Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gaudete and Grieving

Yesterday afternoon I hit the point where I had to stop. I had to close down Twitter, Facebook, and all the news source sites from my web browser. I had to stop the conversations.

I had to remind myself that while my heart is grieving, my soul rejoices. Perhaps there is comfort to be found in the seeming coincidence that this Sunday was Gaudete Sunday. Maybe I, like so many of us, need the reminder that our soul can be joyful even in times of grief and sadness.  Maybe we need the reminder that sorrow may last for a night, but in the morning comes the light.

Yes, we may be mourning the loss of those souls in Connecticut  We may be grieving the loss of a job or a home. We might be sorrowful over a relationship ending or an unwelcome life change.

Yet, we are not a people of sadness. We are a people who live in expectant, confident hope. We are a people of joy. Even when we are remembering the darkest hours of Good Friday, we know, with all our being that there is an Easter morning.

So yes, mourn. Grieve. God does not deny us that human need. After all, even Jesus wept for Lazarus. Yet, we cannot despair. We are an Easter people reminded in this particular week of Advent that we are a people of joy.  We mourn our loss. We can find comfort in the joy those lost souls now have.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When all that is left is silence

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
~Aldous Huxley

I am now on my fifth day of trying to process the tragedy in Connecticut  I am trying to wrap my head around the shooting in a school, in a mall. I am trying to figure out what my heart is supposed to feel and my head is supposed to think at a time like this. Like so many others, I am answered with silence.

There are plenty who feel the need to add their voices to the mix and in a way I am too. Some are writing beautiful pieces offering real suggestions to help those that might cause terror such as this due to mental illness. Others are suggesting the time is here, yet again, to really examine the gun control policies in our nation. There are also beautiful stories and posts to social media of acts of kindness and remembrance of the little souls and the brave adults who time came too quickly and harshly.

Then there are those who see this is a time to offer angry words. They blame guns, blame God, blame the nation. Whether from fear or anger, they strike out at whomever they can reach.

All I know is that at Sunday's youth group I looked at the teens and wondered...Would I be as brave as those teachers? What could I do to protect them more? Why did those children have to die and never get the chance to experience the sweet torture of adolescence?

All I know is I now treasure all the more the pictures and updates I get from my goddaughters. I wish I was closer to my pseud-nieces and nephews to offer them hugs and celebrate each day with them.

All I know is that there are no words of comfort, no policy shifts, no anger, no fear that can erase what has happened.

I do not have the words to offer you, those grieving, or myself. I simply offer my silent prayer to God knowing that the angels will add their voices and those voices are all the sweeter with the choir of Sandy Hook's children.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I came to a profound realization. If ever I am lacking in humility, I will simply play Boggle with my brother. Despite being a certified bibliophile with an annoying vocabulary, I absolutely, positively stink at playing Boggle.  One round found my brother scoring 35 while I weighed in with 1, that's right 1 point.

My sister-in-law, while not quite as proficient as my brother, also completely schooled me. However, she was kind enough to offer words of encouragement along the lines of, "You just need to play it more often and you will start to know what patterns to look for." Yeah, I have a wonderfully kind sister-in-law.

What I did learn was how important little words are. Three lettered words become so crucial.

In a faith where we toss around consubstantial, Eucharist, ecclesial, transubstantiation, and even our short words like laity and chalice hail from a different age, simple short words get lost in the shuffle. Boggle taught me that can be dangerous.

I'm not even talking about some obvious ones like soul, love, faith.  I'm going even smaller - three letters - joy.

This is a busy time of year for us in the Church. Advent ministries and programs flood our schedule. Personal and professional obligations loom like an oncoming avalanche. Yet, if nothing else, this time of year should remind us of the simple, but so crucial idea of joy. Our God rejoices in us."I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete." When Jesus says this in John 15.11 it is such a simple yet incredibly profound statement.

Despite the chaos that is life right now (which includes a nasty headcold), I am trying to live with joy. I am trying to have that joy be contagious (unlike the headcold).

"Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord, your God is in your midst, a mighty savior;
He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love,
He will sing joyfully because of you."
~Zephaniah 3.14,17

Thursday, December 6, 2012

When A Geek Geeks Out

A few months ago, based off of some discussions and the fact that we have The Hobbit opening this month, I decided we'd do a series for the young adult ministry on "Faith & Fantasy: Lewis, Chesterton, & Tolkien."

My not-so-well-hidden-geek is completely geeking out.

Not only do I get to spend weeks (five to be exact) talking about, discussing, and reflecting upon my favorite authors, but I get to do real research. For while I am quite familiar with their writings, I wanted to see what was out there for analysis on a deeper level.  Enter my deep and abiding love for research (and this is a fair use of the word love).

Utilizing the wonders of the library system, I am getting books sent to me from college libraries across the state and have a stack of books on my table at home that if they fell they could squish my dog. For her safety I have moved them closer to the center of the table.

I often wonder if Martha and Mary had a third sister, maybe Margaret. She was the nerdy one. She's not mentioned because she was off with her nose in a scroll (her dad taught her to read, even though that was not an accomplishment for your average 1st century young lady). I've got a whole mental story about her and her sisters. Maybe I'll write it some day for you.

These do all come together in my mind. For you see, Tolkien, Lewis & Chesterton all remind us of one very important but over looked aspect of our humanity and faith - imagination. We can get so caught up in the reality of life, of the business of living, the work of God, that we forget the creativity. We forget to imagine. If we are to have childlike faith, isn't one of the most consistent characteristics of children their creativity?

While I am enjoying challenging myself with the research and writing of a new series, I am rejoicing in the challenge being issued to live creatively. Since starting this project I am spending more time in my own art and creative writing and those are good places to be.

How's your imagination?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Two Little Books


I carry this little guy around. The version I have is just 2.5 x 4 inches. In it I keep quotes I find that speak to me.  Some are from secondary sources, other the primary source. They all end up being things I reflect on, include in my own writings, or send along when they come to mind to another mind looking for wisdom.
I also always carry my little Bible. At 4.75 x 6.5 inches, it can easily go into my purse or tote bag. Obviously I rely on it constantly for work. In it are bits of scrap fabric I use to mark pages for one reason or another. I have a few prayers and quotes I've scribbled in the blank pages found at the front and the back covers. 
These two little books go everywhere. I know I don't know everything and in these I find words of wisdom, consolation, encouragement, and assistance. If I happen to forget them, leave them at home, or in a tote bag I managed to not bring with me at that moment, I feel their absence.
What do you find necessary to take with you? Is it a help or a hindrance to your daily life? Does it further your walk with God?
I'll leave you with two recent lines from each I have spent time with today:                                                                                   
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete." John 15.11                                    

"There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia." Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


In all honesty this idea is a train of thought several people started with on a friend's Facebook page.

During the election cycle, beginning in the primaries even, we hear so much of red states and blue states that we seem to be living in some alternate Seusian-nation.

As youth ministers, we are well versed in the "No Purple-ing Rule." It seems our nation's politics, commentary, and government is too. For us in the youth ministry realm, we use this to refer to the idea that boys are blue and girls are red and there is no mixing of the two in rooms, or other 'unsuitable' behavior at whatever event we happen to be involved with at that time.

In politics, government and commentary these days, we seem to want to preserve the same separation  However, just as we pull together the feminine and masculine identities, perspectives, and values to have holistic  engaging, effective events and ministries, so to do we need to pull together the red and the blue in order to have a holistic, engaging, effective government.

So perhaps we can set aside our victory dances or tears of loss. Perhaps we can focus on what has to get done in this country for all the "uns" that Cardinal Dolan so eloquently brought to light at the Al Smith Dinner. Perhaps we can focus on effective help for the victims of Sandy and even more effective preparations for any future natural disasters. Perhaps we can focus on all the things we have in common instead of picking apart all the things we disagree on.

Because maybe, just maybe, we could do great things with just a little more purple-ing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Innovative Salvation

Often, in an effort to stay relevant to the youth and young adults we minister to and with, we strive to be on trend, ahead of the curve, on the ball, or whatever cliche you choose to describe the on-going chase of the next thing.

Then there are those that are doing it. And doing it well. I've been paying attention to social media, like many of you, knowing that this is so crucial to the lives of the vast majority of the young church.

Over the last few days the focus of most social media postings I follow, whether they are personal friends, professional acquaintances, or organizations, have revolved around the weather and devastation of Sandy.

What astounds me is how innovative some organizations and individuals are using social media to provide immediate, meaningful relief or communicate in particularly trying circumstances.

Many friends used social media to search out shelter, convey their state of being, when all they could rely on was their smart phones or other comparable devices. This allow many of us to pass along accurate, helpful information to other concerned individuals or provide information on shelter and assistance.

I am completely flabbergasted by the use of social media in one particular instance. HopeMob has been using Twitter, Amazon, and everything else they can to help provide immediate assistance to individuals and organizations in Sandy's wake. They have found individuals in the devastated areas that are able and willing to provide transportation, food, and a multitude of other small and great acts of goodness. Then there is the current mobilization to provide supplies needed at shelters where small children are located. They have utilized Twitter to spread the word and set up a registry on Amazon with the supplies needed. Thus people can order and have the items overnighted to the shelter directly.

How incredible is that? While many of us had the first thought to donate to Catholic Social Services or the Red Cross, how many thought of ways we could make a direct impact on an organization or individual? How many of us know how to do that?

Are we able to think this creatively, this innovation in our ministry? Are we able to see the tools of the ever changing media and technological landscape through new lenses on a daily basis? Are we able to be as innovative with conveying the message of eternal salvation as these examples of worldly salvation?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

I get why some Christians are against Halloween. I get why some are against Harry Potter. I understand what they're thinking.  I may not agree with it, but I get it.

I, on the other hand, love Halloween. By middle school I was making my costumes. There was one year where I was a particularly charming Queen of Hearts. Of course when my Girl Scout troop when to the haunted house that was under the Milwaukee Zoo I lost half of my fabulous, bright red fake nails (sorry to my fellow scout who had me gripping her shoulders and arms!). Since I don't have any kids, I'm going to commandeer some of my friends kids next year and make costumes for them and take them trick or treating.

There is something about the creativity that can go into Halloween. My years in high school drama where I helped design and make costumes and sets come out to play again. Maybe next year I can be River Song (yes, I'm a Whovian). Or I'll take a page from the teens who say that I'm a cross between Professor McGonagall and Tonks. Given my age, I'd probably pick Tonks.

Creativity is something we should celebrate. I think that when we have our creative moments, we are truly acting in the image of God. Our ability to produce music, art, mechanical contraptions, and all those other things we dream up and then somehow make a reality mimic the creative action of God.

So use your creativity, celebrate the festivities, but just make sure your sugar high doesn't keep you from tomorrow's holy day - All Saints!

Sunday, October 7, 2012


While youth ministry makes the majority of these posts, today I want to look at another demographic in our churches, one that often is overlooked.

Today's readings really focus on marriage. As someone who is a professional bridesmaid, I've seen my fair share of Catholic and non-Catholic weddings. I have the dyed to match shoes to prove it. However, I am one of the vast population of Singleton. Between that fact and the two ministries I work with in addition to youth ministry, I am always aware of how our churches deal with those who are unmarried.

The young adult ministry is a mixture of singles and married. I also work with a group of adults in their 40s and 50s who are single (never married, divorced, widows, widowers). Often they feel isolated, excluded, or out-of-place at parishes. Even 'whole parish' events such as picnics or holiday celebrations give a de facto feel that they are for families with children. In our parish's efforts to assemble a pictorial directory, I hear from members of our young adult and middle singles groups that they either genuinely thought the directory was just for families or they are uncomfortable being pictured by themselves.

As we spend today's readings reflecting on marriage, don't forget those residing in Singleton. They feel awkward enough. Sometimes even I, as a staff member, will sit there during the homily or announcements and say, "Wow, this really doesn't relate to my lived experience. I don't have kids and all Father is using as stories are bits about having young children," or "That sounds like it might be a great event, but it seems to be geared toward kids and their parents. They talked about games and special food for the kids, but nothing about what was offered for the adults."

Some things to consider - how is your language for announcements, flyers, and other advertisements of general events? Do you recognize the full lives these individuals have or do you fall prey to the "of course you have tons of free time since you don't have kids" idea? Are homilies including references and stories that singles can relate to? Are you reaching out to singles to participate in parish life? How can you help those that might be intimidated or embarrassed to attend alone feel welcome and comfortable?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Quote of the Day

One may prefer spring and summer to autumn and winter, but preference is hardly to the point. The earth turns, and we live in the grain of nature, turning with it.
- Robert Hass

Friday, October 5, 2012

WYD & Cowboys

I was putting together the "highlights" version of the youth ministry calendar for the next year to distribute at family night this Sunday. As I worked through the summer months, I dropped in our service trips, but paused over July. A sigh escaped.

After going to the past five World Youth Days, this year will be the first one since 2000 that I have missed. As an event that changed my life (hello ministry, good-bye law school) it holds a special place for me.

Plus, I must admit, the kid in me still remembers the paper I wrote for a social studies class some time in elementary or middle school on the country of Brazil. I became utterly enamored with the country when I discovered that they had cowboys. (As has been previously discussed, I was not a normal little girl.) The idea that other countries had cowboys and a wild west type life was so appealing to me.

If you are going to WYD, I must admit, I wish I was going with you. I will be keeping all of the pilgrims in my prayers. Pack your Bibles, comfortable shoes, water bottles, and duct tape. The rest you can improvise.

If you happen to have room in your luggage, I wouldn't mind stowing away!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A New Week

As do many in ministry who work the weekend, I take Mondays as my day off.  Yesterday was one of those days where I couldn't wait to get to work today so I could rest. You know the sort of 'day off' that I'm talking about where errands, chores, and so forth having you running around non-stop.

I realized how lucky I am that I do look forward to returning to work after my day off. While I wouldn't mind another day so I could sleep in, watch NCIS reruns, and cozy up with my dog while I read a good book, ultimately, I do look forward to returning to work.

There are far too few people who can say that. Yes, there are times where I lose that feeling, but those times are the exception, not the rule.

This also ties into the world of ministry insofar as are we helping others to discern their gifts, talents, and skills? Are we facilitating their discernment and response to God's call?

I love that our parish offers programs like the Business Professional Group, unemployment support, faith in the work place, and more. Particularly for those in our young adult ministry these resources are quite helpful.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Asking Question

In today's Gospel, the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus what he meant. They were confused, they didn't understand, and they were fearful.

Do we cultivate an atmosphere of questioning? Do we allow space, comfort, and acceptance to pervade our discussions, physical space, and all communications so that the youth and young adults we minister to and with do not fall to their fear? Do we encourage and embrace questions? Do we acknowledge our own questions?

As a challenge this week, consider the role and acceptance of questions within your ministry. Are you open to the most difficult, upsetting, challenging questions? How can you cultivate an atmosphere that dispels fear and allows those questions to be asked?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Quote of the Day

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed. - Albert Einstein

Friday, September 21, 2012

Confession of a Life-Long Nerd

When I was a kid, I wrote to NASA as part of an effort to earn a badge in Girl Scouts. I have no idea any longer what the badge was, however, in response I got the most incredible thing in the world. (Here it is, a total nerd moment) They sent me a huge 3" binder full of information and activities. It was for teachers, but my precocious self was in seventh heaven. Add to that the 6' poster of the space suit with diagrams and detailed information and I was ready to faint from happiness. Until it dawned on me they wouldn't want someone without perfect vision to fly the space shuttle, that was my dream job.

Thus it should not be a surprise that I carefully follow NASA and the space exploration of other countries. With the Mars exploration that has been going on for many years, I am always awed by the questions that arise, the truly other-worldly photos, and the perspective offered. It reminds me to view the world through the awe-filled, open-minded view of a child. Even the oldest of the old here on Earth offers but a blink of the Universe's life. We are all children compared to the stars, planets, and chilly light of the Universe that we float through.

When I was reading a post about some mystery spheres on Mars, I realized that wonder I feel when I look to the stars does not necessarily permeate all the other areas of my life. Do I approach the wonders of God and his plan with such awe and inspiration? Do I look to the world around me and see the good and beautiful and accordingly offer my heartfelt response of awe? Do I see the complex, wonderful, creatures that are my fellow human beings and offer up thanks and awe for their beauty and wonder?

It is so easy these days for us, and those we minister to and with, to become immersed in the worries, trials and tribulations. We can do so to such a degree that we fail to see the awesome creation around us. We fail to see the beauty due to the desolation. I am not saying we should ignore those flaws and failings around us. Rather we should acknowledge the good, the wonderful, the awesome and help those to grow so as to overtake the dark, the pain, and the failings.

Do you respond in awe? Do you help those in your ministry to do so?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Self Care v Selfishness

There's a tendency in the women in my family for a bit of self-martyrdom. We are all really committed to the projects, undertakings, responsibilities, and relationships in our lives. We do not like to fall short of our self-imposed very high expectations. There's a belief that to take time to put oneself first is the equivalent of selfishness.

Last week was a brutal reminder that if anything the self-martyrdom is itself the selfish act. There tends to be a thread of wanting recognition for all that work, commitment, giving that you are doing. Pushing yourself to the point of illness, exhaustion, or even just crankiness is hardly selfless.

For the better part of the last two weeks I've had headaches nearly non-stop. It is allergy season so I would just like to offer my (sarcastic tone inserted here) profound gratitude to allergies. That coupled with a hereditary predisposition to headaches and migraines leads to general misery. Last week I had to step back, take some time away from everything and give myself the permission to care for myself. This meant extra sleep, lessening non-essential commitments, and recognizing that I was not being selfish.

In ministry there is always someone in need, there's always a crisis somewhere, there is always one more thing to be done. We got into ministry to answer a call to serve God and to serve others. Caring for ourselves can easily become a last thought. I challenge you to be aware of this. Do you need to do a better job at caring for yourself? Do you need to change your attitude on that self-care? Even Christ needed time away from the crowds for prayer and rest.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Great Young Adult Resource

We interrupt our regularly scheduled posting for a commercial break...

Seriously, this is just my opinion and something I want to share that I have found useful.  Young Adult Ministry in a Box is a great resource for those of you in the young adult ministry realm. Whether you are just starting a YA group or have on of long standing, there's information and resources to help you.

Take a minute to check it out - it is worth the subscription!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Zombies, the Military, and Ministry

I never thought about the scenario in which zombies, the military, and ministry would form a coherent subject, but nonetheless, here it is.

Thanks to Twitter, I saw this article: Zombie Apocalypse Training: HALO Corp. to train Military, Law Enforcement on Virus Outbreak.

Now if that's not a great headline, I just don't know what is. Go ahead and have a debate on whether or not you think this is reasonable. There are underlying truths (albeit they are dressed in quality make up) - the challenges of a viral outbreak, not having a supply of more than a few days of food & water available for a large metropolis (cf NOLA during Katrina, imagine if a city was quarantined).

Here's a case where a set of very real considerations, problems and challenges are being addressed in a creative and engaging way.

Are we doing the same in our ministries? When we see challenges with the populations we work with, are we simply doing the same topics, trainings, and methodologies that have been in our tool kits for years? Or are we thinking creatively and searching out new paradigms, new tools, and even a bit of (good) drama to address the issues?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Keeping It Alive

I'm at the start of my tenth year in youth & young adult ministry. Besides making me realize that I'm getting older (despite still feeling about 10 at times), it is a point where I am reminded that I need to make sure things are kept fresh, relevant, and alive in the ministries.

Ruts are easy to get caught in, personally and professionally.

Since the start of August I am pushing myself out of ruts and into new habits and new adventures. I'm developing new habits and life choices personally that are giving me new hobbies, new ways to connect with others outside of work, and a more joyful state of being.

Professionally I am cleaning the cobwebs. Literally and figuratively. I spent last Wednesday after the conclusion of the 7 am Mass cleaning the youth room. Piles of garbage and recyclables went out the door. Everything was reorganized and cleaned. All I need are a few more plastic tubs for storage and we're set in that regard.  I do want to find some new art for the walls though.

We, the respective leadership teams and I, are also addressing where the various ministries are at and where they should be going.  The youth have jumped on board with great enthusiasm and immense creativity. Using ideas from Positively Dangerous (highly recommend this if you aren't already familiar with it), we're re-imagining every youth ministry activity.

The young adult ministry is repackaging itself. We're ditching the old name which was confusing. We're restructuring our activities. New resources gleaned from Young Adult Ministry in a Box are being applied. Ideas from other adult ministries like RCIA, the adult faith formation program, and small group ministries are being examined and tied into our plans.

The excitement is high among all the leaders and me. I know there will be plenty of frustrations, but hopefully with grace and prayer, things will be blessed.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Quote of the Day

In honor of summer travels.

All God's children need traveling shoes. 
Maya Angelou

Friday, August 17, 2012

Guatemala: Seeing the Country

After such a hard week of work, the kids (and the adults!) were more than ready for a chance to relax and see more of the beautiful country. As there were a few long bus rides, we did get to see quite a bit as we drove through the highlands towards Lake Attilan. We also enjoyed the much briefer drive to Antigua. All too soon, the weekend ended and we were bound for the airport extremely early on Monday morning.

Here is the email from Saturday:

We just had a wonderful day. The kids enjoyed long naps in the bus on the way to and from Lake Atitlan (3 hours each way).  They will also have spectacular photos to share of the beautiful lake and surrounding volcanoes.
The boat ride across the lake felt a bit like a roller coaster, but the kids really enjoyed it.  We saw a church that played a role during the "dark times" before heading to a great restaurant.  A few teens ventured to try the more typical Guatemalan food, but many stuck with safe chicken sandwiches.  Happily full, we headed out to wander through the street vendors and to a shop that had beautiful paintings.  
Then it was back to the boat to cross the lake and back on the bus for our ride home. Now the kids are relaxing and enjoying a few games before dinner.  We still hope to get them settled fairly early so that we can have a fresh day tomorrow in Antigua.  As it is Andres' home, we are excited to see the city through his eyes - and he knows all the best places for food, shopping, and sight seeing.
The week has flown by; it is incredible to believe that we only have one more day here.

And Sunday:
Today was the day in Antigua.  We enjoyed a more traditional breakfast before loading into the bus.  Thanks to Andres, we were able to see some special sights including an outdoor art exhibition at a hotel that also could boast of one of the best views of Antigua.
We then headed into town where we went to another hotel that is built around the ruins of the old city. We also attended mass at the hotel in the church that was built into or rather around the ruins of the old church.  Then it was off to the coffee plantation before lunch.  
Lunch was a wonderful meal.  With our stomachs full we ventured out to the jade factory.  Andres introduced us to his father who also happened to be our guide. We learned quite a bit and a few of us found our glyph in the Mayan calendar for our birthdays.  We are a group of bats, snakes, jaguars, fish, and more!
From the more refined experience of the jade factory, we headed to the colorful chaos of the markets. The kids really had fun trying to barter for the best prices.  Many will have just as much fun trying to fit it all into their bags.
What they don't know is that we will be meeting to head to breakfast at 6 am.  Monday morning traffic in the city is awful, even by their standards so we need to allow over 2 hours for a drive that took about 30 minutes when we arrived.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Guatemala: Saying Goodbye

I am always so impressed with the children at the school. The skits, acrobatics, dances, and songs that they present to us when we arrive and on our last day with them are always so beautiful and insightful. 

Again, I'll summarize the day with the email:

This morning we spent a bit of time in the elementary school classrooms. Then there was another assembly for the kids to yet again impress us with their acting, dancing, and musical skills.  They danced a traditional indigenous dance that translates best to "happy little pony dance."  Your teens were a huge hit by dancing a routine and then doing a jump rope routine for the kids.  They also invited the children to join them and at that point it was chaos. The children were so excited to jump rope.
As entertaining as the morning was, the noon hour became rather intense. We were challenged to a game of soccer.  Those kids were tough! I hate to say it, we lost to the 6th grade boys.
After the game, it was time for a well deserved break and we headed to the library for lunch.  Lunch was followed by a bit more time in the garden area with machetes, pick axes and garden shears.  
During our time in the garden, the girls got some of the workers and the police officers to sing. It was quite the cultural exchange.
When we concluded our time at the school, we made a quick stop at the bank before returning to the retreat center.  This evening will be fairly quiet as the adults will have a meeting to make sure we are all on the same page for the weekend and after our evening reflection we will have a short meeting to share that information with the kids.

What I loved about this day was the opportunities the teens had to interact with the children, the police officers, and a few staff throughout the day. While the work we did was necessary, it is the stories and experiences we bring home and share with other that offer the greatest service to the children and people of the garbage dump community.

They live in a culture which either denies their existence or minimizes their humanity. By giving voice to their stories and their lives, we are honoring their humanity and acknowledging their inherent and inestimable value as God's children. Therein lies the true and most valuable service. They give us a great responsibility. Whether we honor that remains to be seen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Guatemala: An Easier Day

After working on the cement roof, it was a welcome reprieve to know that our next day would allow us to spend our mornings in the classrooms and nursery rooms. Here is a bit of an editorial - if you are traveling on a service trip to another country it really is incredibly wonderful to have even a small grasp of the language. It shows respect and honors the culture. It also is incredibly practical. I've spent the last year polishing up my Spanish and the studying helped. Hopefully by next year, my conversational abilities will have improved even more.

Here's what I sent to parents:

Subject: Machetes and Pick AxesWell, I believe today's subject caught your attention.
Yes, your teens used machetes today. And pick axes.  And no, they did not cause bodily harm to anyone.  Our afternoon was spent clearing the yard area of the classrooms that we helped roof yesterday (more on that below).  To remove the tall grasses and massive weeds, they gave us more formidable tools that what we would likely see lawn care professionals use Stateside.  They got the job done though.
The morning was spent in classrooms and nursery rooms.  The kids had a great time playing and learning with the children in the school and nursery. Many found that they had a better grasp of the language than they initially thought.
Now, I must confess, your kids are practicing jump rope routines while I am enjoying a reprieve with my feet up.  They are practicing routines and skits that will be part of the farewell assembly at the school tomorrow morning. The children will do a few more skits and such for us. In turn, we will show off our various skills and talents. As many of your teens competed in the Heartbeats jump rope group, they thought this would be fun for the kids to see. Thus we also had the adventure of stopping at a street side stall to buy rope. We plan on adding that to the donations to the school.

One downfall to the service trips is that they often aggravate my bad ankle. Ironically the first time I sprained it was on the first service trip I ever went on, an alternative spring break in college. It was also my first real leadership role in ministry. Two more sprains later, it periodically bugs me enough that I find myself  propping it up on a pillow with an ice pack (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off). Here too I find a few lessons. When I hit those moments when my ankle just won't let me do anything any more, it reminds me that I need to let myself be served and to do so with grace. That is not easy. After all, I see it as part of my mission and call to serve others. Letting others serve me just feels off. That's just my pride speaking. I need to listen to the humility coming from my left ankle more often.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Concrete, Concrete, Everywhere

Our day after orientation was a massive day of work. We were tasked with the construction of a concrete roof. It was quite the task to say the very least. Here's the email to the parents describing our day:

 I'll go into greater detail as to why our entire group has developed a lifelong aversion to concrete.  Yesterday we moved over 60 wheelbarrows of dirt, scores of barrow-fulls of stones, and countless bags of concrete mix.  Then we had to stir this immensely heavy mixture before gallons upon gallons of water were added and more mixing was required.
Once the mixture was created, we had to haul buckets of the wet concrete mix up a ladder to the roof. The empty buckets then had to be tossed down, caught, and put out to be reloaded.  After a few struggles to find a good system, the kids found a process that worked and they were able to get the classroom roof covered.  Of course we left the retreat center at 6 am so we could begin work by 7 am and did not return until nearly 6 pm.  However, you should be proud of the work that the teens did as it far exceeded the expectations of the school staff.
Needless to say, by the time we at dinner we were nearly falling asleep at the table.  Reflection was short and we shooed the kids to bed as early as possible.

It was wonderful to see the kids work so hard. What astounded me was the various individuals who trickled into the yard to assist. A woman, a parent of a student I believe, came to help. She was dressed as most were in the garbage dump community, worn shirt and shorts. Her shoes were simply the inexpensive flip flops that are seen for a dollar or two at supermarkets. She stood in the cement, hauling buckets and working harder than all the teens, chaperone, and myself. Periodically she would dip her feet in a bucket to wash the cement off as it would get very irritating. She chatted, smiled, and worked. In her was the face of God. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Quote of the Day

A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken. - James Dent

May your lawn mower be broken. May the weather be warm. May the breeze blow gently. May you enjoy this summer day.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Guatemala: Orientation Day

To begin, here's the email sent to parents from Guatemala with a summary of our day:
After a great breakfast we were able to experience the formidable rush hour traffic that is apparently worse on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. I have no idea why those three days are the worst, but that is what we were told. We picked up two police officers from the city hall who escorted us all day before we headed to the school, Francisco Coll.  
As soon as we arrived the children had a wonderful variety show for us. A skit about life in the garbage dump community, tricks of coordination (somersaults, flips, hula hoops), indigenous dances, and indigenous music rounded out the morning.  Then we were walked through a few of the homes. Many of the residents were generous to not only open their homes to us, but to share their stories. The teens saw that entire families lived in spaces smaller than their bedrooms at home.  A family of seven counted themselves lucky to have the regular income of roughly $5 per day - a small fortune in Zone 7, the garbage dump area.
Once the home tours were completed, we were escorted to the nursery. The babies, age a few months to pre-school, were a great favorite with all the teens. We heard more stories of the creation of the nursery and school.  Then we were walked through the adjacent area of the recycling area.  This is nothing like what you might picture - it is filthy, chaotic, and the overwhelming stench of the garbage dump invades all your sense.
At that point we loaded back on our bus to drive to the cemetery. An odd destination, yes, but as it is on the cliff that gives you a bird's eye view of the garbage dump cavern, it was a good way for the teens to see the magnitude of the dump.
By this time we were all ready for lunch. Several of the kids helped Andres pick out the food that would make up our lunches for the week when we stopped at a supermarket. Then we went across the street to a park where we assembled our lunches of peanut butter sandwiches, chips, apples, cookies and iced tea. 
Our next stop was to return to the area of the garbage dump, this time to the Santa Maria center. There we heard stories from the Paso a Paso program. This is a scholarship program to help the children who finish at Francisco Coll continue on into high school and college. They offer tutoring and trade training. We also heard more about life in Guatemala City in general and the garbage dump community specifically.

As I knew what to expect from a previous trip three years ago, it was a day of memory and seeing what had changed. The nursery had been improved upon and the school was in need of more space. The people were still the most hospitable individuals I ever met. The smell still hit you like a physical force. The children still, like all children, want to sit next to the new people and yearn for their attention.

What was the most beautiful moment of the day was a conversation between one of our teens and the director of the Paso a Paso program. This teen had been adopted from Guatemala. The director asked about her background and over the course of a few minutes was in grateful tears not only that this teen's mother bravely gave her up, but that she was welcomed into a loving home and then felt called to return to offer what she could to her birth nation. The director, who struggles with the teens and young adults fighting for higher education as they emerge from the garbage dump, recognized and named the gifts of faith, education and the love of both the birth and adopted families. For those who witnessed the conversation it was stunningly beautiful.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gratefully Home

Silence descended upon the blog while I was in Guatemala on our service trip with International Samaritan.

It was a challenging trip in many unexpected ways, yet immensely rewarding.  Over the coming days I will post what we did and my thoughts on the activities - they include a cement roof, machetes, nursery children, the garbage dump, and much more.

The trip gave me much to consider in how we determine who goes on a service trip, expectations of behavior, dealing with cliques, and other concerns that may be a growing trend in the teens.

As it stands, this is all for today, just a simple introduction. Watch tomorrow for a summary of our first day.

Here's a teaser - cement. Lots of it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday's Gospel

Here is a beautiful post that responds to the shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Keeping It Together

I may have mentioned this. Once or twice. I am someone who loves organization. My dad is former military (over 20 years of service) and my mother has worked in finances for as long as I can remember. Organization is pretty much genetically ingrained in me.

However, there is a stereotype or perhaps an excuse regarding those in ministry to youth and young adults. We are not organized, we're creative. We're not organized, we're relevant. To quote my favorite half-giant, "Codswallop!"  If anything we need to be more organized. We face audiences that redefine procrastination, use of instantaneous communication, and parents that are raising the bar of helicopter parenting on a daily basis.

Do you have mechanisms in place to keep yourself organized? Do you know how you will communicate effectively and appropriately with those involved in your ministry? Do you keep accurate and accessible records?

A few of my tricks are these:

  • Levenger's Circa Notebooks.  I adore these things. They allow me to take notes, reorganize the pages, and keep everything together if I am jumping from meeting to meeting until I can get them into the appropriate file folders in my office. I also use the junior size one as my "Book." The Book goes everywhere with me. Some of the pages are personal information - books to read, quotes I like, grocery lists. Some are notes on work - calendar of all youth and young adult events, leadership contacts, etc.
  • Evernote. This is a blessing when it comes to digital organization. Check it out if you haven't already. Many youth ministry blogs have touted the uses and wonders of this program and app (plus the program is free though you can get an upgrade should you wish).
  • A workable old-school filing system. Some things need hard copies. Your parish and diocese likely give you some of those stipulations. I also have the "If Jenn Gets Hit By A Bus" set of folders - basically the next week to two weeks of programs all set to go so that if I end up with both legs in traction or attacked by poisonous caterpillars, the show can go on without me.
  • Email and texting mechanisms you can access from anywhere. Since our youth group is on Sunday, communicating changes (say cancellations due to snowstorms) can be challenging if I make the decision after our last morning Mass.  Using list servs, Google Groups, etc allow you to easily and effectively communicate via email. There are also some great new resources out there that will allow you to communicate via text message without forcing your poor little thumbs to scream out in rebellion.  I'm going to be giving Simply Youth Ministry Tools: Communicate a try. There are a few others out there. Plus these will allow you to send emails and text messages even when you're out of the country on a mission trip. Great to keep parents aware of your safety and the joy the teens are sharing.
Any tips you want to share?

Please note, these are my opinions and what I found useful. They are not an advertisement from any of the resources listed above.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


We are within spitting distance of our service trip to Guatemala. Luggage and carry-on bags are quite the subject of conversation - what to pack? What not to pack? What size? With or without wheels? Oh the details!

Today's Gospel has Jesus sending his Apostles out without even a spare set of clothes! But they could wear sandals - that was quite nice.  To go forth, to the unknown - the unknown people, places, and reactions. To go without any creature comforts. To go forth fully trusting that all you need will be provided. Now that is faith and trust.

Two things stand out to me about this. First, they would have what they needed provided. It may not be what they want, but it would be what they needed.  Second, while they went without material goods, they went together, in pairs.

My mantra to myself and the teens is to be open to the experience of these service trips. Our meals, lodgings, and daily tasks will be truly foreign in all regards.  They may not care for papaya juice or the nameless black bean log at breakfast, but they will be well nourished for the day's work. These trips that force us so far out of our comfort zone have the terribly unique and even brutal effect of making us realize more readily those times we mistake what we want for what we need.

After all these years it seems so obvious when Jesus would send his people out two by two. My Girl Scout camp counselor training where the "buddy system" was our standard operating procedure dictated the same action. I think, though, this was more than just a safety net. We are not meant to walk the journey alone. Whether it is a mission trip or the smaller mission of every day life as Christians, we walk it together. We forth together for comfort, for support, for reality checks, for all those little things we can provide for each other on the journey.

What wants are you mistaking for needs?
Who are you being called to go forth with today?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Quote of the Day

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
-Harriet Tubman

Friday, July 13, 2012

Leaving the Room

I ran across this line. The quote is from Meryl Streep speaking at Nora Ephron's memorial service:

“But sometimes you have to wait until your friend leaves the room to say how great she is,” she said, “because she absolutely would never put up with any of this if she were within earshot.” (From this article)

Though I am not all that old yet, I have had far too many friends and family leave the room. To them my words of gratitude and love will go unspoken. I like to hope that they knew what they meant to me.

But this line made me wonder if we let those we work with know how great they are before they leave the room - whether it is leaving for college or heading down a new path in life. Do we let our volunteer leaders know, regularly, how great they are? Do we find ways to authentically affirm the greatness of the youth? Do we show young adults their unique greatness?

Before someone leaves the room, how can you let them know how great they are?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Jar Under the Seat

When I was driving home from some errands this morning, I started to panic. I heard a clunking and rattling noise that made my overactive imagination jump to conclusions about the size of the auto repair bill I could expect.

After a few miles of this, just as I was nearing home. I realized I could not remember putting away a jar of garlic chili sauce I knew I had purchased yesterday. It dawned on me. That rather small jar of sauce must have fell out of the bag and was rolling around under my seat hitting various things and making that racket.  Sure enough, once home I searched and found that jar resting against some supports.  Once I pulled it out, I had no more noises.

There are moments in ministry, and any job or career I would hazard, where you see a problem and you instantly jump to momentous changes or worst case scenario planning. There are definitely times such leaps of imagination are needed. However, I think that for many, if not most of those moments, stopping that panic and addressing the situation from the simplest aspect first leads to a fruitful and effective conclusion.

As this is the time of the year when I look at our ministries and the challenges, causes, and other points of concern, it is important to me to remember that while dramatic, sweeping action may seem cathartic and effective, it can cause more problems than a simpler, smaller solution would. I find myself asking - is this an engine breakdown or is it a jar under my seat?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Here you go. The perfect storm of monsters, cookies, and sharing.  Courtesy of Catholic YM Blog. (Love what he titled his post on this - "Someone Call a Girl Scout.")

Monday, July 9, 2012

Remembering Why

Today is one of those days where I have to remember why I am literally giving myself a headache.

This is the day where all the paperwork for our Guatemala service trip is due. I'm getting packets of papers, most incomplete, turned in by parents and teens frantically running in the parish office door.  As I send out emails and tell them what is missing and how important it all is, yes, including having health forms & permission slips in triplicate, I feel the knot in my temples slowly and surely tighten.

All I want to do is go home and eat a large container of chocolate ice cream, preferably a variety with peanut butter.

As I have a conference call to be on tonight and am lactose intolerance, I will need to relax some other way. Likely with a cup of tea and a good book later tonight.

I just have to keep reminding myself of why this is worth it.

Guatemala is not an easy trip. Poisonous caterpillars, stomach viruses, less than ideal safety situations, and the general trials of travel make the week an exercise in patience and endurance. However, the rewards are immense.

I just have to stay focused on the positive - all the reasons why this is a very good thing. Even as I get yet another paper cut from the avalanche of paperwork.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Under Pressure, Facing Doubt

There are times when we face so much pressure in ministry. Some demand the numbers from us - attendance, budgets. Others look to us to be a source of spiritual wisdom and eternal significance, even if we  only slept three hours because we spent the past week orchestrating VBS or a school of spirituality. As the pastor of my campus ministry center always love to throw at the peer ministry team, "to those who have been given much, much will be expected!"

What can make those expectations even harder is the skepticism and doubt others throw as road blocks in our path. Though our faith in God, his work here, and the people around us may be solid; others may not offer quite that same faith. Their cynicism, doubts, fears, and (usually) abundant willingness to share those thoughts can deflate even the most faithful and energetic ministry (and minister) in record time.

I find comfort in today's Gospel. Jesus faced the same pressures. The challenge he sets before us, is that he kept working. We can too. it may be harder and we may not do all that we hoped to do, but we cannot give up our ministries to those nay-sayers. Jesus still did good in his native place. And we don't know what happened after he left. We don't know what those who were healed did with their new lives. We may not know what our ministries do, even when we fall short of our ideals. After all, we do believe that God has a plan.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Quote of the Day

Believe in the incredible
and you can do
the impossible
~Bishop Fulton Sheen

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday Highlights

As I was up late with one of those phone calls you can get in the late night hours when you work in ministry, today's post is going to be pretty easy. Here are a few things for you to check out:

A great post with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor on Philomena, The Greatest Saint Who Never Was. Love the takeaway points.

The USCCB's blog on Social Media and the Gospel.

For those in young adult ministry - check out the forum on young adult ministry sponsored by the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association (NCYAMA). You'll see me there!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Leggings, Guatemala, & Digital Communication

Today I am yet again reminded of the dangers of digital communication - email, social media, etc.

As we are getting within just days of our service trip to Guatemala, I had to send out information from the organization we are traveling with on this trip. In addition to some of their notes, there were answers to my questions. One is the ever charming fashion trend of leggings being pants acceptable for wear under all circumstances.

To be fair, I wore stirrup leggings back in the day of perms (I was in middle school, please forgive me). However, the accepted tops to go with said leggings were nearly to the knee sweaters and tunics. We were hot stuff, let me tell you. So while we girls were all aspiring to be Rachel or Phoebe or Monica, we at least saw that our rears were covered by our neon oversized t-shirts and color block sweaters.

Unfortunately leggings are back. We couldn't go for the fabulous twirly skirts of the 50s or the fun vamping of the roaring 20s? No? Let's bring back leggings but go for short shirts - that's a great idea (insert sarcasm)! As a youth minister this now creates modesty issues on a day to day basis. When heading to another country with different ideas of appropriate clothing, it can create serious safety concerns.

Thus this has been a subject that I sent another reminder about in an email today. I had mentioned that leggings were not allowed at our June meeting and in a previous email. As this email included the broader text from our travel group on what we should wear for work pants at the site, I just copied and pasted the whole section from the organization's original email.

If I can reference one popular TV series, I'll go for another. I know I sound like the Soup Nazi prior to this trip. The safety concerns force me to be more strict than usual.

Additionally, 8 of the 9 families sending teens on this trip are not regular youth group attendees. They have no point of reference for how I do things, my general attitude, tone of voice, or generally adaptable methodologies.  Thus, with this reminder I sent, a mother replied with all good intentions and in a kindly worded manner (thank you so much for that). She was concerned I was making assumptions about the expected behavior and that the fact that there are issues that, if violated, result in being sent home being reiterated to frequently.

Due to the electronic communication, my tone likely is a challenge to pick up in the email. Plus there was text I did not write. This reminds me of a couple things -

First, don't take those replies from parents personally. They, just like me, only want to ensure their teens are safe, happy, healthy, and growing in faith and maturity.

Second, always be conscientious when choosing your words in an email. Particularly when sending to those you are not familiar with how they will interpret your words or you theirs.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Giving Thanks

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ.

Two words stand out today from our Gospel - "giving thanks."

It wasn't a feast. It wasn't the winning touchdown of a Super Bowl. It was a simple meal with bread and wine. It was a small group of friends with their teacher. It was God showing us the way.

Give thanks.

With the economy causing many to worry and fear, with new technology to envy, with a culture of entitlement thankfulness is far from the ordinary.

Being just a week away from the first service trip, I am inundated with the administrative tasks combined with the struggle to get my personal life in order for the summer chaos (let me tell you how much cleaning, laundry, etc has to get done this week!). My mind runs through constant to-do lists and packing lists. The present moment, the blessings that are now, escape my notice.

With today's Gospel, I am reminded to sit still. See the blessings. Offer thanks.

If I cannot do this, how can I help others to do so?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Life's Work

In honor of one of my favorite authors who passed away this week. Here's a bit of Saturday wisdom for you:

A life's work should be based on love. 
- Ray Bradbury, 1920 - 2012

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Greatest Feat

Last night I was reminded of the greatest feat for any human - listening. Really listening.

Not just catching the words so as to repeat the information, but listening to what is being said, what isn't being said, and finding the meaning of the words.

Real listening is complicated. Minds busy with worries and cares, the next meeting, whether they remembered to turn off the coffee pot can leave little room to process the words and meanings being spoken.

Pain, sorrow, joy, can cause us to be so occupied with our own voice we forget the other.

Yes, listening just might be the most challenging skill.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lest We Forget

For those of us in the United States, this time of year offers us a few chances to remember those who have served in our military, not only to protect Americans, but to serve the greater good on behalf of the world.

We spend Memorial Day at picnics and bar-b-ques. We enjoy the warming weather and time with friends and family.  It is a holiday that we embrace for the time it gives us to relax and enjoy the important relationships.

Yesterday was the anniversary of D-Day. As the WWII generation becomes a smaller and smaller population, this day is quickly fading to a side note buried in the side columns of our newspapers and a quiz question for tenth grade history students.

Yet, this is a time of year that we are called to remember these men and women who have served and continue to serve our nation and the world. No matter what your view on the politics of war or the current policies of the government, I do ask that you respect, honor, and in your own way serve the military men and women.

Obviously I am a biased opinion. My forefather fought for the Union in the Civil War. My grandfather served in the South Pacific. My father is retired Army and my brother served in Iraq.

Also, as we are men and women in ministry, let us not forget those who serve the soldiers, airmen, sailors, and guardsmen. The chaplaincy core is a small, but integral part of the military and so very crucial to the well-being of those in service. Here is a wonderful photo-essay of one chaplain.

Next time you are challenged because you don't have the resources promised, or adequate space for your group, or are exhausted after a week of straight night meetings, remember, there are ministers serving in far more dire conditions.

For information on the military chaplains in the United States, see the Military Archdiocese.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hunger Games and Holy Week

With the world still buzzing about The Hunger Games I have a few more thoughts.

As I continue to think about the story (film & book) it haunts me.  I am finding articles and reflections that I file into a folder for the book club discussion we will be having later this month.  And I keep reflecting.

Yes the story is violent.  Yes, there is an oppressive and depressive mood that permeates the story.  Yes, there are many things that as pieces you can point to and be valid in your objections.

But there is more.

What I find wonderful at the very first glance is the female heroes offered to the youth.  In much the same way that I love that the teens in my youth group love the British TV show, Doctor Who, I find comfort in their seeing Katniss as a role model.  Oh, just like every other teen girl she struggles with her identity, her role in life, her understanding of relationships.  Unlike other recent teen novel heroines, she has inner strength, she is intelligent, she fights for what she loves and believes in.  She does not passively sit by while life happens to her; she shapes the world around her in a proactive and thoughtful manner.

Perhaps it takes more thought than the teens initially give the film, but the violence itself is a point of consideration.  While there is violence, the book does not extol the virtues of that violence.  Rather, like the soldiers or those who have lived in violent situations attest, it offers a view of the devastation, chaos, and irrational nature of violence.  The story uses violence to challenge our view on violence as entertainment or a means to an end.  It questions whether that end justifies the means.  Few who read the story or see the film could argue that the conclusion is anything other than a disavowal of violence.

In fact, all the acts of rebellion that are mentioned are those that Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have happily embraced.  The silence of District 12 after Katniss volunteers.  The bread from Rue's district.  The flowers for Rue.  The power of love to over throw the violent, calculating system.  Far from idealizing or promoting violence, The Hunger Games, offers a view where peaceful resistance, silence, and love become earth shattering acts of rebellion.

There is much to consider.  At a time when we in the Catholic Church look to the Lord's Last Supper, his voluntary sacrifice to save us all, and the hope we have in his great, all-encompassing love, we can see how The Hunger Games  will be far from anathema to our beliefs. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What If

Letters to Juliet will probably never rank in the top 100 Films of All Time.  However, I do love the letter that is read aloud near the end.  The words "What If" are oh so powerful.  Hindsight, doubt, wishful thinking, rose colored glasses all come into play when we allow ourselves to mentally meander down the trail of our lives' "what ifs."

The Washington Post has an interesting slide show of "Things You Would Have Said."  It is very easy to imagine a discussion for either a youth or young adult group emerging from this. 

It would be easy to take a discussion of hindsight, fears, insecurities, judgements, and so on.  You could also talk of how we take people for granted or do not stand up for things that we later wish we would have.

You could easily speak about grief and not being able to have closure with a loved one or a lost relationship.  There is also the topic of heroes and people who have had a positive influence on our lives that we have not thanked.

Just an idea.  For what it is worth.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The World Will Be Watching

You may have heard of this slightly anticipated film, The Hunger Games, is opening this weekend.  A significant portion of the youth group here will likely be falling asleep in their Friday classes as they are heading to the midnight showing.

Now, I am not that crazy, especially as I am still getting over a very nasty bug and have the Michigan Catholic Young Adult Conference Friday and Saturday.  However, I will be going to see it on Monday afternoon (me, Imax, and a tub of popcorn - it's a date).

The books offer countless points for discussion.  Accordingly, it didn't take much for the teens to convince me of the need to use the trilogy as the texts for the April, May, and June book club discussions.

For those that love history and want to draw parallels to the Roman Empire and Christ's teaching you can compare Panem to Rome.  The Games to the Coliseum.  The pull of the worldly illusion to the call to love of Christ.

For those that wish to focus on relationships (afterall, we work with teens), you can spend hours discussing the main characters as friends, families, strangers who become surrogate sisters, strangers who support, strangers who destroy, and strangers who become enemies.

For those that have a social justice bent, there is plenty to examine through the lens of Catholic Social teaching.  The value of life, the idea of Common Good, preferential option for the poor, rights of workers.

There is just so much.  I hope that the movies end up being well enough done that we can use them in youth ministry.  While there are the issues of violence to address, I believe The Hunger Games trilogy offer some unique opportunities of discussion and reflection with the youth.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Next 10 Years

Today was my annual review and finding out whether the teens will have to put up with me for yet another year.  Alas all you teens here who cast disparaging looks at the Bucky Badger pillows, you shall have to submit to their gaze for at least one more year. 

Since my pastor is very good at giving you feed back, these annual reviews are not surprising in their content.  However, I am an Olympic-class worrier, so I still get nervous.  In our conversation it came up that this is my 9th year here and thus, the letter I signed for next year, states that I will have a 10th at the parish.

What do I want the next 10 years to look like?  The first year I spent trying to figure things out and keep my head above water.  The second year I was able to institute a few changes and begin making things fit a bit more of my way of doing things than my predecessor.  From there on, I've had a free hand to try things, sustain things, and even at times, end things.

Again, what do I want to do with the next 10 years?  What are the priorities for the ministries? What needs to be changed? What do we want changed?  What needs to be kept the same? What do we want to keep the same? Where are the new ideas? How can we incorporate them? There are a multitude of questions to ask and I cannot wait to enter into a discerning discussion with the youth, young adults, and middle singles.

All with Bucky Badger looking on from his perch on the pillow in the youth room.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lent and a Youth Minister

As odd as it may sound, I love Lent.  Particularly as the years I have been in ministry lengthen, it continues to grow as my favorite time in the Church calendar.

The reason is simple, it drives me to spend more time focusing on where my relationship with God is.  Through the focus on the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving I come to more closely examine my faith and spirituality and to spend more time with God.

There is also the added benefit that many of the programs in all the ministries I oversee have a more reflective tone to them.  The youth group focuses on reviewing the pillars of Lent, temptation, God's love, and the Triduum.  The young adult group spends time focusing on new ways to live Lent, usually by utilizing a text (this year it is Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton: Lent and Holy Week).  Add to those experiences Taize prayer, the Living Way of the Cross (writing it and directing it), the communal penance service, the youth retreat, etc. and this time of year becomes a time of spiritual renewal for me and the ministris.

Without much fear, I can hazard the assumption that this time of year is busy for all in parish ministry.  Despite that, I challenge you to ensure this is also a time for you to enter into Lent and find the renewed right relationship with God that can sometimes be pushed aside in the chaos of day to day ministry.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Say When

After only 8 years, I can say I've learned the important lesson of "when to say when."

"Saying when" for those not familiar with the term, is best understood in an example.  When I was a bit too little to scoop my own mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, whatever relative with the advantage of full adult height would take the serving bowl of potatoes and say, "Say when."  I would then let them pile an astronomical amount of mashed potatoes on my bowl before I finally said the magic word, "When," and they passed the now severely diminished bowl along.  Now if that bowl had been stuffing or rum cake, the "when" would likely have been after the first very small spoonful.

In ministry it is hard to say when.  Say when it is time to go home despite a lengthy, ever increasing to-do list.  Say when you need to take a few days away even if it means missing the regional young adult picnic or your seniors' play.  Say when you cannot add another program to your ministries because you want at least one night at home.  All those demands are worthy and we want to fulfill them.

But one thing I learned from all those mashed potatoes, if you don't say when soon enough, and you plow through them all, then at some point, you reach a point where you're so stuffed you just can't move.  Same with ministry - you become so full of stress and exhaustion that it hits you full force.  For me, I tend to get physically ill (my doctor now knows how to tell when I've had a major, international event - I end up needing antibiotics or such).

So today, with a sinus headache raging due to a headcold, I am going to say enough for this week.  I am going to head home and do nothing for the rest of today and tomorrow.  Then I will be ready for youth leadership on Sunday and the Parish Mission.


Thursday, February 16, 2012


I would guess I am not the only one to face this problem.  Our young adult group meets on Tuesdays.  It has done so for longer than my tenure here at the parish.  It has met on Tuesdays for well over 10 years.  During particular liturgical seasons our parish offers small groups.  When is the young adult small group being offered?  Tuesdays at 7 pm.  Arghhhh!

First this is a great moment to remind me of a few things.  It makes me remember that I need to always keep conversations rolling between all of my coworkers.  None of us are islands in ministry.  It also reminds me that I need to keep advocating for our young adult ministry to be respected as an estabished and crucial aspect of our parish life.

Second, it is offering me a chance to think outside of the box.  I may need to bow to the fact that the small groups are already beginning registration and may not be able to be rescheduled.  If this is true, then I will move our young adult group during the Lenten season.  Likely I will need to change my day off to another day or shift several meetings to an alternate depending on which day we choose.  I also have the chance to look at some resources.  Particularly if we shift the day to Mondays, my normal day off, I want an option that will not require me to completely create the night's discussion and content which the current calendar has me doing.

Have you ever had this problem or something similar?  How did you handle it?

Do you have any great Lenten resources you enjoy using?  If not, why not look at Young Adult Ministry in a Box?  They have a whole series of options for you!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

To Texas and Back

Hello all!

Despite my intentions to the contrary, I went dark last week while I headed to the NCYAMA Executive Board meeting that occurs along with the NFCYM membership meeting.  Between delayed flights, lack of internet connection in various places and then coming down with a mild-yet-annoyingly-lingering cold, I have been remiss in getting all but the essentials covered.

NCYAMA has many great things in the works that you should keep an eye out for if you are in the field of young audlt ministry or have young adults in your ministry (YAs who volunteer with youth ministry, YAs in marriage preparation classes, YAs in RCIA, etc.).

First, there is the national forum in November.  Watch the NCYAMA website for more information.  Or drop me a comment or email as I'm the one on the website's contact for it!

Second, we are proud to have the incredible resource: Young Adult Ministry in a Box to offer.  This is great for anyone in young adult ministry whether you are looking at how to start your ministry or how to sustain your current ministry or revitalize a flagging one.

Well, I need to get back to preparing tonight's trivia game on St. Valentine's Day, the saints in general, and movies related to 'saints' for our young adult group.

May you have a happy Valentine's day!  And may Sts. Cyril and Methodius not feel too left out today.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Great Little Tool

Confession: I own two Kindles.  In my own defense they were both gifts from my parents.  I am an avid reader - I have two book cases that are filled (completely wedged in every space are books), one more decorative one with special editions (heirlooms from my grandparents) and favorite books, then there are the inevitable stacks on my night stand, coffee table and end tables.  I also have a well used library card.

A few years ago my parents gave me the second generation Kindle.  I thought it would be nice for traveling if nothing else.  I love it.  It has been around the world several times.  It hangs out on my night stand so that I can read before I go to sleep.  It slips into my purse for days when I may find myself waiting somewhere.

This past birthday, I received the Kindle Fire.  While the iPad has many bells and whistles, for what I wanted, the Kindle Fire is genius.  I've got my books, web access, email, a ton of apps (including weather, Words with Friends, etc.).

The Kindle Fire was a huge help on our service trip so I could track weather on our cross country winter drive.  I could email updates to families of our teens.  I could email when I have various problems.  I could look up maps to locations and the times that restaurants were open.

The other great thing - you can get books from your library on Kindles now.  Huge bonus here!  As a youth minister I find myself trying to read a ton of things from psychology books to the latest YA novel.  With the library loan system, at least at my district library, you get two weeks with the book.

Also, you can email documents to your Kindle.  I just did that with a huge pdf file that would be over 100 pages.  As it is a great, colorful document too, I can appreciate all those great colors and layouts on the Fire.

You can also highlight, take notes, and leave bookmarks.

I find these great tools to help me stay on top of things in the ministry world and in the various tangentially related fields.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Here's a two for the price of one.

One: a great online magazine is here.  Church Life: A Journal for the New Evangelization.  You can access it for free from...

Two: ISSUU a publishing site.  Looks to be intreguing.  I  haven't snooped around it too much yet, but there could be things of interest.  I would hazard to say there will also be things that I will stay far away from, but I just wanted to put it on your radars.

One More

In what is either a sure sign this youth & young adult minister has gone round the bend or is just really a believer in youth service trips, I just booked what will be the third trip for our youth ministry for the year.

We survived New Orleans (though my stress level was through the roof at points).

Guatemala is humming along and we're looking forward to that trip later in the summer.

But there were kids that were not ready to travel abroad, couldn't afford Guatemala, were busy during winter break, or just couldn't do one of the other two.  Thus I thought we would try Young Neighbors in Action.  I have heard great things about them from other youth ministers I respect.  Given we do have two other trips, I am limiting us to one van load.  On the upside, my parents are already planning on buying lunch and frozen custard for our group when we drive through the Milwaukee area on our way home.  That could be a selling point for the kids! [For reasons of their own understanding, the teens think my mom is incredibly cool and they love when my parents come to visit and drop by youth ministry events like our Living Way of the Cross.]

So ready or not Green Bay, we are headed your way!  It will be great for this Wisconsin native to head to her favorite state, do some good work, and introduce teens to frozen custard and cheese curds.