Friday, January 31, 2014

To Blog or not to Blog, that is the Question

When under-employed, blogging was important for me to keep my mind active.  Now that my life has changed-- two separate adjunct jobs, loss of a caregiver for my brother so taking on those duties, still homeschooling, invited to join my parish council, organized a reception following the opening of our newly renovated church, and a sick niece who needs a bit of care, PRAYERS PLEASE, and a desire to speak sincerely and truthfully in all things--  I don't feel I have much to say. 

However this is an election year, so maybe I'll be back later.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Best Thanksgiving, Ever!

You know those parish volunteer opportunities when nobody shows up?  You know how you drag yourself through on behalf of the haggard chairperson who always seems to end the day in tears?  You know the volunteers who show up and refuse to do the dirty jobs, then leave early?  You know the dread you feel that you'll be asked to volunteer again, and you won't feel free to say 'no' because there are so few people to help in the first place?

This is the antidote; Thanksgiving Dinner for the poor and lonely at St. Peter Parish in Omaha, Nebraska.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I was busy.  The house needed cleaning, I had to teach an extra class for students with a scheduling conflict, I made 10 pounds each of mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, along with three quarts of gravy for my family celebration, and then had to take my son to help set up a dinner at our parish for the poor and lonely because it's required for Confirmation.  I was tired when we arrived at 6:15, and was ready to face the glum faces of a handful of overworked volunteers.

But that wasn't what we walked into.

The old school gym was a bustling hive of happy people working.  My son set out to join the crowd of boys he knows to set up the tables and chairs.  I walked into the kitchen and took the peeler and knives out of my purse, and joined the circles of potato peelers.  I sat next to Patricia the Potato Peeler, which is not her actual name.  She was impressively fast.  The conversation was light and pleasant.

When the potatoes were done, I joined Sally and John to steam table clothes.  Yes, the tables were set with clothes that were as wrinkle free as at any fine dining establishment.  The centerpieces were in place, the chandelier was hung, the take home bags with sandwiches and pie were prepared.

With so many helpers, maybe 100, the preparations were done very early in the evening.

The next day, we arrived after Mass to help serve.  I saw Cindy before Mass and asked if she needed me to come early.  She said 'no'.  I thought she was just being kind, but we stayed for Mass anyway.

When we walked in to the gym after Mass, the place was full of volunteers.  The organizers said they served 506 people.  They brought 170 name tags for volunteers, and ran out.  My husband's name tag was a piece of paper  attached to his suit with duct tape.

I went to the kitchen again, because that's where I like to be.  I ran food to the buffets.  There were two serving lines, servers offered one item only, including turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, corn and cranberry sauce.  After they sat down, servers offered coffee, lemonade, and water at their tables.  Other servers walked among the tables carrying trays or pushing carts with dessert options.  Many of the guests asked for extra plates to cover the left-overs to take home.

The men with their belongings in a backpack, the families with children who are new to the city and do not speak English yet, the elderly who had no family to care for them...  All were treated to service comparable to finest restaurants I ever worked at in college and beyond.

At noon, Cindy announced to those working the buffet and kitchen, like me, that she had other volunteers who needed work, and we should go home.  When does that ever happen?

I thanked Cindy, gathered my family, and went home.

I could talk of little else with my family later in the day.  I am so grateful for the chance to participate in that event.  It truly was the best Thanksgiving my family has ever had.

An update from Kevin and Cindy who organized the event:

Thank you to everyone that helped set up, baked pies, gave monetary donations and helped serve the Thanksgiving meal at St. Peters. We served over 500 plates! That included 2nds and volunteers that chose to eat. That is a record, we don't care to beat! There were many graces through out the day. Below is a letter we received from a guest at the meal. Also, there is a link to a TV video coverage of the event and pictures.  Be sure to visit St. Peters web site for more pictures to come! Thank you again for everyone's help! It was a true blessing to many of those less fortunate and those who helped.
Thank you for having a heart directed toward the poor,
May you have a blessed Advent,
Cindy and Kevin Engelkamp
St. Peter Catholic Church
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Dear St. Peters,

I came to the Thanksgiving Dinner that I was told about. I have no income and was going to stay home with ramen noodles and spam.

That was the best meal I have had in a very long time.I sat in front where the singer/accordion player was. He was most excellent.  Good singer, funny and entertaining.  When I got home, my cheeks hurt from laughing so hard.  My stomach was so full, I had to take a nap.

Just want you all to know how much I appreciate all you done for me that special day.

I do have a Bible of my own. However, my eyesight is rapidly deteriorating and I can't see anymore.  Would it be possible to get a large print?  If so, I can volunteer my services to pay for it.

Again, thank you so much.

John K

Monday, November 25, 2013

Anticipation and Advent, A Meditation

One of the happiest times of my life was when I was pregnant with my son, James.  I remember enjoying the growth, the movement, and an overwhelming peaceful anticipation.  I know there were inconveniences, pain, fears.  Injecting blood thinners twice a day until I was bruised beyond any other experience, constant false labor, worries that his little heart wasn't beating properly.

In my parish now there are so many women who are anticipating the birth of another child.  I look at each of them with a quiet prayer.  I pray for their health, their gentle submission to the fullness of time, and their joy as they welcome a new child.  I long to touch them and bless the life within them.

As Advent begins these are the things I contemplate.

Did Mary talk to Jesus in her womb, sing to him, lay her hands on him through her belly as he moved?

Did Mary shine with hope as she moved through her day as so many women I see now do?

Did Mary's heart leap daily with joy as the new life of our Lord grew withing her?

Did Mary acknowledge the daily pains and discomforts of pregnancy in that last month, and yet acknowledge the hopeful suffering those pains reflected?

I so in Advent I strive to recall the last month of pregnancy and share in that anticipation of the women I see at Mass.  I find myself hugging my belly as I pray and recall the beauty of every moment of that last month. 

I think of all of the times I pray to be able to walk with Jesus and do his will.  But Advent is marked for me with a different prayer.  At this time I pray to be united with Mary in her anticipation.  I pray to forget my barren womb and to join in the joy of creation.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Getting the Disasters We Have Earned

About 29% of the U.S. population not in the work force (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Another 7.3% unemployed (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Which takes that number over 1/3 of the country. Add another 16.6 % of underemployed workers (Gallup)and we have a grand total of 52.9% of the American population without full-time work.

Idle hands are the Devil's playground.  That was  a phrase I frequently heard while growing up.  As a side note, for centuries young ladies were taught to keep their hand folded together whenever sitting in conversation or otherwise not engaged in work, in order to discourage the appearance of  sinful use of the hands.

Today, it is a safe assumptions that those idle hands are more likely plunged into a bag of Cheetos purchased with an EBT card while the eyes of the owner of those hands views porn or posts on Facebook, rather than hands folded in prayer.  In our post-Christian world, the notion that prayer would make a difference in our individual circumstances, or in our global ones, is almost non-existent.

I offer a series of events in the Philippines as an example of how turning away from God and prayer has impacted a country in short order.  Understand that there could be other explanations for what is happening in those islands.  Of course, the same could be said for any situation on the entire planet.

In December of 2012,   the Filipino Congress approved a controversial Reproductive Health Bill that, "Among other objectionable provisions, the RH Bill would force medical professionals and businesses to promote and perform a full range of “reproductive health services,” regardless of conscientious objection. The bill promises to fine and jail opponents who spread as-yet-undefined “malicious” falsehoods about the bill, and would pay for contraceptive services with taxpayer funds." (  This comes from a country that has a Catholic Population of about 80%. (Wikipedia)

In the 1990's and again in 2006,  some cities in the Philippines tried to reinstate the practice of pausing throughout the day for the Angelus.  Philippine churches used to ring the Angelus bell three times: at 6 a.m., at noon and at 6 p.m., although contemporary generations only remember the evening Angelus bell.  The reinstatement of the practice was voted against primarily because it was thought that it would interfere with traffic.

 As the government of the Philippines has taken strides to secularize the country and take a utilitarian view of human existence that replaces the primacy of prayer with the speed of traffic, and the sacredness of life with utilitarian contraception and abortion services,  prayer has been taken out of the public square. In the past year the country has been hit by 6 typhoons, the latest of which is being described as the strongest in recorded history.  There have been earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods.  It is easy to note scientific reasons, but Catholics are called to see the signs of the times.

In the Philippines, the change from a Catholic country to a secular one has been shockingly rapid.  The pain the country's people is experiencing as a result of the disasters this year in also shocking in the force and rapid succession of each event.

In the United States, our decent into pain has been different.  We've had moments of extreme pain from disasters, but those moments have been followed by a numbing malaise, like taking a prescription to mask the pain.  Our idleness is not  marked by famine.  It is lulled into a pensive comfort where even the poor can drive cars, watch cable, and eat to excess.  It is a poverty of soul, full of resentment and envy of those who continue to work to support those who no longer do.  Workers see the unemployed as lazy, and the unemployed see the workers as greedy.

And neither workers nor the unemployed stop to pray.