Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Turkey Day!

As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, I pause to be thankful for all that God has given me.  I have a wonderful husband, great kids (well, most of them!  :)  Just kidding.), some of the best brothers and sister around, terrific in-laws (how lucky is that?).  We live in a great house, in a great community, in a country that allows us to be free and make our own decisions.

There's so much to be thankful for. 

I always miss my mom's laugh when all of us are together, or my dad's chortle at the kids, but knowing that they are together today brings me such happiness that outweighs my sadness.

Today -- this year -- I am so very thankful for the gift that God gave me last weekend.  The great cheese hat trade-off was one of the outstanding moments of 2013, and maybe of my life.  I thank God so much for that moment, and the many moments that have come from that, as it has richly blessed my life.

I realize there are many who have no one to celebrate with today -- our house is always open and welcomes anyone. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Quote for the day from Pope Francis:
"If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation. God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory. Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives. Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love. Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life. It is a wonderful thing to be God’s faithful people. We achieve fulfillment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names!"

Sunday, November 24, 2013

NCYC 2013

NC!!!.......YC!!!!  NC!!.....YC!!!  Almost as familiar to me this weekend as the sound of someone calling their Buckeye friends -- OH!!  IO!! -- only this time, when you heard the familiar NC!! .....there were several thousand people from all across America willing to answer.

Wow wow wow what a weekend.  Such an unexpected treat for me to not only witness, but experience this conference first-hand.  I was expecting to watch from afar -- on video as the sessions would be broadcast live online.  Then, suddenly, I received a text on Monday -- from my friend, Robin, who asked me if I would be available to go in her place.  She was sick with pneumonia and wouldn't be able to make the trip.  I asked her to give me a bit to find out -- so I talked with my boss and his wife, who encouraged me to go.  I responded to her, and the whirlwind began.  Within 45 minutes, I had my registration papers signed, notarized, scanned, and e-mailed back to the office of youth ministry in Cincinnati.  And the journey began.

I had no idea what God had in store for me this weekend -- but it's apparent that it was His plan for me to be there.  I have so many stories to share, but will concentrate on a few, that I think ultimately led up to one of the most real, best moments of my life.

We arrived in Indianapolis on Thursday, late afternoon.  We took a bus with other local youth groups, but there were 27 people in our particular group.  We got there in time to grab a bite to eat, and then walk down to Lucas Oil Stadium for the opening of the conference.  I am always in awe of these large stadiums anyways -- no matter what I'm there for -- but I am particularly struck when I think about 23,000 people who took time away from their families, school, jobs -- to praise the name of the Lord and celebrate being Catholic!

I have to clue you in to something before I describe the weekend.  Part of the fun of the weekend is to bring items to trade, in an effort to get the kids to talk to one another and make new friends.  But another tradition is to for each group to find hats that identify them in some way.  It's also a great way for group leaders to keep their groups together.  This year, we had hats that looked like pieces of pumpkin pie -- and they were sought-after.  We told the kids they couldn't trade until Saturday night so that we could find them all weekend.  And, truthfully, by Saturday night, some of them didn't want to give them up!!!

The general sessions are great -- a time for the entire group to get a little more pumped up and hear some fantastic speakers share their faith, their trials, and to give us hope that there are others in the same boat.  Combine that with awesome music, dancing, and prayer, and these sessions are often my favorite part of the convention.  Thursday evening, we learned the them song of the conference:  "Signed Sealed Delivered", and also, Jesse Manibusan, the emcee for the weekend, taught us a great "conversation".

Who's the church?
Where's the church?...

How do we celebrate our Catholic faith?
And that is how the world knows that we are

I spent some time in the thematic park, which is a "fair" of sorts -- the artists have booths, other groups have booths, in an effort to advertise  -- there are nuns and priests, monks and brothers, t-shirts and mugs, cds and books -- you name it, you can probably find it there.  It's like nothing I've ever seen. 

Saturday, I wandered in to a session given by Mark Hart (The Bible Geek) and Matt Maher.  I always enjoy Matt's music, and have wanted to hear Mark speak, so it seemed the perfect combination to me.  Oh, man.  Was it ever the perfect combination.  I knew it was going to be good, when I saw that the place was packed.  Thankfully, it was just me, and I didn't need to get 27 seats, so I found an open seat, and plunked down to enjoy.  I'm pretty sure this hall held 7000 people if I remember correctly, and by the time the session started, there were people lined up along the walls, in the aisles, everywhere.  So it started.  Matt played -- which always makes me happy.  Mark came out and delivered a great talk about different verses in the bible and how they affect you.  I hate to say this, but I was so moved the rest of the session that I don't really remember what he said -- but wish I could!  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a priest wearing his vestments and wondered what was going to happen.  Matt came out and explained that we were going to experience Eucharistic Adoration.  For any of you that don't know, Eucharistic Adoration, is when the blessed eucharist is placed inside a monstrance (a large gold cross that is very decorative) and processed to the front of the room, and exhibited on an altar.  Music and prayer follows --- I really don't think I can describe this well enough -- but I have been to adoration many many times in my life -- and every time is special in its own way -- but this one was as close to perfect as it can get.  The music was incredible and moved me to tears (if you remember, a few weeks ago I posted about Matt's song "Lord, I Need You" -- he played this during this time of quiet and it put me in a place I have never really been.).  We spent many minutes in prayer before the eucharist was removed and there was a celebration unlike any I've seen.  The kids were on fire!  So so awesome!

After that, I caught up with my chaperone friends and we watched a comedy club for a while.  What happened after that was the most fun I have had in a very long time.  We were walking out of this room when my friend, Teresa, spotted a megaphone without an owner.  So, all in good fun, she picked it up and started using it!!  "Steve Pulskamp!"  "Pie Heads -- where are you?"  It was so funny.  Then -- she tried to turn it off.  And ended up turning on the siren instead.  I'm pretty sure that's when she figured out who her real friends were -- when we all scattered in different directions to get away from her!  LOL  It was soooo funny!!  She finally turned it in -- but only after posing in a golf cart with it!

Saturday evening.  Kind of a big deal at NCYC.  Celebration of mass.  We all tried to prepare the youth for what they were about to experience, but really no amount of preparation can get you ready.  Even if you have been there before, it is still a very unique celebration!  I don't remember the numbers, but it was in the vicinity of 350 priests, approximately 10 bishops, and Archbishop Tobin, Archbishop of Indianapolis, was the main celebrant and homilist.  During the procession, I leaned over to my friend, Amy, and said, this is going to be awesome -- as I was watching all of them process in.  Little did I know that my daughter, Becca, was saying at the same time -- "My mom will be in tears shortly.  She always cries when there are a lot of priests!"  And I was. 

Mass was so inspiring.  I sprung a leak once again during the "Our Father".  It's a pretty powerful prayer all by itself, but, man....when you hear it and experience it being said by 23,000 people all at once -- there are no words.  As Archbishop Tobin said, "We are the church."  Last night, we were America's church -- with people in attendance from every state.  Amazing.

Immediately after mass -- the kids stormed the floor.  I'm pretty sure Jesus was smiling. 

And just when I thought things were as perfect as they were going to get for the evening, I had a surprise in store for me.  Remember the hats I described above?  Well, I had a woman approach me on Friday and ask if she could trade me her "cheese head" for my pie hat, because she is a teacher, and has "Pie Day" every year.  She thought that would be a fun addition.  As someone who has coveted the cheese heads for a long time, that was certainly an easy deal for me to make.  But, I said, I cannot trade until tomorrow evening.  She agreed, and we traded numbers so that we could locate each other the next evening. 

So, just prior to church, everyone was trading.  Marie (my hat trading friend) called to see where we were, so I told her what section.  She showed up -- we made the trade, and everyone was happy!  I had my cheese hat that I came wanting. 

Just after mass was over, a man approached me.  I can't for the life of me put the entire conversation back together, but I remember pieces of it.  He asked me if I would trade my cheese hat for his sparkly fedora and a t-shirt inside of it for one of his youth.  He said that was all that he wanted all weekend.  It honestly took me a second to consider it, but then I decided I didn't really know what I would do with it when I got home anyways, so I said yes, but I wanted the youth to ask me.  I didn't want some guy to do his kids' work for them!!!  He immediately agreed.  What ensued in the next 5 minutes changed my life.  He brought this young man down.  It was a young man I had seen during communion that made me smile and pause and say a little prayer for him.  He was blind, and as he walked up the stairs after communion, the woman walking with him had a cadence going -- big step, big step, big help him get up the stairs.  As he approached me, he had the biggest smile on his face.  He asked me my name and proceeded to tell me his name was Matt.  I gave him his cheese hat, but asked for one thing in return:  that he pray for me.  (My friend and fellow chaperone, Steve, had given me that idea -- thanks, Steve!)  I told him I wanted to be his prayer partner and asked if he would be mine.  He smiled the most beautiful smile I've ever seen and said, "Of course!"

I asked him if he was friends with Steve Angrisano, because I hadn't caught where he was from, but Steve had told a story earlier in the day about a Matt that was in his youth group that was blind, and I wondered if they were one and the same.  He said no, but that he knew Steve and Steve knew him as well. 

We took a few pictures, as I wanted to remember that smile forever. 

Awesome story, right?  Well, I soon found out there was more to this story.  I texted the first picture to my friend, Marie, with whom I had traded hats originally, and told her I had traded her hat away.  She texted me back right away and said, "Oh, my God.  That is amazing.  He was with his dad today and wanted it so badly.  I told him I promised it to you.  That is unbelievable.  Thank you so much!"

I e-mailed Matt this morning, so that he would have my e-mail address.  He was, of course, still on a bus on his way home, but shortly afterwards, I received an e-mail back.  From his mom. 

Dear Pam,

I hope you don't mind, but I read your e-mail.  Matt told me all about you last night.  He was so excited!  He was more excited about meeting you and becoming prayer partners, before he even told me that you gave him your cheese head (is that one or two words?  LOL).  I was so touched when he told me that, I got choked up!  And how funny it was that I read your e-mail now?  I just finished reading "Morning Prayer" and the one reading spoke of keeping the Kingdom of God alive in you and proclaiming it to others forever, and you did that last night!  Thank you so much for your generosity towards Matt!  The Lord will reward you one hundred fold!  God is so awesome!  Thank you again so much!  I will read him your e-mail when he gets home tonight.....late!  God bless you!

No, Matt....thank YOU!  I saw the light of Jesus in you last night.  You are a special guy.  One who changed MY life forever.

Our God is truly an awesome God.  He had a plan for me this weekend -- I truly let go and let God.  And had the experience of a lifetime.  I will never forget what happened those last minutes after mass.  God is so good!

Signed.  Sealed.  Delivered.  NCYC2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lord, I Need You!

Today's one of those days....everywhere I look, someone needs my (our) prayers!

I knew a while ago that a local girl was going to have surgery today.  Her dad is a teacher at our high school, and the entire community and surrounding area has adopted little Raygen as their own -- to pray for, to hope for, to wish for.  Today, she went in for a pretty major surgery.  I spoke for a while with her dad last night, hoping to encourage him.  He spoke of how the community and surrounding areas have supported her and their entire family in ways that he never dreamt.  He spoke of good will and paying it forward.  I know she has felt the love and encouragement of everyone throughout this whole process -- I even spotted a photo of her mom's co-workers supporting Raygen Strong t-shirts today at work!  How very awesome!

Our little neighbor boy, who has been through so much the past couple of months, returned to the hospital for yet another surgery and stay yesterday.......he's so little, yet so loved by so many.  His parents and grandparents are such fantastic people -- one just wants this over for him so that he can return to normal life and getting into things like every one year old should!

I pray for someone close to me whose husband recently lost his job.  I got a phone call on my way in to work this morning, letting me know of this situation.  I pray for their family to get through the struggle of figuring out how to deal with the unexpected situation of living on one income.  I pray for courage and strength for them.

I pray for a very dear friend of mine -- one of my oldest friends in the whole world -- who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.....I pray that her tests today reveal that the cancer has not spread.  I pray for her husband, their children, and extended family -- I pray for peace within for all of them.

I'm still reeling from the news that someone who was very dear to me passed away last week, and I didn't know until after the funeral was over.  I was unable to pay my respects to dear Ginny.....she loved this blog and would beg me to write more.  So, in honor of her, I promise to be more faithful. 

Throughout the day at work today, I spent many times in prayer -- at the copier, waiting for something, a spare moment....thank you to my dear Patty who didn't look at me strangely when I teared up talking about all of this going on. 

Through it all, I kept hearing one thing in my head -- Lord I need you.  I have spoken of this song to many people in the past couple of weeks -- it has become my mantra.  Today, more than ever, I relied on this song very heavily. 

This particular video is from World Youth Day this past August.  I have to say that this had to have been one of the most powerful moments of the entire event.  Please take a few minutes and watch it -- and take it in.  Then, if necessary, watch it again.

I hope and pray with all my heart that everyone above felt my prayers today.  I think my thoughts today went to the fact that I always need the Lord -- just some days I need him more than others!  I wonder if he got tired of hearing from me today?  :)

I hope your day was better.  If you need a few people to pray for, have at my list above!  Or add your own in the comments and I'll add them to my prayer list!