Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I don't blame God

I’ve always been blessed to have wonderful role models in my life. One woman in particular has a permanent monument in my heart; she gave me many things over the course of our time together, not the least of which is my name.

My parents named me Katherine after my dad’s mom (who also is known as Kay, Tappie, or Gramma). My sisters, Christine and Elizabeth, were in school when I was born and both of my parents worked, so when they found out that I was joining the family, my parents asked my Gramma to watch me during the day, rather than putting me in daycare 45 hours a week.

From the time when I was 2 months old until I went to kindergarten, Gramma would come over every and make me scrambled eggs in the microwave (scrumptious!), and help me get dressed. We’d go upstairs and make the beds for everyone and then we’d watch TV and “rest our eyes”.

On Wednesdays, we went to Claudia’s to get her hair fixed. I have countless memories of sitting on her lap, snuggled into her chest, and (forgive me) playing her underarm skin that fascinated me because of how “it rolled.” In addition to going to the beauty salon, we ran weekly errands like going to the grocery store and the library, and sometimes we’d even go to the mall to get “French fries, ketchup and coke” for lunch. On our outings, we’d stop to talk to every single person we saw who had a baby. 

Mommy and Gramma had a relationship that every woman should dream of having with their mother-in-law. Gramma was sassy and sparkly and loving and she bonded with her daughters-in-law as if they were gifts that her sons had brought home, rather than man-thieves who stole them away from her. Mommy understood early on that a strong bond with Gramma was a gift of love, not a detraction of my love for her. I formed incredibly close bond with my mom and Gramma, and their love for me complimented each other.

Gramma and I were like peas and carrots. I was her Katie Bird, and she was my Gramma. She shared with me her love for young children, classic movies, cultural trivia, and true stars like Lucille Ball and Billie Holiday. She respected me as a person from day one, and by example, she taught me how to talk to adults and make friends. She shared with me her quiet but deep Catholic faith, and she encouraged and defended me on a daily basis.

I’ll never forget sitting on the couch with her on New Year’s Day in my sophomore year of high school. I told her that I wasn’t excited to go back to school the next day because I always got into tufts with this one boy. She turned to me, fire in her eyes, and raised her fist indignantly, shaking it threateningly and fervently said, “HE’S HARRASSING YOU?! Why I outta….”

Whenever I got my report card, she’d cheer with enthusiasm for grades that I thought were mediocre. At times when my own spirits were quite low, she’d share her hilarious point of view, and follow it up with, “You know what? I’ve never had any doubts about you.”

As we got older, naturally our dynamic shifted. We’d still hold hands as we walked across the street, but my hand would be the firm, steady one now. When I was learning to drive, it would be part of my job to take her to the grocery store or the doctor, as my sisters had been doing for years.

Gramma lived in Apt 242 in a complex for low-income seniors or other individuals who wanted to live independently, and it was my home away from home. I spent an inordinate amount of time there, making friends with other residents and determining the subtle changes between the sitting rooms on each floor.

I do not own the rights 
On December 1st, 2009 (my senior year in high school), a tenant on the 3rd floor lit a candle that never went out. The complex caught fire and though no one was hurt, she (and several others) lost all of her belongings and her home of 20 years.

Our community reached out, and we received donation after donation of clothes, giant purses (which were her favorite), gift cards and condolences. Unfortunately, that fire claimed a significant amount of her spirit, her spunk was greatly quelled and she made a habit of falling in the middle of the night.

After living with us for a few months, Gramma’s best friend, Virginia, came to Richmond to be closer to her and they moved into a new apartment complex. Then I went off to college to explore my life as a young adult, and found my home in the Church.

Gramma spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital in my First year, but she reclaimed small sparkly pieces of her spirit that had burned up the previous year. When our sweet Joan Marie didn’t wake up the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Gramma marched me up to her casket to pray at the Vigil. She prodded us to laugh following Emil Daddy’s funeral on Christmas Eve by joking with the nurses and asking, “Am I not your most adorable patient tonight?”

On April 6th, 2011, my mom called just before my 2 o’clock class. “Katie, I need to tell you something….” Gramma had been in treatment for injuries she’d sustained from falling, and my dad had noticed a change in her coloring. They brought in Dr. Lee, the same doctor who treated my grandfather in the end, and he confirmed that she was jaundiced due to renal failure. “She’s going into Hospice, Katie. I’m sorry, but this is the end.”

I walked across campus, trying to breathe as hot knots gathered in my throat and tears erupted from my eyes. I walked from the Lawn to the church, and met friends there. 

My friends, God bless them, sat with me as I cried and questioned, passing time until Christine could pick me up on the way home from her school. I could not for the life of me figure out how the world could continue to go on without Gramma. How could it be that her time was up? It wasn’t enough; I wasn’t ready. How is it that the whole world didn’t know they were about to lose such an amazing woman? How was I expected to continue school? For that matter, how could I get out of bed and breathe air in and out in a world without her?

Christine arrived, we drove back to Richmond and almost immediately made our way to her bedside. She was unbelievably physically altered, but she was there; she wasn’t gone yet.

Family means more than just the 5 of us.
As a family, we spent the better part of 3 days together, and we all said goodbye to her in our own ways. In perfect form, she muttered her last word, “holy,” as we prayed a Hail Mary circled around her. She died peacefully at 1:14am on April 10th, 2011. To this day, I'm surprised that God let the Sun rise that morning.

I didn’t have great answers to any of my own questions. For a while, the world continued without her but I didn’t. I drastically changed my course of study and became a part-time student. I seriously considered taking time off of school altogether.  Slowly though, the memories of her lessons and stories and time with me lit a few sparks inside of my heart.

Talk about that sense of humor
At times when I need to hear her voice, I go to church, and pray for her intercession. On days when I miss holding her hands, I carry one of her giant purses or wear her “hip grannie” rings and stroke its curvatures with my thumbs. Almost automatically, I've taken up humming nonsense notes to myself, just like she did, when I’m alone with my thoughts. Any credit for my sense of humor goes directly to her.

In life and in death she taught me that everything was going to be okay. I don’t blame God for wanting her in heaven; I’ve become grateful for the near 85 years He lent her to us on earth.

Still, even two years later, it is unspeakably hard to spend my day knowing that she isn’t living any more. But on those days when I seriously question myself and the potential for success and happiness, her voice resonates in my head like a powerful orchestra. She says, “You know what, Katie Bird? I’ve never had any doubts. Love you!”

I very much love you too, Gramma. Thank you so much for always taking care of me. I'll be seeing you.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tomorrow will take care of itself

I am very blessed.

Seriously, I have everything I need in life. Safety and shelter? - check! Food and clothing (in surplus)?- check! Love and knowledge of God? - check!

And yet sometimes I find myself unsatisfied or full of worry about my future. The rest of the world has turned this into a joke, adding the phrase "First world problem" to the end of selfish or mundane complaints. 

When is it okay to complain? Ever? What about sadness? Is it ever okay to be sad when my needs are exceeded and none of my stress is related to my need to survive? 

Complaining should be kept to a minimum, but I think it is easier to come by sadness when all of your needs are met. One year ago this week, I was in Saltadere, Haiti working with three men from my church on a irrigation system at the Catholic school. 

Our work led us to meet numerous students and townsfolk, most of whom have wondered about how they are going to feed or clothe themselves. We stayed in a rectory along with 80 displaced children who had no where else to go. These wonderful people had EVERY reason to worry, but honestly, they were the most joyful people I have ever met.

God is the source of all Joy and Love. This is something that our Haitian friends lived and breathed.  They are joyful because they trust in the Lord. 

This is the gas station where we were almost stuck for good
I truly believe God worked through others on this trip to show me that He IS everything and He's got us in His hand. And His methods were as subtle as hitting someone in the head with a 2x4. 

Example: Three hours after landing in Santo Domingo, our group (which consisted of Bob, a retired military man whose employment history is still classified; Pete, a water and irrigation specialist; Andrew, a Systems Engineering student and extreme outdoors enthusiast; and me--I'd like to say that I bat clean up but...) stopped at a gas station at 5am in the middle of rural Dominican Republic. Cutting a long story short, due to a language barrier and sleep deprivation, we filled our INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE with DIESEL fuel.

Exodus 14:14 says, "The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still." And He did. It took about 4 hours and a crazy "phone tree" of international texting, but we were able to find help to fix the car and communicate with our meet up point about the delay. HOW AWESOME IS GOD?!!?!! What a great cause for Joy! (And, for the record, there are at least 4 other stories from the week like this)

Currently, I'm struggling a bit to reject worry, and unfortunately the aftertaste of my trip to Haiti has  been rinsed out over the course of the year. [My Meme would read: Didn't get my first choice summer job. Might be bored during 3 month school break.] So I turn to the Bible, and God uses the 2x4 method with me, once again.

Matthew 6:25-34

Here I am with Alessandra. My friends joke that I
 brought a baby back with me from Haiti
 - If I had, it would have been this amazing little girl
 For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Christian Lessons from Classic Movies, pt I: Girls sleep in the house, Boys sleep in the barn

I do not own the rights

A growing trend in the parenting world is setting a tight limit on the amount of TV their kids can watch every day. As a baby sitter, I am often the enforcer of such rules until mom and dad come home and put on a show so that they can make dinner. They do this so kids don’t rot their brains or get wrong impressions of the world.

When I was growing up, I watched A LOT of TV and movies. I mean a lot; however, my parents and grandparents watched with us, and used each moment as a teaching lesson. For that I am eternally grateful.

One classic movie that my family has viewed umpteen times is the 1954 musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In case you’ve never seen it, it is the *ahem* very realistic portrayal of seven backwoodsman brothers and their quest for love.

Set in Oregon territory in the 1850s, the oldest brother, Adam, meets Milly when he rides into town to trade grain and pellets for whatever they need on the farm. Upon introduction, he proposes to her. She accepts, the two get married that day and then venture back to his cottage in the woods.

I do not own the rights
However, he neglects to mention that he lives with his six younger brothers (Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank, & Gideon) and their lifestyle is an unbelievable mess (that she is now responsible for cleaning up after). Spunky and sassy, Milly takes none of this lying down, and she honors her marriage vows while teaching her new brothers manners and etiquette, guiding them through their new social and romantic lives.

And they all sing and dance! Why on earth would any two parents show this to three young girls repeatedly as an example of true love and respect? Because it became a WONDERFUL teaching tool about love, responsibility, and abstinence.

What?! Yes, that’s right. My parents and loved ones started elements of “the talk” before we hit kindergarten. Before we knew that there was “a talk,” they laid the foundation for the values they wanted us to uphold through life.

I do not own the rights
In the film, the boys fumble in love when they “accidentally” beat up all of the eligible men in town at a barn-raising (what can I say? It happens…). Depressed and forlorn, these lonesome polecats think about leaving the farm to just get away. Milly hears this and sends Adam to talk to them about the trials of love.

Adam, who thinks he knows everything and never needed to learn etiquette to woo his wife (let this be a lesson, ladies), takes the story of the “sobbin’ women” from Plutarch’s Lives and applies it to their predicament. He convinces his brothers that the best course of action is simply to ride into Town, collect the women and steal them away to the cabin for seclusion, because that is the true course to earn requited love. So they do it. And they cause an avalanche so that the women can’t be returned and the town can’t come to fetch them. BUT THEY FORGOT TO GET THE PARSON!

When the men return with these petrified, sobbing women, Milly comes out of the house, on fire with rage and disappointment in the men in her life. She lovingly gathers the women around her, and after hearing that the avalanche blocked them all in for the winter, speaks the words that every parent wants his or her daughters to understand as truth.

I do not own the rights
She stood in front of the door and said, “This house is for the girls. As long as they are here, you all will eat and sleep in the barn with the rest of the livestock.”

Men sleep in the barn; women sleep in the house. When were little, my mom would gather us around and say, “Now why did the boys have to go sleep somewhere else?” And we would reply, “Because the boys and the girls weren’t married, and there are only seven beds in the whole house. Boys and girls can’t sleep in the same bed unless they are married.”

Boom. My parents took the time to teach us values as the standard way for living, not a rare incidence of weird. For the rest of our lives, men and women sleeping separately before marriage was not only normal, but necessary. Where else will you find that in popular culture?

There are several other important lessons in this film, which I’m sure I’ll sketch out at another time. If you haven’t seen it, go pick up a copy! I recommend watching it with one or two friends who have seen it a lot and totally love it – you won’t be bored, I promise.

It wasn’t until fourth grade that I realized: 1) it’s not exactly normal to talk about premarital living arrangements with your parents, and 2) the rest of the world didn’t know what I’d always known: sex (and sleeping together) was made for marriage.

What you watch and what you let your kids watch is important, don’t get me wrong. But HOW you watch something makes all the difference. By working with the media, our parents set the Christian standard in our hearts.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Umbrella manners and Sidewalk Etiquette

In college, walking is an incredibly prevalent mode of getting around. It seems great, right? Exercise, time outdoors, and guaranteed social interaction are all built into your day. What bliss!

No copyright infringement intended. Discovered on pinterest.
HOWEVER, at my school there is a chronic problem with pedestrian selfishness1, especially during rainy weather. As a local driver and fellow pedestrian, I have witnessed the many problems and dangerous situations this solipsismcauses.

So here is a preliminary code of conduct that could be used as a reference almost anywhere!

You might wonder, “Katie, how can there be a Christian perspective on walking?” Glad you asked, friend.

Proverbs 20:11 says, “It is by his deeds that a lad distinguishes himself
if his conduct is pure and right.”  And Galations 5:13 says, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

***I do not in any way mean to imply or state that I am the judge for what is pure and right; however, there needs to be a jumping off point for what is and is not acceptable. Perhaps we can learn as global community can serve each other in these ways! Concurrently, Psalm 141:3 says,

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.”

I will admit that in my time I have, (ahem) not always thought of or spoken loving words in these frustrating interactions (such as “umbrella altercations,” “pedestrian apparitions,” or “Move glitch! Get out’ the way!”). And thus, this is the padlock on my indiscrete internal comments…

The New American Code of Sidewalk Protocol, Vol. I: 
Please observe Mutual Occupational Voyage Etiquette

  1. Acceptable and appropriate communication henceforth is a wave or other gracious gesture (i.e., a smile, mouthing the words “Thank you,” [obvious] head nod with a simultaneous eyebrow raise) shall be used to indicate the following:
    1. Do you see me?
    2. Yes, I see you. Please go ahead.
    3. Thank you very much. Have a lovely day!
    4.  *In the event that an umbrella is in use, the umbrella may be raised or tipped as an extension of gracious communicative gestures.
  2. A pedestrian must never assume that a driver “must be able to see them” or “just needs to stop.” Measures, such as the aforementioned acceptable gestures should be used to confirm visibility
    1.  Indeed, in Virginia, pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right of way; however, sometimes weather conditions or time of day makes it INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT to see a pedestrian in general. Please be mindful that being in the right legally can’t keep you out of the hospital literally. Make them see you.
  3. In the event of umbrella-appropriate precipitation, the umbrella should be held in the hand most to the outside of the path to accommodate umbrellas from the opposite flow of traffic.
    1. Appropriate measures should be employed to prevent the prongs of any umbrella entering the ocular area. In the event that this happens, please help your victim seek appropriate medical attention.
  4. Large umbrellas might be shared in a gesture of friendship with fellow sidewalk commuters enduring the day with a lack of umbrella. In areas of high umbrella occupancy, umbrellas can also be shared to reduce congestion and risk of injury.
  5.  Pedestrians are responsible for minding their speed and location in the sidewalk traffic pattern. Please walk in a straight path and yield to those who hasten to their destination, as they might be time constrained. 
  6. Parties of more than two should distribute themselves appropriately as to not force others into the street, into the mud, puddles or other unpleasant and potentially dangerous (or yucky) vicinities due to disproportional allocation of the public space.
Something missing? Please propose your own additions in the comments!

Concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentration on one’s own advantage, pleasure or well-being without regard for others
2 A theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing; also: extreme egocentrism

Should happens

It is safe to say that I am abnormally close with my mother (and darn grateful to be so), especially at my age.

As a junior in college, there are several things to consider, concerning the future, my vocation as a daughter of God, my education. In the last few weeks, I have spent a lot of time talking to her about what I "should" do, how I "should" feel. And after a while, she finally said, "Katie, I think you 'should' too much." 

What on earth does this mean? God created us to do good, so naturally, there are right and wrong things to do and say. In that sense, you can't "should" too much!

But I don't think that is what my mom was trying to say. See, as I've gotten older, I've come to realize what many have realized before me. Mark Twain said, 

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he had learned in seven years."

I've never thought that my mother and father were ignorant, but I seldom fully appreciated their wisdom. What my great momma was getting at is comparing my internal life to the external lives of the other people in my life. There is a limit to the amount of one's internal self is shown through behavior to the general public, but besides that I am the only me there will ever be

Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."

I was recently at a Catholic Students' conference, and one of speakers said, "When your parents conceived you, God thought to himself, 'What does the world need right now?' And your face entered his mind. He sent you here for a specific purpose and there is no other person who can fill in for you."

After the fall of man, vanity and comparing myself to other people is almost inevitable, but each time I think, "I should look.... like this person," or "I should do .... like this person," or even "I should feel differently.... because of this," I will strive to remember that I am an individual. Should happens every day, but God's plan for me in this world is constant, and I will continue to pray to realize it. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why blog? Why now?

If I was asked to describe myself with one word, I would confidently speak my favorite word: Catholic.

I have just returned from SEEK 2013, a national Fellowship of Catholic University Students (http://www.focus.org/) conference, and it was the most wonderful, educational, inspirational, exhausting, prayerful, glorious weeks of my life! Imagine being surrounded by friends and scholars while bearing witness to over 50 speakers, 125 priests, dozens of sisters and religious, teaching the grace and glory of God through the truth of the Catholic Church. These men and women use their gifts and talents as speakers, listeners, musicians, etc. to glorify God every day!

It was an amazing, life changing experience. Together, along with 6,200 other Catholic college students, I could attend daily mass, adoration, confession, and ask questions of the experts around me. We asked a lot of those around us, but I felt I needed to ask a few questions of myself: How am I living my life to serve God? And what are God's gifts to me?

These are hard questions to ask and they're tougher still to answer, but important. If I can identify my God-given gifts and strengths, then perhaps I can find the correct path to glorifying him, and more easily identify his calling for my life. 

A few ideas of my talents came to my mind immediately, but I doubt the New Evangelization calls for a Netflix troller or Sporcle player extraordinaire.

Words are useful though. I know words. Sometimes I can even put them together coherently, and I have had a journal for as long as I can remember. So a new resolution this year is to devote time every week researching, writing and discussing topics in my life as a woman in college with the ever truthful and wise perspective of the Catholic Church.