On being a cheerful servant

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Student: If you could be any food, what food would you be?

Me: Hmm. I’m going to cheat with this one: I would be a cup of coffee.

Student: Why would you be a cup of coffee?

Me: Because it’s warm, inviting, it’s like a hug in a cup, and it wakes you up in the morning.

Student: I like that answer!

From the time that I was in High School, I have had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. So much so, that during my sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school I would arise ten minutes before I had to leave the house. My alarm would go off at 6:15am, I would then repeatedly hit snooze for a half hour, and finally arise at 6:45am. My Mom and I would then leave the house between 6:55 and 7:00am. I was a master at getting ready within ten minutes. I had the routine down to a science. My bags would be packed with my breakfast, lunch, and water bottle (at this time I hadn’t discovered the sweetness that is a cup of coffee). I would roll out of bed, brush my hair, use the bathroom, brush my teeth, and finally change. This became my routine each and every morning.

As I transitioned into college, this struggle became even more real since I had to do so on my own and drive 30-45 minutes to my college campus every morning. It was during this time that I discovered the wonderful perks of caffeinated beverages. I had a Dunkin Donuts gift card from my summer job and decided to use it each morning during my commute. This struggle of trying to wake up at a decent time has continued to be a struggle through my college and post-college career.

As I began my year of service with Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries, I knew that one of my greatest challenges of the year would be getting up and ready for the day before the students on the retreat. This proved to be especially difficult being that our retreats typically don’t wind down until about 11:30pm. This means that most of the retreatants don’t settle down until after midnight, sometimes much later. Being the “adult” it is my job to make sure that everyone is safe, in their beds, and attempting to sleep. I repeatedly tell them, “You know that I love you all, but do you know what I love even more? Sleeping.”

These odd work hours have become one of the greatest struggles of my Cap Corps year as well as one of my greatest joys. It is definitely the most difficult part of my job this past year. We constantly rearrange our sleep schedule based on different retreat programs. This is physically demanding, and lying in bed until the last possible minute doesn’t work in this field. One of the ways that I know helps me each day is waking up before the retreatants and being ready to wake them up. One of the struggles of this is doing it with a smile.

I realized early on in the year that this would be a challenge for me. In October of 2015, CYFM put on a Lock-In because of an unexpected open weekend. As bright-eyed, baby CCVs, we were so excited to put on a program that we were able to plan from scratch. However, with an overnight program filled with activities came little to no sleep. I believe I slept for a total of three hours during that retreat. The morning came, and myself along with four other volunteers and two friars had to be bright eyed, smiling servants.

As we prepared breakfast, and as the cherubs slowly rose and made their way down to the dining hall, I was actually cheery. To be honest, I still don’t know how this miracle occurred, being that I was actually exhausted. Fr. Tomas, being his normal, joyful self commented on my cheeriness and appearance of alertness. However, holding my warm cup of coffee in my hands, the only answer that I could come up with for him was that I was “faking it”.

This idea, for me, goes back to my time training to be a peer leader when I was in High School. I was a part of a ministry team that would be running the icebreakers, liturgy, and behind the scenes tasks at a youth conference in upstate New York (everything north of Westchester is upstate to a Long Islander, don’t yell at me!). The week involved Discipleship training, as well as practicing skits, games, etc. On our final day of the youth conference we were all exhausted. We rose at 6am to begin preparation for the final day of Ministry, and my youth minister was particularly cheery, as the rest of us were, well not.

I remember looking at him, with tired eyes, and asking, “Tom, how are you so awake right now?!” His response was simple, and it stuck with me (and stayed with me throughout my year of service).

“I’m not,” he replied “I’m faking it,” and he still had a smile on his face.

This idea stuck with me, not because it made my youth minister inauthentic, or made the job of ministry seem easy. This idea stuck with me because it made me realize that my youth minister was a real person, who genuinely cared about our well-being, and our souls. And although we were all exhausted, we were still there to serve, and we were there to be cheerful servants, not grumbly servants.

“Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you. In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.” Philippians 2: 14-18

And so, that morning in October, I was reminded of that encounter and the lesson that it taught me way back when.

Whether or not I kept this lesson in mind during later retreats is a different story. However I was reminded of this lesson towards the end of the year at one of the CAM orientation days. We were playing a question game, and one question that I was asked went like this:

Student: If you could be any food, what food would you be?

I thought for a minute and couldn’t think of a food. But, for some reason at that moment, I was reminded of one of my struggles this year: getting up on time, and doing it with a smile. And so, I cheated.

Me: Hmm. I’m going to cheat with this one: I would be a cup of coffee.

When I was asked why, I responded honestly, hoping that these attributes were part of my year. I hope that I was warm, and inviting to each retreatant, and to my fellow leaders. And I hope that I was able to wake everyone up in the morning.

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Embarking on your Faith Journey

Have any of you ever read a really great book or watched a really great movie or heard a really great story? Now, what did that book, movie or story have that was so great about it? Maybe it had to do with some mythical place, or an incredibly interesting main character. Perhaps you were able to identify with it in some way. Something about that story drew you in. And I can tell you, that each of these stories has something very simple in common. They all have some sort of journey that you as the reader, watcher, or listener follow. It may be a journey to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, to Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Narnia, Metropolis or Gotham. It might be a journey of self-discovery, or one where the main character saves the world. We are drawn into this story. We are drawn into the mystery.

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I have this map up here. It belongs to my Dad, and it had a prominent place in my home for most of my life. It’s a hand drawn map of Middle Earth, the world that J.R.R. Tolkien created for his famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. I grew up staring at it, memorizing the landmarks and physical obstacles along the way from the Shire to Mount Doom in Mordor. This is one of the stories that I was enamored with as a child. I loved the idea of the adventures that took place in Middle Earth. I wanted to meet characters like Bilbo and Gandalf, and I wanted to be a strong heroin just like Arwen.

Now, what if I told you that our faith can be just like one of these journeys.

Just like the ones that we see in our favorite books, movies, or stories.

 You might be thinking I’m a little crazy at this point. But, one of my favorite saints, St. John Paul II is quoted in saying, “Life with Christ is a Wonderful Adventure”.

There is a moment in every story where the main character is posed with a question. Usually that question is whether or not to take on an adventure. Whether they’re off to destroy a ring, find a horcrux, or save the city from eternal doom, there is a moment when the main character consciously makes the choice to do the right thing. And often enough, we learn that the main character was destined to take part in that journey.

So are we.

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This painting is one of my favorites. It’s called “The Calling of St. Matthew” and it was painted by a guy named Caravaggio in 1600. Here we can see a ray of light making its way to Matthew, while Christ is pointing at him. The story of this painting actually comes from a story in the Gospel. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

 “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew- sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13

We all have this moment. There is a moment where we are asked to join Christ on a journey. We are asked to accompany him on an adventure that we were made for.

My faith journey started out like many others. It was quiet. I grew up on Long Island, went to public school, lived with my Grandma, Mom & Dad, big sister Julie, and went to Mass on Sundays. I played with neighbors as a kid, and loved to draw and write stories. For me, this moment of encounter didn’t happen as a child, at my baptism, first communion, or confirmation, but rather, it happened on a retreat, kind of like the one you’re on right now. I had had a couple of really rough years in high school. I was anxious, depressed, I had lost friends, and a boyfriend who I was too dependent on, and my Dad had moved out and my parents divorced. I was a senior in High School. I wasn’t living a life for Christ, even though I had gone to Church, to youth group, and volunteered my time to the poor and to the younger children at my parish. I was living day to day, trying to fake a smile, and act as though everything was okay. I knew that I wasn’t though. I knew that I was loved, but couldn’t grasp what that meant, or how it could affect my life.

And so I went on this retreat. I didn’t particularly like going to youth group anymore, but out of habit, I went on the Spring Retreat. Ironically, or not so ironically, the theme of the retreat was “I will Follow” and we had to sing this awful song and do silly hand movements to it. However, I knew that being a scutch and remaining closed off was not going to be fun for anyone. So, I tried to be open and listen to all of the presentations and participate in the prayer services. Friday night we handed whatever was burdening us over to God by tossing a rock into the Long Island Sound. We were asked to quiet ourselves, and to think of what was burdening us. There were thousands of pebbles on the beach. We each picked up two rocks. One represented our burdens, and one represented a promise. We each threw our burden into the Sound, and held on tight to our promise. I began to open up then. But the true turning point for me was on Saturday night. I sat in adoration of the Eucharist, which is when the Eucharist is exposed in a gold stand called a monstrance for a prolonged period of time. I desired mercy; just like St. Matthew. I had experienced God’s loving grace in the sacrament of confession. And as I sat, for the first time feeling peace in front of the Eucharist, I cried, and felt a whisper in my heart to come, and follow Him.  I felt an overwhelming sense in my heart that I was loved. Truly Loved.

In that moment, just like St. Matthew, I got up, and followed Him.

I was drawn into the mystery.

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I found Joy on that retreat. For the first time in a long time, I found joy in doing simple everyday things. I even found Joy in getting stuck in the mud of a small Long Island Harbor, after running after my friends onto what looked like solid ground. In case you were wondering, I did ruin my flip flops that day. I had no idea what this journey would entail or what my destination would be. To be completely honest with you, I still don’t know what the destination is. I can tell you, that since I decided to get up and follow Him, my life has truly been an adventure. I’ve gone places, done things, and encountered people that I wouldn’t have even thought possible in High School. But, I had to take that first step and climb that very high mountain. I had to leave my comfortable life behind, and like Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, I left the Shire.

I started to take my volunteer work seriously. I was a volunteer with the Middle School Youth Group at my Parish. I played silly games along the way with middle schoolers and enjoyed it. I even let a 12 year old do my hair with shaving cream for the “Edge Kids Take Over”. It took a few showers to get it all out.

I went on trips to places I had only dreamed about before. I walked the streets of Dublin and Paris with my Mom and sister.

I took in the beauty of one of the world’s oldest book of Gospels, The Book of Kells, in Dublin, and I stood in awe of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I went on pilgrimage to Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day 2011. I walked along the same cobblestone streets as St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. I sat in the same churches as a Doctor of the Church. As a group, we went to Mass with various English-Speaking Cardinals, and eventually with Pope Benedict XVI.

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We stood and humbly waited in the rain, which was described as a hurricane over the announcer. There was obviously a mistranslation there. And we waited for the Pope to arrive. We met young Catholics from all over the world: Colombia, France, Iraq, Australia, Nigeria, and Malaysia. I found I had a friend in Jesus’s mother after I realized that each church I went into had the image that my Parish is named after, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This still happens by the way.

In college, I continued to follow Him along a path that I couldn’t quite see, and had some incredible experiences. I trudged through Washington DC in 10 degree weather as a witness to the beauty that Human Life is at the March for Life.

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 I studied in Galway, Ireland, after working up the courage to follow the desires of my heart and change my major from something that would secure me a job after graduation, to something that I truly loved: English Literature and Irish Studies.

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 I sat in the middle of a country road in a town where there were more sheep than people, and appreciated the beauty of creation with a sunrise at 4am with some of my wonderful classmates.

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 I took a bus and visited relatives that I had never met and shared in faith and tea and ice cream with them. We drove all over my Grandfathers hometown.  I felt a little silly standing with that tomb stone in the rain, but I knew that these were the family members that gave me my Catholic faith, this was the church where my grandparents and great grandparents worshipped a God who is Love, and so I complied and smiled as a cousin I barely knew took my picture.

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I walked across the Peace Bridge in a city where violence was the norm for so long. I shared in the hurt that my cousins felt from the past, but also listened to their hope for their city and for their home. I quite literally crossed the River Foyle with them and was present as they shared their story and their heart with me.

I traveled in a minivan, and my campus minister was pulled over by cop in West Virginia for going 83 mph, to a place that I had never been. There were mountains there. I served the poor of Appalachia in Beauty, KY with some of the most kind-hearted, loving people I know.

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The Lord helped me break out of my comfort zone by working with power tools and to truly be present with the people of Beauty. I was reminded by a cook that I met from Georgia, just how beautiful my soul was, and how she could see it in my eyes. I spoke of my love for Mother Teresa and the Catholic Faith with a nurse from the next town after she confided in me just how beautiful she found the Catholic Church, even though she was a Baptist. She met me with love, not judgment, just as Jesus had.

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I built a deck and a ramp that week along with 8 of my classmates and mentors. That is something I would have never thought I could do, much less that I would want to. My Dad still doesn’t quite believe it.  Even in the mud that week, I found Joy.

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More recently, Jesus asked me to climb an even higher mountain. He asked me to serve in a way that I had never thought before. He asked me to move away from home to a place called Garrison, and to run retreats where students could encounter Him. I laughed, but after much prayer and a leap of faith, I went. And I could not be happier. Those words that JPII spoke are true, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.”

Will you get up and follow him?

This presentation was given on the Sophomore Retreat: Faith Journey through CYFM. 

That time we toured the North East (and the midwest)

Over the past few weeks I have been in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, Boston, New York City, the Hudson Valley again, Pittsburgh, Steubenville, and then finally back home in the Hudson Valley. It’s been a bit crazy, so I’m going to recap in the pictures below. 🙂

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One Wednesday afternoon, Val and I left our away retreat on LI for Boston, MA. To save gas, mileage, and our sanity we took the ferry out of Orient Point. I absolutely loved it, and would totally do it again. It was beautiful.

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The reason for going to Boston was for an accepted students day (that we both went to) and we were able to go to Mass and tour around Boston. It was nice to see where I’ll be living for the next two years.

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Here I am, in Downtown Boston by the Harbour. And below, by the sign for my program.

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After finishing the accepted students program, we headed back to New York for a family retreat in the city. It was totally worth it because the friary had a cat named Bella. This literally made my week. I miss having pets around.

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At youth group that weekend, we played some silly games (that were really about Easter) and talked about the Resurrection.

The following Tuesday, Sam, Fr. Tomas, and I drove west and spent the night in Pittsburgh. Here we had dinner with Sam’s family and saw the city.

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I don’t have any pictures from Steubenville (we were there for a career fair) but when we returned I went to a poetry reading with Fr. Bob.

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Then it was National Siblings Day, and my sister posted a picture.

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And finally we were rewarded with a Mets game (courtesy of Mary Ellen) and we ran into so many people, including Chris! 🙂

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The today we had a great day retreat.

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It’s been a crazy few weeks– but I don’t think I’ve ever been to so many places in so little time.

Mary

Mt. Beacon

When I first learned that I would be moving to Beacon, I started to look up different things to do in the area. And of course, one of the first things to pop up was to hike Mount Beacon. Now, when Val and Sam went last fall, I was away for the weekend. So I didn’t end up going. But now that the weather is getting nicer and the days are longer, we have more opportunities to do things like this.

Mount Beacon was a steep hike, but there were definitely points where one could stop and take a break if needed. All in all, we spent just under three hours on this hike. I think the majority of that time was spent on our way up because we are all pretty new to this. Once we got to the top, we spent some time just enjoying the beauty that surrounded us. Our trek down the mountain took about forty minutes, maybe less.

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Absolutely stunning. I will be hiking this trail again, hopefully in the near future.

To end our day, we ate dinner and then headed to Catholic Underground North at Mount Saint Mary’s College in Newburgh, just across the river.  Overall it was a great day, with an even better ending.

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Mary

Life Lately (in pictures)

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The past few weeks have been pretty busy, but here are some pictures from the CYFM camera, and from my iphone. These pictures are mostly from Saints for Youth, our Young Adult Retreat, and Youth Group.

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My Saint for the Saints for Youth Retreat was St. Maria Goretti

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Amanda had Padre Pio and Fr. Tomas had St. Leopold (they’re both in the Vatican now!)

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I’m not the best with skits, so I was grateful to have a veteran CCV visit my group.

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Young Adults!

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Leaving room for the Holy Spirit

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Finding Therese’s roses all around CYFM

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Fr. Fred loves Therese!

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Last but not least, Youth Group.

Such fun. It’s been a good few weeks.

Mary

Esopus

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Last week the Cap Corps Volunteer community went on retreat to the Marist Brothers Center in Esopus, New York. A friar from the Province, Fr. Sam, gave the retreat to the five young adults.

The theme of this retreat was belonging. We explored contemplative prayer, poetry, and beauty. Our retreat began Tuesday evening and ended Friday afternoon. Each morning and night we had a “silent sit” or intentional quiet time. Our breakfasts and lunches were also had in silence. Each afternoon we had a couple of hours of free time, where we were allowed to relax, pray, or encounter Christ in reconciliation.  One of the most enjoyable parts of the retreat was our interaction with the full time volunteers at Esopus. During each of our meal times we were greeted with the same hospitality that we try to show our guests at CYFM. It was so nice to be on the receiving end of that grace though. The Marist volunteers have a blog too, you can check it out here.We had conversation at dinner, and some community time in the evening. We played games, had dessert, and tended to the fire in the living room.

Our introduction to contemplative prayer was through Thomas Keating and Centering Prayer. I found this practice particularly difficult. Although I am content with quiet, I often let my mind race and wander through parts of my day, my prayer life, and through past experiences. I usually end up taking one thing and thinking through it thoroughly, and not actually praying. This wasn’t really what we were supposed to be doing. And for some reason, I couldn’t actually focus on the point of centering prayer. Instead I thought about next year, and many other things.

To be honest, I probably should have taken the opportunity for “spiritual companionship” during free time. Rather, I took a shower, a brief nap, read for a bit, and took a walk down to the river.

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As I approached the Hudson River, I couldn’t get over the shards of ice that were floating along with the current, and getting left behind on the shore. It was kind of gloomy out. I say kind of because it was gray, but it was rather warm out, which made it bearable to walk around outside.

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I couldn’t get over how the ice resembled glass in appearance, but also in sound. The different pieces of ice clanked against each other, moving down the river, taking turns riding along with one another. It really was spectacular. On the way to dinner that night Fr. Sam and I spoke about how cool this was, but also serene and somewhat eerie. I think that this experience put me in a better place to reflect on beauty in the context of belonging.

We read poetry from Mary Oliver, Gerard Manley Hopkins, as well as others. I had never studied any of the poets that we read, but I was especially captivated by Hopkins use of language in As Kingfishers Catch Fire.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

Isn’t it beautiful?! I never had the chance to study Hopkins, so I may be looking into some of his collected works in the near future… or when I have a chance to read (probably next year).

I think that the combination of contemplation, poetry, beauty, and a sprinkle of Laudato Si was beneficial for these Cap Corps. We spend so much time reflecting as a group throughout our normal (as normal as it can be) schedule. The quiet, although difficult for some, was nice. It was nice to spend that time with the Lord, in a more structured and relaxed way.

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Mary

*This post originally appeared on the Cap Corps Volunteer blog on 2/25/16*

Graymoor

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A few weekends ago (I believe right before thanksgiving) the CCVs took  a trip to Greymoor. The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement live here and do their ministry here. They do numerous things, including St. Christopher’s Inn. We had heard wonderful things about the work that these friars do, and that they have a pretty spectacular thrift store. So we went and ended up spending our whole afternoon there. We also saw a pretty spectacular sunset.

Until next time friends.

The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge

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On Monday (my day off) a few of the CCVs decided to walk across the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. We live less than a mile from this bridge that spans across the Hudson River. It was beautiful on Monday, so after we did our chores, we decided to go for a walk. It was gorgeous! There is a pedestrian pathway along side the The bridge was a little more rickety than I thought it would be, but still a great experience. All of the leaves were turning. It was sunny. And the temperature was perfect.

Mornings like these

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This morning was just one of those mornings that was absolutely perfect. Now, the pictures above isn’t from this morning, but I feel as though it captures what this morning was for me. Relaxing bliss, and sunshine. Lots of sunshine.

You see, this all started last night when I asked Chris to say a prayer that I would actually get up in the morning and make it to mass. I knew that we would have a slow morning, because we didn’t have to be at work until the late afternoon to set up for the retreat this weekend.

Every morning, my alarm clock is set for 7:30am, exactly a half hour before mass, which is about 50 steps from my front door. The Cap Corps Volunteers live in an old convent on the property of the parish here in Beacon. It’s lovely, because if we don’t have mass as a community, we can hop on over to the parish for mass with the greater Beacon community. I’ve been wanting to make it to mass at the parish for a few weeks now, but I hadn’t been very successful. But, this morning was the morning. My alarm went off at 7:30 and I hit snooze (per usual), but then I received a text message asking if I was getting up for mass. I internally groaned, and replied “If I get out of bed, yes.” I then remembered that I asked Chris to hold me accountable, so that I would indeed get up. With that, I rolled out of bed, put on pants and a shirt, threw on my vest, brushed through my hair, brushed my teeth, grabbed my keys, and set out for 8am mass.

I was a couple of minutes late, which to be honest is pretty embarrassing because I live next door to the church. I sat down as the first reading began, and prayerfully entered into the mass.

After mass, I walked back over to the Red House, and grabbed my wallet. The nearest Dunkin Donuts is about 15 minutes away, so I decided to use a gift card that I have and get a cup of coffee. It was really nice to take a ride by myself down beautiful NY-9D, listening to music that I like.

I arrived back at the Red House around 9am and expected people to start making their way downstairs. They didn’t though. They must have taken advantage of the opportunity to sleep. So, I sat down at the dining room table, made some breakfast and enjoyed my coffee in the quiet. I read a few articles, perused twitter, read the Blessed Is She devotion, and realized that my favorite show, Fixer Upper is now on Netflix. And so, I went upstairs, closed my door, and watched an episode on Netflix. Now, for those of you who don’t know, the Red House has very basic cable, which is fine because we don’t spend much time at home, and we still get basic stations. With that, I haven’t watched HGTV since I moved up to Beacon. So this morning, when I realized that my favorite show was on Netflix, I thought to myself, “Wow, Jesus must love me.”

I relaxed, tidied up my room, and then got ready for my day. I packed for the retreat this weekend, showered, dressed for work, and even said a rosary. This morning was slow and lovely. I feel as though I had an entire day before I saw any of my housemates. From time to time, I think I need that. God is Good.

Apple Festivals and the Middle of No-Where NY

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A few pictures from our trip to the Apple Festival in Warwick a few weeks ago. Warwick is where two of the members of my community run a youth group, so we were able to park at the Parish and go to the Apple Festival! It was about an hour from Beacon, and it felt like we were in the middle of no-where. People come from all over to visit this festival. The little town was bursting at its seams with people!

There was also cider. and donuts. and other delicious things.

It was a good day.