Thursday, April 3, 2014

Become a Tourist - At Home

This post was actually written a couple days ago, but I've just now gotten around to editing it and posting it. Enjoy.

Tourists can be really annoying. They overrun our home towns, take pictures of landmarks we’re all-too-used to seeing (or pictures of something so much less spectacular, like a pigeon), stand on the left of the escalator (dang escalefters), and are generally just a big nuisance. At the same time, while we all complain about tourists, we all, at some inevitable point, ARE tourists. Even if you are one of less annoying travelers who is respectful of other people, avoids the tourist traps, and tries to blend in like a local, the truth is undeniable – any time you visit a city or country that is not your own, you are a tourist. We are all, at some point in our lives, that annoying visitor that gets in everyone’s way.

But despite their bad rap, I think we can all learn a little something from the tourists that come to visit our hometowns. Did you ever notice how tourists are always smiling and the locals are always grumpily or absent-mindendly walking past them? The tourists are exploring what’s around them, while the locals rush by their everyday surroundings as if the local violinist playing on the street corner wasn’t even there. Sure, those tourists are on vacation - they're supposed to explore this town, they have time to pay attention to the new and different. Being on vacation means breaking out of the norm – seeing things we wouldn’t normally see in our daily lives, trying something that we wouldn’t normally try. But when we're not on vacation, we seem to slip back into robot mode. Why? Why does that sense of adventure only have to be when we’re visiting another city? Why can’t it be in our daily lives, on our way home from work, in our hometown?

I write this message sitting outside Cosi/Panera (cause, you know, in DC sometimes the closest thing we can get to sidewalk cafes is putting chairs outside major restaurant chains). For the first time in what feels like forever, I’m able to sit outside and enjoy the warm weather while munching on my sandwich and doing a bit of people-watching. About 25 feet ahead of me, there is a violinist and guitarist playing duets together outside of the Dupont Cirle metro station – and they sound amazing! They’re playing mostly classical tunes, but just wrapped up a beautiful arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I walk into this metro station every single day, and I can tell you from experience that I always – ALWAYS – walk past the musicians that are playing there. Today I have the privilege of having a bit of time to kill before Theology on Tap, and thus the privilege of listening to these two gentleman serenade the evening commuters.

Just a short while ago, there was a small group of what were clearly tourists walking past the musical duo. What seemed to be a mother and her grown daughter from the group started dancing together to the music. They were in the middle of a public sidewalk, without a care in the world, and with the biggest smiles on their faces. Their smiles showed nothing but joy. They danced to the music while their family members cheered and documented the scene on their cameras. It was wonderful. And yet, there were other families, other couples walking by, who did not stop to dance. Why not? Most likely because of the same reasons I would give you on a normal commuting day – they’re too busy, they have a bus to catch, a dinner date to make it to. All of these are perfectly legitimate excuses, and I will tell you that I make them all the time. But what if one day we didn’t make them? What if we stopped in the middle of our ordinary day, became tourists in our home town, and paused for 30 seconds to stop and listen to the music? 
Don't get me wrong, I know that having a routine and being busy is part of everyone's lives. I know that sometimes vacation is the only chance we have to break out of the rat race and breathe. We can't always just stop our daily lives. But when we get too caught up in that routine, we can often miss some of the beauty that is right here in front of us every day. Maybe pausing for a few seconds to notice something at home will help make our crazy lives just a little bit less stressful and a little bit more peaceful. Maybe if we take just a bit more time to look and listen, we'll begin to see and hear things that we might normally miss.
P.S. I know that street musicians aren't always the greatest, but those guys were GOOD. I'm happy to say that they're tip box was quite full.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Healing Experience

It looked like a makeshift field hospital. Black curtains hung over individual "rooms" with temporary dividers and unique numbers to distinguish them from the others. The line of patients was staggering - it extended down both sides of one corridor then curved into a perpendicular hallway. Before long, additional "doctors" rushed to the scene - they had smiles on their faces as they quickly ducked into their own little rooms. The line of patients started to move quickly and healing was happening at an astonishing rate. 

The scene I've just described is one that I witnessed and experienced firsthand. But it wasn't a makeshift field hospital - it wasn't even a hospital. While it was a makeshift set-up, it was for a different kind of healing. 

The black-curtained rooms were all temporary confessionals. The doctors were priests. And the patients were hundreds of people - most of whom were teenagers - waiting to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Now some of you may be wondering - where was this extraordinary (or maybe to some of you - strange) setup? It was at Mount St. Mary's College for the Mount 2000 retreat for high schoolers. I had the privilege of being a chaperon for this retreat for the second time, and it was a wonderful experience. While it's a little bigger than the type of retreat I typically prefer (it has 1700 participants), it's a retreat that, for the last 19 years, has had a positive impact on thousands of teenagers. One of the most unique aspects of Mount 2000 is that it offers Confession almost around-the-clock. Sometimes only a few priests are hearing confessions; other times they have to call in reinforcements when the line gets as long as the one I was standing in. It turns out that this year set a Mount 2000 record - over 1300 confessions were heard over the course of the weekend. 1300. Wow. 

Some people may ask - why? Why did Reconciliation - the one sacrament that tends to make people feel super awkward - draw such a large crowd? Why was that crowd composed mostly of teenagers? Why would anyone in their right mind want to tell everything they've done wrong to a total stranger? All very good questions. In order to answer those questions, I think we need to go to one that's even more general. Why do we go to Confession at all?

A lot of people, including many Catholics, wonder why we have to go to Confession. One of the biggest ways people ponder over this is, "Why do I have to tell my sins to a priest? Why can't I just tell my sins to God?" I'm no theologian, so I'm not going to try and answer that question. However, Father Robert Barron is a theologian, so here's a bit of his input on the matter: 

Fr. Barron gives us an excellent start to the theological side of Confession and why we should go. I know that there are even more helpful resources out there to explain this sacramental phenomenon, and I look forward to learning more about it (and I hope you will, too). As a starting point, I found a couple more helpful videos to explain Reconciliation:

Confession Explained - Catholic Diocese Richmond
Sacraments 101: Penance (why we confess) - Busted Halo

You could read (or watch) as much as you want about why the Church "makes" us go to Reconciliation. But some of you still may not be convinced until you hear about it on another level - how this sacrament impacts us personally and spiritually. It's important to think about why we would want to go to Confession, not just why we have to.

Those teenagers didn't get into that line at the Mount because they were forced to by their parents or chaperons. They didn't get into it for the sole reason of feeling like they had to please someone or because the Church made them do it. They stood in that line because they were seeking something. They were seeking forgiveness, healing, humility, guidance - the list goes on and on. Above all, they were seeking a greater closeness to Christ. To some people, this concept of wanting to go to Confession may be a difficult one to grasp. But let me tell you - if you go to Confession with an open heart, an open mind, and seeking something won't be disappointed. 

I can say from personal experience that, when you decide to walk into that confessional with openness, you will get SO much more out of it than you could ever imagine. Every time after that will get easier and easier as you realize all the gifts that this sacrament has to offer. We do need to go to Confession, but not in the "because I said so" sense. We need to go because we need the healing that Christ provides and to continuously grow closer to Him. 

So to my fellow Catholics, do me a favor and consider going to Confession. Whether you go regularly or haven't been in years, it doesn't matter - Christ welcomes us back with open arms no matter what, and He is more than ready to forgive our sins and forget they ever happened. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Life Updates - Because I Like To Pretend That People Like to Read About My Life

Last year my New Year's Resolution was to write a blog post every week. I would have to say that for the most part I did pretty well - at least up until the summer. As things got busier my posts got fewer, and now it's been since September since I've actually managed to publish a post...oops.

Still, making it through half the year really isn't too bad. Besides, considering the fact that I haven't been posting is because I've been keeping busy, I'd say that's a pretty good reason - I've been doing things to keep me from staring at a computer screen constantly! I'm always up for less time behind the screen. Plus, I think it's a good sign of how this past year has shown a lot of change for the better.

When I made that resolution last year, I was in a bit of a funk. I needed something to get me out of it, to make something my own, to have something to be committed to. Now, I have lots of things to keep me busy! I've also had the opportunity to take a look at the troubles that adult life throws our way and how to make the best of them. It's been a very eye-opening and growth-filled year, and I hope to keep that growth going.

Now, to fill you in on some new updates! First, I guess I'll follow up on the update with my fundraising - I've gotten no where. Sorry to disappoint, but fear not! I have not forgotten. As I mentioned, things got really busy, particularly in the fall, and I'm planning to start fundraising this spring. I've also decided to fund raise for Wounded Warriors instead of Catholic Charities. As a Catholic, I would love to raise money for this faith-based organization. But I also want to stay true to my commitment to raise $500. Since I'm running Tough Mudder in the spring, I have a simple way to raise the money and a secure place for donations to be made. It might be the "easy way out," but with how crazy things have gotten, I'd rather raise the money in a way I can actually manage than take too long trying to figure out how to do it and not raise the money at all. So check out our team donation page and donate what you can! Every little bit helps! Here's a link to the page to make it easy: TM Wounded Warrior Fundraising

There have been a lot of family changes, as well. On a sad note, my beloved grandmother, Rose Phelps, passed away on October 30th. We will miss her dearly, but she lived a long and happy life that we will all remember. But despite this sad event, our family has recently experienced a lot of joy as well. Three of my cousins had babies (bringing my grandmother's great-grandchild count to 10), and they are all the cutest babies you have ever seen. And most recently, my dad and Kathy got married! Between babies, a step mom, 3 step siblings, and a step sister-in-law, my family has grown a lot! All in 3 months!

And now an update on the job front. I am able to write openly about this since my boss is actually very well aware - and supportive - of my latest decision. For those that don't know, the job that I've had isn't exactly what I want to be doing the rest of my life. I've spent the majority of my time there trying to figure out what to do next and what I want to commit my life to (no biggie). To make a long story short, after applying to a lot of jobs that truly meant nothing to me, I had an epiphany moment that I had to pick a direction. The first thing I came back to was a career I had always thought about throughout my life - teaching. An even longer story short, I decided to pursue that career and am currently awaiting the results of my application to a teacher preparation program called Urban Teacher Center. It is a four year program in DC and Baltimore that would hopefully help me to become the best teacher I can possibly be. I thought about holding off on writing about this now since I only have a few days before I find out whether or not I got in. But no matter what the result, it has been a very important process for me (and actually has a very interesting story to how it began) and has shown me how much I want to pursue this career. Hopefully I will be telling you a positive result in a few days, and either way I hope to tell more of the full story to how I got here.

There are a few other random new things, but I think I've blabbed on enough for now. I guess I'll end with this - I most likely will not be able to continue a consistent once-a-week blog post. I don't even have a New Year's Resolution for 2014 yet. Maybe I'll make an official one, maybe I wont, but either way I hope to continue to grow, reach new goals, try new things, and live life to the fullest.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

And the Winner Is...

Ladies and gentleman, the results are in. The poll is closed and votes have been cast for which charity I should raise money for. 

And the winner is...

(drumroll, please)

Catholic Charities!!!

Thank you all so much for casting your votes and helping me to make this decision. Granted I only got 21 votes overall, but it was hard enough to get that so I guess I'll just go with it. Don't worry, other charities, I won't forget about you and will raise money for one of you next time. 

Now the tough part begins - the actual raising of money. As I mentioned in my previous post, I really don't know about fundraising and ensuring that the money I collect is safe and secure. While I'll be researching this in the coming weeks, I also have a lot of other stuff to focus on as well - family events, youth group, moving, career planning/research - and that's just the beginning. If anyone has more information on fundraising and can save me a bit of research time, I would really appreciate it. I might even bake you cookies for your trouble! :)

Also, start brainstorming challenging/fun/goofy things I could do to raise money! The best ideas will be featured in a future poll for votes!

Leave your comments or private message me!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Inspiration: Turning Fun Nights Into Fundraising

Earlier this summer I went to a candle party. For those of you that don't know, it's kind of like Pampered Chef or Mary Kay, just with candles. A consultant comes to your home, shows you their products, and you and your friends order what you want. I had such a great time at my first candle party that I decided to host one of my own. Not only would it be a good excuse to get friends together, but when you host a party you get host credit when people place orders - a.k.a. free stuff! I'm always up for free stuff, so I figured, "Why not?"

I had my candle party earlier this month, and while only a few friends could make it, we still had a great time. I anxiously awaited the moment where I would find out how much free stuff I would be able to get - only to find out that my party didn't get enough sales for me to get anything. I didn't realize how much you needed to get host credit!

"Not to worry," my consultant said. "People can still place online orders so you still have time to get the host credit!"

Well as it turns out, she was right. People did place enough online orders for me to get host credit. But man, did I have to work for it! No one else from my party wanted to order anything, so I had to reach out to other people that couldn't make it to see if I could convince them to buy stuff. I was scrambling all the way up to the last minute, ultimately waiting for someone to make one $7 purchase so that I could meet the sales goal for host credit. I eventually got that last sale and got to pick out my free products, but those products certainly weren't as easy to get as I thought they would be.

When the candle whirlwind finally died down, I took a moment to pause and look back on it all. I had achieved my goal - but something sort of irked me inside. And then I realized - all that time I had spent trying to get people to buy candles, I was only thinking about me, me, me. I hosted the party so that I could get free stuff and in the end I had to work harder than I was expecting to so that I could get candle products for myself. There's a lot of Is in there, don't you think?

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything wrong with buying or selling these candles or any product that's sold in a similar way. It's something fun and it's a way that we can treat ourselves and spend time with friends and family (and even meet new people). But like everything else in life, there has to be a balance. When I had to work so hard for those candles, I felt like I no longer had that balance. I spent so much time thinking about myself and my candles that I forgot about the more important things in life.

That humbling moment was an eye-opening experience for me. After I had achieved my sales goal, I found myself saying to several people, "I feel like I should raise money for a charity now." Well, I've decided to do just that. Even though I had to work a little harder to get my candles than I thought I would have to, I was in fact successful at finding people to help me meet my sales goal. I figure I can use that motivation to help other people, for a cause bigger than my candle collection.

That's right, I am officially starting a fundraising project to help a worthy organization. I'm still not sure which worthy organization I am going to raise it for just yet, but I've determined that my goal amount to raise will be $500. Some of you may think of that as a low amount, some may think it's a high amount. There are reasons that I chose this particular number and those reasons are:

1. It's a realistic sum for me. I've never really tried to raise money for anything before, so I don't want to aim for a number that's too high. Sure I have family that can help out, but most of my friends are in the same place I am - with low budgets. This is a challenging number that is still achievable. And hey, if I go over, even better!
2. It's double the amount of money I needed in sales to get host credit for my candles. In order to get the host credit, I needed people to buy $250 worth of candle products. I figured this would be a good way to represent the series of events that motivated me to fund raise in the first place. Plus candles are cool, but charities are cooler ;)

Picking a monetary goal was the easy part. Now for the first challenging part: picking a charity. This is where I need your help! I have several charities that I would love to give to, but I can only pick one! I want your votes on which charity you think I should donate to. I only ask two things with the selection process:

1. Please don't make additional suggestions. I know that there are a lot of great charities out there, and maybe some day I can fund raise for each of them. But given that this is a small starter project, I would like to keep my list as short as possible, particularly because it is already hard to choose from these charities that are all important to me (hence the voting).
2. Please don't ask me to remove any of the options.  If you don't support a particular charity, don't vote for it. Each of these was chosen for a certain reason. ONLY if you know me and my belief system well enough and know something that I don't about the organization (like they do something that contradicts my morals) may you then contact me privately. I think they're all pretty neutral options that anyone would be open to donating to, but you never know when someone might oppose something for some random reason so I feel the need to throw this out there.

If you would like to learn more about any of these organizations before making your vote, you can click on each one and it will link to their website. If you'd like to know why I chose them, feel free to ask me! I'm happy to tell you why I selected each organization, but don't have the time to spell that out here.

And the charities, in no particular order, are (drum roll, please):

You can vote for your choice on the right-hand side of my blog - there's a poll that lets you choose from each option. I will keep the poll open until September 14th. I don't know why I picked that date specifically but I guess that doesn't really matter. So cast your votes! Once the polls close we can move on to the next step: What will I have to do in order to raise this money (or once my goal is achieved)? Should I run another marathon? Dye my hair purple? Walk around in a Gumbi suit? This is the part where I am open to suggestions so please feel free to comment or private message me with your suggestions. My narrowed-down options will be featured in a future blog post for another round of voting. I'll work on some ideas as well, so start brainstorming!

Once all that's done, the real grunt work will finally begin. I not only have to raise the money, but I need to be sure that I can collect it safely and in a way that people know I'm legit. My friends and family know me well enough to know that I'll hand over every penny I receive to the charity of choice, but if I have to reach out to strangers I want them to know that their money is secure and is going to a legitimate cause. Not to mention that even if it is just my family and friends I'd really rather not keep a collection of $500 sitting on my bookshelf. If ANYONE has more extensive fundraising experience and can point me in the right direction I would be SO APPRECIATIVE. I might even bake you cookies for your contributions.

Now that I've spent so much time writing this post, let's get started fundraising! Cast your votes! Send me your ideas! Pull out your checkbooks! And if you have a good name that I can call this fundraising operation of mine, please send that on as well! We all know how I sometimes have challenges naming things :)

* If the Wounded Warrior Project is the winner, my fundraising activity will be to train for and run a Tough Mudder, since proceeds from that event already support this particular organization. I plan on running a Tough Mudder someday no matter what (hopefully next spring), so even if another charity wins the vote for this little project of mine, Wounded Warrior Project will still get money when I run the race. Just something to keep in mind.