Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Padre Symon Dice...

I know that after we got back from climbing Kilimanjaro, I was too tired to want to blog about it, but looking back now, I'm so grateful to have those memories in writing so I can relive them.  It's enjoyable now to relive them because I don't remember feeling crappy and the pictures bring me joy rather than reminders of being cold or nauseous.  I know I'll regret it if I don't document my trip to Nicaragua even though I haven't really felt like writing about it.  So, I pulled out my "journal" from the trip to record some of the lasting impressions.  I give you the top 5 highlights of the first annual Catholic Young Adult Sports mission trip:

1. Our group of "misioneros": For a random sampling of CYAS, we had a pretty darn amazing group of missionaries from Denver and San Diego (and a Miami straggler who was involved with CYAS when she lived in Denver).  I was a little worried initially about the group dynamic, given what I knew and didn't know about the people going, especially since the prep meetings were sparsely attended.  But God knows what He's doing.  And I felt like we really went from a set of individuals to a unified group very quickly.  There were enough of us that we weren't sick of each other and few enough that we got to know each other pretty well.  We traveled together, ate together, prayed together, played together, napped together, struggled together, laughed together, attempted to translate together, learned to surf together, and I think were a little bit of God for each other in a foreign place.  Even though I haven't seen anyone from the group in the last few weeks, I feel like they are family.

2.  Our families in Nicaragua: I hit the jackpot with my host family.  Each of the girls was partnered with another to stay with host families in pairs.  Except me.  Seven girls = one odd woman out.  Meeting our host families on day one, after a super long day and a half of travel, a cultural performance, dinner in the spotlight, and essentially having been awake for 40+ hours, was a little intimidating.  I don't know much about anyone else's families, but I know that we all were touched by their generosity.  And they were all happy to have us if it meant smiles on the children's faces.  On the plus side, my host sisters were our true hosts for the week, and were going to be doing everything with us.  They spoke decent English and were generous with their accommodations.  On the minus side, I was all by myself and had to sink or swim.  Zindy, Bianka, and Carmen (sisters and mom) turned out to be the best host family I could have asked for.  They were attentive, chatty, funny; they fed me well; I got to sleep in my own bed, etc.  Of course, when I say chatty and funny, I mean chatty and funny in Spanish.  Which brings me to number 3.

3.  Speaking Spanish: It had been 10 years since I'd spoke Spanish for longer than a single sentence or two, joking around with Laura.  Ten years since any class, ten years since I'd learned vocabulary or verb conjugation.  And while my host sisters both spoke enough English that I probably could have survived, I told them from the start that I wanted to only speak in Spanish within the house.  English with the group was great, but when it was just us, we were all in on the torture of making me speak Spanish.  Turns out you can have some pretty decent conversations with the vocabulary of a 5-year-old.  I had forgotten A LOT of vocab and most of the verb tenses.  But my sisters were patient and excellent at speaking slowly and using words they knew I'd understand.  And I got pretty good at speaking around words I didn't know.  Our conversations were able to go beyond favorite colors and animals and how many sisters I had.  We talked about the church in Nicaragua and in America, why people leave it, and why I haven't, and how Pope Francis is reaching people.  We talked about the poverty, and how families are broken because parents leave their children to try to make money for a better life but it leaves them poor in other ways.  We talked about my "sister" Bianka's trip to America, and my job, looking for love in American and Nicaragua, the joys of Colorado, and my dog, and food, and other typical things you might talk about with new friends and old family.  And as the week progressed, my Spanish got better and better.  I stopped having to wait for our wonderful new friend Nola to translate because I understood what was being said, and I stopped having to wait for Nola to translate my instructions for the kids because I could just say it in Spanish.  I learned new words and phrases and put them to good use.  I regressed pretty quickly once we returned, but it's nice to know that knowledge is lying dormant in there.

4.  The Universal Church: A couple things struck me about the mission trip.  It was people-oriented, not task-oriented which basically meant that we didn't really have much to do other than be with the people and play with the kids.  But our presence was enough for them to feel God's love through the Universal Church.  It had been 16 years since Catholics had come to the town of Condega, and they'd never seen an American priest.  We got to celebrate daily Mass with them and hand out rosaries and prayer cards and participate in their parish festival.  They had felt like the Church had forgotten them, and we were able to show them it hadn't.  And we were blessed in return.  Even though the Church is the same everywhere, it's also really cool to see the differences.  Kids wear rosaries to school.  The Church bells ring through the entire town 10 minutes before Mass starts to give you time to head to the church, and then again as Mass is starting.  Father Scott was basically a celebrity.  The adoration chapel always had someone in it (even the dogs came in to adore Jesus, but that's another story).  And there were little things that were different that I really liked.  When the priest elevates the body and blood of Christ, and in some parishes in America, the altar server rings a bell and people bow their heads, in Nicaragua, everyone says "Senor mio y Dios mio" (My Lord and My God).  Everyone knows every song and they all sing without songbooks.  Everyone is involved in the Church.  When we introduced ourselves, they asked us to say our names and our age and our role in the church.  It's a foreign way of viewing things when most of us are content to attend Mass and pray in our homes.  They wanted to know what else we were doing, or how we volunteer.

5.  The Culture: Of course I enjoyed the food.  We had everything from pinto gallo (lots and lots of pinto gallo, and rice, and beans, and rice and beans) to repocheta (fried tortilla with beans and cheese) to malanga (tropical root vegetable that looks like a purple potato) to rompopo (a drink with rum, egg, and sugar) to nacatamales (like a giant tamale with masa and pork).  Bacon is different there.  Milk is flavored with spices and served in plastic bags, where you bite the corner off the bag and suck the milk out of the hole.  Toast was topped with yogurt and bananas.  There are these fabulous little scone things that they call bread, served with coffee.  Other than the food, we learned about the strange cultural custom in Condega of cracking an egg on someone's head when it's their birthday (I don't get the feeling that it was a Nicaragua thing, just a weird town tradition).  We celebrated the festival of the Divino Nino (Divine Child) with the town, walking all the way through town behind a statue of the child Jesus in a pickup, with a guy accidentally setting off fireworks into random houses.  Every community performed songs and dances for us, reinforcing the concept that America has no culture.  Power outages were commonplace.  Showers were cold.  Nothing starts on time.  Everybody rides in chicken buses (pickups tricked out with frames in the back to hold 15-20 people).  Roosters and dogs wake everyone up at 5am.  But all these things really added to feeling like we got the real Nicaragua experience.

I could add more about teaching kids to play "Pato, Pato, Pollo" (duck, duck, chicken), or the Human Knot, or kickball, or relay races.  I could talk about making mashed potatoes and peeling dozens and dozens of apples for apple crisp in an attempt to cook a "traditional" American dinner for our host families.  I could talk about the wonder of being able to buy any and every drug over the counter (works well when you need antibiotics for a dental infection).  I could talk about the days at the beach with the barbed wire and the guys with machine guns and the spear fishing and horseback riding and crabs and toads and lizards.  But I'm exhausted and if I stay up any longer, I'm going to crack open a beer that I don't need.

So, there it is for posterity sake.  Some accounting of my trip so I'll remember it later.  And realized how many blessings God packed into 9 days.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Mile High

I realized after I titled this blog that I attended a panel discussion on the morality (or lack thereof) of recreational marijuana use.  Not my intended pun for the day, but I suppose I can use it as a segue of sorts.  During the talk, Fr. Peter mentioned that many who use marijuana recreationally are doing so in order to either escape from reality or to discover a sense of awe and wonder, to philosophize and ponder the deeper meaning of life.  Unfortunately, their chosen means robs them of an authentic human experience.  We were challenged to examine our own lives and identify ways not to escape reality, but to fully engage in reality, to feel that awe and wonder in the sense God intended, through His own creation, and communion with it.  As Fr. Peter said, "He created tropical fish!" We don't have to look far to be amazed.

That's waxing a little philosophical for what I want to write about, but one of the ways in which I'm routinely struck by awe and in which I find myself fully engaged in life is when I take advantage of this beautiful state.  Colorado, in all its glory and majesty, is to me, singular proof of God's existence.  Not all of the ways in which I've lived and loved Colorado are found in the outdoors, but I believe that the culture is rooted enough in beauty (whether or not people identify it as God's), that it permeates a lot of what the rest of the state is doing.  Of course, there's a lot of hedonism and narcissism and greed and godlessness in Colorado, but that's a topic for another day.  As I said...lousy segue.  I give you my favorite Colorado memories:

  • James Bond film festival at the Mayan, followed by Sweet Action Ice Cream- Broadway is an icon, and sometimes even just driving down it makes me feel part of something a little more artistic and human.  Other times, I see a guy lowriding so bad that he trips on the curb and loses his pants.  But for the most part, Broadway triggers the positive sense of culture.  And of course, who wouldn't want to listen to a five-piece band perform "Underneath the Mango Tree" live right before a 21st century showing of Dr. No?  I don't think I need to justify the Sweet Action part.
  • Mass atop Blanca Peak- Is it sad that one of my biggest regrets in life is being too self-conscious of camera noise to take a picture during the consecration?  Fr. John gave his permission to snap away, and my hand froze in my pocket (probably also literally as it was freezing at the summit) as he elevated the host, back to us, sun illuminating the Eucharist and shining over the incredible mountain range below us.  That moment, the whole trip really, was a combination of two of my true loves: Catholicism and the mountains.
  • Film on the Rocks- I have a lot of these memories, but my favorite was tailgating before the movie with a little gas Coleman grill, feasting on kabobs and grilled pineapple, drinking some good craft beer, heading in just in time to catch Marc Broussard in concert, and then enjoying a movie under the stars.  To be honest, I don't even remember what movie played that night.  But the whole experience was quintessentially Colorado.  Although I do remember in detail my film experience of the Princess Bride in which I got to be in the majority for once as I quoted nearly an entire movie.  Inconceivable!
  • Camping in the Collegiate Peak Wildnerness- the hiking was forgettable, but the camping was awesome.  It helped that it had been years since I'd been camping, so anything involving a fire and sleeping under the stars was probably going to amazing.  It's too bad the trip was marred by our least successful 14er attempts ever.  But not even the extra watery scrambled eggs (read the directions, Dad!) or the wind or the missed trail could ruin the trip.  Honorable mention goes to my most recent camping experience, full of five-star food (ashes 'n' pancakes, yum) and relaxation and good friends.
  • Memories I only have pictures of- despite the attempt of soccer tournaments to muscle out any other Colorado time, I do know that we had some highlights of my childhood.  Horseback riding in Royal Gorge, multiple trips to the Great Sand Dunes (if you haven't been- go NOW), fireworks after a USA v. Cuba baseball game, etc.  Even if the recollection is blurry, I know that my parents made an effort to show me some of this beautiful state.
  • Snowmobiling the Continental Divide- a long weekend trip with Mary to Steamboat Springs offered a lot of of Colorado-y things, including my favorite apres-ski slopeside with happy hour specials, snowshoeing a ski resort, James Bond marathons (not exactly Colorado), and some good skiing.  But the highlight was snowmobiling, rocketing over jumps, weaving down single-tracks, and taking in some of the most gorgeous scenery on the planet.  
  • Brewery tastings- it's no secret that I love craft beer, and our state has a LOT to offer.  Avery, Backcountry, Breckenridge, Bristol, Bull & Bush, Comrade, Copper Kettle, Denver Beer Co, Dillon Dam, Dry Dock, Epic, Gravity. Grist, Hogshead, Lone Tree, Prost, Renegade, Rickoli, Station 26, 38 State, 12 Degree, Tommyknocker, Twisted Pine, Wit's End... you get the idea.  I just like tasting the experiments, spending time with friends, seeing the culture, and watching someone's passion grow.
  • Miscellany (because my coffee is getting cold and I have other things to do)- hiking in Chautauqua Park, time spent at St. Malo's, any trip to the REI flagship store, lazy boating on Lake Dillon, running in Wash Park, lunch on any summit, hiking Bierstadt in the dark, tandem bikes at City Park, singing the sun down at STM, snowshoeing in Grand Lake, and many others I'm sure I'm forgetting.  
If I could take the time to create more of these memories by fully living an authentically human life, seeking goodness, truth and beauty rather than seeking escape, I think I would be doing pretty well.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


"A gentleman always accepts the first invitation."

Paraphrased from a coffee table book, you may be wondering how this fits into my life.  A friend of mine has often quoted this when relating one of the major problems with young adults today.  Let's face it--we are a generation of commitment-phobes.  This manifests in the monumental (divorce rates, a "hook-up" culture) and the miniscule (that good ol' "maybe" RSVP that allows you to back out if something better comes along).

Don't get me wrong, I am the queen of the last-minute back out.  I always blamed it on my introversion, arriving at a night in question and realizing that I'd much rather stay home and read on the couch.  And I'm a space cadet, constantly forgetting the plans I've made and double-booking myself, forcing a choice which inevitably leaves someone abandoned.  My Catholic conscience has gifted me with perhaps more guilt than the average Joe about turning tail and running, but I never realized the full impact my selfish whims had until recently.

I've been on the receiving end of the back out a little too often for my liking the past couple months, and it sucks (good use of my abundant vocabulary, I know).  It makes me feel like my commitment to the meeting/committee/party/book club/lunch date/tentative plans means absolutely nothing.  And it makes me feel just a little less committed to the next one, a little less likely to commit to something else.  It's egoistic, belittling, self-perpetuating, injurious, and rampant, and I hate thinking that I've contributed to someone else feeling like this.

I haven't been doing so hot on my attempt to balance egoism and altruism--turns out I'm not as selfless as I'd like to think--but this is a great place to start.  Accepting invitations and following through, letting our word mean something, and honoring the commitment of it too optimistic to think we can right our generation one small piece at a time?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Good, Beautiful and True

Several weeks ago, I made a pact with myself to try and see the positive in my life.  I wanted to focus on the good, the beautiful, and the true, the reflections of God's love and reality in my day-to-day experiences.  I made it longer than I thought, starting the first couple weeks by writing down three things (a good, a beauty, and a truth) each night.  That got to be daunting, and to be honest, I started repeating.  Probably more a reflection that I needed to be aware of those positive things than my lack of imagination.  So after a while, I just picked one thing each day.  Looking back over the last 5 weeks or so, I've got a pretty amazing snapshot of my blessings.

The Good--
7-second hugs, joyful priests, dinner with the fam, feeling appreciated, learning something new, having a job, laughter, recreation as re-creation, Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast, sleep, living in Colorado, being greeted by a dog, minor mountain miracles, my coworkers, the resilience of the human spirit, a sense of accomplishment, setting goals that challenge you, a Broncos trip to the Super Bowl, shared passions, and connecting with total strangers

The Beautiful--
Colorado, the rescuing hug, a heart of service, a kiddo with Down's Syndrome in snowman PJ's saying 'bye', a moment of humility, the sliver of the new moon, a clean slate, a homemade gift, sunlight shining through the snow falling off the trees, the emotions that music makes you feel, sitting in the sun on a 30-degree day and feeling warm, sunrise from the 4th floor, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, Colorado aspens, the Denver skyline framed by the Rockies, a full moon, not letting a camera interrupt the moment, a clean dog, and stars on a clear night

The True--
It gets better.  I'm more willing to reveal my weaknesses to someone if I know they have a relationship with God.  Words of affirmation is definitely my love language.  It's comforting to know you aren't the only one struggling, no matter how small the frustration.  I want something to dream, something to do, and someone to love.  Adventure and passion are attractive.  An act of love thaws a frozen heart.  Traditions are worth establishing.  I'm proud of my family.  Music is good for the soul.  Sometimes you just need a lazy day.  Pudding chocolate chip cookies trump self-control.  The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome It.  No matter what we try to pull, nothing we could ever do could change the way God feels about us.  I have the best coworkers.  Bowing to the deacon before the blessing with incense is one of my favorite Catholic things.  Protecting the family is essential to protecting a culture of life.

A pretty decent summary of my last month.  My project for next month is a challenge from the priest who heard my confession today.  We were discussing (read: he was talking, I was listening) the need for balance between egoism and altruism.  Even Jesus looked after Himself from time to time.  All those forays into the desert were "me time" for Jesus.  And it made Him better at giving of Himself.  You have to care for yourself, fill yourself up first, before you can care for others.  So, for the next week or month or whatever, I'm going to do one thing every day for myself and one thing every day for someone else.  Big or small, I'm going to try to find a balance between egoism and altruism.  Check back with you at the end of the experiment.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Linebacker Inside a Runner's Body

I have never liked running.  I often get incredulous looks when I tell people this because they equate general athleticism and an affinity for all team sports with running.  But unless I am chasing down a ball, a frisbee, or an opponent, I don't want to be running.  It's why I prefer to play center midfield in soccer (for all you who think midfield means more running, you clearly have never played center midfield the right way), why I prefer to play lineman or defensive back in football, why I like pickup volleyball more than basketball, and why I'm usually good for about 2 points in ultimate frisbee.  You'd look at me and see a runner.

I have the right shoes, the right tights, the right build...
You'd be wrong.  However, I have commenced training for my first half-marathon (let's be honest, it's my first race above 7k, and the first time I will have ever run more than 5 miles).  I'm determined to set myself up for success.  I bought new shoes, new socks, figured out some good running music, ordered some electrolyte powder for those post-run refueling sessions, and am prematurely plotting my carb loads.  Today, I ran just over 4 miles.  That's the longest I've run in 4 years, and I averaged just a hair under 9 minutes per mile.  To some, that might not be a big accomplishment, but for me, it proves something that just might get me through training and the race: mid-distance running has to be at least 50% mental.

You see, the only timed race I've ever run was the Running of the Green lucky 7k four years ago.  Laura and I trained, albeit modestly, in the 6 weeks leading up to the race.  We averaged a respectable but unimpressive 10 minutes per mile.  After two weeks of "training" involving a handful of 3 mile runs, I just beat that time.  With a side cramp that lasted approximately the entire run.  But I knew that if I couldn't push myself on 4 miles, I couldn't push myself on thirteen.  So, I used willpower to finish the run.  My legs were tired from skiing yesterday, the run finishes on about 3/4 mile of straight uphill, and did I mention the side cramp?  But I finished.  So, despite my continued hatred of running, I will press on, optimistic that if I can't physically be a runner, at least I can try to be one mentally.

I reserve the right to make this blog as worthless to read as I feel like, and also to write as infrequently as I deem necessary. Just thought I'd let you know since I finally decided to share my blog.