Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The 5 Best Lessons I learned from My Mother

My mother is an incredible woman. I don't tell her that enough.

In fact, I'll probably spend more time writing this post than I have actually spoken to her in the past few days....because I am selfish, tired and full of twenty-something year old angst.

But she will forgive me, because that's what moms do. She will smile and tell me to stop wasting time talking and just write. She will tell me to travel in my heart to wherever I need to go because she will always be here when I get back.

"I'm sorry I'm such a brat, " I will say. "Yes, but you're my brat," she says in return.

So I've been writing a lot the past few days, and each time I do that, I remember three things a little more clearly:

Who I am. Who I've been. Who I want to be.

And when the dust settles she helps me remember it's okay if these three things don't match at all.

But no matter what, one thing is always true: when I imagine the woman I strive to be, each image looks more and more like her.

She says I'm stronger and smarter than she is. I think that's silly, because she taught me everything I know. I wish with all my heart that each person on Earth knows someone like my mother.

I'd love to share her with you. Our house is like a hotel, that's true, but for now....settle for some of my favorite lessons. I would not be me without them or without her.

1.  Learn How to Read a Map

Literally, go buy an atlas and keep it in the back of your car.  There is no excuse to not make it exactly where you want to go. Do not settle for technology holding your hand. When there's traffic, you'll be long gone off-roading it on an alternate route because you can read a real ancient map.

Some of my earliest memories are driving in the car with my mom. Strong women can drive anywhere, anytime. Get your sleep, map, coffee, and music. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't. Every state on the East Coast is dog-eared in my weathered atlas because my mother raised me to do anything.

On a life scale, she taught me I would never be lost if I knew where I came from. She taught me to use my resources. There is rarely one route to a destination; the trick is being open to changing your plan. The more maps you read, the more likely you are to know where you're going.

There are maps everywhere. In people's eyes. In your gut feeling. In common sense. Read them. You don't have to wait in the traffic of life. Use your brain and find another way.

2.  Aim High in Steering

It seems like I spend all my time with her in the car. What can I say, we're women on the go.

When she was teaching me to drive, she would say, "aim high in steering," which meant...anticipate that stop light a hundred feet away and break accordingly.  I'm still terrible at breaking smoothly.

This translates so perfectly because it means more than look ahead, it means see the big picture in front of you. It means raise your perspective to the horizon. Shoot, PAST the horizon.

I get caught up in the future so often. I worry. Looking ahead has never been my problem. But seeing more...this is such an important lesson.

When I aim high, I can see so much more than what's right in front of me. Any conflict, any heartache, any crossroad- there is always more.  The world is such a lovely and enormous place.

Sometimes there's a semi in front of you and it's hard to aim high. So slow down. Take a breath. Everything will be clear soon.

"In the big scheme of your life, is this really going to matter?" she asks me. Only you will know the answer to that question.

3. Adopt Family Members

I'm confident I could be just about anywhere on this planet (except perhaps the Arctic) and be in range of SOMEONE with deep loyalty to my mother who would come for me if I needed them.

I grew up with more aunts and uncles than humanly possible to have. Why? Because my mother's heart is very large and blood is not a family requirement. There are people of all ages, religions, races, and creeds in my phone that I call family because of her. Some people might think this is strange; I think it's the way life is supposed to be.

Aunt. Cousin. Friend.  I am (or will be) honored to have those names. I hope it means the person saying them knows they could find me, day or night, and I will do anything I can to help them. I hope I never keep score. I hope there is no limit to my generosity or faith in people. I hope I never stop saying I love you. I hope I care for people half as well as she does.

4. Fear Nothing, Least of all Greatness

Some of you might be laughing because you know I am, in fact, afraid of many things.  I am the token 'safety nut' in my group of friends and the word paranoid is not a far stretch. I like to think of myself as a worst-case scenario optimist.

Growing up near DC with my father in law enforcement provided an interesting childhood. We were taught to lock our doors, scan our surroundings, and be very careful with our trust. My mother is an extremely safe person, in many ways. I used to think this made me afraid of everything- but lately I've realized it only helped me face my fears.

Whether you're afraid or not- the world (though lovely) is a scary place. The choice is how we live with that fear. Ignore it, or worse, pretend the threat is not real- and you're likely to get hurt. The alternative? "You don't get scared, you get mad." If only I had a dollar for every time my parents said this. Things are less scary when you talk about them and have a plan.

So who cares if they did background checks before sleepovers and didn't let us wander too far from the block as kids? We sure as hell weren't talking to strangers. I could use more wilderness skills but I have a plan for most emergency scenarios and I'm proud to say that.

My mother, with her passwords and "parking lot safety," didn't teach me to be afraid; she taught me the value of life. And boy does she like living. She's one of the most fun and spontaneous people I've ever met.

She had me swimming at six months old. We bike, we run, we play laser tag in the dark. We love snorkeling and fishing on boats in the Florida keys. I've slept with her under the stars of mine fields in Germany and rocky fields of Spain. We dove in caves, zip lined and kayaked in Mexico. We've walked the streets of Italy, drank water from the depths of France, sunk to our knees and wept in Portugal. We've skipped school for midnight premieres, drove across the country with an hour's notice, and waited in many emergency rooms.

She helps me pack my bags to visit a new city. She googles directions from Maryland when I make a wrong turn in Florida. She helps me pick up the pieces when my heart is broken and try again. She likes to sing with the windows down. We can never see too many beaches. She is a problem solver, make it happen kind of woman.

She taught me what on Earth is worth dying for- so that pain and suffering seemed less terrifying if death was just the beginning.  God willing I never have to prove it- but she raised me to be a fighter.

I think that's why most of all my mother hates when I make myself small.  Not the small we all actually are- in comparison to the universe- but the inadequate small.

It's true we are imperfect. There is freedom in accepting we will never earn our existence. In this way, we are small but it is beautiful. Similar to the feeling I get when I look out a plane window at the clouds or get swept into the ocean.

The lie is to believe those who are small can not also be great. Greatness, for her, is more than success. It is being the best version of yourself. Sometimes this is scary.

The fear of failure is paralyzing. The sting of hypocrisy chips away at my hope. I often feel like I take one step forward and two steps back.

"Oh well," I hear her say. "Your failures do not define you. You have right now. Try it again."

Do not be afraid of greatness. There is only one you.

5. Pray So Much It's like Breathing

My grandma Clem, when she wasn't singing in Italian, prayed the rosary all day long. She had those beads wrapped around her fingers so tight I thought they might break.

It's a habit she passed down to my mother, and I'm grateful for my mother's prayers. She prays for me, for all of you. She humbles me with her strong belief in the power of prayer. It's something I wish I had more of.

I'm most grateful for her example of constant, everyday, informal prayer. She talks to God a lot. She speaks to her mother, her siblings, and her friends who have gone home before us. There will be a line to greet her in heaven.

From an early age, she helped me see God in everything. She helped me begin to speak to Him. She prays like she breathes- it just happens without trying.

She also instilled in us a deep respect for religion and tradition, two things that are so often mocked today. Whether we were at mass, a church service with our cousins, or the temple with our uncle- we were respectful. We were honored to be in the presence of Buddhist Monks and admire the shrines of our Hindu friends.  We thanked the Mayan priest for his blessings in a cloud of smoke before we climbed into a cave. She taught us there were no limits to God's love. No human beings without His image.

I don't really care if people call us holy rollers. This is America and we'll beg for mercy all we can.

I hope when I have children I am as faithful as my mother and can pass down her wise words.

Mom, I'm scared.
Then pray the Rosary as you fall asleep and Mary will protect you.

Mom, I really messed up.
Good thing Jesus makes all things new.

Mom, I don't know what the right thing is.
Ask God and He will help you decide.

Mom, I'm worried.
Trust Him.

Mom, I don't feel anything.
Be still, and know that He is God.

Mom, sometimes I don't believe in God. Sometimes I don't believe He cares.
You know what I'm going to say. Our favorite saying. He still believes in you.

Monday, October 28, 2013

When the Gopsel Punches You in the Face

So it's my last week teaching 7th grade.

I was very fortunate to pick up a long-term sub position at an excellent Catholic Academy just outside of Washington, DC.  Over the past 8 weeks, I've been dying to write, but have scarcely had the time.

Teaching boot camp, as I've fondly been calling it, has been a wonderful experience. I will tell you all about it another time and how much it has changed me, stretched me, awakened me.

I mention it now to explain my lack of blogs. I feel certain you can smell the chalk all over me and might realize I've forgotten my name is Amanda, after being called Miss Hamilton a million times.

But this week. This Sunday. My gosh. I have to share this. It's burning in my heart and I can't sleep.

I've spoken to a few friends about how deeply the Gospel struck me in mass this past Sunday.  I felt as if I'd been sleeping for a long time, and woke up hanging from the reins of a horse off the top of a sky scraper (yes, just like in the movie "true lies"). It was a wake-up call; one that I hope to experience every day for the rest of my life.

We read the contrasting story of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. It's short so I will post it here:

Luke 18:9-14

9 He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being upright and despised everyone else,
10 'Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, "I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here.
12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get."
13 The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
14 This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself upwill be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.'

I stood there as it was read.
I listened intently.
I felt blood rush to my cheeks.
My stomach dropped.
I felt ashamed.

I am like the Pharisee.


I am so often like the Pharisee in this parable.

It humbled me to reflect on how many times I had prayed the same words: "Thank you, God, that I am not like those people."

I know. I'm embarrassed. I should be.

Those with poor educations. Those with addictions. Those with low self esteems or terrible friends. The list could go on.

Somehow I had slipped into the disorder of affirming my own life by pitying the misfortunes of others. This is not sanctified. This is not loving. I doubt God is pleased to hear any sentiment that begins with, "At least I am not blah blah blah."

As I sat down mortified, I thought of the tax collector. He did not even dare to raise his eyes to Heaven.

I believe we are all the Pharisee; I believe we are all the tax collector.

As often as I am prideful, hypocritical and selfish.... I am also my harshest critic. I'm keenly aware of my faults. We all are.

It is a genuine desire for God that brings us to this place in the middle. Walking the line between confidence and pride, for me, is like a tight rope.

There is nothing wrong with thanking God for our lives.  I doubt I will ever look upon someone less fortunate without a deeper appreciation for my own life welling up inside me.  Deep gratitude for our existence is essential for joy to conquer.

But to judge ourselves compared to other people; to see others as less holy; as less deserving of God's love, or even our own time or attention...this is unacceptable.

May I never use the phrase, "At least I am this," or "at least I am not that," ever again.

That attitude sells me short. It sells humanity short. Most of all, it puts some sort of measurement on God's grace, which has no limit.

I don't want the "least" of anything. Not in friendship, not in my career, not in love.

I don't want to offer God enough to feel good; to feel like it's enough.

I want Him to take everything I have. Take my best. Take my most.

He will show me the woman I can be when I let Him in.

The Priest summed it up well. Sinners go to Church. Our presence there is no great token to God.

May our hearts always be honest before Him. May our prayers only be, "God, I beg for your mercy, " instead of, "God, I'm awesome and I showed up so everyone else can see."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Anesthesia of the Heart"

Every day in the ten minutes it takes to walk from the metro to my building, I see at least twenty homeless people.  Men, women, children. They are hungry; hot; dehydrated; dirty; poorly clothed. Sometimes I give them change; sometimes if I have food to spare I'll leave it; most times I can only leave a smile and nod.

So let me be honest. I start to get numb. When you see them everyday, it's so easy to walk past them without even noticing.  Human beings fade into the scenery and it seems normal. 

I look around in the twilight zone and buses are zooming by, people are walking briskly like robots, everyone is screaming over traffic on their cell phones, crying kids are being dragged down the street, bikers are ringing bells, construction workers are drilling...and everyone is afraid to make eye contact...with anyone else.

In the chaos, sometimes I just stop and look. 

This might sound strange, but it's painful. 

When I look at other people, I see joy, but mostly I just see suffering. Real, tangible, difficult suffering. It just feels so heavy and I can never wrap my head around it. It seems like no one cares. Most of the time, I don't even care. We're too tired. It's not our concern. We're just trying to get by.

Then it's hard for me to grasp how God can love so many people; how He loves us all the same no matter what we do or who we are. I spend hours thinking about it but I'll never understand.

Things I fail to understand amaze me; they're the only things worth living for and the only things that can really make me mad.

On one hand, God's unconditional love for us is perfect. It feels like home. It's literally heaven.

On the other hand, in my weakness, as if we can compare ourselves to Him, I'm so frustrated by all the ways we fail to love...all the conditions I put on my love, even when I'm dying not to. Sometimes trying to care for people feels like climbing Mount Everest barefoot. Why is it so hard to do?

This brings me to two places. 

A, a dear friend sent me a homily Pope Francis gave that affirmed I - and the many of you I'm sure  have similar notions that trouble you- are not alone in our concern for humanity's depart from union with each other.

And B, another dear friend gave me a gem the other day I'd like to share that I think goes hand in hand with this topic. I was complaining about something or other being hard and she replied, "What is easy?"

Pope Francis visited an Italian island called Lampedusa earlier this month to say a memorial mass for the African immigrants who died trying to reach Europe. The full link to his homily is here. In it he said:

"The culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalization of indifference."

Globalization of indifference. Yikes. I've never been able to put my finger on it, but that rings a bell. He goes on:

"We ask forgiveness for the indifference towards so many brothers and sisters, we ask forgiveness for those who are pleased with themselves, who are closed in on their own well-being in a way that leads to the anesthesia of the heart."

That last part really got me, and reminded me of my friend's advice. She asked me what was easy. 

It's easy to anesthetize our hearts. 

In fact, it's the normal reaction to fear. Maybe if we don't feel as much, it won't hurt as much when something painful happens. Like when a loved one dies; or the person you love doesn't love you back; or you have to confront the real presence of evil in the world and the swings it will take at your faith.

But life is not a procedure we need anesthesia to pull through.

Life is this stunning, messy, unpredictable precious gift; and our hearts can weather many storms.

The numbness used to comfort me.  If you're still in that place, I promise you, it will pass. If you ask, He will lead you out of any darkness. And if you're kicking and screaming, trust me, He is patient. He will awaken your soul gently and you will feel the blood run through your veins with joy again.

"The easy path is not worth walking." I saw that engraved on an antique wedding ring a few weeks ago. (Which is awesome.)

It's funny. Lately is the first time I've considered "the easy path" is not just a cop-out, it's a burden. It doesn't even pull its own weight. You don't break even. 

A numb heart does not pull its own weight. I would rather bleed out every last drop, loving with all my heart, than retreat to its shallow beating. I have never regretted feeling too much; only when I stopped myself from feeling at all.

I want to take the hard path. Every day. In all ways. Because we can. We can help each other do it. 

Difficulty is real. Every person struggles with different things- that's what makes it beautiful and worth it. 
For me, it is hard to maintain kindness to others; hard to keep applying for other jobs; hard to eat healthy and exercise; hard to keep hope in my dreams when they seem so far; hard to pray...the hardest to trust God.

But difficulty is not an excuse, it's the gift of motivation. 

Let's keep fighting for friendships  Let's keep protecting our families and holding them close. Let's keep doing our parts to build an American culture worth dying for.

Most of the time we won't be moving mountains. I have to remind myself, since I am not God, I can not love everyone at all times. So start with yourself. Start with the person in front of you. That homeless man on the street; your chatty neighbor; your unruly co-worker; your tired spouse; the new girl in class.

May God call us out of ourselves and keep our hearts awake. 
May He protect us from this plague of indifference.

(And as a tiny favor, may He take some of my personal maddening jealousy for all the pilgrims at World Youth Day in Rio. Honestly, I can't even talk about it. First born child watch out, your name will probably be Francis.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Time to Ditch Your Measuring Sticks

I’ve been trying to write this blog for weeks.  As a quasi-perfectionist by nature, each draft has simply fallen short. I don’t know if it’s because I’m having a tough Lent (tough as in lazy verging on non-existent)…or if this topic has, in fact, been the main focus of my Lent; so it’s tough to express accurately. It’s the topic of measurement.

In this strange transition out of college, I struggle a lot with how I measure myself. All the tangible ways I found my value have been ripped from under me. No more papers. No more exams. No more classes to ace half asleep. Many of my awesome friends- a direct reminder of my worth- are miles away.  I left a job I loved; a place where I worked hard and felt truly treasured; where I saw visible fruits of my labor.  I left my first apartment, a beacon of independence and self expression. I left pieces of my heart with good men, no longer there as part of my identity. I left my beloved state of Florida, whose soil has mixed with my soul and whose spirit runs through my veins, giving me a sense of peace about the world.  I left the altars and quiet chapels where I fell deeper in love with God. I left the town I really grew up in- and all its affirmation, its encouragement that I know who I am- had to travel a thousand miles north.

In the perfect summer after graduation, full of lazy river floats, lots of wine and sandy clothes, I remember saying to my friends, “I’m nervous, guys. Because when I move home, I’ll find out if I really am who I think I am.”

I sensed then, without knowing exactly, that my view of myself was about to be challenged. All the ways I calculated my value- let’s call them measuring sticks of life- were about to experience a huge shift in data. At first, I thought my measuring sticks would disappear, or that I would get new ones.  You know- more adult scales- but that wasn’t true. The ways I measure myself are exactly the same; the only difference is now, when I’m alone, I see how destructive they are.

These are my measuring sticks.


I’m 22 years old. I have two bachelor’s degrees. I’m smart, outgoing, and hard-working. Still, I’m not sure what career I want to pursue. I’ve transitioned through 3 temporary jobs in 8 months. Graduating simultaneously feels like yesterday and a vague thought from a different life. And when I’m honest, in many ways I still feel like a child.

I see my peers on different paths. Getting married. Having kids. Working full time jobs with their own apartments. Making tons of money.  Just when I’m confident I know what I want, I start to feel like I’m not enough.  I start to question all the sacrifices I’ve made for the lifestyle I want; I wonder if I’m wasting time, wasting my talents. I always feel like I’m waiting.


Sometimes it’s tough having such smokin’ hot friends.  Especially when they’re beautiful inside and out. We’re told beauty is fleeting; that vanity is unbecoming. It’s true; I hope I can always be ready to leave in 10 minutes and care more about my brain than my lack of makeup. 

Yet still, I’ll be honest- feeling beautiful and desirable as a woman plays a huge role in how I view myself.  We dress ourselves every morning; I know I think about it. Oh, I’m having a  bad hair day; I feel bloated; these bags under my eyes make me look old; I need to whiten my teeth; I should have worn another shirt….the list goes on and on. The questions roll in like poison, too. Am I pretty enough to date this guy or run in this circle of friends? Will men prefer my friends to me because they’re so beautiful? Or any other woman for that matter? They’re petty questions- with obvious answers- and still, they always pop into my mind.

I’m openly careful with my weight, too. I’ve lost thirty pounds on weight watchers…but for me it’s still not enough. My healthy body now seems fat again. It’s never enough to stop and see how far I’ve come. Those last twenty pounds seem like fifty.  Everything will be better when I slip into those jeans a size down. But isn’t that what I said about the jeans that are getting lose now?


My effort to stay thin, certainly vanity in part, is mostly the desire to stay healthy. I work really hard to stay active because there’s a direct positive correlation with my joy and quality of life. It hurts me to stay inside when I could be outside. So I get into biking; I try skiing; I keep jogging; I never turn down hiking. I kick-box and swim anywhere there’s water. And I love it…but I always want more. I’m okay at everything- but not really an expert in anything. I see other girls at the gym killing it in basketball or running laps around me. I know incredible athletes- and I’m so happy for them- but it sucks to feel stuck on the JV team of life- scared of heights, pretty uncoordinated and generally slow.


I’m an addict for new places. I can’t get enough new experiences. Camping at the Grand Canyon; walking through the red wood forest; ice fishing in Alaska; looking out from the top of the Eiffel tower; driving the coast of California…those are just some from my bucket list. There are so many places I want to go and things I want to do! I start to feel irresponsible- sometimes placing more value in my external environment than my internal peace. I ache for freedom, for adventure- sometimes as the cost of relationships, or simply ignoring issues in my life I should take time to examine.


Sometimes we’re made to feel like holiness comes in a visible package. If we do this or say that, or follow these rules, we’ll be holy. As if God could love us any more or less depending on our outward appearances. In college, and even sometimes now, I worried so much about fitting into a mold of holiness that crippled me. Sometimes I’m so busy comparing myself to others, I start to accept a negative view of myself: I cuss too much; I’m aggressive and vulgar; I enjoy the occasional drink and smoke, I question authority and definitely like kissing men…so  there must be something wrong with me. I’m extremely private about my prayer and communion with God so it must be non-existent. I’m not devoting enough time helping others. I’m letting God down if I don’t do x, y, z.

So those are the extreme negative measurements…but I think you get my point. I don’t lie in bed at night and give myself a grade in each category. But it is the little daily things that add up.  That slight pang of jealousy when someone you know lands their dream job, or gets accepted into their dream grad program.  That moment when I find another grey hair or notice my skin is no longer seventeen. All the times I have to move over and avoid crashing when faster bikers race past me screaming, “Left!”  The hours I spend working on a computer, really dreaming of blue water and clear skies in a foreign place.  The times when I’m too tired to pray, or simply don’t feel like talking to God.

When I measure myself on such harsh, material scales, it’s no wonder I constantly fall short. So why is it I put myself through such scrutiny? I know in my mind the positive measurements on these scales- so why do I not feel it in my heart? Where did I get these scales? What good can come from this evaluation?

All these questions have been in my mind lately. Now, I’m not really one to quote scripture. I don’t know why, but it always sort of makes me blush. It feels so personal. But this past Palm Sunday, we read Luke’s gospel in mass and this one part always brings me to tears. If I had nothing else but this passage, it would touch me differently each day forever.

It’s the part when the repentant criminal on Christ’s side rebukes the other derisive criminal, Luke 23:40-43.

“Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? We indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

It struck me deeply because I realized, in a way, this is a measurement. The repentant thief measures his actions and takes responsibility. But this next part, this is what’s really important. Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re right, you’re guilty, I can’t help you.” Instead he says words that change the world; that I need to get out of bed every morning; the only words that renew my hope in something more than my failures.

He says, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

And in these precious, few moments of clarity, I realize all these measurements are empty if they have no hope. They have some value; ambition for success, happiness, joy- these are healthy desires- but not without this perspective. Not without the deep and unwavering belief that God loves us just as we are.


I have the love of two amazing parents, a brother and sister-in-law, and countless family members. I’m a damn good friend where I root my loyalty, and I know I have friends who would die for me.  I’m a pretty good writer- must be if you made it this far.  I believe the purpose of this life is to make it back to God, and I count that gift as a success. I want for nothing. I’m successful in so many ways.


I have a beautiful, healthy body and mind. On the outside my mama gave me big ole’ baby browns, killer hair and ladylike curves.  On the inside, she gave me a fire that’s always burning, reminding me what I look like has little to do with who I am, and to expect that attitude in others. God did design the human body so beautifully, so creatively. It’s normal to appreciate that; but when I get past that initial thought, and consider the whole person, I see it is people’s hearts that are so beautiful. Sacrifice, kindness, forgiveness- these are the only types of beauty that last. Romance will fall and rise like the tides until it's time to dock. And that will only happen with a man who can see with more than just his eyes.


Um, hello. I can jog five miles when I once could not. I survived a ski left. (Let’s choose our battles, Amanda.)

Again, girl please. Florida. Chicago. Boston. Philadelphia. HAWAII. No one feels bad for me. I save every penny to blow it on trips. Because it’s worth it. Rest of the main land United States, here I come. Oahu, wait for me. I will always love you.

But seriously. The best adventures I’ve taken are journeys with other human souls. No where on earth could replace the people I love. The land beneath our feet should only lead us to one another.

God loved me, each of you, into being; I think that sums it up.

I just want to break my measuring sticks in half. For me and all the other people I measure with them. He will never tell us we’re not enough. Instead I want to ask myself only one question- am I humbly and fervently asking Christ to remember me in His kingdom? Because His answer always sets me free.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"We Seemed To Be Two Bodies With A Single Spirit"

"In our earthly life, next to the love of parents and siblings, one of the best expressions of affection is friendship. Every day, I thank God for giving me such good friends, who are a precious guide for my life." 
-Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Yesterday I finished Pier Giorgio’s biography with teary eyes on the metro. I knew it would end with his sudden and young death and still it caught me off guard. The story of his life- “an ordinary Christian” -is really amazing. He’s known for his compassion and charity, caring for “his poor” with all his heart and strength in God’s name. 

He was athletic, funny, handsome; respectful and humble; he pulled friendly pranks and got in fist fights, though he climbed a mountain each morning to receive the Eucharist and served the poor in secret. He’s admirable for too many reasons to start listing. It’s clear why JPII calls him a saint for the young.

Yet out of everything, two things struck me the most about him: his deep and real affection for his friends and his constant awareness of death. For me- the two are inevitably related. I find the deepest, most satisfying friendships are those rooted in the fact this life is fleeting. When I first met death, my initial responses were anger and fear. I thought it would be better to never love anyone that much again, if loss could feel like that.

It was frankly an obstacle in all of my relationships. It’s hard to get close to anyone, fearing they will die and another part of you will die again. It takes time to move past the feeling like your loved one dies each day again.

My family and my dear friends from childhood were already etched in my heart indelibly. I would love them unto death, for sure. It was everyone else. At eighteen, I felt I had no room left in my heart. As I moved to Florida alone, I knew I would have to make friends- but they would never have to know. How could they know I was a robot? It was a chance to start fresh, where I could really start over, keeping everyone around me at arm’s length. (Ha. That really worked out.)

As time went on, the numbness started to fade. Life tends to fling us forward even when we’re busy looking back. I prayed for the fear to subside, to feel again, to let myself care for others the way my heart longed to. I thought I would somehow get back to “normal.” Frankly, He had other plans for me. I felt as if the embers of my heart had turned to stone. So instead of relighting the flame, He just set my whole life on fire….burning lifelong friends deep into my heart. He sent me to people I couldn’t ignore; whose smiles were too joyful; whose laughs slowly sunk into my soul; whose passions were too strong to ever let me go.

The friendships I formed in college- either with new friends, or building on maturing friendships from home- saved my life. He’s given me people I’ve loved more than I knew was possible, and who love me in return, sometimes more than I deserve. They helped me see I was afraid of the wrong thing: death is not our enemy, but rather lacking something to die for.

Friendship….real, hard, wonderful friendship….that’s worth dying for.

Back in January, in the office of the readings, there was an excerpt from one of St. Gregory Nazianzen’s sermons about his friendship with Basil the Great.  It’s really quite moving, a link for the readings is at the bottom. Here are my favorite parts:

“Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.

When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.

Between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own.

We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit.

Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.

 Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.”

It’s just beautiful. These words are often in my mind, for as much as I think of my friends, which is a lot. I stand constantly in awe of them- and we all appreciate the value we have found in one another- but reading Pier Giorgio’s biography let it really sit in my soul.

I have incredible friends. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them.

Pier Giorgio’s satirical name for the group of friends he climbed mountains with was the “shady characters society.” It’s nice to know even saints have their favorites…and silly names for them. He said, “We believe that even when we reach the tomb, the 'shady characters' will remember each other in prayer.” Surely, his friends mourned his passing greatly. Their descriptions of his irreplaceable spirit, his "purifying joy," make that clear. Yet they knew, out of them all, he was always prepared for that day to come.  

He once said after experiencing the death of a classmate, "Since one never knows when death will come to take us away, it is wise to prepare ourselves each day as if it were our last. Therefore, from now on I am going to try to do a little something each day to prepare myself for death, so that when death finally does come I will not be caught unprepared and regret those wonderful years of youth wasted from a spiritual point of view."

With my friends, I am alive again, because they point me back to Him. When life is really hard and we question everything we believe in, everything we give our lives for, everything we die for, they say, “Hey, I know this sucks, but it's worth it. Everything will be okay.” They teach me patience, loyalty, fortitude, charity. They teach me how to pray, how to forgive, how to let go, how to love.

So thank you, my dear friends. I think you know what you mean to me. Your faces are in my mind when I wake up and my prayers when I lay down at night. This post is getting long- so next time I’ll expand on how to be a kick-ass friend like you. I could really go on for days. For now, know I’m thinking of you always.  Happy Valentine’s Day (the joke holiday before we drink with St. Patty…. Just kidding. Sorry St. Valentine- your (assumed real) martyrdom epitomizes my entire point, actually.) Long live friendship and consumer driven holidays.

*Biography: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, An Ordinary Christian, by Maria di Lorenzo

(Toward the bottom of page: Sts. Gregory and Basil, Jan 2nd)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Shaking Mittens with Mat Kearney

Thursday I had the great privilege of seeing one of my favorite musicians, Mat Kearney, live at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University in DC.  The show was spectacular like I knew it would be. If you’re not familiar with Mat’s music…you need to be. Go YouTube it right now; better yet, just buy his albums outright, you’ll thank me.

I danced, sang, and cried the entire concert because I was so happy. I’m forever indebted to my friends who introduced me to this music. I like a lot of music; I love and feel personally connected to few songs. Yet in my short life, many of those songs have been Mat Kearney’s.  Like Mumford and Sons, Boston, Josh Groban- to name a few others- this is good, quality music. You can’t just listen to this music; experience it, feel it, breathe it in. Without fear of sounding batty because it’s just true- listening to music can be a legit spiritual experience when it speaks to your soul and seems to recognize your very existence.

So the concert was amazing. But my favorite part of the night was something a little better, namely, shaking hands with Mat himself on the street.

Imagine this: my Thursday had been long. The metro rides were crowded, I worked all day, my papercut hands and blistered feet were just annoying, and I was starving. Waking up that day to see Mat Kearney was my only consolation to a twitching eye from lack of sleep.

It was a few hours before the concert. I got to GW early, waiting on my mom and friend, Kelliann, to take the metro into town after work as well. I had an hour to kill, so I bundled up and started wandering, looking for a place to eat a few blocks from the concert hall. As I got off the metro, I remember thinking to myself, “Mat seems so cool and down to earth. I bet he’s wandering around the city, too, with a coffee or something, like a normal person.” I hastily shook any ideas of meeting him out of my head; but secretly, deep in my heart, I wished it. It would be so cool to say, “Your music really helps a lot of people. It helps me believe in God and in humanity. I’m really glad you’re alive, Mat Kearney, and I hope you have an awesome life.” You know… if I ever had the chance, that’s what I would say.

So I walked and walked. Took in the university, a part of town I had never seen; smiled at an old couple holding hands, exchanging a sweet little kiss as we waited to cross the street; and wandered alone for a good thirty minutes. I thought of my friends in Florida and how much I miss them. I thought about my broken heart and wondered if it would always be like this. I thought about how much God loves me and how I rarely see it because I’m such a brat.

And as I turned around to head back to the metro, a sudden and deep sadness came over me in a striking pang. The kind that hurts and takes your breath away, and the more you’re annoyed with your own weakness, the more it hurts. So many of the things I don’t understand just welled up inside me at once. I felt like a foreigner in this town that’s supposed to feel like home; I felt too cold for my heart to breathe; in some strange way, I simply felt alone.

Just then, as I fought back tears, hands shoved in my pockets, looking at the ground, I noticed a group of men approaching on the sidewalk. I looked up to see the best way to get around them…and, let’s be real, what girl doesn't look up at a group of men walking by, and suddenly, as if I were dreaming, Mat Kearney and his band appeared, in one large wave, coming straight at me.

Now, I’m a pretty confident woman. I can hardly remember a time I didn't know what to say or was too nervous to speak, but this moment, of sheer joy and surprise, hit me so hard in such contrast to my previous moment, I could barely stand.

Everything happened in about 15 seconds. They approached, I stood like a brick wall, grinning from ear to ear like a huge idiot on the sidewalk.  He was just like I thought he would be- confident, cool, normal looking. I assumed they were looking for some eats before the show.

It happened so fast that all of this is blurry. I approached, muttering something like, “Mat! Oh my gosh, I’m so excited for the show, I can’t wait to hear you guys. You’re so great, I just love you, my name is Amanda, I’m so happy.”

The poor guy was on the phone, on his way to enjoy the few precious minutes of his free time. I remember wondering if he was on the phone with his wife and just feeling so happy- I wish I could have screamed out that I love her too, and I’m so thankful she’s alive for him to love- because the songs he writes about her are so wonderful. I could feel myself freezing up, just smiling like a crazy person and trying to process such an innocent moment of pure joy. I could feel his band members looking at me, probably laughing, but I honestly didn't even care.

He was so kind, to pause a minute and shake my hand. I extended my blue fuzzy mitten to shake the hand of such a talented man. I said, “My name’s Amanda”, and he smiled. And for me that was enough.

I stepped aside, dazed, and ushered them to continue on- “You’re probably eating or something, I’m sorry, please enjoy your time before the show, I can’t wait,” I said, and he turned to wave goodbye.

Then I stood there for a whole minute, just smiling and crying, taking in the feeling that for me, felt like love.  Love for Mat Kearney, yes, but mostly for God. Mat’s music is awesome and he’s awesome- evident in his extreme kindness toward speechless fans- but I wasn't speechless because I love Mat Kearney- I was speechless because meeting him wasn't an accident. I often feel like a lucky person, when in reality I’m just very loved by God and every once in a while, when I doubt Him, His gestures are pretty grand.

I didn't say ANY of the things I wish I had said, but that’s okay. The crowd showed him the love he deserves and he must know how much his music means to people. He said at the concert that his music is his way of processing his life- how he makes sense of it all- and I laughed thinking, wow, it’s how I process a lot, too.

So Mat, if by chance you’re reading this because I’m totally tagging you on FaceBook and Twitter, thanks for being so nice to that girl on the sidewalk. I’m not some crazy groupie- but meeting you felt like seeing an old friend for the first time in a long time, and I was struck down by the wonders of this crazy life. It may have meant meeting another fan to you, but it meant a lot to me. I’m so very grateful for your work, and that you share your heart with so many. I pray your life is everything you want it to be, and for your family. My father was in the Air Force and he was gone a lot of my childhood; your life on the road must not be easy- know it is appreciated.

Your music sets the bar for what we expect out of life: friendships worth dying for; love worth fighting for; joy worth working for. Thank you. Some of my friends love your music so much, they pray for a spot next to you in Heaven so we can hear you sing forever. So keep it real, man, and don't let Hollywood take anything from you. 

(For my dream life I'm saving money to hire you for my wedding music. I will save A LOT and plan around your tour. It will be the best wedding ever, and everyone will be watching you so me and my husband can leave the reception early, thank God. You'll hear from me in 5-7 years.)

So my friends, when you think He’s not listening- He really, really is. This was the equivalent of a million roses and chocolate for a year- but hey- I’ll take it. When a man loves a woman, he gets to know her heart.

(My favorite Mat Kearney songs include: Crashing Down, Fire and Rain, Hey Mama, Ships in the Night, Here We Go, She Got the Honey, Runaway, Young Dumb and in Love. Enjoy.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What Kind of Pro-Life Generation Are We?

Last week marked the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the legalization of abortion in the United States. If you’re reading this blog, you shouldn't be surprised to find out I’m a social conservative. Hello, I’m Catholic. If you’re up for it, give me ten minutes. I’m not one to get in screaming fits or start throwing bibles, but I’m sure not one to stay silent, either.

Of those 40 years, I’ve participated in the Nation’s March for Life for the past 9. It’s the least I can do, for the other third of my generation that didn’t make it out of the womb; and it’s an honor as an American, to embrace the rights of the first amendment, hard earned and protected with worthy deaths. Each year I march I’m blown away by people’s determination. It’s not a piece of cake.  The day is truly a pilgrimage. People don’t travel twenty hours or more on buses to march for nothing; we don’t wake up at 4 am to stay up 24 hours, or march in 18 degree snow and ice for nothing; and we certainly don’t march for media coverage. HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people show up every year- and it’s barely covered on the news. This year was 500,000 plus.

So why do we march? Better yet, why are we pro-life at all? Being Pro-Life is often likened to being racist or sexist- it’s judgmental, some people think. Being openly pro-life has earned me many labels over the years: prude, holy roller, religious freak, oppressed zombie, crazy b****, to name a few. I’ll admit it- the constant belittlement makes the counter arguments sound tempting. 

It’s easier to mind our own business; women’s bodies shouldn't be on political agendas. “I don’t agree with abortion, but I wouldn't tell a woman she couldn't get one”… “Women should have the right to choose.” Fear invites us to believe it’s not our place to speak, that each person does have a “right to choose”. Well, I’m all about supporting choices- but why is choosing to believe life begins at conception the only choice allowed to be discounted?

Sometimes the truth is not easy to believe. But after years of skepticism, serious questioning and deliberation, I have found the Catholic Church’s teachings on sex, contraception and abortion to be true. I would still believe them even if I did not believe in God at all. They’re not popular; they’re not easy to live out; but they are logical, and most importantly, they demand the truest form of love, which is sacrifice.

We Are Not Pro-Life if We’re Not First Pro-Love

“We are the Pro-Life Generation.” I’ve heard that a lot lately. It’s beautiful- and I try to live up to that standard in my own life- but this year, particularly, I’ve been asking myself what that means exactly. I am a dedicated member of the Pro-Life movement- yet, as a young woman in the modern world, I recognize some misdirection the movement continues to make. In frank terms, I understand why some people hate us.  I’ve been thinking lately about how much it’s necessary to first be pro-love before we can be authentically pro-life.

“Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” is a phrase I’ve never forgotten from a few pro-choice protests I’ve witnessed. Pretty sacrilegious, maybe hurtful to some, but you have to admit it’s a rather clever pun. The first young woman I remember holding that sign was a classmate of mine in college; she had worn a pin all week that said, “I stand with Planned Parenthood.” She was bright, kind, eager to help women. I wondered what she would do if I wore a pin that said, “I stand with the American Catholic Church. Keep your birth control off the Constitution.” I didn’t want to start a fist fight in the middle of Shakespeare, however poetic.

That girl was just like me. Friendly, ambitious, a little sassy- and I bet she really believed she was helping women. It killed me there was such a disconnect. How could we be so similar and believe such fundamentally different things? She believed abortion on demand, free contraception, and discrediting the religious liberty of a nation was the definition of freedom for modern women. I ached for a solution- a way to reach people like her- convinced that religious fanatics or enslaved patriarchal masses are somehow threatening her way of life; when all we’re trying to do is stand up for love. A love that, in fact, has her personal best interests in mind.

I do know how we DON’T reach them: by failing to love. And we fail to love each time we don’t consider the situation holistically. I get it. You’re pissed- the massive, unbearable loss weighs on my heart every day.  It’s mind numbing to live in a society where the value of life is measured with usefulness. How far will the line get pushed? Only children who are wanted are born.  We have lawmakers pushing third trimester abortions. What’s next? Will we execute the elderly when they cease to function? The disabled and handicapped, too? And us? Our generation where so many don't have jobs? There would be more room without us, too.

You should be infuriated. Every day I feel insane when what is crystal clear to me is denied by so many. But we can’t let these rants control our actions. Our religious liberty, the very nature of our humanity is under attack, yes, but we are kind people. We are people of patience, logic, and generous love. Manipulation, ignorance, shaming others? There is no place for these things among us. There is no time to lose hearts with negligence.

We must remember what it means to be pro-life. That each abortion begins with a woman- and man- neglected real love. It is easy to condemn her; to call her a murderer, a sinner. Judgment only passes along fear and hatred- obviously- turning the rosary into a weapon, a threat. Love smiles at those women, and says, “I can help you,” without question. The wrath of God is real indeed, but so is His mercy. Read a newspaper- our feeble mirrors of His wrath are not working.  Why don’t we try mirrors of compassion instead?

Love thinks before it speaks. “We love babies, yes we do, we love babies, how ‘bout you?” is often chanted at the march. I hate this. It’s utterly disrespectful. Do you think those women backed into the corner of abortion hate children? They’re human beings, like you and me. Do not rob them of their maternal love in their darkness; it will push them farther from the light.

Love respects the dead. Those graphic pictures with the gruesome reality of abortion have their place. In medical books, in court cases, in discretion. The remnants of the dead do not belong on billboards. Murder photographs are not put into slideshows. It is counter-productive to our cause.

Love, above all is sacrifice. To be pro-life is to embrace a lifestyle of sacrifice, in all things.  We sacrifice our pride, our talents, even our own bodies, because we recognize the very sanctity of life, as we are made in the image of God. This starts with valuing our own lives and that reverence ripples out like waves in a pond.

Sacrifice waste and carelessness. Trade in the world found in pop songs where young people think themselves invincible. We are not. Instead, invest in your health, your mind, your future. Don’t text and drive or speed- that crap kills people. Friends make friends wear seatbelts; you’re laughing now, until your friends are dead.  Don’t kill your livers; don’t ruin your lungs with smoke; in fact, avoid all addictions except the high of gratitude. Break cycles of violence and abuse by sacrificing your pride. Life is far too short.

Sacrifice your time and energy. Call your grandparents and care for the elderly. Treat the poor, homeless, disabled and different like human beings.  Be proud of young women or couples that choose life, no matter their circumstance; be ready to console the ones who don’t. They don’t need forgiveness from you- only themselves and from God. Help them.

The greatest and most effective sacrifice is that of our own desires. It seems impossible to save sex for marriage. My friends, it’s difficult, but not impossible. I dare you to completely sell out for love. A love so strong, it can’t be bound with any limits. It needs no contraception, no abortion. A love that has no mistakes, because it’s total self gift. Give your lives to God and He will show you how inconsequential sex is without love; how incomplete love is without sacrifice; and how that’s only found in the cross.

So to my fellow Pro-Life generation, I beg you. Stand up for love while we stand up for life. Those who stand against us were once in the womb, too. Give them no reason to discredit us.  Educate yourselves. Research what you believe in. Only then can we patiently and firmly sacrifice our lives to show them love.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My Frozen Stubborn Senses

I had become a great enigma to myself and asked my soul why it was so sad and why it caused me so much distress. And my soul did not know what to answer. If I said, “Trust in God,” my soul very rightly did not obey me, because the dearest friend whom it had lost was more real and better than the fantastic god in whom it was told to trust. Only tears were my consolation, and tears had taken the place of my friend in my heart’s love.” -St. Augustine, The Confessions

This passage has been very useful to me over the years.  The sentiment comforts me; there’s something about knowing “a holy dead guy” shares similar feelings to us all that just allows me to breathe easier (thank you, Ellen). I love this passage mostly because its transparency is overwhelming.

“…because the dearest friend whom it had lost was more real and better than the fantastic god in whom it was told to trust”

I may have wept when I first stumbled upon this gem. It felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. There, someone said it. I could admit it: it’s a very difficult thing to trust God, especially when you’re mad at Him.  I too have lost loved ones and had to confront reality straight on.  My greatest struggles perhaps all originate with this problem: the complicated relationship between the reality of our material, physical world and an unseen, all powerful God.  

I feel like I’m very aware and influenced by sensory things. Smells, sounds, sights, tastes, touches. We all are.  The mistake is to believe they’re the only things that are real; a mistake that’s very hard to overcome.  It’s a mistake that leads to despair- for when things are lost, it seems eternal. If nothing else but what I can see, feel or touch is real… then surely my sorrow is eternal. Faces lost are lost forever.  

That’s where trust comes in. It’s so much easier to trust in sensory things. The safety of a locked door. The satisfaction of a good meal. The comfort of a man’s arms.  All good things- and yet, they are still not eternal. It took me a while to figure out I could not trust someone I didn’t know.  Thus began both the simplest and most complex journey any person can travel- asking God who He is.  Asking Him who I am; why I should bother caring what He thinks; and what the heck I’m supposed to be doing on this earth. And like any loving parent, He lets me ask the same questions over and over; even days when He knows I’m not listening to the answers.

Lately, the bitter cold has been flooding my sensory universe. Seasonal depression is real, folks. Stock up on hot cocoa and blankets. Pictures of the beach all over your room may or may not be helpful. Maryland is my home, but most know I’m a Florida girl at heart. My emotions being tied so closely with my senses has proved for a tough first winter back at home.

My blood has thinned. I ache for the sun; my bones cry out for the warm gentle breezes. I miss how the moonlight falls on palm trees.  I miss the sand in my toes and seeing endless green.  I miss the comfort of being swallowed up whole in the gigantic ocean. Here, the trees are bare and cold.  The duck pond across the street is lovely, but a bit small. I’m trying to be calm and react like a rational human being, but I’m not doing the best job.

The other night, as I left my brother and sister-in-law’s house, it had snowed. It was freezing cold with biting wind. I screamed and complained as I scraped the half inch of ice off my car. I cursed the wind and ice; shouting profanities about how I didn’t belong in cold weather, about how much I hate dealing with it at all. It was a scene of shameless brattiness. It was a dusting; I am better than that.

As I drove home and my fingers re-gained feeling, defrost warming my car, my mind slipped away from itself and back to the cold. But this time, I thought of all the homeless people who must be outside freezing. The children whose coats are too thin; the little fingers that have no gloves, when I have many to choose from at home. I was suddenly ashamed of myself.

“Do they trust God?” I asked myself. I have everything, and still I doubt Him.  My sensory world lacks nothing: warm car, good music, pleasant scenery. At home I’ll be greeted with a home cooked meal, comfy bed, a closet full of clothes. My parents will hug and kiss me, they’ll love me. My regular Monday night is more privileged than some other human being’s whole lives. Still, I have the audacity to complain and lack satisfaction.

Sadly, my reaction to the cold is so often similar to my response to God. I don’t like dealing with it at all. I don’t like being powerless. I don’t like being out of my comfort zone.  All these things can be said about our sensory climate and our relationships with the big guy.

The solution to both problems is simple. So simple it seems impossible and funny at the same time. It’s always to let go. Put on some gloves, stop screaming about how cold you are, reconcile with the fact you’re not literally going to freeze- and be a grown up who’s capable of scraping the ice off her windshield. When I stop fighting the cold- I realize how much I can take it.

When I stop fighting God, I’m humbled by how much He gives me. I hold onto things so tightly- always having a backup plan in case He doesn’t come through- and only when I let go can He actually get things done.  Luckily, as Catholics, our sacramental faith gives us plenty of sensory truths.

In a way that fills all my senses God is real. I see His love and mercy in others. I hear His power when the wind blows, when the waves crash, when my loved ones speak. I smell His gifts in every cup of coffee, every stroll around the lake. I taste Him in bread and wine. I feel Him with every breath, each moment I’m alive.

To trust Him is to believe in something bigger than ourselves, than our senses. He’s so generous to come to us even there, in our humanity which He created and shared.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

5 Exercise Tips for Aging Young Adults

1. We NEED to Stretch Now

Y’all, we’re not 16 anymore. I know- two-a-day’s at football, soccer, or field hockey practice don’t seem like that long ago. But they were. We’re now twenty-something’s. Our muscles are literally twenty years old. Like the chipped wood paneling in the bathroom. Like…wait. Most things don’t live or last that long. 

We need to stretch. Running a block= stretching for at least 10 minutes. Don’t let your pride trick you! Not stretching will make it hard to walk. You will be embarrassed as your father springs up the stairs and you’re still at the bottom. You will hurt sitting down, anywhere. Then you will be too sore to exercise the next day.

Use stretching as your “you” time. Be happy you just exercised; be happy you’re done. The only way to touch our toes in ten years is touching them every day until then. Or say you’re jogging, shamelessly out of breath, and kids on bikes are approaching. Inevitably…they will pass you. They will hear your wheezing. But wait! There’s a tree to save you. You pause, stretching your calves on the friendly bark. Your breathing slows. They pass, smiling and wave. “She’s so cool,” they’re thinking. “I want to jog like her when I graduate middle school.” Stretching just saved you. Become best friends with stretching.

2.  Get “Couch to 5K” Immediately

You think running is only for super athletic people. Jumping gazelles who have never counted calories in their lives. It’s not true. Your ankles are just as good, your calves just as ready to be formed. A few months ago, I could barely jog a mile. I admit it. In college, we barely sleep; we only have time for fast food; our livers are under attack. I simply had no time to learn to run.

I don’t endorse many things- but Couch to 5K- an app on my iPhone- turned me into a jogger. I had been trying for years. It just never worked.  I would give up, discouraged because it always seemed too hard. Even in high school- I played defense on the Field Hockey team because I was a slow runner. It didn’t matter then- my hip checks and not fearing bruises/ broken bones were enough to get the job done. Swim team? Pshh, we don’t run.  

But with C25K- I can jog for miles. I am slow, yes, but who cares? My jeans from high school are fitting. I could now effectively run away from a bad guy, God forbid.  Now I can jog for the rest of my life. It’s the best exercise because you can do it anywhere. Marathons are still far away- but healthy is happy. Toning exercises and gyms are great-but jogging works miracles.

Get shoes that fit, follow the program! It seems silly at first- walk, walk, walk- jog for five seconds- but pace yourself! It’s only 3 days a week, don’t skip ahead! Soon, you will see you can jog longer without feeling like death. Take notice of your breathing. I breathe in for 3 seconds, out for 4, which is harder than it seems. Go download it now. Totally free.

If you don’t have an iPhone- Google interval running apps. You should be able to find something.

3. Give Biking a Try

When I moved home, I invested in a nice, durable adult bike. Not that I don’t love my purple princess bike- but my legs are a bit longer, now. My parents and I discovered this beautiful bike trail, not far from our house. Soon we were out there almost every other day. Beginning bikers, don’t be discouraged! The local bike shops may seem snobby, if you’re not sure which bike you want or how to take it apart and put it back together, but ignore it. You don’t need the fancy bike clothes or aspirations to be in the Tour de France. Take it a day at a time; don’t get hit by a car.

Get to know your bike. Make sure the back break is not permanently on- making the first few weeks really difficult to ride. Your legs will be like steel- but you might cry a few times, as your parents fly past you on their beach cruisers, while you’re sweating on the bike you spent a paycheck on. Thank you, bike friend, for taking the invisible break off.

Do not wear baggy clothes, they might catch on the pedals and you will wreck; don’t try doing 12 miles immediately, you’ll have a hard time walking back to the car; when your seat is too high, stopping abruptly may cause you to fly forward onto the bar…and ladies, this still hurts.

Biking is great because it’s less impact on your joints. Since you’re jogging 3 times a week, give them a rest.  Biking gets you outside to watch the seasons change. There’s a feeling of success covering so much ground in a short period of time. There’s a feeling of such freedom.  Let the wind carry you away from all your problems. Take deep breaths; share the ride with friends and family. When you’re ready- move up to biking mountain trails. When you’re crazy, try riding with no hands. I will never be able to do this, but I’ve seen it done.

4. Don’t Underestimate Proper Clothes

It’s genius trying to exercise in the winter in a tank top. Wrong! It’s cold now. Maryland is not Florida. My jogging experience was 100% better with some ear warmers, running gloves, and $9 long pants from Wal-Mart. You may need a long sleeve shirt and jacket. You may need spandex or long johns. It might be 35 degrees. Don’t be a baby. You’ve got this. (I mean don’t go outside if it’s raining or snowing, I don’t suggest sickness…but yeah, suck it up.)

Your nose and cheeks will be rosier, but hey, your efforts are just more obvious. So my Florida people, don’t give me that crap. Boo hoo, it’s 55 degrees. Go outside.

Sometimes I would dread working out because I didn’t have the right clothes. Jogging was annoying because my pants would be falling down.  Kickboxing was awkward jumping around in shorts. My shoes were too big; my sports bras were old or too small. Invest in yourself. If that means dropping a few bucks on the right clothes- believe me, it’s worth it.
5.  Make it a Priority Sooner than Later

My young friends, we’re only getting older. Right now is the time to ensure our healthy futures. I don’t know about you guys- and I’m sure all real adults reading this are mad at me- but I’m getting grey hair. My back cracks getting up every morning. It takes me longer to jump up off the floor. I can no longer treat my skin like crap without it showing.

Only you can decide if you want to be healthy. Our family members are getting older, we’re starting new chapters in our lives…and our bodies are aging with our minds. I know exercising can be annoying. We get busy, we get tired. We want food, we want to lounge on the couch.  We have time to check facebook and twitter but not 20 minutes to walk a mile? We want Jimmy John’s 5 times a week and 3 cups of coffee every day, but we don’t care it’s raising our blood pressure? Those are things our parents worry about. Not anymore. We’re twenty something. It will catch up to us soon.

I encourage you to make time for yourself. It’s often the biggest obstacle to overcome. We make time for everything else- school, work, family, friends, prayer- but all that is hurt when our bodies start failing. Do your future self a favor and make exercise a priority. We have things to do- so make sure you’re up and running to get them done.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Just Say Yes"

I didn't think I would write any posts about music since it is often different things to different people. Some people prefer the melody, the musical talent; others ache for the words, taking comfort in their sentiment.  Some music is for dancing or for nights spent around a smoky fire with a drink. Some music is made to stir your soul. A good song can make the world seem brand new.  Music seems endless.

So you see, the list is simply too long. Writing about music is like writing about the ocean.  Where could I even begin? Here you discover one of my faults- my absolute annoyance with things that cannot be grasped wholly.  Music, the ocean…the love of God.  And yet, the things that make me feel the smallest, the most insignificant, are always my favorite things. They are the only places I find rest.

When I first wanted to post about this particular song, my initial thought was, “That’s dumb. No one will get it.”  Or even, “No one will treasure this song the way you do.” For me, attachments to songs or experiences with certain songs can be deeply personal. We all have them: the song that plays randomly on the radio that just sends silent tears down your face; the song that awakens memories so deep you forgot you kept them; the song that brings a certain face to mind, a certain time.  Often, only you can really understand the complexity of what a song means to you.

I need not capture the vastness of the ocean to understand its beauty; that can be seen in a single wave, a tiny shell. I certainly can’t wrap my head around the love of God. Each day reveals a new way He has no conditions. I could only ever share moments, precious and almost unspeakable, of how He lets me see it sometimes. Just because I can’t describe its entirety doesn’t make the pieces any less real. So I write this post with that peace…that even if I can’t get my whole point across to everyone… this piece of music is important to me. And if you’re reading this, I must be, in some way, important to you.

“Just Say Yes,” by Snow Patrol, will forever be tied to memories of this time in my life. I can’t stop listening to this song. I’m sure friends who have seen me lately will laugh. I’ve annoyed them enough, playing it over and over, saying, “Guys have you heard this song? Shhh, listen to the words! Listen!”

Yet more than wishing whoever I marry sings this song to me as he proposes (which is half way a joke), this song really touches me for a few reasons.  Do yourself a favor. Get past the techno background, close your eyes and let this song take you. Don’t even watch the video.  Just soak it in, and then come back to me.

I just listened again and I’m probably still crying for the hundredth time over this song. I agree, it’s not the best song ever.  It sure isn’t Les Miserables level or worthy of in-depth analysis. But right now… the words, “Just Say Yes,” mean more to me than most other words.

I have a general proclivity to be a negative person. Probably because my personality hinges on practicality and we live in a strange world.  I like to think of myself as a worst-case scenario optimist. That being said, I think this song completely rips my heart out because it reminds me of all the things I respond to negatively.

“No” is a pretty useful word. It lasted through high school and college. No, I don’t want to try those drugs, thank you. No, I don’t want two pieces of cheesecake…I mean, I do….but no. No, I’m not going to take part in something I disagree with.  It should be the only word that friends or significant others need for your point to be heard.

I say no to a lot of things. Sometimes out of prudence, sometimes out of selfishness, and sometimes out of fear.

“Just say yes. Just say there’s nothing holding you back.”

Gosh. It hurts. It kills me. The things that hold me back. There are too many to list.

Yet, even more dangerous than saying no, are the times I simply fail to say yes. I want to say yes.

Yes, God you are enough. Yes, I believe I am good. Yes, I believe I am beautiful and loved. Yes, I will give up my life to serve you. Yes, I will try every day to love like you. Yes, I am thankful for my life. Yes, I have joy.

Instead, sometimes my days look more like this:

God, where the heck are you?  I wonder if I’ll always be so bad. Things will be better when I lose those last 20 lbs, get a tan and my hair grows back out. I can’t decide if I want to serve you or give up this crap and make a lot of money. Most people annoy the hell out of me, but I’ll be nice because that’s objectively right and I don’t want other people to think I’m mean.  My closet is full but I want new clothes. Sometimes, I wish He hadn’t made us at all because I don’t see the point.

There’s a pretty stark difference there. Realistically I’m somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. But right now, at a time when my life is full of uncertainty, it’s the scariest thing to say yes. Commitment is scary; giving up control is scary; believing in something bigger than ourselves is scary.  Self gift without reserve, without expectation- it’s the point of our lives and the one thing I’m most afraid of.

Let me end on the clear note that this song, though perfect, is not about any person for me. I’ve had the privilege of loving great men, that’s for sure. But bigger than that, and completely outside of myself, this song encourages me to say yes to God. Yes to communion. Yes to love.

It’s an invitation to trust. Sometimes people say, “don’t ask why,” regarding suffering in our lives, big and small, but I think that’s crap. Ask Him why every day; just be prepared that the answer is always the same, and sometimes that knowledge will lead you down paths you don’t really want to travel, but won’t be able to resist. 

“It’s so simple and you know it is. You’re the only way to me, the path is clear. This was all I wanted, all I want.”