Friday, December 31, 2010


A new year...the chance for new beginnings.

I have some big changes planned for 2011.
I'm ready for all its challenges, struggles, joys, love, and laughter. gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we've got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that Jesus commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition, and then admit that we just don't want to do it." -Stephen Colbert

Wow. Thanks to my friend D for posting this quote today. It is the challenge. The Catholic Church teaches a "preferential option for the poor," but the practicing what we preach? In our every day lives? In the Church's every day teaching?

It's that fallacy of the American Dream, as I tell my students. We want to believe that if we just work hard enough, we can have "it all." It makes us feel proud when we do get "it all"--job, housing, spouse, kids, etc. But it also lets us look at the poor and say, "Clearly, they're just not working hard enough." "I worked HARD for what I have...they should too." It negates privilege. It lets us point finger instead of accepting that we have a responsibility to the other.

It's hard to admit that the world is accept that the system is flawed. But it is. And so we need to try to do what's be recognize the divine in the other, the struggle in the other, the good and the deserving in the other.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Shortest Day

(sleep enveloped me early again last night. this illness, whatever it is, has sapped me of all energy. i head to the doctor today to try to diagnose it.)

For today, a poem by Susan Cooper on this, the Shortest Day:

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

You're asking me to believe....

You're asking me to believe in too many things
You're asking me to believe in too many things

I know this child
Was sent here to heal our broken time
And some things are bigger
Than we know
~~Joseph, Who Understood; the New Pornographers

Still sick. Today brought the chills, the achy-ness, the hit-by-a-truck feeling. This will be short.

I love this song...from my friend Bill's '08 Christmas mix. First off, it's gorgeous. Second, there's an irony to a band named The New Pornographers writing their own Christmas-y song.

Joseph so often gets lost in the story of Christ. He's barely mentioned in the infancy narratives, then he disappears (except for Luke, who gives us the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple story). Today's reading was about Joseph's doubts. Oh, Joseph...the only true human in that Holy Family. But his doubts don't scare him away. Ultimately, his faith saves him. Ultimately, he knows that some things are bigger than we know.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

finding your voice

I've been sick for the last few days...head cold with that nasty post-nasal drip. Today, I woke up with that heavy feeling in my chest like the cold had moved to my lungs. I tried to shake it off and headed to a quick dentist appointment. I entered the office, opened my mouth to give my name, and no sound came out!! Lost my voice.

It's nana used to lose her voice when she got mom loses her voice, too. It's ironic, as all 3 of us rely/relied on our speaking voices so heavily. Illness takes one of the biggest and best tools in our virtual toolboxes.

It causes me to be more deliberate though, this lack of voice. I have to get resourceful. When I taught elementary school, calling in sick was really not an option. We had no subs, so the computer teacher would cover and then everyone else's schedules were totally thrown for the day. We rarely called in sick--we needed to be fainting, puking, or dying. A little thing like the inability to talk? You could work around that. I'd clap to get their attention--and they'd clap back and then get eerily quiet. At 7, they didn't try to take advantage of my deficit...they adapted.

I need to transfer some of that deliberate action into other parts of my life. These days, I feel like I have no voice some of the time. I feel like I won't be heard, and so I say nothing at all. And this silence leads me to do the opposite of what my kids used to do...instead of rising to the occasion, I shrink. I freeze. I refuse to act, refuse to adapt. I throw up my hands in frustration. Yes, this instinct has done a great deal to help me--to make me realize I need to change courses, take another path...but for now, in these next few months while I am still in this city and at this job, I need to find ways to clap my hands. I need to find my voice and make it heard.


That's apparently what I needed last night. I arrived home after a full day--half-day of teaching, faculty Christmas lunch, then drinks and laughs with teacher friends at our favorite bar--and promptly fell asleep. I'm fighting a pretty nasty cold too, so only added to my need for sleep.

Sleep before blogging! I will try to post something extra-long this afternoon to make up for it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I have no gift to bring...
That's fit to give a king...
~Little Drummer Boy

I've been running reflections on Advent and gifts with my girls. The 9th and 10th graders hear the story of The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell...which is a fantastic little story that parallels the Little Drummer Boy in a lot of ways.

The Littlest Angel doesn't "fit in" in heaven. He can't quite figure out how to be angelic and be a little boy at the same time. He makes a request for a box that he left at home under his bed, and when it arrives in heaven, he is suddenly a model citizen.

When the time comes for Jesus to be born, all the angels are asked to prepare gifts for the Savior. The Littlest Angel is stumped...but eventually lays the rough, scratched up, wooden box among all the other gifts:

And what was his gift to the Blessed Infant? Well, there was a butterfly with golden wings, captured one bright summer day on the high hills above Jerusalem, and a sky blue egg from a bird's nest in the olive tree that stood to shade his mother's kitchen door. yes, and two white stones, found on a muddy river bank, where he and his friends had played like small brown beavers, and, at the bottom of the box, a limp, tooth-marked leather strap, once worn as a collar by his mongrel dog, who had died as he had lived, in absolute love and infinite devotion.

And the Voice of God spoke, saying, "Of all the gifts of all the angels, I find that this small box pleases Me most. Its contents are of the Earth and of men, and My Son is born to be King of both. These are the things My Son, too, will know and love and cherish and then, regretfully, will leave behind Him when His task is done. I accept this gift in the Name of the Child, Jesus, born of Mary this night in Bethlehem."

God wants nothing more from us than the most precious parts of ourselves. What we love most, God loves most. The very best way to serve God, to give back to God, is to offer that which connects with us at the deepest level. That which brings us joy brings God the most joy.

We want to make it so complicated, so difficult, so that we can more easily throw up our hands and say, "It's impossible. I can never be perfect, I can never please God, I don't know what God wants from me." But in the end, it's simple. God gives each of us a unique set of gifts to offer our world...and all God asks of us in return is that we share these gifts, that we live into them to the best of our abilities.

Simple, right?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Thrill of Hope, The Weary World Rejoices

Oh, are we weary. This world we live in...the constant motion, the constant connection--and yet the constant disconnect, the constant all becomes overwhelming.

We long to throw off all of that weariness, all of that pressure, all of that struggle and stress and sadness. We long to revel in joy and love, in grace and peace. We get glimpses--precious, precious glimpses. Moments, evenings, weekends, lunches where everything else melts away and we are simply present to the moment. We rejoice.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Venite Adoremus

I love Christmas music. It's hard to narrow down the list, but near the top, if not at the top, is Adeste Fideles. Don't get me wrong, I love O Come, All Ye Faithful. But I remember learning the Latin when I was 7 years old. I remember the choir director teaching us to say "benite" even though the word started with a V. It is a beautiful, beautiful song, with such beautiful, beautiful words and meaning: joyful, faithful, triumphant, behold, adore...

...venite adoremus...

Let us adore Him...

I love that word. Adore. I have a dear friend who uses it from time to time. It is somehow bigger than love. It is to gaze upon with love, affection, understanding, acceptance; to see and to recognize the divine within.

Who do you adore? Who do you look at and simply see into their divine selves? Do they know it?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fear Not

They give me "Fear not, for behold" to read
A glass of wine, their daughter playing
Tonight that's everything I need.
~Christmas Carol, N.Nields

And the angel said to them,
“Fear not, for behold,
I bring you good news
of great joy that will be
for all the people."
~Luke 2:10

Fear not. Easy for an angel to say! There is an implication in that command. Trust me. Trust. Believe me. Everything will be OK. This is everything you need.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love, Love, Love

She was his girl; he was her boyfriend
She be his wife; take him as her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling dribbling baby boy
The wise men came three made their way
To shower him with love
While he lay in the hay
Shower him with love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around
~Christmas Song, Dave Matthews Band

I think this is going to be music week here on the ol' blog. After all, today is Gaudete Sunday--Rejoice! And there is joy in music, and there is so much music to be loved at this time of year.

I have strong memories of this song by Dave Matthews, tied inextricably to my college experience and our chapter of Pax Christi. I close my eyes and I am surrounded by friends, huddled together on couches and the floor, a few candles lit in the middle of the room...

Love. It is the gift of this season. And, to play off an earlier post, it's Radical Love (a term coined by a dear friend from Pax). It's beyond unconditional, beyond deep, beyond infinite, beyond our imagination. And it is a challenge put before all of love one another, to love this world, to love our neighbors, love the strangers on the street, with that Radical Love.

We'll fall short every time.

But are we willing to try?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lessons and Carols

When I was in college, and then again when I worked at my beloved alma mater, my favorite event of the year was the Festival of Lessons and Carols. I can close my eyes and see the huge Advent wreath suspended in the sanctuary by 3 purple ribbons and 1 pink ribbon. My dear friend and mentor Kim would lead us in prayer, donning an alb and looking every bit the minister that she was. The choir filled the altar space, dressed in tuxes and long black dresses. Members of the student body, faculty, and staff read scripture passages ranging from Genesis to John. The choir interspersed the readings with ancient hymns as well as familiar ones. O Holy Night could bring tears to my eyes, and Adeste Fideles made me smile and sing loudly.

It was always a holy night...and it marked, for me, the beginning of the Christmas season. I sat in a packed chapel, surrounded by friends, bursting with gratitude. I could feel the Light. I could see it coming.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light. That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Sometimes, you just have to let yourself drown in the joy...shake off the sadness, the despair, the confusion, the frustration, the darkness--and simply let the joy take hold.

Tonight, I let it happen. I let the joy wash over me, surround me, fill me up. I spent the evening in the company of 4 wonderful children...we jumped on beds, pretended to be elephants and Maasai warriors, played instruments, laughed until it hurt, read books, and snuggled down under the covers.

It is a season of joy...the twinkle lights, the trees, the carols, the family, the food, the friends, the snow. If you look for it, you'll find it everywhere.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

preparation and gifts

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. In spite of the fact that I spent the morning joking that this is one of those made-up events that is not scriptural and only exists to make sure we know that Mary was PERFECT and EVER VIRGIN and impregnated by GOD and GOD ALONE, there's actually an aspect to the feast I appreciate.

Advent is about preparation. And then Christmas comes and it's about the gifts we give and receive--and I mean that in the least materialistic way possible. To say that Mary was conceived without sin is to say that God chose her, and *prepared* her from her first moment of existence for her...wait for it...radical yes. Come on. An angel of the Lord appears to you and says that you, a random peasant 13 year old girl, will be the mother of God...conceive a son without "knowing" a man?! Come on. And yet, that brave girl--so the story goes--said yes. Because God had prepared her in a special way, because she had been given a unique set of gifts that allowed her to live into the life she was meant to into the person she was meant to be.

We've all been prepared that way. We've all received gifts, some with ease and others with great difficulty, that help us achieve all we are meant to be. My current colleagues roll their eyes and recoil at the thought of teaching the littles. To them, it's all snotty noses, untied shoelaces, crying, and frustration. They don't have what I have (and I don't have the ability to be patient with teenagers in the same way that I am patient with the under-10 set). My unique set of gifts make me an elementary school teacher. I am meant to be that person, meant to live that life.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

--The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

Not that I needed the reassurance or reinforcement anymore, but last week I came across letters I received from my first ever 2nd grade class. I still remember standing in that classroom for the first time...22 years old, 31 little faces before me. I had to teach them. It wasn't all fun and games, there was this HUGE responsibility. They trusted me completely--they didn't know I was clueless! They followed my directions, they laughed at my jokes, they came to me when they cried, they looked stunned when I lost my temper, they said hello and goodbye with hugs. They made me real.


Dear Miss McGee,
You are a good teacher.
You are very funny.
You show us math
and love us to mush.
Went we fell you take
us to the offese.

Dear Miss McGee,
You are a good teacher. You are very nise. Some time you are silly. I like when you read to us. We see you play Basketball. You teach us lots of thing.
from Aaron

Dear Miss McGee,
you are a good teacher. you are very funny and you lete me off of the binch when I am on binch for the hole recsses. and lete me lurne beter in math

Dear Miss McG,
you are a good techer you Love us! so we Love! you funy techer! I will do wate you tell me to do! We miss you! I am glad I am dowing this!
student (backwards S)

Dear Miss McGee,
you are a good teacher you are very tunny and you are nice to me. Some time you play basket ball with us. You love us and we love you to. You teach us good every day. Some time you are silly and you are silly too. Some you are chalk monster because you have chalk all over you.

Dear Ms. McGee,
we all love you for teaching his all of us would trie to lisen to you we wunl to be Bead nevr agan.
Love, Kevin

And now I know...the Skin Horse was right...once you're real, you can never go back.

Monday, December 6, 2010

closing time

every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

I have been reading the Percy Jackson books--a young adult series that puts a modern spin on the Greek myths. In the 4th book, Janus--god of doorways, beginnings, endings, choices--appears in the Labyrinth.

And here we are...Advent. The beginning of the liturgical calendar and the end of the modern calendar. The doorways are in front of me. Choices lie ahead. There will be an ending, and a beginning.

The endings used to scare me. The goodbyes, the fear of loss, the unknown, the letting go--they were things to be feared. I can remember graduating from college and feeling this deep sense of dread and loss...that these relationships would disappear, that I would crumble without the *place.* I underestimated myself, of course, and underestimated the people I loved. They came with me to Los Angeles, in spirit if not in body, as did all the lessons I learned. There are things I choose to carry with me, and things I choose to leave behind. My first trip back east from L.A. was a hard one. Only a month after September 11, I was reeling and lost. I found myself back on my beloved undergraduate campus. I felt safe, grounded, whole and home for the first time in 4 months. I didn't want to leave. A trusted mentor and friend took my shoulders in her hands and said, "God didn't drop you off at the airport and wave goodbye. You aren't alone."

I am the product of my beginnings and my endings, a product of my choices, a product of the doorways I've closed behind me, and those I've walked through with confidence or caution. Janus stands before me, his two faces asking me what's next...and this time, I'm not afraid. God is with me, especially as we wait in Advent.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


A friend of mine posted on her blog today about the significance of the age 33...about how it's often used in literature as an age of transformation and rebirth. And, of course, it is the age at which Jesus reached the end of His ministry and was crucified. I am fascinated by this observation. I'm not 33 yet...but Jesus began His public ministry at the age of 30. These three years were absolutely transformative...Jesus came into His own. He became the person He was born to be.

I'd like to think that's what's happening to me in these years. That I've recognized the divine in me, the gifts of the divine, and I'm choosing to follow those gifts, choosing to embrace and realize that part of me, choosing to be the person I was born to be.

It's a journey. For Jesus, it took Him from a stable in Bethlehem to a cross on Calvary. But it's what happened in between that inspired change. The transformation was the key.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

the radical notion of "yes"

“Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied. (Matthew 9:28)

I read a reflection on Advent tonight, and loved the phrase "radical notion of yes." It brought to mind Friday's reading...these blind men say yes. They believe in this man, in his ability to heal their brokenness.

Yes is scary. As a few friends have reminded me over the last couple of months, saying YES...being brave enough to embrace the radical notion of YES, means saying no. Accepting a path means leaving other paths behind, means letting go, means trusting the yes.

I'm going to try to embrace it. Be radical. Love the yes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

a Friday quote

Our worship and devotion will have to stoke the kind of fire in our souls that can truly change our hearts. Ours is a great responsibility not to waste this Advent time.
-Edward Hays, A Pilgrim's Almanac

Thursday, December 2, 2010


"and, when he shall die,
take him and cut him out in little stars,
and he will make the face of heaven so fine
that all the world will be in love with night"
--romeo and juliet, william shakespeare

I was supposed to go home for a wake tonight. A family friend died on Monday and I was heading home for his wake. I got a late start to Penn Station and, thanks to the Christmas season, sat in a cab for almost TWO out of the cab, called home and realized I would miss the wake. I'm sorry I missed it. Mr. L was a good man--I haven't seen him in 15 or so years, but I have memories of his big laugh and bigger smile. Memories of setting off fireworks in his driveway and running around his pool deck.

A good friend at work got word this morning that her sister passed away. She'd been ill, but as of last night, she wasn't dying anytime soon. My friend, obviously, is here in NYC...her sister is back home in Ireland. They're having sucky weather...when I texted with G earlier, she was at the airport and hoping to get on a flight tonight. I'm hoping she's arrived safely, if not soundly.

Crappy time of year to lose the people you love.

"we're gonna laugh and we're gonna dance
i'm gonna hold you like my only chance
we're gonna meet again in the kingdom,
that's good news"
-n. nields

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Real Reason

There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other's cooking & say it was good.
Story People

We spend a lot of our lives doing things because we think they're the right things to do, the right roads to follow. We try to do the things that "make sense" from the outside. We try to do the things that make money, and line up with the things we're "supposed" to want. We don't want to be judged, we don't want to be wrong, we don't want to be weird, we don't want to have to explain ourselves.

But in the end, it really is about loving companionship, right? Happy being an accountant? Awesome for you. Want to be a teacher? Go for it! Love the law? More power to you. Have the need to cut people open? Don't let me stand in your way (but please go to medical school first). It's how we treat our fellow accountants, teachers, lawyers, and doctors that counts...and how we treat the doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, janitors, baristas, cab drivers, and IT folks in our lives. WHO we are and not what we are.

Isn't that what this season is about? We aren't waiting for a what, we're waiting for a who...a Savior, a Messiah who came to us in a most unexpected form--baby, born in a stable, born to young, ordinary parents. But we still talk about Him 2,000 years later because of how He treated His neighbors, friends, disciples, enemies, and strangers. The power of His story is that He came, loved, ate, and said it was good. We're good.

And that's enough.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Longing for Light

We wait in darkness.

This is the time of year when I wake up and it's dark...and I leave work, and it's dark! Sunlight is hard to come by, as grey clouds, rain, sleet, and snow dominate the weather.

But the season also brings light...twinkle lights, Christmas trees, candles, Advent wreaths, menorahs, solstice! The light is coming back to us. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

What will that light bring?

This Advent, I don't want the light to simply dispel the darkness, I want the light to shine in the hidden nooks and crannies. I want the light to reveal things I've forgotten. And things I never knew. The light is about's about illuminating the deepest and best parts of ourselves.

This, of course, is scary. Marianne Williamson said that it is our LIGHT, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Why? Why are we afraid to be our best, most authentic, genuine, true selves? I guess it's like standing on the street corner naked. Here I am, World. Judge me. Criticize me. Take your best shot. Compliment me. (Why is that last one the hardest to take?) But then I think of the people and things I have gained from being brave enough to be that best, most authentic, genuine, true me. I'll never understand why I made the very-unlike-me leap to join a writing group where I knew no one. To write and read new work to a group of strangers when no one had ever read or heard my writing before. But the decision changed my life in some of the most amazing ways.

So let's let the light come. One candle, one corner at a time.

either way, there is a light on,
either way, we're turning towards the sun!
--n. nields

Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 2...

And already slacking. How's that for an apron wring?

Advent is about preparation...I'm good at preparing. Mental lists, to-do lists, a future rich with laughter and love--oh yes, I'm good at preparing to act. It's the follow through that sometimes proves difficult.

This Advent, I want to prepare with purpose. Not just to DO things, but to BE. Be a better friend, sister, daughter, niece, cousin, teacher, colleague, writer. Be truer to the person I know I can be, truer to the person God calls me to be.

I do believe this blogging, the space carved out for reflection will help me on the journey. I just need to honor the commitment, honor the time and space necessary.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tis the Season....

...of Advent, that is! And so, my friend D and I are back with our commitment to blog every day. I love Advent. And not because of Christmas! I love the preparation, the focus on getting ready, the mediation on one's gifts. So I begin with a reflection I wrote a few Advents ago...the magic of this season!

Santa is real. Ask the families at Immaculate Conception School in Alphabet City and they'll tell you. Seven years ago, their Santa visited the school for the first time. She watched the students line up quietly in the hallway, all in their uniform plaid, and she waved and smiled as they passed--eyebrows raised towards this stranger. She turned to the principal, a nun in her 60s dressed in full habit, standing tall at 5 foot nothing.

"Give me the names of those children who will have nothing under the tree on Christmas morning."

The next day, this Santa received a fax with a list of 16 names-boys and girls with their ages and sizes beside them. She called a friend or 2 and they hopped in the car. As they drove towards the highway lined with every store imaginable, they made a plan. Each child would get a winter coat, pajamas, sweats and a nicer weekend outfit. Every child would get a book, a puzzle and a toy. At each store, they took their assignments and split up, meeting a half hour later, arms fully loaded. That evening, they called more friends.

"You don't have to shop, but can you chip in to help give these kids a Christmas?"

The bags piled high and it really did begin to look like the Santa's Workshop in those old claymation movies like Rudolph. Each item was tagged with a child's name, age and size, grouped together by family. The teenage sons and daughters of Santa and her elves wrapped each gift, and in about a week, the sleigh--ok, the van--was loaded to head back into New York City.

The week after Christmas, this Santa had yet another note in the mail. Parents and children alike were thrilled and awed by this mystery Santa and her ability to provide the perfect gifts.

Over the years, the list has grown from 16 to 50 children. Every year, Santa and her elves climb into the car early in the morning, stop at Dunkin' Donuts for some fuel, and share the magic of Christmas with those who need a reminder that Santa is real.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

a hole in the woods...

On July 2, I boarded an Amtrak train bound for Albany--and 2 weeks that would change my life. That sounds dramatic, I know...but it's still true.

About an hour north of Albany, tucked away from the road behind a man-made lake, is a hole in the woods. You are greeted with whoops and applause, with grins and laughter. You are instructed to Dream Make Magic Happen. And then you do. But you don't just create the magic, you find it. You experience it. You are surrounded by and immersed in it.

Kids arrive by bus, van, and car. They are greeted with cheers and whistles. Their bags are carried and they are excited to find out if they are Muskrats or Chipmunks, Bobcats or Foxes. Parents smile from ear-to-ear as the kids are reunited with old friends and old counselors.

And then? The madness and fun begins! Parents and siblings get back in the cars, and campers begin their week of campfires, carnivals, high ropes, swimming, fishing, horseback riding, and (Not to mention the Great Escape!) Meals are controlled chaos--counselors serve family style meals and cheers travel from table to table as campers and counselors alike pound on the tables and jump up and down, screaming at the top of their lungs. You find yourself joining in, yelling about ukeleles, bazooka (zooka) bubble gum, and worms. You do it for the laughter, for the light in their eyes.

These are kids who live in hospitals and doctors offices during the year. They don't get to play sports with their classmates or ride their bikes around the neighborhood. They take handfuls of pills and always feel like the sick kids. But then they come to this hole in the woods and they're 'normal.' (Whatever that is!) They get lifted out of their wheelchairs and onto horses. They climb cargo nets 30 feet high and navigate a high ropes course. They catch fish and use paddle boats. They ride roller coasters. They re-enact the Boston Tea Party and roast marshmallows over a campfire.

I could go on forever. I learned so much, saw so much, fell so deeply in love with the kids, the camp, and the people who are committed to making it a place that our kids and their families can come year-round. Biggest lesson? Find the Joy. Every day, everywhere. It really is all around you when you're looking for it.

Camp really did change my life. So much so, that I'm thinking of doing something really crazy to celebrate that change. More on that soon...

Double H Ranch

Thursday, May 13, 2010

women of faith

It's almost July and I haven't written in a while. May was a hard month. The world lost two shining examples of how to live good, faithful, holy lives. I lost two of my strongest models of faith.

At the beginning of May, I lost a dear friend and inspiring mentor. She was, as my friend Melissa would say, my existential sherpa. She died after a long, tough, brave fight with cancer. I still can't believe she's gone. I imagine it will be real in a few weeks when something great or frustrating happens and I want to send her an email to tell her about it. I have a picture on my desk from my college graduation--Kim is on one side of me and Marybeth, the other female campus minister, is on the other side. Somehow, miraculously, it's a great photo of all 3 of us. It's reassuring to have their smiles in my office--and in these last few weeks, I've been known to talk to Kim (out loud) about some of my frustrations and struggles--always asking "WWKD?"

Kim is inextricably linked to my college experience. One of my first memories as a student is the accepted student weekend in the April of my senior year in high school. After a full day of panel discussions and touring campus, my parents and I walked into the college chapel for the first time. It was huge and beautiful--I remember thinking that. The clearest memory of that day, however, came after the Gospel reading. Instead of the priest staying at the pulpit to deliver the homily, he stepped down and a woman stepped up to the microphone. I remember a buzz going through the congregation.
A woman?! It was my introduction to Kim--she told a story about talking to seniors about their first memories of HC. It was clear to me in that moment that Kim loved her job, that she loved students, that she loved this place I had chosen to call home for the next 4 years.

During my college years, Kim became someone I could always go to for advice, encouragement, or a shoulder to lean on. She showed me what it meant to be passionate about your work, about social justice, about peace, about love. Kim truly bookended my college career, because one of my last memories as an undergrad is sitting on her couch (a pillow in my lap), talking about my fears and hesitations. Kim sat opposite me, as she always did, in her rocking chair and cried. In that room, in that seat, I always felt seen and heard and understood. It is what I try to give to my students...I have a lot to learn and a long way to go, but Kim was one of my greatest teachers. I could go on for pages (and I want to) I'll probably come back and revisit Kim in the coming weeks.

Two weeks after Kim died, my Nana died, peacefully, at home, and in her sleep. A few summers ago, we brought my Nana to Ireland for the first time--both of her parents were born there, but she'd never been. It was a great trip--one I'll treasure forever--but the running joke when Nana was MIA was, "Oh, she must be praying." My Nana carried her prayers and her rosary with her everywhere. She believed in God with every fiber of her being--and when she prayed for you, you saw the evidence of it in your life. I really do believe she had a direct line to God. Her love was probably the closest thing to God's love you could experience here on earth--she loved absolutely and without condition. She truly never met a stranger.

This post has been sitting in my drafts for a month, so I think it's time to post even though it feels incomplete...even though I have so many more stories about both Kim and Nana.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I am going on retreat with my juniors tomorrow and Tuesday. Well, half tomorrow, half Tuesday because when these retreats were scheduled back before I was on board, they decided that this junior class needed to be separated. But what started as a negative (and remains a negative in their mind--Why are we split up? How could you do this to us?) is actually a positive to me. I don't know much about this class. I've had little time to get to know them over the last 8 months. And yet come September? They will all be mine. So, to me, this is an opportunity for me to start to get to know them--and for them to know me.

The theme of the retreat is service. My school has a unique service program for seniors in which every senior must complete over 100 hours of service in her senior year. They get a day "off" from school to complete these hours. They serve in daycare centers, hospitals, elementary schools, nursing homes, and soup kitchens all over the city. It's an amazing program and the chance to run and coordinate it made this my dream job.

We currently have no formal service program/requirement for 9th-11th grades. Some of the girls are active in the community, others have done a service day here and there, and still others have little to no experience with service. So, going from 0 to 150 or even 40 to 150 is a lot. It's a big commitment. So the goal of tomorrow is to get the girls to think about their own individual strengths and talents, and where those gifts can be best put to use during their service year. They commit their entire year to one site.

I want to know what they think about service--why we as a school think it's important, why THEY think it's important (do they think it's important?) and why I think it's important. I hope to share some of my own experiences with service, about how service is about more than giving; it's about receiving. It's about letting the experience change and transform you, listening to the people you serve, being with them, laughing with them. I've been lucky enough to serve as a tutor, as a house-builder, as an advocate, as a teacher, as a mentor. It's not always easy and it's not always comfortable. Sometimes you're tired, or frustrated, or in a bad mood...and you still have to go. Sometimes you feel useless--and yet you keep trying.

There are so many things I want to tell them--I could fill almost the whole 4 hours with my own voice. But I won't. I want to hear from them too. I want them to discover their own gifts and strengths (which is why they will take a Myers-Briggs test and discover their personality), and to take ownership of the service program (which is why they will work on writing a mission statement for our program).

As I said above, this service program (with all of its headaches and complexities--of which there are MANY) is my favorite part of the job. Hopefully, I can convey that tomorrow, and get the girls as excited and engaged as I am...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

last day

We've arrived at the end of Lent! My daily commitment has ended, and now it's a matter of what comes next. I think I want this to be the place that I flesh out my ideas, come up with a plan. I'm a great "big idea" girl, but I sometimes fall short on follow through. This can be a place for me to think ideas through "out loud" so to speak, to come up with game plans, to talk through the struggles, challenges, and obstacles. (Not that I mean to imply there are *any* obstacles, struggles, or challenges associated with working with teenage girls!! Every day is a joy and a cakewalk, of course!)

I thank my friend D for inspiring me to set out on this Lenten journey...we walked the road together, borrowing ideas and sharing resources--uncovering similarities we didn't know existed along the way.

Friday, April 2, 2010

were you there?

Good Friday. Some 2,000ish years ago, a great man, a prophet, the Son of God refused to deny his truest identity. And so he was mocked, whipped, and nailed to a cross. It is a violent and horrifying story--and yet it is a story that has inspired millions to faith.

I find myself thinking about those that Jesus left behind...this band of misfit believers, frightened for their own lives, confused by what they just witnessed. After all, they believed their friend to be the Messiah, God's Chosen One, the Savior. Could he really have been any of those things? Would the Messiah have simply hung on that cross until the end? What was next? Would the soldiers and the Pharisees come for them? Did the last 3 years of their lives mean nothing? Had they been led to a dead end, literally and figuratively?

An event that could have been the destruction of a faith--that could have caused them all to flee to their separate corners--in fact brought them closer together. These apostles and disciples spent the next days and weeks in the company of one another, trying to decipher the death (and eventual resurrection) of their humble leader and Lord. In this community of believers, they found their voices and the strength to go forward. They continued the work of Jesus, not without fear, but with the knowledge that they were not alone.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

music part 2

I didn't blog yesterday. So close! It was a long day, a not-so-great day, a day where I came home from work and collapsed into bed and didn't get up til the morning hours. I'm on Easter break! Hooray!

So, in my first music post, I didn't address music in ministry--music as a way to connect to students, for students to connect with love and God and each other. Music has played a powerful role in my own faith life. I don't just mean liturgical music, though there are certainly some powerful favorites in there, from the
Offertory based on Micah 6:8 to the traditional You Are Mine that I found myself singing almost daily on the 5 day silent retreat that condensed the lessons of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I don't limit it to Sundays at St. Monica's in Los Angeles and the best sung Our Father you will ever hear. I don't even mean Christmas music, even though O Holy Night is practically a religious experience in and of itself.

What I mean, however, is the impact of (for lack of a better term) secular music/mainstream music in ministry. To this day, the opening chords of the Indigo Girls'
Galileo brings me back to my elementary school library and a youth group meeting, while The Five Stairsteps' O-O-H Child sends me to our college retreat house on Cape Cod following my friend Susie's talk about her struggles during her year abroad. Guster's Window takes me to Cuernavaca, Mexico, while Dave Matthews Band's Pig reminds me of the senior class during my junior year of college. Retreats and weekly Pax Christi meetings were full of music--music that made us think, reflect, smile, and cry.

I have not figured out a way to work music into my ministry yet. I haven't figured out how to pick songs and artists that will connect with my girls in a meaningful way. A challenge for the future, I suppose. I want to find a way to make that connection. I want them to hear the opening chords of a song 10 or 15 years from now and think of their high school experience, think of a story or a retreat or a moment of connection with God.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Another late night, another short post. We had our Lenten Mass at school today. One of my fellow new teachers offered to start a choir for the girls earlier this year. She's put in time and energy, and as is typical of our girls, their commitment has been spotty and shaky. It's so frustrating. It's so difficult to feel like your time and effort means anything when you have a regular meeting and a different 2 girls show up every time (though 10 find you in the hall to say they want to join your fill-in-the-blank club).

But she had a good little choir today--though apparently some of them had never been to one rehearsal. And she picked some more obscure songs, but all had great beat and were more contemporary than some of the traditional (though lovely) Catholic hymns you'd normally hear at a school liturgy. She ended with a spiritual called "Change My Name." Well, wouldn't you know that all 350 girls in the school suddenly stopped some of their whispering and began snapping their fingers and dancing in their seats.

It is the power of music. Music has always been important to me, but in the last seven or eight years, I need some music every day. Maybe that has to do with the advent of the iPod, I don't know, but I do know that I notice music more too. I'm more likely to keep tuning in to a TV show that has good music (of course, that means iTunes gets more of my $!) and I sing to myself more than I care to admit. Music is a mood setter--and a mood changer. It connects with us on basic and primal level. There are very few songs or artists that I'm "eh" about. I find that I have very strong gut reactions to music--I really like or love it, or I really want to get as far away from it as possible and never hear it again.

Music is prayer. It is meditation. It clears my head, centers me, lets me think. It can make me smile and it can make me cry.

I could write for hours and pages about music. I mean, I'm writing right now because of music. Music led me to a fantabulous folk festival, which led me to a cozy living room full of friends and fellow writers. It was there that I gained the courage to put myself out into the world, it is there that I found parts of myself I never knew existed. It is in that space that I heard dear friends sing songs for the very first time, many of which live on my iPod now--which means I have my friends in my pocket.

To wrap up this post, here's a little Townes Van Zandt for you...a song I downloaded last night and have been listening to it almost non-stop ever since:

If I needed you, would you come to me?
Would you come to me for to ease my pain?
If you needed me, I would come to you.
I would swim the sea for to ease your pain.

Monday, March 29, 2010

timecards, timecards, yellow timecards

I can't stay tonight. I am in yellow timecard hell. My seniors must complete 140 hours of service--5 hours every Wednesday--in order to graduate. We track their progress using yellow timecards that their supervisors must sign on-site. Sounds easy...but the things are evil. Some are turned in late, others not at all; I chase girls up and down the hallways hoping to squeeze the things out of them. I feel like a parole officer sometimes--checking for forgeries (yup, I've found at least one) and recognizing chronic lateness. What should be (and is) a wonderful, life-giving project becomes an albatross.

Must go count hours!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

two and a half days

So much for devoting more time to an entry today. I need to get through the next 2 1/2 days, and I'm free (at least for a week and a half!)...I will be on Easter break. The next 2.5 days are packed with to do lists that mostly have to do with service, and a school Mass on Tuesday, but then I can breathe a big sigh of relief. Time for bed so I can maybe get up and out early and buckle down for the day.

(I'm also behind on my homework for my photography class. Argh. And of course, it's going to be raining tomorrow!)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

one more week...

...of Lent that is. A week from tomorrow (today, technically) is Easter Sunday. I'm trying to figure out what I've learned from this Lenten practice. There are some days that I'm proud of what I wrote, while others got very little of my attention and focus. The lesson is that probably, going forward, I'll come up with an idea for an entry and spend a few days building it instead of rushing to write something every day.

But more importantly and more to the point, I think I realized that, for me, writing has become a social activity and I find it difficult when I'm alone. For 4 years, I wrote almost exclusively in the presence of others. There was an energy in the room, a buzz of productivity and creativity. When I'm alone in my apartment, I cannot recreate that environment. Even when I am writing something to share with my teleclass, something I know will turn into a social activity, I can't find a rhythm or a groove. Maybe practice will help? I've forced myself to write something on this page almost every day for the last 5 weeks, even if it is at 1 A.M. when I'm supposed to be sleeping...

Which it is, and I am. More tomorrow, I hope, if I don't break or sprain something playing in my first basketball game.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Micah 6:8

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

love and basketball

March is my favorite month of the year. I usually forget that it's my favorite month, but then Selection Sunday rolls around and I remember. 3 weeks of basketball...3weeks of buzzer beaters and overtime and Cinderella stories. Do I care about Butler or Syracuse? No. But was I practically jumping up and down tonight watching the end of that game? Absolutely!! Do I care that my bracket is dead in the water? Not at all.

As NCAA ref (and family friend) Timmy Higgins likes to say, "And that's why they play the games!"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

fall in love

what you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. it will decide what gets you out of bed in the mornings, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you.

fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
- pedro arrupe,s.j.

I can't remember when I first heard this quote, but I'm pretty sure it factored into my sophomore year experience with the Spiritual Exercises--a 5-day silent retreat based on the 30-day silent retreat all Jesuits participate in at least twice during their formation.

Find the thing that sets your heart and soul on fire. Find that calling, that vocation, that spark.

I feel like my entire college experience centered around this central truth--to find what I loved and pursue it. And I did. Whether it was a spring break trip to Mississippi to build houses with Habitat, or a retreat weekend on Cape Cod, or choosing to major in sociology rather than something more "practical," I embraced my passions at in college. The community created the space for me to explore and discover and dig in.

I've done it in my post-college ("real") life too--I taught 2nd grade for three years and it was the definition of the thing I loved getting me out of bed every morning. The experience wounded me and my spirit in other ways, but inside that classroom, surrounded by those kids, I was safe and happy and full of joy.

And now I pursue the love of God and faith and service and justice. It is a love that was nurtured and encouraged during those college years, and a vocation that was modeled by wonderful, strong, compassionate women. All the roads have led me here, to these 350 girls, to the unique challenges and obstacles posed by my current position.

Now, it's a matter of keeping the fire alive and the love fresh. Sometimes it's easy to get bogged down with the bad days or the frustrations of the job. Some days, the girls' negativity and attitude rubs off and I wonder what I'm doing here. But I always come back to the love, to the fact that I do believe I am supposed to be doing this, to the fact that even after a hard day, the girls are what get me out of bed at that ungodly hour of the morning.

Campus ministry is this nebulous position--it usually involves some combination of teaching religion, organizing retreats, overseeing service, and preparing the masses and prayer services for the school. In my case, I am responsible for all 4 and then some. The revolving door of campus ministers before me have left little upon which to build. So I'm starting from the ground up--which is both exciting and overwhelmingly terrifying. I'm almost through the year--I've almost survived one cycle. There are things to change, things to improve, things to overhaul, and things that I simply need to execute better. I've spent a good part of the last two weeks talking to other campus ministers in other places and it has been comforting to discover we're all in similar boats.

(Who am I kidding? We're not in boats...we're in, more like homemade Lost-style rafts!)