May The Choice Be With You

I’m finding out that the older I get there’s so much more to learn than I ever thought there would be. I’ve often told my dad that, the older I get the dumber I feel, and most days I mean every word. Surviving Sandy was no exception.

I’ve lived through hurricanes before. This wasn’t my first evacuation either (and if I never have to do it again that’s fine with me). But there’s always room for another first.

I’ve always considered myself a tough person, kind of, when a lot of people tell you something, you start to believe it.

Up until recently my dad was an engineer for a major power company; I grew up knowing that having electricity is a right as well as a privilege.

I learned at an early age that there’s no master switch at your power company that someone uses to turn your power back on.

Going to work with dad often meant hanging out with a crew of linemen and bringing them coffee.

During major outages when it’s “all hands-on deck” my dad even worked as a lineman.

My parents (although largely my dad) have always stressed being prepared. Although a situation may not always be ideal do everything in your power to make sure you can in fact survive.

During my service orientation the concept of “no energy days” was brought up. I thought it was an interesting idea, but I was already giving up internet, cable, and who knew what else at that time. I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon before I actually moved into the house or talked to my housemates.

Sometime later and over dinner we discussed bills. It was suggested that one person in the house handled the bills. We agreed, but also wanted to be kept in the loop. I for one didn’t want one person telling me what I could or couldn’t do just because they paid the bills.

“No energy days” were appealing. We were all curious as to how far we could stretch ourselves in certain areas. The volunteers from the year before had “no energy days” regularly; I figured we could do it too, and better (although it wasn’t a competition, my brain often made one between the two groups).

I don’t remember many of the details of our “no energy day,” or how many we had. But when it came down to it it didn’t make much of a difference to us as a community, we were already unplugging things when they weren’t being used, we embraced, the fireplace, wearing layers and blankets before turning to the thermostat.

I also lived with a Montanan. For those of you who have never lived with a Montanan let me explain to you just how this impacts your life. They’re like the boy scouts on steroids, at least from what I’ve experienced.

And repercussions of such never leave you; like deciding to stay home in freezing temperatures because you have a mummy bag, plenty of stored up water, reading to catch up on, and a headlamp to read by.

Fast forward to Sandy. Honestly, I should’ve been able to handle it better. I have the skills and the know-how. Living without power, for example, for an extended period of time isn’t ideal but its doable, people survived without phones and TVs and such for hundreds of years after all.

Somehow in the personal debriefing of the situation, and unpacking, and organizing, a thought crosses my mind.

Choosing to go without has a purpose behind it, like self-discovery or solidarity or simplicity.

Going without do to circumstances beyond your control requires more out of a person. It requires just one more thing for you to do without, but it’s the biggest thing most people don’t want to give up.

Control.

Next time you find yourself going without, in whatever form that takes, may the choice be with you.

One More Thing: Next time you have a power outage & you see a crew of linemen out there working to restore your power bring them some coffee (or a thank you card). They not only work hard but long hours (12-16 during major outages) & many of them wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.

*A similar version of this post was written on November 13, 2012

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10 Tidbits: A Guest Post

I asked my friend Mary to guest post today. I “met” Mary after the death of Jack Morris when I had the idea to look up tributes people may have put together. Mary’s blog, Finding Joy In All Things, was the first one on the list.

Mary and I were in the same volunteer program in the same year. However, we were in different regions, so our first meeting had to be delayed a while. Each region has an orientation so while I flew off to the great Northwest, Mary was in New York. We probably passed each other at 36,000ft if the dates line up right.

I asked Mary to do a “response of sorts” to something I wrote last year on advice in long term service. It’s pretty awesome. Enjoy.

  1. Be gentle with yourself.  This was the best piece of advice I received at orientation.  You will face many challenges this year, and it helps to remember in these situations that you’re doing the best you can.  You don’t have to be perfect to be exactly what’s needed.
  2. Your experience is your own.  You’ll hear lots of stories from former Jesuit Volunteers, coworkers, and folks in your city about previous JV communities.  Remember that everybody has a different JV experience, and everybody brings a unique set of gifts.  Let your experience be your own and know it won’t resemble anyone else’s.

3. The four values are yours too.  There’s no JVC police enforcing a specific way of living the values of simply living, social justice, spirituality, and community.  You’re a grown up now, and you can choose how to live your life – including how you (or how you don’t) live out the four values.  They will be much more meaningful if you make them your own.

  1. Practice indifference. This is a fancy Ignatian way of saying “be open.”  It’s impossible not to have any expectations or preferences about what your year will hold, but try to be open to whatever your year has in store.
  2. Journal. I went through about four journals in my JV year, but I also write too much.  These journals are some of my favorite keepsakes from my year.  I love rereading them and remembering the moments and people that made my year special.   If you’re not a writer, consider taking pictures or drawing or whatever it is you do to remember things down the road.
  3. Consider making a house journal. My roommates and I got this idea from an FJV who had a traveling journal that was sent from roommate to roommate after their year ended.  We started our own mid-way through the year, and five years later the journal is still making its rounds.  It’s a nice way to stay in touch with community members after you go your separate ways.
  4. Find creative ways to amuse yourself. An $85 a month stipend doesn’t go very far.  To amuse ourselves in an isolated city (Syracuse, New York), my housemates and I played a lot of “full contact” spoons, sardines, telephone Pictionary and spent a lot of time outside.  We learned to find joy and entertainment in simple things like baking, preparing meals, writing letters to other communities, and planning get-togethers with friends in our city.  Even though we were broke, we managed to entertain ourselves.
  5. Travel. Especially if you are on the East Coast or have other communities within driving distance.  My community members and I took trips to Georgia, Portland, Newark, New York City, Pennsylvania, Hartford, Ottawa, Watertown, and DC all on $85 a month (see find creative ways to amuse yourself).  Tip: bring food for the car from home and accept hospitality from other communities.
  6. Update the folks back home.  When your year ends, it will make a big difference if your friends and family back home know what happened during JVC.  You will meet people and have experiences this year that will potentially change your life, and your transition to post-JVC life will be easier if the folks back home can talk to you about them.
  7. JVC doesn’t end at the end of your year. Even though it may not seem like it at certain points in the year, the year of service will not last forever.  Much more of your life will be spent out of JVC than in.  JVC is really just the prep year, the year that will “ruin” you for life, the year that will color the way you see many things for a long time.  Remember that you don’t have to figure everything out this year and that the journey is just beginning.

Bonus: JVC is the “real world.”  I got a lot of flack and heard a lot of jokes about doing JVC to postpone entering the real world; as if JVC was just playing pretend for a year.  I think people equate real with having more than $85 in expendable income every month.  From my experience, JVC was just as real as any other part of my life, and I saw and experienced things I never would have if I had just gone straight into a “real job.”   I’m a better professional and better person because of my year serving in JVC

*Sorry about the formatting. I have no idea how it happened, or how to fix it.

*A similar version of this post was written on August 8, 2013

Things New Volunteers Should Know/Remember

For most of the summer I received emails from the organization I was a volunteer of. Most of them were pretty standard, even the “we still need 3 volunteers, spread the word” email. I was sent the email with orientation information, since all former volunteers are invited, and asked one more thing.

“Do you have a sentiment to share with the new volunteers?”

Yes!

The trouble is it’s hard to put on paper, especially for people just leaving orientation. Your brain is swimming with anything and everything. I knew the chances of something I said sticking are slim. Now had they asked for notes for a volunteer’s first few days/weeks at placement, that’s another story.

Dear newly missioned volunteers,

You’ve probably been at your placements just a few days, even so here are Thirteen Things New Volunteers Should Know/Remember

  1. Orientation was like boot camp, but you’re not done, there’s still more to learn. Each. And.  Every. Single. Day.
  2. You aren’t there as a fill in or a substitute. You are there because they wanted you.
  3. There’s a reason for every workshop you sit though, take it from someone whose housemates are now married (indeed to each other).
  4. You’ll have at least one moment during the year that is screaming at you to turn around and go home. Don’t.
  5. Find a mentor, at your placement, in your larger faith community, in your neighborhood, it doesn’t matter, just find one.
  6. No matter how you decided to handle the holidays you’ll end up homesick, and probably crying at some point.
  7. Focus on community; the one in your house was given to you but build one outside of the house as well. Both will make you a better person, and help the other community thrive. You’re in individual who is part of a community, don’t forget.
  8. Be open to things you never considered. Say yes when you always thought you’d say no, but know that it’s O.K. to say “No thanks.”
  9. Very little will turn out “like you thought it would.” That’s a big part of the beauty of what you’re doing.
  10. You will love. You will hate. You will fight. You will be confused. Sometimes all at the same time, and more than likely never over what you thought you would, dishes in the sink, what’s for dinner, who makes dinner, sharing of items, and toilet paper.
  11. At least one or you will end up in the emergency room at least once. Consider it a right of passage.
  12. Contrary to what you may be thinking (or what other people are telling you), you aren’t there to change the world. You are however going to make the world a better place and that’s just as important.
  13. Just when you think can handle your position it’ll be time to leave. It’s O.K.

Bonus 14. For communities where men are a minority, which will be most of them, be respectful of their boundaries, especially when it comes to the purchasing of ladies only items. If they don’t want to buy them on their run to the store DO NOT push the issue.

*A similar version of this post was written on August 16, 2012

The Return Of The Envelope

I was standing at the admissions desk as NRH filling out paperwork before my first ever PT session as an adult. I wasn’t freaked out about the PT. I’ve done that enough to have an odd comfort level. The paperwork was annoying, but typical, until I got to the “emergency contact” portion. That’s when I freaked out.

Who should be my emergency contact?

Typically it’s my mom, but I had second thoughts. She was 6 hours away if the traffic cooperated. If there was going to be a real emergency that required the informing of someone they should be closer than 6 hours away. I thought a pizza delivery “30 minutes of less” window would be ideal. So I put down my roommate. We barely knew each other at that point & couldn’t think of a single person who I knew would be O.K. with it, without asking first.

“When I was at NRH today I had to give an emergency contact. I listed you. If you’re not O.K. with it I can change it.”

“I’m fine with it. Just let me know where you keep your stuff. I keep an envelope of all my information right here.”

Well that was easy.

Now I just had to put together an envelope:
* Medical history
* Surgical History
* Important Phone Numbers
* Copy Of Insurance Card

I left it in my desk until I graduated. When I moved across the country I told my housemates where they could find my info, if needed, because I put down the house number as my contact (meaning there were at least 3 potential contacts).

Almost 2 months ago I went to urgent care in the worst pain of my life; because I needed another reason to put off having children, if at all. I sat in the waiting room while my mom filled out my forms trying not to gag & praying I’d blackout, since that seemed to be the only potential relief.

I was sent to the ER where I sat for the equivalent of forever, before I had to answer all their dumb questions AGAIN. I wish I had my envelope back, more than one actually.

“Can we hurry this up please?!?!?! I’m in a lot of pain here & I’m gonna barf.”

(Painfully unhelpful response I won’t repeat)

Twelve hours later I was being admitted to a medical unit because my test results were “inconclusive.” Guess what happens when you get admitted on a unit? You have to answer the same questions all over again, and this is after 24+ hours of no food, no sleep, a full day of tests, and lots of M0rphine & Z0fran. I was literally falling asleep when the attending came to do her new admission rounds, because at that point you really care what a hospitalist is/does.

The conclusion of all the “in-conclusion” was that I probably passed a kidney stone & it wasn’t my appendix. The evidence being one swollen kidney since no one was able to find the kidney stone or appendix.

My conclusion? Time to bring back the envelope.

I had a follow up with an urologist in order to attempt to put this whole thing to rest since my goal is to never repeat this experience. The first was to tell me that it does in fact look like I passed the stone & to give them more details about my time in the Big House. The second was to go through everything again with the urologist after an ultrasound.

I’m “back to normal.” No restrictions, since no one seems to be able to even guess how this all happened. It could happen again, or not. My appendix is still missing however.

*A similar version of this post was written on August 21, 2012

The Fallibility Of Men

I’ve stayed away from making any comments about the current climate of sexual assault. It was a conscious decision, one I don’t regret at all, and had no intention of changing, that is until things got too close for comfort.

I’d recently heard that someone I’ve held in high regard has multiple accusations of sexual abuse against them.

(I will not be naming this person because that is not the point of this post and I don’t want to engage in a debate on the subject)

I’m heartbroken, as anyone would be.

What I’m surprised by is the other emotions that have surfaced.

I now have some clue of what people mean when they say, “They would never do this,” or “If this were true I would have known.” Etc.

I can honestly tell you from the bottom of my heart I would have never imagined this person would ever be accused, never mind have the accusations be found as credible.

It effects “other people.”

I thought I knew it didn’t just happen to “other people.”

My brain was wrong. I was wrong.

I’m included in “those other people.”

I understand that people want this person to go to prison, I would too if I could see this objectively without needing to remind myself that I should stay as objective as possible. I don’t want to see them go to prison but if that’s what the law calls for then that’s what needs to happen. How I (or anyone else) feel about the situation should not come into play.

Such acts, like some others, are unforgivable, and inexcusable.

I, also like most people, are wondering what the hell we’ve been a part of for so long.

How could this have happened?

How could it have stayed a secret for so long?

Why didn’t someone say something before now, and even if someone did than why didn’t someone else listen before now?

I can honestly tell you, and anyone else that may have their own doubts, that what you know of a person may not be the whole picture. They could have secrets, even not-so-secret secrets . The person you know may not be the same person other people know, even if they inhabit the same body.

Men (and women) are not infallible.

When Calls The Vocation

I’m not a big fan of cheesy TV shows, unless I want something to make fun of or watch mindlessly. I’ve rarely watched “The Waltons” and “Little House On The Prairie” has never been my cup of tea but if it’s from Jenette Oke than I’m all over it, at least until the 5th season finale of “When Calls The Heart.”

The main character Mountie Jack Thornton, played by actor Daniel Lissing, was killed in a mudslide leaving his young widow, and longtime love interest, Elizabeth.

The death of “Mountie Jack” came at the end of a season packed with major life events, so it wasn’t in an effort to “liven up” the series. Daniel Lissing chose to not renew his contract with the series, from what I understand.

While I was upset that a character I loved would no longer be part of the show, I can understand an actor’s desire to move on to other things. It happens. It’s one of the best parts of being an actor for many who choose the profession.

What I have trouble making peace with was the choice to kill off the character of Jack Thornton.

From what I understand the production team felt they had a few options:
1) Recast the character with a different actor.
2) Have Jack go to Elizabeth and tell her that his call to duty was so strong that he thought it best to break off their engagement.
3) Have Jack die.
4) End the show.

I agree that recasting would have been a bad choice and if I’m being honest I’m torn over the other options, even though the decision has already been made, because of the reasons given for choosing one over the other.

Their reason for having Jack die was because Elizabeth and Jack loved each other so much that they only way he could ever leave her was through death.

This does not sit well with me, not because it doesn’t happen and not because I wish they would have found another solution.

Because it doesn’t sound like they gave enough thought into what saying “yes” to a vocation over love. Saying “yes” to something bigger than yourself when society says, “you have a great love, you can’t mess that up.”

I would have preferred that the show ended after five seasons, in all honesty.

I may sound like I’m speaking from my “Catholic high horse” on this one but people do break off engagements to enter a religious order, enter the seminary, embark on a career, or anything else that they feel is more than a job (usually meaning that romantic relationships have to end).

What upsets me most about how production decided to handle this particular situation, the show is called “When Calls The Heart,” but it didn’t give enough credit, in my opinion, to a heart’s call to a vocation. The heart can receive more than one type of “call”, and sometimes more than one call at the same time, every situation is different.

I get that everyone tends to fall on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum in terms of storylines, wanting them to end “happily ever after” or “in complete destruction & unhappiness” but more stories should be portrayed in the media, like someone choosing a vocation of service over their own feelings for one person.

Someone once said that once you know someone who became a priest it becomes easier for more people you know to be or become a priest. I think that’s true no matter what the “job” or in this case vocation. Once you know it’s possible for one person you realize it could be a possibility for you too.

Why couldn’t Jack go to Elizabeth and tell her that his call to serve as a Mountie was so strong that he felt it best to break off their engagement? It could have been possible, because it is a reality that should be imitated more often in art.

Telling The Story You Have Ownership Of

During my Q&A in my capstone presentation I was given a piece of feedback that is still sticking to me, like flypaper.

“It would be nice if you incorporated more stories in your website like the ones you just shared with us.”

This wasn’t the 1st time this was suggested to me, so I responded appropriately (or what I felt was) inside I was like this:

inside-out-riley-eye-roll

I understand stories need to be told but if they don’t belong to you, you have little, if no right, to tell them.

Although I read it all the time, it makes me uncomfortable when stories are told about someone, a child, sibling, spouse, etc is being told without their consent. I wonder what they would think if they knew?

Mostly I wonder what a child will think about their parent telling everyone about their lives before they ever knew what they were doing.

I understand that stories need to be told, I won’t be a writer if I didn’t, but where’s the line?

I feel like anyone with a keyboard can call themselves a writer these days.

giphy

It sounds great, but what’s the real price tag?

At what point does sharing information become exploitation?

There’s an argument that true journalism is dead. I wonder if blogging has contributed to this. These days it seems like everyone has an agenda, meaning impartiality is gone.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t tell stories. What I’m saying is that you should tell your story, especially when it comes to blogging. A child, for example, is under your care but when they grow up they’ll have to handle what you’ve said about them, because if it’s on the internet it’s quite possible that it won’t go away.

Tell the stories that you have full ownership of, yours.

Is Blogging Dead?

I started blogging when it wasn’t a popular thing to do. I didn’t really read other blogs, if I did it was because another blogger left a comment on my blog first. It wasn’t until I was out late one night for a cast party when the director confessed that he often spent hours every night reading random blogs, literally random, he rarely read the same blog twice.

It was only a few years later that my bookmarks were full of blogs, which I checked before starting my day, every day. At times it took up so much time that I was almost late to class on multiple occasions.

At some point I stopped reading my laundry list of blogs and moved on. I’m not sure why but it’s how it happened.

However, I knew the power of blogging. So much so that I compiled a list of blogs that were similar to mine in one aspect. Mainly because I wanted other people to be able to find what I wanted to see for years.

Every once and a while I’d check in on a blog or two that I used to visit daily (or even multiple times a day if called for) to catch up on what’s been going on with that individual, or their child, or their family, or some mixture of any of it.

Some have disappeared. Some of their authors and/or their children have even died.

Some haven’t been updated. Some are still around, a few are even thriving, but it’s not the same as it was.

I suppose it’s a good thing, but I wonder what the downsides are.

These days it’s rare that I read any blog on a regular basis.

These days I grab my phone, 99% of the time before I’ve even gotten out of bed and scroll through social media platforms. I scroll so fast I doubt I’m actually reading anything, unless osmosis is indeed possible.

Some of my blogging friends have turned to Inst@gram I feel like that’s become the new blogging in some ways. I miss the blog posts, but I appreciate that Inst@gam is probably a better fit for their lives these days.

One of my biggest issues with social networking platforms is that I can’t compile a list of people in similar life circumstances that I can with blogs, even if I make a list it’s hard to let others know about it in the same way you can with blogs.

It’s difficult to foster the same type of environment on social media platforms as you can with blogs and the opposite is true as well.

And given how the internet & other technologies have evolved over the years I keep coming back to one question:

Is blogging dead?

My first instinct is to say yes. But upon deeper reflection I’m more inclined to say that it’s just not how it was. It’s just evolved.

Why I: Don’t Suggest Giving Up Social Media For Lent

There are certain things I can count on as Lent approaches. Without a doubt, “What are you giving up for Lent?” is the most popular question to ask and/or be asked.

Now that social media has become such an important part of our lives it’s natural to consider whether or not to give it up for 40 days. I have several friends who engage in this practice, problem is most of them don’t use social media that much anyway. So is it really that sacrificial or are they really getting any benefit from it?

A point worth considering, but not the one I wanted to make right now.

As I write this there’s a snowstorm outside (I’m a write ahead & schedule blogging type). In fact at one point it was snowing so hard that it was snowing sideways. Thus my plans for the day have been canceled and I’m attempting to stay occupied indoors. In a way it’s going to make the point of this post much more poignant, at least I hope so.

The internet, and social media, has opened up everyone’s world. What I don’t think a lot of people realize is just how much it’s opened up the world for those with disabilities.

I wouldn’t be friends with many people if it weren’t for the internet, or at least I wouldn’t be as good of friends with people if things didn’t start on the internet. Let’s just say as an introvert with a disability it’s nice to get the “getting to know you” stuff out of the way when you only get to see people in person a few times in your entire life.

I can’t forget to mention Sara. If there’s anyone who taught me that just because you have physical limits doesn’t mean you can’t create solid friendships and an intentional community. Our friendship may have been short but it left me forever changed.

I don’t suggest giving up social media for Lent for one quasi-simple reason:

You may be part of someone’s community, and it may be the only community they have access to (especially in the winter months).

Giving up your social media routine for 40 days may seem like a good idea and in some ways it can be beneficial but if you do consider who you’ll be leaving behind for 40 days.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

How much can happen in 40 days?

Also consider your group of friends, do they also give something(s) up for Lent?

Do you all give up the same thing for Lent? If so, do you still have that same sense of community because you have other ways of keeping in contact or are you able to see each other in person?

Do you have one friend (or maybe more) that seems uncomfortable with your plan for a 40 day social media fast?

Have you ever stopped and really considered why someone is resistant to give up social media (especially if you “only” know them virtually)?

Lenten sacrifices are meant to make you a better person, but not at the expense of other people. If your sacrifice is harmful to someone else than are you really working towards a greater communion with the Body of Christ?

Alternatives to consider:

Cut back on your social media practices. Check in once a day or once a week.

Post the same thing on all of your social media accounts (idea borrowed from Pat Padley FYI).

Keep community connected through email or text, or an old fashioned phone call.

Make your intentions known early on, as in before today, so if any of your friends have reservations or objections you can engage in thoughtful conversation.

Have a way to contact you on your social media profiles and make it easy to find. Have you ever received an “out of office reply” with a contact email or number included? Like that.

I’m not saying that you absolutely shouldn’t give up social media for Lent.

I’m not God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit so I can’t say such things with absolute conviction. But I wish people wouldn’t make the decision as easily as they seem to. Virtual community isn’t the same as in person community but it’s still a community that needs nurturing, attention, and people to take part in it.

*A similar version of this post first appeared on an old blog on February 10, 2016

When Liturgical & Secular Collide

Last year (in particular) I had to juggle multiple schedules. The concept isn’t a foreign one, everyone does it every day, at least in the majority.

Although I doubt a liturgical calendar is one people rarely consult, unless they’re Catholic.

However, it’s one I had to basically live by, not counting the fact that the Church also lives by it.

There’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with not having to worry about commitments tied to a calendar (and then having them be graded) and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was enjoying it, especially when the following post started appearing on social media:

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For those of you not familiar with Lent things can get complicated when the liturgical period overlaps with secular holidays, and even birthdays.

My birthday fell during Lent during college, my 21st birthday no less, my roommates planned a party for me (due in part because I was the only 1 of the 4 of us who had a birthday during the school year). It seemed like it was going to be a huge party, at least in terms of what I can handle for a big event, but it was during Lent.

Lent is a time when people tend to give something up (or do something enriching) for 40 days. My friends gave up drinking or sugar and/or took up a stricter practice of personal prayer, so the party ended up being more like an open house for all our friends. Whoever wanted to stop by did, and I took calls from friends apologizing for not coming by, but it was Lent, and they made a commitment.

I understood, some of them I envied in fact.

Why envy? Because some were making and keeping commitments I knew (and know) I wouldn’t be able to keep (even all these years later).

There’s often talk, and concern of what Catholics should consider a higher priority, the Catholic world or the secular world. I understand it and don’t at the same time. It’s an issue of balance, and that looks different for each person, not to mention personal values and priorities.

I, personally, like to see what happens when Liturgical and Secular collide. I like to see what others do, or not. It’s fun for me, albeit in a weird way, and it helps me figure out my own feelings, priorities, and whatnot.