re so afraid of doing something imperfectly that we don’t do anything at all” (39).

Mr. Allen's heart-touching story shows that taking those first stumbling steps of following your heart can be like planting a seed. You don't know what will come of it - but given the right conditions, it will sprout in more ways than you can imagine.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Visit to Ivy Hollow

The Mazda bumped and rolled painstakingly slow over the narrow, gravel driveway, the car rising over each large stone that protruded as if to ward off vehicles. "The rocks weren't so big last year," said the driver. But they seemed bigger and more forlorn now, like they molded together over the lonely winter. The car crept down the drive and around a bend, until its passengers could see the country home nestled in the middle of northern Wisconsin farm country.

A farm tractor and equipment lay strewn about, forgotten, not having been put to use for some time. Wild rose bushes climbed up a fence in the front of the house and the front yard was surrounded by a picket fence and gate. The grass was long and weeds grew up with it, but in this wild and untamed growth, there was a beauty. The grasses and bushes seemed to hug the house but not in a menacing, haunted way, blocking off light – rather in a veiled way as though possessing a secret, hiding a mystery. 

The man opened the gate and turned the key in the front door lock. His girl followed behind. A smile broke across her face when they stepped inside, into the high ceilinged, open concept house with wood floors and large windows looking out over the land. The home was filled with things of its owners, revealing that the man’s parents lived here for a long time and came back occasionally. This was the boy’s home.

The two of them stood on the deck, looking at it all, him showing her things, their light talk mixed with quiet silence and silence mixed with awe. He gave her inexpensive wine to drink, but to them it was as full and rich as the moon in its fullness. All this could be his inheritance or his own for a price. One possible future opened up before their eyes, almost too bright to behold with a taste as sweet and intoxicating as the wine in their glasses. Would this beautiful, enchanting place be theirs one day? Was it what he wanted? Was it what she dreamed?

On Ivy Hollow, fields of grasses lay stretched around the house, woods loomed in the near distance, and fruit trees kept company in an orchard perched atop a hill. Light and shadow danced on the long grasses, which rustled in the wind and moved like waves in all various patterns.

He led her down to the enclosed garden, fenced round with ivy growing up the sides. As they approached, they could hear the door of the garden creaking on its broken hinge and banging softly against the fence in the wind. Inside was a tangled mess of wild growth – weeds, burrs and bushes in a frenzy to take over, while flowering plants pushed their white blossoming heads out of the growth to prove their faithfulness. How much work, how much sacrifice, would it take, the girl wondered, to restore this to its former beauty or to fashion it anew?

Youth and adulthood mingled in the man and his girl like the mix of all wild growth here. Was he a child looking back at time, or a man straining his eye to the horizon? Was she a girl frolicking in the fields of her imagination, or a writer with hands nurturing the land and raising up a new generation? Was he ready to commit to such responsibility and did he have what it would take?

Perhaps, it was questions like these, and more, that were the reason for their thoughtful silence on the ride home, when just the sound of the Mazda humming down the country highway could be heard, and the feeling of something too immense for words could be felt between them in the touch of his hand.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Witness to a Marriage

What a happy weekend the marriage of my mom and Dan was! I couldn’t sleep for four nights leading up to it; I was so full of anticipation! It was special to share some quiet time with mom on Friday in her home and to cherish for one last time our past “solitude” together – the 22 years we'd spent in that home while she was a single mother, and I was being homeschooled and nurtured under her wing. Now there would be no more solitude for her, but companionship in a loving, marriage relationship.

Two deer ran across the road in front of Dan’s car as the four of us (my mom, Dan, my oldest sister and I) drove home after Friday's rehearsal. It was April 27th, the anniversary of my father’s death 22 years ago. I immediately said it was a sign from Dad. He and Dan’s wife were gazing on from heaven in joy for this marriage to take place and were close to us in spirit. The next day, my other sister, who was not with us at the time, saw two deer run across the road in front of her car and thought of Gene.

Saturday dawned, and my sister, mom and I went to church to get dressed. I walked down the aisle with Ben, my new step-brother. Mom was a gorgeous, happy bride beside Dan, both of them so in love. As I had witnessed their love story unfold, so now I stood to witness their marriage vows.

“It’s not often that one gets to choose one’s sister or one’s father. In this case, Dan’s daughter Rebekah and I chose each other to be best friends and sisters since we were little girls – hardly dreaming that one day we really would be!” …so began my wedding speech at the reception dinner.

“Rebekah was my neighbor, three years younger than I, who lived just two houses down the road. When her mother died and Bekah was four years old, my mom started taking care of Bekah in our home while Dan was teaching. I was so happy to have her for a playmate, and since I was homeschooled, it was fun to have her over during the day.

“I’m not sure when the idea first occurred to us both, but we thought it would be perfect if our parents got married, because then we’d be sisters, and I always wanted my mom to get married so I would have a living father. It was very simple in our heads. What we didn’t know is that Dan promised his wife he wouldn’t marry until the kids were grown up. Dan is faithful, a man true to his word. Coincidentally, it happened the year Rebekah graduated from college that he fell in love with my mom.

“I remember the day when the phone rang in December 2010. I was working in the dining room writing and after my mom hung up the phone, she turned around and said, ‘Dan asked me if he can come over so I can teach him how to ballroom dance for his niece’s wedding!’ We looked at each other in surprise! She was excited and a little nervous. Little did Dan know that after only a few lessons he would be hooked - not only on ballroom dancing but on my mom!

“It’s been a pleasure and pure joy to witness your love story, Mom and Dan. Since I was living at home at the time, you had to put up with me being around during dance classes in the dining room and then when those dance classes turned into dates, sometimes I was a handy chaperone. I really enjoyed hearing your laughter, seeing you grow closer and falling in love. Dan never seemed like an outsider. With Dan in our home, life seemed whole again.

“Dan has been the closest father-figure I’ve had growing up. Dan had me over for dinner more times than I can count, taught me how to bat a baseball, how to throw a football (though I still haven’t mastered that one!) and took Bekah and I on many fun car trips to Holy Hill and the Milwaukee Zoo. Some of you might be wondering why it took this long. I guess Bekah and I wondered the same thing… Welcome to our family, Dan. I’m so proud to have you for a dad.”

I turned to hug mom and Dan. After I was through, my brother stood up and said, “No one can follow that!” And so he gave a short congratulatory toast. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, family and friends told me how they wanted to cry during my speech, how they didn’t know all that, and how touching it was. I felt, in carrying out that action, to be fulfilling part of my mission in life, that which gives my life meaning: to inspire others, especially through writing and my words...

Strangely, I had envisioned this years ago. I had imagined somehow at my wedding speaking up in front of others to say how grateful I was for all the father-figures in my life, including Dan. Later, I thought how overly sentimental and superfluous that would be. Well, lo and behold, I had the opportunity here at Dan’s own wedding to say how much he’s been a father to me being our neighbor, and to thank him.

Dancing filled the afternoon hours, and mom’s ballroom dance partners swept me away for dances, raving about how special my mom was. Then last of all, Dan took me in his arms and swept me across the floor in a waltz when the afternoon was almost over. It was a moment I’ll remember forever. 

The wedding day was filled with so much love and happiness; I can hardly find words to do it justice. I was aware of the love of mom and Dan for each other, the love of all guests gathered there for them two, my love for God and His love for all of us poured out at Mass, the love of my boyfriend, the love for my brothers and sisters as well as my new family. The night closed with just our "two" families having supper together and leftover cake.

“So much love!” I exclaimed to my boyfriend on the ride home. And I went to bed fully quenched in love.

Monday, April 2, 2012

House for Sale

Last weekend, I was sitting inside my mother’s house, where outside on the front lawn an “Adashun Jones” real estate sign is pounded into the ground. Looking around me and soaking it all in, I internalized how this was likely one of the last times in this house.

Down the road, the neighbor man also has his house marked for sale. Being best friends with his daughter growing up, both homes are where I remember spending my childhood. Back and forth between these two, I used to pass, going to his home for grill outs and car trips, and back to my house to play with our American girl dolls and frolic in the yard with our kittens and cats. Summers were spent biking around the block, running and screaming in our swimsuits through the water sprinkler, swinging on the swing sets, batting baseballs in the yard, going for treasure hunts inside the houses where my neighbor friend and I had mapped out the land, choreographing dances and performing them while her dad taped us on video. In the winters, we'd sled down the snow mounds. In the fall, I'd rake leaves and work in the yard. In the spring, my mom and I would plant flowers and vegetables in the garden, which we'd weed all summer long.

Funny, how the memories seem as rich outside as inside. Maybe that's why they say, "these are our roots."

Twenty-five years worth of memories are tucked into the corners of my mother’s home and the neighborhood. I have a fondness for the trees that shaded me on hot summer days, their leafy branches rustling in the breeze. The trees are the witnesses of my childhood pretenses, my milestone graduations, my first loves, and my college returns home. They have stood over me, sheltering me, and beside me, comforting me, through the thick and thin of becoming an adult.

This spring, romance is blossoming everywhere. My mother who's been widowed for 22 years is getting married. What a story it is! She is marrying the neighbor man, the father of my best neighborhood friend and the man who is probably the closest father-figure I have ever known in my life. They've lived two houses apart from each other for longer than I've been alive, and love sprung last year. We celebrate their wedding at the end of this month, April 28! It happens to be one day following my dad's death in 1990. Like the miracle of Easter Sunday, sorrow turns to joy as we roll away the stone of grief and loss, seeing dark nights fade into sunrises.  As we sell the old, we make room for the new. The two shall become one. These houses of memories shall be stored in our hearts and every goodbye beckons a hello.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Eulogy to a Snowgirl: parting is such sweet sorrow

Dear Everyone,

During Wisconsin's most remarkably warm winter, we were privileged with a single weekend in March of perfect, sparkling, tree-dusting and snow-ball forming SNOW. My friend and I divined an image of the most beautiful snowgirl ever and busily set about bringing her to life! My, she was a beauty, being tall, regal and smiling. She was slightly mixed up about the seasons though (aren't we all this year?), for she begged to wear a sun hat and garden gloves (she couldn't wait to start planting flowers). We tried to warn her, reciting T.S. Eliot poetry that "April is the cruelest month," but she would hear none of it and just kept on smiling in her garden hat and gloves.

How reality must have hurt when she realized snowladies don't belong in 50 degree temperatures. We wished her farewell on Sunday, entrusting her to the care of my mother, who let her take up residence in her backyard. Only three days later, I received this tearful note from my mother, entitled "Parting is such sweet sorrow."

Every time I walked through the dining room on Monday, I caught a glimpse of Eleanor and smiled to myself, remembering how good it was to have you and Mike here on Sunday and to listen to your laughter. However, on Tuesday Eleanor let the warm weather go to her head. It wasn't long before her left eye was tearing up with joy, and then her mascara began running and her eyeball sunk a bit. By the afternoon she had completely "lost her head", poor soul. Today I can't find her anywhere. Just a few accessories...sob, sob.
I forgot to save Mike's email. Perhaps you could forward my condolences to him.
My love and sympathies,
Eleanor, for that was her sweet name, was loved by all who met her. Though we miss her, we are grateful she melted peacefully into the earth. There she will help flowers grow - better than she could ever have perceived to do while above the ground. Tis the cycle of life for the snowman or snowlady. While their existence is a source of joy for those who meet them, their passing away brings new life for green things to grow.

To all who feel caught between the seasons,

Monday, March 5, 2012

Kindling Virtue: The Flame of Chastity

See how the flame dances so freely and merrily on its candle wick, glowing and growing, flickering, producing such light, and remaining upright, forever pointing to heaven.

We need heroes. We need heroines. We need men and women of all ages and stages who are willing to be witnesses to the joy of pure love and chastity. Many people view chastity as a negative thing, as a “no,” but chastity is a virtue; it’s a positive thing. It’s not so much a “no” to impurity as it is a “yes” to loving wholly and freely.

“The only way to say no to anything is to have a deeper yes,” writes Matthew Kelly in his book The Rhythm of Life on how to be the best version of yourself. Anytime we refuse ourselves some perceived good, we do so for the sake of a greater good. Anytime we say no to sin, we are saying yes to life in Christ. So for example, when you say no to drugs, you are voicing a deeper yes to respecting your body and your dignity and living a healthy lifestyle with the body that God gave you. When you say no to sex outside of marriage, you are saying a deeper yes to the permanence and fidelity of marriage. You are saying “Yes! I want to save myself for true love! Yes, I believe I am worth the wait and that my future spouse will respect me and take responsibility in loving me.” We have only to remember that deeper yes and we will find the strength to resist temptation.

G.K. Chesterton refused to view chastity as an icy holding back or as a suppression of affections. The wise Chesterton wrote, “Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc.”

In this sense, chastity is a warm fire of sacrificial love, of complete surrender to God, of inconceivable affection. To be chaste is to be aflame with the love of God so as not to be consumed by its counterfeit, lust. Lust flares up, but then after a short while, is snuffed out. The only remnants are black ashes and a pit of darkness. Possessed by the love of God, St. Joan of Arc had the courage to give her life for God and even die as a martyr. After her earthly battles had been fought, she was burned at the stake, consumed by flame. In her martyrdom, she shows us that love and sacrifice are inseparable.

When singles and couples come to Jesus Christ, they find the love they seek and the love which they long to give. In the wood of the Cross, the flames of chastity are kindled. In Christ’s free, total, faithful and fruitful sacrifice, we have the example of “one like a son a man” who has trampled over sin and given us the ultimate victory. “Behold, behold the wood of the cross, / on which is hung our salvation. / O come, let us adore” (Lenten hymn).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines chastity as “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” (CCC 2337). This integration of God’s gift of sexuality within a man or woman is essential to our ability to bear fruit in whichever vocation we are called to. At the heart of every vocation is first and foremost the call to love through a giving of oneself.

How can I give of myself as an unmarried, single person? As a single adult, focusing on small acts of charity within my friendships and relationships, family and work place, I can be a conduit of God’s love. Rather than waiting for some future day to pledge myself to love freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully, my focus should be on loving like that in the present moment: loving my family freely, being totally the Lord’s, being faithful in my friendships, and bearing fruit in my faith. Thus, we become integrated spiritually and physically in the gift of sexuality.

Each man and woman thus integrated in their sexuality, chaste in their love, fulfill the words of St. Catherine of Siena, “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire.”

Tips for Teens on Living a Chaste Life / Saving Sex for Marriage

1. Write love letters to your future husband or your future wife. “I was true to you even before I knew you.”

2. Make a chastity commitment card or wear a purity ring. Commit yourself to living a chaste life. Sign it and have a witness sign it, too.

3. Avoid near occasions of sin. Avoid toying with the idea of sin. Pray to God to be holy and hang out with friends who are also trying to be holy and pure people. Get involved in church and youth group to meet those kind of people.

4. Make a list of the qualities you highly admire in a man or a woman – the qualities you think would make a good, loving spouse and a good father or mother to your children. Then keep that list as your reminder not to compromise or settle for less than the best of what God wants for you. If you really believe God wants the best for you, you won’t settle for less and you’ll be strong enough to avoid unhealthy relationships.

5. Seek a role model, a saint, or someone you can look up to in this matter. St. Maria Goretti and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati are excellent models of purity.

6. Modesty – remember that how you dress and how you present yourself says a lot about who you are on the inside. Girls, respect your bodies. If you do, guys will, too. Like in the movie A Walk to Remember, if you raise the standard, any guy who is really worthy of you will meet the challenge and want to respect you.

7. Finally, “Do not stir up love before it’s time” (Song of Songs 2:7). Focus on your family and your friendships, and growing in holiness and being a saint, which will ready you for the future vocation God has for you.