Keeping up with the Catholics

This past weekend, Friday, July 28th – Sunday, July 30th, I attended an event by the name of Steubenville.

Steubenville is an annual weekend retreat for Christian, specifically Catholic, youth. I attended this with my own personal viewpoint because while I am a practicing Christian and have been for most of my life, I am not a confirmed Catholic.

However, I had heard a lot about this conference from my girlfriend and her family, and I was very drawn to it. I love worshipping the Lord and while the idea of going to a conference with thousands of Catholic students made me slightly nervous, due to being the black sheep of the group, I got up the courage to commit to it. I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to learn more about the Catholic faith, because it does interest me, and I was very excited at the chance to completely focus on God for an entire weekend.

So, I committed to being a chaperone on this retreat, to engage with the Lord and also help out with the youth group students we were attending with. I tried to document as much as I could but did not get nearly enough to accurately portray this entire event.

Day One – Friday
We all piled into cars and made our way to the campus that it was being held on. Being from San Diego, our group didn’t have to travel that far (barely a 30-minute drive) versus other Parishes who were coming from all over the country. Places such as Hawaii, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon, and Nevada. All in all, there were over 4,400 students in attendance.

Check-in, dorm assignments, settling into rooms…done! We explored the gift shops, the campus and had some down time before heading into dinner. Soon enough, we headed to the stadium, where all 4,400 of us piled into our assigned seats, and for the next few hours, we worshipped. We sang because God is Holy! We yelled out our joy, with not a care in the world of who could hear us, because everyone was singing, dancing and praising, all night. We had Eucharistic Adoration. For those who have no idea what that is, it is basically bringing the Blood and Body of Christ out for everyone to praise and adore. In the Catholic faith, it is believed that at the altar, the bread and wine are transubstantiated (transformed) into the actual Blood and Body of Christ. So, anyone who is witness to this is in the presence of the Lord, and this, in turn, is the deliverance of the Blessed Sacrament.

Basically, the priest takes the host (Blood and Body) from the tabernacle, places it in the Monstrance (large, golden vessel) on the altar to be adored. In turn, the faithful pray (usually kneeling) to the Lord in the presence of the sacrament.

Later on, some kids made it to Reconciliation to confess their sins before attending Adoration, which would be held the following evening.
Day Two – Saturday
The longest day! We woke up, had breakfast and got the day started. Saturday was one of those non-stop days where there is always something happening next to the most downtime we really had on Saturday was maybe an hour. So, from 6:30 a.m. until

steubenville

around 1 a.m. for most of us, the day never seemed to end. However, it truly flew by. Everything was well scheduled, well planned and I really enjoyed everything I attended. After breakfast, the day started with a morning session in the stadium, where all 4,400 were together for about three hours, for Praise and Worship and Mass. Since I am not a confirmed Catholic, I did not take communion and instead walked up to the Priest with my arms crossed over my chest as a sign that I am not Catholic. After mass, the boys and girls were split into two different sessions, each one with a different keynote speaker.

The Women’s Session was led by Sister Miriam Heidland. She gave a beautiful talk and shared her stories. We all sang some songs and learned about Sister Miriam’s life. The Men’s Session was led by Joel Stepanek and also had a great reaction from all of the boys.
Soon we had lunch and then some girls stood in line for Reconciliation, since they were unable to attend the night before. After some downtime, the workshops all began, which all started around 2:30 p.m. and lasted for about 45 minutes. One was dedicated to seniors in high school and continuing a solid faith after graduation. Another was about How to Pray, which was also led by Sister Miriam. Lastly, they had a workshop on how to elevate the presence of God on social media and how to spread the word correctly online.

After that was the afternoon session, where all 4,400 people came together again for nearly two hours and Worshiped some more before listening to another speaker. Dinner followed and then everyone relaxed for a small amount of time before heading to the evening session.

The evening session consisted of Praise and Worship and Adoration. The entire session lasted for about 3 1/2 hours. It began with singing and listening to the speakers, and soon we started to prepare ourselves for Adoration.

So, before I got to Steubenville I had no idea what Adoration was. But after deciding to go, it was explained to me as easily as possible, and I will do the same. However, as I learned from others, it is not the easiest thing to explain, and after attending one, even though I am not Catholic, I can still see how it would be difficult to explain.

So, in the Catholic faith, there is the belief of the Gifts of the Spirit, and that while spending time adoring the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration, the Spirit can bestow certain gifts upon those He decides.

The gifts are as follows: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, power to effect miracles, power of prophecy, to tell spirits apart, to speak in languages they don’t know, and to understand the languages another is speaking. During this time frame, as Father Joseph took the Monstrance around the entire stadium, all 4,400 students and adults stood, knelt and sat in prayer and worship. I started with kneeling, but eventually had to sit for a bit to rest my knees. Once the Monstrance was closer to our section of the stadium, I stood with my arms and hands held out in front of me, putting my entire being out towards the Lord as much as I could.

This was an interesting experience for me. I had never attended Adoration before and obviously since I am not Catholic, I did not grow up knowing about things like this. I didn’t grow up learning about Mass and Adoration and transubstantiation. However, I felt the grace and joy pouring through my body while I expressed my love and adoration for God throughout Adoration. it was easily one of the most pure experiences I have ever had.

It seems easy enough to explain, but trust me. Just the pure magnitude of the entire thing has a level of explanation that I just can’t reach. Because with all of the great and good that came about during Adoration, there are some other things that would have freaked me out if I had not known about it ahead of time.

During Adoration, when someone is given a gift from the Spirit, they sometimes have a very outward reaction, and it isn’t always portrayed by love and happiness. Sometimes it is, like just laughing uncontrollably or crying from being so overwhelmed with love. Some people yell out names from the Bible for reasons only God knows. Others might feel “slain” or rested in the Spirit, where their entire body just goes kind of lax and they may need to be rested against someone because their mind is temporarily separate from their body.

Another experience separate from the gifts is scarier, and it is when people are screaming. And when I say screaming, I mean loudly, where the entire stadium can hear, in a very blood-curdling way. Since many youth in our group were new to Adoration, the group leader explained afterwards that this was something more evil. Throughout Adoration, we heard girls from all over the stadium shrieking in terror, uncontrollably. This was because a demon had been present in the room and was bouncing around the stadium looking for someone to basically take hold of.

This is an aspect of Christianity that I think most people believe in, no matter their specific denomination. It kind of goes hand in hand- God and the Devil. Good and evil. Luckily, we’re on the side that wins in the end. But the battle is uphill and there is still a whole lot of evil in this world.

After Adoration, we came together in small groups to discuss people’s experiences. A couple people saw the images of Jesus and the Holy Spirit near the Monstrance. Others saw dead relatives and were given messages to pass on. Some were resting in the spirit and spiritually traveling around the room praying over people.

It was a very holy experience and one that I won’t forget.

Day Three – Sunday
The shortest day. We woke up, packed up and headed to breakfast. Afterwards, we all headed into the stadium for the last time, all 4,400+ people. Everyone praised their hearts out, listened to some more speakers before going into Mass. At the end of the three-hour session, tons of blow-up balls were released, the band started up and the stadium full of mostly teenagers and adults gave their all to God.

Words of advice from rising country star Anna Vaus

Californian singer and songwriter Anna Vaus has been leaving her mark on Nashville, Tennessee for nearly three years – and she doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Born and raised in Poway, a tiny suburb in San Diego, CA, Vaus had always found comfort in making and being surrounded by music. Having a father as a musician introduced her to the art of making music, leading Vaus to sing and write her own music since she was just a young kid. Growing up in a family where music was every seemed “totally normal” to Vaus.

When asked how she knew pursuing music was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life, Vaus was unapologetically herself in response.

“I’m a pretty awkwardly shy person but writing and performing is where I get to be 100% unapologetically myself, which isn’t always pretty, and I love that,” Vaus said. “Just being able to be so candid and open in the songs I write is like a total adrenaline high for me and I don’t feel that doing anything else!”

As she has grown, Vaus has learned to play guitar, a “little bit” of piano, and the mandolin. However, she states that she is biased towards her guitar because that it the instrument she does all of her songwriting on.

Vaus views Miranda Lambert, Brandy Clark and Randy Newman as her biggest inspirations because they are “overall inspiring and encompass both life and musical inspiration.”

When asked about Miranda Lambert, Vaus shared that her favorite experience so far has been being chosen as the first recipient of the Miranda Lambert Women Creators Fund.

Vaus first heard about the scholarship opportunity, in which she walked away with over $40,000 in scholarship funds, on Facebook. According to Vaus, she was excited to see Lambert “walk the walk” on supporting females in the music industry.

“I honestly was not going to apply for it because I thought I had no chance of being chosen,” Vaus said. “It wasn’t until I got an email suggesting that I apply that I really buckled down and poured my heart into my application.”

Vaus shared that in her remaining time at Belmont, she plans to keep on writing and hopes for something she writes to be picked up and recorded. “I’m really excited because I’ve got some cool stuff happening in these next few weeks that I’ll be thrilled to share with the world!”

Vaus will be performing Belmont University’s Best of the Best showcase as a ‘featured songwriter’s on April 8th. She is especially looking forward to this as she will get to perform in front of her family who will be in town at the time.

While she shares that if she could choose one other profession to go into it would include being a Supreme Court Justice (“I freaking love the judicial system and if I had to do anything else that would be the dream”) she has many visions for herself in the future.

When asked where she sees herself in five years Vaus said she hopes to have a No. 1 song under her belt. “As a writer, it’s a dream of mine to have lots of my songs recorded by other artists,” Vaus said. “So fingers crossed in these next five years I’ll be able to do that and release a project of my own as well.”

As for ten years, she said while it is much tougher to envision, she hopes that she will have established herself as a writer that is in Nashville to stay and not just there for short term success.

Vaus also shared that a lot of her inspiration comes from outside sources such as conversations with friends and the Southwest area of the United States. “That influences a lot of how I envision where I set my songs in terms of the little movies that go on in my head,” Vaus said.

Vaus has big dreams, and even though she knows they are very ambitious, she hasn’t backed down, saying “I really believe in the power of a song and my biggest goal is to impact the country music genre in some way shape or form just by saying things that haven’t been said yet.”

When it comes to sharing her advice for other aspiring musicians and students, Vaus says to just be yourself.

“That sounds incredibly cheesy and overused, but I’ve learned that in embracing the weird and quirky parts of me are what make me unique. So bring what makes you ‘weird’ to the table, you’d be surprised at how much more people want to join your club so to speak.”

*Originally posted on Odyssey.

Thoughts that occur when traveling

A lot goes through your head when sitting at an airport.
It’s almost over-stimulating, the hustle and bustle of people running about trying to make flights. Having security members barking orders at you. I know it is their job, to ensure things are done safely and correctly, but I don’t believe harsh words and actions are really in the job description.
Sitting at the windows seeing planes come and go. Watching the spectrum of people with varying emotions. People who are excited and looking forward to their trip, and the ones who look upset and downtrodden. Tears streaming down peoples faces as they say goodbye to loved ones.
Being in an airport creates a sense of longing for me. I always hate saying goodbye to people, but find it is easier to be the one leaving versus the one staying behind. Although usually it is the latter.
When at the airport to pick someone up, I always wish jumping on a plane was an option. Who cares if I don’t have a ticket or the money? A spontaneous trip is sure to bring a lot of memories.
When seeing people whiz by me, I hope they’re not late for a flight. As I watch people leaving and entering gates, I’m curious as to what they’re reason for being at the airport really is.
A family vacation? Studying abroad? Reunion? School? Business trip? A wedding? A funeral?
The options are endless, really.
I’m always full of curiosity. I want to know their stories, their lives.
I am sure there are many other people that feel the same way about travelling and spending time in airports.
There are a good amount of things that are good to keep in mind when traveling via plane:
1) If possible with the airline, pick a seat that is close to the front. Regardless of whether you check your bags or do carry-on, getting off of the plane in a timely manner just creates less stress. Less time waiting for people and luggage and more time ensuring time for flight checks, bathroom breaks or finding you next destination.
2) Bring a pillow and/or blanket. This is especially applicable if your flight is a red-eye or an early bird, since these travel times can really wear you out. Your body needs rest, even if your flight is in the middle of the day. It might not seem like it, but even just moving from plane to plane and sitting for hours can cause you to crave rest.
3) Take either an unopened water bottle or an empty refillable bottle to fill up inside the terminals. Also bring snacks if possible in your carry-on, or buy some snacks before you board the plane. Due to sitting for hours, it is easy not to notice how hungry you are. Granted the flight attendants go down the aisle asking if you have any requests, but having your own means less waiting on your part. Plus, it guarantees snacks you know you love.
So much can be said about traveling. It can be fun, exhilarating and maddening all at once. People watching, curious minds and insane packing lists are all part of the experience.

​Originally posted on Odyssey. 

From the girl who lives to appease others

Sometimes it is hard to discern what lessons life is trying to throw at you. It makes some of us sit down and say, “Okay, God, I have no idea what you’re trying to tell me this time.”
I’ve realized that I need to stop caring about what other people think of me. Whether it is my actions or opinions.
And I’ve noticed that it’s not strangers’ thoughts of me that I care about- their opinions I don’t have a problem with.
It’s the opinions of people in my life, people important to me, that I care about.
Initially, that doesn’t sound like a bad thing. And it isn’t most of the time. Usually, they help you realize something you might be blind to. Help you solve an issue you can’t solve. Lead you to a better path. Again, most of the time, it’s not a bad thing for people close to you to have an opinion on your actions. They know you.
But it gets bad when it starts to control what you do. And you might not realize that is what’s happening until it’s almost or already too late. When you stop what you enjoy because others think it’s weird. If you change your thought, action or plan halfway through just to appease the others involved because that way everything will move more seamlessly.
Anything to avoid an ugly confrontation.
It’s not like myself or anyone else who feels like they act in order to appease others is always right and never wrong. I know I can be wrong in situations. I’ve felt and acknowledged it, often with the help of friends or family pointing it out. And I’ll know they’re right because, from the beginning of whatever thought or action I was partaking in, I felt like it wasn’t completely right. Maybe I felt hesitant or uneasy. Questioned it a bit.
It isn’t unusual for the thoughts you care about to be the ones that are from your friends or family. These people know you better than anyone else, have seen you grow and have grown with you. It makes sense to want to please people close to you and makes sense for them to have feelings of concern over what you do sometimes. Occasionally, that desire to change what you do or think to make those around you happy becomes instinctual.
But maybe after years of being the type to change or appease, we become that person. The one who fixes to make everything work well. And those around us get used to that. And suddenly, later on, when you make your own choices and decide that you’re not going to change your mind because finally, things feel truly right, people think you’re making a mistake. Because for once, you’re not changing your mind.
They won’t be used to disagreeing with what you’re doing or what you’re saying because what you’re doing is no longer what makes sense to them. And that is okay. It isn’t a bad thing for them to be concerned and worry because they care and that is their job. But it also isn’t a bad thing to do something that doesn’t make sense to anyone but yourself.
Don’t always doubt yourself. It’s okay to appease situations and it’s okay to try to please others, but it needs a balance. You need to take the time to make yourself happy as well as others. Otherwise, you’ll lead a life that brings joy to those around you and end up leaving yourself feeling empty and in the end, that is what you want to avoid.

* Originally posted on Odyssey

A father

You made a leather jacket in the middle of summer look cool.
You taught me what it was like to take care of a dog.
You supplied me with an endless amount of games.
You brought home random animals.
You fell for someone else.
At four, you and mom split up.
You gave me two new younger brothers.
You helped me build the best kind of snowmen.
You let me play on you like a jungle gym.
You gave me a book that changed my life.
At seven, mom got remarried.
He helped teach me how to swim.
Taught me how to ride a bike.
He told fun and exciting stories.
Sometimes he would get so angry his voice scared me.
The constant yelling from mom made me want to hide.
Once he left marks when he grabbed me too tightly, even though the reason could be understandable.
At nine I was counting how many times a day he or mom cursed at each other.
At ten, he and mom sat me down on the couch and told me you died.
He promised to be the best father he could be.
He helped me with school.
He defended me when needed.
Once he got angry enough to stab an entire tray of food over and over until all was left were crumbs.
He tried to convince mom to give me more freedom.
He was excited I would be attending his alma matter.
He and mom started yelling again.
I played music in my ears as loud as it would go.
Hiding behind closed doors was something I grew accustomed to.
Slowly, it started to fade a tiny bit.
Days would come where I missed you terribly.
Other days, life seemed pretty okay.
He’s been here to help with school.
Ask how my grades are doing.
Attend my sporting events.
Not show a lot of excitement when I got into college, because college costs money.
At 18, I wished you could have been there to see me graduate.
He helps me with my first car.
He gets on my case about paying for things and sometimes it feels like he forgets that I’m trying my best.
He and mom still fight and treat each other like strangers.
He still slams the door and yells if something happens that he doesn’t want to deal with.
Now, at 20, he has seen a decade more of my life than you have.
But I’m 20 and find myself wondering if the day will come where he is going to leave me too. ​

who says dreaming is overrated?

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is the future. The giant abyss in front of me that seems to be crawling with a million different paths, choices, outcomes…you name it, I have probably thought about it.

And while mulling over details of the future can be somewhat daunting at times, the marvelous fact of life is that it can be exciting as well. Instead of worrying about how I am going to handle things with little to no money after school, I can focus my attention on more entertaining matters. How I am going to decorate my first apartment, for example. If I’ll be in a relationship by then. How well my family is doing. That once I’m gratuated, I will have time to go on little vacations with my family.

Yes, the things I’ve decided to focus on have to do with money, my current worry, but that is just it. It is a current worry, while the previously stated ideas are meant for the future. Because looking at the future is not a waste of time or something stupid.

When one looks into the future, they have a goal. It means they have something to look forward to, and no matter how big or small, that’s an amazing thing. Having the mindset to look forward to what is coming is something to be celebrated, especially now with so many of us in this crazy, mixed up world feeling so low and defeated by these quotas we feel obligated to fill.

So next time when someone mentions a dream of theirs, try to smile and be supportive. If they talk about the future even though they have a ton of current things on their plate, nod and encourage them. It does not always mean they are running from their problems; they could just have easily embraced them and already moved on.

Besides, those who dream throughout their lives will never be bored, because no matter how many walls they hit or how many bricks are thrown at them, they will always have something to look forward to.