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Monday, May 29, 2006

Vacation's End

It is with a heavy heart I return to work tomorrow morning.

Yep. I've been on vacation all week, and you know what I did? A whole bunch a' nuthin'! It was GREAT! I relaxed, I slept in (usually until 7 am), I stayed up late (1:00 am was the latest one night), I putzed around, I hung out with some friends on the weekend nights, and in general, I had a good time.

But tomorrow I go back to work, and with that, I pay for this week. The work that wasn't done when I left has compounded and I will no doubt come back to many many voice mails from people asking why I haven't returned their calls, when my greeting clearly states in both English and Spanish that I am out of the office and to call X at X number until the Tuesday after Memorial Day. Tomorrow is a day to return all those voice mails and complete damage control with unhappy customers who can't be bothered to actually LISTEN to both my warnings before I left and my greeting while I was gone.

No doubt that we will also have a very busy day with new assignments as Memorial Day weekend usually brings out the worst in people and crime victims and fraud mongers will be pounding down my door begging for help YESTERDAY and demanding service NOW in spite of the fact that I can't possibly do everything in one day, or even in one week.

That's what I hate about vacations. Coming back. And since this is our busy season, it is not going to get better any time soon. Such is life.

But on the up side, I had my hair cut and hilighted over my days off and it is much shorter and the highlights are much redder! Yay!

I've been considering again a return to school. Perhaps the wisest course would be to obtain a Master's in Instruction, and then maybe I could become a teacher. I'd like to teach religion, but for that, I think I'd need more formal education in theology, and I know I can't swing both when I can't even truly entertain the idea of one.

What I need is a huge miracle which will enable me to pay my mortgage, the vet bills, the student loans, the car, and then tuition, and allow me to quit my job to focus on better things.

Or maybe Prince Charming will enter the scene and we'll get married and he'll pay the bills and walk the dogs so I can go back to school.

Yeah, right.

I don't wanna go back to work. Who DOESN'T feel this way on the last day of vacation?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

To Veil or Not to Veil

I have intended to blog about this topic prior to this, but just never got around to it. I've found that the timing with everything has to be right, and often, my timing is not. But tonight, it's time. I happened over to WardWideWeb and there I found a GREAT explanation as to the correct reason for choosing to wear a mantilla.

Somewhere around a year or so ago, I noticed several people in my parish veiling. The headcoverings varied from hats to scarves to lace mantillas, the latter of which were sold in the church gift shop. (Yes, my parish has a gift shop. It's a Catholic mega-church and in spite of myself, I love it). Anyway, as could be predicted, the mantillas and other headcoverings were more prolific in the three daily Masses than in the Sunday liturgies, but just the same, I began to sense a call to cover my head.

I purchased a black lace mantilla and I'll admit the first time I wore it I was a bit self-conscious, but in time, that feeling went away. I still wear my veil at Mass and in the Adoration Chapel to remind me that I am in a holy place and the lace on my peripheral reminds me to direct my worship to the Lord and away from the random thoughts which plague me at the worst possible time.

I also have a white lace mantilla which is worn on the more special occasions.

Of late, though, as I've gone though a rather intense period of dryness, I have questioned my wearing the veil. Am I doing so for the right reasons? Am I trying to appear to be more holy?

I will tell you the reasons I began to veil, but in order for you to really understand, you need a summary of my history. While I was in high school,I began to cultivate a feminist attitude. This attitude became a chip on my shoulder during college as I studied for Law Enforcement. I later became a firefighter, and I fear some of the feminity I held was in danger of being lost among the androgynous culture perpetuated by the lesbian lobby. (that's a whole different story).

I still joke around that my friends in college thought I was just another guy. I actually was dismayed to learn only a couple of years ago that some of the guys took bets that I might actually be a lesbian!

Anyway, I had fallen away from my faith and continued to be away for many years. It took a long time to come back, and this is something I did with a HUGE dose of God's grace and a lot of study.

Finally, I reverted to the faith of my childhood, and it seems it was permanent, and maybe something in me was seeking an outward sign. And outward committment to somthing I had internally realized. When I saw others wearing the veil, I understood, finally, what was missing. I had not realized my modesty, nor had I ever really accepted my feminity in the way other woman had. Now, I am not a "girly-girl", and truth be told, I never have been. That tomboyishness remains around and within me, but believe you me, I am feminine through and through. But something happens when I enter God's house; I understand that I am a woman; and perhaps someday I will be the woman He created me to be. I am a woman in His image and everywhere, I see His mother upheld as an example of femininity. She is veiled. She always points the way to Jesus and in doing so, she is a leader among all women, as well as men.

I heard the call to imitate Our Lady and I have found, through wearing the veil, that no matter what I am outside of Mass, when I arrive to worship, I am a woman of God, and nothing else matters. The veil is a sign of modesty and submission to God. It is a reminder of the holiness of our location, and I do need this reminder at times.

Allow me to explain.

I may not be a girly-girl, but I am ALL ABOUT my hair. Yup. God blessed me with good hair and I've heard about it all my life. And even though I am in my 30's, I'm still playing with it. I love to color it and go from one color to another drastically. For to jet black. And the cool thing is that these colors look GOOD on me. Last fall I actually had my hair colored professionally for the first time in my life, and I got hilights. What did I do? I had her color my hair jet black with unnaturally red streaks. It was not neon, but close. Now, I am a sensible woman, and so we went conservative so the look was appealing. The red faded to a nice auburn for which I recieved many compliments.

Just this week I had it colored again, and cut, and guess what? More red this time. Less conservative. And when the sun hits my hair, I KNOW that it glows. I love this.

You may be asking what my point is, and some of you may already undestand. I am vain of my hair. Yup. My hair is my best feature and I like to show it off. But a line has to be drawn, and I do so at Mass. I don't go to Mass to look good or recieve compliments. I go to worship God. He already knows all about my hair, and my veiling it for Him is a form of modesty. It's a small way of my saying to Him, "Ok, this is not about me, but all about YOU, and so I will cover myself so that I become smaller and YOU absorb all the attention which is so rightfully due to you."

I was thinking recently of not veiling anymore. The "craze" seems to have died down and some who used to veil do not anymore. I have gone to Mass a couple times without it, and although I felt somewhat naked, it was OK.

Then a point was brought home to me. I went to my regular adoration hour a few weeks ago, and did not wear my veil. Now, during my hour, I like to sit up close to Jesus, so I am in front of other people. That's not usually an issue, for everyone has their favored places in the chapel, and those places rarely overlap.

Well, one day, a gentleman who has the hour before me stayed late. I remember that he left after I arrived, but for some reason returned and apparently stayed awhile. As he was leaving the second time he came forward and knelt near the front pew, directly in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I was not distracted and paid him little mind.

Then he leaned over as he stood, and said to me, "Boy, kid, you sure do have pretty hair!"

He finished his goodbyes to Jesus and went on his way.

There I sat, veil-less, wearing a pony-tail, realizing that had I worn my veil as usual, this man would not have felt the need to compliment me. I was not there to be complimented. And what's worse, I feel that my hair actually distracted this man enough to divert him from his own prayer. Now, is that my problem? No, it is not. We all have distractions but the reality is that I have taken pains for my hair to be noticed in certain times, and this incident reminded me that thus, I have a certain obligation to NOT be a distraction to others.

Y'all, I'm no beauty queen. I'm not Rapunzel, but I am a woman with bright red streaks and let's face it...that does tend to garner attention. And during Mass or Adoration, that is NOT the time to garner anyone's attention. So I veil.

Some may argue that's the wrong reason, but in my heart, I have come to understand that it's the right thing to do. I will not lobby for all to wear the veil, for I don't think that's necessary. It would just be seen as another law, and some would resent it.

I would like to see more formal education on the topic. Last summer I was accused of being disobedient to the Magesterium for wearing the mantilla, and my explanations (Including history of it) fell upon deaf ears. She referred to my mantialla as a "doily". I had to remimnd her that it is blessed and is therefore, a sacramental. She accused me of being disobdient because the American Bishops have not spoken on the subject, either yay or nay.

(As an aside; I found her argument preposterous, and it was only with great restraint that I prohibited myself from pointing out the fact that the American Bishops also have not spoken out on her personal devotion to praying in the ORANS position during Mass and singing in tongues at charismatic Masses and otherwise in public....but that's another story).

The reality is this; wearing the veil is a personal devotion. God may speak to us all in different ways, and maybe some of us need the equivalent of blinders used on horses to keep our attention forward. I do not want anyone to see me as other than a sinner in need of correction, for ultimately, that is why I veil. There are many acceptable reasons to veil, and they may vary from person to person. For myself, it's my vanity and a certain reminder that I am a woman after Mary's own heart, and God has willed it this way. He has willed that I be a Catholic woman, to follow in her footsteps and point the way to Jesus for others. I don't have to be a religious sister for this; I need only recognize that as a woman, I have a duty in God's service, as do we all.

We do not cover our heads out of submission to men. I abhor the thought! We do not cover our heads to stand out or seem more holy than others. We cover our heads out of respect for the Lord who is present.

If we as women go to visit the Pope, we are to veil ourselves. How much greater is Jesus than his Vicar? Isn't the decision to veil, then, in the presence of Christ obvious?

Is there any more to be said? (or as usual, have I been too-long winded?)

God bless you all, as always.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Thank God for Nurses!

Over the last couple days, I have been progressively losing the hearing in my left ear. Today I went to work with a loss of equilibrium, most likely psychosomatic, due to this condition. I had tried the home remedies, and had to concede was time to go to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor. And usually, I can avoid the experience, but this time...not so much.

So I called and made an appointment with anyone because I was desperate. I would have been happy to see the janitor, but they did find me an appointment with a doctor at the clinic.

I was led to an examination room by a nursing student, and she was very nice. Very motherly, and very capable. She was empathetic, and still businesslike. I have no doubt she will graduate with honors.

She left and the doctor came in and we spoke for literally twenty seconds. No doubt the insurance company will be billed for over $100.00 for his time.

He asked me what I was there for, so I told him I couldn't hear out of my left ear, it was plugged. He asked me what I was reading (I had a book- Sophia House), and I told him the short description, "It's about a guy who harbors a Jewish boy during the Nazi occupation of Poland," and he introduced himself. Of course I couldn't hear him and I had to ask him to repeat. His introduction was totally out of the order of the usual script. I was at a loss. Usually the introduction comes BEFORE the icebreaking question about the book.

I felt like an idiot. I wish someone had given me this doctor's script for if they had, I could have responded appropriately to his introduction.

Anyway, he confirmed the ear canal was blocked. He told me matter-of-factly that I needed an ear wash.


He asked me if I'd ever had a punctured ear drum? No. Or ear surgery of any kind? No.

"Then you can have one!" the doctor proclaimed, as though he were passing his affirmative judgment with regard to having a lollipop after confirming I'd already eaten my vegetables. I was amused.

He shook my hand (that usually comes with the intro), told me he was sending in a nurse, and left.

Tell me again...why does our culture revere doctors so much? I just don't get it.

On the other hand, another nurse comes in, and tells me that this ear problem is striking many people, and I am not the first person this week with no prior history of such a problem. Ever. She does her job efficiently, and effectively, and the next thing I know, I can hear her speak by using BOTH of my ears!

Praise God! I was very thankful and thanked her lavishly for her help. She of course laughed....I'm sure she has recieved this response from other people with temporary and uncomfortable deafness.

And my other nurse story (sorry, I don't have many as I have not often been sick). A few years ago I needed surgery. I remember waking from the anesthesia with the strange thought that everything was orange...the special heat blanket which was over me, the iv fluid, the curtains, the floor, the nurses' uniforms...all orange. I had not opened my eyes yet and so I have no explanation for this. No, the oxygen I was recieving was not scented. I actually considered this in my loopy state and made a special mental note that the air, while orange, was not scented at all.

As I awoke, I could hear a nurse moving around...she removed the IV and the oxygen, and after a few minutes, she asked me how I was. With much grog and little voice, I told her, "thirsty".

And I was . Very, very thirsty. And getting kind of tired of the orange which wasn't really there.

She left, and for a moment, I feared she had abandoned me, but thenk I figured I could just go back to sleep. Then she was back and she was giving me ice chips.

I decided in that moment that this merciful savior of a woman was the BEST PERSON *EVER* and I have loved her dearly ever since.

The poor dear even had to help me dress, but was respectful enough not to laugh after I first refused her help and then had to sheepishly ask for it.

I have decided that I will forever love and be grateful to nurses. They do the most work and they get the least credit. They are hardworking, intelligent, and if not for them, I have to admit I'd probably still be miserable.

So I ask you...have you hugged your nurse today, and thanked God for him or her? Now, don't go around randomly hugging nurses...that might freak them out, and rightly so, but don't forget to thank them and don't forget to keep all nurses on your permanent prayer list!

As always, God bless!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Code Red

When I was a kid, we used to watch a tv show called "Code Red". It ran from 1981-1982 and then never returned. I'm sure it was a terribly hokey show, but I loved it and so did my sibling.

In looking back, I have to wonder if the female firefighter on the show was the spark that caused me to puruse the same career 25 years later. I remember running around the house in an "Emergency!" fire helmet, and was so in love with the actors on Code Red that I tore the "Emergency!" sticker off of my red fire hat. But since I could not figure out how to place the Code Red! Logo on my hat, I ran around sporting a partially torn logo. I used to pretend to be the female firefighter, although to this day I don't remember her name--either her real one or her character's. But I loved Ted, and I tried to name my stuffed toys after him.

I'm sad, today. Why? Because even TVLand has not replayed the show. I've done internet searches so I know there's some kind of a following out there. I wish they would download to DVD and put us out of our misery. Even if it was hokey, we liked the show and it may have had some kind of dubious (although good) influence on my life.

Now, I liked and still like Emergency!, but that show's actors weren't nearly as cute as the Code Red guys.

So! Does anyone know any way we can force the industry to make a DVD of the old Code Red shows??? I guarantee one purchase right here, and I'm betting there'll be more.

If not, would anyone consider going to and find the request section and write in Code Red? A lot of people will thank you for entering your vote, even if you don't intend to ever watch the show.

Friday, May 12, 2006

For the Love of Saddam...could a soul be lost?

I met someone who may be classified as a political enemy, and maybe even a spiritual enemy. This morning at work, I had to call an individual, and rather than handling business over the phone, as he was nearby, he asked to come in and handle things in person. I made sure a conference room was available, called him back and set the appointment.

Something told me (my Guardian Angel, maybe?) told me to pray before this meeting. Something told me that something was wrong and that I needed protection, so I offered some prayers as I prepared for the meeting, and when I went forward to meet the gentleman, I was collected, professional, and apparently, protected.

I greeted him with a handshake, as is typical here in America, and showed him to the conference room just off of the waiting area. He chose his seat and I sat across from him and described the format for our meeting. He verbally expressed openness and seemed eager to get things taken care of. I apologized in advance for some questions I had to ask of him and assured him that it was formatted and I intended no offense. He understood and we were off to a good start. The man was clearly intelligent and well spoken. We were respectful of each other. All in all, it was a successful meeting.

You may be asking what was so odd about this that I had to post about it? What is so strange about the above conversation that took place?

Because beneath the veneer, I learned who this man really is, and I learned that technically, he is our enemy. That's a pretty harsh statement, and it begs an explanation. So I'll tell you.

This man's car was stolen, and it was partially his fault for he left the keys for his high-end vehicle and some thieves hopped in and helped themselves. The man is a victim of a crime; he lost his property, and possibly even his identity. He had a right to be angry. He lost personal documents that can be used to fabricate fraudulent accounts and he is aware that he will suffer the consequences of this for years to come. Again, he has a right to be angry. I sympathized with him.

After our formal business today, the man continued to vent, and I only wish that this was recorded. He expressed his anger with profanity, and during this, he expressed his anti-American sentiments. He is from Iraq, I learned, and he has been in the U.S. for over 25 years...he is a citizen, and has raised and is still raising a family here.

I realized somewhere early on that his life priorites were a bit confused when he stated he will never touch his car again because it has been violated. He ridiculously described that it is like his car has been raped. He compared this to his 5 wives...the man told me, (mind you, I'm a woman), that is is as though another man touches his wife, he no longer wants his wife...and this is why he has had five wives.

It was difficult, but I was actually able to keep my mouth shut. I'm sure my Guardian Angel had his hand flat against my mouth, for I'm not sure I could have remained silent without God's grace. To compare a car theft to rape??? How that undermines the crime of rape. How his expressions and reasons for abaondoning his wives spoke of his own double-standard, his own usage of a woman for his own personal agenda. She is used goods, she is impure...then what is he???

But I digress.

It gets worse.

The man stated that everything is wrong in America. He blames America for all the wrongs in his life, and all the while, he bragged about his $700,000+ home, his high-end cars, and even though he was driving one of them, he complained that his insurance company would not pay directly for a rental while they complete the business end of his claim. The man is not destitute, far from it, and yet he complained he was being victimized again...over a situation which was not precarious. I've never seen less of a victim in my life than this man, and yet, he played the victim card as I'd never seen it played.

But this was not the problem. I have seen this before. (As an aside...I've noticed that those in the most destitute consitions tend to be far more accepting of them and prepared to survive in spite of adversity...while this man, with the high end cars he simply did not want to drive as it's not June yet, whined and pleaded and vented as though he was being murdered.)

Murder. There's an interesting word. That's the word that defined this man's true values. He wanted to murder the men who stole his car, because in "his country" (Iraq, that is), under Saddam Hussein, the penalty for theft is death. The penalty for many things was death, and this man was angry that he could not simply kill the people who cause this trouble.

Now, do not argue that this man was only venting. I've heard much of the same before, but you were not present to look into his eyes and hear his heartfelt justifications; you were not there to realize that he was entirely serious and if it were legal, he would not have a problem with carrying out the deaths of anyone who offended his sensibilities.

He justified this by his country; in Iraq it was legal, and in his estimation, Saddam Hussein is a good man.

Yes, those were his words. The man slaughtered thousands of people. He violated the wives and daughters of many men in his rape rooms. He ordered these rapes. He ordered murders, and this man, the man in my meeting, was a HUGE fan of Saddam Hussein.

I did not think it would have been effective to discuss with him the dignity of life inherent in each human being.

I have never met a person who so freely expressed these real beliefs. I always thought that if I did, I would express my own opinions, and especially if that person was a man, he would feel the wrath of God via a woman and learn his place.

Not so much. I kept my mouth shut. Amazing, isn't it?

I do not feel anger, though, and I was not fearful. What I feel for this man is pity; pity that he cannot see the value of human life. Pity that he values both people and possessions so little that he can discard them without another glance if they have been sullied or sinned against. Pity that even as he denigrated the country he embraced via his citizenship, he has no problem buying into "Western values" so much to the degree that his money has become his god. Evidenced by his throwing away a car he might get back only becase someone else took it for a spin.

I felt pity because this man does not have Jesus Christ. He can look upon the cross and feel nothing becase he came from a culture (and possibly a religion) that does not value life, and this has been integrated within him. He has been fed a deception he thinks is truth, and so when he is faced with crisis, rather than forgiveness, he seeks the death of the one who sinned against him. Not hypothetical death..but true death. Death for his car. Death of a man or two in exchange for a shiny trinket which will rust and become junk anyway in a matter of years.

I harbor no love of thieves and criminals, but let's face it...if they want to take a car, then so be it. Why demand their lives? If their lives are so pathetic that they must steal cars, then they are living out their own punishment of misery on earth. Those of us with homs and cars and a life builit without the commission of crime are doing well; the misery of the street is not our choice as it is for thieves.

Why seek death for those who have chosen a pitiful existance? They need prayers for conversion, not death.

But this man sought death, and I have no doubt he would carry it out.

I realized during his tirade why I had been prompted to pray. Even through his profanity (which I did ask him to curb), and even through this anti-American, anti-life rant, I remained calm, I listened to him, and by the end of our conversation, we had found points of identification. We shook hands again, and apparently he lumped me in with the percentage of "good people" who do not cause harm and thus deserve to die and both of us left the conference room laughing.

I do not look forward to further conversations, and so I ask you all to pray for me as I continue to meet with this follower of Saddam Hussein as our business does carry on. Please pray that I will continue to exhibit Christ to him, and not my own ego.

These people are among us; they are our co-workers, they might be friends, and we meet them as clients and maybe even business partners or supervisors.

I do not think he is a bad man; I think he has been horribly mislead, and so I entrust him to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and apparently I am being used to bring Christ to him through...what? I still haven't figured that out. But if I could remain silent through the man's tirade, I know God is somewhere in the works and he has a plan.

God help and bless us all.

But I still have to many souls has the likes of Saddam Hussein lead away from the Lord...and how can the rest of us help to bring those souls back?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Kentucky Derby

Today is Derby day, and of course, for racing fans, we just witnessed the blistering and undisputable win belonging to Barbaro. I think that, as one of the undefeated horses in history who went to the gate undefeated, and yet remains as one of the 6 still-undefeated, he is well on his way to greatness and in fact, has likely just sealed his fate as a high-dollar stud.

I have had a long love-affair with horses in general, and horseracing entered the scene after my first reading of "The Black Stallion" when I was a child.

I still remember my first sight of a horse, up close. I remember my Mom exclaiming about a "horse" coming down the street and she lifted me up so that I could see out of our etched-glass window. I watched nobility pass, bearing a waving mane and tail, prancing with a rider upon his stately back. I cried out, "Oh! I LOVE horses!".

I still remember then that my Mom's response was, "Yes, they are beautiful but you'll grow out of it."

It was a litany I heard throughout my life. We had a pony down the road, and after I was bucked off and feared horses for several years, my parents, Mom in particular, breathed a sigh of relief, thinking my "phase" was over..but it wasn't. Although I was afraid to ride anymore, and as I was not often around them, it didn't affect my love for the creatures.

When I was 13, although my Dad couldn't afford it, he paid for riding lessons every other week. I missed a lot as the class met once each week, but I was thankful for each and every this day, the words of Martha, our instructor, echo in my head. "HEELS DOWN! CHEST OUT! ELBOWS IN! CHIN UP!"

I read all the Walter Farley books, and as a result, this cultivated a love of horseracing even though I'd never seen one. I was ecstatic when Canterbury Downs was built in Shakopee, MN. I remember telling Mom my life plans; I was going to become a jocky. I was going to do this by going up to Canterbury during the season and work as a my way to jockey, and maybe eventually train great horses.

Thank God she didn't understand I was serious...if so, she would have grounded me for life. She was upset, though, and vowed that no daugher of hers would ever do such a thing.

It came to pass, though, when I turned 16, I was there to enjoy the races on that very day. My Dad, as a gift, brought my brother and I to the races, and although I was too young to bet, he let me pick the horses. I had created a "cheat sheet" of owners, trainers, and bloodlines, and I used this to choose my horses.

At that time Canterbury Downs (now Canterbury Park) offered higher purses and thus drew a "higher" crowd of horsemen and horses...I remember that on that day, Texas Trio, who had raced in the Kentucky Derby, entered one of the Canterbury races. I begged my Dad to bet him to win for he was far superior to the rest of his field. My Dad declined, choosing to bet him to show...and Texas Trio won.

That same day happened to be Fan Day, and they were offering a drawing for "A Filly for a Fan", which we entered.

Dad joked that if we won, he would name the filly, "Julie's Dream", after me.

(As an aside to any potential owners...will you consider naming a filly in honor of my Dad and I?)

Anyway, two years prior, in 1988, I had begun writing my own racehorse story, under the influence of Walter Farley and the great filly, Winning Colors. I completed the story and it was laid to rest for many years...ony to be revived in 2001. I did real research in 2002 by visiting Canterbury Park and obtaining permission and an escort "backside" to learn more about the nuts and bolts of racing.

I remember my idealism, back to when I was young; I was going to be a jocky. Although I am still somewhat short, I do not meet the credentials and I have resigned to the fact that I will never be a jockey. Then I figured I would be a trainer...and I have realized that the only option currently open to me is to become an owner...and that is not currently possible.

My status as a non-horseman does not crush me; in fact, a few years ago I grew hopeful when I realized that riding-horse ownership is a very real possibility, althougn not right now. Racehorse ownership? Maybe. We'll see.

For now, though, I wait, and hope, and occasionally go to the races. I have read books, I am slowly and occasionally working on my book, and as of today, I harbor the hope that Barbaro will go on and win the Triple Crown.

Maybe the horses I want to own, and are yet to be named are not in the Derby, but that does not stop my enjoyment.

So if any owners out there want to sell me even a minimal share in a horse, say, $100 in a champion and be willing to name said horse, "Julie's Dream", let me know. I would like to think my Dad, 11 years in his grave, would enjoy that even a portion of our joint dream has come true.

For now, I am content to watch the Derby, and the Preakness, and the Belmont, and wait for the day that I may actually attend to watch my own horse run. Possible? Yes. Probable? No.

Isn't that what dreams are for?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Crawling through the darkness

I learned a lesson in September of 2001, while I was experiencing "The Tower"; that is, the physical training portion of my training to become a firefighter for a midwestern city. We'd been hired after an arduous process, and after months of academics, I was fighting to overcome personal obstacles which, in the end, would lead me to my new career.

The Tower was 6 weeks at the city's training facility, focusing on the SOP's (Standard Operating Procedures) and "evolutions", which were the exercises assigned for the day. Throughout the six weeks the evolutions went from simple three-step operations to full blown firefighting--as much as possible without a real fire.

The first week was fairly easy, however. I remember one of our first evolutions...we had assigned partners and the assignment was simple: Find the fire and put it out.

At the entrance to one of the training buildings, we donned our turnout, to include the SCBA tank and accompanying facepieces, and waited, two by two, to make the trip.

I was on the nozzle. The "charged" hoseline snaked back to the Engine, which was attached to the hydrant out on the apron. My partner was a a friend, and his was probably the more difficult job.

We had done searches before, but this was different. This time, we had all our gear, we had the heavy hose to carry, we were in complete darkness with our airtanks on (containing a limited amount of air), and the building was full of "smoke".

I remember opening the door, the nozzle in hand, having felt the entrance door with the back of my gloved hand. Slowly we crawled inside and I made my way to my left to find the wall just inside the door...which lead to a corner...and up the stairs. As the light from the doorway faded, about 5 steps up, and we labored to drag the heavy hoseline with us, my job was to keep my hand on the wall. My partner had to focus on pulling the hoseline as we went, not an easy job. Slowly, we made our way, step by step, my hand never leaving the wall. This was so far the most realistic scenario in training, and I knew we were creeping along at a snail's pace. I was thankful it wasn't real...if there were any victims, they would have grown old and died before we ever got to the half-way point of that smoky cement stairwell.

Somewhere in that darkness, where the only sound was our grunts of effort in dragging the tankline and short, muffled words of encouragement to each other, I felt panic creep upon me. I was burdened with the weight of the SCBA tank and my turnout gear. My knees hurt and ramming one upon the sharp corner of a step did not help the situation. I was hot and sweaty although we hadn't gotten far...and I knew I was sucking air far faster than I should be. Would my tank last at this pace??

I wanted to stop and turn around. I wanted to stand up, get out of the bulding, remove all the confining burdens and I wanted to drink as much water as was available. I did not want to go forward and face the dragon that awaited us, and even worse...the Captain.

But somewhere, deep within me, my training thus far spoke out, and I believe to this day, the Holy Spirit. I did not hear words, but only had an understanding, and my thoughts went from jumbled panic to cool reality.

"All I have to do is keep my hand on the wall. The wall isn't going's RIGHT THERE. All I have to do is follow it and bring the water. Anthony has the harder job, and he's doing great. And if I have to leave, he will leave with me, but I'm not going to make him do that. But we can get out of here any time we long as I stay in contact with this conglomeration of rock.

The panic left me, and we both moved forward and upward with renewed vigor. The wall to my left turned a corner to the left and I followed it, turning to help advance the hoseline. We found a door...I felt along the doorway, knowing that this was it..because we were in a dead end and the only place to go was IN.

I fumbled so badly that our Captain grabbed my flailing yellow-leather-gloved hand and forced it to the doorknob with some exasperation. I shoved the door open. As we entered, the flames shot upward from the area of the far wall and corner. We could see now, and we saw the Captain, beckoning us forward.

We crawled forward, staying low, bringing in the hoseline only to find we dind't have enough...and while the dragon roared, we hauled, and got into position. The nozzle had a type of handle on the underside similar to a handgun, but longer. On top there was a lever to control the flow of water. I set my position, feeling Anthony's arm pressed against my back and shoulder to support me as the water surged forward. The pressure drove me backward as anticipated, but he did his job and together, we put the fire out. We turned it off and listened to the critique, then left, triumphant. Not a great job, overall...but we did it and we were the first to do so.

Here is my point...this was not so much a lesson in firefighting as it was a lesson in the Spirit, for it is not the physical details that have left an impression on me; it is the realization that we are all crawling in the darkness, and sometimes, the smoke is so thick and choking, and sometimes we don't think there's enough air, and sometimes we think we are lost.

Sometimes we get the urge to backtrack and get a "perspective," and maybe realize that we don't want to go through that darkness because the reward cannot possibly be worth it.

But that's the wrong approach. Had I run away as I wanted to, I would have lost my job, in all liklihood. If I could not have gotten through that, then I certainly would not have been able to get through anything else.

That's the spiritual life. God beckons us forward, knowing what is in that darkness and knowing our personal struggles...but he doesn't send us alone. And he gives us a rock to grasp as we wander, hauling whatever type of burden He requires of us, maybe some things of our own choice. But when it gets dark and smoky, and we begin to panic, that is the time to remember that we have a grasp of something special; we have Jesus Christ and the Church, which is our Rock. Even if we can't see, we can at least know that something solid is guiding us, and as long as we can keep in touch with that, we will find our way.

Sure, there are dragons and obstacles and the like, and we know that going forward. We can't run away because those dragons don't go away by themselves...we are ALL called to fight them. And somewhere, in the darkness behind us, there is someone sent by God to guard our backs, and that being does double duty when our only job is to find the way through the dark and the smoke.

Remember to thank your Guardian Angel tonight and always. Keep your hand upon that Rock which will forever guide you through the darkness, in spite of the smoke, in spite of the obstacles...that Rock will always be there.

Trust in Jesus and push forward, especially when you want only to flee. As long as you keep your hand in His, you will have no need to escape.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sisters in Jesus the Lord

This is one of my favorite orders...they are new, they are local, and they need your prayers to support them! God bless these Sisters!

Apparently it's been too long since I visited this site, as there was a Star Tribune article about them and I have to admit it was fairly well done. It is articles like this that strike me and cause me to consider anew the attractiveness of a life of a Bride of Christ;

Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Young woman symbolizes new concept of nun
Katherine Kersten, Star Tribune

Kelly Whittier has the makings of a successful career woman. She's got degrees from two prestigious institutions, the College of William and Mary in Virginia and Emory University in Georgia. She's poised, articulate and well-traveled, and radiates the "sky-is-the-limit" look of a young woman with big plans.

When I met Whittier this week in St. Paul, she was dressed in the full habit of a Roman Catholic nun.

For many Minnesotans, the word "nun" conjures up a character in a farcical dinner theater production or, at best, an elderly relic of decades past. But Whittier, 29, represents a rising generation of young Catholic women who are picking up the centuries-old tradition, often in new ways.

A native of Virginia, she first considered joining a religious sisterhood in college. She cites a range of influences -- a strong Catholic student group, a choir that introduced her to the riches of sacred music. Last year, after several years of indecision, she moved to St. Paul to join Sisters in Jesus the Lord, a new order in the first stage of working toward Church approval.

How did her friends and family react? Whittier describes a favorite college professor's response: " 'I'm so disappointed,' he told me. 'I'm sorry your life is over. I had such high hopes for you.'

That professor, like many today, saw being a nun as the ultimate confinement, a way of life completely inconsistent with the modern world's greatest value: freedom.

Whittier disagrees: "For me, being a sister is about freedom -- the freedom to be totally available to a great number of people, to live wherever I need to minister, to work and pray exactly as I'm called to."

Ordinary people understand the importance of such freedom, says Whittier. She describes a young friend, also a sister, who was startled at the reaction she got when she first wore her habit in public. "When people saw her habit," Whittier says, "they didn't seem to care what her name was or where she came from. She was just 'Sister.' People asked her questions, shared about their lives, asked her help. They were comfortable coming up to her because, just by looking at her, they knew that she's given her whole life to God."

Whittier acknowledges that her vocation requires sacrifice. "But being a sister isn't saying you want to hide from the world, or you're not attracted to men. In fact, a sister or a priest should be someone who would also be a wonderful wife and mother, or husband and father, but who has chosen a different path."

As a Sister in Jesus the Lord, Whittier will spend coming years in a place even colder than Minnesota -- Vladivostok, in eastern Siberia, Russia. There she will join two American priests who have a mission at the city's Most Hooly Mother of God Catholic Church. Whittier will feed street children, care for abandoned elderly people and help build a music ministry. In the process, she says, she will assist in reviving a church that had about 12,000 registered members in the 1920s, but was shuttered in the 1930s after the Soviet government murdered or exiled thousands of parishioners.

Whittier is hopeful that Sisters in Jesus the Lord will flourish as more young women learn of its mission. Every week, she says, she helps review the names of about eight young women who have a potential interest in its work.

Roman Catholic nuns are generally thought to be a vanishing breed. But young women like Kelly Whittier, with their intelligence and energy, are bringing the vision flickering back to life.

Katherine Kersten •

What else is there to say?